“Clark Kent has a job. I just wanna go on a date.”
“Never Kill…” is an important episode. It dramatises something I think is one of the core ideas of the show. Not “High School is Hell” or “Monsters as Metaphors” those are the how. The what is encapsulated in that quote I began with – the conflict between being The Slayer and being a normal girl. The show in the early years did a great job of using the horror genre to talk about every day problems the audience could identify with. Later on it got harder to do that and not repeat themselves, until by season 5+ these were pretty much just telling stories in that world, without so much the direct parallels. However one thing that runs all the way through from Welcome to the Hellmouth to Chosen is the way being the Slayer isolates you and yet how Buffy still tries to live a normal life, connecting to those around her. To varying degrees she succeeds but often at great cost.
It’s this conflict that’s not only at the heart of the show but, I believe goes a long way to making it what it is. After all, the danger with something that wears its feminism so clearly on its sleeve as BtVS does is that you become po-faced and preachy. What rescues it from that, apart obviously, from humour and lots of it, is the fact that Buffy is not just a hero she’s an ordinary teenager. She likes boys and shopping and chatting with her friends. She gets frustrated with adults who don’t understand what’s really important, like dates and having the right shoes. So this instantly gives us a way in, makes her identifiable and makes us care.
Another way Never Kill… is also a key episode for the Season 1 over-all arc. It introduces the idea of the Annoying One who has a lot to do with the finale. So given how important this episode is it’s a shame it’s not a better one. I mean it’s still very good, there’s lots to enjoy. But that’s mostly Joss’s humour and some good performances by Sarah and Tony Head, but still on a BtVS scale it lacks something. Partly I think it’s that the show is still finding its feet. I think you can tell that there’s still a lot they haven’t figured out yet. It hasn’t yet quite broken out of the mode of a teenage show, albeit a slightly quirky one. You can see this in the costumes (some very short skirts) and even some of the dialogue –
“You’re acting a little overly, aren’t you?”
“Tonight! Isn’t that so?”
“Yeah, so it is. It sure is so.”
I’m not sure but this sounds to me like it’s deliberately intended to sound teenage-ry. Joss talks about trying use real teenager slang at first and then gradually developing something else, something that was unique to the show, so-called “Buffy-speak”. So compare the above with for example:
“Ooo, two points for the Slayer, while the Watcher has yet to score!”
Giles: Well, you know what they say. Ninety percent of the vampire
slaying game is, is waiting.
Buffy: You couldn’t have told me that ninety percent ago?
In season 2, 3 and beyond the skirts get longer and we get more of the second kind of dialogue. That’s when I feel the show has found and is playing to, its own audience rather than chasing a “demographic” or some-such. Not that there’s a lot of that, but it’s not completely absent.
Perhaps another reason for me personally not to out-and-out love this ep is the prophecy. Prophecies in the Buffyverse have a habit of being self-fulfilling. In fact a major part of a seasonal arc in Angel was built around just such a concept. I don’t mind a prophecy having that sense of irony that the outcome is changed by the telling itself, but in order to be called a prophecy there needs to be an element of genuine mystical foresight. Telling a group of vampires that on a certain night five people will die and then having those vampires go out and kill five people on that night, is an instruction not a prophecy.
One final reason is that Owen is, despite the way he’s cast, a bit wet. They got the right kind of boy that you can imagine Buffy and Cordelia drooling over, but that whole shy, Emily Dickinson reading, talks about bees thing seems out of line with that somehow. I get that he’s supposed to have more depth but he just seems a bit too other-worldly in a weird way. And of course at the end the script requires him to do a complete 180 and want to become a danger-thrill-seeker. Now I can see how that might happen, reaction to his earlier, don’t get out much lifestyle but… I dunno, it just makes him overall seem much less impressive than he could have been. Probably that was the point but it left me wanting a better foil for Buffy. Oh wait Angel’s waiting in the wings, maybe he’s the one to… 😉
This is getting long so just a couple of note-worthy things to erm, note before I wrap it up:
- pedants and continuity types, notice that Giles says “I don’t have an instruction manual”. Later on we find out about the Slayer Handbook
- more Willow-Xander-Buffy-Angel love quadrilateral hints – with Owen and Cordy thrown in too – not so much as with Witch but still cool.
- “OK at this point you’re abusing sarcasm” is one of the few BtVS quotes that can be easily re-used in everyday life. Trust me I’ve tried and most Buffyspeak, however cool, are too specific to work out of context.
- first of a run of gags about the Library – the ‘batcave’ of the Scooby gang – actually being used as a Library.
So, overall, it’s an episode that deals with a, if not the, major theme of the show. It comes from a season where it’s not yet become the show I fell in love with but it’s still full of a lot of fun stuff.