In this series I will try to analyze Joss Whedon’s visual style in the TV episodes he has Directed and how it involves. I may do similar analysis’s for great episodes he has not directed. I will start with his first episode behind the camera, the season one finale Prophecy Girl
The Episode begins with Xander and Willow at the Bronze. The scene is mostly shot with Xander in close up and Willow further away. This shows Xander’s discomfort with himself and how willow enjoys listening to Xander ask her out. In the next scene Buffy fights a vampire. The scene is shot entirely in slow motion until Buffy pulls out her stake and the vampire loses his smirk. This is the best technically filmed fight. It is very well filmed and has good use of slow motion, an unusual technique for the series. There is an interesting shot of Giles overhead as he works late. The scene where he reads out loud the prophecy is unnecessary and would likely be more effective if we see his visual reaction, and don’t have him read any of it until his scene with Angel. Next there is a large earthquake, which works well considering the budget. The master gives a cheesy speech, which is well subverted as he pauses to ask what the quake would register.
There is some great acting from Anthony Stewart Head as he is genuinely happy to see Buffy the next morning, as well as a well done push in on his reaction. We still don’t know exactly what it is he is worried about but it can be implied due to his facial expressions. There is some good brief tracking shots as Buffy and Xander walk to their conversation. This is a great, painful scene as Xander finally asks out Buffy but is rejected. Both actors do a great job (this is one of Nicholas Brendan’s best performances).
The scene where Giles Talks to Jenny is fine, and it is great to have her join The Scoobies. Xander and Willows conversation is great. There are few shots in this scene, and visual interest when Xander throws the tennis ball. The two are so good in this scene, and it is amazing how the actors have grown throughout the season. Xander can be very annoying in the early seasons,but he seems very sympathetic in this scene.
The camera also follows Buffy into the library before the famous scene where Buffy hears the terrible prophecy. (More about that Later). This is one of the best scenes Whedon has ever done and one of Geller’s best performances(which is saying a lot.)
The next scenes are very powerful including Willow calling Xander, as he actually does listen to country music. There is an interesting conversation with Buffy and Joyce. Joyce can be very annoying before finding out the truth in season 2 but her conversation with Buffy here is well done, and ties into Buffy’s dilemma
My main problem with the episode is about the subplot about the murdered kids. It is logistically confusing (When did the Vampires get into the school, the cast was there all night). It only exists to further Buffy’s motivation but feels contrived, such as Buffy and Willows scene. While well acted, the monologue about it “not being our world”seems to on the nose. Why so little reaction about all the kids that die on a weekly basis(a flaw of the early seasons.
However the scene where Buffy finally declares she will face the master is brilliant. Filmed in long shots, and with confident acting, the scene gets the audience excited for the showdown. We get Giles knocked out, (great to see him willing to sacrifice himself for her.) The character work on this season pays off in this episode.
The annoying one is still useless though, but serves the plot at this moment. at least not just have Buffy already know. Nicholas Brendan is great in this episode, such in his scene with Angel as the two head down to Help Buffy. The build up the fight is very good with long shot through the sewer which are well filmed. the fight is actually pretty scary as the master disappears and bites Buffy. It is hard to believe that the master wouldn’t just drain Buffy, but I guess it can be explained saying he was just overexcited about being free. It is a shocking moment as Buffy actually dies
Sarah Michelle Gellar does a great job as she first comes back to life, and while the car crashing through the school is overly convenient, it is great to see Cordelia have something to do. I actually don’t mind the theme music playing, as it symbolizes she has accepted the responsibility, although the “oh look a bad guy” line is to much. The final fight is not great, very chaotic, and unclear. There was a lot of confusing camera work, and it seemed strange how easy it was for Buffy to pun after the trauma she went to. Although funny, it seems out of place in this episode. However after the Master dies, the final scene and shot is great as the characters congratulate themselves by going to the prom and as the camera tracks up to look at the master’s skeleton.
Overall this is an important step forward for this series. Although early episodes would often have great dialogue and clever metaphors that can relate to high schoolers, this is the first episode that A. Showed how emotionally complex this series could be and B. paid off the themes of the season.
Visually this was a huge step forward for the season. Season one had a very low budget, and often relied on cheesy looking monsters. Whedon had never directed before this, and while he stumbles at the ending action scene, the character work is flawless.
This episode has many great dramatic moments, that pay off a seasons worth of development. We know that Xander likes Buffy and Willow likes Xander, and have seen evidence of this in every episode, which makes both of Xander’s rejections so much more painful. It is great to see Joyce comfort Buffy, Xander and Angel team up, and the rare buffyverse happy ending. It also contains one of the best dramatic scenes of the series
Scenic Routes: “I don’t want to die”
What else could it be. This is the best scene of the season, one of the top ten of the series. Buffy walks into the Library after she sees blood come out of the sink. The camera follows her in as she sees Angel in Giles office. There is standard reserve shot as the two talk until Giles drops the news that is implied at the beginning. Buffy’s face just drops as she hears the news. Her first reaction is to laugh. As she walks away Angel runs after her as Giles slowly walks, clearly upset. There is a use of both close up and long shots. a
As Buffy asks the questions Giles initially looks horrified,as if his own daughter will die. Buffy asks “Do you think it will hurt?” and walks away from Angel as he tries to comfort her. The problem with this scene is that David Boreanaz at this point is no where near good enough to compete with Gellar and Head. This is an important scene because Buffy walks away from the slayer world, and actually quits. It is hard not to get emotional as Buffy yells “read me the signs. Tell me the fortune” and throws the book. Giles looks simply useless, as he has no way to help her in this situation.
Buffy says she does not care if the master rises a shocking moment for the hero of a teen superhero drama. And then she says it.
“Giles, I’m 16 years old. I don’t want to die”. This is simply devastating. At the end of the day Buffy is just a kid and is being asked to sacrifice her life. This is the first moment I connected with Buffy emotionally. Sarah Michelle Gellar is flawless in her delivery of this line.
There is no music in the scene until she drops the cross, which symbolizes her walking away from her destiny. The season is about growing up and accepting your responsibility. Buffy refuses, rejecting her sacrifice. It seems very in character, and humanizes her. Symbolically dropping the cross invokes religious metaphors.
This season has been building to this moment, where the requirements of a slayer are simply to much. This does not disappoint. It is almost flawless in terms of acting, directing and writing, and finally shows the series at the top of its game.