Synopsis: Buffy teaches Dawn about slaying and is apprehensive about the rebuilt Sunnydale High School. Buffy hangs around after dropping off Dawn and is not surprised to be attacked in the bathroom. As she searches for a demon Dawn is attacked in class. Dawn and another girl fall through the bathroom floor and are tormented by three dead spirits in the basement. Buffy comes to their aid but runs into an unhinged Spike. With help from Xander, who is helping with construction, they defeat the spirits. The Principal offers Buffy a job as a sort-of counsellor and she accepts. Willow is in England recovering with Giles but feels the power of the hellmouth on the move. Anya is being mocked by other Vengeance Demons for being too lenient. Spike is lectured by a shapeshifting being.
The Good: Buffy season premieres usually restate the premise of the show and hint at this year’s arc. This episode heavily underlined both as we go back to High School and back to the Hellmouth.
The return to school is an interesting choice. Perhaps there was no more the adult world could offer after last season’s dark stories. It certainly seems like the action will be returning there. With Buffy, Dawn, Spike and possibly Xander all on site and the hellmouth right there it shouldn’t be too hard to come up with plots. It could be just the thing to finally get me to like Dawn. I enjoyed seeing her being trained and appreciated her embarrassment at Buffy’s meddling. Now she has her own Scooby gang is she finally going to get an episode to herself?
The angry spirits plot was perfectly adequate for a season opener. It never felt like anyone was in real danger but it achieved a number of goals. Introduce us to school. Check. Show Dawn being resourceful. Check. Cool bag full of bricks fight scene. Check. Reintroduce Spike. Check. Throw in successful Xander who can now pop in every week to fix those pesky holes in the floor and this worked nicely.
Spike seems to be going through the type of psychological trauma which Angel went through after receiving his soul. The fact that we know that but Buffy doesn’t made those scenes nicely confusing for her. The Shapeshifting being lecturing Spike was certainly a memorable scene. It was nice to see all of our Big Bads line up one by one to make the point clear that this year Buffy faces the biggest threat of all.
I liked the brief scenes with Willow and Anya. Both struggle with the moral implications of their power and will surely rejoin the gang once this new threat begins to kick in.
The Bad: That utterly shameless cell phone plug which Dawn gave made me feel dirty. I generally shrug at product placement but in a life or death situation you should not be bragging about your reception.
The Unknown: Robin Wood is a terrible name on so many levels. But the cocksure new Principal is an intriguing figure. He played his interactions with Buffy with real confidence which leaves it open as to whether he is a good guy fighting for the kids or a bad guy who wants to keep his enemies close. You have to suspect the latter initially because of his strange interest in Buffy and lack of concern about why she was hanging out for a whole school day.
Obviously we want to know who the shapeshifting being is and what Spike is going through. As well as the significance of the girl in Istanbul who was stabbed in a surprisingly effective chase sequence.
I assume we all heard Giles say that Willow’s magic powers are not an addiction. Was that an acknowledgement of a mistake?
Best Moment: Probably that final scene as it was intriguing and called back so many past favourites.
The Bottom Line: This felt very deliberate but not bad at all. A new high school, an old hellmouth, we go back to the beginning for our final season. We begin the episode with a girl being chased through the streets but she doesn’t fight back and kill her enemies. Then we jump to the woman who always does. Can she overcome this final challenge? I’m excited once more to find out. Job done.