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Episode 7.1 'Lessons'
Air Date: 24Sept02

Season 7 is upon us, folks, and for better or worse, it seemed like the summer flew by in no time at all. As the last station ID ran before episode 7.1, I contemplated what it was I was hoping to see this year.

Joss has made no secret that his plan (or as he said about a dozen times on the first and second season DVD commentaries, his "mission statement") this year is to bring the series around full circle to what it started out as: an action-packed show about a young female hero who, with the help of her closest friends, protects her town and the world from demons and vampires. I think this is an excellent idea, as everyone fondly remembers how entertaining the storylines were back in the first few seasons. My gut instinct is that if you're already a fan, this is going to be a rich and colourful season with lots to get excited about. Especially if you consider that it marks the return of the biggest, scariest evil the show has ever known (cue the creepy organ music)…

High school. Having Sunnydale High once again open for business means so much in terms of the season's potential. An influx of new characters, both major and minor (this was DESPERATELY needed), a Pandora's Box of metaphors and allegories for Joss and his team to explore, and a front-line battleground for the Scoobs' war against evil that we can all relate to. Most of us have never risen from the grave, been the most powerful witch in the Western Hemisphere, or almost married a retired vengeance demon, but we've all been to high school. We remember the highs and lows very clearly, and no one touches those corresponding nerves better than Whedon & Co.

Okay, on to the episode. The initial teaser was intriguing. What's going on in Istanbul? And before anyone else makes the obligatory They Might Be Giants joke, yes – Istanbul WAS Constantinople. But who's the cutie? Who's chasing her? And more importantly, is she now dead already? I'm thinking no, since there has to be SOME point to giving us a glimpse of her perilous evening. An enigmatic start, but what's it all about, Buffy?

'It's about power'. And with that line (also uttered by Dark Willow in the season 6 finale), we got our first glimpse of Buffy, Dawn, and one of Sunnydale's many graveyards, and the season finally felt like it had begun (as champagne corks popped all over the place). Nice to see Buffy making good on last season's promise to bring little sis into her world. I say little, but as Dawn pointed out, she's now taller than Buffy. Didn't she seem substantially more grown up in a lot of ways? I've already heard from a few friends this morning who remarked how surprisingly likeable Dawnie was last night (after a sixth season that was heavy on the kid's shrill whining). Great! Another checkmark in the column of things we want to see this season. The vampire getting stuck on his way out of the grave was the first of many good laughs in the episode, and did everyone notice that this short-lived fellow has already been immortalized in the new opening title montage?

The montage looked great, by the way, and I was pleased both by the return of some of my favourite clips (Anya with the baseball bat, Spike on the subway), and the inclusion of some new ones (Anya with the eye-mask, Spike fighting in the cave, and that IMPOSSIBLY cute shot of Willow with the sassy curls).

The scenes with Giles and Willow in England (shot, if you haven't heard, on Anthony Stewart Head's own property), were very touching. I had problems with last year's finale, and in a lot of ways I was less affected by Evil Willow nearly destroying the world than I was by seeing her last night, back to normal and in pain over what she'd done. It's always been like that, though – I'm a bigger fan of the quiet moments on the show than I am the ‘King Kong vs Godzilla' pyrotechnics. If we're classifying Willow as the Big Bad of season 6, it'll be a new experience watching the previous year's villain suffering through the almost-impossible task of making up for the damage they've done. I liked the Harry Potter reference, and here's hoping that before Will returns to Sunnydale we'll get to meet these impressive witches she & Giles were talking about.

I got a big kick out of Xander "Bling-Bling" Harris, everyone's favourite new contracting action-figure who comes complete with spiffy suit and the Xander Dream Car. It doesn't look like Buffy will have to flip burgers anymore now that Big Poppa's bank account has swelled to match his ass. Mochas for everyone! But how exactly did he score the contract for the new high school when, from what I've seen, he and his crew have never taken a job past the point of bare frames and big holes in the ground? Sorry, suspending disbelief.

What the hell was Anya wearing last night?!? Is she a vengeance demon or the new schoolmarm in Sleepy Hollow? Never mind Hallie's advice that she needs to step up her demonic dealings, the first priority has to be the look. I didn't wait patiently all summer only to run smack into this wall of pronounced prudishness separating me from the Anya I've come to know and love.

The scenes in school were great, and they demonstrated the show's excellent balance of comedy and horror. Something that both Stanley Kubrick and David Lynch are known for is taking a clean, bright, safe, familiar location and inserting something dark and ugly, often in such a seamless way that it causes you to wonder if you're even in the place you thought you were. Last night featured some great jump n' gasp moments, with the basement ickies appearing suddenly and shaking things up (the chap who borrowed Dawn's pencil then "returned it" was the best example of this). I like the new Principal (but did he really introduce himself as Robin Wood?!?), and with Mr.Trick and Riley's Initiative buddy gone, it's nice to see that there's still at least one African American in Sunnydale.

If Dawn's going to be attending Sunnydale High and facing all of its darkness, she's going to need some trustworthy accomplices just like her big (but shorter) sister had. Enter the Scrappies (excellently nicknamed by the online faithful once spoilers for this season started to leak out). We didn't see much in the way of characterization for either of Dawn's new friends (2 or 3 lines each), but if they're going to be hanging around (and it seems like they are), I trust that we'll be getting into their heads and home lives and by the end of the season they'll be fully fleshed out additions to the Buffy mythology (and hopefully not dead). I have to take issue with what I saw in the way of "acting" from the male (I'm drawing a complete blank on his name, but they only said it once) friend. Stiff and unbelievable. We're supposed to like this kid? Better get him an acting coach, and fast. But Kit seems cool, even if only because A) She's CUTE, and B) Who doesn't love the name Kit?

As Buffy said in Once More With Feeling, "Dawn's in trouble. Must be Tuesday." But now our Jimmy Olsen has a signal watch, and it wasn't long before Buffy was down in the basement, kicking some ghost ass and impressing Dawn's new friends. All seemed great, until she opened that door and ran smack into…

Justin Timberlake. Spike! Love the curls and the highlights, brother, and it's nice to see you're spouting poetry again, even if it's decidedly more surreal than the stuff you wrote in your pre-vamp days. For an episode full of creepy surprises, it was great to be hit with the first really meaty "A-HA!" moment of the night. Knowing what we now know about Spike, it'll be just like Joss & Marti to keep showing him to us in torturously short doses as our minds race over the myriad possibilities. Poor guy. But at least he's got lots of company down there, in the form of a walking slide show of Drusilla and the show's Big Bad Hall of Fame, turning eventually into Spike's most recent villain. I've heard various theories on who or what Spike was being tormented by in this scene. Popular theory is that it was just a delusional symptom of his current state of kookiness, but I think we were seeing some manifestation of the evil that both Willow and Halfrek described last night. Something big and dark and terrible rising and, judging by the faces it showed Spike in the basement, it's coming for Buffy. THAT's why this first episode of the season was so good. It moved well, it established some new characters and angles, it had a lot of laughs, and it's already laid the groundwork for some ominous plot yet to be explored.

That's it for now, but before I sign off I wanted to say thanks to all the people who've written with kind and encouraging words since Slayage started posting the reviews from last season. It's been good to hear from everyone, and it's had me twice as excited to jump in and start writing again.

Until next time, take care everybody.

Ron

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