The Freshman
Written and Directed by: Joss Whedon
Air Date: Oct. 5, 1999

Buffy goes to college! And experiences all of the junk that goes along with that. See, after having finished high school (off!), Buffy and friends went for some much needed R&R before heading to college (you can read about that adventure and its possibly canon status here). During that time, everything changed between these people: Willow is now comfortable in her relationship with Oz, Xander is off exploring the world, Giles has no need to play mentor, and even Cordelia is simply gone. Of course, Angel, too, is missing from the Slayer’s life, but that’s not what is really bothering her. No, the thing that keeps Ms. Summers in a stink all episode is the fact that the normalcy of high school life is gone, replaced with an alien concept: independence.

And that’s what this episode really hits you over the head with, the idea of college being a totally different beast (pun intended) than high school. We all faced it, leaving high school and going to college. Its a bigger, scarier world once we leave the confines of our happy little lives, and for some (like Willow) its a chance to finally fit in and shine. For others, and Buffy, its a harsh reminder that the world doesn’t, has never, and will never revolve around you. While this plays off pretty nicely in the season four opener, most of the time it feels like the message drags on and on, rather than playing itself out in a natural format. This is surprising, seeing as how Whedon himself wrote the script he in turn directs. Usually this stuff is a bit more subtle. Oh well, the abrasiveness of it all doesn’t detract much from the episode’s otherwise shining qualities.

like this doof.

There are some stellar moments found in this one. Chief amongst them being Willow’s new hair style. Its short and sassy, and reminds us that Ms. Rosenberg is growing up and becoming a sexy lady, vastly different than the one we saw in the first seasons of the show. I’m, of course, kidding about this being the biggest thing the episode does right. What it lacks in subtlety as far as the main message of the episode is concerned, it more than makes up for in introducing subtle hints at what is to come. Riley, pictured above, is a big doof, but a main player for a few seasons. We get to meet him and his future mother figure Maggie Walsh, we get introduced in a sinister and last-second way to the Initiative, and we get the idea that Giles and his role have changed dramatically. These things play themselves out in the near future.

SMG gets to play emotion very well in her eyes, as always. Here, she gets the exuberance of engaging in college like activities for the first time, the sorrow of finding out things aren’t going her way immediately, and her looks of pain while she’s getting her ass kicked and is – in turn – confused about why she got her ass kicked. But the best moment of the whole episode is when she thinks she spots Angel at the Bronze midway through the episode. Boreanaz actually flimed that sequence, up until the dude turns his head and its clearly not our beloved fat-headed vampire-with-a-soul. Its an excellent double-take moment that made me go back and check again. Its things like that that remind me of why I love this show in the first place.

this mook.

The “big bad” for this episode is a chick named Sunday which, according to the internet, was supposed to have been a former Slayer turned vampire. I’m glad they didn’t go this route, or – if they had – I hope they had planned on having her around for a few episodes. Here, thoughs, she’s well utilized. At least, insofar as the main reason she’s here is concerned. She’s just supposed to be the person that Buffy loses to, the person that beats down on her and is the one person that she can beat back. And after her arm gets fucked up and her shit gets stomped, Buffy does just that. Its a nice moment when everyone busts in and tries to help, but its all about Buffy, here. She pulls it together, she fucks up a vampire den, and she gets to save the day. Its her calling.

With everyone back and the mission reestablished, Buffy and pals are ready for college, more adventures, and more comedy. Even if its with total doofs like Riley.

Episode Rating: 90

Additional Notes:
-That vampire at the start of the episode decides not to fight Buffy
. Wise, kinda. But also he probably could have taken her at that point
-Once Giles goes black…
-Angel calls, but she doesn’t know. We won’t know until we see his show
-Xander is back, and he’s immediately “seeing and knowing” guy. His attempt at cheering Buffy up is great
-Oz/Xander – “Do we hug?” “I think we’re too manly”
-Buffy’s roommate is awesome and her reaction to the Celine poster is priceless