Thursday, June 3, 2010

“The Harvest”

Review by Paul Steven Brown

Oh, this is going to be a painful first season, isn’t it? I shouldn’t expect a miracle right away, but two episodes in and I’m having a hard time believing that this is the show that launched the Whedon media empire. If I had seen both “Welcome to the Hellmouth” and “The Harvest” the night they actually premiered back in 1997, I probably wouldn’t have been back for the second week.

Still it was probably a smart decision to air the two back to back. “Welcome to the Hellmouth” was mainly set up and character introductions, while “The Harvest” was mostly plot movement and fighting. One has what the other lacks, so they really work better as a single story.

The dialogue tries to be cute, but falls flat. You have obvious jokes like Willow saying she needs to sit down when she is in fact already sitting down. The groaner of the hour happens when Xander makes a remark about a decapitation. However, I did enjoy Willow’s little prank on Cordelia. It shows a growing since of confidence now that she’s become friends with a badass vampire slayer and Giles is depending on her for research.

I neglected to mention Angel in the first review. Not that he had much to do other than look sexy, act cryptic, and give Buffy a cross. However, it is unfortunate that I know his big secret already. I wonder how obvious it was back when the episode originally aired. His scene with Buffy in the mausoleum offers up some questions about his true nature, since it takes place during the day. Though inside it is awfully well lit. Still, I like him a hell of a lot more than Xander at this point.

The handling of Buffy’s mom looks like it could go in a couple different directions, some of which are not so good. It would be nice to see Buffy having to balance her role as a slayer while keeping it from her mom, but not in a way that makes her mother look completely clueless. Will there be hell to pay next week for sneaking off or did Mom think that Buffy was sulking very, very quietly upstairs? It would have been interesting to see her track down her daughter at what was already described as the only cool place to hang out in Sunnydale, the Bronze, in the middle of the battle between Buffy and Luke.

Too bad Luke got staked this episode. He was actually kind of fun. Brian Thompson played him with the right balance of thuggish cockiness and sincere devotion to the Master. He’s really physically imposing and I thought the juxtaposition between him and Buffy worked. There was a nice ‘speed and agility vs. brute force’ vibe to their two face-offs.

The resolution to the episode was pretty empty. I don’t really buy that section of the student body was at the Bronze, witnessed Buffy fighting vampires, and not be completely freaked about it. The whole ‘people rationalizing a strange occurrence into something they can understand’ is a pretty lame excuse.

Despite a certain amount of charm, I’ve yet to be impressed by ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’. It’s a pretty clunky show at the moment. Hopefully, as the characters and the mythology develop over the season, my attitude towards it will change.

The commenting rules continue to apply. Only discuss this episode and the one prior in the comments section. Please, no spoilers.

1 comment:

  1. I think the explanation about "people rationalizing... what they don't understand" works out pretty well. I mean, yeah, on the surface, it's kind of a lame excuse, but we're talking about a high school sitting on a portal to hell in a town overrun with Vampires whose primary enemy is a teenage girl. It also helps accommodate how seemingly easily Xander and Willow slip into their roles as part of Buffy's support team and backup.

    Angel, in this episode, definitely plays as that strong, mysterious, dark, sexy stranger... but honestly, I think it probably could have been toned down a bit. Still, I do like the chemistry between the two characters... you can feel the pull that Angel has on Buffy.

    Regarding my boy Xander, you get to see how, despite his outward demeanor as the overcompensating and lily-livered jokester, he has a courageous streak in him that will either serve to get him in trouble (or dead), or possibly even win Buffy herself. He really is willing to go to hell to get her to really notice him.

    Willow, of course, is great. She's mousy, cute, and nerdy in kind of non-sexy but interesting ways. And despite the inaccurate or unbelievable computer/internet related tech talk, I was begrudgingly able to buy her as an accomplished hacker.

    And with Luke's permanent demise and the massive body count--including some people close to our main characters--you get the feeling that the stakes (ba-dum) are occasionally going to be personal and fairly high.

    You also get the sense that Buffy's life as a slayer is going to continue to be a source of irritation. She's a slayer because it's her destiny, not because she wants to be, and you understand that she is going to fight it if she can, until it kills her or until she learns to accept and embrace it. Whether that makes her more of a hero or less I couldn't say, but it does humanize her a bit, I think. Who would really want that kind of responsibility, especially if it wasn't a choice?

    Obviously, your and my feelings about the pilot (for really, these first two episodes really should be taken as one) are pretty divergent. It convinced me that the show was worth watching because of the strength of the writing, and the thematic content, not just because there are cute girls in it.

    It's definitely worth sticking with, though I can't promise that the jokes get any better.