So welcome to the Buffy blog, where your jolly shiny eds plunge their way through the series and share their meandering mumbles of wisdom.
So Welcome to the Hellmouth is probably the episode of Buffy I've seen the most times, and the hardest to watch again with fresh eyes. I actually didn't like this episode at all when it first screened, all those years ago. I didn't become a regular watcher until Season 2, and only saw the rest of the first series in retrospect.
The initial episode is a lot more fun to watch as a fan of the show; you can see where Whedon is setting things up for later follow-through. Buffy starts the episode as a kind of almost anti-hero. She wants nothing more than to forget her former adventures at her old school, and to shake the responsibilities placed on her.
Episode one is basically the story of how Buffy tries to avoid being the Slayer and fails. She tries to hang with the shallow, vacuous Cordelia, but her kindness draws her to the put-down Willow. And when she unwittingly helps to land Willow in danger, her sense of responsibilit can't be dodged. There's a nice metaphor here; a lot of us at some point in our lives wish we could live life simply, stupidly, without the dramas that come with intellect and conscience. But life always draws you back, forces you to take responsibility again.
The thing that sets Buffy apart from a lot of similar shows is its supporting cast. Xander is goofier and probably less likeable here than he will be later in the series (his line "Can I have you?" would have to be up there with the crappest lines the show ever produced), but still fun, and Willow is just loveable from the start. The real smart move in Welcome to the Hellmouth is putting Willow in danger; the stakes are suddenly very high.
Luke is a tough vampire to set against Buffy in this episode. I particularly like the line "You're strong... I'm stronger." Clearly our hero is not gonna be a superman kinda unbeatable hero in terms of strength. I like that.
A lot of the comedy in Buffy arises from the characterisation, and as such the first episode is probably not as funny as a lot of later ones; not having as much to build on. Nevertheless, there are some truly funny lines and moments. Giles admitting that he sent away for the Readers' digest series on monsters, for instance, with the free calendar, nicely undercuts his character's seriousness.
This episode will never be my favourite episode. There's a lot more set-up than payoff and to some extent you can feel Whedon and co still learning the ropes, testing the boundaries. But it's a fun introduction and a good start... I enjoyed watching it again.