Buffy the Vampire Slayer - The Freshman

Summary

Buffy and Willow are in the cemetery waiting for a vampire to rise and trying to pick some university courses for Buffy. Unfortunately, she has left this decision to the last minute. They are so engrossed in their discussion they don't notice the vampire rise behind, spot Buffy's weapons, and sneak off.

On campus the next morning, Buffy is overwhelmed. She can't find the building she should be at, she hasn't got her ID card, she doesn't know who her roommate will be, and she's being bombarded with flyers ranging from invitations to parties (free jello shots for freshmen women) and calls for demonstrations (take back the night). She finds Willow, who is really in her environment. She enjoys the massiveness of it all and talks of knowledge penetrating her and spurting into her, which she finds a little embarrassing after she's said it. They encounter Oz who already knows lots of people on campus (his band played there) and is even more at home than Willow.

On their way to the library, we learn Giles is enjoying his period of unemployment and Xander is off trying to drive to all 50 states (Willow never explained about Hawaii). They enter the library and both are impressed by its size. Giles had a good collection of books on the occult, but this is a real library. Later, at the book store, Buffy is wondering how her mother will react to the cost of books. She knocks some books down and hits a man on the head with them. It turns out he's the TA for the intro psych course they are taking with professor Walsh and he and Willow hit it off right away. He's impressed by her knowledge of psychology. Buffy is pretty much ignored.

In her room, Buffy meets her roommate, Kathy a rather hyper girl with a Celine Dion poster. Kathy is also a noisy sleeper, snoring and talking in her sleep. Next day, Buffy goes to popular American culture, hoping to get into the class. But the professor reprimands her for talking in class and kicks her out when he realizes she isn't registered in it. She's humiliated. She goes to intro to psychology and meets Willow and the TA there. Professor Walsh comes on really tough and makes it clear she expects everyone to keep up or else.

That night, Buffy gets lost on campus and meets Eddie, who is also lost. Together they find their way and Eddie tells her about his favourite book, Of Human Bondage, which she mistakenly thinks is porn. When they part, Eddie is attacked by vampires who look to be college students themselves. The next day, Buffy looks for Eddie in class but can't find him. She goes to his room to discover all his things are gone and there is a note saying he left because he couldn't take it. Earlier we saw the vampires take his stuff and leave the note. Buffy finds his copy of Of Human Bondage and realizes the note is a fake, Eddie would not have left that behind. Meanwhile the vampires are going through Eddie's stuff and fighting amongst themselves. The leader, a blonde woman we later learn is Sunday, is pretty sarcastic and doesn't think much of her followers or of the freshmen they feed upon. They make fun of his belongings and especially of his poster. We see Eddie has been vampirized and Sunday plans on using him to get more people to eat.

Buffy goes to visit Giles and walks in to find a half dressed woman there, Olivia. This shocks her, since Giles is very, very old. Olivia leaves them alone and Buffy tells him about Eddie's disappearance and about seeing signs of a struggle at the place they parted the night before. He tells her she can handle this by herself. She leaves not very happy at his attitude. He tells Olivia he's not sure if he helped her.

That night, Buffy spots Eddie and follows him. Learning he's a vampire, she stakes him. Then she's confronted by the rest of the vampire gang who realize she's the slayer. She fights Sunday, but doesn't fare well. Her arm is hurt and she runs away. The vampires make fun of her. The next day, a battered and bruised Buffy goes home to discover her bedroom stacked with crates - just for a couple of weeks while her mother does inventory at the gallery. Later she answers the phone but the caller hangs up without saying anything.

When she returns to school, Buffy finds the vampires have cleaned out her room and left a note just as they did with Eddie. She goes to the Bronze and meets Xander there. He has been back in town a few days but didn't call because he didn't want to help them move. He tells her he never made it out of state and spent most of the summer washing dishes at a male strip club until one of the strippers called in sick. And he won't tell her more. He does say he is now at home, living in the basement and paying rent. She tells him what has happened and how she isn't sure she's up to fighting Sunday. Xander makes some attempts at cheering her up, but finally tells her that when he's frightened he always things of what she would do. That she is his hero. This rallies her. They go off to do some research and track down the abandoned building near campus where they think the vampires must live. They spy, through a skylight, on the vampires going through Buffy's stuff and making fun of her clothes. Buffy sends Xander back to her dorm room to search for her weapons trunk, which she doesn't see with the vampires. Unfortunately, after he leaves she falls through the skylight right at the feet of Sunday.

While Buffy and the vampires trade bon mots, Kathy is showing the note to Oz and Willow. Willow mentions that Buffy ran away from home once and Kathy is really upset because she wanted a stable nonsmoker as a roommate. Oz doesn't think the note is in her handwriting. Willow starts blaming herself. Xander bursts in saying it is a prank. He hugs Willow and Kathy and then introduces himself to Kathy. Oz suggests they are too manly to hug. He says Buffy's friends took her stuff and she needs them to help her get it back. He says they were her friends who sleep all day and have no tans. Oz and Willow get it.

Meanwhile, Buffy is getting beat up. Her arm still isn't working properly. Sunday breaks the parasol Buffy got in The Prom. This gets Buffy mad and she starts fighting in earnest. At this point, the gang show up. two of the vampires escape, but Willow stakes one, Oz and Xander another, and Buffy takes out Sunday. As they leave with Buffy's stuff, Xander realizes there is a lot of good stuff left and he plans to take some. Giles shows up saying he is sorry and he will help her fight evil. Buffy tells Xander college seems a lot like high school.

One of the escaped vampires in running through the woods. Three masked and uniformed people capture him using some sort of electronic weapon.

Analysis

Warning: this paragraph has some small spoilers for the first episode of Angel. Don't read it if you haven't seen the episode and don't want to be spoiled. When a producer has two shows on the air at the same time, you often wonder how he'll find the time to perform his writing duties on both. After all, producing an hour of television is no easy task. Well, Joss Whedon came up with an interesting solution to his problem of producing both Buffy and Angel, at least for the first episode of each this season. The structure of the two shows is virtually identical: the fish out of water hero wandering about lonely, the encounter with an innocent who then gets killed by what seems to be a major bad guy, an assault on the bad guy in which the hero fails to destroy him/her, the encounter with an old member of the gang who revitalizes the hero (Xander/Cordelia), a final triumph over the bad guy, and a conclusion suggesting some much badder guys lurking in the background. And just to make things fun, Buffy on her show gets a mysterious phone call where the caller hangs up. Angel on his, calls Buffy and hangs up when she answers without saying anything. Hey, I'm not complaining. Whedon definitely could have done worse, and for the most part both shows worked.

But on to Buffy specifics. This is not a perfect episode. It's not even a very good episode. But, frankly, I can't find much that is truly wrong with it. I did feel it took a long time to get to the action and felt there was little foreshadowing of Buffy's sudden weakness. Normally, she would have taken a vampire like Sunday easily. But we are supposed to believe that the loss of her support system - Giles and her friends - has weakened her. I can buy this, I just felt we needed a little more time spent building up to this and hinting at it. On the positive side, I liked the way Xander, after his normal verbal fumbling, finally told her what she already knew - that she's a hero to her friends. She needed to hear that and to realize that while the nature of her friendships may change - they aren't in high school anymore - her friends are still with her and still think highly of her. And, of course, she needed to get angry, as she finally did when Sunday broke the parasol she was given in The Prom. It is inscribed "Buffy Summers Class Protector" and symbolizes all that Buffy is about. An attack on that wasn't just an attack on a fond memory, but on all the good she had done. And she responded. This reminded me of her burst of rage in a first season episode when she thinks a vampire has killed her boyfriend. Of course, in this case the vampire really had killed someone who might have become a boyfriend.

I've written about Buffy vs Felicity and I think it's pretty obvious which show I think is better. I've condemned Felicity for being too realistic in its portrayal of university life, since most university students are pretty uninteresting to anybody other than themselves. I have to say this episode managed to be quite realistic (if you discount the vampires on campus and the professor who tosses Buffy out of his class) and still managed to be entertaining. I liked the comments on the cost of books, the snoring room mate, the professor who gives you the speech about being tough, the sense of dislocation on the big university campus, and the realization that all the good classes are already filled. I remember all of that.

I also liked the way the changing relationships worked. Oz and Willow fit into university. Willow is finally in an environment where brains are respected and Oz fits in anywhere. They were misfits together in high school, but here Buffy is the odd girl out. Giles, now that his daughter substitute is off on her own, has taken the opportunity to have a life. Of course, Buffy is shocked that he would want or need one. And her mother takes over her room, something most parents must do. I certainly recall returning home from university to discover my room was now my mother's sewing room. Yes, you've left, but you always are surprised to discover other people have acted on your leaving. Best of all was the change in Xander. He's still the old Xander, but he has a maturity you can't avoid gaining when you've worked as a stripper. And he does something for Buffy I don't think he was capable of before, he comforts her.

I liked Sunday and her interaction with her vampire crew. They were dumb and Sunday's comment on how college leading to an increase in intelligence is a misconception was dead on. I also liked her comment to the other female vampire about how the clothes didn't make her look fat, being fat made her look fat. Sunday was Cordelia with fangs and maybe that's why Buffy had some problems with her. I really expected her to survive and be this year's major villain and the show really whammed me by killing her off. Which is a good thing.

You also have to love the scene where Buffy is getting angrier and angrier watching the vampires go through her things. Not to mention the earlier scene where they mock Eddie's belongs and the predictable taste in posters amongst freshman. I was surprised The Scream wasn't in that poster list, but maybe I'm behind the times. This was a fun group of vampires and I will miss them.

By the end of the episode, the gang is resurrected and Buffy is back to her old self. And some interesting questions are raised. Who are the people who captured the run away vampire and are they good or evil? A university campus would be a great place to conduct experiments on demons, maybe psychology experiments.

A few quick final thoughts. At first, I thought a building which had been abandoned on campus for over a decade was unrealistic, but then I remembered just such a building at my alma mater which for all I know is still the subject of a zoning war. While professors like to act tough, they don't throw people out of class and the start of every semester has people wandering around trying to get in or out of courses. I don't know how US college housing assignments are handled, but couldn't Willow and Buffy have arranged to room together? Oxnard is in California a little northwest of LA, so Xander never even made it out of state. It's also amusing that after claiming he didn't announce his return to town so he wouldn't have to help Buffy and Willow move, he ended up helping Buffy move all her belongings back to her dorm room. You have to love Willow's stream of consciousness description of university life as penetrating her and spurting knowledge into her. I love the way this show handles this kind of joke, it's there and you get it or you don't. No one feels the need to shove your face into it. Does Giles actually seeing another woman (one who calls him Ripper) mean there is no chance of his getting together with Buffy's mom? I'd always hoped for them to be a couple.

Line of the week:

"I thought people were supposed to get smarter in college." - Buffy displaying just one of her misconceptions about college life.

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