Istanbul: There's a startling teaser sequence set in the Turkish metropolis. Formerly called Constantinople, Istanbul has strong vampire connections. Legend says it's where Vlad the Impaler's head was displayed on a stake: he was dead by then, of course. The 1953 Turkish film Dracula in Istanbul was the first to link historical Vlad with fictional Dracula: it was also the first since 1922's Nosferatu to show the Count with fangs.
D.B. Woodside: The opening ceremony for the new Sunnydale High is the first appearance of Woodside as its principal Robin Wood. His initials stand for David Bryan, and his previous credits include Murder One, Once and Again, CSI: Miami and The Practice.
Westbury, England: For once, the title card is being true to the location - well, almost. For Giles and Willow's scenes, the Buffy crew filmed outside California for the first time. Being in England, poor weather interfered with the shoot - look how muted the colours are in the wet landscape. Westbury is a real town in Wiltshire a few miles from Bath; it's famous for its giant hillside white horse carving. But the scenes, directed by Joss Whedon, were actually shot around Anthony Stewart Head's own Regency-era house on the other side of Bath. Alyson Hannigan won't have been on unfamiliar ground there, as she and husband-to-be Alexis Denisof had visited Head's home in previous years. Oh, and Head is apparently riding his own horse: it's all very Country Life, isn't it?
Back to Schooldays: Tying in with the producers' stated 'back to year one' intentions are a host of continuity references to Buffy's own high school years. Xander reminds us "the last two principals were eaten" (Mr. Flutie in The Pack and Snyder in Graduation Day II). Motherly Buffy also refers to The Pack when she warns freshman Dawn "Stay away from the hyena-people", continuing "... or anyone who eats athletes or invisible people". The latter references are to Go Fish and Out of Mind, Out of Sight.
Dumbledore: Willow marvels that Giles, instead of punishing her after taking her to England, went "all Dumbledore on me". Most Buffy viewers will have recognised this Harry Potter reference - Dumbledore is the Head Master at Hogwarts, the school which Dawn jokingly mentioned in her first proper episode, Real Me.
Got your number: Buffy's gift to Dawn as she starts high school is a secret weapon - a mobile phone (or cellphone if you prefer). Quite why it took so long for these to be common currency in Sunnydale is one of the series' more perplexing little quirks. Perhaps the Hellmouth interferes with reception? At any rate, Buffy, Dawn and Xander are all now connected in a pocket-sized way.
Father figure: Of all the character shifts since the end of season six, the most obvious is Xander. What does a guy do after talking his best friend out of destroying the world? Well, he gets a new suit and car, at any rate, to go with his supervision of the new school's construction. There's also an undercurrent of Buffy and Xander acting as parents to Dawn, giving a glimpse of what might have been if Xander's crush on Buffy in season one hadn't been so unrequited.
Big Bads: The final chilling montage of demonic and divine foes tormenting Spike is a literal regression - 'Back, back to the beginning' says the Master, but he's not the figure appearing last. Preceding him are Warren, Glory, Adam, The Mayor and Drusilla - so it's a season-by-season countdown from six down to one. Then Buffy appears, repeating "It's about power", this episode's first line. Do all these characters have something in common? Hmm... On the acting side, Adam Busch, Clare Kramer, George Hertzberg, Harry Groener, Juliet Landau and Mark Metcalf all returned to the Buffy set to shoot their cameos, but were uncredited at the episode's opening to preserve the element of surprise.
Loose end or plot trend?
Moments when we thought, "Now, where's that leading?"
Warning, may contain Spoilers.