Sunday, 13 November 2011
BUFFY: 4.01 ‘THE FRESHMAN’
WRITER: Joss Whedon
DIRECTOR: Joss Whedon
WHAT’S THE SITCH?
Buffy, Willow and Oz have just started college at UC Sunnydale. But while Willow is clearly in her element and Oz is being just as laconic and unfazed as ever, Buffy is feeling lost, overwhelmed and highly intimidated by her new life. Unable to find her way around the huge campus, she gets publicly humiliated by a highly obnoxious lecturer before realising that she also has to share a dorm room with one annoyingly perky neat freak of a girl with a decidedly unhealthy Cher and Celine Dion obsession. As if things weren’t bad enough, Buff soon discovers there’s a gang of vamps on campus, led by the supremely bitchy Sunday (played gloriously by Katharine Towne), who for the past eighteen years have been targeting especially vulnerable freshmen, bullying them, stealing their stuff and then killing them. Thinning the herd of the weak ones as they see it. Feeling lost and out of sorts, Buffy’s first run in with Sunday goes badly, ending with the Slayer battered and bruised and having to beat a hasty retreat. Gleefully sensing weakness, Sunday decides to target Buffy as her next victim for persecution.
WHAT’S THE SITCH BENEATH THE SITCH?
Leaving the relatively safe and known environment of school to either go to university or in to the world of work can be a massive change and culture shock. Some handle it better than others. It can be scary and confusing, often denting confidence. This is exactly what happens to Buffy. She’s left the comforting knowns of school and home life to be thrust in to what is a disorientating and intimidating environment, one to which she feels she doesn’t belong. It doesn’t help that her old support network seems to have crumbled. Willow and Oz are busy with classes and Uni life. Her mom is busy with work having turned Buffy’s bedroom in to storage. Xander is MIA on a see America road trip. And Giles, no longer officially a watcher and unemployed since the school blew up, is busy chilling out and, er, ‘entertaining’ an old friend. All of this leaves out girl feeling lost, miserable and alone, the perfect vulnerable target for nasty Sunday. And speaking of…
WHO’S GIVING US THE WIGGINS THIS WEEK?
Queen bitch vampire Sunday as played to the hilt by the excellent Katharine Towne. Her small band of vamps doesn’t really figure as they are just as bullied and browbeaten as Sunday’s human victims. It’s a shame Sunday gets staked. She would have been a great long-term addition to the show.
WHY IT ROCKS
The script. Joss writes a perfect introductory script for the new season, laying out the new environments, possible relationship shifts, and introducing new characters and mysteries that will carry through the entire year. It also balances perfectly the themes of the story with meaningful character development, plenty of pathos, bone crunching action, and lots of subtle and not so subtle comedy. A lot of Joss’s dialogue is especially wonderful here, encompassing the kind of smart, witty wordplay the show is famous for, along with quirky life observations, pop culture references, and even art and literary quotes and references that would most likely fly way over the heads of most. You just don’t get this kind of thing on TV anywhere else. It really shouldn’t work. But it does.
Theme. The central theme of the story is strong and resonates perfectly. We feel Buffy’s vulnerability, her isolation, her loss of confidence. We’ve all been there.
SMG. She gives a great performance and really sells us on Buffy feeling overwhelmed and lost. She wanders around the big, crowded campus looking so small and fragile. When the obnoxious lecturer cruelly humiliates her you just wanna give her a big ol’ hug. And when she is again humiliated by nasty Sunday it’s almost too much to take. You can’t do this to Buffy! Joss just loves to make her suffer.
Sunday. But as great as SMG is, it is Katharine Towne as evil bitch vamp Sunday who steals the show. Her calm yet vicious putdowns and general sense of power and effortless superiority makes us hate her and love her in equal measure. Watching her beat, abuse and humiliate poor Buffy is pretty harsh stuff. And she does it so well. I’d have loved to see her get together with Spike.
Xander. Xander pops up late in the episode to give Buffy the much-needed pep talk she needs. He spells it out for her, reminding her exactly who she is and what she can do. The entire scene with Xander and Buffy at the Bronze is brilliant. It is very funny and also very tender and touching. Nicky Brendon is so darn good and reminds us that Xander is the beating human heart of the show. His comforting, encouraging and inspiring speech to Buffy is so well delivered that any true fan couldn’t help but feel their eyes start to sting a bit.
Yoda. Xander’s mangled Yoda quote from that summer’s The Phantom Menace is hilarious. It’s better than the movie.
Giles. Man of leisure Giles living like Hugh Hefner. Heh.
Riley. This ep sees first appearance of Marc Blucas as Riley Finn. Sod the haters, I always liked Riley. He was just a nice, decent guy.
The fights. The first fight between Buffy and Sunday is a full on, fast paced, bone crunching smackdown. It looks like it really hurts. The second one is Buffy pretty much doing the rope-a-dope.
Stake. Buffy’s uber-cool stake twirl near episode’s end, showing us she’s got her mojo back.
WHY IT SUCKS
It doesn’t suck. However the only thing that does bug me is the ‘reconnaissance’ gag. Xander asks Buffy if she’s up for a bit of reconnaissance. She looks confused and asks if he means getting arty like they did in Europe years ago? To which Xander replies, “That was the Renaissance.” I’m sorry, but Buffy is not that dumb. I know it’s an ongoing gag in the show that she occasionally gets words muddled, but Buffy knows perfectly well what reconnaissance means. This just makes her appear needlessly dumb. Naughty Joss.
Xander’s moving and heartfelt confidence boost speech to Buffy.
DIALOGUE TO DIE FOR
It’s Joss so there’s tons. But I’ll go with…
Girl Vamp: "Does this sweater make me look fat?"
Sunday: "No. The fact that you're fat makes you look fat. That sweater just makes you look purple."
Giles (to Buffy after she’s seen his ‘friend’ Olivia): "I'm not supposed to have a private life?"
Buffy (looking uncomfortable): "No. Because you're very, very old and it's gross."
Buffy (to Giles): "OK, remember before you became Hugh Hefner, when you used to be a Watcher?"
Buffy: “How do you get to be renowned? I mean, like, do you have to be nowned first?”
Willow: “Yes. First there's the painful nowning process.”
Willow: “It's just in high school, knowledge was pretty much frowned upon; you really had to work to learn anything. But here, the energy, the collective intelligence, it's like this force, this penetrating force, and I can just feel my mind opening up, you know? And letting this place just thrust into and, and spurt knowledge into ... that sentence ended up in a different place than it started out in.”
Buffy: “I'm with you. I'm all for spurty knowledge.”
Eddie: “Of Human Bondage. Have you ever read it?”
Buffy: “Oh, I'm not really into porn. I mean, I'm just trying to cut way back.”
Xander (to a morose Buffy): “And you're sitting here at the Bronze looking like you just got diagnosed with cancer of the puppy.”
Xander: “Buffy, I've gone through some fairly dark times in my life. Faced some scary things, among them the kitchen at the fabulous Ladies Night club. Let me tell ya' something: When it's dark, and I'm all alone, and I'm scared, or freaked out or whatever, I always think, 'What would Buffy do?' You're my hero. Ok, sometimes when it's dark and I'm all alone, I think, 'What is Buffy wearing?’...”
Buffy (to Sunday): “Let me answer that question with a head butt.”
AND ANOTHER THING
Couple of foreshadowing moments: first, Buffy’s humorous line about the price of school books and how she hopes when her mom gets the bill she has “…a funny aneurysm.” With our future knowledge this line is far from funny. Second, Xander’s call out for “Avengers assemble!” in order to bring the Scoobies back together. As we know, in summer 2012, Joss will be calling the real Avengers to assemble! Yay!
The skylight above Sunday’s lair is the same set used in season 1 finale ‘Prophecy Girl’ and in 3.19 ‘Choices’.
When Buffy answers the phone and no one speaks, it's Angel on the other end. He makes the call during the premiere of Angel, 1.1 ‘City of…’
HOW MANY STAKES?
Sunday bloody Sunday. 4 (out of 5)