Janes (a True Stan) and Nerdy Spice (a New Fan) are watching all of Buffy together and comparing notes.
Season 4, Episode 7 “The Initiative”
OK, so Spike has been kidnapped by some kind of Stranger Things-esque evil experiment group, which has trapped him in a solitary cell and starved him. His next-door neighbor tells him it’s all Buffy’s fault, which solidifies Spike’s intent to kill Buffy. He escapes, and also stops by his old place and runs into Harmony, but leaves after they have sex so he can go after the Slayer, causing Harmony to pitch a fit and burn all his stuff. Meanwhile, poor Spike discovers something alarming: he can’t bite people. He catches Willow alone in the room she shares with Buffy, throws her on the bed to, um, suck her blood, and then… can’t. He’s impotent! (The innuendoes being drawn here are, to put it mildly, not subtle.)
Meanwhile, Buffy is trying to catch the commandoes who kidnapped Spike, before she knows about the escape. This involves Giles drawing a police sketch of a man in a commando outfit, complete with face mask. Unclear why that’s necessary. What she doesn’t realize is that Riley is one of the commando guys. Awkwardly, Riley, not knowing she’s the Slayer, has finally realized that he has a crush on her and is ineptly pursuing her for a date (with the help of Willow, who’s still mourning a departed Oz). They run into each other while she’s trying to find the commandoes and he’s trying to find the escaped “hostile,” aka Spike. But when they hear screams, they both run off on their separate missions and don’t figure out each other’s secret identities.
Finally, Willow, who has somehow been sucked into doing the bizarre emotional labor of comforting Spike when he’s disconsolate that he couldn’t kill her by sucking her blood, escapes–only to be caught in the crossfire as the commandoes arrive to re-kidnap Spike. Buffy shows up too and goes postal on Riley and his buddies when they try to restrain Willow. While she fights the commandoes, Spike manages to escape. And neither she nor Riley recognize each other, leaving them free to awkwardly flirt the next day.
Notes from a New Fan:
- I find it unrealistic that Buffy is being all clumsy and nervous in the cafeteria–that seems like something that would happen to Willow.
- Cool that they have one speaking Black character who’s just there to perve on women and call them “hotties.” [ETA: Okay, I guess there was a method to his madness and he was just trying to get Riley to admit he liked Buffy or something? But you gotta admit the optics there were not good.]
- James Marsters is in the credits now!! Hooray!!!
- I just can’t express how funny I find it that Giles is pretending to be some kind of police sketch artist, and that he’s doing this with Buffy’s description of a baddie that literally is just a human in a face mask. So there’s… nothing to sketch, but he’s got this giant pad and is carefully perfecting his likeness of the guys who kidnapped Spike, because somehow a detailed drawing of A Guy In A Face Mask is going to help them catch their perp? Just absurd.
- What? What is this music that plays when Riley realizes he likes Buffy? Were we supposed to be waiting in anticipation for this beautiful moment where he punches Parker and figures out his feelings? Because I wasn’t…
- Riley said “courting”? Oh man. He’s the worst.
- It’s cute that Willow cares enough about Buffy to get out of her funk and help Riley, though.
- Oh I’m genuinely surprised! I did not know Riley was a “special agent” demon hunter. This is an actual twist! [It’s difficult to see it coming, since he’s so aggressively uninteresting! –Janes]
- Omg wow this Spike-Willow scene makes the vampire-bite-as-sexual-penetration thing very clear. Or, as they say on Dawson’s, the subtext is becoming text.
Notes from a True Stan:
- In one conversation, Forest says, “The party will be lame if we lack for hotties,” that Riley has “established first contact” with Buffy, and calls Buffy “mattressable, n’est pas?” What?? Who talks like that?
- Heh, I like that he thinks that Buffy’s name is a euphemism for hotness, though. “That girl’s so hot, she’s Buffy.”
- Oh, good, Riley’s already judging Buffy for her romantic history. This relationship is off to a great start.
- Spike speculates about who’s keeping him hostage: “Government? Nazis? Major cosmetics company?” Hee! I would have loved if it was a major cosmetics company and this season went full-on anticapitalist.
- Oz’s first name is “Daniel”?? I always forget that.
- There’s no way these frat boys would be perceptive enough to not only realize that Riley liked Buffy, but also gently tease it out of him. What’s the point, even? Why not just say, “Hey, Riley, you talk about this girl all the time because you like her?” So silly. [Yeah, and like… what kind of friend is like “I know, I’ll get him to realize his feelings by saying crude, sexist things about the girl he likes”? Huh?! –Nerdy Spice]
- I do like that they juxtapose Riley’s denial that he likes Buffy with Spike, who insists that he hates Buffy but won’t stop obsessing about her. They must have known by this point that Spike would be a love interest.
- Ew, why does Riley use the word “courted”? He’s from Iowa, not the 19th century.
- Wow, these college partygoers are really into their middle school dance moves.
- Hee, I always laugh when Riley raises a cheese cube and says, hopefully, “Cheese?”
- Xander and Harmony’s slow-mo slapfight is also pretty funny. Although, wouldn’t Harmony be a little stronger than this?
- Wait, Spike knows how to hack into the college’s room assignments? He’s 126! How does he even know how to use a computer?
- Um, Buffy, please don’t pull out a stake before you see who it is. Remember what happened to Faith!
- Ew, why does Riley try to manhandle Buffy back to her room? He is teutonic! [To be fair, he thinks she’s a regular civilian and he is in fact some kind of highly trained army dude… although I see why she would take offense since she doesn’t know that. Also I don’t know why I bothered defending Riley, he’s too boring to be defensible. –Nerdy Spice]
- Why did Riley have to tell his goons to “hold their fire”? They knew there was a human in there!
- And then in the end, Buffy apologizes for being “rude”? The man was trying to physically drag you from a bench! Riley is the worst.
Season 4, Episode 8 “Pangs”
Ah, the “Native American spirits try to kill everyone on Thanksgiving” episode. Spoiler alert: this will not age well.
UC Sunnydale is unveiling a new cultural center with Native American artifacts in honor of Thanksgiving. A white lady from the Anthro department gets up and waxes poetic about the “blending of two cultures,” and Willow rightly points out that Thanksgiving is not so much about the “blending of two cultures” as “one culture wiping out another.” You tell ‘em, Willow. Xander, who’s helping with the construction, falls through the ground into a long-lost mission (just how many long-lost missions are buried underneath Sunnydale??), which awakens a Native American spirit. That night, the spirit takes the form of a Native American man, who finds the white lady, slits her throat, and cuts off her ear.
Meanwhile, Buffy is sad that she’s not spending Thanksgiving with family (supposedly because Joyce is “at Aunt Darlene’s,” but like, why isn’t Buffy at Aunt Darlene’s?), so she convinces Willow to put her silly idealism aside and help her throw a Friendsgiving with Xander and Giles. She’s obsessed with making everything perfect, even with the Native American spirit enacting vengeance for his people’s genocide, but unfortunately, Xander gets super sick from his time in the mission. As Anya puts it, “I inflicted a lot of putrefying diseases on men in my time as a vengeance demon, and you look like you have all of them.”
Buffy figures out that a local priest may be the next victim, and finds him hanged by the Native American spirit. She gets in a fight with him, and almost kills him, but then he points out that she “slaughtered [his] people,” and she lets him go. Willow does a bunch of research on the Chumash people, who are indigenous to the area, and figures out that the spirit is reenacting all of the atrocities perpetrated against his people. The subsequent conversation is white people nonsense: Willow says we should “give him back his land,” Giles doesn’t really care about his suffering because innocent people are being killed, and Buffy avoids the whole conversation because she “needs to baste.” Xander is all for killing the spirit, because it turns out he has smallpox, malaria, and syphilis. I guess that’s understandable.
Angel returns this episode, in a super annoying subplot that was clearly contrived to force Buffy fans to watch Angel in its first season. Previously on Angel, someone had a vision about Buffy being in danger–although like, when is Buffy not in danger?–so Angel feels the need to return to Sunnydale and not tell her about it. He tells Giles he’s back to keep an eye on her, but he doesn’t want to “distract her” or “get in the way,” so he quite literally keeps an eye on her, as in stalks her and hides behind bushes. Giles points out that is unfair–although he could also add paternalistic, infantilizing, and annoying to that list–and Angel whines about how he “didn’t get the better half of the deal,” because he has to see Buffy and know he can’t be with her. Ugh. Shut up, Angel.
In better news, Spike kind of joins the crew for the first time this episode while he’s fleeing from the Initiative guys. As Spike puts it, “Spike had a little trip to the vet, and now he doesn’t chase the other puppies anymore.” Hee. He scoffs at Buffy and Willow wanting to “talk to him,” and says, “You exterminated his race. What could you possibly say that would make him feel better?” He has a point, although he doesn’t follow it up with “generational, structural racism requires long hard work and potentially a revolution to undo,” but with, “It’s kill or be killed here, take your bloody pick.”
And they do. The spirit raises a whole bunch of other spirits, and the second they start raining down arrows, all that fluffy bunny stuff goes out the window. Even Willow is trying to kill them. (I guess… that is a pretty good commentary on white people? Probably not on purpose.) They successfully kill all of the spirits–which, again, is in the spirit of Thanksgiving, but like, not in a good way? The only saving grace is Spike, who is hilarious all the way through. First the running visual gag of Spike being peppered with arrows, then James Marsters’ delivery of “You made a bear!”, which is one of my favorites in the whole show.
Anyway, at the end, the white people all have a nice Thanksgiving dinner where they congratulate each other, Willow feels all guilty for turning violent, and Xander spills the beans about Angel. Oops. To be continued (on Angel).
Notes from a New Fan:
- Hahahaha, I was so busy ogling Xander’s biceps that I legit did not even realize that was Xander in the gray tank top and construction hat until Anya announced that it was better than his last work uniform. I hate that I like Xander’s biceps.
- Do we know why Buffy is wearing a black cowboy hat? Is this cultural center groundbreaking a themed event? And the culture is “girls at bachelorette parties in New Orleans”? I really like Anya’s patchwork pants though. Very Free People. Or Anthropologie, which is definitely how I accidentally spell “anthropology” whenever I discuss the discipline of the department currently running this event.
- If Xander hasn’t learned not to go exploring in strange caves in Sunnydale, I really don’t feel bad for whatever happens to him, no matter how “rippling” he is.
- Oh man, Angel’s back! Just when we were starting to have some fun.
- Ugh, speaking of the patriarchy! Giles has Angel lurking in his house spying on Buffy? Gross.
- And now Angel is asking Willow about Riley? Ugh. Shut up, Angel. I know that they all call out that this is creepy and patronizing, but … it doesn’t change the fact that it’s creepy and patronizing.
- Harmony’s been doing a lot of reading and now she knows she’s powerful and beautiful! Sounds a little like she got ahold of a copy of Be Your Own Windkeeper.
- Ominous through-the-window shot of someone spying on Buffy and Willow and Giles as they talk about the Chumash people. Tough to predict whether it will be the monster of the week or Angel, as both are likely to behave in similarly creepy ways.
- Willow and Buffy think that they should stop the vengeful spirit by bringing the atrocities against his people into the light. Giles, ignoring the fact that Willow and Buffy JUST SAID the cultural center glossed over the genocide of the Chumash people: “Well, if it’s in all the history books, I think they already are.” OK, boomer.
- Love watching Buffy throw Spike to the ground. And then he falls again when he tries to get in the house without being invited! People falling down is always funny.
- Willow basically suggests reparations for the Chumash people — giving back their land — and Giles pouts and rolls his eyes about it to no end. Ugh, he’s the worst!
- Buffy cuffs Spike on the head when he claims he can’t remember the useful information until he’s fed. They’re so cute, you guys! Sorry I’m not sorry, I’m a fangirl and this ship hasn’t even happened yet.
- I guess they didn’t have the budget for a translator so this spirit guy is just casting his spells in English? Very authentic. Just as authentic as the spirit guy’s costume, which clearly came off the sales rack at a Ricky’s.
- Buffy tries apologizing and when that doesn’t work, she tries, “You can have casinos now!” I admit, I laughed.
- If Giles is basically the stereotype of a Joe Biden, “I’m not racist but reparations are a step too far,” neo-liberal boomer, Spike is like a Paul Ryan type who’s way too hyped up about Guns, Germs and Steel.
- Anya remarks that Angel is large and glowery with a little eyebrow lift. I think she might want to “copulate,” as she puts it, with Angel.
- I love Spike with all the arrows sticking out of him.
- Wow I thought it was gonna be Anya who spilled the beans about Angel. But no, it’s Xander, resident dummy. I should’ve known.
- I’m disappointed that they all just… killed the vengeful Chumash spirits in the end. That was really sad! I actually thought the episode was going somewhere else!
Notes from a True Stan:
- Ugh, of course the unveiling of the cultural center is called a “friendship ceremony.” Gross.
- Buffy calls the knife an “Indian” artifact?? You’re in college now, Buffy, get woke!
- Angel talks about someone who has family dating back to “mission times.” Is that real? It sounds like another version of the “days of yore.”
- Heh, I love Willow’s gleeful face as she gossips with Angel: “Is Cordelia really working for you?”
- And after all that whining about being a martyr for Buffy’s wellbeing, Angel actually has the nerve to ask Willow, “Who’s that guy?”, referring to Riley. Um, none of your business!! Willow should have said, “Yeah, that’s the guy she’s about to bone because, if you remember, you dumped her.” Ass.
- I do like the recurring joke about everyone thinking he’s evil, though. “I haven’t been evil for a long time!”
- Buffy: “I like my demons like I like my men: evil.” Hee!
- Buffy tells Giles that we don’t say “Indian” anymore, and Giles says he “can’t keep up with the terms.” Okay, Boomer. [Ha! We both dropped an “OK boomer” on Giles in this episode! And he MASSIVELY deserved it. –Nerdy Spice]
- Spike was just straight-up in the sun! If this was season two, he would be burned to a crisp.
- These costumes are like–politician apologies waiting to happen.
- “You can have casinos now!” Oof. This episode is so racist. [I kinda thought this was funny — it was sending up Buffy as a sort of clueless Karen, not actually saying that casinos were adequate reparations. –Nerdy Spice] [True! Although it doesn’t feel totally earned. –Janes]
- On rewatch, Angel coming to Sunnydale makes even less sense. Why doesn’t he come for any of the Big Bads? Why did his dumb friend have a vision for a random monster-of-the-week? He barely even helped!
Season 4, Episode 9 “Something Blue”
So, in between this episode and the previous one, I also watched the Angel episode “I Will Remember You,” where Buffy goes to LA to yell at Angel for not telling her he had “visited,” aka stalked, her in “Pangs.” Then Angel gets turned mortal by a demon, after which he and Buffy enact their usual dance of kissing violently, declaring their eternal love for each other while also coming up with contrived reasons why they Must Not Be Together, then fall into bed and decide no, they are definitely soulmates and will be together forever. Only problem? More demons are coming, and some Oracles tell Angel that Buffy’s going to die, so he exchanges his new humanity for Buffy’s life. (Dawson’s-like, the Oracles praise him to the heavens for this selfless act, because he’s The Hero. Although to be fair, his “selfless” act makes him live forever, so… not that selfless.) While he has a teary good-bye with Buffy, the Oracles erase the last 24 hours so no one remembers it but Angel, and Buffy goes on with her life never knowing what happened.
Anyway. The point is, Buffy’s back and she has no idea that all this happened. And she’s getting ready for her first date with Riley, who wants to have a picnic–in daylight! Buffy’s not sure that a safe, sane relationship is really gonna satisfy her. Whatever will she do if she can’t break up with Angel twenty-four hours after declaring them soulmates every other week?
Speaking of men who are a little more exciting than Riley, Buffy and Giles have Spike chained to a bathtub in Giles’ place and are feeding him blood a little at a time in exchange for his memories of his kidnappers. He and Buffy bicker constantly, and it’s totally adorable. At one point Buffy taunts him for being unable to bite by exposing her neck and sexily describes her neck as “bare and exposed,” like, get a room, you two! Although the ever-oblivious Giles just thinks they hate each other.
But all in all, Spike’s not being very helpful, so Willow thinks a truth spell might help get more information. Unfortunately, she’s a little off her game right now because her heart is completely broken over Oz. She gets drunk and then does the spell in the middle of the night, and kinda messes it up. At first she thinks it didn’t work at all, but as it turns out, she has the power to make things true when she says them, so whenever she uses a metaphor it turns into reality. She calls Giles blind so he starts going blind. (She also briefly turns Rat Amy back into a human, but unfortunately, Willow doesn’t notice and accidentally undoes it in the next sentence.)
Unfortunately, this allows Spike to escape from Giles, and Buffy ditches a mopey Willow right in the middle of a conversation about Oz. Willow is a little resentful that everyone is acting sympathetic to her pain but doesn’t really have time to help her mope. (Fair, since everyone has dropped everything to take care of Buffy during all thirty-seven of her Angel breakups, and poor Willow is mourning Oz all alone!) So when Xander, who’s actually trying to comfort her, remarks that Buffy had to get Spike, Willow resentfully says they should just get married. Immediately, Spike and Buffy, who were mid-fight, begin smooching and planning their wedding while a horrified Giles looks on.
Meanwhile, as Xander continues to try to comfort Willow, she just gets pissed off and calls him a demon magnet, which causes every demon in the vicinity to start chasing him. He and Anya, who were trying to have a makeout sesh in his basement, have to run for it. They make it to Giles’s place and, while trying to keep all the demons out, Xander finally figures out what’s going on with Willow. As for Willow, the same demon, Ta’Hoffren, who made Anya a revenge demon has pulled her into his portal and offered to “elevate” her. Willow declines, and he takes it very politely for a demon, merely offering her his talisman in case she changes his mind.
Willow is returned to this dimension, where Xander, Spike and Buffy are fighting demons while Anya tries unsuccessfully to summon Ta’Hoffren. She undoes her own spell, right as Buffy and Spike are kissing, causing them both to act very grossed out. (Oh, just you wait, you two.) Everything goes back to normal, and Buffy convinces Riley, who ran into her at the height of her wedding planning with Spike, that she was just kidding about being engaged to an old guy.
Well, Riley remains dull yet annoying, and the whole “what Willow says comes true” thing only sorta made sense, but damn, this was such a fun episode. Not just because I’m a Spike/Buffy fangirl, but, OK, mainly because I am a Spike/Buffy fangirl.
Notes from a New Fan:
- Wait, a lesbian alliance dance! Does this mean it’s the beginning of Willow’s next phase?! [ETA: I guess not, no sign of this dance having anything to do with Willow]
- Why is Willow patrolling with Buffy while wearing a blanket wrapped tightly around her shoulders, basically the world’s most restrictive poncho? I get that Buffy has the fighting part pretty much under control, but it doesn’t seem safe for Willow to reduce her mobility like that!
- Oh my God, look at Buffy leaning in and using her sexy voice on Spike. These two! I love how she JUST went to go see the love of her life in LA, she gets back and clearly has him on the brain the whole time she’s talking with Riley, and then as soon as she’s got Spike in a bathtub it’s all, “Hey Spike, bite my neck.” Angel’s suddenly forgotten. Hee.
- Riley is so boring. His hobby is DRIVING?! That’s not a hobby. That’s like if someone said their hobby was… taking showers. Or, like, washing dishes. Sure, some people get pleasure out of those things (maybe the first more than the second), but it’s not a HOBBY. It’s just a thing you do to enable you to do your actual hobbies, such as cooking, or showing up to D&D games and not smelling so bad that you get kicked out, or in the case of driving, getting to the place where you do an actual interesting hobby.
- I know we’re supposed to think that Sad Willow kills the conversation by showing up and third-wheeling on Buffy and Riley’s picnic, but honestly, what’s worse: staring at brown apples in silence, or listening to your date wax rhapsodic about DRIVING?!
- No, I am never going to let this go, thank you for asking.
- Of course Riley’s mad that Buffy is getting married! They had plans! To DRIVE AROUND! (Still not over it.)
- I laughed so hard when Buffy, after casually revealing to Riley that she was getting married, said that Spike was “totally old. Well, not as old as my last boyfriend.” Hee.
- Ugh, of course as soon as someone mentions Buffy’s time as a cavewoman, Xander makes a creepy remark about her wearing a fuzzy bikini. Does he think that the cavewoman-themed pornos he watches alone in his sad little basement room are historically accurate depictions? Does he realize his girlfriend is RIGHT THERE? Xander is the worst.
- Xander got to participate in the fight this time! Progress for him.
- I’m confused, do vampires have taste buds? In the Angel episode I just watched, Angel acts like he’s never heard of chocolate till he becomes mortal. But Spike is a vampire who wants a cookie? So confused.
Notes from a True Stan:
- Buffy tells Willow she thinks there’s something “missing” when it comes to Riley, and Willow assumes she means that Riley “isn’t making [her] miserable.” But she might have meant a lot of things! Chemistry? Interesting conversation? A lack of mind-numbing boredom? There’s a lot of middle ground between crying every day and–Riley.
- Is this the first mention of Spike’s love for Passions and other daytime soaps??
- Willow has one beer and she’s “drowning her sorrows”? Her friends are so judgey!
- That being said, “So I said to myself: ‘Self,’ I said…” is a pretty funny drunkism.
- Aw, poor Amy! I feel like if she were a principal character, they would have spent more time trying to make her not-a-rat.
- I get that Willow is grieving, and the complaint that people don’t like to deal with others’ grief when it’s “inconvenient” is very real. But her behavior is ridiculous! Of course Buffy will drop everything to hang out and comfort her–except for that whole life-and-death job she’s saddled with. Plus her comments about “making Oz stay with [her]” with magic are so disturbing. The show does such a good job of foreshadowing her turn to the dark side.
- This has always bugged me: does Spike’s chip kick in when he actually hurts someone, or when he tries to hurt someone? We’ve seen it both ways, and if it’s the former, then he really can still hurt people, and they should still kill him!
- It can’t be a coincidence that the writers did this whole marriage bit in an episode when Buffy and Spike were already being super flirty, right? They must have known.
- Aw, I love how moved Giles is that Buffy wants him to give her away!
- “How? What? How?” “Three excellent questions.” Hee!!
- This may be one of the funniest episodes of the whole show. Season four is great!