The general consensus among Buffy fans is that the final season really wasn’t very good. Personally, my favourite season of Buffy was the second – the writers had hit their stride, the characters were established, and, well, it just had the best overall story arc. Angelus was brilliantly evil, Spike and Drusilla were awesomely unhinged, character relationships hadn’t become too horribly convoluted, and Buffy and Angel were the ultimate star-crossed lovers. It. Was. Perfect. The seasons that came afterwards were all still watchable, and I watched them all in turn with an equal amount of obsession, but while I can think of great moments from seasons 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6, season 7, in my memory, was a damp squib.
Since Buffy and Angel finished, though, I’ve found TV pretty uninspiring. I hate Lost, I couldn’t get into Heroes, Doctor Who leaves me cold, and while Firefly was brilliant, its cancellation and subsequent revival as a subpar movie took the shine off a bit. So, in desperation, I’ve decided to revisit that much-loathed season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer to see how bad it really was. I don’t think I’ve seen any of the episodes, with the exception of the finale, since about 2003, and I’ve not watched any episodes of Buffy at all in so long I can’t remember when the last time was. I can probably still recite most of season 1 and 2 from memory, but I’ve forgotten most of season 7, so I’m in a position to be reasonably objective.
Right. Lessons, then. The episode begins with a recap of the end of season 6 – various clips of Willow being evil, a reminder of how the final showdown played out, and then a replay of the restoration of Spike’s soul. Do new viewers ever try to pick up TV shows at the beginning of the seventh season? Because I’m really not sure you could, in Buffy‘s case, but then I never watched the first season of Babylon 5 and I managed to do alright with the rest of it. The episode proper shows an unknown girl running from a group of men in black hooded robes who eventually catch her and throw her off a roof, then cuts to Buffy in a graveyard, teaching Dawn how to slay newly-risen vampires. She’s being really verbose about it, too, droning on and on about how “it’s about power” while the vamp in question struggles, and eventually fails, to dig himself out of his grave. In the end, Buffy has to lift him out before setting him on Dawn, who does all the requisite ducking and rolling and even manages to get a stake into the vampire, but misses the heart, so he doesn’t turn into dust. Buffy steps in to save her, and offers some encouragement, but says that she wishes vampires were all they had to worry about. Seems there’s something far, far scarier on the horizon, starting in just a few days. Oooooh.
The scene changes abruptly to Giles riding a horse amidst rolling green hills. The subtitle says he’s in Westbury, England, and – aha, he’s with Willow! She uses magic to make a CGI flower grow, and there’s some chat about the earth and how everything’s connected and it’s all very zen. Willow says that Giles has “gone all Dumbledore” on her, a reference that somehow feels really awkward. Willow complains that the witches in England are all afraid of her, and confesses that she thought Giles was bringing her to England to punish her. He asks if she wants to be punished, and she says no – she just wants to be Willow. Giles tells her that, in the end, we all are who we are, no matter how much we may appear to have changed, and bang! We cut to a very smartly dressed Xander stepping out of a nice car. It’s only a few minutes into the episode and already I’m highly aware of how the writers really love those jokes where the last line of one scene comments on the next scene. It’s slightly tiresome.
Anyway, smart!Xander has come to drive Dawn to school – the ominous thing that was coming back is Sunnydale High School, which has been rebuilt over the site of the old Sunnydale High School, which was destroyed at the end of season 3. Given that Sunnydale seems to be an enormous community (with its own airport and beach and everything else, despite everyone’s assertions that it’s a small town) it seems odd that it’s taken four years to build a high school, but I guess if all your teenagers are being eaten by vampires they’ve got more important things to worry about than algebra. Xander is in charge of the workmen who are building the school, and he’s brought the blueprints to show Buffy that while nothing spooky seems to be going on, there is one weird thing – the new principal’s office has been built over the old library, i.e. right over the Hellmouth. Uh oh. Buffy gives Dawn a going-back-to-school present (has she ever been to school before?) which she promises is a weapon, but which will turn out, a few scene changes later, to be a mobile phone. I hate how smug Buffy is when she hands it over and says it’s a weapon – she seems so old, somehow.
Old, and weird. Buffy tags along to the high school, and completely fails to leave. On the way in, she meets the new principal, who initially mistakes her for Dawn’s mother and then tells her he’s heard all about her, which seems ominous, but he lets her carry on wandering about anyway. Seriously, doesn’t anyone think it’s weird that there’s this random adult wandering the empty halls of the high school while class is in session? Shouldn’t someone have challenged her? Turns out it’s a good thing she’s there, though, because some ghosts show up in the toilets after Buffy discovers a magic stick, and complain to Buffy that she failed to save their lives. She runs off and bursts into a classroom just as Dawn is wrapping up her humiliating stand-at-the-front-and-tell-us-about-yourself speech, which she’s actually pretty good at. When I watched Buffy the first time around, I sympathised with Buffy and felt that Dawn was irritating, but in this episode, Buffy manages to be smug, annoying, embarassing and overbearing. Not a great combination. Anyway, once she’s humilated Dawn in front of the class, she leaves to go tell Xander she saw some ghosts, leaving Dawn in school after all. Really responsible, Buffy, well-played.
There’s a brief interlude at this point with Anya and Halfrek drinking coffee and talking about how rubbish Anya (or, I suppose, Anyanka, if she’s a demon again?) has been at doling out the vengeance lately. Halfrek tells her that everyone’s noticed, and that since there’s a new Big Bad on the way, she might want to step up her game. Ooh.
Back in class, the boy sitting next to Dawn asks to borrow a pencil and proceeds to stab it into her eye. There’s a squishing sound effect used here which makes it really, really nasty, but as Dawn falls screaming onto the floor, both the boy and the pencil disappear, leaving her completely unharmed. Except for the fact that everyone now thinks she’s as nutty as her sister, which isn’t ideal. Dawn excuses herself and goes into the haunted toilets, where she finds a crying Goth girl and three ghosts. Arms reach for their legs out of the floor, which seems a bit improbable (apparently Xander’s guys did a bit of a rush job on the foundations) and a hole opens up beneath them into a creepy Nightmare on Elm Street style boiler room. Really, Xander’s crew are a bit shit, aren’t they?
The action cuts back to Willow and Giles in England – Willow’s collapsed onto the floor after apparently connecting with something dark and evil beneath the earth which is soon going to rise and try to destroy the world. Business as usual, then, surely?
Back in Sunnydale, Dawn and Goth Girl find another kid wandering around in the basement, and the ghosts show up again. Dawn uses her new mobile phone, which she, too, annoyingly describes as “a weapon”, to call Buffy for help. Why do I suspect she never again uses or even mentions owning a mobile phone? It seems far too convenient. Anyway, Buffy soon finds the massive gaping hole in the bathroom floor and jumps down to help the Scooby Gang: The Next Generation. The ghosts show up and whine at her for a bit about how rubbish she is as a Slayer because she let them get killed. Considering how many kids must have died over the years, either in the school itself or at least whilst they were enrolled there, you’d think there’d be more than three ghosts showing up, but it seems to be the same three all the way through this episode. Shame, really. Buffy’s really unsympathetic, which seems a bit rude considering they do have a point, because she spots that they’re trying to keep her away from a door. And behind the door? Is Spike.
Something looks really really weird about James Marsters’ hair here. It used to be an almost yellow bleached blond, but here it looks like his roots are growing out, and the blond is quite dull. Which is weird, because wasn’t Spike supposed to be blond when he was alive? He looks very thin and drawn, too, but then this is James Marsters we’re talking about; that’s pretty much just what he looks like. Buffy pushes past him into the room and closes the door behind her, talking to him about whether he’s seen Dawn or not, completely failing to notice that he seems to have gone a bit Drusilla. Regaining his soul has sent him loopy, apparently. Buffy gets impatient with him and runs off when Dawn calls her again – but not before Spike’s had time to be lucid enough to tell her that the ghosts aren’t ghosts at all. They’re manifest spirits, controlled by a talisman. Buffy calls Xander and gets him to come destroy the magic stick in the girls’ bathroom, which she figures must be the talisman, and in the mean time there’s actually a really cool fight scene with the spirits against Buffy with a satchel full of bricks. Awesome.
After Xander saves the day, Buffy packs the trio off to class and is caught by Principal Wood. Surely he’s going to call security now and have her escorted off the premises? Nope, he offers her a job, instead, because he’s seen how good she is at dealing with troubled kids. Riiiiiight. He’s a really bad judge of character if he thinks Buffy has her shit together enough to counsel other people, but whatever.
Just to wrap things up, we cut back to Spike in the basement, being tormented by… Warren? Dead, flayed Warren? I was actually thrown for a moment before remembering what the Big Bad was for this season – Warren quickly shapeshifts into Glory, then Adam, then the Mayor, then Drusilla, then the Master, and finally into Buffy, all the while ranting about how everything’s going right back to the beginning, and how it’s all about power. Which ties us back to the beginning of the episode, with Buffy in the graveyard. That’s actually a nice wrapping up, and it’s quite unnerving seeing all those baddies back again, so that’s cool. The episode as a whole wasn’t bad, either: a bit messy, because it seems to have been trying to pick up all the loose ends and let us know where all the characters are now and have been since the end of season 6, but the ghosts in the school were creepy enough for a Monster of the Week, and The First Evil is awesomely menacing. I’m feeling surprisingly positive about this whole endeavour now…