In the first episode of the seventh season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, YES. YES YES YES YES YES TO ALL OF THIS. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Buffy.
I don’t get the girl killed by men in cloaks.
OKAY, THAT’S OUT OF THE WAY, OH MY GOD THIS EPISODE RULED SO MUCH. I am a fan of cyclical stories (hence my love for The Sandman and Good Omens), so I enjoyed the brilliant subtext to all the callbacks to the very first season. This is happening all over again. And yet, this is all so fresh and new! Dawn is starting school at Sunnydale High, just like Buffy did in season one. The students discover the strange and frightening powers of the Hellmouth, WHICH IS RE-OPENING IN SUNNYDALE. There’s a new principal who has a preconceived notion of who Buffy is. (Except I like Principal Wood A GREAT DEAL.) And the Scoobies are back to being a very small group. It’s just Dawn, Xander, and Willow. I know that there are a ton of other parallels, and the very thought of trying to find them all EXCITE ME FOREVER.
But the newness of this episode is just so refreshing after season six. I know that I should expect misery. This isn’t a show where good things happen to good people all the time. But the end of this show (NOOOO WHY IS BUFFY ENDING NOOOOO) is now about beginnings, the start of things, and it feels like everything has been cleansed over the summer. The lighting and coloring is brighter. (Except for in the basement, but that’s a key point that I’ll address later.) Buffy’s hair has changed, Xander’s outfit is sharper, Willow’s outlook is more positive, Giles is back to being supportive to those who need him, and Dawn enters Sunnydale High with hope. It feels so intentional to me!
And the use of light and dark tropes is not always my favorite thing, but god, do I love it here. In fact, Willow’s first appearance in season seven really highlights how the intentional use of light and shadow can tell a good story. Tropes aren’t evil things! They can be used outright in beautiful ways, or they can be subverted as they have been countless times over the history of this show. Willow is in such a different place beyond the obvious difference of location. I remembered how physically dark all of her scenes were towards the end of season six. With the exception of the final battle against Xander and her initial attack on Warren, she existed in the shadows. She fought indoors. And she doesn’t kill Warren until it’s night time. Her hair was black. Yes, these sort of things were super obvious, and I don’t know that I liked their application as much as I do here in “Lessons.” It’s a matter of taste, really.
I guess it came down to the fact that I enjoyed Willow’s growth towards life. When we see her do magic (THAT WAS UNEXPECTED), she grows a flower. She is connected to the earth. She is out in the sunlight. (Well, okay, it’s overcast, but it’s England, IT’S TOTALLY NORMAL.) It’s a purposeful journey towards the light, and I’m just happy to see that Willow is making this effort, while acknowledging that what she did extinguished that light.
Also, Giles on a horse HELP.
You can see this motif when Buffy, Xander, and Dawn all return to Sunnydale High. (Oh god, it’s so weird that Xander and Buffy are there!!!) The halls are open, spacious, well-lit, and Xander’s site is bathed in light. Oh god, I know this is a very singular reading of this episode, but it was so fun to notice these things. Like, guess when shit gets real? Once the lights go out in the bathroom. Where are all the evil talismen spirits hanging out? In the dark basement. Where is Spike trying to cope with the existence of his soul? In a room with almost no lighting. The pattern is there throughout the episode, and it was a neat challenge to find examples of all of these things.
But I could also see how “Lessons” was about the Scoobies all learning from their mistakes. Obviously, that’s the case with Willow, but it made me SO HAPPY to see Buffy taking Dawn out on her first slaying. Like, the whole point of Dawn and Buffy’s interactions in season six were about Dawn’s sense of feeling left out. And now Buffy is helping her do what she wants to do, and she’s a really good teacher. Oh my god, HOW DID I NOT SEE THAT THIS WAS FORESHADOWING FOR THE END OF “LESSONS”? Literally, as I typed out that last sentence, I just realized that Principal Wood’s assertion that sometimes, kids need adults closer to their age TOTALLY APPLIED TO BUFFY’S MENTORING OF DAWN. Oh, if you could see me just now, I nearly pitched out of my chair from feelings.
Okay, so, this episode! Um, perhaps this was not clear to me, but who used the talisman to raise those spirits? Was that glossed over at the end, or is this information part of a longer arc, or was I not paying attention because Buffy’s hair is so goddamn pretty? No, it has to be a clue. For a moment, I thought that perhaps these spirits were the people who died during Graduation, but one of them was killed by a werewolf? Why did they go after Buffy in particular? Why do I have so many questions that aren’t being answered? Oh, right, I’m watching Buffy.
So, Spike! Wow, that was unexpected. I can see that his plan to have his soul return to him backfired in a way he couldn’t have ever anticipated: he is ruined with guilt. I’m glad that at least this aspect of the soul in the Buffyverse is consistent. He’s spent all this time locked in the basement of Sunnydale High School, consumed with the thoughts of what he did as a vampire. It’s clearly so bad that he can’t even function on any sort of normal level. He speaks to Buffy with strings of nonsensical phrases, almost as if it isn’t her he’s talking to. And I think that because Spike is in such a vulnerable place, this is why that thing is haunting him. So, as you’ll see in the video below, I very understandably had a little dance party in my chair as that thing began to change into all the Big Bads over the history of the show. But it got me thinking about Angel, actually, and how that show reminded me that just because someone has a soul, it doesn’t mean they’ll choose to do good. (That applies to Faith as well. Oh god, I miss Faith so much!) So what’s Spike’s path at this point? He now has the capacity to fully understand things like goodness and love, but that thing already wants to take advantage of him. Oh god, how much would it suck if he got his soul back and then he’s possessed and does something awful? ALL WOULD BE FOR NOTHING. In terms of him and Buffy, though, I guess I don’t really care? Like, Buffy’s clearly shocked to see him, and she’s probably all over the place emotionally about him being in Sunnydale. She doesn’t show it because CREEPY DEAD THINGS HAVE HER SISTER. I’m sure this will have to be addressed in the future, but it’s not #1 on my list of things I need to see this season. Go back to that creepy morphing thing!! WHAT IS THAT? WHAT THE FUCK IS THAT?
Oh god, Halfrek said something evil is coming. So did Willow! IS IT SATAN??? Buffy hasn’t fought Satan yet! I’d be pretty down with that, honestly. I’m also totally down with GUIDANCE COUNSELOR BUFFY. Oh my god, why is this the most exciting plot element so far? Because it’s brilliant. BRING IT ON, SEASON SEVEN.
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