Never Kill a Boy on the First Date

Season One, Episode Five

To date.

Never Kill a Boy on the First Date: The Review

Samarra, tomorrow.

Never Kill a Boy on the First Date once again brings into collision the two worlds in which Buffy alternately tries to exist, the world of the ordinary 16 year old high school girl and that of the timeless Slayer. Dates should be fun, but definitely not anciently prophesied appointments with destiny.

Master plans and prophecies form the fatal outline for the episode. Opposed the seemingly inexorable machinations of fate is only Buffy's own will to obey the evanescent imperatives of "post-pubescent fantasy". Ever the conservative, The Master, dormant since the collapse of his plans in The Harvest and mentioned only in passing in Teacher's Pet, has awakened to another arcane solution culled from vampiric lore to work his escape from the Hellmouth where he has stopped for 70 years. The Brethren of Aurelius, an order of vampires founded by a 12th Century seer, are in Sunnydale, drawn to the Master by a prediction of Aurelius himself. They are to bring the Anointed to the Master, and the Anointed shall lead the Slayer to Hell. So it is written. It is also written that the "best laid schemes o' mice an' men/Gang aft a-gley." By the evidence, the aphorism applies equally to vampires. Typically, the over-thought and the intricate grand design of the greatest mind is subject to the whimsy of the least. Perfect plans are only as perfect as the agents who embody their enactment. The Brethren are weak vessels, and when Buffy kills one of the order, who is out on the prowl for brunch, he leaves behind in his ashes a ring, bearing the insignia of the order. (Unaccountably, the ring did not pulverize, as did everything else he wore and carried.) Giles is instantly arrested, and worried, by the singular occurrence.

Plus and minus.

Things that are written play into the story in another manner: what more unlikely place for Buffy's latest grab for the gusto than under the nose of her Watcher, indeed, in his very den, the Library itself? It is there that the most unlikely event of all comes to pass: a student arrives in search of a book. So startling is this rarity, that Giles forgets himself and demands to know what the student is doing there. It is practically an omen. Even more prodigious is it that the student, handsome Owen Thurman, has lost his Emily Dickinson and wants a replacement. Owen is solitary, mysterious, manly, and sensitive, and he can brood with almost Wertherian concentration. (This is virtually a precognitive description of Angel.) He has, in addition, something of wit, and can work a clever turn of phrase. Altogether, he is irresistible.

Much to her credit, Buffy shows some of her mental mettle by noting and recollecting the symbols inscribed on the inside of the ring, beating Giles to the discovery of the order's presence. This leads to his reading of the Aurelian texts, which gives them the advantage against the Anointed. Unfortunately, the copy of the text used by Giles seems to be incomplete, for it does not mention the Anointed's role with respect to the Slayer. (Or he withholds that information.) On the debit side of the balance sheet, however, she repeatedly tries to minimize the potential threat and to make any excuse to doubt Giles, finally leading him to doubt himself, too. Wheedling, she begs off the inspection of the funeral home, leaving Giles on his own to make the crucial investigation. Had Giles been on his game, had Buffy not been so eager to persuade him that he had been in error, disaster might have been averted.

A considerable amount of time and thought is expended in the effort to make Owen seem the perfect boy for Buffy. He is considerate, courtly, and patient. He thinks of Cordelia as little as does Buffy. (Cordelia suffers attractively the double indignity of being ignored by both Owen and Angel, who then give their attentions to Buffy.) Yet, in the end, Owen, who confesses that the appeal of Emily Dickinson is her "morbidity", which he equates with a dislike for frivolity, serves mainly to ignite Angel's jealousy (not mention Xander's), and to demonstrate the impracticality of trying to integrate the two halves of Buffy's existence. He can't help but notice the dichotomy of her life, her effervescence and immediacy which, by turns, is counteracted by a detachment that removes her from the scene, both figuratively and physically. An outsider, he tries to involve himself in Buffy's excursion to the funeral home, and he does provide some small assistance, if only to energize her attack on Borba. (Borba, doing a tattooed Robert Mitchum/Harry Powell impersonation as a scripture spouting serial killer, is a neat bit of cozenage, deceiving both the Scoobies and the viewers.) However, Owen doesn't fit into Buffy's life, for all of that. Buffy to Owen is an intoxicant, one that could kill. Buffy makes a noble personal sacrifice when she pushes him away. She realizes that Slaying is a full-time, all-consuming, and solitary vocation.

A Secret told
Ceases to be a Secret - then -
A Secret - kept -
That - can appall but One -

In Sum

The disclosure by Giles of his own youthful struggle with destiny and his uncertainty about the right course is meant to ease Buffy's sense of confinement, and the act of confidence is itself a kind of reward, but the knowledge that life can be unfair to more than oneself is only a muted consolation. He is only slightly rueful, though, that his childhood aspirations were thwarted, as the incongruity of his choices—fighter pilot or grocer—makes plain the mutability of the young heart's intent. Then again he is contrasted with Joyce and Principal Flutie, for, unlike them, he has no manual, has likely discarded it. Candor is more persuasive than assurance.

Not all is well, despite their accessions of understanding and trust. The Brethren have redeemed themselves with The Master. The false sense of confidence that Buffy and Giles enjoy in their supposed defeat of the Anointed, the recurring visual irony of juxtaposition, leaves the viewers uneasy, apprehensive, full of foreboding.

Horace LaBadie

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