Buffy Episode Reviews – “Buffy vs. Dracula” (5×01)
DRACULA: Very impressive hunt. Such power.
BUFFY: That was no hunt. That was just another day on the job. Care to step up for some overtime?
DRACULA: We’re not going to fight.
BUFFY: Do you know what a Slayer is?
DRACULA: Do you?
First there was Buffy’s encounter with the first Slayer in the previous episode, “Restless.” TFS was a kind of raw power symbol; she was more of an animal than a superpowered female, and represented slaying at its most savage and unrestrained.
The first Slayer’s spirit has since receded, but a part of her seems to have been left with Buffy, who’s beginning to enjoy the slaying a little more than usual. This provides the perfect opportunity for the vampire of all vampires to show up and cause problems.
Dracula is in a vampiric class of his own. Aside from the form changing, apparent immortality, and mind control, he shares at least one thing in common with Spike: intuition and psychoanalysis. He’s able to peel back the layers of a person’s mind and yank out the ugly truth like pumpkin guts. And Dracula’s first order of business is tell Buffy that her powers are rooted in darkness.
But is Dracula right?
Well… yes. In a way.
For four seasons Buffy has racked up a body count of supernatural nasties for the sake of preserving lives and saving the world, but it’s always gone hand-in-hand with violence: punches, kicks, neck snaps, electrocutions, burnings, and (lest we forget), shoving pointy wood clean through vampires’ hearts. Buffy’s intentions may be good, but the work itself is brutal. Of course, the savagery behind the fighting has always starkly contrasted with Buffy’s daytime personality, which is genuinely loving and caring.
We saw the flipside of this—the merging of the violence and the personality—through Faith in the third season. Whereas Buffy wanted to use her Slayer abilities to protect and defend, Faith used it to have fun and exert superiority over others. Now it appears that Buffy has gained a little Faith…
But back to Dracula. In his guest appearance he retains his infamous powers of seduction and manipulation, not only charming his way past Joyce and drawing Buffy into a pretty harrowing near-turning, but finding a renfield through Xander.
All in all, Dracula is just too much for Buffy to process—the same Buffy who defied the Watcher’s Council by cutting ties from them and declaring herself an independent Slayer who plays by her own rules. The previous encounter with TFS and this new one with Dracula has her confused about what it means to be a Slayer. She asks Giles to be her Watcher again.
Poor Giles. Season Four really did a number on his character’s role in the show. In the wake of Sunnydale’s destruction and his firing from the Watcher’s Council, Giles retreated to his home to live a bachelor’s life off an undetermined source of income, and was effectively shoved into the background. I don’t blame him for wanting to go back to England here. There’s simply nothing left for him to do until Buffy comes to him in a desperate hour of doubt.
It’s a very uplifting moment for Rupert, but Buffy will need answers, and season five is not only about her search for those answers but what they ultimately mean…
…Especially with little sis here now.
Stuff I Liked:
Dawn - Looking back at all the available evidence, it amazes me that Dawn’s sudden retconning into the story outraged so many Buffy fans. Dawn’s arrival had been foreshadowed as far back as “Graduation Day Part 2,” the Season Three finale. It all started with the dream sequence between Buffy and Faith:
BUFFY: There’s something I’m supposed to be doing.
FAITH: Oh yeah. Miles to go. Little Miss Muffet counting down from 7-3-0.
It continued onward from there. Hints had been steadily given all the way to the moment she is unveiled here. In “This Year’s Girl” (4×15), Buffy and Faith talk about Dawn in yet another dream sequence:
FAITH: You have to go.
BUFFY: It’s just, with…
FAITH: Little sis coming. I know. So much to do before she gets here.
And finally, the clincher. This little bit was from “Restless” (4×22):
TARA: You think you know … what’s to come … what you are. You haven’t even begun.
BUFFY: I think I need to go find the others.
TARA: Be back before Dawn.
Really, this is a brilliant move. The fans complained about a trick being played with their heads, yet Joss Whedon had Dawn planned well it advance.
Xander’s Declaration -
XANDER: Damn it! You know what? I’m sick of this crap. I’m sick of being the guy who eats insects and gets the funny syphilis. As of this moment, it’s over. I’m finished being everybody’s butt monkey!
When I first saw this episode, I loved this little moment and still do. Up to this point, Xander has been the butt monkey. Everything bad always happened to him. Who absorbed the fish monster chemicals? Xander. Who almost got his life sucked out by the mummy? Xander. Who got the disease before the Thanksgiving battle and became Dracula’s daytime slave? Xander. And now he’s through with all of it.
In a way, this is foreshadowing. It’s Xander turning his back on being the supernatural comic relief, the guy who almost gets his head bitten off by an insect queen or gets stalked by every female in the world after a love spell goes awry. It’s a funny line, but it’s also serious. Two episodes from now, Xander (well, sorta) will make tremendous steps toward becoming an adult.
Stuff I Didn’t Like:
Dracula’s Departure - [SPOILER: He gets used again in the Season 8 comics. Still, though...] What really bugs me here is the way getting rid of Dracula was dealt with – essentially by not dealing with it at all. Buffy stakes him, and he reforms from the dust. So Buffy stakes him again, makes some quip about how he always comes back in his movies (even though it’s the ‘real’ Dracula in this context and not the movie Dracula) and then he goes away, never to bother the Scoobies again. Right.
The Final Word:
A wonderful episode. “Buffy vs. Dracula” effectively sets up and kicks off an in-depth, season-long character study. It proposes a question that doesn’t get answered until the very end of the season finale. Moreover, I think this is one of the better season premieres.