It's become pretty routine for genre shows to feature melodramatic proclamations that deep badness is right around the corner. Hell, Buffy does it every season. But there's undeniably something different about the warnings seen here. Maybe it's the fact that we all know this is the show's last run and that suddenly all bets are off, but it's more likely that it's the globe-trotting spectacle that is Joss Whedon's premiere script that cements the tension. Lessons is unusual in that it's so reminiscent of vintage Buffy while at the same time successful at pushing the show forward, lending it a lightness and momentum that feels so welcome after a year of punishing angst.
A lot happens here, but it's probably best to start with the aforementioned badness on the horizon. The episode opens with an interesting epilogue in Istanbul, with a kick-ass young woman hunted down and murdered by a pack of robed killers. It's a scene never followed up on during the next forty minutes, but immediately thrusts you into what is clearly a season with its own agenda. Soon after, Willow experiences a magical vision of sorts in which she glimpses the hell beneath her, telling Giles that she has seen 'the earth's teeth'. Halfrek warns Anya that something terrible is coming, and that it's a 'bad time to be a good guy'. Then there's that completely badass final scene, in which Spike is haunted by a creature that morphs into every one of Buffy's big bads, all of them remarking in their trademark style that Sunnydale is headed for a big finish, darkness coming together in the form of something unlike anything or anyone glimpsed before. This is a fresh Buffy with scope and fire, and ridiculously engaging.
Back in normality, Sunnydale High has re-opened, bringing with it a visual pop of color that seems to bring out the best in each character. Buffy is adorable again, determined to teach Dawn how to be strong and resourceful as a young fighter, while simultaneously going out of her way to protect her from the horror she instinctively knows is lurking within the freshly-built hallways of her old school. She sticks around far longer than any normal adult would, catching the eye of the shifty Principal Wood in the process, who offers her a job as student counselor. It's an interesting new direction for Buffy, saving her from the depressive car crash that was her brief career in fast food, as well as linking her closer to the high school -- which we can (for now, anyway) only assume will be the base of operations this year.
Elsewhere, Willow's season six trauma hasn't been extinguished, but she's using magic again and learning how to control her craft with Giles, who rides around on a horse a lot. It's Buffy on location in a different country, and only adds to the scope of this premiere. Dawn, too, has grown up, gaining her own (albeit short-lived) Willow and Xander clones as she starts school, while showcasing her own newfound maturity when she faces off against zombie spirits in the school basement.
Speaking of basements, Spike is lurking around with unwashed hair, driven insane by the recent arrival of his soul. There's a gorgeous sadness to his scenes with Buffy, as we understand what he means when he speaks of trying to 'cut it out', while she thinks he's just babbling crazy-talk.
The monster story isn't totally interesting in terms of ideas, but it's cool seeing Buffy tackle a pretty routine mystery with a talisman and a couple of stalking scenes; while her makeshift bag-of-bricks weapon is plain awesome. Although I'd love to see Xander and his construction firm try and explain why there's suddenly a huge hole in the girls' bathroom. Heh.
However crummy season seven becomes during certain points later on, I've always been of the opinion that it has one of the greatest opening stretches in the show's history. Lessons is one heck of a badass opener, laying down the themes of the years with finesse and passion; all with engaging characters, whip-smart dialogue and 'mom hair'. Buffy's back, kids. A
Guest stars Anthony Stewart Head (Rupert Giles); Alex Breckenridge (Kit Holburn); Kali Rocha (Halfrek); DB Woodside (Principal Robin Wood)
Writer Joss Whedon Director David Solomon