4.2 Living Conditions
4.3 The Harsh Light of Day
**Pages 215-219 in Bite Me
And, if you’re watching Angel, those episodes are:
1.1 City Of
1.2 Lonely Hearts
1.3 In the Dark
**As I mentioned last week, I won’t be covering Angel in detail, but my episode guides are much longer for that series, so check out pp 105-112 in Once Bitten
We now enter season 4, that ill-fated middle season (flanked by three on either side of it) that lands at the top of most fans’ “Least Favourite Season” lists. It features Riley (who, for all the newbies who were the Lost fans and followed my blog before, will recognize him as the guy I usually deface in every Buffy pic I post). I don’t hate Riley, but he just annoys the crap out of me. I’ll talk about my reasons why later. For now, you just see him in “The Freshman,” and he’s charming and funny. Yeah.
But I want to follow that statement with this: you will still love season 4. The story arc is... you know what, I’m just not going to address the overall story arc until we get into the meat of it. Then we’ll talk. I don’t want to give you any preconceived notions about it, and I’ll just let you
However, while the overall arc is weak, the individual standalones are brilliant. Season 4 contains many of my favourite episodes of the entire series – “Fear, Itself,” “Pangs,” “Hush,” “A New Man,” “Who Are You?” “New Moon Rising,” and “Restless.” I can easily say it contains more fantastic standalones than any other season of Buffy. So you’re in for a treat. In fact, while season 3 is often touted as the strongest and tightest season of the series, it’s a season where I look forward to the arc, but there aren’t many episodes that actually stand out for me. They all blend together as various chapters of one storyline, rather than being good on their own. It’s hard to say to a newbie, “Ooh, watch this episode of season 3” without having to hand them a ton of backstory. But many of the episodes I just listed above can do exactly that. In fact, I’ve always said if you want to try to convince someone to watch Buffy by showing them a single episode, that episode is “Hush.” Wait til you see it, and you’ll know exactly what I mean.
But now on to this week’s episodes, which offer a rather perfect entry into why the arc of season 4 was a difficult one. “The Freshman” is about new beginnings and how they can be good, but they can also be difficult. If high school was a place where you shone, then the college years can be a cruel wake-up call. Suddenly the popular cheerleader has to deal with eyerolls from the student body who thinks she’s not smart enough to keep up. The star of the football team isn’t even a starter on the college team. But the geeks, the freaks, the outsiders... THIS is where they can start over, reinvent themselves, and find themselves all over again. Two of my friends came out as homosexual in university while remaining entirely in the closet in high school. University is a liberating place.
But that first week? It’s hell. I loved university, but hated frosh week. UGH. In fact, my best friend and I just decided to avoid it (and then paid for that decision for the rest of the year when our fellow students, who had bonded over Jell-O shots and beer-chugging contests, didn’t know who the hell we were and decided we weren’t worth getting to know for the first year... in second year, when we began specializing, everything changed completely). I remember all those pieces of paper being thrust in my face, and companies handing out free samples of their products and coupons and orientation and... gah. That scene at the beginning of Buffy being entirely overwhelmed by everything is brilliant.
And the same goes for the series. We’ve moved away from the familiar high school setting, we’re introducing new characters and scenery, and we’ve lost old ones (I was always a little disappointed that no one asked what happened to Cordelia... who’s now over on Angel in case you didn’t have time to check out the other series). Just as Buffy is feeling disoriented, so did fans for the first little bit, and it was hard to get our heads around no library... no Snyder... no Giles at the centre of everything... no high school on a hellmouth. Joyce has moved some crates into Buffy’s room (because she’s living on campus... like three minutes away). Giles has some British lover and has become a “gentleman of leisure” (British for unemployed). Xander is feeling lost without the gang, and is desperate to feel needed again.
But just as college gets better after you survive frosh week and first year, so does Buffy improve as the series continues and finds its niche without the high school.
I think “The Freshman” is a great episode, very funny and frightening. I loved Sunday (despite that weird thing she does with her hands that gets a little grating) and was so upset when she got dusted off the top. I was really hoping she could be a recurring character. Riley is very funny as well, and the scenes inside the classrooms are pretty much the nightmares of every student. (And for the record, that pop culture professor? EXACTLY like every single scholar at Slayage. Totally.*) (*This is a complete lie.) I’ve had that professor, and while I wasn’t the one singled out, watching someone else get it is almost as terrifying as getting it yourself. I found that first-year profs were often mean, as if they just wanted to weed out the weak ones. I had one in particular who was so imposing in first-year that I avoided any upper-year courses from her. Meanwhile, friends who had had a different first-year prof and took one of my prof’s upper year courses thought she was amazing. Finally, in my final year I had no choice and had to take one... and she was sweet, kind, encouraging, and one of the most amazing profs I’d ever had.
“Living Conditions” is that sophomore episode that each year seems to boast that elaborates on the premiere without really moving us into the main text of the season quite yet. Kathy is a hilarious creation, from ironing her jeans to listening to Cher’s “Do You Believe” on constant repeat (my mom totally did the same thing... it stopped only at Christmas so she could play Kenny and Dolly’s album on constant repeat for two months – til the end of JANUARY – and then back to Cher) to putting up her Celine Dion poster and declaring it “cool.” Watching the scenes between her and Buffy killed me... when this episode first aired, I was still getting over a recent college roommate relationship that was about as friendly. I was in school, she’d already graduated and was working, so whenever I had to cram for an exam or work on a paper on the weekends, she’d have wild, loud parties. When I would give up in frustration and move into the library to work, she’d just go out with friends and not be in the apartment at all. Then I’d come home around midnight after the library had kicked me out and fall into bed, and she’d arrive at 2 a.m. and continue the party with her friends until about 5, whereupon I had to be back up at 6:30 to get to school in time for the exam I was far too exhausted to take.
Yes, Willow, I feel your pain. (I should have figured out that girl was a demon.) “Living Conditions” is fun, but it’s certainly not a very memorable instalment in the Buffy oeuvre.
Similarly, “The Harsh Light of Day,” despite heralding a return of our Spike, is a bit clumsy and covers the same ground that was already covered in “Beauty and the Beasts,” with almost the same parallels being drawn. Harmony is now a vampire (we saw her turned at the end of “Graduation Day, Part 2”... when she ran down the steps you see a vampire grab her and bite her), and a REALLY annoying one at that. Spike is using her for sex while treating her like dirt... definitely not one of his better moments, for sure. The episode ends with the gang coming back together to take him down, and with Buffy once again deciding to help out Angel (and Willow telling Xander just not to make a big deal). But it IS a big deal. Despite my leanings to Angel + Buffy 4-EVA, he always has the capacity to turn evil again, and if he had that ring, chaos would ensue. It’s a little clumsy that we don’t have Giles and Xander actually take this more seriously and talk her out of it, which would be in keeping with the way they acted through much of season 3, but the writers needed a segue to lead fans over to Angel in case they weren’t watching already.
And I’ll just briefly mention Angel while I’m at it... if you’re watching that show in tandem (or if you’re not), there is actually one very brief crossover in “The Freshman,” one of those blink-and-you-miss-it type of things that even some fans watching one show right after the other managed to miss: In “The Freshman,” Buffy stops at home for a bit and the phone rings. She picks it up and says, “Hello? Hello...” and shrugs and hangs it up. In “City Of” we see Angel actually make the phone call, you hear Buffy say, “Hello? Hello...” and he just sits there, unable to speak, and just listens to her confused voice. “The Harsh Light of Day” concludes over on Angel on “In the Dark,” and that episode is totally worth seeing just for the opening scene before the credits, with Spike watching Angel take down some guys in the alleyway and narrating the scene while watching. It’s one of the funniest moments in the Jossverse.
• The whole opening scene of “The Freshman” with Buffy and Willow chatting in the cemetery, from the part of the conversation that makes me chuckle given the number of pop culture professors we have on the Rewatch:
Willow: Wait! ‘Images of Pop Culture.’ This is good. They watch movies, TV shows, even commercials.
Buffy: For credit?
Willow: Heh. Isn’t college cool?
To Buffy saying she has to stay sharp while a vampire is walking up behind her as she’s yammering.
• Willow on the first day of school: “I’ve heard about five different issues and I’m angry about each one of them!”
• Willow’s wording when she talks about spurty knowledge.
• I think the Klimt versus Monet poster contest is one of the funniest thing of the entire season. Every year at both universities I attended there was this company that came to sell posters to the kids in the dorms, and the Klimt and Monet ones were the two biggest sellers. (For the record, I bought posters from them too: one was John Cleese doing the Ministry of Funny Walks, and the other was Edward Gorey’s “Gashlycrumb Tinies” alphabet.)
• Buffy: I think someone had just a little too much free time on their hands.
Giles: I’m not supposed to have a private life?
Buffy: No! (In a whiny voice.) ‘Cause you’re very, very old, and it’s gross.
Giles: Well, before I succumb to the ravages of age, why don’t you tell me what brings you here.
• Buffy to Giles: “Remember before you became Hugh Hefner, when you used to be a Watcher?”
• Xander: Buffy, this is all about fear. It’s understandable, but you can’t let it control you. ‘Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to anger.’ No wait, hold on. ‘Fear leads to hate. Hate leads to the dark side.’ Hold on, no, umm, ‘First you get the women, then you get the money, then you...’ okay, can we forget that?
Buffy: Thanks for the Dadaist pep talk, I feel much more abstract now.
• And by the way, that conversation with Xander is one of the many reasons why I love him, and why I keep forgiving him, even when he acts like a dick.
• Xander: You up for a little reconnaissance?
Buffy: You mean where we all sculpt and paint and stuff?
Xander: No, that was the renaissance.
• Kathy: I’m 3000 years old! When are you going to stop treating me like I’m 900?
• “Harmony a vampire? She’ll be dying without a reflection.”
• Xander spurting the juice box when Anya drops her clothes, hahaha!!
• Everything about Anya’s pragmatic come-on to Xander makes me laugh:
Anya : At point the matter is brought to a conclusion with both parties satisfied and able to move on with their separate lives and interests. To sum up, I think it’s a workable plan.
Xander : So, the crux of this plan is -
Anya : Sexual intercourse. I’ve said it like a dozen times.
Xander : Uh, huh. Just working through a little hysterical deafness here.
Anya : I think it’s the secret to getting you out of my mind. Putting you behind me. Behind me figuratively. I’m thinking face to face for the actual event itself.
Xander : Ah, right. It’s just we hardly know each other. I mean I like you. And you have a certain directness that I admire. But sexual interc-- What you’re talking about, well--and I’m actually turning into a woman as I say this--but it’s about expressing something. And accepting consequences.
Anya : Oh, I have condoms. Some are black.
Xander : That’s... that’s very considerate.
Anya : I like you. You’re funny, and you’re nicely shaped. And frankly, it’s ludicrous to have these interlocking bodies and not... interlock. Please remove your clothing now.
Xander : And the amazing thing... still more romantic than Faith.
Did You Notice?
• I just want to say up front that Willow’s best hair is season 4 hair. LOVE IT. Perfect colour, perfect cut.
• I’ve never bought that a tiny “one-Starbucks” town like Sunnydale would have a university that massive.
• Anya’s way of talking is very specific, and Joss often brought writer Jane Espenson in to perfect her language. She had a way of rewriting the scenes to make her words very basic and reflect the simplicity and matter-of-factness (and childish way of looking at things) in the way Anya would speak.
4.4 Fear, Itself
4.5 Beer Bad
4.6 Wild at Heart
**Janet Halfyard joins me for a lengthier discussion on the music of these three episodes, and I will also be treating you guys to an academic battle royale as two teams face off to discuss one of the most polarizing episodes in the Buffyverse.
If you’re watching Angel, keep up with episodes
1.4 I Fall to Pieces
1.5 Rm w/ a Vu
1.6 Sense and Sensitivity (pp. 112-117 of Once Bitten)