Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Buffy vs. Dracula (The WB, 26 September 2000, David Solomon)

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These reviews reveal plot twists.

Setting: Sunnydale, California, in the year 2000.

Faithful to the novel? This opening episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s fifth season pits our heroine and her friends against Dracula, who’s suddenly arrived in town. It’s a new plot, but there are a lot of echoes of the book. The Count (played by Rudolf Martin) is delivered to his new home in coffins full of dirt. He can transform into wisps of smoke, a wolf and a bat. (When he turns into smoke while Buffy’s trying to stake him, she complains: “That’s cheating!”) Dracula easily bends Xander to his will; Xander thus becomes an equivalent of book character Renfield (even eating insects). Buffy is seduced while in a kind of waking dream and is bitten on the neck. Also, Giles has an encounter with a trio of Dracula’s Brides. The original idea for the episode was for Buffy to fight a master vampire *akin* to Dracula. But then executive producer Joss Whedon pointed out that the character was in the public domain…

Best performance: Nicholas Brendon’s very funny as the enthralled Xander, who flips between bitterly moaning about his lot and being subservient.

Best bit: A lot to chose from – mostly the comedy moments. When Dracula portentously introduces himself, there’s a beat before an excited Buffy says, “Get out!” When Xander meets Dracula he mocks his accent and does an impression of the Count from Sesame Street. He later nonchalantly locks girlfriend Anya in a cupboard. But the highlight is Giles’s reluctance to be ‘saved’ from the sexy Brides: “My shoe! Silly me, I’ll just pop back…”

Review: This is by no means one of the best episodes of Buffy The Vampire Slayer (my favourite TV show, incidentally). I can think of a dozen straightaway that are better, while two online rankings I saw put it 100th and 65th. But it’s a reflection of the show’s high quality that it’s so entertaining. This is witty, playful and inventive stuff, full of character comedy and emotion-driven plotting. Smartly, each of the regulars has a different reaction to Dracula turning up: Buffy is excited by the danger, Willow thinks he’s sexy, Xander feels jealous, Giles feels left out, Riley feels threatened, and so on. The episode is having great postmodern fun with the clichés of the myth, but it’s far from just a spoof. Superb.

Eight big, honking castles out of 10

#BuffyRewatch

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Between 18 November 2012 and 18 April 2013, I rewatched Buffy at the pace of roughly one episode per day and tweeted quick reviews…

Episode 101: Welcome to the Hellmouth. A glorious start: smart, sassy, funny, effortlessly introduces seven regular characters

102 The Harvest: What a classy cast. Only Boreanaz doesn’t convince: Angel’s too ‘light’ & ill-defined. All others excellent.

103 The Witch: The first episode I ever saw, and still one of my favourites. A smart plot, with nice character development.

104 Teacher’s Pet: A humdrum monster-of-the-week plot, but done with a light touch, full of cute detail and plenty of sass.

105 Never Kill a Boy on a First Date: How quickly things date! The show’s in 4:3 and on 16mm, and Buffy mentions her ‘beeper’.

106 The Pack: So unsettling to see unrest: Xander being mean to Willow packs a punch because the characters are so well drawn.

107 Angel: FUCK ME, THE MYSTERY KNOW-IT-ALL WE’VE ONLY EVER SEEN AT NIGHT IS A VAMPIRE! (Great game-changing episode.)

108 I, Robot… You, Jane: Linear and too silly. Quaint to see email dramatised as in Jumpin’ Jack Flash (vocalised text, etc).

109 The Puppet Show: Funniest episode so far, which is no mean feat with this show. Creepy too, with a *killer* plot reversal.

110 Nightmare: People’s nightmares become real. Not exactly the most inventive or complex episode of Buffy. Predictable fluff.

111 Out of Sight, Out of Mind: Ironically, in an episode about what a bitch she is, Cordelia becomes a fully formed character.

112 Prophecy Girl: Great balance of characters, everyone getting their journey or telling moments. Wonderful finale to season.

201 When She Was Bad: New season, new money. They’ve clearly got a bigger budget: the school interiors are much bigger now.

202 Some Assembly Required: Two notables: movie writer Michael Bacall in small job; Charisma Carpenter in cheerleader outfit.

203 School Hard: First-season villain The Master: okay. Second-season villain Spike: awesome. The show steps up a gear.

204 Inca Mummy Girl: By no means a classic, yet better than I’d remembered. Simple plot, but witty and clever character stuff.

205 Reptile Boy: Lacklustre and obvious by Buffy standards. And Cordy’s back to being a one-dimensional idiot, sadly.

206 Halloween: Brilliantly controlled mixture of plot and character, drama and humour. The best episode so far, I’d say.

207 Lie To Me: As always, lots of good ideas here – a complex discussion on the nature of truth – but a bit slow at times.

208 The Dark Age: Ooh, Giles has a mysterious past. His “English” friend can’t pronounce the word Deirdre, though.

209 What’s My Line Part 1: Great fun with a *knockout* cliffhanger. And, ooh, the first use of the term Scooby Gang.

210 What’s My Line Part 2: Pairing off Xander with Cordy and Willow with Oz are great moves: it shakes up the group dynamics.

211 Ted: A fabulously fruity, creepy performance from John Ritter and some smart, hinting-at-the-twist dialogue. Good fun.

212 Bad Eggs: ‘Rotten’ would be far too obvious an adjective to use. But not an incorrect one. Worst episode so far.

213 Surprise: Rich, sensual, complex stuff. And Spike says ‘wanker’. What more could you want?

214 Innocence: Joss Whedon (a movie writer) knows the beauty of plot and character *being the same thing*. Superb. Definitive.

215 Phases: Werewolves in films and TV shows never look *any* good, do they? Nice to have an Oz-centric episode, though.

216 Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered: Phenomenally entertaining. Smart, character-driven comedy, carried off with panache.

217 Passion: Manages to be both shocking and harrowingly inevitable. Truly incredible; Buffy at its best.

218 Killed By Death: Commits two cardinal sins: being dull and being contrived. Poor.

219 I Only Have Eyes For You: Good, well-structured story, with a fun, portentous mention of next year’s big bad, the Mayor.

220 Go Fish: Like a sub-par season-one episode that’s late to the party. Not without merit, but seems quite basic now.

221 Becoming Part 1: Bloody nora, I’d forgotten Boreanez’s awful Irish accent! Otherwise great ep and the start of flashbacks.

222 Becoming Pt 2: Fantastic season finale and a game-changer, not least as it’s the first time Spike colludes with the gang.

301 Anne: Solid, not spectacular; more concerned with character than plot; stars You Know, Him From That Thing as the villain.

302 Dead Man’s Party: Much better. Kristine Sutherland is totally superb as Buffy’s mum; a natural, unshowy performance.

303 Faith, Hope & Trick: Hmm, not sure about this new slayer, Faith. She’s too hot, sassy and overtly sexual for my liking.

304 Beauty & the Beasts: Perhaps because I know he’s getting spun-off soon but it’s oddly hard to care about Angel this year.

305 Homecoming: ‘Welcome to Slayerfest 98!’ Classic Buffy: unlikely to win a poll, but full of invention and skilled shading.

306 Band Candy: Seemingly effortless. The first of many gems from the great ‪@JaneEspenson. The show is just *singing* now.

307 Revelations: For a show that’s often breezy and comedic, when the characters argue with each other it packs a real punch.

308 Lovers Walk: Spike’s back! He’s still full of swagger, but the repositioning from Big Bad to Scooby Gang member continues.

309 The Wish: I can’t think of an alternate reality/It’s a Wonderful Life-style episode I’ve enjoyed more. Great fun.

310 Amends: Interesting stuff but takes too long to reach a point. Possibly the weakest ‘Written and directed by Joss Whedon’.

311 Gingerbread: A witch-hunt that involves confiscating people’s books? Too heavy-handed to be effective, but some good gags.

312 Helpless: Buffy losing her superpowers is a neat idea but the twist comes far too early. Am in a mid-season slump sadly.

313 The Zeppo: Delightful. Smart self-parody, the line “I’m gonna check out Willy’s”, and a Supergrass song on the soundtrack.

314 Bad Girls: Wesley’s first ep. Fun fact: Alexis Denisof played a very different character, also called Wesley, in Angel.

315 Consequences: Seems strange that it’s two-thirds into the season before Buffy and co discover the Mayor is evil.

316 Doppelgangland: A contrived way to bring back Vamp Willow, but very entertaining. A direct sequel to The Wish; a triumph.

317 Enemies: Packs an emotional punch, but is full of plot holes and lame justifications. Did Russell T Davies write this one?

318 Earshot: Strange story. Largely, and successfully, comical – even if shootings at schools aren’t exactly ripe for humour.

319 Choices: Good character stuff just about rescues a flimsy, uninvolving plot. A bit of a water-treading episode.

320 The Prom: The ground’s being prepared for next season: Angel says he’s leaving; Anya’s being positioned to replace Cordy.

321 Graduation Day Part 1: Despite not being Spike, the Mayor is a sensational villain. A charismatic turn from Harry Groener.

322 Graduation Day Part 2: Fantastic, fitting finale to the high-school era. I’ll miss it. Where do we go from here?

401 The Freshman: No school. University. No Angel. No Cordy. Riley. Widescreen. Phina Oruche. Blimey, it’s all change.

402 Living Conditions: She’s had a career, but why has Sarah M. Gellar never been a *superstar*? She really is always superb.

403 The Harsh Light of Day: Lovely. Three thematically resonant plots, woven together with wit, skill and confidence.

Angel 103: The story continues as Spike and Oz both turn up in a fun episode of the spin-off.

404 Fear Itself: Joining a cast this good must be tough, but Marc Blucas just can’t keep up. Great episode otherwise.

405 Beer Bad: Christ on a bike, did they let the work experience lad write this one? Lame, shallow nonsense. Worst in ages.

406 Wild at Heart: a) Bye bye, Oz. We’ll miss you. b) The hints there’s a secret army on campus are getting quite tedious now.

407 The Initiative: Much to enjoy – Spike’s failed attack on Willow, Xander fighting Harmony – and even the Initiative is fun.

408 Pangs: Freewheelingly confident and very, very funny – a running gag about Buffy cooking dinner is especially successful.

Angel 108: Pissed off that Angel guested in her show without saying hello, Buffy visits LA for a lame spin-off ep.

409 Something Blue: Balls to Angel. Riley? Forget it. This show’s best pairing, whether as foes or friends, is Buffy & Spike.

410 Hush: A monumental work of art. One of the towering achievements of popular culture. *Perfect*.

411 Doomed: Inevitably a let-down after Hush. There’s a big empty space where the oomph should be.

412 A New Man: The Giles-feels-out-of-the-loop plot bubbles to the surface in entertaining fashion.

413 The I in Team: It’s not that the Initiative is a bad idea. It’s just a wrong one. Too comic-booky. No Buffyishness.

414 Goodbye Iowa: Breaking into a secret base, Buffy uses a disguise that includes glasses. That’s all I have to say.

415 This Year’s Girl: Some eggy plotting thankfully leads to a great cliffhanger. And Eliza Dushku: what a force of nature.

416 Who Are You?: Sarah just edges out Eliza in playing the other’s role. A hoary old cliche, pulled off with verve and style.

417 Superstar: The bloke who ran off with Tanya Pooley in Coronation Street shows up in this fun concept episode.

418 Where The Wild Things Are: Largely forgettable, though Mrs Landingham makes an appearance and Giles sings a song.

Angel 118: Faith arrives in LA, wanting to kill Angel, and does a lot of taunting and some sexy dancing.

419 New Moon Rising: Oz is back, but with the Initiative at its most boring it’s a struggle to care.

Angel 119: Buffy guests in the spin-off again. And it’s just as dreary as the first time.

420 The Yoko Factor: Spike drip-feeds poison into the regulars’ ears. I doubt I’m meant to be on his side. Best ep in a while.

421 Primeval: It’s been a slog at times, but the Initiative arc crescendos effectively enough. The regulars *shine*, however.

422 Restless: Truly surreal (thematic logic rather than just weird shit) and jawdroppingly impressive. Funny as hell too.

501 Buffy vs Dracula: A silly concept, sure, but done with joy and commitment. The best season opener since year one.

502 Real Me: Dawn’s storyline is expertly introduced. A summer’s breeze blows away memories of the po-faced Initiative.

503 The Replacement: Clever editing and Nick Brendan’s twin brother really do make you think there are two Xanders.

504 Out of My Mind: Ostensibly about Riley, the ‘B plots’ – Dawn, Harmony, Spike, Joyce – are much, much more interesting.

505 No Place Like Home: Buffy: “What are you doing here? Five words or less.” Spike: “Out. For. A. Walk… Bitch.”

506 Family: The new Lois Lane, Amy Adams, crops up in this terrific Tara-centric episode.

507 Fool For Love: Just superb. Flashbacks, crossovers and character development all handled masterfully. Very entertaining.

Angel 207: The flashbacks continue in the spin-off. Doesn’t Angel, just like Buffy, have a cracking theme tune?

508 Shadow: Babylon 5 actor William Forward guests in an episode called Shadow. This excites the geek part of my brain muchly.

509 Listening to Fear: How great is Michelle Trachtenberg? And Kristine Sutherland?! Superb performances from the Summerses.

510 Into the Woods: The sunny tone of earlier in the season has now given way to sturdy and grim. Still good quality, though.

511 Triangle: ‪@JaneEspenson brings the funny. This season, while as classy and entertaining as usual, needed it.

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512 Checkpoint: Who doesn’t love a montage of nervous characters being interrogated, complete with plinky-plonky comedy music?

513 Blood Ties: In conception, execution and especially performance, the character of Dawn has been an unmitigated triumph.

514 Crush: Oh, don’t credit a ‘surprise’ guest star 16 minutes before their ‘shock’ reappearance! (Fine episode otherwise.)

515 I Was Made to Love You: Enjoyable throwback (it feels like a school-era episode) but a final scene that breaks your heart.

516 The Body: A harrowing yet cathartic masterpiece. The finest dramatisation of grief imaginable.

517 Forever: Whilst fun and narratively productive, does the Glory/Ben connection make *any* sense?

518 Intervention: Plot, subplot, character, drama, comedy, action, slapstick, emotion. Excellent on every level.

519 Tough Love: She’s not Spike or the Mayor, but I’m really enjoying Glory. Great cliffhanger to this episode too.

520 Spiral: Buffy as a Terminator 2-style chase movie, the ante constantly being raised. Great stuff.

521 The Weight of the World: No show uses dream sequences as well as Buffy. And this episode’s is a real doozy.

522 The Gift: From a cute ‘Previously…’ – 99 episodes summed up in 37 seconds – to a powerhouse ending, this is superb stuff.

Angel 222: Dipping in and out of this is proving bizarre. This week: a fairy-tale panto, then Willow shows up with bad news.

601/602 Bargaining: A double-length premiere. All a bit functional but there’s sweetness too: Spike’s avuncular love for Dawn.

603 After Life: The conventions of American TV, eh? Everyone has perfect hair, even after climbing out of a filled-in grave.

604 Flooded: Responsibilities, money worries and a deliberately childish Big Bad: our new theme is ‘growing up’, it seems.

605 Life Serial: So overtly comedic at times you half expect canned laughter. The Groundhog Day stuff is a hoot.

606 All The Way: Seriously, could they not find teenagers to play teenagers? Dawn’s mates are about twice her age.

607 Once More, With Feeling: The welfare state. A man on the moon. The Allies’ victory. Just listing things *more* impressive.

608 Tabula Rasa: It’s a shame it’s all so contrived, as the cast are clearly having a ball playing amnesiac scaredy-cats.

609 Smashed: Andrew tells a contemptuous Spike that he’s seen every episode of Doctor Who (but not yet Red Dwarf).

610 Wrecked: Doing too much magic is like being a drug addict? The subtext is not so sub this year.

611 Gone: The characters are right: Buffy’s new haircut *is* adorable. When you can see it, that is.

612 Doublemeat Palace: This is my fave TV show. That doesn’t mean I have to like its patronising view of the working class.

613 Dead Things: There’s a writing maxim that you should never use coincidences to get characters *out* of trouble. Hmm.

614 Older and Far Away: Hate to say it, but – musical aside – season six is, by this show’s standards, rather pedestrian.

615 As You Were: Who’da thought the return of Riley Finn would give this season the kick up the arse it needed?!

616 Hell’s Bells: That delicate balance between plausibility and reality? Woefully misjudged here. Not a good one.

617 Normal Again: Inventive, creepy, postmodern and playfully ambiguous: the best episode in *ages*.

618 Entropy: For the first time since year one, the season’s Big Bad has no emotional connection to the regulars. It shows.

619 Seeing Red: Next time I go to a bar to be miserable and get drunk, I hope Nichole Hiltz tries to chat me up too.

620 Villains: Lots of good, if sometimes on-the-nose, stuff. And a witty reference to one of my favourite films, WarGames.

621 Two To Go: What’s the record length of a ‘Previously on…’ in a TV show? This episode’s is 116 seconds.

622 Grave: Not a lot happens for long stretches. It’s grim. The plotting’s perfunctory. How very season six.

701 Lessons: The first title card is a doozy: many fun cameos from old seasons.

702 Beneath You: These cold-open scenes of nameless girls being killed in foreign cities that look like LA have an Alias vibe.

703 Same Time, Same Place: In a cute, fun episode, Dawn potentially being paralysed for life is played for laughs.

704 Help: So, Buffy becomes a school counsellor with no qualifications, training or background checks? Riiiiight.

705 Selfless: Bold, funny, surprisingly complex and ever so off-kilter. Just like its lead character, Anya, in fact.

706 Him: So derivative we even get a flashback to the season-two episode it’s ripping off. Cracking fun, though.

707 Conversations With Dead People: The only Xander-free episode, while Anya’s also absent and Spike has no dialogue.

708 Sleeper: The season kicks into a higher gear with a fascinating Spike-centric episode.

709 Never Leave Me: Brilliantly, the previous episode’s killer cliffhanger is all but ignored, eking out the tension.

710 Bring on the Night: Drusilla crops up and potentials Annabelle and Molly are introduced. Awful English accent overload!

711 Showtime: I’ve tried not to be shallow during this process… but potential slayer Kennedy is quite hot, isn’t she?

712 Potential: Worth watching just for Xander’s touching pep talk at the end. It’s not only Dawn who’s crying.

713 The Killer in Me: Elizabeth Anne Allen’s done well. A guest spot in season one and still cropping up 132 episodes later.

714 First Date: Monster-of-the-week stories are a thing of the past. It’s just a serial now.

715 Get It Done: Sharply written and directed by the reliable Doug Petrie. Very enjoyable stuff.

716 Storyteller: Fun, self-referential and extremely silly. Just like its lead character, Andrew, in fact.

Angel 413: Faith reappears in a grim, portentous spin-off two-parter.

Angel 414: From the casts of Buffy and Angel, I’ve met the actresses who play Tara, Darla, Anya, Harmony and Lilah.

717 Lies My Parents Told Me: Great stuff. And the second episode running to poke fun at Buffy’s earnest motivational speeches.

Angel 415: Willow visits LA, doesn’t spot how obviously pregnant Cordy is, and thinks Fred’s coming on to her.

718 Dirty Girls: Fresh from the criminally axed Firefly, ‪@NathanFillion joins the cast; is predictably, electrifyingly superb.

719 Empty Places: Sarah Michelle Gellar has an audible cold, which is slightly awkward as this season she’s playing two roles.

720 Touched: Basically a series of people-talking-about-their-feelings scenes. The highlight, as often, is Buffy and Spike.

Angel 422: In the final Angel shown while Buffy was on air, a suspiciously handy MacGuffin comes into the lead’s possession.

721 End of Days: The unadulterated *joy* on Giles’s face as he eats a Jaffa Cake!

720 Chosen: Neither a whimper nor a bang, but a lovely summary of what made Buffy the best: drama, comedy, feminism and Joss.

The standout episodes were predictably Hush, The Body and Once More, With Feeling. Best seasons were two, three and five.