Movies & TV / Columns

Stew’s Buffy The Vampire Slayer Retrospective: Season 1, Episodes 3 & 4

March 15, 2023 | Posted by Rob Stewart
Buffy the Vampire Slayer 1-04 Image Credit: 20th Century Fox TV

We’re back with more of my first ever watch of Buffy The Vampire Slayer! Let’s see how the first pair of non-pilot episodes looked!


Image Credit: 20th Century Fox TV

The episode starts off very cheerleader heavy. Buffy has joined the Sunnydale cheerleading squad (well, she is signed up for tryouts, and for that, they already give you the outfit, apparently). Giles disapproves because his entire character is “Giles disapproves”. He didn’t even have any dialogue written in the scripts; all his lines just said

Giles: *disapproves*

And Anthony Stewart Head ad libbed every one of them.

(That’s PROBABLY true anyway)

At cheerleading practice, we are briefly introduced to two characters for this episode, and their names are Amy and Amber, and really, show? Look, if you don’t care enough to come up with more than one-and-half names for two people, don’t give me shit when I don’t remember which is which for half the episode.

Amber (?) bursts into spontaneous flames during her tryout, and Willow inspires a young Alicia Keyes in front of her TV screen by calling out “That girl is on fire!”.

Buffy gets home that day to the sight of her mom opening a large wooden crate with a fucking crowbar like she’s Wile E. Coyote, and I am convinced the writer for this episode has only ever watched cartoons before. I hope there’s a scene later where mom comes home from work, and she is bringing back a sack with a dollar sign drawn on the side.

Buffy says something is “cringeworthy”, and I legitimately did not know that phrase was more than, like, ten years old.

Buffy, clearly having remembered that she is a bad daughter from the second episode, all but begs her mom to spend quality time with her by helping her with dances for cheerleading. Buffy’s mom completely blows her off. And I legitimately did not like mom in that scene. Your troubled youth wants to bond with you, and you’re like “What dear, sorry, I have to go ride this rocket I just got from Acme”.

Oh, this WHOLE EPISODE is going to be about cheerleading, isn’t it? We’re back to tryouts at school where we find out Amy’s (?) mom was a Sunnydale cheerleading legend. Amy/Amber is bad at it, though. She drops Cordelia during a lift. And at least in part because of that, Amber/Amy does not make the team.

I kvetched last time about episode 2 already having END OF THE WORLD stakes, and you know what? I miss those days. Now the stakes are Amyber didn’t make the squad.

We see a strange shadowy figure cast a voodoo spell on Cordelia. The next day at school, she goes blind during driver’s ed class… which is a mandatory class at Sunydale? Weird. But yeah, she loses her pupils and everything! SUPER blind!

Oh, and after wrecking the car and getting out in confusion, Cordy almost gets hit by the world’s single worst UPS driver. She is standing in the middle of the road, and the UPS truck comes from about 500 feet away with an unobstructed view and never slows down. Buffy has to dive out to save her by a hair. Not rain nor sleet nor dark of night nor blind girl in the middle of the road will stop this guy from his appointed rounds.

Meanwhile, we spend too much time on the burgeoning Xander Loves Buffy subplot. He keeps pestering Willow to help him figure out if Buffy likes him, and he buys Buffy a bracelet. Our vampire slayer hero actually plays it off all cool like she doesn’t notice this moronic fawning puppy so she doesn’t hurt his feelings. Or she’s oblivious.

Anyway, there’s a scene where Xander meets up with Willow, who is chewing on a pen cap, and INITIALLY I very seriously was like “Oh, that’s a neat idiosyncrasy to give her character and make the world feel more lived in”. But it turns out her character was just doing that to have an analogy on hand for the moment, and that made me so mad for no good reason. Like I thought we were writing our characters with nuance, but we just wanted a lazy speech instead. Hate it!

Buffy, Willow, and Xander make a potion to prove Ambery is a witch. It turns out she is! And another girl in class gets cursed at the same time, losing her mouth. Sam Raimi somewhere saw this and thought, “witches can make peoples’ mouths disappear, you say? I’ll keep that in my back pocket for twenty five years or so in case I ever have a movie where a witch has to fight a guy who can destroy her with one whisper from his mouth”.

Buffy’s ridiculously obvious attempt to prove What’s-Her-Face is a witch results in the latter going home, yelling at her mom about it, and then deciding to curse Buffy next.

And so Buffy wakes up the next day. And do you remember how the other curses were:

-Bursting into flames

-Going blind

-Losing your mouth?

Well Buffy’s is that she is a filterless motormouth and sings Village People songs. She tells her mom she is a vampire slayer, messes up her routine, and chucks a fellow cheerleader into a wall. Oh, and then starts dying because… reasons? I guess this curse decided to have a sense of humor first. You know, just in case Buffy has a worldwide audience who wanted to see Sarah Michelle Gellar goof-off before the peril kicks in.

Buffy and Giles go to Amy’s home and find out that her mom has pulled an evil Freaky Friday and switched her body with her daughter’s so she could relive her glory days. Two things!

First: this makes no sense. Amy was clearly ACTUALLY AMY earlier in the episode when she was bad at cheerleading and friendly to Buffy, but the girl caught fire before that happened. So why were the curses happening already?

And two: OH I GET IT, that’s why Buffy’s mom has been a jerk all episode. So Buffy can appreciate that she may be uncaring and dismissive of her daughter, but at least she is not literally a body-stealing witch.

That’s… a pretty low bar for our character to clear for sympathy.

Buffy gets very sick. Giles gets the spellbook and does a big ritual to undo all the curses. Buffy gets better and Amy gets her body back! Then mom, who until this point needed a spellbook and dedicated rituals, just busts out some telekinesis and is force-throwing everyone around.


She is defeated when her I Will Banish You spell gets deflected off of a giant mirror because this episode really was just an extended Looney Tunes segment. Xander should have ended the episode by popping up and going “That’s All, Folks!TM


Image Credit: 20th Century Fox TV

Our fourth episode clicks off with a dream sequence starring the strongest early contender for Worst Character In This Series: Xander. He is fantasizing about saving Buffy from a vampire and then impressing her with some wicked cool guitar licks. Of course, none of this is real, because Xander is a chewed up pen cap and not an actual worthwhile character. When Buffy wakes him up, he is actually in science class learning about ants.

Buffy is pulled aside by her science teacher after class and he initially seems disapproving, but it turns out he actually sees great promise in Buffy and wants her to fulfill it. He gives her some positive reinforcement and sends her on her way. And then, because we aren’t allowed to have nice things, he is murdered as something snatches him from behind.

Angel shows up and gives Buffy his coat because we need a plot device to make Xander even more unbearable, I guess. Buffy, in return, gives him crap about his vague cryptic nonsense. But she also clearly has the hots for him already, and I get it; I do. It’s early 20’s David Boreanaz. He couldn’t act, but he could get it. He warns her of a vampire with a fork for a hand.

Xander sees Ms. French, the substitute science teacher, and… tribal jungle music plays? Come on, show. Ms. French turns out to love preying mantises, and won’t stand for any of her students to besmirch them, so clearly she is some kind of insect queen.

Cordelia–the hot, popular girl, remember?–has her own lunch delivered to school every day, and fuck you, TV show. In the 1990’s, the character with dietary restrictions who gets special lunches is NOT one of the popular kids. Go straight to hell. Anyway, she goes to the fridge and finds the science teacher’s headless body! So… no one used that fridge all day? Or the lunch ladies were just too busy chopping broccoli to notice.

Wait, I might have crossed my references there in dating myself with 90’s comedians doing stupid song skits.

Moving on, we get what is my favorite moment of the series so far (Wow, really?): the gang talking about what to do, with Buffy ACTUALLY CRYING ABOUT HER TEACHER’S DEMISE. Actual, realistic human emotion, and it only took four episodes to get here! This guy was nice to her; he saw who she could be, and then he was decapitated. It affects our heroine! MORE OF THIS, PLEASE.

Buffy encounters Fork Guy (not a joke: the show calls him this) in a park and chases him. From the bushes, she sees Fork Guy come upon Ms. French, but he flees from her in terror. What… why can he tell what she is? She’s clearly a shapeshifter or something. How does HE see through her guise? This was a moment the writers came up with to further the episode but spent no time in thinking how little sense it made. It’s like in movies where the pets can sense ghosts. It’s just for the audience.

Buffy tries to confront Ms. French, but the principal pulls her aside for mandatory counseling because she saw the science teacher’s body. This leads to a scene where Buffy violates Cordelia’s sacred mental health privacy by eavesdropping on her session. But don’t worry: our protagonist being a thoughtless jerk is justified because Cordelia thinks that seeing the body was good for her own weight loss.

Four episodes in, and Willow isn’t a witch yet, but her role is clearly defined as “hacker”, which was such a fun nebulous term in the 1990’s for “literally doing magic with computers”. So maybe she IS a witch already.

Shawarma reference! Backstage, Joss Whedon thought “Well that’s a funny word. If I ever direct a major blockbuster picture, I’m going to sneak that in several times”. Holy crap, these episodes influenced a lot of pop culture in the 2010’s, guys.

Ms. French seduces and drugs Xander, then… takes him downstairs to lock him in a cage. Of all the characters to give plot armor, why THIS guy? You have no idea how much I might like this show more if the kindly science teacher had lived, but French immediately ate and killed Xander’s piddly ass.

Wait, does Willow like Xander? She clearly has a thing for him. Why is this a thing? I never knew this. Does it last, or is it an early forgotten plot point? I thought she just liked Seth Green. Where is Seth Green, anyway?

Generic ass vampires were giving Buffy a hard time two episodes ago, but here she effortlessly catches Fork Guy off screen to use him to find Ms. French’s house. And I mean… it’s stupidly easy. Time is of the essence. Xander has been captured and is minutes away from dying. And Buffy runs off, finds Fork Guy, defeats Fork Guy, subdues Fork Guy, and brings Fork Guy above ground. You have no idea how crippling this is to the drama of the show. I no longer feel like anyone is in any real peril because the heroes can solve all of their problems off screen.

The team rushes Ms. French’s house and saves Xander with a combination of bug spray (SIGH), bat sonar, and fucking her shit up with a machete. You know… I bet you only really needed one of those three things.

I’m unreasonably angry that Xander yet lives. After only four episodes, I think I hate him more than I’ve hated any television character in quite some time. I do hope he eventually dies, but I’m also relatively sure he doesn’t. Or, if he does, I’m at least six seasons away from that level of happiness.

Until next time… take care!