A lot of people tend to just ignore Season One of Buffy. On one hand, its understandable way, because its more like a self-contained miniseries…however.
Season One is VERY important for the character of Buffy Anne Summers.
- "Welcome to Hellmouth" presented to us the very core, very start of her character…well, as close to start as possible, considering A LOT of things have happened to her even before the show started. Buffy starts as this seemingly cheerful, a bit quirky, a bit socially awkward girl who can’t wait to start her life anew. New Town, New School, New Friends.Especially considering the circumistances surrounding her getting booted from the unnamed school she was attending in Los Angeles.
- From the very start Buffy is set up as quite complex character, troublemaker, someone who likes to pretend, to put on a “mask” and be someone. The personality and character she displays talking to Cordelia Chase, the “queen” of the school, differs quite a bit on how she acts around Willow Rosenberg, the local “nerd” everyone picks on, who starts to idolize Buffy, and Xander Harris, the local “not so smart” jock, who is seriously crushing on her. Her behavior around Angel, a mysterious person who approaches her with a gift, is also entirely different from the previous cases.
- We also learn that Buffy’s parents had a divorce, that her unusual secret hobby of killing vampires is putting a lot of strain on her relationship with her mother, to the point that Buffy, even at the start of the show comes off as quite emotionally shut-down person. And as season goes on we do get to see a glimpse of what hides behind the cheery happy heroic girl image she is painting.
- The third episode "Witch",gives us a glimpse of how Buffy regards Xander’s crush(that she will never ever EVER regard it seriously or even accept his affection). Its understandable, but it showcases a different facet of Buffy to her friends and it also showcases on why she chooses Angel and falls for him(she KNOWS Xander - who he is, how he is, she does not have that luxury with angel so she makes up details about him, which is shown in S2 quite a lot). It also shows a bit more of how strained Buffy’s relationship is with her mother.
- On "Never Kill a Boy on The First Date", we get to see on just how much Buffy is trying to hold on into that whole NORMAL life that is slipping. Into the illusion that she has something to look forward. Questions arise instantly. Why? Why does she build on that whole HERO image desperately wanting to believe it and why is she so intent on ignoring her Destiny? AS season goes on, it gets answered.
- Buffy’s arrival and presence in Sunnydale is shown to affect a lot of people. In "The Pack" we get to see an insight of how Xander and Willow’s lives changed by her BEING here. Its one of the first insights. More in-depth exploration of “The Pack” is here.
- Seventh episode, fittingly titled "Angel" builds up the start of her relationship with Angel, revealing quite a bit of his backstory and making him chose between his present, Buffy and his past love, a vampire named Darla, who looks strikingly similar to Buffy that one has to wonder on why Angel fell in love with Buffy in the first place. . The episode is VERY important for her character because of Buffy’s inability to actually kill Angel because of what she feels for him and its the important jumpstart point of their relationship and the way Buffy’s perception changes of Angel through the episode is very fitting with her comic-book logic as in her mind Angel falls through multiple character tropes. Sadly she gets the wrong message from what happened - this mysterious person she knows NOTHING about becomes a “Cursed prince” archetype, as she in some ways can relate to his struggle with destiny.
- Tenth Episode, "Nightmares" takes the cake as second most important episode to Buffy Summers character in first season. With everyone’s worst fears manifesting into reality, Buffy’s “fears” are VERY telling about her character.
- Buffy blames herself for her parents divorce. She thinks of her character, her slayer destiny, everything, as being the reason her family crumbled to peaces. Whats more she fears that her parents ARE blaming her for that and she feels guilty. For Buffy, the whole "I am a just and awesome Hero" mask she keeps wearing is an escape from that reality, from herself feeling guilty. Its a lot easier for her to build up this image of never being wrong, to count her power and destiny as something awesome, while in reality she is feeling guilty, she is feeling like a burden to her family…and she is afraid. Afraid of death. Afraid that one day she might get turned into vampire. In these days, living on top of the Mouth of Hell, where thousands of vampires and other creatures call home, she is more than ever afraid of losing the definition of normal, losing herself. She is afraid that gazing into that abyss of hell below her feet, around her, that abyss will also gaze back into her, which perfectly explains her tries to retain her normal life and ignore her destiny and hypocrisies of her character and personality. She fears that her “hero illusion” will break apart, sooner or latter.
- "Out of Mind, Out of Sight" episode on other hand gives us a bit of insight into Buffy who was. And that is Cordelia, in a way, but not completely. We find out more of Buffy’s past in Los Angeles and how she was back then, before the whole being a Slayer, world on her shoulders thing came crashing at her. She is desperately missing those times. And just as Cordelia surrounds herself with fake friends to not be completely alone, Buffy is trying, unconsciously, to do something similar. Willow and Xander for her are someone who she wants to be appreciated by, who strengthen her whole HERO delusion. Friends for her are something that needs to be there to tell her that no, she obviously is not at fault for anything, that she is awesome and perfect. And indeed Buffy is Cordelia, who was forced to grow up faster, who is losing her family and who already lost her social position and fame she had. Which is very important, because Cordy and Buffy take a VERY different paths of growing up.
- The season finale, "Prophecy Girl" unifies EVERYTHING that happened in the first season. Buffy’s longing for normal life, her fears of the Hellmouth, her fear of dying, how she regards Angel…it all comes crashing as Giles utters that one phrase Buffy overhears….”Tomorrow Buffy will face the Master and she will die”. SMG delivers one of her best perfomances to date portraying Buffy’s emotions in that scene. Buffy does not know how to react to that information. Hysterical laughter followed by snarky insults followed by tears and anger, followed by moment of sad clarity:
Buffy: So that’s it, huh? I remember the drill.
One slayer dies, the next one’s called.
I wonder who she is. Will you train her?
Or will they send someone else?
Giles: Buffy… I…
Buffy: Does it say how he’s gonna kill me?
Do you think it’ll hurt?
[as Angel steps close to her] Don’t touch me!
Were you even gonna tell me?
Giles: I was hoping I wouldn’t have to,
that there was some way around it. I…
Buffy: I’ve got a way around it. I quit.
Angel: It’s not that simple.
Buffy: I’m making it that simple.
I quit. I resign, I-I’m fired,
you can find someone else to stop The Master
from taking over.
Giles: I’m not sure that anyone else can.
All the… the signs indicate…
Buffy: [enraged, throwing books at Giles]
The signs?! Read me the signs! Tell me my fortune!
You’re so useful sitting here with all of your books!
You’re really a lot of help!
Giles: I don’t suppose I am
Angel: I know this is hard.
Buffy: What do you know about this? You’re never gonna die
Angel: You think I want anything to happen to you?
You think I could stand it? We just gotta figure out a way…
Buffy: I already did. I quit, remember. Pay attention!
Giles: Buffy, if the Master rises…
Buffy: I don’t care! I don’t care.
Giles, I’m sixteen years old. I don’t wanna die.
- Then she has to deal with it. She ignores her destiny, she ignores that sentence, but somewhere inside she does care for those people, she cares for Willow, who is in shock when her schoolmates get slaughtered in the school, she cares for her mother, who encourages her to life her life to the fullest. Buffy, sad and mourning for her normal life, accepts her destiny as Slayer and goes on to face her biggest fear, the Master, who lives below the town.
- And she faces him. And Joss Whedon does what he does best and that is breaking our hearts…
You tried. It was noble of you.
You heard the prophecy that I was about to break free
and you came to stop me.
But prophecies are tricky creatures.
They don’t tell you everything.
You are the one that sets me free…
If you did not come, I could not go….
Think about that.
- And she is powerless to stop him.
And he drains her blood.
And she dies.
And Master walks free upon t he earth.
- And then she is revived when Xander and Angel find him. And within those moments, entirety, the rest of the show, her character, her path, is set in motion.
- She is stronger. Sadder. Darker. More depressed. Her mannerisms, her expressions, tone in her voice. Everything is different and even before we find out on just how mentally the death affected her, we already can guess that from the way she acts.
She faces the master again and wins with with bitter tone in her voice:
Master: You laugh when my Hell is on Earth?
Buffy: You are that amped about Hell? (grabs Master by throat)… GO THERE.
- Her power stops being an adventure. Her destiny stops being a fairy tale. Her life and her personality takes a way darker turn. Transition to dark, cold, bitter reality starts. More about how she is and how she deals with it all and what it sets in motion in the little rant I did about episode 2x01 here
- Overall, Season One for Buffy Summers is very important time, because it sets her onto the path her character takes next. It also gives us just enough of glimpses of that Buffy behind the cheerful mask to be interested in her personality and manages to make her both flawed and relatable enough for us to care about her what she goes through, how DEATH and the prospect of her life ending affects her and how actually dying changes her psychologically.