Today on Buffy and the Art of Story: Season 1, Episode 2, The Harvest.
For writers and other story creators interested in looking at Buffy the Vampire Slayer episodes one-by-one to see how plot, characterization, and other story elements work (and very occasionally don’t).
Every discussion is spoiler-free, except at the end (with plenty of warning).
Story Elements in The Harvest
In this podcast episode we’ll look at how Buffy handles these story elements in the second half of the 2-episode pilot:
- The commitment and reversal at the story mid-point (where the episode begins)
- How the plot turns at the three-quarter point
- The way characterization affects plot, particularly leading to the final battle
- The Climax
- Falling Action
- Story questions that keep us watching
- In the Spoiler section, more on Darla, Angel, Giles, and a little bit of misdirection
Also some highlights from the Buffy DVD commentaries by Joss Whedon on Willow and Darla.
The 7 Season Plan
Two down and too many episodes left to count!
Buffy and the Art of Story plans to cover every episode of Buffy in order and spoiler-free — except at the end so I can talk about foreshadowing, but I’ll give you plenty of warning.
Down the road there’ll be a Patreon account where you’ll be able to get a free story structure template. As a patron, you’ll also get access to bonus episodes.
Those episodes will include Buffy-adjacent stories (such as key Angel episodes). Also films or TV episodes that are intriguing from a story, theme, or character perspective.
Requests will be welcome.
Next Up: The Witch (S1 E3).
For more fiction writing tools you can check out my non-fiction books, which cover story structure, finishing a novel in one year, and character development.
FYI, as an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases made through this site, but that doesn’t change the purchase price to you as the buyer or influence my love for the Buffy DVDs and all things Buffy.
Hello and welcome to Buffy and the Art of Story.
If you love Buffy the Vampire Slayer and you love creating stories — or just taking them apart to see how they work – you’re in the right place. I am Lisa M Lilly, author of suspense, mysteries, and supernatural thrillers and founder of WritingAsASecondCareer.com.
Each week I’ll talk about one episode of Buffy in order, covering plot turns and other story elements.
The discussion will be spoiler-free except at the very end, and I’ll give you plenty of warning.
This Week: The Harvest
This week we’ll be talking about The Harvest, the second half of the pilot episode. So in terms of plot points, we’ll pick up at the Midpoint and go through the turn at the three-quarter mark of the story, into the climax and the falling action. We’ll also be talking more about character development because I didn’t get to do as much of that as I would have liked in the first episode, and a bit about story questions and how that keeps us coming back even though the main plot resolved.
Okay, let’s dive into the Hellmouth.
The Harvest picks up right at the Midpoint. So remember the protagonist at the Midpoint typically throws caution to the wind, goes all in on her quest, or suffers a reversal or both.
We saw both last time. Buffy embraced being the Slayer both in her words and her actions, doing her first dusting and saying, “Don’t you know who I am?”
She then immediately suffers a reversal when Luke comes from behind her. She doesn’t hear him. He says “I don’t care.” He doesn’t care who she is. And he throws her into this coffin. He’s about to kill her and — cut.
So we pick up right there.
And Buffy is able to push Luke away partly because of that cross she’s wearing that that Angel gave her that she chose to wear. But I like to think regardless she would have found a way to get Luke off of her.
However, she isn’t able to kill him or pursue him. He disappears. She goes after the vampires to try to get Jesse and Willow back. Xander is with her.
They are able to save Willow but not Jesse. So he has been taken away with the vampires within a few minutes of the Midpoint at the start of this episode.
We see Buffy in the library, and she further affirms her commitment now to being the Slayer. She says Jesse is her responsibility.
No one else is going to go after him because she’s the one who got him killed. I’m pretty sure she says killed even though we don’t know yet that Jesse has been killed. But she is going to go after him and she is definitely at this point embracing being the Slayer and feeling guilty for not doing it sooner. No doubt thinking that maybe she would have been able to prevent this.
From this point on it is Buffy who is driving the story forward rather than just reacting to what is happening around her.
Our next major Buffy scene is in the crypt again because she has figured out that Luke must have come from a passageway in it.
We see her encounter Angel. Once more this scene doesn’t really move the plot forward. He doesn’t tell her enough that that it makes a big difference. So in some ways, it’s just Angel showing up being cryptic. And you could really lift this right out of the episode and it wouldn’t change anything.
And yet the scene works because it does move the subplot. Which at this point it may be an exaggeration to call it a subplot. I would say it is a season subplot of Buffy and Angel and how they will interact. What will their relationship be?
This is one of those story questions. Who is Angel. What is the deal with him?
There is chemistry between them.
But is that a good thing a bad thing? Is anything going to happen with that or is he just going to show up and give some information and disappear?
The other thing that happens here, and this is what for me makes the scene compelling, is we have a little more than just Buffy Angel chemistry question of who he is.
Character Development: Angel
She makes this sarcastic comment about “Do you know what it’s like to have a friend?” And he the way he responds, the silence, the look on his face shows that he doesn’t. Buffy realizes that, and it is the first time that we see Angel vulnerable.
Up to this point when we’ve seen him at all, he has seemed very in control.
He’s only sharing what he wants to share. He’s not letting Buffy know very much about him. But here, he reacts, and he can’t help it. He is vulnerable, and this is part of what makes us like a character and engage with a character.
So that also, at least for me, makes that scene engaging and is why I would not want to see it lifted out of the story even though for the main plot we don’t need it.
And I love that because while as a writer, because I do genre fiction and thrillers and suspense, generally I’m really trying to make each scene move the story forward. That’s what helps keep a fast pace. At the same time, this shows there is that place for that quiet scene that shows this relationship develops. As long as there is enough tension within the scene to keep it interesting in itself, every single scene does not have to move that main plot or even a clearly defined subplot.
Because, as I mentioned at this point, there isn’t really a Buffy/Angel story arc for this pilot episode.
We also get to learn quite a bit about Xander in the first half of the pilot. When we meet Xander, he is a bit awkward. He says the wrong thing. He’s aware he says the wrong thing.
Oh, we also see that Xander is very loyal.
Because even though most of that first episode he’s focused on trying to impress Buffy, seemingly mainly just because she’s the new girl and she’s cute, and we see him skeptical when he hears overhears her and Giles talking about her being the Slayer, and when she’s first saying “I gotta know where Willow is” after Willow has gone off with the vampire, he is saying, “Oh, cuz you might have to slay a vampire.”
But as soon as he grasps that Willow is truly in danger, all that goes out the window. And he is right there. He’s not carrying about, oh Buffy’s pretty and he’s got to impress her. He’s not caing that maybe the whole idea of vampires, he doesn’t believe in.
He is right there to help Willow.
And we see that again, and perhaps more so, with Jesse. Because now he knows Jesse is in danger. He has seen the vampires and he wants to help and he does help. He goes down into the tunnels.
And this is where we see that Xander also is courageous because while he’s petrified, and he really has no particular skills to offer.
He still goes down into the tunnels to follow Buffy. And I love that he is self aware about that. We see his humor come through because she is saying “Well, you know, did you bring anything with to help fight?” and he says, “You know, the part of my brain that would have told me to bring those things was too busy telling me not to do this.”
This makes Xander are person we can identify with because it really speaks to those times when we plow ahead with something that we know is a bad idea, and we’re little bit in denial about that, and it keeps us from being fully prepared for what we’re doing.
So it’s that two sides of our brain.
We also see another aspect of Xander, which is his very deep insecurity and his strong feelings of inadequacy. Because yes, he follows Buffy because of loyalty. But he also responds to her saying, “Look I do this, not you, because I’m the Slayer.” And he says something like, “I knew you were going to throw that back at me.”
Well that applies to everybody, that’s not a specific thing to Xander.
Buffy’s the Slayer and nobody else is. Yet to him it feels very personal, and he also links it with masculinity. He says something like, “I’m not enough of a man.”
That Xander would have these feelings, he’s I think a sophomore in high school at this time. It’s adolescence. Most adolescents are struggling with what does it mean to be an adult? How do I become an adult? Often that also is tied up with gender and sexuality. So it’s not probably not unique to Xander that he has these feelings, these fears, these feelings of inadequacy that he relates to what is it mean to be a man.
But the fact that Buffy being a Slayer stirs this up when really that’s so unrelated to any of those things tells us a lot about Xander.
Overall, though, I feel like the main driver of him following Buffy is that he wants to help his friend.
Xander and Buffy in the tunnel is another great example of getting exposition in through conflict and in a tense situation. Buffy explains more of the rules of how to slay vampires to Xander, under including this line I love. Where she says there was the football player, and he’d been turned into a vampire, and she beheads him with “a little little exacto knife.”
It’s such a great great line and it’s sort of funny, and it tells us more about Buffy’s strength what she can do. And how the vampires can be killed.
All within this very tense time because at any moment they could encounter vampires. Xander is definitely vulnerable and Buffy is reassuring him.
So again, there is a reason for her to be telling him these things.
He does not know them and he may need to know them in a second or two.
Character Development: Willow
Also we have some really nice Willow characterization.
We see her in the computer lab and see her character growth. I should say we see her in the computer lab, and Cordelia is commenting on Buffy and saying bad things about her. And Willow who did not previously stick up for herself with Cordelia in the first episode does stick up for Buffy. And she gets revenge by tricking Cordelia into deleting the computer program she’s been working on.
In the commentary Joss said he saw this as Willow’’s first empowering moment, and it shows the beginning of her character arc and the influence of her friendship with Buffy. Not just that Buffy encouraged her to be sort of less timid generally, but because she has been through this experience with the vampires with Buffy and Willow has survived.
So she feels more confidence, which brings us to Cordelia.
Character Development: Cordelia
In the beginning, Cordelia in these two episodes, there is a lot of her that is the classic mean girl. So she doesn’t have a lot of layers in this pilot.
We see her being very nice to Buffy. And Cordelia is popular. She has friends who follow her around. She is a foil for Buffy. We get this sense, even if we didn’t know the story already, that Buffy was kind of a Cordelia. That she was one of the popular girls. I like to think Buffy was not a mean girl because of the way she reacts when Cordelia treats Willow the way she does.
Also the way Buffy then makes a point that she is going to be friends with Willow whether Cordelia likes it or not, even though Buffy clearly does want Cordelia to like her. She’s very upset when in the Bronze she is looking for Willow, and she almost stakes Cordelia. And Cordelia says, “I have to call everybody I know.” So we know that Buffy she’s upset about that.
She comments to Giles about her social life being on the critical list.
So Buffy does care, but she is still going to be friends with Willow.
Cordelia though does have something in this pilot that I really like. Whether I picked up on it the first time I watched I’m not sure. But I see it as I look back on it and see her interacting with Jesse.
Just as Cordelia is a foil for Buffy, I see Jesse as a foil for Xander.
They both are obsessed with the new girl. And the initial attraction seems to be just it’s a new girl and she’s pretty. It’s not about who Buffy is.
Likewise, all we really see from Jesse is he is pursuing Cordelia. But we don’t get any sense of that it’s about who Cordelia is as a person. Maybe it is, maybe it’s not. But all we see is him very aggressively encroaching on her space saying obnoxious things, not taking a hint, not listening when she is clearly saying, “Get away from me. I am not interested in you.”
So in that sense, I see Jesse as the stepped up version of the things that we don’t love about Xander.
And Jesse is the unaware version. Xander says to Buffy when he first meets her, “Can I have you?” And he meant to say, “Can I help you?” He feels awkward and embarrassed that he said, “Can I have you?”
Jesse seems beyond embarrassment. He says things to Cordelia, he keeps pursuing her though she’s not interested, and he doesn’t seem to have self-awareness about that.
Cordelia, what I like is that she is so clear. And I feel like all of us have had those moments where we have what’s going in our head and we don’t say it because we think that will be too mean. Or someone is approaching us — particularly for women and girls, and this must happen to non-females as well. But for me, it’s something I’m primarily familiar with from talking to other girls and women, which is where a guy comes up to you, and you are not interested, and there is this line to walk. Most of us have had that happen on a bus or you know, if you take public transportation, or on the street.
There is that you need to push this person away because you don’t want to encourage him to hang around and to stay there.
And yet if you are too insistent, you are too cutting, you are even too clear, there could be a violent reaction. So it is kind of fun to watch Cordelia just shut Jesse down and say I am not putting up with this guy who keeps coming over and is encroaching on my space and doesn’t want to take no for an answer.
So that is part of what I like about Cordelia in this episode where other than that she seems to be a kind of that classic mean girl.
After The Midpoint
All of this has grown from the Midpoint. Specifically from Buffy’s commitment at the Midpoint to go after Jesse and do everything she can to save him and prevent more harm.
She goes down into the tunnel. Xander follows her because she has made that decision to do that. The Master also is acting in response to Buffy’s commitment because remember he and Luke are talking. The Master is upset that Luke has not brought back more humans, that Darla and the others have not brought back more humans for him to feed off of. And Luke says there was a girl. “She fought me and she lived,” and he and the Master agree that Buffy probably is the Slayer.
This is the first time they have faced a Slayer in a long time.
The fact that Buffy embraced being the Slayer and fought off Luke triggers the Master to come instead of feeding off Jesse, turn him into bait. So Jesse now will be a way for the Master to — Buffy is already coming down into the tunnels and she doesn’t know this has been done.
But the key is she will think Jesse is still human, and he will be able to lead her into a place of more danger, which is exactly what happens.
So this has grown from Buffy’s actions at the Midpoint.
In a well-structured story we will see that strong Midpoint propelling the story forward, the protagonist’s action propelling the story forward to the Three Quarter Turn. And here that is exactly what happens.
From the Midpoint to the 3/4 point the mission is to save Jesse.
Everything is done in pursuit of that.
The Harvest and the Three Quarter Turn
Right around 20 to 22 minutes into this episode, which would be about 62 minutes into the 84-minute double episode arc, Xander and Buffy are in a tight space in the tunnel. Jesse Vamps out. So he has turned into a vampire, and is now going to help the other vampires trap them.
The entire story now shifts because we can’t save Jesse anymore.
So first Buffy and Xander have to survive and get away, which they do. They barely get out. Now they move forward, and none of it is about saving Jesse. It is all about stopping The Harvest.
So The Harvest has been there in the background, but now that becomes the new mission, the driving force.
Quick side note on Jesse becoming bait: in the commentary Joss notes that this was done to answer the question that often comes up in horror movies, which is why doesn’t the villain just kill this person? Why doesn’t the villain just killed Jesse?
Making him bait, having the Master have a reason for doing that, gives us a narrative reason for Jesse to survive up until the climax so we can have that moment between Jesse and Xander, and it isn’t just, oh, the Master didn’t feel like killing him that day.
Now that Buffy and Xander have gotten away, we’re there again in the library with Giles.
He’s explaining how The Harvest works. That Luke is the vessel that the more Luke feeds the stronger the Master gets so that the Master can break free roam the Earth and probably kill everybody.
So now it is about stopping that from happening. Because this is the one time when this particular ritual can be performed. They need to figure out where this will likely happen, and they decide it must be the Bronze. That’s where you would have so many people there that could be fed off of.
Buffy says she has to go home to get supplies, and we have her encounter with her mom.
Joyce As An Obstacle
So throughout this two-episode arc, Buffy has encountered obstacle after obstacle. Her mother now is one of the last obstacles to get where she needs to go.
Getting supplies is that sort of mechanical device that gets Buffy to the place where she has this confrontation with her mom.
What I love about the way this is done is that the supplies aren’t just you know, they don’t just get Buffy home and we forget about them. We see her get them, and we get this nice metaphor of Buffy lifting out the top of her trunk. It has all her sort of day-to-day things, and sort of Buffy the girl, Buffy the high school student things.
She lifts it out and underneath are all these supplies for killing vampires. And this really shows very nicely Buffy’s hidden life.
She takes all those supplies to the Bronze, and she gives them to her friends and they do use them in the climax.
I like this so much because as writers, we all sometimes need to insert something to get our character, usually our protagonist, but maybe the antagonist, from one place to the next so that the next scene can happen.
It’s kind of that connective tissue that brings us from point A to B. And it can feel like we shouldn’t need to bring in something artificial, or we shouldn’t need to think up something to take the character from this point to the next.
But this shows that yes that is perfectly fine. As long as that device has a narrative purpose, as long as we make it pay off, and here it does.
Now we have another scene that is this wonderful conflict.
Because it could easily have been just angry mom who’s made at Buffy and grounds her because she got a call from the principal and on her very first day Buffy has already skipped class.
And that would be that would be a legitimate conflict because it would be very real. It comes out of the story.
Buffy did skip class. Her mom doesn’t know why and it’s not that unreasonable for her to get angry.
But instead we get something so much more interesting and nuanced and layered. Because Joyce says yes, “I got a call from the principal you already skipped class. We just got here.”
Buffy wants to go out. Joyce doesn’t just say you’re grounded. You’re punished. She says, “No.The tapes say that I need to learn to say No.”
So Joyce has been listening to parenting tapes, which would be audiobooks if it were being made now. She says she’s listening to these parenting tapes. She also says she’s read about the dangers of over-nurturing.
We learn from this that Joyce cares about being a good parent.
She is making an effort. She’s listening to tapes. She’s reading. Probably she feels guilty that something about the way she was parenting is what caused or contributed to Buffy getting into trouble, getting kicked out of school, and she really wants to do something better or different for her daughter.
She wants to be a better mom. So this isn’t just angry mom punishing Buffy or even, you know, not angry mom but practical mom punishing Buffy to say I’ve got to teach you not to do these things.
It is a parent struggling to do the right thing for her daughter. And in response Buffy of course is frustrated because she needs to go save the world, and she has to deal with her mom.
Yet the dialogue, her expression, all of it tells us that Buffy’s frustrated. She’s not angry at her mom for being a mom. She wants to be the daughter her mom wants, and she wants to be able to tell her mom.
Her anger and frustration comes from that dual role. It’s exactly what her trunk has shown us. She has to respond to her mom play the part with her mom of being the daughter, the high school girl. And she can’t reveal what’s underneath.
Her anger and frustration is very real, but she doesn’t she doesn’t take it out on her mom. She is struggling to find a way to explain it and she can’t. And this is a real conflict. It’s not something that is easily solvable.
You have two people with good intentions who truly want the best for each other who have this conflict. And that I just love. The best conflict that you can have as a writer is that type of conflict.
So Buffy resolves this by sneaking out of the house. Because that’s the only way she can get out.
And she is late to the Bronze, but she does get there.
Moving Toward The Climax
Now we are driving forward to our Climax, and notice something else — that from that 3/4 point to the climax the action is going very fast. We’re moving forward.
There isn’t I don’t think any more exposition in there. It’s just the events are going one after the other arising out of that Three-Quarter Turn and moving toward our climax, which fits the theme of the show as it is not only about Buffy.
We see all our main characters engaged in this fight. And how they fight — particularly Willow and Xander — so fits with their characters.
Willow throws holy water on Darla, who is attacking Giles, and Darla runs away.
I love this for a couple reasons. One is throwing holy water seems to fit for me with Willow because Willow, she’s not the Slayer. And she has been probably the least physical in her fighting. She’s not wanting to go down into the tunnels with Buffy. I have no doubt if she had the strength or something to add, super powers, she would be right there. But she knows that she doesn’t. She goes with her strengths, which is she stays in researches with Giles and contributes that way.
So the holy water fits in that it is a type of tool or weapon that we definitely believe Willow would use.
I also like it because we had this early scene with Cordelia at the water fountain where Cordelia’s mean to Willow and Willow runs away. Now we see Willow in a physical confrontation with a vampire, and Willow throws holy water, and Darla runs away. The other girl or woman runs away.
This is such a nice bookend for Willow and showing of her character growth.
Was it deliberate on the writers’ part? That there’s water in both and that Willow runs away in one and Darla in the other. I have no idea, but it’s really nice and I really like it.
We also see Xander, very consistent with who he is in his loyalty to Jesse.
Xander is holding a stake, but it’s a defensive measure. And it’s not clear that if he were to try to fight Jesse that he could prevail. He’s got the stake because he knows he should have it.
But he is trying to talk to Jesse. He’s trying to reason with Jesse despite the Jesse is a vampire.
What does Xander really think he can he can accomplish here? Because he’s trying to talk Jesse into presumably into not killing people and yet Jesse can’t. At this point he can’t choose to not be a vampire.
We don’t have any reason to think that he can choose to not want to kill people.
Or that really he could do anything other than what he is going to do, and Xander on some level knows this. He’s been told this. Yet. He is still trying to say Jesse, “You know, don’t you remember who you are? Don’t you want to be a good person” basically.
So Xander does kill Jesse, but it’s by accident someone else runs into them.
The stake gets pushed into Jesse’s heart. And Jesse is dusted.
I like this so much. Because it fits with who Xander is, and also I feel like we don’t really want to see Xander have to kill his friend. That’s something that the show has made clear. I think that there are going to be hard choices that they’re going to be terrible losses. But at this point right now, I love that. We don’t we don’t make Xander do that.
Also if Xander and Willow were able to just slay vampires with no problem, that would really undercut the whole idea of Buffy being the one person who could do this.
So all around this works.
The Climax of Welcome to the Hellmouth and The Harvest
Going to our climax, where Buffy fights Luke and prevails. This too so fits her character and the premise of the show.
Buffy is strong, but she doesn’t win over Luke by being physically stronger. He is presented as being extremely powerful. He did overpower her the first time they encountered each other. She wins both by her Slayer strength and by who she is as a person. She is quipping. And she taunts him about sunrise and fools him by throwing something — and I forget if it’s a curtain or a drape — but it drops down and this artificial light floods the stage. And Luke, because she has said this about sunrise, cowers instinctively.
Now that he is off guard she is able to stake him from behind.
And I love it because it makes the show so much more interesting than if Buffy were just a super being who is super strong physically.
It is not just that she’s strong. It’s that she can outwit the vampires, and that is something that I noticed before watching the commentary.
And then I watched and listened to the commentary. And Joss said that as well. That he wanted to show that Buffy was not just strong but also smart and that she could outwit her opponents.
He also commented that her quipping and joking around is part of what makes her not Superman. It makes her human and so we worry more for her.
It also makes her more interesting to me and goes with her intelligence and her wit.
The Falling Action in The Harvest
Now that Luke is defeated, we see the Master’s frustration. He is not going to get out today. Buffy and her friends have prevailed in this battle. They haven’t won the war because the Master still exists.
But they have prevailed and stopped The Harvest.
Now we are in the falling action part of the story. In that part, our protagonist reacts, absorbs the result of the climax. If the protagonist prevailed we usually see some sort of celebration. In the hero’s journey story structure, that is a specific part of it. The hero gets the Holy Grail, prevails in the quest, wins the battle, and celebrates.
If you are a Star Wars fan in the original movie you’ll remember there was that scene where everyone’s getting awarded medals.
So we don’t have anyone getting medals here, but we do have our core four — people Giles, Xander, Willow, and Buffy – at the base of the stage recognizing and feeling good about the fact that they won something.
What did not notice, and was pointed out in the commentary, is that what we don’t see there are the bodies of the people that Luke drained and killed before Buffy got there. And that was a deliberate choice. Because seeing the bodies of the people that Buffy couldn’t save because she couldn’t get out of the house sooner would really undercut that celebration.
So while it is a little less realistic, I like that we have that moment where despite all the costs, despite that they didn’t win everything and that Jesse is still gone, we do get a moment to acknowledge that Yes, they stopped The Harvest. They saved Sunnydale, maybe saved the world.
Also part of the falling action is tying up the loose ends, the things that we have put out there and the reader wants to know how does this resolve.
The major one we have here is what will happen now that so many people have seen vampires and have seen Buffy fighting them and winning. If that were to now bring Buffy out into the open that would seriously undercut the series.
So we have to have an explanation for how does this keep happening, and we get it from Giles.
He says people rationalize what they can and forget what they can’t. This comes in the context of, I don’t remember if it’s Willow or Xander saying, oh everything’s going to be different. Giles says no, it’s not, and here’s why.
And then we get an example of it because we hear Cordelia doing exactly what Giles says. She seemingly has forgotten that Buffy saved her life.
She rationalizes what happened by saying, “Oh, there were these gang members and Buffy knew them.”
What’s interesting is within that there is a sort of grudging respect for Buffy. I have to think that comes out of Cordelia on some level remembering that Buffy saved her, and definitely remembering Buffy fighting even though she is now reframing it as gang members not vampires.
We also get some hints about the future.
If you are writing an ongoing series, whether it’s TV or maybe movies and there’s going to be another, or a novel that’s part of the series, it’s good to have these hints about the future. They get the reader interested or the audience interested in coming back to the next installment.
Even if your story is self-contained, readers like to have a little hint about what is the future for these characters.
If you’re writing a romance that has a happily ever after ending you might give a little hint about something lovely these characters will do in the future. Or just enough to show that yes, it will be happily ever after.
If it’s suspense or mystery and the protagonist has prevailed usually the reader wants that emotional satisfaction of knowing that there are some good things in store for our protagonist. And whatever other characters we become engaged with. Maybe we want to know there’s consequences for the antagonist.
So this is where you tie up the loose ends and add a few hints about the future.
What we have is Giles commenting about what else can happen on the Hellmouth, the other kinds of monsters. And we had a little of that I think in the pilot’s first half where he jokes about the Time-Life books, and you can have all kinds of monsters here.
So again he says that plus we get the hint about the future that Buffy, Xander, and Willow are going to continue to be friends and that this will be a big part of what makes Buffy’s life fun. And as she deals with slaying vampires they will probably continue to help her. These are nice hints about the future.
Story Questions The Harvest Raises
Giles’ comments are also story questions. It raises a question. What will Buffy face next? The other story questions — we have a lot of them, going back to that point that we put our protagonist in emotional peril.
We have questions about:
- Buffy and school. She did cut out of school. There probably are going to be repercussions. We want to know how that’s going to work.
- Buffy and her social life.
- Buffy and Joyce what will happen there.
- Cordelia and Buffy because Cordelia continues to be a character who we come back to again and again in this two-episode arc. So there is a suggestion there that maybe Cordelia and Buffy will continue to interact and what will that be like?
Then there is our giant story question — the Master is still there.
So will he get out? How will he get out? What will happen?
This is something else that Joss mentioned in the commentaries, which is his deliberate choice to keep the Master trapped at the end of the two-episode arc. Because otherwise if he’s out there in the world you have to deal with your protagonist, and you want him to be an ongoing villain. You have to deal with your protagonist losing to the Master again and again, which undercuts her.
Or you have to have all these manipulative ways of keeping them from confronting each other, or come up with reasons why they don’t. But by keeping him trapped he remains a threat and he is out there. And even in our one-off episodes where he’s not the focus he still looms as this threat.
So it keeps that tension.
It keeps that story question as the series moves forward.
Those are the plot points for this two-episode arc. We’ve now covered all of them.
Commentary On Willow
A few more things from the commentary that I thought were interesting. Joss said that the network wanted Willow to be more cool and hip and more like Buffy, thinking the audience wouldn’t be very interested in Willow as this kind of brainy nerdy, less, maybe not less active but less confident character than Buffy.
And Joss said he insisted, no, Willow needs to be as she is and that she would have this rabid fan base. Because she’s someone we can know and identify with and Buffy is less so because she’s that unattainable ideal.
I am not sure if this came from the scene-by-scene or was in one of the interviews that’s on the DVD, but Joss said something else that I just love.
“When you’re writing it’s just you and the characters and it’s a great place to be.”
And that is so how I feel at the best moments. Sometimes I’m writing and it’s a slog and I’m just getting from one scene to the next. Just getting words down on the page, and it feels like that. But other times — and it’s what keeps me writing and going back to the keyboard and going back to my characters and stories — is that moment when I just feel I’m right there in that story, in that scene, with those characters, and it feels so amazing.
When I read back later most of the time what I wrote when it feels plodding and mechanical is just as good as what I write when I feel great.
I don’t really see a difference. I can’t pick out later which scenes I really felt in the moment on. But it just feels so much better when it’s like that so I love that quote.
Next week we’ll be talking about Episode 3, The Witch.
That is a self-contained episode, and I love that because we can go through all the plot points. The opening conflict, the turn at the 1/4 point, the Midpoint, the next major plot turn, the climax and the falling action all in one story.
So I am looking forward to doing that.
We’ll also talk about how the one-off episode still advances some of our characters’ storylines which is part of what keeps the audience going through the series whether or not they like a particular one-off episode.
If you are interested in spoilers foreshadowing I hope you’ll stay around.
If you do not want to hear spoilers, thank you so much for listening. You can find me at Lisa Lily.com or WritingAsASecondCareer.com.
And we’re back with spoilers.
Angel: This episode at the crypt with Buffy, there are a couple more hints that he is a vampire because he knows the Master and he knows the other vampires. Again, I did not pick up on that he might be a vampire. But I have heard that some people got it at that point.
One thing that doesn’t work for me in this scene in retrospect, because I know what’s coming, is when Angel says he isn’t going to go with Buffy into the tunnels.
He says, “I’m afraid.”
Given what we find out about Angel and how his character develops later, there’s no way that I believe that he’s afraid to go with her. Angel is so powerful. I understand why we don’t send him with her. That would undercut the whole premise of the show. It’s Buffy who needs to be fighting.
It’s Buffy, the one girl in all the world.
And if we send a powerful vampire with her in the pilot episode, that’s a whole different show.
Later on Buffy and Angel will fight together. Sometimes Buffy will save Angel. Once in a great while Angel will save Buffy. And that certainly works. There is no reason you can’t have a very strong protagonist being saved by other people. Xander saves Buffy.
But if in your pilot you have that happen you are signaling a much different type of story.
So I understand they had to give some reason why he wasn’t going to go with Buffy.
I think it’s always interesting to look at these early episodes when you see where the characters and the plot go later and see what kind of has to be retconned in order for it to work.
Another example of that is Darla. In this episode and I want to say a couple more, she is nowhere near as powerful as not just what she’ll become but as the backstory we get later shows that she is.
Darla as her character is developed on Buffy and Angel, we find out just how powerful she was. How smart how strong. And so when I go back and see these early episodes and see her much more deferential to the Master than I think she ever would be, and a little bit much more taken aback by Buffy than she would be it really stands out in retrospect.
This is something that is explained more or less in the commentary, and I did not know this. Joss said that initially the plan was that Willow would kill Darla. But they liked the actress so much and the character so much that they decided to keep her around. So that totally makes sense to me.
I think you can see that because I don’t think the writers had any idea and of who she would turn out to be. Or how important she was.
If you’re writing a novel, something to keep in mind is that audience members, especially at the time Buffy was made, would definitely give the showrunners some leeway — the creators of the show some leeway — in retconning characters.
Because everyone understood that when a TV show starts nobody knows if it’s going to continue, how long it’s going to continue. And there’s a big difference between what you might do if you’re looking at a season versus three seasons or five seasons or seven seasons.
So audiences are generally willing to go with a certain amount of revision later.
If you’re writing a novel or a screenplay for a movie that is self-contained, readers I think have a higher expectation, I certainly do, that if within the world of that novel there’s a character change, you really need to justify it.
So if your character of Darla is going to be kind of in awe of the Master or a little bit intimidated — or a lot intimidated — and then 3/4 into the novel you decide to give her some back story where she was super powerful and didn’t take crap from anybody, that is going to be problematic because it is not consistent. You are not being consistent with your characters.
Characters can definitely change. You could have her evolve into becoming more powerful, have things happen that she overcomes and she becomes more powerful.
But you if you give her a back story that doesn’t fit with who she is at the beginning of the novel, that is something that readers will most likely notice and be very frustrated with.
The other thing with the characters here, a little bit of Giles here that I likewise don’t think quite fits with what we learn about Giles later.
I’m okay with not seeing him fight because he is our Watcher. He is in this space at the beginning where he is there to prepare Buffy. He’s not there to be on the front lines with her.
That being said I see a little bit of, I feel I should say I feel a little bit misled in that I’m pretty sure he appears as if he cannot at all fight off Darla. Or at least the way he acts to me does not fit with Giles when we later find out he has this past where he raised demons. We find out he’s quite a good fighter. He’s very tough. He used to be called Ripper. All these things.
I would have expected to see a little bit of a hint of that or at least to not see him unable to, or maybe doing the least fighting in, this episode. I understand why we see that I just personally would have liked it better if maybe we just didn’t see Giles fighting at all rather than kind of seeing him — I think it’s Darla is attacking him when Willow throws the holy water.
So I feel like that’s just a tiny bit of a mislead. And I’ve always been curious whether that was a misdirect. To kind of take the audience, with Buffy, more by surprise when we find out about Giles’ past or if they just hadn’t really decided yet that he would have that back story.
Foreshadowing (Still Spoilers)
My last first shadowing is this scene with Luke and Buffy where Luke has grabbed her from behind and she, it looks like he’s going to bite the back of her neck and she head butts him and gets out of it.
Now why do I find that so compelling? Because in the season finale we see Buffy in the Master in that same position.
But because the Master is so powerful – not just physically but psychologically and emotionally — and Buffy is frozen in fear, or because he does have this kind of psychic power, she’s not able to get out of it as she does with Luke. Despite how strong Like is she did the headbutt and got away.
With the Master she remains frozen and he kills her. That tells us so much about the Master’s power and about Buffy’s response, Buffy’s fear.
It makes me wonder whether knowing the prophecy, how much did that undermine her ability to respond in that moment?
And I’ll hopefully remember to explore that when we get to that episode, but I really like that foreshadowing of that moment, which is then escalated and comes out so differently.
That’s it for this episode of Buffy and the Art of Story.
Next time we’ll be talking about The Witch.
In the meantime. You can find me on Twitter @LisaMLilly at Lisa Lilly.com or at WritingAsASecondCareer.com.
Hope to see you next time.