Buffy The Vampire Slayer: Welcome To The Hellmouth – 22nd Anniversary7th March 2019
Welcome To The Hellmouth – Joss Whedon
Time to go right back to the start, then. The year is 1997, the hottest band on the radio was The Spice Girls, the fashion is questionable to say the least, and a new show called Buffy The Vampire Slayer was just starting up. The question is, would it actually work?
Indeed, it did. Welcome To The Hellmouth is a triumph of first episodes. Everything somehow just works, even in places where it logically shouldn’t. Is it perfect? Well, no, but little is. The main cast, the plot, the villains, it all gels in a wonderful way that turns what could have been a forgettable little show into what would soon become one of the most beloved on TV.
Of course, I should probably discuss everything when it comes to the first episode of the show. The theme, the title sequence, everything. So, here goes.
Unsurprisingly, for the first episode of a 144-episode long television show, Welcome To The Hellmouth has a lot of firsts. First appearance of Buffy (obviously, she IS the title character after all), first appearance of Xander and Willow, first appearance of Angel and Giles, first use of Nerf Herder’s wonderful theme (Well, soon to be wonderful. Sadly the theme used in the earlier seasons just falls a bit flat, it’s not as exciting or thrilling as the later, more rockier variant). As a result of this, the episode can’t help but feel special.
Yet, when looked at as just another episode of Buffy, it’s pretty standard. Yes, I know I said it’s a triumph of first episodes and I meant it. The best thing the first episode can do is not feel out of place when compared to the rest of the show, and it manages that. It’s just, outside of a lot of firsts, it doesn’t feel particularly special. There’s no specific big evil in this episode besides a few bogstandard vampires (Oh, and the introduction of the big bad of the entire season, The Master. So I guess there’s that).
But for a plot that’s so standard, the episode is at least entertaining. It’s an essential introduction to the characters that you’ll grow to love over the next seven seasons of television (and some in their own spin-offs, more on that in another time and place). Plus it’s better by far than the intended pilot (God, if you’re out there, magically delete every single piece of evidence that pilot ever existed please I’m begging you) was, so there’s that at least.
The episode also introduces us, the viewer, to Buffy’s tendencies towards subversion. Right from the offset, we’re taught to expect the unexpected as the woman, the one who we as an audience are more likely to assume is the one in peril, turns out to be the danger in the situation. It’s a bold mission statement for the show.
In order to properly start a show with as much depth as Buffy, you need to introduce your characters in the correct way. You can’t just throw them into the mix and pray that they work, because they simply won’t. So it’s very nice to see Whedon set them up in the proper way, while still allowing for character growth later down the line. Alyson Hannigan is wonderful here as Willow, the nerdy and plucky youth, and Nicholas Brendon is great as Xander, her dim-witted but well-meaning friend. The issue here is they don’t really do too much in the episode, and saying too much about their future will give away too much. But rest assured, they’re great here and they get even better later.
Two characters that are given the perfect amount of development in this episode are Angel and Giles. David Boreanez is the perfect tall, dark and handsome stranger, with just the right air of mystery to him to make him intriguing, rather than fatiguing. It’s extremely possible and indeed, easy, to go overboard with these things, to turn the subject of intrigue into the focus, but Whedon finds the perfect balance here with Angel. Anthony Stewart Head also somehow manages to strike the perfect balance between stereotypical Englishman (All tea and croissants) and actual likeable character here. Yeah, that’s right, I said it. The stereotypical Englishman is not generally a likeable character archetype.
It’s also interesting in that it’s one of few episodes of Buffy to feature a proper cliffhanger. Now, when I say a proper cliffhanger I don’t just mean your standard SHOCK HORROR MOMENT QUICK CUT TO BLACK CREDITS. Nah, I mean a massive title stinger, huge letters saying “TO BE CONTINUED”. Though, as cliffhangers go, ehhhhh. You know that they’re not going to kill off the title character in the first episode. No show that’s ran by a sane person does that. So it doesn’t really have the impact that it wants to have.
Overall, it’s pretty bog-standard fare for Buffy, but the fact that this was what started it all cannot be ignored. It’s still a good episode, it’s just not a particular stand-out beyond the fact it’s the first episode.
Best Moment: Giles meeting Buffy. The panic in his eyes when he realises he may have shown the book of Vampyr to a random new student in the school is hilarious, and the dynamic they have for the rest of the episode is superb. Anthony Stewart Head was forever cemented as one of my favourite British actors exactly from this moment.
Best Character: I mean, could I really say anybody but Buffy here? For her first outing as the titular Slayer, Sarah Michelle Geller still approaches this role with as much energy and vigour as she possibly can. It’s clear she’s giving it her all here and she delivers Joss Whedon’s lines so perfectly, it’s like they were made to go together.
Best Line: “Okay, we can do this the hard way or… well, actually, there’s just the hard way.”
Fun Fact: The Master’s name in the original scripts for this episode is listed as Heinrich Joseph Nest. Not quite as scary a name as The Master, is it?