Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 7, Episode 1: Lessons
Written by Joss Whedon; Directed by David Solomon (England sequences directed by Joss Whedon)
It’s always difficult to know precisely what went on behind closed doors during the break between Seasons 6 and 7, but it seems fairly safe to say that there would have been some heated discussions to say the least. What is known is that Joss Whedon and his writers were more than a little put out to discover that, as it happens, people don’t generally like being depressed and seeing characters they’ve grown to love pushed into the mud and trampled on. Whedon likes to say that he “gives people what they need, not what they want”, but it’s pretty clear that, in more than a few areas, he realised he was going to have to listen to the fans.
And it wasn’t just the fans. James Marsters threatened to quit because he was sick of having to stand around in a jock-strap for hours on end all day. Sarah Michelle Gellar went to Whedon and told him she was sick of playing a manic depressive and wanted a return to the light-hearted fun and fancy free of the first three seasons. Emma Caulfield said that, no matter what happened, she’d be gone after the season ended. Amber Benson was busy becoming a martyr for a sizeable portion of the audience. Michelle Trachtenberg wanted to wear high heels. Oh, and there was the slight problem of the advertisers saying they’d pull out if the Doublemeat Palace ever reared its ugly head again.
So, prior to the new season starting, a whole lot of grand promises were made. Season 7 would be more light-hearted and fun (a natural progression, Whedon claimed, to the doom and gloom of Season 6 - although frankly I have my doubts), heading back to high school and dealing more with monster of the week cases. Giles would appear in more episodes and be put to better use. Buffy would stop being depressed. Amber Benson, Eliza Dushku and a bunch of others would be back. Oh, and the “magic as drugs” metaphor would be dumped.
The first episode comes around, and it’s a competent but completely unremarkable season premiere. Basically, it’s a monster of the week episode that introduces the new Sunnydale High and begins to hint at the Big Bad of the season, the First. It also serves as something of a pilot for a “Dawn the Vampire Slayer” spin-off that never came to fruition: by the end of Season 7, there was no way Michelle Trachtenberg was going to agree to ever play Dawn again, and I doubt many people would have objected to this decision. The funny thing, though, is that the development of Dawn is one of the few things I like about this season. Okay, “development” probably isn’t the right word, as she doesn’t really progress in a meaningful way, but she does become considerably less annoying (then again, maybe that’s because she gets considerably less screen time). Anyway, it involves Dawn hooking up with a couple of kids who can only be described as Willow Lite and Xander Lite, although some people have nicknamed them the Scrappies (to the original gang’s Scoobies). They never appear again, and Dawn the Vampire Slayer is pretty much buried in the episode Potential, but it does show that, mindful of the fact that this could well be their last season, Whedon and co were busy executing various contingency plans so they’d have something to fall back on. Of course, none of them ever panned out, but that’s another story.
What bugs me about this episode is the inability to address any of the events that took place during the previous season. Yes, it’s good that the episode is largely upbeat, but the fact that everyone seems to have had a memory wipe does not bode well. Tara is never mentioned - actually, it takes till the seventh episode for her name to be spoken, for the first of something like three occasions in the whole season - and Willow’s murder spree has been conveniently forgotten. Actually, Buffy, Xander and Dawn never even mention Willow in this episode (she’s off in England with Giles, learning how to not kill people, as Anya puts it in a later episode). I’m sorry, but for people who went to Hell and back the previous year, everyone’s just too cheerful. If the writers went through the five stages of acceptance regarding Tara’s death, this would have to be Denial - ignore the angry lesbians and maybe they’ll go away. (Trouble is, judging by the drop in viewing figures, that’s exactly what they did.)
The final scene, which features the dead Big Bads of every previous season, is definitely the highlight of the episode. It’s too bad only a handful of them ever ended up showing up for subsequent episodes - yet another example of the unfulfilled potential of the season.
Overall rating: 6/10.
Next time: Beneath You.