Long on mystery and foreshadowing, short on satisfying answers, this episode does a brilliant job setting up the entire season ending a six-year-long streak of Buffy season openers that paled in comparison to the better parts of the season.
Yes, it's our old friend Wikipedia saving us from more needless writing with this article.
Several plot threads are going on at once, and I am going to try to remember what it was like to watch the episode without foreknowledge of what is to come as well as placing the episode in its artistic context (since I believe that part of the requirement for telling a great story is to hook the readers/viewers in the here and now, not just impress them with your work after they've seen it all laid out.
- Willow's New Magic
- What I Thought Then: Right away, it's apparent that Willow is in the ideal place mentally to truly recover from her addiction to black arts. One of the first things they show her doing is growing a flower out of the earth. That can only be a good sign - Willow harnessing the forces of natural life, rather than of power. Her fear of her abilities is also perfect...she'll be more afraid of those powers than of her image as a socially awkward geek.
- What We Know Now: Indeed, Willow's use of the forces of natural life will continue to be a theme throughout the 7th season and indeed, her vulnerability to dark magics will weaken even when the First Evil tries to flow through her. In fact, I think the writers do a great job earning Willow's redemption and this episode is a great start at it.
- Buffy and Dawn at Sunnydale High
- What I Thought Then: Principal Wood is an intriguing character - certainly seems nice, but he's hiding something big and he knows way too much about Buffy. What kind of High School has such an advanced network of tunnels and underground rooms? Seriously, I want to know. :) The plot is a run-of-the-mill trouble on the Hellmouth plot, but the mystery of the talisman is unresolved, leaving room for a ton of speculation.
- What We Know Now: The source of the talisman seems never to have been revealed, so that mystery is now rather unfulfilled. We know that Wood turns out to be a powerful ally, albeit one with an ax to grind (preferably in Spike's skull), and we know they let that mystery linger for quite a while before they solved it. That knowledge does take some of the enjoyment out of all of the innuendo thrown around in these early episodes.
- Spike's Return
- What I Thought Then: Spike with a soul is crazier than a clown on meth and seems, somehow, more dangerous, There's something else going on that they're setting us up to find out later.
- What I Know Now: Indeed, Spike is being controlled by the First...and by his own guilt. The First wants to use him as a weapon to get to the Slayer, and ultimately fails only because Spike loves her enough to find clarity at the right moments. The way that love is expressed is selfless and beautiful to watch in later episodes.
- Rise of Hell
- What I Thought Then: I loved the sequential run through the various villains in the tag scene - that was a brilliant way to drop the news on us about the return of The First and really impress upon us that the threat we're facing is bigger than all of those other seemingly unstoppable bad guys combined...in fact it IS all of those other threats combined! That is a very potent concept to power a series finale.
- What I Know Now: The many ways the writers will eventually choose to manifest the First and his minions will have variable levels of emotional effect, but all in all, this season will blow away any other in terms of atmosphere and suspense. It's up to the fans to decide whether they like how it all ends, but this blogger feels compelled to warn you that he rather enjoyed the entire season (almost without exception) and wishes that they swung for the fences like this on Buffy more often.
On the whole...this is a solid start to a great season. Looking forward to covering it all.
Well above average for a season-launching script and far better than the starts to any other season (allowing that Buffy vs. Dracula was very good, thought it had nothign to do with the episodes that followed it in 5th season).
Good presentation all around, though I thought that some of the bit players inside the ball that is The First were a little off their games and actually, Marsters' impression of craziness didn't seem up to his usually high standards either, though it wasn't bad by any means. I think the high point for me was the look on Dawn's face when Buffy caused that big scene in the middle of class introductions.
All we need here is the message that this is going to be a hard-hitting season full of danger and psychological drama. That'll do for us.