Written by Joss Whedon
Directed by David Solomon and Joss Whedon
We open in...Istanbul. Thanks, Netflix, for captioning that. (That was sarcasm. Once again, there is no caption.) A young woman is sprinting through the streets, pursued by robed men. She climbs a drain pipe up to a roof, but more of them are up there. They throw her down, and the ones on the ground hold her and stab her to death.
Buffy is giving Dawn a lesson in vampire slaying. There’s a new vampire struggling to get out of his grave. He’s stuck. Which sort of undermines Buffy’s point, which is that he’s the one with all the power. Buffy helps him out, and he tries to threaten her, but she grabs him by the throat. Bahaha. She sics him on Dawn instead. This seems like a really risky training regimen. Dawn tries to stake him, but misses the heart. He tosses her down, then grabs her. Buffy yanks him away from her before he can bite her...much. She beats him up, ultimately beheading him. Buffy tells Dawn she did a great job. She, too, missed the heart the first time she tried to stake a vampire (but she did still stake him...Dawn had to be rescued). Now that Dawn has been patrolling once, she will hopefully never have to fight a vampire again. Something scary is back.
That would be Sunnydale High. Which has a super hot principal this time.
After the new S7 intro credits (no cast changes), we find Giles riding a gorgeous paint horse on his property in Westbury, England. Sheesh, no wonder he wanted to go home. This place is amazing. (Also, this is actually Tony Head’s house.) He finds Willow using magic to grow a Paraguayan flower right in front of her at the base of a large tree. She can feel the connections between all organisms on the planet. She’s been learning from the witches of the Devon coven all summer. She’s in awe of those women, but they’re afraid of her. Willow wishes they could just take her power away. But that’s impossible. The power is part of her now. Willow expected to meet a horrible (but just) fate in England, not to go to Hogwarts. Willow just wants to be herself again.
Xander gets out of a really nice car wearing a really nice suit. Buffy lets him in. She’s still anxious about Dawn attending the rebuilt school she spent three years fighting evil in. Nice argyle sweater, Dawn. (Not sarcasm. It’s lovely.) Xander shows Buffy the blueprint for the new school. The Hellmouth is directly beneath the new principal’s office, rather than the library like the old school. Buffy has a present for Dawn. Dawn wants it to be a weapon. It’s a cell phone.
Buffy walks Dawn up to the building, and she will not stop fretting about potential Hellmouth shenanigans. The hot principal finds them. His name is Robin Wood. He mistakes Buffy for Dawn’s mom. Awkward. Dawn heads off to class, fending off Buffy’s continued attempts to give warnings.
Buffy walks through the halls of the new school. Someone throws a basketball at some lockers. She pursues the kid, who gives her the slip. In class, Dawn’s teacher has everyone do introductions. Buffy walks into the bathroom to make sure her hair doesn’t look like mom hair. She finds a creepy talisman thing in there, and then a very rotten-looking ghost appears, followed by another. Dawn comes across as pretty cool in her introduction, but Buffy bursts into the classroom to take her home, and kind of ruins it. A lot. Go away, Buffy.
A couple are playing guitar and singing at some coffee shop. Anya and Halfrek are having coffee. Halfrek makes fun of Anya’s vengeance lately. She hasn’t been killing anyone or doing horrible things to them, just stuff like turning guys French. All the other vengeance demons have been snickering behind their veiny hands. Also, there’s something really scary rising up.
Buffy finds Xander on his construction site to inform him of the Hellmouth shenanigans. Buffy thinks the school being rebuilt is an omen of badness.
Dawn lends a pencil to a kid next to her, but her turns into a horrifying zombie and stabs it right in her eye! Except maybe she imagined that? The whole class is very concerned about her now. She covers by saying there was a bee and she’s allergic. Nice one. She goes to the bathroom. There’s another girl crying a couple stalls over. Maybe. No feet below the stalls.
Buffy runs into Principal Wood in the halls, and he doesn’t get what she’s doing there, not being a student or faculty member. She’s suspicious of him.
Dawn opens the other stall doors and finds a goth girl crouching on top of a toilet, really scared because there was something else in there. Dawn coaxes her up. She’s Kit. All three ghosts we’ve seen so far appear, and the lights start sparking. Then hands reach out of the floor to grab them. It caves in, and they fall through.
In England, Willow seems to be having a seizure. Giles holds onto her and tells her to breathe. She can feel something really bad underneath the earth. At the Hellmouth. The camera pans dramatically backwards through the front door of Giles’s house. Nice.
Kit prods Dawn awake down in the basement. Upstairs somewhere, Buffy and Wood are still talking. He’s read her records from her time in high school, which don’t look great. In the basement, Kit says the ghost told her everyone dies here. They run into the kid who threw that basketball. He’s been seeing the zombie/ghosts too. One of them appears and comes toward them. And another from the other side. And another. Uh oh. Dawn pulls out her cell phone.
Buffy tries to convince Wood to kick Dawn out of school. He thinks she’s being insane. Her phone rings. It’s Dawn, obviously. What she says makes Wood think that she has three dogs that are now dead. She runs off to go help Dawn. He remains behind, confused.
In the basement, the ghosts seem to have vanished, but then they come back and grab Dawn by the throat. Buffy jumps down through the hole in the bathroom floor and starts looking around. She doesn’t find Dawn, but she does hear her phone ringing. The ghost janitor tells her she won’t find Dawn. All three of the ghosts accuse Buffy of not saving them from their horrible deaths. Buffy figures they’re trying to stop her from reaching the door behind them. She fights them, but they reappear between her and the door again. She finally manages to reach the door, but Dawn isn’t on the other side. Spike is.
Spike’s hair looks kinda like oldschool Justin Timberlake hair. He seems very unbalanced. He touches Buffy’s face, and she doesn’t smack him away, which makes no sense. He tells her to duck, but she stupidly thinks he’s talking about an actual duck, so she takes a metal pole to the head. The ghosts attack again. Buffy manages to shut the door against them. Spike is still being super weird. Buffy notices that he has nasty scratches all over his chest. Particularly over his heart. He was trying to cut “it” out (his soul, but she doesn’t know that yet).
Buffy’s phone rings. It’s Dawn, who is hiding with Kit and the boy by the furnace. Spike explains what the zombie/ghost things are in a disdainful sort of way. They’re summoned and controlled by a talisman. He returns to incoherent rambling. Buffy leaves him to it. Dawn and the other two kids look for weapons. Dawn makes a flail by loading bricks into Kit’s messenger bag. The zombie/ghost things picked these threee kids because they seemed like outcasts.
Xander finds the hole in the bathroom floor. He’s here to look for the talisman (because Buffy called him). Down in the basement, Buffy finally finds Dawn, and she fights the zombie/ghosts with the flail. Xander carefully crawls past the hole, then finds the talisman. He’s about to break it when one of the zombie/ghosts appears and tackles him. He still manages to break it, and all three disappear for good. What Buffy wants to know now is who put that talisman in the school. She advises Dawn and the other two to stick together.
Wood finds Buffy after Dawn, Kit, and Carlos walk off together. He’s impressed at the way Buffy got two of the most at-risk students in the school to have a meaningful social interaction and to actually go to class. He wants to hire her as a part-time peer counselor type person. She loves that idea!
Spike is still down in the basement being insane. He’s rambling about how he had a whole speech planned for when he saw Buffy again, but he’s pretty sure it won’t do any good. Warren walks past him, taunting him. He morphs into Glory. Then Adam. Then the Mayor. Then Drusilla. Then the Master. This shapeshift-y thing is the Big Bad, and it’s very confident in the way things will go. Spike is part of its plan. Its final transformation is Buffy. All of this is about power.
As late-series season openers go, “Lessons” is actually pretty promising. Already foreshadowing and introducing the Big Bad, even if it’s still very shrouded in mystery. Bringing the high school back and immediately establishing it as the major setting and site of lots of evil happenings. It's definitely trying to get back to the high school roots, and that seems like a good thing. Buffy manages to get herself a semi-plausible job there and Xander seems to be doing construction work on an adjoining building or at least another site that’s very close, so they’ll both be there on a regular basis too. It’s an effective setup. There’s a strong tone of tension and expectation throughout the entire episode, and the scope is much broader than it’s ever been before, what with the scenes in Istanbul and England. With Tara dead, Spike crazy, Willow and Giles in England, and Anya hanging out with Halfrek, there’s not much left of the Scoobies, but that doesn’t need to happen yet. Also, it's incredibly awesome that they managed to get all six Big Bads back for that villain montage at the end (even if technically Angelus, not Drusilla, was the S2 Big Bad and Willow, not Warren, was the S6 Big Bad). I think the weakest part of the episode is actually Spike. I’ll get into that in the character analysis.
I get why Buffy would be kind of a spaz about Dawn attending high school on the Hellmouth when she’s only just accustomed herself to the idea of letting Dawn participate in Plot A. I’m not sure I get her suspicion of Principal Wood. If I met such a hot faculty member at my younger sibling’s school, I’d be struggling against cute guy panic, not suspicious. But the part that bugs me most is her reaction to Spike. The last time she was in the same room with him, he tried to rape her. So why the crap is she only reacting to him with mild confusion? Why is she letting him touch her face? Why is she touching his chest to investigate those wounds? She should’ve reacted with anger and horror. Were the writers trying to retroactively make the attempted rape less horrible by having her act like it never happened? Because if so, that’s really not okay. Nor is the way she’s suddenly referring to him like he’s one of her ex-boyfriends.
Look at Xander! Dang. This guy is only 21, maybe 22 by now, and he’s so high up in his construction company that he’s got nice suits and a sleek silver company car. How exactly was he not ready for marriage if he has his life this together?
Yesss, now we’re really getting somewhere with Anya’s character development. She claims she still loves vengeance, but she can’t bring herself to inflict it anymore, and it’s starting to put her in an uncomfortable position with the vengeance demon community.
Dawn is much less irritating than she was in S6 already! Excellent. I really like Kit and Carlos, and it’s kind of a bummer that this is their only episode, since it feels very much like the writers were setting them up to be her Xander and Willow. Boo. Lame.
What the crap is going on with Spike? Why is he insane? Angel was never insane after he got his soul back. Does that just mean William’s soul is much weaker or more sensitive than Liam’s? Angel was completely torn up when he remembered all the evil Angelus had done, but it didn’t break his mind. Is Spike just crazy now because he’s always been very passionate, so the memories are too much for him to handle? Whatever the explanation is, it seems really weird. But that’s not my biggest issue with Spike right now. I know that he’s a fan favorite character (even if I don’t get why) and everything, and there was probably some contractual stuff about James Marsters being in all the episodes, but I want an in-universe explanation for why Spike thought it was okay to come back to Sunnydale after what he did. Sure, before he got his soul, his whole plan was to make Buffy love him, but as soon as the soul is there, it’s in charge of his actions. So why, now that he’s fully aware of how heinous his actions have been towards Buffy all this time he’s claimed to be in love with her, would he go back to Sunnydale? If it’s because he doesn’t know how to handle all his newfound remorse, then shouldn’t Angel be the one he wants to talk to? He’s the only one who knows what it’s like to be in Spike’s position. Buffy can’t help him with that, and she shouldn’t have to. Ugh, I just already dislike where this is going so much.
Willow is now in a similar position as Faith in Angel S4, with Giles as her Angel. I really like that the show is done with the “magic is drugs” thing, and that Willow will actually be using magic again. The idea that she has to learn how to master the power inside her is a much more powerful setup for a character arc than quitting it cold turkey.
Giles’s property seems to say a lot about him. He has such a gorgeous, peaceful place. I love it. And I love how he’s keen to help Willow get back to herself, but only as long as she doesn’t forget what she’s done (which she definitely won’t, judging by her very sorrowful demeanor).
“I planned to get killed, come back as a vampire, and bite you.”
The Watcher's Diary
In this blog, I'll be reviewing, analyzing, and generally fangirling over excellent television. Exhibit A: the Whedonverse.