Buffy the Vampire Slayer - Lessons

Summary

Nighttime in Istanbul and a girl is running from robed characters who capture and possibly stab her. Nighttime in a Sunnydale cemetery and Buffy is showing Dawn how you fight vampires. Dawn is not very good at it and Buffy ends up slaying the vampire. But she tells Dawn she wasn't good her first time either. She says in a few days they will face something much worse than vampires. Cut to the grand opening of the rebuilt Sunnydale high.

Giles, dressed like an extra from Cromwell, is riding across the plain in Westbury, England. He finds Willow, sitting in a field and bringing up a flower from Paraguay all the way through the Earth. She says everything is connected. She's supposed to be at her lesson with Miss Hartness (she's clearly studying with the members of the coven who sent Giles to save her in Two to Go/Grave). She says the coven are afraid of her. Giles says she doesn't have an addiction or a hobby, but that she is connected to a great power. She talks about the evil she did and how she expected to be punished. She says she wants to be Willow and he says she is, that everyone is who they are. Cut to Xander, looking good in a suit, getting out of a nice car. He's come to get Buffy and Dawn (who is late). Xander says he's meeting with a client, hence the suit.

In a fit of exposition, Buffy reveals Dawn is about to go to high school. Xander has the blue prints for the school and shows them to Buffy. He also has the old blue prints. The hellmouth, which was in the library, is now directly under the principal's office. They have to go and Xander and Buffy have something for Dawn. She thinks it's a weapon.

At the school, Buffy is giving lots of warnings to Dawn. They are interrupted by the new principal, Robin Wood. He thinks she's Dawn's mother. Then he says he does know about her and that she attended the old school. Dawn goes to class and Buffy wanders through the school. A kid throws a basketball. She goes looking for him, but he seems to disappear. We see a door marked basement access. In Dawn's class, the teacher (Mr. Lonegrin) suggests everyone introduce themselves.

Buffy goes to the bathroom and looks at her hair. She finds a talisman like object on the counter. She picks it up and what appears to be a dead woman appears behind her saying "you can't protect her, you couldn't protect me". She vanishes. A dead guy jumps up telling Buffy to get out. He vanishes. Dawn is doing the introduction bit and actually doing ok. She likes dancing and music and never having to do this again. Buffy bursts in shouting. She kind of blusters about danger and leaves, embarrassing Dawn.

Halfrek and Anya are at a coffee shop. A couple are singing sappy songs and they talk about vengeance. Anya isn't doing any. Halfrek notes she hasn't killed or eviscerated anybody or goaded any women into anything inventive. And when a woman wanted her husband turned into a frog, Anya made him French. Halfrek says she's the talk of the order. That something very evil and very old is rising. And it's not the time to be a good guy. This is a demon intervention. And Halfrek is her only friend.

Xander is at the school with his construction team. Buffy runs up and tells him about the zombie ghosts. She says the rebuilding of the school isn't a coincidence. It means something, but they don't know what. The guy at the desk next to her asks Dawn for a pencil which she gives him. He turns into a zombie ghost and stabs her. She falls to the ground screaming, only there's nothing there. She tells the teacher she thought she was stung by a bee and is allergic. She asks to go to the bathroom.

In the bathroom, Dawn hears someone crying. Buffy bumps into the principal in the hall. Dawn finds a girl in one of the stalls who says there is someone in there with them. Wood tells Buffy he knows about her. The girl is Kit. She and Dawn see three zombie ghosts, the lights start sparking, hands come up through the floor, and they fall through the floor into the basement.

Back in England, Willow is recovering from a sudden revelation. She has realized the hellmouth is going to open. That it intends to swallow them all. In the basement, Dawn and Kit look for a way out. Wood tells Buffy the school board recommended he read her record. Kit tells Dawn she saw a dead girl who said everyone dies there. They bump into basketball guy, who came to the basement for a smoke and was scared by a dead janitor. They are confronted by the three zombie ghosts. Dawn pulls out her present, a cell phone. Buffy is telling Wood that Dawn is a big troublemaker and he should expel her or give her a lengthy suspension. Dawn calls her on her cell. She pretends it's her dog walker. Wood hears a remark about them being dead and thinks it's her dogs. She goes after Dawn. The zombie ghosts attack Dawn and the others.

Buffy drops through the hole in the bathroom. She can't find Dawn and calls her on her cell. But the janitor appears and tells her she won't find Dawn. All three zombie ghosts appear and blame her for their deaths. She says she doesn't care, she just wants Dawn. She begins to think they are trying to keep her from a door. They fight and she manages to open the door. Inside is an unbleached, hair growing out, Spike.

Spike giggles. He says duck. Buffy wonders where the duck is and is hit from behind. She fights with the zombie ghosts. She gets into the room with Spike and locks the door. Spike says nobody goes in there, it's just the three of them. She asks about Dawn and he starts shouting. Buffy sees deep scratches on his chest. He says he tried to cut it out. Her cell goes off. Dawn says she's in a room near the furnace where they first fell in. Spike says the zombie ghosts are manifests spirits controlled by a talisman and raised to seek vengeance. Buffy tells Dawn the zombie ghosts can hurt her and she can hurt them and to look for a weapon. She realizes Spike can't help with the fight and goes back out.

She gets an idea and calls Xander. Dawn empties out Kit's bag and puts in some bricks basketball guy finds. The zombie ghosts appear and tell them they are losers no one will miss and they will never get out. Dawn attacks and knocks down the girl. The janitor hits her. Buffy hears the screaming. Xander enters the bathroom. Buffy finds Dawn and the others and starts fighting the zombie ghosts. Xander finds the talisman, but the female zombie ghost materializes in the bathroom and tries to stop him. He destroys the talisman and all the zombie ghosts disappear.

Back upstairs, Buffy sends off the kids. Kit hugs her and basketball guy says she's a cool mom. Wood comes up. He tells her Carlos (basketball guy) and Kit have files as thick as hers was. He's impressed at her work. He offers her a poorly paid job as a sort of counselor. She agrees.

Spike is talking about having had a speech, but she wouldn't have understood. Warren appears and says of course she wouldn't understand. He morphs into Glory who says her name will be on everyone's lips assuming they haven't been torn off. She morphs into Adam who says he can be patient and she is right where he wants her to be and so is number 17 (Spike). He's right where he belongs. Adam morphs into the mayor who says Spike thought he'd get his soul back and everything would be fine but a soul is slippery and that's why the mayor sold his. He says Spike probably thought he'd be his own man. He morphs into Dru who says he never will. That he'll always be with her in the darkness. She morphs into the Master who says they are going right back to the beginning. He says Spike is pathetic, that he tried to do what is right. He says it's not about right or wrong. He morphs into Buffy who says it's about power.

Analysis

Consequences. Every action has an equal and opposite reaction. Whedon takes the laws of the physical universe and applies them to the spiritual realm. Do bad things and you have to pay. Do good things and good things happen. I think we're going to see the consequences of 6 years of good and evil actions play out this season.

Possibly the key moment in the episode was Giles telling Willow that in the end everyone is who they are despite how they seem to have changed. So Willow, even dark, was still Willow. Buffy, despite the enormous powers of the slayer, is still Buffy. And Spike is still William - at least that's the point I take from the lesson. I suspect through this season we'll see how the various characters grow, evolve, and stay the same. The good and the bad that was always in them and the way they respond to that good and bad will determine their fate.

The episode has some interesting parallels that I have to point out. There is the girl running from the mysterious robed character (I've seen her described as a slayer-in-training) and Dawn fighting with the vampire (and getting trained by the slayer). There's Willow trying to come to grips with her evil and sensing the evil brewing in Sunnydale and there is Spike trying to come to grips with his soul and living with the evil in Sunnydale. And, of course, there are the two Buffys - real and evil imitation, both saying "it's about power". It seems we're being told that good and evil aren't about actions or ends so much as intentions and attitudes.

The dialogue of the morphing evil (and I'm working on the assumption this isn't just an hallucination on the part of Spike but there really is another creature there - note he tells Buffy it's just the three of them and that it's in the walls) obliquely foreshadows the themes and actions of the coming season. Warren addresses the confusion which has always been a hallmark of Buffy. She doesn't have all the facts and is always in the dark - just as Spike now finds himself and as Dru remarks upon. The high school, a place of learning and enlightenment, is being turned into a place of darkness. You go to school to learn and to be able to leave and do things. But the zombie ghosts talk about keeping every one there. School is supposed to build hope, but they are seeking to inspire despair. Buffy escaped from high school, but only through an act of massive destruction. The master talks about returning to the beginning and by going back to high school, metaphorically through Dawn and literally herself, Buffy has a chance to leave again in a constructive and not destructive way.

Glory focuses on the destruction which will happen if evil triumphs. This would be a repetition of the previous destruction of the school and of her own attempt to destroy the world. Adam talks to the current success of evil. Although Buffy seems to have triumphed by defeating the zombie ghosts and uniting Kit, Carlos, and Dawn into what may be a new scooby gang, she is also back where she started - at the high school. The principal, by inviting her back, may be an agent of good - seeking a protector for the school and she was the official school protector by the time she graduated - or he may be an agent of evil - seeking to trap her there once again. Adam refers to Spike by the number he was given when he was trapped and operated upon. Spike is trapped again, this time by a different medical/mystical procedure. Before he was given a chip which mechanically simulated a soul. This changed him, weakened him, and strengthened him in different ways. Now he has a real soul and is mentally and emotionally crippled by it. Clearly he knows a lot - he was able to tell Buffy about the talisman - but he's unable to communicate clearly. He's forced to live in the basement and seems to be a pawn in the evil force's game.

The despair which surrounds Spike and seems to be the greatest power of the evil force (if this the First Evil from Amends (A Buffy Christmas) it is following a clear pattern - present itself in the guise of known images and breed despair) is emphasized by the mayor and Dru. They tell him that his decision to get a soul was doomed from the start. That he is doomed to spend his time in darkness. That he cannot escape the evil and that he in fact wants it.

But the apparition of the master is the most interesting of all. In addition to the foreshadowing of the actions of Dawn and Buffy which I noted above, he talks to the philosophical and scientific issues - the cosmology of the Buffyverse. At one time, Giles told the gang that the world is older than they believe and not the original home of man. That demons once ruled it. The master seems to be reinforcing that belief. He says they will return to the true beginning. He then says 'not the bang' referring to the scientific big bang theory and 'not the word' referring to the Biblical statement 'in the beginning there was the word'. Just as the series is returning to its beginning - a girl going to high school and making some unlikely friends while facing fiendish evils - so is the evil force intending to take the world back to the beginning when it was the domain of demons and not the home of man.

I have to make a few comments about Anya. I actually watched that scene with Halfrek three times before I realize that Halfrek wasn't saying the coffee shop was full of demons but that she was Anya's sole remaining demon friend. That's both a sad and happy thing. If Anya is such a failure as a demon and so ostracized by other demons, there must still be hope she can be human and can find happiness with Xander. Xander certainly looks like he has matured a great deal in the off season. He is far more successful at work and he's effective in helping Buffy. This is a very different Xander from the one we saw in The Zeppo (oddly an episode from the same season the First Evil made its appearance). The master says the course of the coming months will reveal what everyone is. That's particularly true of Anya and Xander. Is she a vengeance demon or a human? Is he someone who can be counted upon and can form a strong relationship or is he doomed to be like his parents.

For a season premiere, this was an excellent episode. It gave some oblique and intriguing foreshadowing. It referenced past episodes and evils both explicitly and implicitly. It touched upon theological issues as well as simple plot hints. It continued the evolution of the characters. And it had some really nice bits of dialogue and comic moments. Like Buffy and the mom hair. I am really looking forward to this season.

Some quick final thoughts. Is Robin Wood, principal, supposed to remind us of Robin Hood? Robin is a name often related to fairies in English folk tales, so maybe principal Wood has some mystical side to him. The folks in Sunnydale are very rich and very stupid. They are rich enough to be able to rebuild constantly and stupid enough to keep doing it. I've always maintained that teachers who go around the room and make everyone introduce themselves are the epitome of evil. I hated doing it as a student and I never did it to my students when I was teaching. And that name, Lonegrin, is full of foreboding.

Lines of the week:

"It's about power." - Buffy starting and ending the episode.

"Synchronized swimming. Complete mystery to me." - Giles letting us know he doesn't know everything.

"In the end, we all are who we are, no matter how much we may have appeared to have changed." - Giles on human nature.

"You put the box near the milk. I saw it on the food channel." - Buffy as domestic goddess.

"I have mom hair." - Buffy trying to figure out what's wrong.

"Guess it runs in the family." - School kid making a very astute comment about the connection between Buffy and Dawn.

"It's gonna swallow us all." - Willow on what the hellmouth is up to.

"Isn't this reception amazing?" - Dawn with a grasp on the fundamentals and a sly dig at tv conventions.

"No visions today. Terribly busy." - Spike possibly talking to Buffy, possibly to nobody, possibly to the zombie ghosts, and possibly to something else.

"It's just the three of us." - Spike with the most important statement of the episode.

"It's in the wall." - Spike with another big hint.

"Contracty goodness." - Xander with a positive spin on cave ins.

"It seems smaller." - Buffy on how things have changed.

"Not the bang. Not the word. The true beginning." - The master promising to refute science and theology.

Got a comment? Send me mail.

Go to more Buffy the Vampire Slayer reviews.
Go to other tv reviews.
Go to my home page and get links to everything.