[Review by Mike Marinaro]
[Writer: Joss Whedon | Director: David Solomon | Aired: 09/24/2002]
“It’s about power. Who’s got it. Who knows how to use it.” -Buffy
It’s with this quote — a theme setter — that I dive into reviewing the final season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. In “Checkpoint” [5×12], both the Watcher’s Council and Glory were exerting their respective powers on Buffy. Instead of being controlled by that power, Buffy looked at the other side of the coin. These people needed to threaten Buffy because of the power she possessed. Power is an intruiging concept in that it can be used for great good or great evil. It all boils down to who has it, and what they do with it.
Although “Lessons” reintroduces us to the power theme, it doesn’t dwell on it much. It’s instead more concerned with having a relatively light-weight romp for a change. This turns out to be the episode’s biggest weakness and strength. In sticking to a standard-fare Buffy plot, it sadly lacks the inventiveness or punch to really accomplish much. The entire episode would have been a lot funnier, for example, had there been nothing wrong at the new high school (and the writers continued to play up the suspense like there was). The end of the episode could have still played out the same, too. In the end, though, we just have a standard mediocre Buffy plot about some random annoying dead people. Even so, I still enjoyed the more inconsequential tone of the episode, just due to the striking difference from last season.
This episode had somewhat of a detox effect on me, dispelling all the doom and gloom of last season in one episode. What allows this to happen is seeing most of the characters in a much more mature, settled place. Buffy, in particular, is looking strong and kicking ### again. Thanks to S6’s arc, I actually buy where she’s at in her life right now. It’s incredibly refreshing to see Buffy back to herself, and stronger than ever. The evidence for this, besides simply being written all over her face, is a combination of things. For one, Buffy’s senses appear to be working really well again. She can sense something wrong in the hallways of the new school well before anything happens. I also loved the inventiveness and fun of Buffy’s fight with the dead guys, swinging that handbag around like a pro. The most important factor in guaging Buffy’s happiness, though, is her quip-o-meter which, in “Lessons” is on ‘high.’
It’s interesting to see Buffy still has concern for a clearly messed up Spike, despite their history. When Buffy initially sees him in the basement, Spike tells her “no one comes down her. It’s just the three of us.” I love how much this one little comment could mean. Does he mean “the three of us” are Buffy, the demon inside him, and his new soul? Or does he mean Buffy, himself, and the First? Oh, how delicious Spike’s arc is this season. I’m already salivating at the thought of writing about the final scene of “Beneath You” [7×02].
Principal Wood is a new character that I’m very fond of, mostly due to how D.B. Woodside plays the role. Buffy’s hallway chat with him excellently sets his aura of mystery. Even knowing his story, I still find these early scenes very effective. I think it’s due to a combination of things: how the initial hallway scene was shot (i.e. the swirling camera), Wood’s mysterious dialog, and the natural chemistry SMG has with D.B. Woodside.
Although “Lessons” doesn’t really focus on any one particular character, it does do a decent job at getting us re-acquainted with everyone, which I genuinely appreciate. Xander shows up to Buffy’s place with a new-looking car, all dressed up for a “client meeting.” Boy, Xander’s grown up quite a lot too, hasn’t he? The interaction between him and Buffy is so warm and comfortable it makes me want to wrap it up in a box and keep it in a safe place to pull out whenever I need it. These two, dare I say, feel like a very happy married couple in not only the scene in Buffy’s house, but most of the episode in general. It makes me think that, some day, a relationship between these two might actually really work.
I love seeing Willow with Giles in England, trying to find herself again. What makes me even happier, though, is Whedon’s dialog here about magic having more to do with the connectivity and lifeforce of the earth around us than any kind of addiction. Giles tells her, “This isn’t a hobby or an addiction. It’s inside you now. This magic. You’re responsible for it.” Thank you, Mr. Whedon, for clarifying and admitting the mistake of Willow’s mid-season arc last season that began in “Wrecked” [6×10]. Giles asks her an excellent question: “do you want to be punished?” Willow simply replies, “I want to be Willow.” Aww… Alyson Hannigan is always able to turn me into mush.
On the Dawn front, it’s really nice to see her now going to high school and that she’s been training with Buffy. It’s cool to see the continuity of Buffy beginning to live up to that promise she gave Dawn in “Grave” [6×22]. Dawn is becoming more capable and, with what’s she’s had to witness around her, is wise beyond her age (although still a teenager, of course). Although we get a glimpse of that here (“I know! You never know what’s coming. The stake is not the power. To Serve Man is a cookbook. I love you! Go away!”), we definitely are going to see more of it later in the season. It’s great to simply see Dawn taking control of her surroundings, and taking charge of the unexpected situation she had to face in this episode.
Moving onto Anya, apparently she’s been having trouble being an effective vengeance demon over the summer. This doesn’t come as a surprise to me at all, considering what happened in “Entropy” [6×18]. We, the viewers, know that Anya can’t ever return to being a hardcore vengeance demon again. Thankfully, though, this character thread won’t linger on much longer — the topic is touched on in “Beneath You” [7×02] and then expanded on in the potent and revealing “Selfless” [7×05].
The final scene of the episode is just spectacular. This is the First launching an all-out assault on Spike while he’s in no state to fight back. The First knows he’s a very dangerous force, whether for or against evil. This is why it says that Spike is right where it wants him — useless and hiding in the basement. Having all the villains from the previous seasons morph into each other with the tone-setting music, ending with Buffy herself, was chilling and yet also very much a treat.
It’s really fitting that in a season where we’re going back to, as the First says, “the true beginning,” that we’d see not only all the previous villains make an appearance, but also Sunnydale High School itself, rebuilt on the very grounds it once stood. “Lessons” does a respectable job at rebuilding the foundation of the series by getting us up-to-speed on these lovely characters, while also setting up the initial theme and story threads of the season. It’s a very comfortable and fun episode that only really suffers from having a somewhat unexciting plot. If the characters can have some fun with it, though, I will too. 🙂
Minor Pros/Cons (+/-)
+ Starting the season in Istanbul!? This epitomizes how Buffy has a vastly different tone every season.
+ New season, which means new music! I really loved the music used for the graveyard scene with Buffy and Dawn, along with the fight scene later in the episode and, of course, the final moments of the episode.
+ Buffy saying, “vampires, demons… they’re nothing compared to what’s coming,” then the camera immediately cuts to the re-opening ceremony of the new Sunnydale High School.
+ Giles, on a horse, in England! Huzzah!
+ Awesome introduction, with Buffy teaching Dawn how to protect herself against vampires. Dawn misses the heart, and Buffy admits she did too her first time out (ah, continuity).
+ Principal Wood thinking Dawn was Buffy’s daughter. This causes Buffy to compulsively touch her hair all episode long.
+ I really like Principal Wood. To say he oozes charm is an understatement. It’s good that Buffy’s suspicious of him.
+ Buffy bursting into Dawn’s classroom telling her “it’s not safe!” Wow, Buffy, you’re sure not doing anything to help people think you’re not her mom.
+ Anya and Halfrek making fun of the two lovebird singers at the coffee shop.
+ Ok, the dead guy trying to stab Dawn in the eye was pretty creepy. I’ll give him that.
+ Willow’s portent of doom. She can hear the earth rumbling; she can feel the First making its move.
+ Buffy’s back to school gift to Dawn: a cellphone. 🙂
+ I love the way Buffy sees the hole in the bathroom and then, without giving it a second thought, immediately jumps down into it. That never gets old.
+ Buffy fights her way to the door she thinks Dawn’s in only to find a frazzled Spike. The look on Buffy’s face is perfect: “huh!?”
+ The student telling Buffy, “You… are the coolest mom ever.”
– The dead guy telling Buffy to “get out” in the bathroom was way too cheesy. I think the writers should have banned the words “get out” on this show by now.
– Not really a negative of this episode, but I was sad we didn’t get to see Carlos and Kit again.
* The First says we’re going back to “not the Bang… not the Word… the true beginning.” This very much hints at the nature of the First’s army and its intentions.