infinitejest: (buffy: the wind speaks)
[personal profile] infinitejest
Episode Title: "The Harvest"
Writer: Joss Whedon
Episode Number: 1.2
Notes: This episode is technically a two-parter with "Welcome to the Hellmouth" being part the first.

As per usual, spoilers abound.

Buffyverse Mythology

Giles: "This world is older than any of you know. Contrary to popular mythology, it did not begin as a Paradise. For untold eons, demons walked the earth. They made it their home, their hell. But in time they lost their purchase on this reality. The way was made for mortal animals, for man. All that remains of the Old Ones are vestiges, certain magicks, certain creatures..."
Buffy: "...and vampires."

You know, I actually really like this little bit of mythology. As much as it's against every particle of everything I've ever been taught... but, then, that's probably why I like it so much. Also, I think it adds an edge to the whole redemption angles of the show. Not only do various characters seek redemption throughout, but the whole world is kinda going through a redemption phase with the struggle to keep man the dominant species and the demons out.

It's also a mighty convenient explanation for the unexplainable which crops up rather a lot on this show (duh).

I'm all a-titter concerning the my recent reading of Tales of the Slayers and who founded Sunnydale (which we likely found out in the series and I just ignored.) Anyway, I'll talk about that in another post. For now, I'll just note that we discover the original place-name for Sunnydale, given it by the original (well, y'know, after the natives) Spanish settlers: Boca del Infierno. Or, literally, "the mouth of hell." So how come Giles and the Watchers' Council didn't know this before he showed up?

Also, this is as good a place as any for me to complain about all the strange phenomena in Sunnydale being a new thing. Obviously, the human mind is a very resourceful and resilient organism. It's remarkably good at creating cover-ups for things that the human consciousness doesn't want to acknowledge. However, I still can't buy that all these incredibly strange phenomena that pop up on the show are entirely surprising to the population of Sunnydale. Many of those people have lived there their entire lives-- what gives? Surely they would've noticed something strange about their town before then. (To be fair, they do sorta address this in a couple different ways later in the series-- notably in Season 3, when it's remarked on that the Class of '99 came through with the lowest mortality rate of a Sunnydale High class.)

Vampire Lore

Origin of the vampires, according to Giles: "The books tell that the last demon to leave this reality fed off a human, mixed their blood. He was a human form possessed, infected by the demon's soul. He bit another, and another, and so they walk the Earth, feeding... Killing some, mixing their blood with others to make more of their kind. Waiting for the animals to die out, and the old ones to return."

As I mentioned in my analysis of "Welcome to the Hellmouth", this explains the generic vampire's M.O. However, revisiting this explanation of how vampires came to be raises more questions about the origin of the Slayers. I really should resist talking about this until the Slayer Mythology-heavy episodes in Season 7.

Here's a rundown on how to kill the vampires in the Buffyverse:

Xander: "Okay, so, crosses, garlic, stake through the heart."
Buffy: "That'll get it done."
...
Xander:"Okay! Okay! So, what else?"
Buffy: "What else what?"
Xander: "For vampire slayage."
Buffy: "Oh, fire, beheading, sunlight, holy water, the usual."

Apparently, they experiment a bit with vampire characteristics in this episode as well. One of the vampires in the tunnel has a green cast to her face, which jives with some of the vampires in the Buffy Origin comic. They also do reflective eyes in this episode, and some of the vampires are remarkably slow-moving. I thought the vampires were just moving slow because they were herding Buffy, getting her trapped so they could take her down to the Master or whatever. However, as Joss says in the commentary: "Here you have the slow-moving Dawn of the Dead vampires." and "See, perfectly fit normal vampires but they're going REAL SLOW." This strikes me as rather silly, so I shall happily carry on pretending they're just herding Buffy and Xander.

I pondered a bit over the Master's appearance in my previous analysis, remarking that a friend had said it was an intentional mutation. Joss sorta confirms that in his commentary: "...the Master would never be in normal face because he was so old, and so far gone. We made him more animalistic than other vampires. ...and his design for the Master was basically a bat. He thought, he's devolving to this very demonic, animal state so he's very bat-like in that respect, although obviously they don't turn into bats on our show because, once again, we can't afford that and that always looks pretty silly."

I had this thought today, while watching what Jesse did after he became a vampire and ruminating over what I know concerning what Angel and Spike did when they were turned, respectively... anyway, I had this thought that a vampire becomes obsessed with the last things that he was focused on or obsessed with before he died. Jesse immediately goes after Cordelia because he wanted her and could never have her in his old life. Spike turns his mother, because he's always wanted her to be well (er, and then kills his erstwhile critics with railway spikes). Angel kills his entire family or hometown or something, from what I hear, but I don't really know what that was all about.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer manages mostly to miss out on the ubiquitous displays of homoeroticism in vampiric media; however, it was definitely present in this episode during the ritual that made Luke "the vessel."

Speaking of making Luke the vessel, they bandy a lot of language about in this episode that I'm uncomfortable with:
The Master: "My blood is your blood. My soul is your soul."
Luke: "My body is your instrument."
The Master: "On this most hallowed night, we are as one. Luke is the vessel. EVery soul he takes shall feed me and their souls shall grant me the strength to free myself. Tonight I shall walk the earth and the stars themselves shall hide."

They're throwing the word "soul" around way too much considering what a hot topic and buzz word it becomes later: how vampires don't have anything remotely approaching a soul and that's what makes them things, "evil, disgusting thing[s]" as Buffy is fond of reminding herself. I'm going to choose to replace their use of the word "soul" here with "essence."

Er, also, vampires don't take souls. They take lives. We know this because they've made enough about how, when a vampire is turned, the soul isn't touched and goes on. In retrospect, Luke may be able to retain their souls "on this most hallowed night."

Jesse remarks on his newfound preternatural powers:

Jesse: "Sorry? I feel good, Xander! I feel strong! I'm connected, man, to everything! I, I can hear the worms in the earth!"
Xander: "That's a plus."

So vampires don't have extra speed in the Buffyverse, but they do get the extra strength and the incredible sensory perception.

"Fear is an elixir. It's almost like blood." Vampires have a heightened sense of smell (guess that's included in my comment on their incredible sensory perception). Anyway, they draw attention to this several times in the series. This aligns them with animals in the mind of the viewer, perhaps, them being able to smell fear.

They begin objectifying vampires early in the series:

Giles: "You listen to me! Jesse is dead! You have to remember that when you see him, you're not looking at your friend. You're looking at the thing that killed him."

I suppose this helps make it as unpalatable for the viewer as for some of the characters when they subvert this and start giving depth (and sometimes souls) to these very creatures.

We learn in this episode that vampires aren't harmed by indirect sunlight. (Though Joss comments that these scenes are the bane of his existence. Apparently, no matter how thoroughly he fixed the lighting in a scene, it still ended up looking like the vampire's standing in a direct beam of sunlight and ought to be burning.)

Bodies are still hitting the ground before they dust in this episode (and solidly hitting the ground-- we hear several thumps). I wonder if this changed because of time reasons (quicker-moving fight scenes calling for faster dusting) or if they just got enough money to regularly do dusting scenes.

Characterization

Buffy: In this episode, Buffy is still coming on strong with the self-reliance. She's trying to keep other people out of the game. As she's been taught, after all, the Slayer stands alone and friends just end up either getting hurt or getting in the way ("There's no 'we,' okay? I'm the Slayer, and you're not."). She allows them to help from afar, but she insists they stay out of the actual scene of slayage. Gradually, she starts letting up on this and allowing them to accompany her (if, for no other reason than she knows some of them will follow her anyway.)

Besides the self-reliance, she's also being uber-responsible and too hard on herself. See:

Xander: "Except for one thing: how do you kill them?
Buffy: "*You* don't, *I* do."
Xander: "Well, Jesse's my..."
Buffy: "Jesse is *my* responsibility. I let him get taken."
Xander: "That's not true."

and

Buffy: "There's nothing here, this is useless!"
Giles: "I think you're being a bit hard on yourself."
Buffy: "You're the one that told me that I wasn't prepared enough. Understatement! I thought I was on top of everything, and then that monster, Luke, came out of nowhere..."

Also, Buffy exhibits quite a bit of leadership early on in the series. When they reach the Bronze, already taken over and closed off by the vampires, Buffy is the one calling the shots. She tells the others what to do ("clear the exits, get them out," paraphrased) and tells them not to go doing anything else. This is interesting to note... as the series goes on, she invests more and more of this decisive power in Giles. She loses focus, becoming more the instrument and less the wielder.

Oh yeah, Buffy resourcefulness:

1. She stakes a vamp with a branch she's torn off a tree.
2. She tells Xander about her previous experience with beheading: "Oh, yeah. There was this time I was pinned down by this guy that played left tackle for varsity... Well, at least he used to before he was a vampire... Anyway, he had this really, really thick neck, and all I had was a little, little Exact-O knife..."
3. She stakes a vamp with a pool cue.
4. She beheads a vamp with a cymbal.
5. She tricks Luke into thinking he's been hit with sunlight like so:

Buffy: "There's something you forgot about, too. Sunrise!"

She throws the stand at the window behind Luke. He ducks, and it breaks the window behind him. A bright light pours in through it. Buffy spies the stake she dropped on the stage and picks it up. Luke gets up and shields his face with his hands, expecting to be burned. He stops when he realizes it's only a bright lamp. Buffy lunges at him from behind and jams the stake home.

Buffy: "It's in about nine hours, moron!"

(Thanks to TWIZ TV for the transcription.)

As Joss comments, this is a great scene because seeing the formidable Luke as "such a dork is just charming. It's also an example of Buffy being smart and outwitting her opponent instead of just being the bimbo with powers." This is the episode where the vampires actually start fearing and respecting this new Slayer.

And in the super power area, Buffy jumps over a really tall fence in this episode.

Willow: We begin to see what effects Buffy's friendship will have on Willow as Willow begins to stand up for her friends (and eventually for herself). This is most demonstrated by the computer lab scene, where Cordelia is bashing Buffy. willow speaks up, defending her, and then tells them to push "deliver" to save their painstakingly (and probably badly) composed computer programs. Of course, they hit the "delete" button and everything disappears. Muahah. (This also blurs the line between who's good and who's cruel as Willow's retaliatory action isn't that nice.)

Also, Willow's niche in the Scoobies is nicely carved out this episode: she's the go-to computer girl. We learn of her illicit hacking abilities and she proves incredibly useful, pulling things off of a computer that you never could in real life. (Joss freely admits that the computer is one of their incredibly stupid convenient plot devices on the show. Another one is "the book of Thoth," which is their collective name for all those books Giles have that always manage to yield the answer. Then there's the manner of the tunnels under Sunnydale. Etc.)

Xander: Xander's feelings of never having a clearly defined role in the Scoobies also debuts in this episode. Gile's has the information, Willow has the go-for abilities, and Buffy is the Slayer. What the hell is he? Someone who can only "help by standing around like an idiot." This inadequacy will haunt him for the rest of the show, although it'll help him relate to Dawn in, er, Season 7, I think.

He never really gets how entirely he is the heart of the gang, the one who always manages to remind them that they're family. He can never bring himself to just stand by... he always has to try to help somehow (which is usually by reaching people). But, anyway, we're not there yet. We're still just forming relationships here.

Anyway, witness the birth of Xander's utter hatred of vampires. Due to the vamping of his best guy buddy and having to deal with the subsequent demon wearing his buddy's face, his vampire hatred takes deep, deep root. He responds with anger, then disbelief, then grief, cycling quite a bit.

He tries to reach out to Jesse, saying:

Xander: "Jesse! I know there's still a part of you in there."

only to be cruelly rebuffed:

Jesse: "Okay... Let's deal with this. Jesse was an excruciating loser who couldn't get a date with anyone in the sighted community! Look at me. I'm a new man!"

And so is Xander's regard for vampires set, pretty much forevermore: "I don't like vampires. I'm going to take a stand and say they're not good."

Giles: I'd just like to say that Anthony Stewart Head's portrayal of Giles goes a long way to imbuing me with faith in his ability to carry off Exposition Man well. Although, poor Giles, being stuck in that library so much for the first three seasons.

Joyce: Joyce doesn't really introduce anything new into her portrayed personality in this episode: she's just establishing her role as Buffy's mother further, reiterating that she's interested in Buffy's life and concerned about her. That she's struggling to understand her (and we know that no matter how hard she tries, she will never be able to understand Buffy due to Buffy's uniqueness).

However, I would like to point out the irony of the following quote:

Buffy: "This is really, really important."
Joyce: "I know. If you don't go out it'll be the end of the world. Everything is life or death when you're a sixteen-year-old girl."

Unfortunately, in Buffy's case, Joyce's statement turns out to be more truth than exaggeration.

Oh, I also like how the real world is still present here: Flutie's called Joyce to let her know that Buffy's been skipping classes. This is something that gets less attention as the series goes on.

Cordelia: She's smarter than she seems (she can correctly use sarcasm!), but she says the most tactless and vapid things ("I don't want it because it's expensive, but because it costs more!").

However, they use her to show how people can respond to vampires. She has a pre-established impression of Jesse: i.e. uber-dork that she wouldn't be caught dead with. However, when Jesse confronts her in the Bronze and silently but commandingly leads her to the dance floor (speaking only to tell her to "shut up"), she responds to that. She acquiesces to the dance (though still trying to establish some semblance of control: "okay, just once dance"). Joss says about this scene: "After Jesse's become a vampire, he suddenly has some kind of charisma (no pun intended), some kind of sexual magnetism and sort of experience that makes him completely different than the dork he was five minutes ago."

Angel: We get a better impression of Angel in this episode. Y'know, when I was first watching this, I kind of liked Angel. I was interested in his mystery, and I was touched that he cared for Buffy. So I allowed myself to be okay with the idea of him and Buffy coming together.

However, on the rewatch, I don't like him. Now he just strikes me as a creepy child-stalker. It's just that I can't separate the dialogue they've given him at this point in the series from what I know of his character in later seasons. Rewatch the dialogue and think about what we later find out: it's just so manipulative and vintage Angelus.

And it bothers me. What is he getting at, following her around, revealing little pieces of himself to her, exchanging witty retorts, trying to influence her actions? If he loved her and wanted to help her from the first time he stalked her back in LA, why is he acting so much like a dubious free agent now? He refuses to act like her friend at first, but he's perfectly willing to insinuate he's a great big cat and she's a little mouse he's lazily pawing.

Maybe this is why I was so willing to let go of Angel/Buffy when he leaves at the end of season 3. I may not have consciously seen the creepiness of their relationship on the first viewing, but something in me recognized that it wasn't entirely right.

Darla: Darla mainly continues to be a bit childlike and fancy free in this episode. She feeds on the offering she brought to the Master which, given later information, we can all agree is out of character. Anyway, I just wanted to note that she lives through this episode when she was originally meant to be killed by Willow with the holy water dousing. Joss thought it would be more interesting to keep her around and add a triangle to complicate the budding romance between Angel and Buffy.

Themes:

Joss calls attention to what he thinks is one of the primal themes of the show: the miscommunication between teenagers and parents/adults. I can see this, but it's not a theme consistent throughout the series. Anyway, it is a powerful theme at first, as Buffy struggles to fulfill her duty and not have a complete falling out with her mother over it. So, this theme is illustrated through the conflict between Joyce and Buffy and also through the struggle for mutual understanding between Giles and the Scoobies (usually through blatant speech and attitude conflicts).

Another strong theme is that of the outcasts forming family. It's only been two episodes, and already Buffy, Xander, and Willow are forming a tightly-knit cohesive group. They've quickly come together, quickly learned to trust and rely on each other. It's a strong and potent element.

And, finally, another primal theme, presented through metaphor: Buffy's chest. When Buffy goes to her house for supplies, she pulls out her chest. When she opens it, we first see many girlish things. I can't quite recall what's there, but I probably wouldn't be too far remiss in saying a doll, pastel-colored things, likely some jewelry and papers with girlish handwriting. However, after a moment, she lifts this level out to reveal the bottom that's crammed with crosses, holy water, garlic, stakes, and apparently communion wafers. On a metaphorical level, we've just seen Buffy's desired heart in that chest (the normal girly things) stripped away to reveal the basic tools she needs to survive. Powerful.

Miscellaneous:

I love the ambiguity of the showdown aftermath:

Giles: "I take it it's over."
Willow: "Did we win?"
Buffy: "Well, we averted the Apocalypse. I give us points for that."
Xander: "One thing's for sure: nothing's ever gonna be the same."

Joss comments that he appreciated the fact that they're standing among the bodies of the people that didn't make it through the crisis because Buffy had been grounded. The realism of that extraordinary situation is really affecting.

I think it's worth noting that the Master came to Sunnydale 60 years prior to this Harvest. And that the Harvest is a regularly occurring event that simply allows a vampire to designate a vessel and benefit from the life that vessel-vampire consumes during the specified night. Also, the only reason the Master didn't manage to open up the Hellmouth 60 years ago is because there was a giant earthquake that swallowed half the town (trapping him in that church underground). (Or maybe him playing around with opening other dimensions is what caused the earthquake in the first place.)

Also, this is a good place to bring up the "phlebotenum" concept. I have no idea how to spell that word, so I'm going to make my own spelling until someone can satisfactorily argue otherwise.

Origin of the "phlebotenum" term, as according to Joss' commentary:
They were filming some scene, when David Greenwald (I think), yelled out to SMG: "For God's sake, don't touch the phlebotenum in Jar C!" They have no idea what he meant by that, but it came to encompass the random mystical thing in each episode. That mystical situation that just is and so defines the issue. In this episode, the phlebotenum is that the Master is stuck "like a cork" in this dimensional rift and is using the Harvest so that Luke can feed him enough power to enable a prison break.

By the way, Mark Metcalf (who portrays The Master) is a good screamer. His screams of enraged disappointment actually manage to sound real and not cheesy.

Favorite Quotes

Willow: "Oh, I, I need to sit down."
Buffy: "You are sitting down."
Willow: "Oh, good for me."

The Master: "My ascension is almost at hand. Pray that, when it comes, I'm in a better mood."

Giles: "Alright. The Slayer hunts vampires, Buffy is a Slayer, don't tell anyone. Well, I think that's all the vampire information you need."

Xander: "They can fly?"
Buffy: "They can drive."

Giles, to Willow: "Well, then help me. I've been researching this Harvest affair. It seems to be some sort of preordained massacre. Rivers of blood, Hell on Earth, quite charmless. I'm a bit fuzzy, however, on the details. It may be that you can wrest some information from that dread machine. ... ... That was a bit, um, British, wasn't it?"

Angel: "They really don't like me."
Buffy, sarcastic: "How could that possibly be?"

Xander: "Well, the part of my brain that would tell me to bring that stuff is still busy telling me not to come down here."

Xander: "I don't like vampires. I'm going to take a stand and say they're not good."

Buffy: "So, Giles! Got anything that can make this day any worse?"
Giles: "How about the end of the world?"
Buffy: "Knew I could count on you."

Luke: "Ladies and Gentlemen! There is no cause for alarm. Actually, there is cause for alarm. It just won't do any good."

Luke: "Tonight is his ascension. Tonight will be history at its end! Yours is a glorious sacrifice! Degradation most holy. What? No volunteers?!"
I love how offended he sounds that no one volunteers.

Buffy: "There's something you forgot about, too. Sunrise! ... It's in about nine hours, moron!"

Buffy: "Well, we averted the Apocalypse. I give us points for that."

Buffy: What exactly were you expecting?
Xander: I don't know, something. I mean, the dead rose. We should at least have an assembly.
Giles: People have a tendency to rationalize what they can and forget what they can't.
Buffy: Believe me, I've seen it happen.
Willow: Well, I'll never forget it, none of it.
Giles: Good! Next time you'll be prepared.
Xander: Next time?
Willow: Next time is why?
Giles: We've prevented the Master from freeing himself and opening the Mouth of Hell. That's not to say he's going to stop trying. I'd say the fun is just beginning.
Willow: More vampires?
Giles: Not just vampires. The next threat we face may be something quite different.
Buffy: I can hardly wait!
Giles: We're at the center of a mystical convergence here. We may, in fact, stand between the Earth and its total destruction.
Buffy: Well, I gotta look on the bright side. Maybe I can still get kicked out of school!
Xander: Oh, yeah, that's a plan. 'Cause lots of schools aren't on Hellmouths.
Willow: Maybe you could blow something up. They're really strict about that.
Buffy: I was thinking of a more subtle approach, y'know, like excessive not studying.
Giles, turning away to walk back to the library: The Earth is doomed!

Joss, on how the viewer might feel when all the bad guys do is sit around plotting to kill the good guys:
"Why don't they just kill them? When are they going to kill them? They're talking, they're not killing them!"

Joss on Eric Balfour having to be a vampire and talk:
"This scene embodies 'it's really difficult to talk with these fangs in my mouth' syndrome."

On the triangular-symbol that marks the forehead of the Vessel during the Harvest:
"And here we go with some more of our great phlebotenum where they have to defeat the Mercedes symbol for some reason."

He also mentions "the requisite gloating before the biting" that Luke does. Heh.

Links:

Analysis of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the Movie
Analysis of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the Origin comic
Analysis of Buffy the Vampire Slayer 1.1: "Welcome to the Hellmouth"

December 2010

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