Written by Rob Des Hotel & Dean Batali
Directed by David Semel
Original Air Date: 31st March, 1997
I must admit to always having a soft spot for this one. Okay, sure, it’s not the greatest episode of television ever produced, but the dialogue and the episode’s plotting make for a wickedly entertaining hour, with Buffy’s signature wit and ability to juggle character, plot, self-contained storytelling and larger arc elements coming together very fluidly this hour.
Even the episode’s title has a jaunty flavour of wit that hints at the comedy at the core of the episode.
The first script of the series from Rob Des Hotel and Dean Batali, there is some wickedly funny one-liners that make this feel like the most genuinely witty episode of the series so far, and even better yet, everyone on screen are genuinely starting to feel at one with their characters, delivering an increasingly series of verbal zingers that cannot help but bring a smile to the face.
Buffy’s pursuit of a normal life is something that the series has dealt with before in ‘Witch’, and of course with this being Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the supernatural and her calling as the Slayer has to intrude, otherwise there would be no drama; the series couldn’t merely have her be a cheerleader for an episode without witchcraft, and so it makes sense that an attempt to date the cutest boy in school would be interrupted by a pesky prophecy being brought forward by The Master and the lives of those around her being placed in danger.
The screwball comedic nature of the episode gives this hour a wonderful sense of pace and drive, but it also hits home with lovely moments of poignancy in its final moments, indicating once again the elasticity of Buffy and tone.
Sarah Michelle Gellar has done a great job right from the beginning of the season of selling Buffy’s struggle of wanting a normal life but unable to grasp it, and here that theme comes to the fore, although thankfully the episode opts to make it more of a witty comedy than anything too maudlin, at least until the end and its beautifully delivered reality check, although the maudlin nature of those final moments shouldn’t be too much of a surprise given the references to Emily Dickinson throughout who, according to Giles, was a great poet for an American; Anthony Stewart Head’s delivery of that line being another indication of the episode’s withering devotion to wit.
The character of Owen exists more as a proxy for the episode to explore why it is that any potential personal life of Buffy’s must be that shared with her destiny as the Slayer. We’ll never see the character again (although given the series’ eventual grasp of world building and recurring smaller roles, that is something of a surprise, although I guess this is the first season and the building blocks of the show are still being figured out) but Christopher Wiehl’s wide-eyed innocence and lack of awareness of his cute good looks makes him an appealing and likeable character through most of the running time, at least until the final moments when, finding the experience of being around Buffy’s world bracing, is more eager to experience her way of life than actually be with her as a person.
It’s a bitter sting of a conclusion for the episode, softened by that lovely conversation between Buffy and Giles in which he talks about his own childhood and discovery of his Watcher destiny, although brilliantly the series even takes away any feel-good factor by revealing to the audience, but not the characters, that they haven’t prevented the prophecy surrounding the Anointed One from being defeated and that The Master has actually won this time round.
The very final reveal of the episode is a lovely hint of the drama to come, while even the scenes with Mark Metcalf, as filled with The Master’s frequent proclamations of killing the slayer and laying siege to the world above speeches as they usually are, gives way to moments of comedic wit and witty gags.
For an episode as jaunty in tone as it is, ‘Never Kill a Boy on the First Date’ does devote itself nicely to some disturbing and interestingly played horror; after all this is an episode that features vampires attacking a bus with collateral damage on it and kills all the passengers in order to bring The Master’s prophecy to pass. Even better, the episode hoodwinks us into thinking it’s the religious zealot character they’ve gone after when in fact it’s the little boy we glimpse briefly.
This is only the fifth episode, but it shows a willingness of the show to be unafraid to embrace darker ideas and themes, and we’ve got ‘The Pack’ coming up next which is really going to go to town on darker material, indicating a clear willingness at this stage of the show to be unafraid to fully embrace those horror roots.
In fact, the horror, the comedy, and the gentle observational character beats all get a nice work-out in this hour. It’s never going to top the list of all-time greatest episodes of the show, but maybe because I watched it for the first time when I was fourteen, this is one of those episodes I always look forward to going back to when rewatching the series, although looking at some of the reviews I realise I’m probably in the minority, but I like it a lot.
Even more interestingly, it features a moment when Cordelia locks eyes on Angel for the first time, which given everything that is about to happen later on (and on a different show, no less) cannot help but feel important even if it is thirty seconds of screen time, and with a line of dialogue that will be repeated in a future episode, once again on a different television show.