A Bed of Bones: A Buffy the Vampire Slayer Recap :: Welcome to the Hellmouth / The Harvest

This Week on Buffy the Vampire Slayer

The show opens like a scene from a teen slasher flick: A horny dude and his Catholic schoolgirl date break into the local highschool, Sunnydale High, and it's creepy as all get out. The girl's scared, the boy's pushy, there's mysterious bumps in the night...

And, oh yeah, the girl's a bloodthirsty vampire. Surprise!

Buffy the Vampire Slayer opens with a bang, subverting the trope of the pretty blonde victim before we even get to see our titular heroine. After the credits roll, though, the real show begins; Buffy Summers herself sleeps fitfully thanks to dreams of cemeteries, monsters, and everything a Slayer has to deal with on a daily basis... and then awakens to her mother's reminder of the first day of school. Because this Slayer has that nonsense to deal with, too. What a world.

During that first day of school, we round out the rest of our core cast (for now!) and meet a supporting character or two. There's Willow, the redheaded computer-hacking shrinking violet with a crush on her (male) best friend; there's Xander, the aforementioned nerdy best friend who immediately starts crushing on Buffy; there's Giles, the mysterious British librarian with a connection to Buffy's supernatural calling; and there's Cordelia, the queen bee of Buffy's grade who thinks Buffy might just fit in with the cool crowd... until her Slayer weirdness gets in the way. In the background, there are at least a few minor characters to be seen who will grow into larger, more central roles in the future.

But there's one character who won't get such a chance. Rounding out Willow and Xander's trio of friendship is Jesse, our short-lived first glimpse into the brutal world of a Joss Whedon production.

With the good guys out of the way, there's also a slew of baddies introduced! There's Darla, the girl from the opening; there's Luke, a physical powerhouse who serves as the initial right hand man to the season's Big Bad; there are more than a few other vampires hanging around, unnamed and mostly extraneous; and there's the Master, a frighteningly batlike vampire trapped beneath Sunnydale but dangerously close to achieving an escape.

And then, last but not least, there's the most mysterious character of all: Angel. Is he a bad guy? Is he a good guy? If you're familiar with the Buffyverse, you already know the answer to that; if not, he's a mystery for now who introduces himself as "a friend"... but not necessarily Buffy's.

Anyway, the baddies have a master plan this week, pun intended. It's just about time for the Harvest, a once-in-a-century opportunity for the Master to draw power from one of his minions, the Vessel, when he or she feeds. And the Master intends to use this stolen power to escape his confines beneath Sunnydale so that he can once again reign as a local vampire king in the town that sits above the Hellmouth.

What's a Hellmouth, you ask? Good question! Get used to that word, because you're going to be hearing it a lot in this show. Within the Buffyverse, a Hellmouth is a place where the barriers between dimensions are weak; as such, they're hotspots of supernatural activity, drawing demons, vampires, and all else nasty to them like moths to a flame. And Sunnydale High is built right on top of one.

(So is Cleveland.)

In any case, the night before the Harvest finds most of our cast at the Bronze, a local club where teenagers can dance, socialize, and get picked off one by one. Jesse, ever the horndog, leaves with seemingly-innocent Darla; Buffy accidentally talks Willow into taking a chance on a guy who turns out to be especially toothy and scared of the sun; and Xander confronts the Slayer about what in the world a Slayer's supposed to be. And it all leads up to a showdown in a crypt.

Willow and Xander escape, Darla steals Jesse away, and Buffy is set upon by the mountain of a vampire known as Luke.

And that's our episode break.

The Harvest opens immediately where Welcome to the Hellmouth left off. Buffy beats back Luke, only then realizing that Jesse has disappeared while she was distracted. But there's no saving him tonight, and the next morning finds Giles waxing lyrical on demonic history and vampiric origins.

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... their Hell. But in time they lost their purchase on this reality. The way was made for mortal animals, for, for man. All that remains of the Old Ones are vestiges, certain magicks, certain creatures.


The books tell 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.

Meanwhile, far below Sunnydale, Darla and Luke deliver Jesse to the Master, who's none too pleased to receive their table scraps. (And, you know, the whole "being trapped in a church for sixty years" thing grates, too.) But news of the Slayer distracts him from his wrath... and Jesse's fate is left temporarily uncertain.

But not for long. When Buffy and Xander go to rescue their stolen friend, they're horrified to discover that he's not their friend anymore. He's, as Giles puts it, merely the monster that killed their friend. Jesse, in other words, is dead; his life has been stolen, his soul has shuffled off this mortal coil, and his body has been filled with a vampiric demon intent upon wreaking havoc under the Master's orders.

Luke, though, is the pinnacle of the Master's plans. He makes the massive monster his Vessel and sends him off to the Bronze, where the teenagers of the town are hanging out after dark (which, honestly, is a really dangerous pastime in Sunnydale). As Luke takes out the teens one by one, Buffy and her new friends put their plan into action. Buffy fights Luke, narrowly rescuing Cordelia, and Xander fights Jesse, also narrowly rescuing Cordelia.

Buffy's fight goes better than Xander's. He can't bring himself to kill his friend--or, more accurately, to dust the creature wearing his warped and bumpy face. But the choice is taken out of his hands; a fleeing partygoer shoves Jesse in the chaos, and Jesse impales himself on Xander's stake.

And so Xander kills his first vampire.

Buffy, meanwhile, is busy outsmarting Luke, who might be a devastatingly strong, tall, and bulky beast... but is pretty damn stupid, too. And with the Vessel dead, the Master is trapped beneath Sunnydale for at least a little while longer, and Sunnydale is safe(ish) for now.

In the aftermath, nothing much is different. Buffy's clique is shocked to realize that people can and will rationalize whatever they possibly can; it's "gangs on PCP" who are victimizing Sunnydale, not mythical creatures of the night, and there's nothing to be done to convince the populace otherwise.

But who cares about them? The Scoobies are fire-forged friends ready to fight another day.

(The earth is doomed.)

Bits to Sink Your Teeth Into

Right from the very first episode, Buffy's relationship with her mother is off to a rocky start. Joyce Summers is a mess at this point in the story. Though there's something to be said for her frustrations (Buffy did burn down a school building, after all!), her attitude leaves a lot to be desired... and will only get worse--far worse--before it gets better.

Then there's Angel. Who in the world knows what's up with him? David Boreanaz's acting leaves a lot to be desired here, and while I'm going to say most of it is on him alone, there's also plenty of blame to lay upon the writing. What we see of Angel's characterization in these two episodes will be so utterly and completely retconned by later episodes as to seem genuinely bizarre in retrospect.

The slang, meanwhile, is something else. There's one exchange in particular that is so deep into Valley Girl territory as to be downright indecipherable, and I'm pleased to inform anyone who's new that this kind of nonsense won't be showing up again. There'll be plenty of "Buffy speak" in the coming years, but these extraordinarily dated 90s non-words will not dare rear their ugly heads again.

As for Jesse, what did you think of him? Did you like him? Did you hate him? Well, whatever you thought, go ahead and forget him. Because the rest of the character sure do! Spoiler alert (or is it not a spoiler if I'm spoiling what doesn't happen?), but he isn't even mentioned after this! Which, honestly, I don't particularly mind; he was a creep. Thank goodness Whedon decided against including him as a recurring villain.

And for one last bonus bit: See Cordelia's ditzy blonde friend? That's Harmony, and you should probably keep an eye on her.

Most Valuable Slayer

In American sports, an MVP (Most Valuable Player) award is an honor typically bestowed upon the best-performing player or players in a league or competition or on a specific team. In A Bed of Bones: A Buffy the Vampire Slayer Recap, we have the MVS (Most Valuable Slayer) instead.

This honor isn't to be limited to Slayers, of course! MVS goes to whichever character shines the brightest during a particular week. But this week, that character is indeed Buffy the Vampire Slayer herself.

Buffy is a kick-ass female hero that's been a staple of pop culture since she burst onto the scene (screen?). She's inspirational. She subverts expectations. She's clever, chipper, and quick to quip. She's determined and plucky and a physical force to be reckoned with, and as the Slayer, she's practically unstoppable when she really applies herself.

Buffy's kind of the best, is what I'm saying, and she's going to keep showing off her awesome self for the next seven seasons.

So, you know, stick around.

Ship of the Week

Sunnydale is a wealth of shipping possibilities! There's super-strong Slayers, deadly vampires, wicked witches, and all kinds of other characters running around all over the place, and once you strap your Shipping Goggles™ firmly onto your face, you'll start to see sexual tension around every corner. Ship all the things, is what I'm saying.

But while you're shipping all the things, some ships will stand above the rest, and the Ship of the Week is the honor I'll be bestowing to the standout pairing (or polyship!) of the episode. And this week, I'm overlooking the more traditional ships with their obvious tension (Buffy/Angel), canonical crushes (Buffy/Xander, Willow/Xander, Jesse/Cordelia), and femslash appeal (Buffy/Willow, Buffy/Cordelia, Willow/Cordelia) in favor of where I think the love really is, just hiding beneath the surface, waiting to be seen.

I mean, seriously. Am I the only one who noticed Luke's utterly slavish devotion to the Master? I mean, sure, maybe that's just what happens when you're a disciple of a guy known only as "the Master", but without spoiling too much, let me just say that we're going to see the Master interacting with at least a few of his trusted servants and close vampiric kin over the course of the series, and none of them act anything like Luke.

Luke's got it bad, guys, and since we're not going to see any more of that creepy pile of dust in the upcoming episodes, this is his one and only shot at the Ship of the Week.

So congrats to him, I guess?

Prompt of the Week

I don't know about you, but one of the ways I like to engage with my favored fiction is by reading and occasionally writing fanworks! To spark everyone's creativity, I'll be posting in each recap post at least one prompt related to the episode(s) being recapped.

This week's prompt of the week contains spoilers for upcoming episodes. If you're not familiar with Buffy the Vampire Slayer canon and don't wish to be spoiled on events that haven't happened as of Welcome to the Hellmouth and The Harvest, you'll want to skip this section. If you're already familiar with the series or don't mind reading spoilers, you can read the next paragraph by highlighting the following two paragraphs.

After this opening two-parter, Luke is pretty much a forgotten presence in the Buffyverse. But in context, he's kind of fascinating. I mean, we learn more about the Master and the complex relationships of his bloodline as the seasons go on. The Master sired Darla, who sired Angelus, who sired Drusilla, who sired Spike, and those four youngest vampires splintered from the Master for a time to become the Whirlwind. And with Luke obviously being a very powerful and elevated underling of the Master's, surely his relationship with Darla was more complex than what was scene in these two episodes!

So tell me, guys: how did Luke interact with the Whirlwind? What did he think of Darla's leaving the Master for Angelus? Did Luke and Angelus ever fight? Did Luke ever meet Spike and Dru? I want to know it all.

Ranking Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Every week, I'll be putting the new episode(s) on an ever-growing list ranking each and every single Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode. It's an idea I credit to the now-dead podcast, Dusted, which you should totally check out if you don't mind listening to a project that was ultimately abandoned due to personal issues in the lives of the hosts. (It's a wealth of wonderfully insightful criticism that I sorely miss!) And while Dusted's list of episodes went unfinished, I'm really looking forward to seeing how mine will ultimately differ from theirs--and, if you feeling like sharing it, yours, too!

For the purposes of the list, I'll be counting two-part episodes such as this one as one single entry. Therefore, this week's list is simple: Welcome to the Hellmouth / The Harvest is both the first and the last episode. Simultaneously the best and the worst of Buffy.

  1. Welcome to the Hellmouth / The Harvest

Next week, we'll be adding The Witch to that list. Will it go above or below this week's episodes? Tune in next Saturday to find out!

Further Listening

If you liked this (or, hell, even if you didn't), you might like the following podcasts' episodes about Welcome to the Hellmouth and The Harvest.

Welcome to the Hellmouth /
The Harvest

Some phrasing sourced from Wikipedia under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License.

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