BuffyWatch: Season 4, Episodes 16-18

Janes (a True Stan) and Nerdy Spice (a New Fan) are watching all of Buffy together and comparing notes. Warning: May contain spoilers for later episodes!

Note to our readers: Like many Buffy fans, we’ve been saddened to see the allegations about Joss Whedon in the last couple of weeks. We addressed our complicated relationship with the series back in 2017, when his ex-wife Kai Cole spoke out against him. We wrote: “Joss doesn’t own Buffy anymore, but even if he did, any problems with its feminism have already been discussed by its fandom (and/or Buffy Studies scholars) at length. Buffyheads have known for a long time that Buffy sprung from a very flawed creator–we just didn’t know how flawed… These allegations are less a revelation, and more a reminder, that Joss Whedon is not the great white male savior, nor does he need to be. Because Buffy has become bigger than its creator, if only because it changed so many lives.”

We stand with all survivors of abuse. We love Buffy, its fandom, and all of you, even if we no longer love Joss. Thank you for reading!

Season 4, Episode 16 “Who Are You?”

Buffy and Faith switched bodies! And Faith is having a grand old time as Buffy: she takes a luxurious bath, admires her new body (so much lesbian subtext!), and pretends to scold people in the mirror, because she thinks that’s how Buffy spends most of her days. “You can’t do that!” she repeats mockingly. “It’s wrong!” LOL.

Faith-as-Buffy plans to use her newfound freedom–and Buffy’s passport–to leave the country before anyone can figure out she’s not actually Buffy. But before that, she decides to kill time by stealing Buffy’s life, just like Buffy always thought she would. She hangs out with Buffy’s mom, and then the Scoobies, and then she pretends that she’s patrolling when she’s really partying at the Bronze. Classic Faith. She mostly treats it all like it’s just a big joke, although there are a few hints here and there that playacting as Buffy is getting to her a little bit. She seems a little shaken when Joyce asks to spend more time together, probably because she didn’t have parental figures herself. (She also tells Joyce to “burn” the lipstick that Faith liked, which seems excessive. Does one burn lipstick?) When Willow starts going on and on about how much she hates Faith, because that’s become her new favorite pastime, Faith-as-Buffy imagines stabbing her, but then just says “I would never let her hurt you.”

While Faith-as-Buffy parties it up at the Bronze, Willow chooses a terrible time to finally introduce Buffy to Tara. Willow and Tara are both adorably nervous about it, and Faith picks up the vibe right away. “Willow’s driving stick now,” Faith says, smirking. “Who would have thought? I guess you never know someone until you’ve gotten inside their skin.” (She would know!) She goes on and on about how much Oz and Willow loved each other and is generally awful, but then gets interrupted by Willow spotting a vampire. Faith slays him and saves a girl’s life, ostensibly just to keep up her Buffy facade, but again seems shaken by the girl’s genuine gratitude. 

After hearing Willow mention Riley, Faith somehow figures out where he lives (how did she do that before smartphones? Did she pretend to forget she was dating him, because honestly that might have been believable), and tries to seduce him. She seems to get perverse pleasure out of the idea of having kinky sex with Buffy’s body specifically–“What do you want to do to this body?” she asks Riley. “Am I a bad girl? Do you want to hurt me?” Again, this is all very homoerotic, in that supernatural way. Riley doesn’t go for it, because he has some sort of moral objection to kinky sex, and for some reason vanilla sex is very moving to Faith. (Yes, I know, it’s because Riley loves Buffy and Faith’s never experienced real love, whatever.) Riley chooses this moment to say “I love you” for the first time, and Faith freaks out. “Who are you?” she asks shakily. “What do you want from her?” 

Tara immediately figures out that Buffy isn’t herself, even though she had never met her before. She tells Willow that Buffy’s energy was “fragmented,” which sounds an awful lot like those New Age-y Wiccas they both hated. To figure out what’s wrong with her, they do a very erotic spell–they chant about “the river in me,” they both breathe and sweat heavily while a gold circle rises above their heads, then Willow falls on her back and gasps for air. As Giles would say, the subtext is rapidly becoming text.

Experiencing life as Buffy, someone who is generally loved and trusted, is really taking its toll on Faith. The next morning, she gets into a tiff with Forrest–whom she’s never met, but immediately reads as a person she should treat with disdain–and when he calls her a killer, she emotionally tells him that she’s not a killer, she’s a Slayer. (Which, if you remember, was essentially what Buffy said to Faith after she killed the deputy mayor.) She goes straight to the airport with Buffy’s passport and gets ready to flee. 

Meanwhile, Buffy is not having fun being Faith. She gets arrested, sedated, and then kidnapped by the Council’s “special operations unit,” meaning torturer/assassins. (Giles makes a big deal about them, like they’re so much more powerful and sinister than the guys who tried to kidnap Faith last time, but they still aren’t smart enough to bring more than three people.) Buffy-as-Faith tries to tell them who she is, but they don’t care whether she’s Faith or not–they’re just “delivering a package.” So she’s on her way to England. Faith-as-Buffy is just tickled to hear about this. 

She takes one of the guys hostage, but then the others refuse to save him, so she lets him go. They get the order from the Council to assassinate her instead of bringing her to England, but by then it’s too late, and she’s already broken free from her restraints. (Why didn’t they just kill her to begin with? Seems like an oversight.) She escapes with their creeper van and drives straight to Giles’ house. Giles is understandably skeptical that Faith is actually Buffy, but she proves it by telling him a bunch of things Faith couldn’t know, like that Ethan Rayne turned him into a demon, or that her mom thought during “Earshot” that Giles was “like a stevedore during sex.” Giles gets on board, and Willow and Tara arrive with a conjured stone that will switch Buffy and Faith’s bodies back.

Right at the same time, Adam’s burgeoning vampire cult (I’m not going to explain this, it’s too boring) takes a bunch of hostages in a church. When she sees the news, Faith has a crisis of conscience and leaves the airport to save them. “You’re not going to kill these people,” she tells the vampires. “Because it’s wrong.” Aw! Full circle! She fights off a few of the vampires, and then just as it starts to go south with one of them, Buffy-as-Faith stakes him from behind (a nice callback to the third-season episode where Faith dusts Trick). They have another amazing knock-down drag-out Slayer fight, which culminates in Faith literally punching her own face over and over, tearfully calling Buffy (but really herself) a “disgusting murderous bitch” and repeating “You’re nothing.” Buffy finally grabs Faith’s hand with the magic stone, and they switch back into their own bodies. Buffy is devastated to find out that Riley slept with her, and Faith hitchhikes out of Sunnydale.

–Janes

Notes from a New Fan:

  • Oh, Mrs. Buffy. She literally just escaped from being held hostage by Faith and now she’s like, I just want Faith to get help! She’s horribly unhappy! What a sweetheart. Or a chump.
  • I really enjoyed the montage of Faith practicing “being” Buffy. Super funny. “You can’t do that. Because it’s wrong. Because it’s naughty.” Love it!
  • Poor Tara. The Scoobs don’t even know she exists! And Willow’s justification is that Buffy is really special? Ouch.
  • It must be SO WEIRD to take a bath with someone else’s body. Unless you’re Faith in which case it’s apparently very enjoyable.
  • I kind of judge Mrs. Buffy for not realizing something was wrong sooner. Although maybe she’ll surprise us by the end of this. (Update: she did not.)
  • Whoa. Faith!Buffy and Spike. This shit is hot.
  • So when Spike is all upset (aka turned on) by Faith!Buffy and he leaves the bar, he shoves someone on his way out. Does that mean that person is secretly a demon, or is it that he’s allowed to shove humans but he can’t, like, bite their necks? I’m very confused by the rules of this microchip.
  • How did Faith find Riley without the Internet?
  • I like that Willow’s first guess was Buffy being possessed by a hyena. It’s very locking the stable door after the horse has been… possessed by a hyena.
  • Wow if you thought the parallels between Willow and Tara’s spells and sex were obvious before, now Willow’s literally throwing herself back on a pillow, panting.
  • “If you are Buffy, you’ll let me tie you up without killing me,” says a nervous Giles. Love it.
  • Ewwwww Giles is like a “stevedore” during sex? I actually don’t know what that is anymore than Buffy does. Nor do I want to.
  • OK apparently it means “a person employed, or a contractor engaged, at a dock to load and unload cargo from ships.” I’m trying to figure out what the metaphor is and it is just grossing me out.
  • Hahaha, Riley is on the scene at the church because he was actually going to church. I love it.
  • I love how Buffy and Faith are each beating their own bodies up when they fight each other. It makes it so interesting to watch. 
  • Wait so just holding hands made Faith and Buffy switch back?! Gee, that was easy.
  • “Man would I like to get my hands on her. Not in a sex way,” Riley clarifies. LOL! Someone’s feeling a little guilty.

Notes from a True Stan:

  • I love how much fun SMG is having in this episode, but I have to say, I don’t really see much of Faith in her performance. She kind of just seems like evil Buffy. Or like, Kathryn from Cruel Intentions. Not complaining!
  • So weird that Faith and Spike have never met. 
  • The “I could squeeze you until you pop like a bottle of champagne” speech is iconic. And also very Kathryn-like.
  • “You didn’t sense a hyena energy, did you?” Willow asks when Tara says Buffy’s been possessed. “Because hyena possession is–not pleasant.” Hee!
  • The scene between Faith and Riley, especially the part where he covers Faith in a sheet and holds her, is actually very sad and sweet. Maybe Riley would have been marginally more interesting if he had dated Faith instead. 
  • I love when Buffy-as-Faith asks, “What’s a stevedore?” because I also did not know what a stevedore was when I watched this. I’m actually not sure I knew what a stevedore was until I did a quarantine binge of The Wire.
  • Faith-as-Buffy asks Riley how he responded to the crisis so quickly, when the Initiative guys aren’t there yet, and he says, “I didn’t, I was just late to church.” Heh. So dull.
  • What a great episode. They managed to fit a well-written, believable redemption arc into just forty-five minutes. (Of course, in the immediate future she goes off to Angel and tortures Wesley, but she’s well on her way.)

Season 4, Episode 17 “Superstar”

Previously on Buffy, a guy named Jonathan was mad that everyone thought he was an idiot and almost committed suicide; Faith and Buffy switched bodies and Riley had sex with Faith!Buffy without realizing it and then dropped the L-bomb; there was a monster named Adam who had decided his purpose in life was to kill.

Buffy’s out patrolling with the questionably useful help of Xander, Anya, and Willow when they find what Buffy aptly terms a “nest”: a bunch of demons feasting on a dead body, complete with slurping noises. Yuck.

They decide to call on a newly glammed-up Jonathan, who swans into the group like he owns the place, and even Buffy sucks up to him, and he’s great at chess, and also at hunting vampires, and it’s very confusing. I’m starting to suspect maybe this is Jonathan’s fantasy? He signs autographs, he gives Buffy love advice, and Buffy actually makes him his coffee. It’s very confusing! Meanwhile, Willow and Tara are making some kind of idea board of him, so maybe they’re behind this weirdness?

Buffy’s still being awkward with Riley, so he decides to creepily come up behind her and give her shirtless basketball tips. Unsurprisingly, this doesn’t lead to their reconciliation. Jonathan tells Buffy she needs to forgive him, and tells Riley to reassure Buffy that Faith wasn’t better in bed than she was. (Even though, let’s be serious, she probably was. I mean, she was so good he used the L-word for the first time.) They finally make up while slow-dancing at the bar to Jonathan’s singing.

The Initiative is still working on recovering Adam–including Riley, who’s acting like he’s still one of the guys except that his shirt is a slightly different shade of green-gray instead of olive-green. Superstar Jonathan is brought in as a consultant and points out that Adam doesn’t eat. His power source apparently comes from a small reservoir of uranium that lives right near his floppy-disk drive. They’ll have to “annihilate” him to kill him.

A demon with a mark on its head comes to attack Jonathan’s house, which leads to a near-escape for one of his adoring fans slash stalkers, Karen. Jonathan sketchily says he’ll patrol and no one else needs to help, and Buffy starts to get suspicious. Other than her, only Adam (who catches a glimpse of Jonathan on TV) realizes that something is weird, that the world has been changed to make Jonathan a superstar. Later, we see Jonathan has the same tattoo as the demon who attacked his house. Plus, Tara is attacked by a beast with the same symbol, but escapes using magic.

Buffy calls a Scoob meeting and tries to convince everyone that Jonathan might have made himself a superstar by wishing for it or using magic. No one believes her, though Riley makes a pretense to score brownie points. Finally they find the mark on Giles’s Jonathan swimsuit calendar. Hee. When Jonathan walks in on their meeting, he asserts that the monster has a magical power over him, and Buffy gets him to agree to patrol with her. Then they run into… Spike! Spike provides a clue, that some vampires got kicked out of a cave in the hills behind Brookside Park, and whatever did it had to be pretty big.

Willow finds the spell Jonathan used to make himself a paragon–and it creates an opposite, a monster that is the personification of evil. If he is killed, Jonathan will revert to whatever he was before. Everyone is shocked that Buffy was right because in this world she’s just a ditz, I guess. As soon as the monster is hurt, Buffy regains her mojo and Jonathan regains his nerdiness. Finally he pushes the monster into the abyss… and Buffy rescues him by pulling on his shoe, and everything goes back to normal.

Buffy is sympathetic to Jonathan, who explains that the person who told him about the spell didn’t tell him about the monster. But Buffy says that a big gesture won’t make things work out. Gee… do you think that’s more about Riley than about Jonathan? Because it really doesn’t make sense in terms of Jonathan. In fact, Jonathan points it out, and then asserts that what Buffy and Riley have is “really complicated.” Are we supposed to actually think this relationship is complicated? Well, Buffy goes to Riley and makes out with him and decides this means they’ve talked it out, so… I guess that is kind of a wink at us that the show knows their relationship is Dull City.

Notes from a New Fan:

  • Boo, when Buffy said that she couldn’t handle the nest on her own and said, “You know who we need?” I really thought the answer was gonna be Spike! Even though Jonathan was in the previouslies so you know he’s going to make an appearance… I can’t help it! I just like when Spike is onscreen.
  • Oh good, Spike is here too. Whew.
  • What does it say about me and/or The Times We Live In that I wanted to describe Willow and Tara’s Jonathan board as “a Pinterest board but in real life”?
  • I hate Riley so much I even begrudge him his amazing obliques.
  • I do not begrudge alternate-universe Jonathan his wonderful voice.
  • Anya is very turned on by Jonathan’s singing and saxophone playing. Heh.
  • Anya is really making progress on her human manners, like saying, “Oh, you’re still here. That’s nice.” With only a minimal grimace.
  • Spike creeps on Buffy and… it’s hot. What?! OK, I admit it, I’m a bad feminist. But I do appreciate that Buffy eventually gets the better of him.
  • “Xander, don’t speak Latin in front of the books,” says Giles. LOL.

Notes from a True Stan:

  • I’ve recently learned that this episode is hated by the fandom–and I honestly have no idea why. I think it’s so funny!
  • Love the Jonathan-centric credit sequence.
  • The extended gag of Willow and Tara hanging an entire wall of Jonathan photos never fails to crack me up.
  • Riley worries he’ll get dumber because he’s not eating the Initiative’s “technicolor food of strongness” and like is that even possible.
  • It is a little painful to see how weakened and unsure of herself Buffy is in this episode. Jonathan had to make Buffy smaller to make himself bigger–there’s a metaphor in there somewhere.
  • I can’t believe that’s not Danny Strong singing “Serenade in Blue”! It totally sounds like him.
  • Fun fact: the person who’s actually singing in that scene, Brad Kane, played Tucker in “The Prom” and also provided the singing voice for Aladdin nbd.
  • Yet more “philosophical’ rants from Adam that sound like a stoned college sophomore. “I am aware of every molecule in my body and everything around me.” Snooze.
  • I love the world without shrimp. Most random running joke ever.
  • Giles has a Jonathan swimsuit calendar! I don’t know what anyone is talking about, this is a great episode.
  • “Did anyone else feel way too tall? I felt way too tall.” Hee!

Season 4, Episode 18 “Where The Wild Things Are”

Buffy and Riley are having a ton of sex. (I guess I could just stop there, right?) They’re having a lot of sex, and I guess we’re supposed to think it’s super hot, but since the actors have almost no chemistry, they need to let the audience know they’re horny by breathing heavily, stroking each other’s arms and pecs, and not-so-subtly sexiting in front of their friends. Ick.

As if that weren’t bad enough, we also have to see hamfisted supernatural metaphors for their horniness. Weird, ghostly things are happening around the Initiative frat house, and at one point, while Buffy and Riley are having sex upstairs, the fireplace explodes and one of the frat brothers actually catches on fire. Because their chemistry is so hot, get it? Me neither.

Since it’s a Very Special Sex Episode, Xander and Anya are also at a crossroads about sex. Anya gets upset and insecure that she and Xander didn’t have sex the night before, so she assumes they’re breaking up. Xander tries to reassure her that relationships take work, and you don’t just break up over a small problem. Then, when Anya implies that he might have erectile dysfunction, he yells about having “big sex” in front of a bunch of children waiting for his ice cream truck. Cute. 

That night, at the Initiative’s big frat party, Anya still thinks Xander’s about to break up with her, so she breaks up with him first. She’s totally in the wrong here, but then he immediately starts flirting with another girl, which sort of proves her right that he doesn’t care much about the relationship. Meanwhile Buffy and Riley continue to eye-fuck from across the room, and then Buffy pulls him away to “look at an essay,” all while breathing heavily and giving him sex eyes. Yuck. Their inappropriate sexual behavior starts to spread to others in the frat house–a frat guy has an orgasm just by touching a certain point on the wall, a woman aggressively makes out with Xander during a game of Spin the Bottle. (Or at least, we’re supposed to think this is all very scandalous, but it’s actually pretty tame compared to real-life college parties. Eighteen-year-olds don’t need to play Spin the Bottle to make out/sleep with each other.)

But then there are also weird outbursts of sexual repression. Tara freaks out when Willow puts her hand on Tara’s leg, and the woman who makes out with Xander cuts off all her hair in the bathroom while chanting, “I’m bad, I’m bad.” When Willow goes looking for Tara, she sees a ghost boy drowning in the tub. Buffy and Riley hear her screaming, but are too busy having sex to care. Xander and Willow try to get Buffy out of the bedroom, but actual vines start growing around the door. (Which is honestly much less disturbing than Buffy and Riley’s thoroughly unerotic breathing sounds.)

Other poltergeisty things happen–the building shakes, books fall off shelves, a screaming woman runs through Anya–it’s all very dull. The Scoobies (minus Buffy and Riley) get help from Giles, and they figure out that the frat house used to be a home for troubled adolescents. When they find the house director–Mrs. McCluskey!–she’s a piece of work. She tells them she “educated them in the ways of the Lord” by shaving the girls’ heads and holding them under bathwater. None of the kids died, but their sexual trauma created poltergeisty energy that’s feeding off Buffy and Riley’s horniness “like a battery.” This is all just so–unpleasant.

Willow and Tara hold a seance with the kids while Anya and Xander try to rescue Buffy and Riley. The vines have grown over the whole house and have minds of their own, Jumanji-stylei. They drag Xander away and hold him underwater, and as Anya rescues him, they puncture right through her hand. (Why are the plants the scariest thing about this episode about ghosts?) But then after a few minutes, Xander and Anya just sort of–open the bedroom door, and everything stops? Couldn’t they have just done that before? What a boring ending to a boring episode.

–Janes

Notes from a New Fan:

  • Buffy gives this proud smile when Riley gets the best of a demon without the help of her crossbow. Vom.
  • I laughed when I saw the episode summary that Buffy and Riley’s “passionate lovemaking” unleashes supernatural forces. I mean, even in a fantasy series that’s a VERY unrealistic plot point. As is this scene where Buffy and Riley are too turned on by their rather run-of-the-mill fight against a vamp-demon team to go tell Giles about it before falling into bed in Riley’s stinky dorm room.
  • Xander’s ice cream truck has a “Giant Insects” issue of Nature World in the windshield. Is that a meta-joke about the time he fell in love with a giant praying mantis?
  • Ew! Buffy and Riley are just openly planning a quickie in front of all their friends?!
  • This frat guy basically has a magic-induced orgasm while doing a horrible job of making French sound sexy while hitting on a woman at the party… it’s so creepy on so many levels ewww.
  • Riley makes Forrest hold his cup while he goes off for a quickie at the party?! Um, rude.
  • Xander tries to dump Anya after she dumps him. Way to save it, Xander.
  • Do we ever find out why Xander is drinking a green smoothie at the party? It’s cute but mysterious.
  • I’m impressed that Riley recognizes Willow’s high pitched shriek?!
  • This episode is SO WEIRD. And then the camera zooms out so far from Buffy and Riley’s magical bed that it’s like they’re in the Sunken Place. Also weird.
  • Forrest is such a dummy, like, why would you notice that your party has been taken over by a supernatural event, and then drag your colleague who’s suddenly started spewing Biblical nonsense like a crazy person in the subway, into your super secret top-security Initiative compound? (When I wrote that note, I really thought that that guy was going to go crazy and trash the whole lab, but he didn’t, so I guess I’m the dummy.)
  • Wow, the show really faked me out with Giles’ midlife crisis. I thought the “adult” thing Giles was being sketchy about was definitely speed-dating. Like I would have put a hundred bucks on it.
  • So Buffy and Riley are going to die of having the sex because their sexual energy is enough to haunt a whole house? Puh-lease, like they could even haunt a whole bed.
  • What’s up with the Jumanji vines in this place? Is it representing, like, the garden of Eden? [Ha! I love that we both made this reference. –Janes]
  • I’m impressed that Anya forges on to rescue Xander even after a vine literally pierces her hand like a stigmata. Yuck.

Notes from a True Stan:

  • I would be so curious to hear how the writers pitched this episode. “A ghost, but not really a ghost, forces Buffy and Riley to have sex until they die”? Just–why?
  • Okay, Buffy and Riley have been together for like, six months now, right? And having sex for almost that long? Shouldn’t they be past the gross PDA phase?
  • I am glad Buffy finally gets to have good, uncomplicated sex though. It’s the only good thing about this episode (and the Riley relationship in general).
  • Vampires and demons are working together because of Adam, to which Tara says, “He’s bridging the gap between the races,” and Willow adds, “Like Martin Luther King.” What??
  • My partner asked me what Marc Blucas was doing nowadays, and it turns out he’s a regular on Hallmark Christmas movies. Which is the perfect gig for him.
  • When Willow tries to inform Giles that Buffy and Riley are going off to have sex, he says, totally deadpan, “Yes, Willow, I did attend college in the mesozoic era, I remember what it was like.” Hee!
  • I really hate this fight between Anya and Xander, because it’s the beginning of a long dynamic where Xander is the “reasonable” one who needs to correct Anya’s irrational behavior. Plus, they just don’t seem to like each other that much. I think we’re supposed to root for them to stay together, but when Anya yells at him, “We don’t have anything in common except for both of us liking your penis” I’m just sort of like–true! 
  • But it does lead to a great scene between Anya and Spike, who bond over being newly powerless. “A year ago, I could have eviscerated him with my thoughts,” Anya says. “Now I can barely hurt his feelings.” Heh. 
  • I’m with Willow–Giles singing The Who is super hot. 
  • The Buffy/Riley dialogue is so painful. “You’re not touching me,” Buffy breathes. “You have to keep touching me.” I’m getting secondhand embarrassment just typing it.
  • I don’t understand the resolution of the whole poltergeist thing. The seance didn’t work, but opening the bedroom door did? So Buffy and Riley can never have sex again, or they’ll awaken it? (I wouldn’t complain if that was the case tbh.)
  • I sometimes defend the fandom’s most-hated episodes, but not this time. This is just the worst. 

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