Since its premiere in 1997, Buffy the Vampire Slayer has established itself as a perennial favorite both to a core of die-hard Whedonites and to a broader mainstream audience. The show wrapped in 2003 after seven seasons on television but returned for an eighth in 2007, this time as a comic series from Dark Horse. The series was so popular that the initial 25-issue run was expanded out to 40. In 2011 the series returned for Season Nine wrapping at the end of last year, and this week the tenth season has begun.
The beginning of a new season is a great jumping on point for anyone interested in joining the Buffy-verse for the first time, or for those returning after an absence. However with nine seasons of backstory there’s now a lot of history to get through. All seven seasons of the TV show are currently available on Netflix and Amazon Instant Video but that’s a whole lot to sit through even for those with a lot of spare time, and that’s before you get to the comics. So for those of you interested in diving headlong into the show again, here’s a (mostly) spoiler-free recap of the road so far.
After being expelled from school, 16-year-old Buffy Summers and her mother move to Sunnydale, California, in the hopes of starting afresh. Secretly Buffy hopes to leave behind her life as a vampire slayer but life isn’t that simple and within her first day at Sunnydale High the supernatural is already closing in on her. Soon she teams up with fellow students Willow Rosenberg and Xander Harris who, along with Watcher/school librarian Rupert Giles, form the Scoobies – a team who will go on to fight evil in countless forms over the coming years.
The relationships established in season one increase in complexity during the show’s second outing. Xander hooks up with school top dog Cordelia and Willow with Oz, a guitar player with a canine secret of his own. Even Giles gets in on the action by establishing a relationship with computer science teacher Jenny. However these relationships and the issues they encounter pale in comparison to Buffy’s own relationship with Angel which will irrevocably affect everyone around them.
Buffy returns to Sunnydale after unsuccessfully attempting to start a new life in LA and she’s not the only person arriving in town. The Watcher’s council send in Wesley Price to replace Giles, fearing that he has become too emotionally attached to Buffy, and a second slayer named Faith also arrives. Throughout the season, which marks Buffy’s final year of high school, the Scoobies work against the town Mayor who is planning to make their graduation more memorable than any before and for all the wrong reasons.
Buffy and Willow enroll at the University of California: Sunnydale where each begins a new romantic relationship; Buffy with graduate student Riley and Willow with Tara—a witch like herself. The vampire Spike returns but soon finds himself at the mercy of The Initiative, a secret military organization based beneath the campus but with many links above ground. Eventually Spike teams up with the Scoobies and together they fight against the latest monster to be unleashed on the unsuspecting town.
We are shocked to be introduced to Buffy’s younger sister Dawn, and even more surprised when every character acts as if they have known her from the beginning. Buffy meets the season’s key “Big Bad”, an exiled Hell God named Glory who is looking for her way back downstairs through the use of a key which will open the door between Hell and Earth. As the season progresses Buffy’s family life is shattered, and when Glory kidnaps Dawn she has to decide whether or not to make the ultimate sacrifice.
A contender for the show’s darkest era, not one character escapes from season six unscathed. Buffy falls into a deep depression and begins a mutually abusive relationship with the one person you would never expect. Concerned about her reliance on him, Giles leaves for England, and Xander’s forthcoming wedding is ruined by a last minute decision. Even Dawn begins suffering from kleptomania and Willow’s addiction to magic continues to grow. When a fight between Buffy and season Big Bad Warren Mears results in an accidental death, Willow’s powers turn dark forcing the Scoobies to fight against her.
The final television season introduces the First Evil, an incorporeal power that is killing off all potential slayers and raising an army of ancient vampires. Giles gathers a number of potentials who seek refuge at Buffy’s house as the First Evil and the preacher Caleb work against them and cause activity around the Hellmouth to increase. Soon most of the population of Sunnydale has fled. Several characters return for the finale with Willow activating all potential slayers for an almighty showdown. Not everyone makes it out and the town of Sunnydale is destroyed completely but the show ends on a positive note regardless.
One year after the destruction of Sunnydale, Buffy and the Scoobies have set up a military-like approach to slaying. Now based in Scotland the Scoobies organize over 500 slayers in squads around the world, however they are seen by the US government as international terrorists and many groups are actively working against them. Soon a new pro-vampire world order is established and the groups are forced into hiding as relationships between them grow more complex. When the true identity of the season’s Big Bad—Twilight—is revealed, things become even more intense. After the death of someone close, a distraught Buffy destroys a powerful artifact which subsequently removes all magic from the universe and leaves Buffy as a pariah.
Buffy and most of her friends are now living in San Francisco. Buffy works in a traditional slayer role as Willow departs on a quest to restore magic and a new team slowly begin to come together. Because magic is now gone from the world Dawn begins to fade from existence, devastating Xander who has now formed a relationship with her. He is approached by the demon Severin who wants to restore magic and the two begin secretly trading information. Buffy and the Scoobies travel to the Cotswolds in an attempt to save Dawn, eventually facing off against Severin. Magic is restored and the season ends with the revelation of an entirely new form of vampire, however Watcher’s Council is destroyed and the pages of their primary research book now blank.
The Buffy-verse is one of the most complex out there and this recap only begins to scratch at its surface. Alongside the primary Buffy TV series there was the Angel spin-off which itself has transitioned into multiple comic series—Angel at IDW and the more recent Angel and Faith through Dark Horse. Dark Horse also produced a 63 issue run that ran alongside Buffy on television prior to Season Eight. Joss Whedon produced the Fray mini-series about a future slayer, and of course there are dozens of novels and collected short stories—not to mention the original 1992 film. For anyone entering the fandom, the sheer volume of material can be a little overwhelming.
I hope that this recap gives you a taste of the series and allows you to step into this brilliant world. I’m reading to dive back in and so we say, “Once More with Feeling!”