Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The Freshman   Rewatch 
July 29, 2015 10:04 PM - Season 4, Episode 1 - Subscribe

While Willow and Oz take to college life quickly, Buffy feels adrift until she meets a fellow awkward student. When he disappears, she investigates to find a gang of vampires preying on freshmen.
posted by yellowbinder (21 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
It's li'l Oberyn Martell! Obsessed with Of Human Bondage? Does that ring weird to anyone else? Is it considered a normal thing to love? I'm only familiar with the Bette Davis film and it's all about a cruel and deceptive young woman. Seems odd. I hope he wouldn't be a GooperGlomper.

The initial run of episodes here are a little downbeat. Always with the premieres! It's so consistent on this show, and an unorthodox choice. While this season is lower middle of my ever changing rankings, there's a bunch of good ones coming up.
posted by yellowbinder at 10:12 PM on July 29, 2015

Weirdly creepy foreshadowing alert:

Buffy: I can't wait till Mom gets the bill
for these books. I hope it's a funny aneurysm ...
posted by wabbittwax at 10:19 PM on July 29, 2015 [2 favorites]

Yay season 4 time! You're definitely right yellowbinder that this initial run of episodes is pretty poor, and I think that's due to the writers deliberately casting themselves adrift. They've killed their previous set, and, importantly, some of the key scenes that defined previous episodes; in particular, the "the gang hang out in the library scenes" which often framed episodes. It'll take the show time to find the new status quo, and you'll see the writers working hard to justify having the main cast hang out (later on, they'll just all hang out at Giles' for no real reason).

I don't really like this episode. As yellowbinder says, it's another downer, but at least with Anne and When she was Bad, Buffy was dealing with the consequences of the previous season. There was a reason to be downbeat! Here the stakes are much lower: Buffy feels out of sorts on campus. While I appreciate that this is an experience we've all been through, it's not very exciting, and the emotional crisis Buffy has here feels a bit forced. Especially because ohmygod I hate Sunday so much. It really, really annoys me that Sunday is inexplicably better at fighting than Buffy here. I would have appreciated the show taking some time to justify it: when we've met nasty vamps in the past, there's been a scene where Giles' talks them up. Here, Sunday, a vampire who has basically been hanging out on campus for a decade, picking up easy prey, beats the crap out of the Slayer. Again, I see what they're trying to do here, I just don't like it that much.

The other thing that frustrates me about this is that while Xander's re centering of Buffy is terrific, it's infuriating that neither Giles or Willow spot that something's wrong. Season 3 Giles and Willow would certainly have noticed that Buffy was having a rough time, but here they are emotionally clueless just to advance the plot. It's sloppy writing really, especially as it's something the show drops very shortly.

-We actually meet riley in this episode
-Kathy and her love of Celine Dion. Buffy is such an only child
-Buffy falling in through the skylight is very funny
-"You're very old, and it's very gross"
-I liked Olivia, who hardly has anything to do
-Why didn't the Initiative take out the college vamps before? How long have they been there for? Why don't they have the whole college under surveillance? The Initiative plot makes absolutely no sense throughout it's run.
-Why didn't Joyce drop Buffy off at college?
posted by Cannon Fodder at 12:02 AM on July 30, 2015

Oof, I remember this run of episodes falling flat and falling hard, when they were new. After going out on such a crazy high last season, this kind of felt like a spin-off or something. The college stuff just never gelled, and it just kind of faded away eventually. Buffy was depressed and flailing and missing high school, but it felt too much like the show was, too. It got better, but I don't think it really got great again until season six. (I know, everybody hates season six. Everybody is crazy.)
posted by Ursula Hitler at 2:05 AM on July 30, 2015 [1 favorite]

Yeah, this really isn't a great start to the season. It's not terribly believable that Buffy would have navigated the real world successfully, getting a job and an apartment and all that stuff only to be thrown by the comparatively lesser weirdness of uni.

The bit where she goes back home and the phone rings and she answers, with no one apparently there - did I miss something? Because that seemed completely extraneous and made no sense.

Xander is actually quite good in this episode. Not only has he had interesting experiences, but he's really empathetic and supportive of Buffy. Ok, he does make an off-colour comment about thinking about what Buffy's wearing, so there's that, but overall he shows marked improvement.

I do like the Klimts vs Monets though. And the library.
posted by Athanassiel at 4:59 AM on July 30, 2015

The bit where she goes back home and the phone rings and she answers, with no one apparently there - did I miss something?

It was a tiny little crossover thing with the series premiere of Angel, which aired immediately afterwards. They did stuff like that when both shows were on the air, and it seemed cool at the time but it creates some puzzling or awkward moments if you're just watching one show and not the other, as most folks do now.

I suspect the folks at Mutant Enemy weren't really keeping much of an eye on posterity because they were so focused on making a cool show that week. That would explain some of the instantly dated pop culture references and the real but very 1990s WB bands that used to play at the Bronze. I also remember reading that they seriously pursued Britney Spears to play a demon in season 7, the part that went to Ashanti instead. (Yeah, I guess they weren't too worried about how the show would play in 2015.)
posted by Ursula Hitler at 5:35 AM on July 30, 2015 [1 favorite]

Speaking of the season premiere of Angel, that (and the second ep) will be going up soon. I coulda swore it was already on the list...
posted by Etrigan at 7:58 AM on July 30, 2015

This season is frustrating, and it starts frustratingly. Joss is clearly distracted by Angel, but there are so many high points. This isn't one of them. The shift of the show is the same problem that all teen-character shows have: Everyone goes to the same high school, but no one goes to the same college.

There are so many basic and utterly true tropes in high school (all the same people you've always known and live near, mostly the same socioeconomic status, everyone in mostly the same classes, jocks vs. nerds, outcasts smoking behind the dumpster, arty kids, cheerleaders, frustrated cheerleader-worshippers, etc. etc. etc.) that very few people watch a show about high school and don't think "Yeah, that's what it's like."

But college experiences differ so vastly even at the same college that things are bound to ring false -- brand-new people all over the place, some families are hours or continents away, some kids are way better off financially, hardly anyone in the same classes, vastly larger and more disparate cliques, etc. etc. etc. -- and that's just at the not-overwhelmingly-large subset of fairly-standard-issue colleges (i.e., big public schools), so you're not accounting for weird little liberal arts schools or weird little engineering schools or even weird little satellite commuter campuses. And that doesn't even count the fact that only about 40 percent of people in the typical college age group even go to college.

Sunnydale High was a universal experience. UC Sunnydale was not.
posted by Etrigan at 8:09 AM on July 30, 2015 [1 favorite]

Season 3 Giles and Willow would certainly have noticed that Buffy was having a rough time, but here they are emotionally clueless just to advance the plot.

I kind of buy Willow's cluelessness, because not only is she adjusting to a new world as well, but she's really coming into her own at this point, with the, uh...spurty knowledge. Being a college freshman, finally feeling like you belong somewhere...I understand a certain degree of being self-centred. Giles...well, Olivia's pretty distracting, I guess, and I understand the whole "parental figure wants to make you self-sufficient" thing.

College: "I've heard about five different issues and I'm angry about each and every one of them." (Well, that's also the motto of the Internet.)

Lots of foreshadowing stuff in that Riley scene. Oh, Riley. One day you will look fondly back on the days where Buffy was only dumping books on your head. I feel like they're trying to imply foreshadowing when they talk about her work in operant conditioning...

I hate, hate, HATE that scene with the professor throwing Buffy out of his class. As a professor, it makes me so angry. That professor is such an incredible dick having a power trip. I have never actually listened to that scene again, on any rewatch. Ugh. It's my theory that he's a demon. Are there actually non-evil (bitch monster of death) professors at this school?

I do love the Monet/Klimt race, but ugh, Sunday. "She's not gonna last the night, she's a done deal" because she's a Slayer with a broken arm? What the hell is that? So stupid. So, so stupid. Is there a reason they know where her dorm room is and are able to clear it out like that? I guess if Spike can look up the campus directory...

Xander is pretty great in this episode. His speech to Buffy is kind of similar to Spike's in late S7, and I guess they both work. (Deleted scene DVD extra request for this episode: Xander's debut at "The Fabulous Ladies Night Club." Or an actual scene where we learn something about Olivia.)

Sunday fat-shames the purple sweater vampire, then Buffy makes a crack about Sunday's hips being too big to fit in her skirt. Not a fan.

I do like the whole "breaking her arm/breaking her award" symmetry. I guess the combination of Xander's speech and Buffy seeing that award and remembering how awesome she is does it.

The evil is this way?
posted by ilana at 8:39 AM on July 30, 2015 [1 favorite]

I thought Britney was supposed to be April, the first robot girl?

I love Olivia and really wish she'd have appeared more. Phina Oruche was one of the better parts of latter day Footballers Wives too. I guess the demons were too scary for her, but I get that if the Gentlemen were your first (?) exposure to the supernatural.

Agreed that Xander is great here. Yay! He even recognizes and apologizes for inappropriately hugging Kathy! Progress!
posted by yellowbinder at 9:09 AM on July 30, 2015

Agree that everything seems contrived (especially Sunday, who gets points for at least attempting to cover up her kills, but there's no reason she can kick Buffy's ass). It's like the writers decided that they wanted to write a show where Buffy was vulnerable, Xander was the supportive friend that he should have been all along, and they didn't bother to try to make things fit in with the characters as they'd developed over the years.

I think it's sad that Willow has such a short time to enjoy college. She worked her ass off in high school, both on her own schoolwork and tutoring other people. She deserved to get the fun part of college. But the impending Oz jerkitude crushes her, and then Season 4 Tara stuff is so fraught with Tara wanting recognition/inclusion in the group before Willow's ready, Oz's return, and a less-than-ideal coming out.

The most frustrating thing about Olivia to me is that there are so few characters of color in Buffy, and they made Olivia a cipher. And I suppose this is as good a place as any to complain that the show is supposed to be set in Southern California, but is extraordinarily white.

It's kind of weird doing these rewatches contemporaneously with Deep Space Nine, because Buffy was good (but not perfect) on feminist issues, and pretty clueless when it came to race, and DS9 had some insightful things to say about race, but had a whole lot of awful unexamined sexism that came into the show.
posted by creepygirl at 11:28 AM on July 30, 2015 [1 favorite]

I thought Britney was supposed to be April, the first robot girl?

Oh, that does sound right. But when that fell apart, weren't they planning to bring her on for the Ashanti demon character instead?

While Joss Whedon creates such vivid characters, he has a strange tendency to sometimes really lose his grip on their characterizations for multiple episodes at a time, so you can feel like you're watching iffy fanfic or something. Most of season 7 felt like that to me. These characters I'd come to know so well just seemed... off. Not themselves. (Although to be fair we may well disagree on when his characters seem off. A lot of fans hated Willow becoming a magic junkie, but to me that was a great arc that grew out of long-simmering flaws in her personality.)

This episode had that feel to me, bigtime. The characters felt off, they didn't fit with the people we knew. I think that's why Xander feels like such a relief when he shows up. He feels like XANDER, the character we've known all along. He's had a humiliating adventure and he's the same old wisecracking, lovable loser. He is totally there for Buffy, like Xander would be, and like Willow and Oz and Giles strangely aren't. Plus Angel and Cordelia are gone, and that feels weird too.

To be fair, I get what they were going for. College is a huge change. Buffy was a big deal, and now she's starting over in a less friendly place and her old friendships are shifting and uncertain. It makes sense, if you're trying to continue the storytelling mode of school symbolizing real life struggles of growing up. And Giles wanting Buffy to be more independent makes sense too. But the execution is way off. It feels like Buffy is just suddenly failing to make connections with the people she's been saving the world with for three seasons. It's a new status quo that just feels depressing.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 7:34 PM on July 30, 2015 [2 favorites]

A lot of fans hated Willow becoming a magic junkie, but to me that was a great arc that grew out of long-simmering flaws in her personality.

I think we were all expecting her to become 'addicted to magic,' just not... literally. It went from 'power corrupts and Willow is becoming uncontrollably powerful' to 'drugs are bad and Willow is a sad junkie' in the course of like a single episode. (Sorry I know this is totally unrelated to this episode)
posted by showbiz_liz at 8:31 PM on July 30, 2015 [3 favorites]

Thanks for pointing out the fat-shaming, ilana. I noticed that too - especially because the purple-sweater-vamp wasn't actually fat. Well, in comparison to the super-skinny Buffy and Willow, yes. But not fat.

I have some half-formed thoughts about S4 as a transitional season, just like uni is a transitional phase of life. But it occurs to me that I really don't remember S7 except for how much I loathed most of it, so I shouldn't base my argument on what the show turns out to be in the end. So yeah, maybe more on that later in S7.

[Willow as magic junkie] If they had kept the power corrupts thing without turning it into a lame version of "drugs are bad, mm-kay?" I would have found it a lot more interesting. I think going down that particular clich├ęd path was a mistake and I still do.
posted by Athanassiel at 9:17 PM on July 30, 2015

I think we can excuse the evil vampire doing some fat shaming, because she's SUPPOSED to be cruel and awful. Buffy making a crack about the vampire being hippy is not great, but I don't think Buffy would ever be mean to a NICE girl with a little junk in the trunk. (And IIRC Sunday was pretty slim, so I don't think it was so much that Buffy thought she was genuinely chunky but that she knew a put-down like that would really bug Sunday. It was catty trash-talk more than genuine fat shaming.)
posted by Ursula Hitler at 10:33 PM on July 30, 2015

If fat-shaming were excused by people being cruel and awful, it would never end. I mean, I know what you're saying - evil characters behaving badly is consistent with them being evil. But if purple-sweater-vamp had been Asian (ha, as if that would happen on a Whedon show) and Sunday had made a comment like "no, it makes your skin look too yellow you slanty-eyed moron", I think we could all agree that it was pretty offensive at a level that just isn't necessary. I mean, we get that Sunday is evil. We get that she's not nice by heaps of the other comments she makes. Equating fat with stupidity and greediness is sufficiently common in the actual world that the comment reads as an attempt to be funny at the expense of fat people, not another example of cruelty, and I'm gonna call it what it is.
posted by Athanassiel at 10:58 PM on July 30, 2015 [1 favorite]

Admittedly I would have been more shocked if Sunday had made a racist remark... but I don't know, being fat-shame-y seems like such an expected part of the whole catty "mean girl" thing. Mean Girls, for instance, was chock-a-block with fat-shame comments, and I don't think we're supposed to admire that. I don't think we were supposed to think it was cool Sunday said that. Her comments weren't as shocking as racist comments would be, but I think it was supposed to have the same effect of making her seem awful.

I don't know quite what I'm saying! I can say that I generally detest fat shame-y stuff but in this case it didn't offend me because it seemed so in character for what a superficial, nasty character Sunday was. But if other people are offended, I'm not gonna say they're wrong to feel like that.

A quick Googling confirmed that Dav, the fat-shamed vampire, was played by Shannon Hillary. It's weird she's come up, because I don't know her personally but she's very vaguely in my orbit in LA. Living in LA is weird. She's a talented actor who doesn't get enough work. Seeing her with a full vamp-face is weird.

Hmm. That page also says that Dav was portrayed as "always hungry," so maybe the episode had more of a general fat-shame-y vibe than I remembered.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 1:35 AM on July 31, 2015

Yeah, not offended exactly. More disappointed. Really? You had to insert running gags about the fat vampire being fat? Really? Because yes, it was more than Sunday calling her fat, it was when she said, when do we get to eat? And Sunday making another fat joke. It was just poor taste, you know? Not losing sleep or anything, it's just (to quote Giles in a few episodes) tacky.
posted by Athanassiel at 3:20 AM on July 31, 2015

This is one of those times when it would be good if I was participating in the re-watch before I opened my big yap. It could well be that it plays a lot worse in the episode than I recall. It's been a long time!
posted by Ursula Hitler at 5:43 AM on July 31, 2015 [1 favorite]

Perhaps Xander's experience at the strip-club gave him insight into what it feels like to be objectified by those whom you'd rather not be objectified by, which lent him some slight degree of temporary maturity? I dunno...
posted by Navelgazer at 10:05 PM on October 19, 2015

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