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27 July 2016 @ 12:34 am
Back to Series Four  
And in many ways back to the beginning. All first episodes of this show are, at heart, about the same thing. Who is Buffy? What is a Slayer? Is it possible to be both, and which comes first?

The other, always crucial, theme is friendship, and just what that means. We see Buffy and a stone angel (Don't blink!) - after all, the real Angel is elsewhere, starting his own show.


Our girls are in a graveyard, selecting their college courses to kill time, waiting for a vampire to rise. Buffy still has two roles - will they be any more compatible now? Buffy is worried about fitting her extracurricular activities in. Meanwhile, the vamp slinks away, unseen.

And now we're on campus, with throngs of people. None of them know Buffy, it seems.


She was a big fish in her own pond, organising the fightback against the Mayor and burning down yet another school. None of that matters now. Willow is in her element, and Oz already knows everybody. Buffy? Not so much.


Still, college is all about the new experiences, right? New friends? Buffy and Willow go shopping. Buffy hopes her mother will have a "funny aneurysm" when she sees the bill. We see what you did there, Joss. Not cool.


Buffy has ways of making friends. Not all involve hitting them on the head.


That looks as if it'll go well.


New cultural experiences too.


Buffy is thrown out of her first class. And in another meets the scariest thing she's seen to date.


Long words are her forte. But don't assume "Evil bitch monster of death" is a joke.

And then Buffy meets someone normal, a bit confused like her, but friendly. We foresee a solid friendship developing. Possibly based On Human Bondage.


But next day Eddie is not in class. Apparently it's common for a few new students to just bail. But it's not helped by the Sunnydale Problem(TM).


One of the coolest vampires we've met for a long while, Sunday is not impressed by the new intake. Freshmen are so predictable - and you can never eat just the one.

Buffy's worked out there's a problem - Eddie didn't take his bondage book with him. The old support network is no longer in place, though. Or at least is otherwise occupied.


Buffy's a Big Girl now. She doesn't have a Watcher any more. She's really happy about that - look.


Then she meets Eddie again. A pity, in some ways.


Worse is coming, though. Summer may have been slayage-heavy, but Buffy can still be beaten. Almost to a pulp.


Buffy survives by running off. Freshmen!

There are still resources on which to draw, right? Nope. Joyce has filled Buffy's room with packing crates.


To be fair, she is a touch embarrassed about it. But Buffy was going to be away, after all. (Why's the bed still made up? Joyce, that's not sensible.)


And back in her room everything of hers has gone, and an oddly familiar note is on her bed.


Buffy's pretty low, so she goes to the Bronze, where she can be low and alone in different surroundings - but then she meets the man who was supposed to be halfway across America. Turns out he didn't get beyond Oxnard.


He understands her. Well, a bit. Because she was Buffy, but is she still Buffy? What if she's going to fail - at college, at life, at slaying? Dada Xander reassures her: "this is all about fear. It's understandable, but you can't let it control you. 'Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to anger.' No wait, hold on. 'Fear leads to hate. Hate leads to the dark side.' Hold on, no, umm, 'First you get the women, then you get the money, then you...' okay, can we forget that?" It makes the sense that is not, but it's oddly reassuring. Xander wants the Avengers to Assemble. (Oh Joss.) but Buffy feels she's not important in their lives any more. At least with Xander she can get researchy.


Thus she finds where Sunday and her minions hang out. And mock the possessions of their victims - in this case, Buffy. Enough is enough. You can hurt her arm, but you don't hurt Mr Gordo!


Buffy drops in.


Things are looking tough for our girl, but Xander rallies the team. In a manly way.


For Buffy the final straw is when Sunday stamps on the Class Protector umbrella. It's pretty symbolic, after all.


There are fisticuffs and pain, but our girl is back.

The_Freshman1582 The_Freshman1617

The gang have turned up and help with the minions, but Buffy is the hero again. And there's loot.


And even Giles arrives to help, in the nick of too late to be much use but still.


And it turns out college is oddly like high school. At least Buffy knows what to expect.


OR DOES SHE? Dun, dun, dun...


This may be my favourite of all the season openers. A perfect exploration of the isolation and disorientation almost everybody experiences on going away from home for the first time. Old friends change, or have gone, or just seem so much more comfortable. New friends come and go, or turn out to be exactly what you don't need. All the things you used to care about now seem silly or juvenile, and you are afraid the older students will mock them and you. We see this new world almost entirely from Buffy's POV. Willow, Oz, Giles, even Joyce all seem to have moved on. Buffy doubts herself in every way, and is thus beaten up by a vamp she would normally have taken on one-handed. Which, in the end, she literally does.

There are echoes of Anne, When She Was Bad and Welcome to the Hellmouth here - everything has changed, yet everything stays the same. In the Bronze Buffy even has a moment when she thinks Angel is there. But, precious as the past is, you can't return to it, you can only move on.

And there are new things we will see again - the Evil Psych Prof. The jokey, decent TA who can cope with being hit on the head. And the weird commandos who taser a vamp. Is that really playing fair?

Oh, and Giles has a (sex) life. He's enjoying having no job, for now at least. And a pretty girlfriend who knows about Ripper.

Buffy loses and then finds herself. By the end of the episode the team is reunited, vamps are dusted, the proper order of things is restored. But the pretty little umbrella is broken. She will have to prove herself again in this new environment. Notice how frequently she is framed as alone - and how her clothing becomes increasingly drab during the episode - almost as if she is starting to vanish.


It's good to be back, guys, after a rather longer hiatus than planned because real life. Any comments? Do you wish Sunday had lasted longer? Is she the Cordelia of the vamp world, and did she have to be dusted as too cool to survive? (It's a pity she wasn't the one tasered. I'd have liked to see her interact with certain other vampires we will meet again soon.) Is Riley more or less boring than you thought first time round? Vampires apart, are Buffy's experiences anything like your own first days at college?

Please feel free to sound out and sound off below.

All caps courtesy of Screencapped.net.
Dannachasingdemons on July 27th, 2016 05:30 am (UTC)
It's so nice to see these posts starting up again!! Thank you!

Buffy seemed so unsure of herself. To be fair, I was the same way my first week in college. But the contrast in Buffy when she is navigating life's normal rights of passage to when she is fighting demons is pretty stark. Fighting vampires is where her comfort level is. On one hand, I think she hasn't had the opportunity to learn the same life skills as other people her age, but also, I don't think Buffy sees herself as very smart.

But I have to say, I like vulnerable Buffy. Maybe because it's so inspiring when she overcomes it to win the day. And in the end, the scoobies coming together to fight evil is always the right theme.

I thought all the stereotypes of college life were spot on, including the tough professors and the weird roommate. I loved her reunion with Xander. And I loved seeing all the characters one year older and going through changes in their lives - and all the subtle emotion that came with it.

I also wish Sunday could have stuck around for a few more episodes. I would have liked to see her have an adventure with Spike, and possibly have a run in with the Initiative.

Favorite line: "The arm's hurt, not broken"

Lastly, Riley has only spoken a few lines. Way to early to assess.
Shapinglight: Buffy asleepshapinglight on July 27th, 2016 04:30 pm (UTC)
On one hand, I think she hasn't had the opportunity to learn the same life skills as other people her age, but also, I don't think Buffy sees herself as very smart.

I think both these things are very true. Academia doesn't come naturally to her the way it does to Willow, though given the chance I'm sure she would have been an above average student, even if she never developed a love of learning for its own sake.

I like vulnerable Buffy too. Seeing her overcome her problems and triumph is always good to see.

I thought all the stereotypes of college life were spot on, including the tough professors and the weird roommate

gillogillo on July 27th, 2016 08:08 pm (UTC)
I think Buffy's ability to slay is tied to her self-esteem, and she's feeling very fragmented and isolated. It's only when the symbols of home and her achievements at school are derided that she finally cracks, loses her temper and fights back. Just as it took a lot to make "Anne" fight the heel demons - and she had to declare her name first. And at the start of S2 she had to take back her identity and destroy what was left of the Master's bones.
Trepkostrepkos on July 27th, 2016 07:18 am (UTC)
Definitely would have liked to see more of Sunday; There's a fic - Sunday Girl which takes a closer look at how she might have got where she was. Not sure where that is now (apart from my hard drive). Not sure where Giles got the idea that she didn't need a Watcher any more. Do you think Joss was already planning to give Joyce an aneurysm back then? Or did he just pick up on it later?
I did find it odd the way Buffy was SO easy to beat, and then came back strong again. I didn't really like seeing her all sorry for herself - the packing crates weren't ON the bed - she could still have had a nap there. I did love Oz, trying to pretend he wasn't completely at home there.
Shapinglight: Buffy asleepshapinglight on July 27th, 2016 04:36 pm (UTC)
Do you think Joss was already planning to give Joyce an aneurysm back then? Or did he just pick up on it later?

Who knows with Joss? I suspect he was planning it, though, given that he has Faith foretell the coming of Dawn in one of the final episodes of season 3, a whole season before she even arrives.

Not sure where Giles got the idea that she didn't need a Watcher any more.

Me neither. Very odd. I suppose he must mean he doesn't think she needs to train with him any more, rather than that she doesn't need him at all.

I did find it odd the way Buffy was SO easy to beat, and then came back strong again.

I guess it is a bit exaggerated, but I think her finding the transition from high school to college more difficult than Willow does works well. Willow's always known she would go to college, whereas for Buffy, doing well enough in her SATs to get in was a big shock. She thinks she's stupid, which is something Sunday picks up on at once and uses against her.
gillogillo on July 27th, 2016 07:49 pm (UTC)
Not sure where Giles got the idea that she didn't need a Watcher any more.

Me neither. Very odd. I suppose he must mean he doesn't think she needs to train with him any more, rather than that she doesn't need him at all.

At this point he was still sacked from the job, remember, even though Wesley had moved on.Technically he was right. And some of it was probably just trying to get rid of Buffy with Olivia there!
Shapinglight: Giles and Oliviashapinglight on July 28th, 2016 11:42 am (UTC)
And some of it was probably just trying to get rid of Buffy with Olivia there!

Heh! Very understandable.

It could also be seen as the beginnings of Giles's doubts about his presence even being good for Buffy - or feeling that as long as he was around she would lean on him when she shouldn't be.
gillo: Rewatch BtVSgillo on July 27th, 2016 08:21 pm (UTC)
I read that Kristine Sutherland asked for a reduced load in S4, as she wanted to spend time in Italy with her family, and Joss agreed, but told her he needed her back for S5 as he was planning to kill her then. So it wouldn't surprise me to discover it was planned in that detail.

I think the ease with which Buffy was beaten the first time is mostly symbolic, as she had "lost herself" in the upheaval of moving from school and home to college. She had to learn that in the end she could only depend on herself; when key parts of her past were attacked in the form of Mr Gordo and the umbrella she found the anger and energy to attack and reclaim her identity.
Shapinglight: buffy rileyshapinglight on July 27th, 2016 08:23 am (UTC)
I also love this season opener. It really does get first day at uni/college where it seems everyone knows more than you spot on. I love the way that Buffy was allowed to move on and didn't end up stuck at high school for years on end because that was seen as a winning formula.

The gang coming back together to back Buffy up is great too. I also adore Sunday - especially her being so cool that she even strikes a pose while turning to dust - but I think the character served her purpose in this episode and didn't really need to continue forward.

The actor who plays Eddie was one of the most fun characters in Game of Thrones not that long ago. Still annoyed that they stuck to the books and killed him off.

Also, at this juncture, and for a long time to come, I love Riley. He's a sweetheart.
gillo: mayhemgillo on July 27th, 2016 10:27 pm (UTC)
Yes, I feel this expresses that starting out alone thing better than almost anything I've seen. And, yes, it's non-trivial that she wasn't kept as a perpetual high-schooler.

What really matters is that the gang comes back after Buffy has accepted she has to woman up and do it on her own. They are important, and as part of her old life, part of her, but she can do it alone.

Riley's sweet in this episode, but a bit too brightly flagged up as future boyfriend material.
Shapinglight: buffy rileyshapinglight on July 28th, 2016 11:44 am (UTC)
Riley's sweet in this episode, but a bit too brightly flagged up as future boyfriend material.

This is true, but I like him so much it doesn't bother me. ;)
lusciousxanderlusciousxander on July 27th, 2016 09:22 am (UTC)
This is also my favorite season opener (Lessons is a close second). I don't think I've ever related to Buffy as much as I did in this episode. I had a similar experience in my first few days in college except being kicked out of class - thank God.
gillogillo on July 27th, 2016 10:22 pm (UTC)
I think we've all been through something like this, if we ever left home to live/work/study on our own. The episode beautifully encapsulates just how scary it is.
Butterflysnogged on July 27th, 2016 01:52 pm (UTC)
I agree. The Freshman is a really wonderful episode.

Sunday was quite the entertaining villain.
gillo: mayhemgillo on July 27th, 2016 10:21 pm (UTC)
She was, though symbolically I suppose she had to go. Pity, though.
Kiki May: Buffy's smilekikimay on July 27th, 2016 03:50 pm (UTC)
LOL at the weeping angels reference!

FAVORITE EPISODEEEEEEEEEEE!! I love this episode so so much, for personal reasons. I love how funny, angsty, hilarious and scary it manages to be, despite the fact that apparently it's never the favorite season opening when they do polls or stuff like that.

I think that Joss here did a wonderful job both on the writing and in directing the episode (the spaces look so big, especially in the library, to convey this sense of disorientation)

Sunday is such a fun villain! It's a pity that she's slayed so soon but maybe it's for the better. She represented Buffy's insicurity about college, so it makes sense that in the end she's eliminated. Although the process isn't that easy, that's a season opener after all.

One thing only: did the vampires managed to emulate Buffy's handwriting with the note? How? That's some fine work!
gillo: Pissed offgillo on July 27th, 2016 10:20 pm (UTC)
I love it as the perfect expression of the sheer disorientation of starting a new phase of life. All the things she used to rely on fail her, till she is reduced to her own resources, and the only answer is "Me". Round in circles...
readerjane on July 29th, 2016 12:14 am (UTC)
Glad to see this com back in action!

The Freshman wasn't one of my favorite eps. I missed the old library, and the old closeness of the Scoobies. Didn't like how scornful Prof Walsh was of Giles (or does that happen later on?).

Still nice to see Buffy finding her feet.
Rebcake: btvs_buffy_whateverrebcake on July 29th, 2016 12:38 am (UTC)
Definitely not my favorite season opener. The "Buffy's on a bummer" theme is way too heavy handed. I mean, jeez, she survived high school! Victory! Yeah, it's hard to break new ground, but it's hardly the toughest thing she's ever had to face. I understood her unhappiness after she died (both times) and after she sent her boyfriend to hell, but this situation is not that bad. (I was thrilled to go off to college, and had changed schools many times before that, so I'm NOT feeling her pain here.)

On the other hand, I adore Xander's failure to get past the neighboring town! lusciousxander made a list of fics about Xander in Oxnard, which is full of goodies. My personal favorite is No Power On Earth by Circe.

I can take or leave Sunday, who doesn't seem that cool to me, but I do love this fic: How Sunday’s gang came to live in Psi Theta house by bobthemole.