Buffy wouldn't be too good at juggling - especially given that she's having trouble multi-tasking in her own life. Being a Slayer doesn't allow for an easy social life, as she finds out to her annoyance in Never Kill A Boy On The First Date. All she's after is a simple, hassle-free date with Mr Sensitive Of Sunnydale, Owen Thurman, but her true calling in life is making this aim difficult.
In fact, if Buffy's life were a list of school exam results, then she'd be mortified. While she's scoring a Grade A in making those around her green with jealousy, she's failed both the dating game and the quest to find a mysterious enigma only known as The Anointed One (a name presumably conjured up by the same Book Of Vague that coined the moniker, Fork Guy). The Anointed One is a key pawn in The Master's aim to free himself from his squalid prison, his "greatest weapon against the Slayer". Reading from his well overdue library book of doomy prophecies, The Master reads that "The Slayer will not know him, will not stop him and he will lead her into hell".
Giles later offers a little bit more background by explaining that a chap called Aurelius made a prophecy in which his brethren would bring a warrior called The Anointed to The Master. Time is of the essence, given that this dreaded weapon will somehow rise from the ashes of five dead bodies. Too bad though, that the prophecy is due to take place on the night that Buffy's off on a date with Owen - the only good thing to come from this predicament is Giles' snarky comment (and the best line of the episode), "Alright, I'll just jump in my time machine, go back to the 12th century and ask the vampires to postpone their ancient prophecy while you take in dinner and a show".
Never Kill A Boy On The First Date is torn between two lines of narrative - the bubblegum plot in which Buffy's attempts at dating fall flat on their face, and the dramatic plot in which Buffy must face off against what she thinks is the Anointed One. As a result, it's a bit of a disjointed mish mash. The subplot of The Anointed One is the more successful aspect of the two, with the by-now well established trick of fooling the viewers. The story neatly tricks you into thinking that the Anointed One is Andrew Vorba, a Bible-thumping oddball who's constantly grunting phrases from the Good Book. He'd make an excellent double act with Dot Cotton from EastEnders, given that they both like to quote the man upstairs and that they both would give kids screaming nightmares with just one look. After Vorba has risen again in the Sunnydale Funeral Home as a vampire, it's easy to assume that he is the deadly warrior set to be pit against Buffy, ensuring that her dating days are over forever. Good thing that he's shoved head first into a blazing incinerator with a blood-curdling scream then, isn't it?
Nothing's ever that simple - the final twist is well thought out, given that in fact, the Anointed One turns out to be the kid with the curtain cut on the out of control bus seen earlier in the episode. For such an almighty being though, his name just lacks that certain gravitas: Collin. Apologies to anyone called Collin, but it's not exactly the most fearsome name in the terrifying baddie pantheon is it? As we'll see, The Annoying One, as he's often called, turns out to be something of a damp squib. He never really gets to do much apart from sit around all day while frowning in exasperated boredom. The problem with making a baddie a kid is that they are very rarely scary, which is certainly the case with Collin, who mostly mooches around in The Master's grotty abode like a kid who's been grounded for a whole year. The other problem is that the young chap who plays Collin is clearly on the cusp of becoming a teenager, which means that if he actually stands up for more than 30 seconds, it'll be blatantly obvious that he's considerably grown in height. So poor old Collin is destined forever to be a stooper - no wonder he's always scowling.
On the upside though, it's great to have Mark Metcalf back as the crabby Master. He doesn't get much screen time, but he relishes every single second that he's on screen. His opening sarky riposte to a Brethren member is especially amusing: "And one of the brethren shall go out hunting the night before and get himself killed because he couldn't wait to finish his job before he ate... Oh wait, that's not written anywhere!"
Writers Rob Des Hotel and Dean Batali are doing their level best to juggle the two dovetailing plots. While the story does have some excitement and intrigue, the big issue is that the dating aspect of the plot tends to take over, and being brutally honest, it's not really that interesting.
This is possibly because the object of Buffy's affections is a little odd. Owen, we are told, is a sensitive broody sort who likes Emily Dickinson and can brood for 40 minutes non-stop, according to Willow. Stick him in a frowning contest with Angel and it'd be a close call as to who takes home the prize. Despite assuming the appearance of a football-throwing jock as opposed to a beret/polo neck jumper-clad Bohemian, Owen is still determined to snag a date with the only Slayer in town, even turning down a rendezvous with Cordelia.
In all honesty, it's debatable whether a Cordy and Owen wedding could ever conceivably take place, given that the two are as far apart as Scunthorpe and Los Angeles. Given Owen's unorthodox dating talk, she'd be on the phone in seconds to all her friends, bleating about her fella's weird taste in morbid conversation.
Which is bizarre anyway. His opening gambit to Buffy involves his admiration for the works of Emily Dickinson. "The thing about Emily Dickinson I love is, is, she's just so incredibly morbid." Not exactly the sort of cheery banter that blokes should be engaging in with girls. From then on, Owen's on a roll by declaring that he doesn't get out much and that he thinks that there are more important things in life than dating. Evidently, Owen's crowded bookshelves do not contain a handy guide to first dates.
It's kind of ironic that the name of the ep warns against killing a boy on the first date, since by the looks of it, that's all Owen ever thinks about. He can't wait to follow Buffy to the Sunnydale Funeral Home, gasping in wonder at how "cool" it is, like he's paying a visit to a 3D funfair rather than a smelly, gloomy repository for the dead. "Are we gonna see a dead body?" he crows, as if a corpse is going to get up and perform a dancing jig just for his benefit. Sunnydale has played host to many weirdos in its time, but for some odd reason, Owen always flies under the radar in this regard. After narrowly escaping death at the hands of Vampire Vorba (whom Owen calls a "sissy"), Owen then proceeds to bleat about how a near-death experience made him feel so alive. No wonder Buffy dumps him after requesting that for their next date, they pick a fight in a downtown bar at three in the morning. Owen doesn't so much have a deathwish, more of a long, death-related Christmas list for the Grim Reaper equivalent of Santa Claus.
It's quite funny to see main characters such as Xander, Cordy and Angel to react in abject jealousy at Buffy, but overall, the story doesn't quite reach the balance of lightweight, bubblegum fun and gripping drama, since it's too much inclined towards the former. The character of Owen is ridiculous, and the scenes in the funeral home tend to drag - it's not helped by the fact that I could hardly see what's going on on my TV. I know the scene was meant to be all atmospheric and spooky, but I had to adjust the contrast setting control to maximum on the telly.
On the upside, there is some good character stuff for the regulars, particularly Buffy and Giles. Sarah Michelle Gellar is evidently having fun with the lighter side of her character, and also displays some of the fighting grit that she would display in the future when pummelling Vorba to an aching pulp ("You killed my date!"). Giles gets all the best lines in this ("Another date? Don't you ever do anything else?"), and at the end, shows the human side beneath the tweed. He explains that he was destined to be a Watcher after his father sat him down for a pompous monologue at the age of 10, forcing him to forsake plans to be a fighter pilot or a grocer. But even he admits, in a scene reminiscent of Joyce's talk with Buffy in Witch, that being a Watcher isn't a matter of leafing through a book of rules. "I have volumes of lore, of prophecies, of predictions - but I don't have an instruction manual," he says. "We feel our way as we go along." You could argue that Giles is slowly becoming a substitute father figure for Buffy - in the future, he'll give Buffy the sort of support and respect that any good dad would provide, not to mention one or two scoldings. And already here, he's offering praise ("I must say as a Slayer, you're... you're doing pretty well."). The pitch perfect performance from Anthony Head as the unassuming Watcher reinforces Giles as one of the most important characters in the series.
An uneven episode overall - silly moments and characters abound, but in the moments where the juggling act works, the regulars are written and acted to perfection, and the script manages to surprise and entertain. Quite what happened to Owen after this though, is a mystery. There are rumours of a missing Emily Dickinson geek who was last seen pushing his luck in a downtown vampire bar...
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