Cultural Catchup Project: “Buffy vs. Dracula” (Buffy the Vampire Slayer)

“Buffy vs. Dracula”

July 16th, 2010

You can follow along with the Cultural Catchup Project by following me on Twitter (@Memles), by subscribing to the category’s feed, or by bookmarking the Cultural Catchup Project page where I’ll be posting a link to each installment.

“Buffy vs. Dracula” is both a thematic companion for and a definite departure from the series’ past. The last two premieres have featured Buffy facing questions about her identity (in “Anne” and “The Freshman”), and her altercation with Dracula is built around similar questions; however, whereas it seemed as if Buffy was struggling to stay afloat amidst the world changing around her at the start of the third and fourth seasons, here she seems to be struggling within, gaining new perspectives on her power and its control over her actions and desires. In that sense, the episode represents a clear continuation, and evolution of numerous elements at play within the fourth season, especially within the First Slayer’s appearance in “Restless.”

However, at the same time, “Buffy vs. Dracula” is also a tad bit silly. I won’t go so gar as to say that it is cheesy, but there’s a clear disconnect between the Dracula who takes part in Buffy’s story and that character’s influence on the rest of the episode. While the core idea of Dracula’s involvement is well executed by Marti Noxon (the first writer to take on a premiere other than Whedon), the rest of the episode relies on comic scenarios which are not so much unwelcome as they are incongruous with the episode’s central function. While it isn’t a departure for the series to engage with comedy, the way it is deployed in the episode rather lazily fills in the gaps between the dramatic scenes, failing to integrate the two parts of the episode successfully and truly live up to its potential, potential which nonetheless remains clear based on the strength of the eponymous comparison.

I understand that Buffy is a funny show, and that the comedy is an important part of its identity, but there are moments in “Buffy vs. Dracula” where I think the humour is taken too far. This isn’t to say that all of the humour is too broad, but rather that the way it was placed in the episode seemed to be incongruous with the episode’s intentions. There were a lot of act-outs which relied on humour, and the way the climax (Buffy’s numerous stakings of Dracula) fell back onto comedy created a gulf between Buffy’s emotional plea with Giles and the earlier discussion with Dracula. My point isn’t that I didn’t find those moments funny, but rather that where they were placed in the episode created a sense that we were oscillating between dramatic and comic without any real rhyme or reason.

I think part of the issue might be the fact that Dracula himself wasn’t funny in the least: while the show was having fun with Dracula’s position within popular culture, Dracula wasn’t laughing, and in some ways he wasn’t even relevant to those stories considering that his real interest was in Buffy and not any other member of the group. Ultimately, I think the show was right to treat this subject matter with a light touch, especially considering how many depictions of Dracula there have been: the show has to put its own stamp on the character, and so much of the time is spent on the characters reacting to Dracula as opposed to on Dracula himself. In that sense, the show is able to sort of adapt the Dracula character into the series’ aesthetic, turning him into a “Monster of the Week,” albeit one which presents itself in a new fashion as a result of the pre-existing information (or misinformation, as the case may be).

However, I think that there’s a huge “wink” inherent to this process that rears its head a few too many times. In particular, I felt like Xander as Dracula’s daytime eyes never amounted to anything more than broad comedy, and Giles being sidetracked by the Three Sisters seemed more like Noxon playing around with Stoker’s novel than using it for any particular purpose. At the same time as Dracula’s relationship with Buffy become more complex and interesting, I felt like the story happening around their altercation got more and more silly. I like the idea of starting with the wink, but the show sort of keeps winking over and over again, and I felt as if the stakes never escalated in the episode as a whole even as they escalated for Buffy. When Riley and Giles enter the mansion, I sense no fear or uncertainty, as the creepy and unnerving side of the story was so isolated within Buffy’s experience that everyone else was taking part in a different show entirely.

And yet, if we were to focus on only the Buffy story, I think the episode was a really evocative use of the image of Dracula as King among his kind to offer a reflection on the Slayer and her position within humanity. Picking up where “Restless” left off – Dracula quotes Dream Tara, even – the episode specifically asks whether or not Buffy really understands the origins of her power. I like the detail Spike raises, in that Dracula has in some ways been worse to vampires than he has to the humans he hunts and kills: his celebrity, his elevation above everyone else, made all other vampires more vulnerable, shifting the balance of their kind. His power was not used to help every vampire, but was rather used to hasten his ascent to a position of power, and as the First Slayer pointed out in “Restless” Buffy is doing it wrong: even more than when she worked for the Watcher’s Council, Buffy is doing what she does for the good of humankind, a selfless act which Dracula argues is at odds with the depths of her power, not to mention her reliance on human assistance and companionship (which even Kendra, quite recently, was not allowed to be involved with). As Buffy starts hunting for the sake of hunting, no longer simply patrolling to keep people safe, you see how she could easily head down that road, ignoring the Spider-Man doctrine of super powers in favour of something a bit less altruistic.

While I have some issues with the winking earlier in the episode, I thought the connection between Buffy and Dracula was really well handled, connecting the two characters in ways which speak to the similarities between their powers; that they have so much in common makes for a really intriguing battle, which is perhaps why I found everything around it so much less satisfying. As Buffy’s story became more serious, escalating from a staredown in the cemetery to the dream bite, it didn’t seem like the rest of the episode was similarly evolving, which meant that I became very intensely interested in learning more about Buffy’s connection only to discover that the episode was still sort of stuck in comic mode half the time. It’s the same problem that I have with the ending, really: while Buffy’s moment explaining her need for a Watcher now, more than ever, to Giles is a really nice bit of setup for the season to come, the final moment sort of takes away from that (although in that case it’s obviously very purposeful, and so I’m reserving judgment). The episode has many effective moments, but I feel like every one is followed by a comic beat, or something which veers into a different direction, and thus lacks those sustained moments of reflection which I think are valuable early in a season.

I’m going to save discussion of that final scene for when I talk about “Real Me” as well as the rest of Disc One, but I do want to note that the episodes which follow do a nice job of making the humorous parts of this episode resonate, so it’s not as if I consider them a waste of time. However, I do sort of feel that there was dramatic potential left untapped in this story, and that there could have been ways to wink at the audience in regards to the Dracula story without turning over so much of the episode to stories which feel like they are part of a completely different narrative. There were opportunities to bring Xander’s hypnosis into a more dramatic place, or to use Giles’ involvement to speak to his plans to leave Buffy behind, and yet both ended up lost in comic stories which ended up meandering rather than purposeful. I like what I’ve seen in terms of how Xander’s experience has become part of his character’s collective experience, but I think that the premiere would have been stronger if things had been a bit tighter outside of the central story arc.

Cultural Observations

  • I’ll admit right now that my knowledge and experience with Dracula is pretty slim, so I’m sure others have more definitive takes on the way the episode approaches and utilizes Stoker’s novel and the like.
  • I’ll talk about this a bit more when we get to “Real Me” and “The Replacement,” but I find that “Buffy vs. Dracula” has a lot of trouble finding a natural place for Riley and Tara – both feel like they’re playing sidekick to their significant others in the premiere, and I don’t think that Noxon really gives them a voice of their own in the episode. As noted, this comes out a bit in the next few episodes, but I had a lot of concerns about Riley’s relevance as a character after his non-role in this episode.
  • Of the comic runners surrounding Dracula, Anya’s was the most successful for me: it’s a small beat, but the notion of the two having been an item nicely plays into the character’s tendency to overshare, and nicely breaks down Dracula without taking over the episode at the same time.
  • Rudolf Martin didn’t really stand out as Dracula, which I think was part of the problem: while his relatively generic presence (relying more on tricks than on personality) does deconstruct certain portrayals of Dracula, it meant that there wasn’t much life to the role. However, he stepped up in the final confrontation, and that’s all that was truly important.
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77 Comments

Filed under Cultural Catchup Project

77 responses to “Cultural Catchup Project: “Buffy vs. Dracula” (Buffy the Vampire Slayer)

  1. ted

    I remeber back then liking this ep back then but thinking first ep of angel that season “Judgement” was better.

  2. Yay, new CCP post!

    I’m a little overly-into the Dracula story in all its incarnations, including “Dracula: The Musical!” (yes, it exists) and even “Van Helsing” (though that may have a lot to do with how often we get to see very handsome shirtless men.)

    Um. But I digress.

    Xander is very clearly the Renfield character. In most of the versions of Dracula, Renfield is an escapee from a lunatic asylum, and Dracula takes him on as a lackey. Also, he always eats insects.

    I would, actually, call this episode cheesy. But I don’t mean that in a bad way. I think it’s funny and silly, and very representative of just how funny BtVS can be. I just don’t think it’s a particularly great season opener. I’d think it was a pretty darn great ep if it had been a standalone in the middle of the season.

    Yeah, they sort of continue the new-deep-mythology in this ep. But personally, I think the crystal yoga thing at the beginning of 5.2 is more meaningful. (And the crystal yoga thing isn’t really that meaningful.)

    P.S. — Myles, your Spider-Man shoutout is really funny, but you won’t know why for quite some time.

    • I think the notion of taking elements of the Buffyverse and slotting them into the Dracula story is the most problematic quality of those stories: in subsequent episodes, Xander being placed in that role is used quite nicely by Fury and Espenson, but I guess I wanted a bit more information on the Dracula story within this episode so that those meanings would be more than hidden tidbits with those with greater knowledge of the story’s more minute details.

  3. A pretty reasonable take on “Buffy vs Dracula” Myles. I feel it’s one of the better Buffy season openers due to how relevant it is thematically throughout the season. It truly does set up the season on a number of levels quite well. The comedy worked a bit better for me, but I see your point and agree that the Buffy parts of the episode are the most successful.

    As for Riley, all I’ll say is that there’s actually a lot more going on than meets the eye. Remember Riley’s reaction to learning about the details of Buffy’s relationship with Angel? Now he sees her seem to be drawn to Dracula as well, which clearly throws him through a loop.

    I agree that Riley and Giles, in particular, didn’t have much to do but comedy once they got to Drac’s castle, but I didn’t mind that quite as much as you did, as

    • Ack, hit reply by accident.

      To finish my thought I’ll just add I agree with you to an extent, but did feel the different elements of the episode fit together a bit better than you seemed to.

      In the end I feel it’s a solid, very good opener but not without its flaws.

      Oh, and I just love this exchange:
      RILEY: I’ve lived in Sunnydale a couple of years now. Know what I’ve never noticed before?
      GILES: Uh, a castle?
      RILEY: A big, honking castle.

      • As I noted at the end, I actually came to appreciate some of those comic elements more over the episodes which followed, but I think that more could have been done to create a more collective conclusion.

        That said, as you note with that exchange, there’s some really fun bits of dialogue in here, so it’s not like I was unmoved by the comedy: I just felt the comedy could have easily become something more.

        • “I just felt the comedy could have easily become something more.”

          That’s fair. Maybe I’m being a little too forgiving here, but I suppose I just feel that the episode gave me enough to chew on thematically that I didn’t need the comedy bits to also have specific meaning outside of just being funny. Not that more meaning would have hurt anything, of course! I certainly agree that more could have been done with the comedy.

          I should stop rambling ’cause in reality I mostly agree with you here. If I were to put a grade to the episode (which, ha, I have already before), I’d give it a B+: not “great” but certainly solidly good.

          As usual, thanks for a fine analysis Myles. 🙂

      • …as I feel both Riley and Giles got some good bits and pieces earlier in the episode.

        I went to copy my comment and accidentally hit “Submit.” Apparently I didn’t hit the ESC key fast enough! lol

  4. Hansen

    This is easily my least favorite Buffy season opener. I never liked the idea that Dracula was an actual real character within the Buffyverse. It’s hard to explain why, but it just makes the world of Sunnydale feel less real to me somehow. I also think the portrayal of Dracula comes off as way too boring and clichéd, the show doesn’t seem interested in adding anything to it. It doesn’t help that he never feels like any real threay; his head doesn’t even get all bumpy like other vampires. Frankly, he mostly makes me think of the vampire wannabees from Lie To Me in season 2.

    Overall, there are some good character stuff and the always solid Whedon wit, but it’s just not a favorite of mine at all.

    • jbucksnb

      I’d have to completely agree. From what I’ve heard, Dracula was used as a sort of “advertisement”: the actor was portraying Dracula on another show on the WB and in order to promote this Dracula minimovie, they placed him in Buffy as well. If that’s the case, that minimovie’s gotta be pretty bad.

      It’s not that adding Dracula into the show isn’t a good idea, it’s just lazily executed. The actor’s mostly to blame here. Instead of injecting one of the most famous vampires with any sort of personality, he kind of makes us project the personality onto him. That, plus the admittedly lower-rate production of Buffy to other shows, made “Buffy Vs. Dracula” seem like a gimmick episode, and little more – it felt like I was watching television, and not experiencing a story unfold.

      • Banyan

        Craiggers links the show description below: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dark_Prince:_The_True_Story_of_Dracula. Some network executive clearly should have had one less bright idea. This is easily my least favorite Buffy season opener for precisely the reason that Miles points out – it can’t figure out if the presence of the most famous vampire in history is a basis for high camp or high drama.

        Speaking broadly about the show, while The Zeppo, for example, succeeds because the apocalyptic evil that Xander keeps seeing glimpses of is *actually* an apocalyptic evil, so it’s hilarious that Xander is stuck in his side story. Meanwhile, Dracula is *actually* a season arc-level Big Bad that gets treated as a joke for reasons outside the series. In my opinion, it marks a point where plot decisions made for meta reasons, of which keeping Spike around because he’s a fan favorite is the most obvious, begin to overtake the show and make the characters so unpredictable that by the 7th season all of the characters have to explicitly state their motivations because the viewers no longer understand them and are just hanging around because of the afterglow from earlier seasons.

        • fivexfive

          I remember seeing the ads for the Dracula mini-series right before Season 5 aired. That might be another reason I didn’t like this episode.

          As for Spike, I didn’t really notice his character was kept around for outside reasons and fan-placating because, while he is an excellent villain, I didn’t really start to absolutely crazily love him as I do now until he became a part of the Scooby gang.

        • jbucksnb

          SPOILER

          Even though I really strongly dislike “Buffy Vs. Dracula,” I LOVE how the character is used in the Season Eight comics.

        • jarppu

          In my opinion, it marks a point where plot decisions made for meta reasons, of which keeping Spike around because he’s a fan favorite is the most obvious, begin to overtake the show and make the characters so unpredictable that by the 7th season all of the characters have to explicitly state their motivations because the viewers no longer understand them and are just hanging around because of the afterglow from earlier seasons.

          ^I couldn’t agree more. For me this episode is the moment the show started to go on a steady downhill towards mediocrity. ‘Buffy vs. Dracula’ is easily the worst season premiere of Buffy and one the worst episodes of the entire series. It was quite a shock for me to go directly from ‘Restless’ (possibly the best episode of the series) to ‘Buffy vs. Dracula’ (one of the worst episodes).

          BTW Myles, did you notice that the show lost some of it’s behind-the-scenes people? For example Christopher Beck, the music composer for the series, left the show after Restless. Also the stunt double team left too. I noticed this instantly while watching ‘B vs D’ for the first time because of how the music and the fight scenes pretty much suck from this point on.

          • diane

            Just a mention that some of us don’t think that the show slid into mediocrity, or that the characters became inconsistent. They grew up, they changed, they made some whopping big mistakes once in a while, they were human.

          • Susan

            I’m with Diane here. I absolutely don’t agree that seasons 5-7 slide downward in quality. The worst (still S4, despite some rehabilitation over the past few weeks) is behind us, imo. And that wasn’t really bad, just not as good.

            Seasons 5-7 are definitely different, and (spoiler?) sometimes our heroes aren’t quite so heroic, but that makes sense. As in life, high school is a time when we still tend to see the world in pretty black and white terms, where Giles’ lie to Buffy at the end of “Lie to Me” more often seems true.

            The real incursion of the greys starts in adulthood and eventually there’s very little left that isn’t darkened or muted by ambiguity and ambivalence. Our motives aren’t always quite so clear.

          • I couldn’t *disagree* more with the assertion that the show gets worse from here. This is the *best* part of the series! The final three seasons have their flaws (although there aren’t any big ones in S5 imo), but no more than the early seasons.

            The characters grow up. Their behavior is not unpredictable but an organic extension of what came before. There is a slip-up here and there, sure, but the overly worshiped early seasons aren’t as spotless as some believe. S2 and S3 are great seasons, no doubt, but they’re not perfect.

            I would have *hated* Dracula being a season-long villain. I was never wild about his portrayal in just the one episode, but I love what they did with him in terms of theme and character insight for Buffy. It felt right to me that they played him off as more of a joke.

            “[T]he music and the fight scenes pretty much suck from this point on.”

            This is incredibly subjective, but what!? The opening scene of “Buffy vs. Dracula” is sublime! The chase, the leap off the tombstone, and the smooth transition into the staking is one of the best stakings, action-wise, in the entire series. There are some great fight sequences in the final three seasons. Personally I always loved how Buffy’s fighting style changed over the years.

            As for the music, again I really disagree. Christophe Beck did some great work, but I actually noticed the score of the show more at this point, mostly in a good way. There’s some real stand-out non-Beck pieces. I particularly love S7’s music. But, again, each almost season the music changes too.

            Every season of Buffy has its own unique tone and feel. The show is always moving forward.

          • fivexfive

            The fight scene mikejer mentions at the beginning of Buffy vs. Dracula is used a bit in the hilarious Buffy vs. Twilight mash-up video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RZwM3GvaTRM

          • Beth

            And so it begins…the classic Buffy fan debate. I believe I’ve read the two camps are called “Jumpers” (those that think the show declined in quality after S3) and “Loyalists” (those that, well, don’t). I’m sure this is oversimplifying things, but it does tend to pop up a lot. I’ll come out and say that I’m a “Loyalist” but I understand the reasons that others might not be, although I don’t feel the same way about those reasons. What I hope happens is that we keep a healthy debate without stating opinions as facts – that tends to inflame the situation, haha.

            I love S5, it is probably (who can ever really decide?) my favorite season. I look forward to the future reviews and commentary.

          • fivexfive

            Oops, I haven’t watched it in awhile before now. The vid uses more dialogue from when Buffy meets Drac, not action. Still, totally worth sharing.

          • Gill

            Hmm. Is this the point where fans start fighting? I find this episode mediocre, though with some enjoyable moments, but no worse than most other season openers, while for me S5 is possibly the best of all the seasons – though the last two seasons are also both massively better than S1 for example. In this season Spike is properly integrated into the group – not just fan-service, but a powerful, moving storyline and role in the ongoing narrative.

          • mothergunn

            Oh, man, I’m so late to the party, but I have to jump in for just a sec. I appreciate how civil we’ve all been to each other so far; it’s nice to be involved in a thread where we don’t resort so 4th grade name calling, for once. On that note, I’ll have to say that I, personally, will do my best to hold my tongue from here on out. I’m very firmly in the Loyalist camp here and after reading many of the above comments stating that the show declines from here… well, I’ll just state that I disagree (see? I’m being nice, even though I can feel the flames rising).

            This ep, tho, not the greatest example, to be sure.

  5. Susan

    Like mikejer, above, I agree with you, Myles, except that for the most part I found that the comedy elements weren’t quite so disconnected. The only part that I thought fell flat in that respect is Buffy repeatedly staking Drac. I thought the idea of Drac as truly immortal could have been done more subtly (and thus more humorously).

    The humor is absolutely cheesy and even cheap, but I’m okay with that–it’s part of the charm, I think. Xander’s whole “bator” schtick, the “chick pit,” all of it. Kinda quaint.

    I think that Xander’s moments especially here work very well to set up his arc for the season. Same with Riley. Willow and Giles seem to have the least going on here, but that’s not something I really mind.

    I’m pretty well versed in the Dracula mythology, and one reason I like this episode so much is the ways in which it balances the dark with the light, the mystique with the camp. A lot has happened to our understanding of vampires since Stoker published his tale, but everything in the contemporary mythology sort of starts there.

    I think Rudolf Martin, though, makes a pretty lame Dracula, frankly. Not *nearly* menacing or sexy enough, imo.

    For original viewers–well, for me at least–the last scene of this ep was positively terrifying. It was definitely “Calm down, trust Joss. That’s not a shark. It’ll be okay. Breathe.”

    Also, a small style note: if they can make SMG look chubby, high-waisted jeans are no one’s friend.

    • Anne

      Susan, I agree, as someone who watched on DVD but had no prior knowledge, that last scene was an amazing punch to the gut. I started to vent to my daughter who knew what was going on. She just smiled and said, “It’ll be okay Mom, really.” She was right, of course.

  6. Craiggers

    I think it’s worth noting, as far as the actor playing Dracula is concerned, that this was part cross-promotion for the Dracula TV movie he was in.

    See:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dark_Prince:_The_True_Story_of_Dracula

  7. Beth

    This is one of those episodes that I have a love for that I can’t really justify critically, but doesn’t stop me from getting much pleasure out of it. The actor that plays Dracula doesn’t do it for me either – I know that he had played Dracula in another TV movie before or at the same time as this episode, so maybe that’s why they used him? In any case, I love that they took the piss out of his mythos and some of the dialogue was hysterical. I agree that it is a bit jarring when they use Dracula to explore Buffy’s psyche, and it’s hard to take it too seriously when there is so much silliness going on. But despite all that, it’s probably my favorite season opener along with Bargaining.

  8. Jason

    I really do love your critical eye Myles (it’s both inspiring and terrifying). Your insights are spot-on and your prosaic style is crisp and engaging. Generally though, I have a knee-jerk reaction to any criticisms regarding television episodes that don’t “live up to their potential,” I happen to think that kind of ‘is this the best of all possible worlds?’ take lacks the inertia that careful criticism demands. I’m most likely just quibbling over semantics however. I will say I completely agree with you regarding your complaints about the wink-winky humor. The comedy just doesn’t jive as well as Marti Noxon might have hoped (Joss’ sense of comic balance is second to none) and I agree at times it’s both overused and misplaced. In her defense, Marti must have been very nervous about, and possibly, slightly ill-prepared to be showrrunner. I’m no Marti hater. It kinda makes sense to me that comedic balance would hardest button to button. Not only that, but I am sure she intended to make this episode as light as possible while still setting up the dark themes of of S5….things gets pretty darn dark. Whatever the reason, I recently realized several episodes this season have poorly handled comedy. Granted I usually don’t mind because of how strongly the dramatic elements resonate. There’s just not a lot of room for laughs, and maybe that’s why the comedy in this episode and others seem so forced. Myles, you’ll understand what I’m getting at when you see ‘Triangle;’ But, comedy aside, I have to say I like the most of the other elements in this episode. I understand why Giles and Xander are mostly relegated to comic relief. I don’t want to come off (so many already have) like, “I know where Buffy is going and you don’t–so you’re wrong Myles! Shame! Shame!” So I’ll make this brief, Giles and Xander’s role in this episode does reflect their current station in this world as well as their trajectory this season. Their comic bits do serve a purpose and since you mentioned that you’ve gleaning that from subsequent episodes I feel justified saying so if only because I’m confirming your suspicions. Marti was smart to limit the dramatic involvement Xander and Giles experience in this episode because (as you noted) it contrasts so starkly with Buffy’s storyline. This episode suggests she is rapidly evolving into the hero of her own world and the master of her own power in way we haven’t seen before. She’s discovering new depths within herself–depths of mythic proportions. The other characters just aren’t there. Xander & Anya are easily manipulated by Dracula and, to a lesser degree, so is Giles. The episode is playfully saying that they lack the power necessary to succeed when the stakes are too high and they find themselves out of their depth. Buffy’s potential, however, is unknown. Marti’s script, I think, accomplishes the goal of re-establishing where everyone stands in light of Buffy’s internal conflict and new determination- a consequence of her recent confrontation with the First Slayer. That meeting seems to have ignited, from within, the intrinsic connection they share. Buffy has always been stronger than her pals, yes, this is nothing new, but it’s essential to highlight this fact because of where Buffy stands in relation, not only to her power, but also to adulthood. Maybe it’s not the best way to do it, but I loved that they used Dracula to bring said issues to the surface. His power really does rival her own (note she did not best him) and as audience we realize this immediately and without question. He dares her to drink and she does (I believe) free of his thrall. He is right to suggest she’s drawn to it, the darkness within herself. Lastly, Riley’s inconsequential place in the scope of the story isn’t a misstep or an oversight. He is also struggling to keep up with Buffy’s considerable power and strength, as well. The Primitive demanded, “No friends! Just kill.” Was she right? I do quite like how this episode introduces the themes of season five and makes one things reasonably clear, now more than ever–It’s Buffy’s world and the other characters are just living it. Yes, yes, even though the coda acutely and purposefully upsets this notion. My final thought is…and I can’t believe I’m about to employ a groan inducing cliche, but here goes: If you can’t run with the big dogs, stay on the porch. Right now, Willow and Spike are the only two who can even come close to Buffy at this stage in her development and that begs the question, where does that leave Xander, Giles, Riley, Tara, and Anya? This season will answer that question thoroughly. Kudos on the review! It was a pleasure as usual. Season five is my favorite and I’m very excited to read more. I’m just loving this project!

    • I will say this in regards to “potential”: it’s one thing to criticize something based on the direction a story is going, effectively valuing an alternative narrative over the one being presented, and another to look at the execution of an episode and see ways in which the same aims could have been achieved in a more satisfying fashion. The former is clearly destructive critical behaviour, while I think the latter is a sign of critical frustration: inevitably, we see where things went wrong, and we can’t help but see how they could have gone better, and thus the ideal can’t help but play a role in how we respond to an episode. This doesn’t mean that we refuse to follow where the story takes us, or sit angrily when things don’t go our way, but that ideal will hang there for a bit, no question.

      Thanks for the kind words, and the detailed comment – looking forward to Season Five as well!

      • Jason

        I’ve witnessed subjectivity easily complicate this matter, blurring the line that you’ve drawn. So I remain wary of the statement, but again, semantics. I’m pretty sure we agree on most points and you’re not one to make such statements without giving adequate and illuminating reasons for your opinions. Which, based on your dichotomy, puts you in a league with those who do that latter and not the former

        You have to admit, though poorly balanced, some of those comic bits are golden. Giles in that pit gets me every time.

        GILES “Oh…my shoe…silly me, I’ll just pop-“ RILEY: “No no no, sir!

        • Jack_Kay

          I always thought that bit was quite Monty Python-esque in humour, the semi-sexual humour in the face of death/danger.

          I like it 🙂

  9. lawrence

    Without spoiling anything, I will say that there’s a future episode where most of the attempts at comedy fall completely flat because of other things that are going on. That episode will make you truly appreciate the comedy in Buffy vs. Dracula, because really, this episode is pretty light.

    • jbucksnb

      If it’s “Intervention,” I so vehemently disagree because

      SPOILER

      the BuffyBot is extremely funny, and comedy is *needed* during this time. But, if you’re referring to the Trio, I only somewhat disagree with you.

      • lawrence

        No, it’s neither of those. I’m going to test something and if it works, I’ll post a followup with the episode.

        hidden spoilers?

        • lawrence

          Oh well, didn’t work. The html got stripped out. Since there’s no way to really hide spoilers that I can tell, I’ll hold off until the episode, uh, ‘airs’.

      • lawrence

        OK, since lots of other people are saying spoilery things out loud, I’ll just warn for SPOILERS…

        … and say the episode I’m referring to is Bargaining. Specifically, part 1.

        • mothergunn

          What, specifically, about Bargaining bothers you? I can’t remember any comedy that really stands out in that ep; on the whole it’s pretty serious.

          I’m just curious. We can wait till that ep to discuss, if you like 😉

  10. morda898

    Great review Myles. I do think you hit on the main goods and bads of this episode. It’s alot of fun and thematically there’s alot going on there but otherwise it’s not got much going for it.

    Love the exchange between Willow and Joyce though;

    Willow: “A general Sunnydale rule of thumb, avoid white skinned men in capes.”

    You hit on the fact that Riley and Tara feel out of place. Well this isn’t bad writing but instead thematic integrity at its best.

    Were you at all shocked/surprised/bemused/amused/etc by the ending? I know you knew such a person existed but what did you actually feel when you, emmm, saw it.

  11. fivexfive

    Once again, you put to words what I never could have! Something always sat wrong with this episode for me, although the things that are good about it become even better in retrospect (again).

  12. lyvvie

    Again I pretty much agree with your assessment of this episode Myles. It’s probably my least favourite season-opener for the reasons you describe. Not all of the comic stuff is bad, in fact I’m willing to give the show huge benefit-of-the-doubt on a lot of the silliness. But the ending with Dracula is far too ludicrous that when I re-watch I pretty much block that bit out of my mind.

    I don’t hate the episode, again for the good points you highlighted. The stuff with Buffy in particular is great and I really like the opening scene as she sneaks out to stake a vamp. I also like the gang just hanging out on the beach. Giles storyline feels like a natural continuation from the previous season of feeling directionless/useless. And there is good set-up for other characters.

    The final scene makes me smile now as much like Susan I remember at the time my utter horror.

  13. diane

    This is what happens when I don’t take my computer to bed with me. I wake up and discover I’ve missed the party!

    Anyway, good review, good comments, and I don’t have much to add, except to say that this is another episode that looks very different in hindsight.

    As season openers go, I’d say it’s mid-pack; better than the Freshman, but my favorite is season 7. “Bargaining” gets an out, for reasons that will have to wait.

    • morda898

      Really? Having just watched Bargaining (I’m watching through all of Joss’ work in chronological order for the first time) I’d have to say that Bargaining is probably my favourite opener. It’s the darkest, most riveting and most epic (And probably the most well made) out of the premieres. Although Lessons would probably come second. (Maybe When she was Bad or Anne instead. Unlike most people I love them both). I do agree with you that B Vs. D is mid pack though.

      • diane

        OK, I wasn’t clear about that. I don’t think of Bargaining as a season opener as much as a continuation or bridge. It just isn’t a season opener in the same approach that Joss normally uses to start a season – slow, lay a lot of foundation for the season arc, put a lighter story on top to cover up the exposition that’s going on.

        Instead, Bargaining had a mission, and it executed beautifully. But when it’s done, then you get a typical season opener in Flooded.

        • True, but I think that’s precisely *why* “Bargaining” is easily the best season opener in, well, both Buffy *and* Angel.

          Putting aside “Bargaining” I think all of the season openers are pretty close to each other in quality — as in, all flawed but decent. But, “Buffy vs. Dracula” is probably my second favorite opener. It plays so insanely well thematically to the season at large that I just can’t deny it, even with its flaws.

          *LIGHT SPOILER*
          I really enjoy the Season 7 opener, but it’s pretty light-weight and only briefly touches on the season to come, thematically. I like it more than the S3/S4 openers though, which come in last.

          • morda898

            *POSSIBLE Spoiler.*

            I get what you mean Diane. What with the way in which that episode sts up the major conflicts (Both fantastical and mundane) is very opener-y and really does present itself more as a “traditional” Buffy premiere. But technically Bargaining is the beginning so I’m sticking with that.

            “SPOILER ENDS HERE* Just future episode opinions.

            Also, Mikejer I agree that Bargaining is the best premiere out of all the Buffyverse years (Although not all of the Whedonverse years as that honour would have to go to “Serenity”). Although I think Deep Down and Conviction are good enough to at least come into the running for the title of best BV premiere.

          • I’m not all that excited about “Conviction” — not bad, but not all that memorable either.

            I do agree that “Deep Down” is probably the closest competition for that spot though.

  14. Karen

    Buffy and Drac…did they really go there? I think Joss commented somewhere that they just couldn’t resist. Joss likes to step into the abyss….

    It was cheesy and flawed, and yet lots of folks enjoyed it. Myles I think your review was a deft look at the comedy-drama balance, and spot-on with your observations about the secondary characters and their roles within the dynamic and the fact the episode does resonate with later ones.

    Personally I also thought the comedy was a little *off* and a little much. A lot of people who are into vampire mythology (this describes myself) watch Buffy partly as a window into the world of vampire lore. Most of us who approach the show from that angle come to love the Buffyverse vision, but an episode such as B vs D isn’t going to be a fave for most of us.

  15. James

    Eh, I’m jarppu in regards to the later season qualities.

    I understand characters change and grow up but that doesn’t excuse some of the absolute trite favoured over developing the core relationships in meaningful ways.

    It’s absolutely baffling that anyone could name season four as Buffy’s worst before six or seven. Did you somehow *luckily* not see Doublemeat Palace?

    • Aaron

      Yeah, and season 4 had “Where the Wild Things Are”. All of the seasons had their terrible moments, but the one reason I prefer other seasons over 4? Riley. By season 5 the prescribed romance aspect wore off, but in season 4 the fact that they spent so much time pairing up Buffy with the least interesting character in the cast was rather annoying.

    • Karen

      Well I have to say your tone leaves little room for honest disagreement James. Maybe you need to reflect before hitting reply? 😦

      • fivexfive

        I will happily make room to disagree with Jason.

        I LOVE the later seasons. In some ways, I think the move to UPN was good for “Buffy.” Although, my favorite seasons have always been 2 and 5 (especially in relation to each other), I was one of the few who related MORE to what the characters went through in season 6 than even the actors did.

        • Jason

          You mean James, I enjoy the later seasons–and the series as a whole.

          • fivexfive

            Oops, sorry. This is such a popular thread, and I think I was combining James and Aaron.

        • Witnessaria

          I’m right there with you, fivexfive. I know a lot of people don’t like it when the metaphors stop and the real life situations take over, but they’re the most meaningful seasons for me, too. And the overall quality of the last 3 seasons’ episodes taken one by one is so obvious to me (with very few fails), even though others disagree.

          I’m okay with the disagreement as long as it doesn’t devolve into personal attacks and hyperbolic hate statements. I hope that doesn’t happen here.

        • I also love the later seasons. I prefer college-age-life-struggles to high-school-age-life struggles. I just identify with them more… but then, I never watched Buffy when *I* was in high school.

          I also never understood Buffy’s high-school desire to be cool, normal, popular, fashionable, perfectly coiffed. When I was in high school I thought the “popular” kids were ridiculous and I wanted nothing to do with them.

    • *GENERIC SPOILERS*
      To artificially keep “developing the core relationships” even when the characters are growing in different directions *would* constitute poor writing. Fortunately the show is true to growing up and the characters, well, grow up. Sometimes that means forging new relationships and redefining old ones. Sometimes that means making mistakes.

      Like Aaron said, all seasons have a weak episode or two. I know I’m in the minority here, but I actually appreciate “Doublemeat Palace” for its theme and emotional sync-up with the characters. A very flawed episode, no doubt, but not the travesty people make it out to be. Imo.

      I’d say S4 is about on par with S7 as the weakest *full* seasons of the show, but both seasons have a lot to admire in them too. S6 is actually generally quite well-made in terms of character growth and, again, theme. The mid-season slump it has takes a bit of the shine off an otherwise excellent, ballsy season.

      • lyvvie

        I also like DMP, and that was even before I read your review of it mikejer which perfectly brings out the actual meaning of the episode. But that’s for discussion way later on when Myles has finally seen it.

        For the general discussion: I love all seasons of Buffy but S5 & 6 are my favourites and the most personally affecting to me.

  16. James

    I’m with Jarppu in regards to the later seasons quality*

    D’oh. 😛

  17. Aaron

    If I remember correctly, the commentary states that they were working on the episode, and had the characteristics of the big bad decided upon, but decided later to use Dracula because he fit the mold and was public domain. They hired Rudolf Martin because SMG knew him and they knew he was doing the role in another series. I feel it actually -helped- the episode, I might be one of the weird people who was intrigued by the characterization of the Dracula and wish I got to see more. On that account, however, certain scenes (such as the multiple stakings) ended up feeling really flat as a result, and some of the comedic elements definitely played away from the premise instead of into it.

    On a larger note, I strongly disagree with those who claim s5 is the start of some horrible slide in quality. It may actually my second favorite after s3 simply because of all of the incredible chances it takes (esp. “The Body”, a masterwork imo). Indeed, it seems to open the world of Buffy up beyond the high school/college realm and into a wider world. Also, Anya gets an expanded role here, and I think that’s awesome.

    I love reading these, Miles, because it’s like experiencing the whole show again from a (mostly) unspoiled perspective. I will be sure to enjoy your take on the rest of season 5.

  18. I’ve actually been re-watching Season 5 (I could probably finish this weekend, but I always get anxious once I hit “The Body”), and I can’t believe I haven’t re-watched it more often. It’s the last season I really care about (in fact, if the show had ended with it, I would’ve considered the show basically perfect), and I’m surprised to notice that, for the characters as a whole, it’s a GREAT season. (It’s actually a great season Big Bad arc-wise too, but one thing that really stick out post-Season 4 is just how strong the group unit is this season. And despite how much everyone matures this season, it reminds me of the high school times of friendship, only maybe even stronger.) This has always been my favorite season for Xander as a character, due to his arc that some have alluded to, and I’m realizing that Buffy is probably, to me at least, her greatest here too. Despite the fact that she’s the protagonist, Buffy has NEVER been one of my favorite characters, but if the Buffy of this season had been the Buffy continuing on through the rest of the series, I could see that possibly have changing. I was even more shocked when I began my re-watch that I started to not only not be annoyed by Dawn but also completely understand every bit of what annoyed me (and most) about her in the first place (even continuing on to Season 6).

    And on a shallow note, I find Rudolf Martin’s Dracula more attractive than any sane person should.

  19. Lockhart

    Yeah, B vs D is not the greatest premiere and the humor was a bit… much at times but I absolutely love Xander’s rant at the end. “That’s it. I’m finished being everybody’s butt monkey!” Classic line.

    Bargaining is certainly the best premiere. It was almost like a movie in its scope.

  20. Denita

    I agree that the comic elements in this episode did not mesh very well with the dramatic; it’s a little jarring on re-watch (especially the repeated staking of Dracula.)

    But I’ve always loved B v. D. It’s probably my favorite season opener. I quite liked the fight scene at the beginning and I adored the beach scene. It’s the one time in the entire series we see Buffy truly happy.

  21. greg

    I’ll admit being pretty dismayed, shocked and (almost) horrified) when BvD first aired. Not because of the surprise ending, or because of Drac, or because of the clumsy balance between comedy and drama, but because 96% of the reason I loved the show so much is due to my insatiable crush on Willow and, in THIS season premiere, she’s wearing enough makeup to upset Tammy Faye Bakker. Did she park in the makeup head’s parking spot or make a pass at her husband or something, because I can never rationalize any in-character reason for her to look that odd. Luckily, it was just a one-episode thing and everything went back to normal quickly.

    Say, you guys aren’t all ignoring the pretty, pretty actors to just focus on subtext, story themes and deconstructing motivation, are you? Or was I the only one that thought that Buffy smearing the mud on her face while the shot went to negative in ‘Restless’ was Joss making fun of SMG’s Maybeline endorsements?

    • Eldritch

      ” Or was I the only one that thought that Buffy smearing the mud on her face while the shot went to negative in ‘Restless’ was Joss making fun of SMG’s Maybeline endorsements?”

      Now that I think about it, that’s a better reason than what I’d previously heard. In his commentary, Whedon said the mud scene just didn’t look very interesting once they’d filmed it, so they reversed the negative to jazz it up a bit.

  22. Helen

    I think it is really interesting how this episode mirrors Prophecy girl – Buffy is guided to Dracula’s/the master’s lair by Xander/the anointed one and is saved by two men who are significant in her life, and both feature thrall/hypnosis. As far as I remember Dracula is even called the master..

  23. Aeryl

    “Care to step up for some overtime?”

    I love that line.

    And maybe I’m Faith obsessed, but am I the only one that noticed as Buffy accepted one facet of Faith’s understanding of slaying(the thrill of the hunt), she wears a lot of Faith pants?

    May I also say “Rock on, Joyce” for allowing Riley to stay over evenings at the Summers home. Parents that flip out over their adult children’s sexual relations are something I’ve never understood, so it’s nice to see Buffy get to return to Riley’s arms after her urge to hunt has been slaked.

  24. Tom

    As one of those who lectured long on the subject of “Restless,” let me first say that I mostly agree with you here. There are some good elements in this episode, but a lot of sloppy/silly ones…and not good-silly, like “Pangs.”

    But I did want to point out two things:

    First, as you’ve seen, “Restless” now becomes something else. The other side of its nexus-point is (or should be) clear after seeing “BvD”…and that’s after just one episode. Hopefully, you’ve already gained some new insight into its structure and relevance that you didn’t embrace when you watched it.

    Second — and this is a point in which I think the show is vitally important even if the topline narrative is awfully uneven — above all I think Dracula here is not to be seen as an adversary, monster-of-the-week, or even as Dracula-a-character-from-history-and/or-literature. What’s not important is his name or his powers, but that he’s Dracula (cue dramatic music). He’s an icon…the icon…of vampirism. Buffy has gone through four seasons of fighting monsters and metaphors, Big Bads and little bads. She has fought and embraced her role as Slayer. She has lost and won. She has died and survived.

    But this last Big Bad was, by far, the easiest to defeat. The Master killed her, Angel was her One Twoo Wuv and she had to deliver him to theoretically eternal torment, and the Great Big Snake necessitated her blowing up the school and three seasons of her life in one great big explosive metaphor. Here, trading blows wasn’t enough, but Jonathan (a deus ex magica if there ever was one) handed her the answer, they did just one spell, and now Adam’s dead. Pretty straightforward. And viewed from the meta-narrative, a clear statement of the show’s privileging of magic/mysticism over the tools of “real” life (represented by The Initiative’s guns and science; Ethan Rayne telegraphs this earlier in the season, in fact). It was an easy fight.

    But Buffy’s growing up. It is suggested (though not made explicit) that the fact that she’s still alive is a bit of a triumph in the Slayer’s typically violent, short, and perhaps ultimately futile life. Just as the metaphors of the early seasons represented the insurmountable problems of adolescence (as seen by those adolescents), so must the challenges to come represent the cooler-headed reality of impending adulthood. The adversaries, too, are going to have to grow up.

    Dracula is, here, the ultimate “fantastical” adversary. As I said, he’s the icon of the vampire. Now, think about what Buffy’s just faced: the “icon” of the line of Chosen Ones. The First Slayer. The progenitor and her birthright. She may say “you’re not the source of me,” but in the aftermath, certainly she has to question that refutation. Is she (the First Slayer) the source of Buffy? Is that all that Buffy is, except with friends, conditioner, and a veneer of modernism?

    She’s asking this, she’s searching for the answer, and she’s not finding it. Where’s her icon? Is she, in fact, it? Chosen, yes…but chosen for what? Just battling through a short lifetime of pushing pointy things into uglies until one of them gets lucky and kills her? It takes the icon of all her adversaries — Dracula — to bring this question into stark clarity and make her face it.

    I think that’s the actual lasting achievement of the episode. Like “Restless,” it’s continuing a process of setting aside the old metaphors and narratives, of putting them in a box of memories along with the prom dress and pics of the old gang playing mini golf after school. “The Freshman” did something similar in a much more explicit fashion, when it snapped her toy umbrella, but here’s a much more significant breaking of the series, played as meta-narrative. Season 4 tried to have it both ways, and I think this is one of the reasons it succeeded so often on a micro-level while failing on a meta-level: it was the transition season, not quite abandoning the high-school-is-hell style (in fact, the first portion of the season is just “college-is-also-hell”) and yet trying to grasp the beginnings of more adult concerns.

    Buffy kills Dracula here, in a sense, and of course he comes back. The metaphor, the fantastical monster…that isn’t going to go away entirely. (This is still a genre show, after all.) She couldn’t kill Dracula the enhanced vampire. But she could kill the icon, which she does when she mocks him into slinking away. That’s the transition to adult modes of thinking. And that’s the transition to thinking not about “how am I going to kill this baddie and still have a social life?” but “what is my purpose?”-type stories.

    A better script would have done this and left out the masturbation jokes. And in fact, it’s one of the many things that a much better script — “Restless” — does. This episode was just OK, but as a mission statement for the future (and at this point, we don’t know if it’s a few episodes, the season, or the rest of the series), this one part of it is pretty powerful, and manages to survive the murk intact.

    • Holy crap on a stick, Tom.

      That is the best explication of the Season-Three-to-Season-Five transition I’ve ever read.

      Dracula as a metaphor for ultimate-vampire-threat is a good one, and it makes the episode’s themes make a lot more sense. Unfortunately I just find him…. goofy. If that was the idea, I wish they could have made him a lot scarier and creepier.

      • For example, Spike could have been genuinely afraid of him.

        • Aeryl

          The comic books have actually established quite a history between Spike and Dracula, which is quite hilarious.

          For example, the 12 pounds Dracula owes Spike is for a copy of Bram Stoker’s Dracula that Spike was purchasing for Dru, when Drac walked into the bookstore, where it promptly got thrown in a fire, when Spike started berating him for revealing their weaknesses.

      • Tom

        Thanks (to both of you). I’ve done this sort of thing before, in other (older) venues, so it sorta comes naturally.

        It took me a long time to think of “BvD” as more than a fairly useless episode. I mean, I heard the parallel dialogue shared with “Restless,” and I laughed a bit, and I liked the final confrontation (the conversation much more than the fight), but…well, so what? But then, discussing the “Restless”/”BvD” transition in one of those other fora, it sorta hit me that Dracula wasn’t just a cigar…uh, I mean, wasn’t just Dracula. I’m so used to season 5 and beyond as being…well, I won’t say because it’s theme-spoilerish, but everyone knows what they are and how they differ…that I hadn’t connected Dracula with seasons 1-4s’ tropes, but was still trying to fit him into season 5.

        Once I did that, everything sorta clicked. The vampire icon, for a Vampire Slayer for whom vampires are mere snack food these days, compared to the important enemies she faces. The way the episode starts with the gang hanging out and bantering, in such a very prosaic early-season way…and then, finishes with a sharp blow to the back of the head. The somewhat unusual way in which the gang does not exactly come together to defeat the bad guy and learn their collective lessons, but rather how almost the entirety of the lesson is pointed directly at Buffy (there’s a little that’s not but it’s spoilery at this stage, though I think Myles has already noticed it) and the rest of the gang is kind of useless, and how the outcome the fight isn’t (as it would have been a few seasons ago) “yay, we beat the bad guy!” but something a little more ambiguous. It really all comes together, viewed this way.

        Even if I still think the episode’s kinda…eh.

    • Excellent comment Tom! I couldn’t agree more, although I appreciated the comedy more than you and feel the episode is ‘good’ rather than just ‘OK.’ It’s a matter of having the weight of the pros mostly overrun the cons for me. Thanks for the insight. 🙂

  25. Tom

    Oh, and re: Riley & Tara’s difficulty in fitting into the story…well, it’s not a flaw if it’s a plot point.

  26. tjbw

    Oh, Riley…

  27. Becker

    I’m at the office way too late tonight. I blame you. 😉

    I liked Welcome to the Hellmouth, but had issues with When She Was Bad, Anne, and The Freshman. At the time, I thought that this was the best season opener since S1. I only have a screener set with Disc 1 & 6, so when I rewatched this a couple of months ago, I missed the whole middle of the season, but this episode didn’t hold up as much as it did the first time I saw it. I still thought the funny was funny and liked the dramatic stuff, but noted the jumps in tone a lot more. It felt a little forced. It just felt a bit like a let down rewatching it.

    Now the one thing I will quibble with you on is that I didn’t get that Dracula was particularly a vampire king or anything, just that he used all of these tricks and glamors to get famous. So, I don’t think most other vamps think of him as above them in anyway, if anything, the contrary as it is because of him that people know how to kill them. It’s like having some putz from high school becoming a huge star. He’s all famous, but you and everyone else in your school still know he’s really a putz. Anya knew him after he was already famous, so that can explain her point of view, which is generally already skewed anyway.

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