"Welcome to the Hellmouth" ("Welcome" for short) is the very first episode of the television series Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
Episode 1 of season 1, "Welcome", starts with Buffy's troubled dreams before her first day of school in Sunnydale, the town in California where she and her single mother have moved to from Los Angeles. Though Principal Flutie at first tells Buffy she will start with a clean slate and actually rips up her record, he immediately tapes the pieces together again after reading that Buffy burned down the gym of her previous school.
In the school hall, Buffy and Xander collide, spilling the contents of her handbag over the floor. Buffy picks up everything except a stake, which Xander pockets. During history lesson, Buffy meets Cordelia, who not only directs her to the library but tests her "coolness factor". Cordelia also introduces Buffy to Willow when she humiliates her at the drinking fountain. In the library, the school's new British librarian Giles recognizes Buffy and immediately puts a book on vampires in front of her. She insists that is not what she was looking for at all and runs from the library.
Buffy, Willow, Jesse and Xander meet during a break, and Xander returns the stake, which Buffy claims is standard in Los Angeles for self-defence. Cordelia joins the group and tells them about a dead boy who was found in the locker. Buffy immediately asks about any marks on the body, freaking out Cordelia. Forcing her way into the locker room to examine the body, Buffy finds the characteristic puncture wounds of a vampire on the neck.
Buffy returns to the library and confronts Giles, who informs her that he is her Watcher. However, Buffy refuses her calling as a Slayer, saying that she is not going to do the job because she doesn't want to get kicked out of school again and lose all of her friends. They continue the discussion in the hall, where he warns her that there will be a "mystical upheaval" soon. After they have left the library, Xander emerges from behind the shelves, having overheard the whole exchange but unable to make heads or tails of it.
That night, en route to her first visit to the Bronze, Buffy meets a mysterious, good-looking stranger — Angel — who claims he is there to help, tells her that she is living on a mouth of hell that is about to open and that "The Harvest" is coming. He also gives her a present, a large silver cross she puts around her neck.
In the Bronze, Buffy first meets Willow and then later Giles. Buffy tells him about Angel. During their discussion, Giles tells her she should be able to sense vampires anywhere, at any time. In fact, Buffy does notice a vampire who leaves the Bronze with Willow. She follows them, but is intercepted by Cordelia, whom she nearly stakes. Cordelia immediately calls her friends to tell them what a freak Buffy is. While Buffy is looking for Willow, Jesse chats up Darla at the Bronze. Buffy is stopped by Xander, who tells her he knows she is the Slayer, and joins her in her search for Willow.
Meanwhile, under the streets of Sunnydale, The Master is being woken by lesser vampires from a long sleep in time for The Harvest that will give him the power to escape from a long confinement to rule the world.
Willow's new acquaintance takes her to a crypt in the Sunnydale cemetery, where they are joined by Darla and Jesse, whom she has already bitten. Just when Willow is about to be next, Buffy and Xander arrive. Buffy kills Willow's vampire, but while she is fighting Darla, the powerful vampire Luke appears. Xander, Willow, and Jesse flee, but are stopped by a group of vampires in the grave yard. Luke overpowers Buffy and throws her in a stone casket.
The last shot of the episode shows Luke bending over the trapped Buffy, about to rip her throat out.
As the first episode, "Welcome" introduces us to the main characters (Buffy, Giles, Willow, and Xander) the setting (Sunnydale) and the background story (vampires, the role of the Slayer). Almost as important, it makes clear that the series will have little in common with the earlier movie of the same name. Buffy's dislike of her calling and the burdens it places on the rest of her life — a theme of the series that is only resolved in the last episode — are established, and the core Scooby Gang is formed.
(Other aspects of "Welcome" are discussed in the entry for the second part, "The Harvest").
Writing and Acting
It has been remarked that Joss Whedon and his crew hit the ground running with Buffy, and the first episode supports this. Though the actors have obviously not settled into their roles, the writing itself is funny and manages to include the necessary background without putting the plot on hold. Just how good the writing is can be judged by the fact that even after the complete series is over, "Welcome", for all of its rough edges, is not painful to watch. In this respect, it compares favorably, for example, with "Encounter at Farpoint" from Star Trek: The Next Generation.
Xander with his skate board and problems talking to girls, Willow the math nerd in clothes that were picked out by her mother, and Giles the bespectacled librarian in tweed are all deeply stereotyped at this point. This makes it easier for the viewer to grasp the story's structure and is arguably a necessary simplification because the main concept of a female teenage superhero — the Slayer — was considered radical at the time.
Treating Jesse as a major character in the beginning but turning him into a vampire sets the tone of the whole series, which will never be afraid to kill or transform anybody except the core four Scoobies (though technically Buffy does die twice).
Buffy's ability to sense vampires fails her with Angel. Though this is never explained, one possible reason is his soul. Having his true nature revealed at this point would also ruin the mystery that will surround him for the next episodes.
In this and the next episode, Xander and especially Willow take the fact that the world is full of vampires and other monsters and a girl their age has superpowers with remarkably little comment. The question they most noticeably do not ask is where Buffy's power comes from and what its limits are, subjects that are not fully explored until the last season.
Quotes and Trivia
"And what kind of name is Buffy?" — A student expressing everybody's thoughts at the beginning of the series
"Hey, Aphrodisia!" — The same student minutes later to another girl
"Look at that jacket. He has got the sleeves rolled up." — Buffy using her fashion sense to identify vampires
"Now, we can do this the hard way, or, well, actually, there's just the hard way" — Buffy explaining how the Slayer fights to Darla
As a response to Buffy's sarcastic question to Giles if he got the free phone with the Time-Life series on monsters, he responds "The calendar", possibly hinting at the teacher Mr. Calendar, who will later be his date.
Cast and Crew
German title: "Das Zentrum des Bösen" ("The Center of Evil")
- BBC episode guide to Welcome (http://www.bbc.co.uk/cult/buffy/indetail/hellmouth/index.shtml)