Buffy the Vampire Slayer's First Big Twist Changed Genre TV Forever

Edward Cullen wishes.

20th Century Television

“A vampire in love with a slayer. It’s rather poetic.” When you’re a teenager, everything feels like life and death. In the case of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, in which students attended high school on the mouth of Hell, this idea was made literal. As dangerous as vampires, witches, and werewolves are, first love might just be the most frightening foe the slayer had to face in those early seasons.

Although Angel (David Boreanaz) is now a very well-known vampire in the pop culture lexicon, there was a time when neither Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar) nor the audience knew her mysterious “friend” was actually undead. Star-crossed lovers is a tale as old as time, but the heroine of a supernatural teen drama falling for her enemy? Impossible!

Boreanaz’s enigmatic character debuted in the pilot and after over a month of speculation about the broody hunk skulking in the shadows, answers arrived in Buffy’s seventh episode, simply titled “Angel.” Sure, Angel was only seen at night, was extremely pale, and also impossibly beautiful. However, this was 26 years ago, and the internet as we know it was in its infancy. Theorizing about TV shows was something small numbers of people did on message boards. Plus, many diehard fans lacked internet access altogether. Episodes aired weekly and it’s not like one could go back and rewatch. Some viewers were convinced that Buffy’s potential beau was an actual angel.

Season 1 can be a bit tough to get through, but “Angel” remains a standout installment. Directed by the late Scott Brazil and written by David Greenwalt, who would go on to co-create the Buffy spinoff, Angel, the episode hinges on the crackling onscreen chemistry between Gellar and Boreanaz. Fans may have wanted to learn the truth about Angel, but not as much as they wanted him and Buffy to finally make out. Well, that kiss not only fogged up the screen: it also blew people’s minds when Angel revealed his vamp face immediately after. We would soon learn Angelus had been one of history’s most brutal bloodsuckers until he had been cursed with a soul by a Romani tribe. In the decades since, he had attempted to atone for his myriad sins.

Buffy and Angel were the blueprint for the supernatural teen romance.

20th Century Television

When viewed through a modern lens, a centuries-old immortal falling for a teenage girl is an all-too-familiar twist. But Buffy the Vampire Slayer was the blueprint for this particular brand of romance way back in 1997. The late, great Anne Rice played a vital role in making vampires sexier, but it was Buffy that transformed them into teen heartthrobs.

It’s not just that Buffy and Angel paved the way for the countless supernatural forbidden romances that followed. Their relationship also served as the building blocks for some of the show’s finest dramatic moments, from “Innocence” to “The Becoming.” Of all the incredible Big Bads featured on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angelus remains the most personal, the most difficult to defeat in many ways.

“Angel” ends with what is meant to be a goodbye between the ill-fated couple, but really, it’s only the beginning. Buffy is wearing the cross necklace he gave her and the vampire ignores the discomfort as its image is burned into his chest while they kiss. Love may scar us, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth the pain.

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