Posted by: thebuffyrewatch | March 12, 2012

Cordia’s Review: S4, E01 – The Freshman

The Freshman
Season 4, Episode 1
Original airing: 10/5/1999

My Rating: 53

The Good: This episode does one thing very well – it resets Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  We get new sets, new people, and the same old drama.

The episode introduces us to several places on campus. The best though, is definitely the library scene.  It’s an excellent way to underscore that the show has grown up some.  Buffy even says that she expects to be spending a lot of time there, until she sees it.  It’s much too big to be her safe space.  And Giles isn’t even there to be her back up, as he proves later in the episode, when Buffy goes to visit.

I really appreciate the steps the show went through to show how out of her comfort zone Buffy is at college.  The best part to me was her attempt to enlist Giles to help her take out some vampires.  As he says, she’s perfectly capable of handling it on her own.  She has to grow up sometime.  And yet, the show hits a perfect note when he runs up after it’s all over with his arsenal of weapons ready to jump into the fray.  It doesn’t matter that he’s no longer Buffy’s Watcher and that she’s quit the Council.  He’s decided to be there for her anyway.

But Xander does this best.  When he finally returns from his aborted cross country trip, he’s the first to listen to Buffy’s troubles and the one to rally the troops.  He exemplifies that even though things have changed on the show, nothing has really changed all that much.  The Scoobies are still around to help Buffy take care of the baddies.  Even if they’ve forgotten that momentarily.

Buffy meets Riley, a sweet guy who doesn’t really notice her. This is fun since Buffy has been so wrapped up with Angel since the show began.  It’s nice to see her out of her element and failing miserably to flirt with a guy.  We also learn Riley is the TA for one of Buffy’s professors, Maggie Walsh.  Her introduction is short, but she comes across as a fair, but tough teacher in her 30 seconds on screen.

We also meet Buffy’s slightly creepy and overbearing roommate Kathy. She’s exactly the kind of person Buffy doesn’t need in her life right now when she has to go back to being “secret identity gal”.  Her peppiness is a nice contrast to Buffy’s melancholy.

Finally, we have the mysterious people in camo fatigues taking down a vampire.  Until this point in the episode, I really didn’t think it was a good season opener.  The episode itself didn’t feel intense or strong and didn’t excite me for the coming season.  But these guys are excellent bait.  Who are they?  Why are they catching a vampire?  Why didn’t they kill it?  Where did they get those guns?  All very intriguing stuff.

The Bad: However, mostly this episode was just way too over the top.  Buffy’s overall introduction to college was way too harsh.  The Popular Culture professor was a particularly unbelievable bit of scripting.  And while I can understand Buffy being a bit overwhelmed, it all came across as just too much when she’s being ignored and ostracized on all sides.  Plus, she’s always been “Can Do Girl”.  It all seems a bit silly when you remember she plotted and organized the entire high school to kill the giant, demon mayor just three months ago.  Where did all that self-confidence go?

It was particularly silly to have Joyce act as though she didn’t expect to see Buffy till Christmas when we know the school is within walking distance of her home.

Xander’s pep talk felt very contrived as well.  As I mentioned in the Good, I really liked that he was there to stand behind her unconditionally, but the way he did it felt very forced and awkward.  The blocking in the scene was particularly strange to me as Buffy and Xander kept shifting their positions.

And finally, I was not impressed by Sunday.  Her gang of vampires was useless and not scary and she herself came across as a bad joke with her all black outfit and funky hair.  As I said, after the Mayor, she just doesn’t seem like she should be enough of a threat to make Buffy turn tail and run.  She just beats Buffy too easily, and then Buffy does the same to her at the end.

Favorite Moment: I really appreciated the moment when Buffy asks Giles for help and he turns her away.  As always, their acting together is emotive, powerful, and understandable.  Giles has his own life outside of being Buffy’s Slayer, but the real reason is because he wants her to continue to be strong and independent.  If he helps her with something as minor as a vampire gang (even Giles thinks Sunday isn’t scary), then he’s really keeping her at the level she’s at instead of helping her to grow.

The Bottom Line: The large portion of this episode just didn’t excite me, right up until the end.  It all felt very contrived and awkward as an attempt to retread the anxiety and loss of self Buffy felt after killing Angel at the end of season two.  The end of the last season didn’t have that kind of feeling or impact to it and this felt like a very unnecessary story line.

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Responses

  1. Hey all. Not sure if this has been addressed or not, but I was doing some internet snooping and discovered that Sunday was originally supposed to be a former slayer who got turned into a vampire. Talk about a great idea going to waste when she’s dusted! I thought after watching the whole series the first time through how neat it would have been to see what a slayer-turned-vampire could turn out. So much potential there to get a backstory and delve perhaps even more into what it really means to be “the Slayer.” Sunday seemed like she had a bit of slayerness to her with the quick quips and fashion tips.


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