We just finished watching Season 1 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I know, I'm only 13 years behind - couldn't I have left it a little longer?
Something I found very interesting while watching Season 1 (having seen Seasons 6 & 7), is how they made the show accessible. Every episode something weird happened. Every episode they mentioned the fact that Sunnydale is on the Hellmouth and draws weird people and events to it. If they introduced or re-introduced a character, that character would say something to tell the audience of their previous adventures. For example, Computer Sciences lady was helping out in the final episode, and my boyfriend had missed the episode where she helped defeat Moloch after he got stored in the computer.
"Who's she?" he asked. Pausing the playback, I replied.
"She helped them get a demon out of the internet a couple of episodes ago."
"Oh, okay." I hit play.
On-screen : "I did help you banish that demon from the internet not too long ago."
What struck me the most about the final episode, though, was Buffy's reaction at the end. Never mind that she'd already changed prophecy by knowing who The Anointed was, the prophecy still said she had to die. I don't know how long she was face-down in the water, but it can't have been long. Long enough to qualify for a medial death? Or perhaps some kind of micro-death?
While I've enjoyed the fact that the fight scenes are excitingly brief, and I'm actually coming to like Cordelia, Buffy is still far and away the most complex character of the lot. Most of the time she's the Slayer, but mid-episode, she's just a teenager, scared and lost. At the end of the episode, after Xander and Angel rescue her, she says she feels stronger, but her tears say differently. It doesn't mesh to cry for someone like the Master. She wasn't crying for him. Was she crying because, without him to rally them, there might be no more vampires to fight? I doubt it. Was she crying because the Hellmouth went back home, and she'd wanted to see what it would do? Highly unlikely. Was she crying because Willow didn't get eaten? Naw. Alison Hannigan's way too cute. So what, then?
I don't know the history of Buffy. I enjoy it, but, as I said, I only really just started watching it. I don't know if they had funding for Season 2 by the time Season 1 was filmed. Maybe they thought this was the end. There was no cliffhanger - the big bad guy is dead. There's just the look on Buffy's face as she stares at what should be her triumphal moment, and cries. Silently, and while speaking, hiding behind a smile. She's making wisecracks, but she's not really there. She's lost something.
Having seen Season 7, I know what that something is. I don't know if it will be explained in Season 2. Would I have noticed her expression anyway? I think so, yes. And that's a different kind of mystery - the one of the character, not behaving the way we think they should. I think it's a far better cliffhanger than any chase or possible character death. It leaves us wondering, thinking, wanting to know, while the threat of a death, to me, always loses impact. I have time to consider how I'll feel if the character does die, and then it's not as sad.
There are a couple of exceptions. Ugly Betty played with those emotions exceptionally well. NCIS killed off Kate in the last few seconds of the season finale. If the tension can't be maintained, then you need to create a self-fuelling emotion that can. I think that's what Buffy achieved. I like her, I want her to be happy, she's accomplished her task, so why is she sad? I want to comfort her, but I can't. I can only keep watching, so I want to. Subtle, but effective.
Now to borrow the technique. Wish me luck!