Posted by: thebuffyrewatch | March 12, 2012

Robin’s Review: S4, E01 – The Freshman

Synopsis: Buffy, Willow and Oz begin their first semester at UC Sunnydale. Buffy is overwhelmed by all the change and seeks comfort from Giles and her mom. When a new friend (Eddie) runs away from college Buffy suspects foul play. She then runs into the gang of vampires who killed him and took his stuff. Their leader Sunday beats her up and almost breaks her arm. Buffy turns now to the Bronze and does find support from Xander. They locate the vampires hideout and Xander goes to gather weapons.

The Good: Following the pattern of the last two seasons this episode saw Buffy question her identity before firmly rediscovering it. And as with each season premiere (all written and directed by Joss Whedon) it was very good.

Buffy’s struggle to adapt to college life was a relatable story and suited her character well. She isn’t naturally academic like Willow and got through high school with a lot of help from her friends. The new situations and tasks came thick and fast in believable fashion building up the sense that she was alone and struggling. Naturally she turned to Giles and Joyce for help and found little. The Giles chat was typically emotive as he pointed out their changed circumstance and her need to fend for herself. The little moment at the Bronze when she thought she saw Angel was excellent too as she sought out the familiar.

The issue of kids abandoning their new college lives in the first week is a real one and the use of vampires as a metaphor was very effective. The gang of vampires who used the excuse of running away to cover for their feeding was clever. It showed evil feeding off human misery in a cunning and ruthless way (a similar concept to the demons in Anne picking on the homeless). Sunday was so good in her role that she joins the list of demons it would have been nice to see more of. She played Queen-bitch with ease and actually presented a physical threat to Buffy which many vampires no longer do.

The ending was a little quick but the return of Xander was welcome. His unswerving belief in Buffy helped restore her confidence and when evil was on the scene her friends came running to help as they always do.

The dialogue was predictably sharp. I enjoyed Oz trying to sympathise with Buffy but already being familiar with campus or Willow stating that Buffy would never run away before remembering that she already had. I laughed at Buffy calling Giles Hugh Heffner and saying “thanks mum” after Willow congratulated her on making a new friend. That last one was a wonderful bit of writing that managed to crack an entirely believable joke despite it being serious moment where Buffy was worrying about Eddie.

The new setting of UC Sunnydale was excellent and gave the show a fresh feel. It also meant that Buffy’s visits “home” to Giles’ place and the Bronze had a similar effect on the viewer.

The Bad: It’s a familiar complaint from me. Having built up a strong sense of jeopardy for Buffy she was able to see it off without too much trouble. Her nearly broken arm ended up looking like a TV contrivance when she was able to use it to give Sunday a good punch. Earlier in the episode it seemed like the ultimate indignity for the Slayer as she had to run from vampires that she would normally have seen off. I’ve complained before that not enough is always done to make Buffy’s fights seem interesting. Here it really was and yet it still ended with little challenge.

The Unknown: The three new additions to the show are Kathy, Riley and the men in army gear. Kathy came across a little exaggerated but was generally fine as the new roommate. Riley’s initial dialogue seemed overly polished but to be fair in his second appearance he seemed genuinely nice and kind. The men in army gear serve to set the season up nicely. Now we know something unusual is going on on campus and for once it’s the vampires who need to be worried.

Best Moment: Buffy returning to her room with a broken arm while Kathy sleeps. After all the indignities she suffered at college to also take a beating as the Slayer really drew sympathy to her. Sarah Michelle Gellar plays vulnerable better than anything else.

The Bottom Line: It’s a joy to be back watching great television. Each season premier of Buffy has got me excited for the rewatch and this was no exception.

68/100

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