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Thursday, November 10, 2011

Never Kill A Boy On The First Date

[Updated April 29, 2013]

The show is still very early, but it’s establishing themes which will last throughout its entire run and which you need to keep in mind as we go along. NKABOTFD demonstrates again that Buffy hasn’t really accepted her slayer role – she wants a normal life and she’d rather be dating or going to the Bronze than “going into battle” with Giles. Her desire to be a “normal teenager” means that various diversions from her destiny tempt her to leave the Chosen path. This is the first episode to offer such a diversion, but it won’t be the last.

Twice already, first in Witch and now here, we see that Cordelia and Buffy have parallel tastes/desires. Both wanted to be cheerleaders, both want to date Owen, both find Angel full of salty goodness. This therefore seems like good place to make explicit something that the show will continue to hint at and will eventually tell us directly: Cordelia is Buffy’s “shadow self”, i.e., roughly speaking, her weaknesses or shortcomings. Cordelia is what Buffy would be were it not for her destiny as the Slayer and her willingness to accept responsibility for her powers. I’ll talk about this in more detail when we get to Out of Mind, Out of Sight, so for now just take it that this is one way I see Cordy’s role.
For this reason, as was true in Witch, the fact that Cordelia wants to date Owen is itself a message that Buffy shouldn’t.
Buffy recognizes at the end that “normality” is unattainable in this case. Owen himself told her “there's a lot more important things in life than dating”. I think the lesson is even more specific than that – she must not allow Angel to interfere with her destiny. I say this because Owen is a “type” of Angel: he’s tall, dark, and broody. It would be hard to find a closer analogy to Angel, and we, like Willow, can already see the chemistry there. Owen himself won’t do – he was judged and found wanting.
We learn something else about Buffy in this episode that will be a consistent theme throughout the series. Her desire for normality alienates her from her destiny as the Slayer, creating an almost split personality: “Owen: It's weird. Buffy: What is? Owen: You! One minute you're right there. I've got you figured. The next, it's like you're two people.” Buffy will always, to some extent, see herself as having a Slayer side and a human side.
A question for you to consider: why is the Anointed One, the Master’s “great warrior”, a child? I’ll explain my own interpretation when we get to the season finale.
Trivia notes: (1) The phrase “here endeth the lesson”, used by the Master, is used to end a Bible reading in the Anglican service. It was famously used in the movie The Untouchables. The phrase will be used twice more in the series. (2) Contrary to the implicit advice in the episode title, Buffy does kiss Owen. (3) “Shall We Gather At The River?” – something Andrew says in his raving – is a Christian hymn written by Robert Lowry. It was played in a number of Westerns, prominently those of the famous director John Ford. Joss is a big fan of Westerns and of Ford in particular. (4) Emily Dickinson lived a notoriously introverted and secluded life, and as Owen says, was obsessed by death. Again, the parallel to the story line is deliberate. (5) Buffy says that Owen wants to be Danger Man, a play on the cartoon series Danger Mouse.


  1. I thought the DANGER MAN comment was a reference to this cult 60s show with Patrick McGoohan (of The Prisoner fame)

  2. You're probably right. Serves me right for watching cartoons instead of cult TV. I'll correct it.

  3. I don't know though. The amount of "geek" knowledge Buffy has at this time is minimal, considering she's only been hanging with Xander & Willow for a few weeks. Pre-Sunnydale Buffy eas hardly likely to know about a cult TV show from another continent an decade.

    The observation you have about Cordy makes a lot sense, in the context for this show, and maybe a little for Angel. I still just don't find her very sympathetic.

  4. You're right that it doesn't make much sense for Buffy to know about Danger Man; she's much more likely to have watched Danger Mouse cartoons. The reason I switched it is that I usually try to guess what the writers had in mind rather than the character, so it's a meta-commentary in that sense.

    There's not much to like about Cordy in these early episodes. But my feelings towards the characters changed over time, too. They were variable but intense, as someone will say much later.

  5. BTW, loved your commentary for Chosen over at the AV Club. Any intentions of reading the comics? I really enjoy them, and my view of the show is in line with yours(though yours has a lot more thought and depth to it, i.e. how Willow, Xander, Giles and Cordy's actions represent things about Buffy, mind blowing) and it'd be really interesting to read your interpretation of the themes of the comics, which are all about the consequences of Season 7.

  6. Thanks for the nice words about the Chosen comments.

    I have read the comics, at least all of them up to the final of S8 (for which I've read a summary). I wasn't a huge fan at the time, but it was reading the Twilight arc which got me thinking about magical realism in Buffy. I need to go back and re-read them with that in mind. So, maybe.

  7. The aspect of the show concerning Buffy's "split" - and how it develops - is part of what makes the entire series run so strong. Early in the show, the two sides are generally seen as being in conflict with each other, particularly in episodes like this one or in (MILD SPOILER) her speech in Prophecy Girl. While that conflict never goes away, it does shift subtly over time, so it becomes more like a dialogue than a dichotomy. And the way Buffy negotiates that dialogue is part of what makes her character development so fascinating - at least for me as a viewer.

  8. That's a very nice way to put it.