Greetings! This week I finally got a new computer and bid farewell to my 2007 11-inch MacBook, which is still technically functional but can't run more than one program at a time, run any word processing software, or send e-mails.
In honor of my entry into this decade (and ability to actually review episodes on my computer,) I'm looking to redesign my blog. Unfortunately, I don't have any idea how to do that. If you or someone you know may be interested in helping me out, shoot me a message at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Onto The Freshman, which signals the dawn of a new era. Some of the changes from the first three seasons are inevitable. Giles is no longer Watcher or Sunnydale High librarian, and the kids have moved onto college. And I have yet to see a single TV show that successfully makes the high school to college transition without sacrificing some quality.
But some of the changes occurred behind the scenes. Angel and Cordelia are both gone, and the latter never appears on the show again. And while the show finally displays in widescreen starting with Season 4, there's also a marked change in the sound design. To my ears, everything sounds flatter and there's little to no ambience. Large portions of episodes go without any music or outside noise. Buffy and Willow walk through the halls of UC Sunnydale, past many groups of animated students bustling about, but all you hear is their conversation on a sound stage. It's jarring.
Joss Whedon, never one to cower in face of a challenge, turns the foreignness of the new Buffy into the actual plot of the season premiere. And even though we love Joss for his intrepid spirit, he's largely unsuccessful in this episode.
Buffy had a hard time fitting in at Sunnydale High because she was too wrapped up in her Slayer duties to socialize. But college is a whole 'nother story. Nerdy introverts like Willow and Oz finally hit their stride, while the jocks and cheerleaders like Buffy are lost.
This shift in dynamic is evident as soon as they get to campus (filmed at UCLA) in time for orientation. Gone is the Willow with the two long braids and the fuzzy pink sweaters. She is enthusiastic about a flyer for a frat party with free jello shots for women, and offers to trade Buffy a "Take Back the Night" flyer to get one. Oof, Joss.
Buffy and Willow go to investigate the UC Sunnydale library, which dwarfs the piddling Sunnydale High library. There's no way that it could serve as Scooby headquarters what with its gargantuan size and the fact that other students seem to actually use it. So the epiphanous shots as Buffy and Willow enter it seem a bit irrelevant--we will never see it again--except to further distance this setting from the previous three seasons. You'll notice that Willow is mighty enthusiastic, and Buffy is freaked out.
Even when Willow tries to find good classes for stupid people to accommodate Buffy--in this case, a class in which you watch TV for credit--Buffy still manages to fail. She heads to the class and sees that the professor is a total douchebag. You can just tell because look at him.
The episode takes an unexpected turn for the better when Buffy accidentally knocks a stack of textbooks on top of a flunky, floppy-haired gentleman's head. This is only a positive in retrospect, as it's RILEY, who we do not yet know is the worst but will very quickly learn is really, truly, THE WORST.
So far, most of the episode has involved Buffy meandering around campus looking flustered. This meandering continues on into the night, but she finds a fellow wanderer in hapless Eddie. He can't find his dorm, wears khakis, and keeps a copy of "Of Human Bondage" next to his bed as a security blanket. A potential friend? A love interest? Or a serial killer?
The vampires' MO is to kill hapless freshmen, steal all of their belongings, and leave a fake goodbye note from the student saying that college was too much and they couldn't handle it. They then use the items to deck out their frat house; there's a great joke about keeping a running tally of how many freshmen have Monet posters vs. Klimt posters.
After being beaten handily by Sunday, Buffy looks for guidance from Giles, who FYI did not appear for the first 23 minutes of this episode!!! Instead she finds an unrealistically hot woman in Giles's button-up shirt, and Giles himself in a Hugh Hefner robe.
One wonders what it will take to pull Buffy out of this stupor. Visits to Giles and Joyce (who filled her bedroom with shipments from work) only make her feel like more of a loser for not immediately acclimating to college. When she goes back to her dorm room and finds that Sunday took all of her belongings and left a goodbye note from Buffy, she just mopes to The Bronze.
The Bronze! How we missed you! how we missed your music and oversized couches. And how we missed…Xander??
Buffy gears up for another confrontation with Sunday and appears to be losing badly until her Class Protector umbrella is put in peril. This relic from happier high school days reminds her that she is Buffy and she is Xander's hero, and with a twirl of a stake and a classic zinger, she dusts Sunday.
But even though Buffy will find her place in college after this episode, the Scoobies remain fractured. They lack a central location in Season 4 such as Sunnydale High in 1-3 or the magic shop in 5-6. Willow continues to thrive and outgrows her old friends. Xander is basically a hopeless schlub for most of this season, living at home and struggling to find a job. And Giles has nothing to do at all. It's a transition, and not a particularly pleasant one to watch.