Buffy's on the prowl for vampires, turning to hunting rather than simple patrolling. On one such hunt, she meets a tall, dark and handsome vampire that isn't Angel. He's got a lilty accent, mysterious ways of speaking and a big ole cape. He's freakin' Dracula. That's right. The Count himself is in town and desires Buffy, preying on her and intent on turning her into a bride. Not only is Buffy enthralled, so too is Xander as one of his minions. It's up to the rest of the gang to disrupt Dracula's plans before it's too late, but all of them underestimate his power and Buffy's own strength.
I do love this episode. As both a Dracula and a Buffy fan, it ticks a lot of boxes for me from the schlocky tone to the Stoker references to Marti Noxon in writing duties. It's a very funny episode, with each character getting a little moment to shine within it; Riley busting out the "you're under the thrall of the Dark Prince!", Anya's fangirl fawning over the undead superstar, Giles tangling with the three sisters and Spike's grudge all spark brilliantly. It's Xander though who steals the show here as Nicholas Brendon gets to do his finest Renfield impression, right down to the sychophantic epithets and bug eating (I couldn't pick a best Xander quote for Quote of the Week so you get three).
Buffy was always one of the most self-aware shows around, but Noxon clearly relishes the opportunity to play with that in this episode. Bringing in Dracula is no mean feat, but she's aware of her genre savvy audience and rather than using it to fill the episode with foreboding, she messes about with the familiar for comedic effect. One of my favourite moments is Riley commenting on the fact that he's never noticed "a great honking castle" in Sunnydale, a nod to the fact that it starts off in the pilot as a one-Starbucks town, but is slowly revealed to have an entire university campus just tucked away somewhere. And now a castle, because obviously.
Cleverly, the episode is used to keep laying the foundations of Buffy's self-discovery, the one that sort of began back in Restless. Dracula echoes Tara's line "you think you know what you are... what's to come... you haven't even begun" hinting at the deep dark mystery at the heart of being a Slayer. Though it will be explored considerably throughout the fifth season, it will also continue into the seventh with the Potentials and Buffy's ultimate battle tactic in defeating The First. Here, it's merely suggestion, confirmed by her heartwarming scene with Giles at the end in which she asks him to become her unofficial Watcher again.
There's a couple more key moments in the episode and I'll get to the 'big' one shortly, but first of all, Riley's continuing downward spiral into Jealous, Masculinity-So-Fragile Douchebag. I think I glossed over much of it in this episode because I was still a fan of the fourth season version of his character. I'm a lot less kind now. He's just a dick. An important one in terms of the various themes that the show explores in relation to masculinity and feminism, but a dick nonetheless. Then, of course, there's the big Dawn reveal. I remember this absolutely flooring me the first time I saw it. It doesn't pack quite the same punch now, but you've got to admire the balls of a show who can pull off the kind of history retcon that we'll soon see.
Buffy vs. Dracula might not rank highly in many people's lists of greatest Buffy episodes. As a regular standalone, it's a solid affair, but as a season opener, it's probably the best of the bunch. It's a "wouldn't it be cool if..." premise that pays off in spades and also sets a lot up for the season to come.
Quote[s] of the Week:
Willow: I think we have Dracula factoids.
Xander: Like any of that's enough to fight the Dark Master...bater.
Xander: I wouldn't jump to any conclusions about the Unholy Prince...bater.
Xander: Master, I deliver the Slayer, she who you most desire... Sorry, whom.
Xander: You know what? I'm sick of this crap. I'm sick of being the guy who eats insects and gets the funny syphilis. As of this moment, it's over. I'm finished being everybody's butt monkey.
Buffy: Check. No more butt monkey.
Inventive Kill: Buffy stakes Dracula not once, but twice. Not really effective as he'll later appear in the Drew Goddard story, Antique, but she does get to say that she "eurotrashed" him.
Let's Get Trivial: Dracula wasn't originally set to appear in this episode, according to writer Marti Noxon, who had written in just another cool vampire for the role and comparing him to Dracula a lot. Joss Whedon then asked "why not Dracula?" pointing out that Stoker's legendary character was publc domain and therefore available.
Sunnydale Who's Who: Apparently, it was Sarah Michelle Gellar's husband, Freddie Prinze Jr, lined up to play Dracula, but the role went to Rudolf Martin who had previously played SMG's love interest on All My Children.
You can read Becky's look at previous episode, Restless, here.
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