Season One hemlines
creep further of Buffy's thighs.
Now that is scary.
Admittedly, I don't have much to say about "Never Kill a Boy on the First Date." It's an episode that I find ultimately necessary in the conflict it presents to Buffy, but also a bit rote, simply because we know exactly how it's all going to play out. Buffy struggles to exert her own choice to be a normal teenage girl over her Slayerly duties, and in doing so, puts some people in danger. She realizes the complication and risks aren't worth it, and devotes herself to the unfortunate responsibility of her position. While we're waiting for her to get there, Giles protests just enough, Buffy fights back just enough, and we know that they'll meet in the middle at hour's end. There's a cute but dull boy we know won't be sticking around, but that we like enough to sit through Buffy's interest in him. Cordelia's there to provide romantic opposition and basic conflict, but doesn't pan out to much consequence. In short, we know exactly how the episode goes, and the Buffy writers do their best to make it at least quippy, interesting, and authentically emotional for Buffy.
The main thing that succeeds in transcending the premise is Buffy's relationship with Giles. This is the true establishment of Giles and Buffy's father-daughter dynamic, completely fleshed out in one hour. They are slightly alienated to one another by age and personality contrast - and job description, in that Buffy is the doer and Giles the thinker. As such, they are no strangers to the power struggle, both wielding generation-specific sarcasm to the best of their ability. They butt heads over Buffy's duties, but ultimately Giles relents in an effort to give Buffy what she wants, and when he gets in trouble, Buffy is there to save him. Their differences are ultimately set aside at the end of the episode when Buffy blames herself for Giles' endangerment, only to be met with sympathy and praise from her oft-critical Watcher. The coming-together is embodied nicely with Giles literally relating to Buffy's inner conflict: he wanted to be a fighter pilot (or a grocer) when he was younger, but unfortunately, his familial duty came knocking, and so a Watcher he became. In other words, he knows how hard it is to choose devotion over personal choice.
(Sidenote: is anyone else super-intrigued by Giles' grandmother Watcher? And, furthermore, is this mythology explored at all in further episodes? I suppose the existence of the Watcher's Council means that not all Watchers are tasked with curating a Slayer one-on-one... but the idea that Watcher tradition runs through families seems a bit incongruous to what we learn later. Which is kind of a shame, because I really want to know about Grandma Giles. I would have liked to know more female watchers in general, frankly. It would help assuage the slightly disturbing patriarchy of the Slayer tradition.)
Beyond the establishment of Giles and Buffy's dynamic, the main draw for the episode lies with the decision Buffy makes at the end of it. In "Welcome to the Hellmouth," Buffy is set up as a reluctant hero, and so "Never Kill a Boy on the First Date" serves to officially reverse that decision: Buffy makes a choice, at hour's end, to honor her Slayer duties instead of attempting to maintain social normalcy. A reluctant hero no longer, Buffy is now imbued with the intrinsic conflict of being a teenage girl and superhero: how can you be both people at once? This duality was demonstrated well, if a bit predictably, in the episode. Owen picks up on the seemingly divergent Buffys, and Buffy herself uses the concept to explain to him why she has to ditch their date so suddenly.
What's even more interesting about this duality is the choices the wardrobe department makes for the episode. Let me speak for a moment about the haiku. (I especially wanted to explain so I don't seem like a big ol' slut-shamer.) It was evident to me, even when I wrote the above haiku three years ago, that this episode dresses Buffy in very short dresses. At first I thought, how impractical for hand-to-hand combat! Then, I simply hand-waved it away as Season 1 trying a bit too hard to make their point that Buffy is a normal teenage girl who happens to be the appointed as the one person standing between the world and supernatural calamity. After all, this season is very much about establishing the subversion of construct: Buffy is a peppy teenager who likes boys and cheerleading, but who was chosen for something much more cosmically eminent. So, this season tends to dress Buffy in mini-skirts, halter tops, and platform heels, in popular style. Femininity and Slaying are not mutually exclusive! Which, as a message, I quite like.
Before long, we start to see Buffy's wardrobe match "hard" or "masculine" fashion with "soft" or "feminine" fashion, representing her "dual" identity as a young woman action hero. It's a commentary on the merging of two traditionally opposite concepts - and it's why we see, in "Prophecy Girl," Buffy dressed in a fluffy white dress (feminine, for the "normal" school dance) with a leather jacket over it (masculine, for the practical purposes of slaying). It's an embodiment of this character's construction, communicated in clothing language. These were choices carefully made, for this character, her internal conflict, and her place in the narrative. The decisions extend to "Never Kill a Boy on the First Date." Buffy wears traditionally feminine clothing for much of the episode, in an effort to exert her identity as a "normal teenage girl." The clothing helps identify that Buffy's pushing really hard to have this lifestyle, even though it's perhaps a fruitless endeavor.
But at the end of the episode? Buffy makes her choice. She carries with her the inherent friction of her double life, her two personas, and that will ultimately reflect in the clothing. She'll wear leather jackets, and boots, and structured blazers, which all code as "masculine." But "Never Kill a Boy on the First Date" shows Buffy trying to be one thing, not the other, and so we have very short hemlines and some pretty great 90s sartorial gems. (I feel like that could easily be the actual explanation for Buffy's S1 wardrobe. It was just the 90s - the 1990s, in point of fact, to quote Miss Summers herself. 90s fashion looks terrible to the new century's eyes. Why did we ever wear that?)
Beyond these highlights, the rest of the episode is a bit lackluster, for me. Cordelia as a romantic villain is tiresome, and I honestly didn't care about Owen (or Buffy's interest in him) all that much. His purpose in the episode is entirely predictable, though I definitely felt for Buffy's plight on principle. The introduction of The Anointed is exciting in theory, but knowing how it pans out puts a damper on the supposed looming danger that's predicted for the Slayer. In all, "Never Kill a Boy on the First Date" is an episode perhaps necessary only in its devotion to delineating the virtual impossibility of Buffy maintaining a personal life. It's a bit burdened by this necessity, as well as with the necessity of introducing and jumpstarting the season-long Big Bad. So, I just aww'd at Giles and Buffy's relationship, and thought way too much about what Buffy was wearing.