“And you’re sure this isn’t just some fanboy thing? ‘Cause I’ve fought more than a couple pimply, overweight vamps that called themselves Lestat.”
Welcome back, friends. It’s been a while since we’ve visited the Buffyverse, but today’s post kicks off our rewatch of Season 5. There’s a lot of great television in the upcoming weeks, which will give us one of the series’ finest hours with “The Body,” one of the best villains in Glorificus, and also serves as the introduction of Dawn, a character who manages to remain controversial more than a decade later.
If you’re new to our Buffy re-watch, please be forewarned that I do not use spoiler warnings for a show that’s 16 years old. I freely discuss how events within specific episodes point to larger story arcs or are revisited in later seasons. I do not, generally, discuss either the season 8 or season 9 comics. If you’d like to catch up with previous reviews or Buffy-related posts we’re published, you can find most of them under the Buffy tag.
“Buffy vs. Dracula,” episode 1 of season 5, comes off as a gimmick episode at first look. BVTS has had other famous monster of the week outings – notably, Frankenstein’s monster (“Some Assembly Required”), Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde (“Beauty and the Beasts”), the Invisible Man (“Out of Mind, Out of Sight”), and the Creature from the Black Lagoon (“Go Fish”). Encountering Dracula keeps this tradition going. She’s the vampire Slayer – of course she should meet the most famous vampire ever created. Given that we don’t see Dracula again within the run of the show (he makes a return in the comics in a surprisingly emotional role), it’s easy to slot this as another inconsequential one off. I certainly didn’t think much beyond the gimmick when it first aired. Viewed in light of the rest of the season, “Buffy vs. Dracula” points definitively towards several of the major themes season 5 will explore, and links directly back to the events of “Restless.”
The last episode of season 4, which importantly wasn’t the finale episode of the big Adam arc, introduced us to the First Slayer. Prior to this, she had been referred to and invoked, but we hadn’t seen her. Throughout “Restless,” she’s shown as a hunter, a killer, as death. Buffy rejects the primeval approach to Slayer-dom, saying that she is not just the Slayer, but a daughter and girlfriend and a friend, someone who wants to walk in the light and not just live in the darkness with the monsters. But as season 5 opens, we see that actually turning her back on her mystical lineage is a lot harder than it seems. Ever since she confronted the First Slayer, Buffy has been “restless,” and her patrolling has become a hunt. Despite the closeness of her friends – notably reintroduced in a brightly lit scene shot on the beach, in a casual hanging out montage we rarely see over the course of the show – Buffy’s fear over her odd behavior has caused her to pull back from them. (Willow’s misfiring spell during the beach party allows Dracula to arrive during a storm, as he does in the novel.)
When Buffy first meets Dracula, she’s out hunting again. She’s also wearing her red leather pants. This is an important indication about her headspace. We first see the red leather pants (or a similar pair) in “Prophecy Girl,” the last episode of season 1. There’s a lingering camera shot of Buffy in these pants, hiding a stake behind her back – it’s the first time we’ve seen her really comfortable and competent in her Slayer duties, where she looks like she might actually enjoy her birthright. They come up again in season 3, when Buffy makes up her mind to kill Faith to save Angel. Faith says that she’s dressing up in “big sister’s” (Faith’s) clothes – and Faith has been spending a lot of season 3 murdering people. They’re Buffy’s “killer” pants. Dracula even calls her a “renowned” killer in this first encounter – a label that Buffy has already rejected, even though it’s inarguable that that is what she does. She kills vampires. They’re not “people,” necessarily, though some of them are, but it still makes her a killer.
And here is one of the major themes of the season – Buffy’s exploration of her identity. During that same conversation with Dracula, she mouths off, “Do you know what a Slayer is?” His response is important – “Do you?”
Dracula becomes the second person to tell Buffy that her lineage is based in darkness. Because of that link, he claims, she’s attracted to it, compelled by it, and unable to walk away from it. She denies it, but she still ends up in thrall to the “Dark Prince,” partly because he seems to provide answers Buffy desperately needs. At one point he even repeats DreamTara’s lines from “Restless” – “You think you know what’s to come, what you are. You haven’t even begun.” Buffy is so lost she even allows Dracula to bite her, a painfully intimate moment especially as being bitten is equated to having sex.
When Dracula shares his blood with her, Buffy is gifted with visions of the First Slayer, of hunting and fighting – her lineage. It’s enough to remind her that she’s not a vampire’s thrall, she’s their death. Buffy shakes off Dracula’s influence, stakes him (twice!), and walks out of mansion seemingly more comfortable in her skin.
Which is yet another lie, although one she’s quick to own up to. Giles invites her over to his apartment with the plan to tell her he’s headed back to England. Buffy has long since left him behind as her Watcher. He spent most of last season feeling useless – no job, no Watchering – and as his dream in “Restless” revealed, he’s passing up the opportunity to have a family. But his plan is thwarted when Buffy reveals what’s been going on, and how scared she is. She needs to know who she is, who the Slayers are, and she needs a Watcher to help guide her.
In the beginning of the episode, Buffy has dinner with Joyce, who tells her how lonely she’ll be when Buffy goes back to college. By the end of the episode, an alternate reality has inserted itself into the Summer’s household. Buffy’s countdown has ended. Little sister has arrived.
Dracula is the only vampire we see who seems to have permanent fangs and whose face doesn’t “go bumpy.”
During the encounter at the mansion, Buffy and Xander are both dressed in lavender, to show that they’re thralls.
We start to see Riley’s doubts about his relationship with Buffy here. He’s concerned about her attraction to Dracula because of her past with Angel, and while he professes to understand it, it’s clear that he does not.
Rudolf Martin, who plays Dracula in this episode, was clearly cast as link to the USA film he starred in that same month, Dark Prince: The True Story of Dracula, in which he played Vlad Tepes. The make-up and costuming was even similar. Additionally, Martin and Gellar shared storylines together when they both appeared in All My Children.