Janes (a True Stan) and Nerdy Spice (a New Fan) are watching all of Buffy together and comparing notes.
Season 4, Episode 21 “Primeval”
We pick up where we left off: Riley is on a suicide mission and facing Adam alone. Adam is pontificating about his destiny while Riley just sort of stares at him blankly. Which is honestly nothing new for Riley, but we’re supposed to think it’s super weird and a sign that he’s been brainwashed. Adam explains that Maggie (aka “Mother,” ew) put a chip in Riley’s central nervous system. “It’s chips all around then,” says Spike, who almost makes this whole plotline tolerable.
Adam exposits again that Buffy needs to come to the Initiative alone so there can be casualties on both the demon and human sides. Spike brags that he successfully separated Buffy from her friends, but the information Buffy needs to get into the Initiative is still with Willow, so he needs to get Buffy talking to her again. He runs into her, reminds her she needs to get that information off the disks, and then stupidly refers to her and Willow “falling out,” even though he has no way of knowing that. This sets off Buffy’s spidey senses (or not even spidey senses–it was so stupid on Spike’s part that it’s basically just logic), and she goes off to reunite with her friends.
Buffy gets the gang together, and everyone is super awkward with each other. She asks everyone where they heard the rumors about them, and they quickly realize that Spike planted all the seeds for their fight. This cuts through the awkwardness a little, but just a little. They quickly put together that Spike is working for Adam, and since the disks ultimately decrypted themselves, that Adam wants Buffy in the Initiative. This leads to yet another drawn-out explanation of Adam’s plan, because it’s so convoluted, the writers didn’t trust that we would understand unless they repeated it four times.
Adam takes Riley to an underground lab where a zombified Professor Walsh is serving as Adam’s lab assistant. Then Forrest wakes up on an operating table, but instead of a zombie, he’s a human/demon/machine hybrid, like Adam. These are a lot of elements to introduce in the penultimate episode! Forrest exposits that Walsh is artificially reanimated, so she has no brain activity, while he is actually alive again, and he’s accepted his monstrous destiny or whatever. Riley is horrified. I am very bored.
Before going to the Initiative, the Scooby gang comes up with a plan to kill Adam. Giles knows a spell that will allow Buffy to extract Adam’s power source, but it needs to be incanted by an experienced witch, and it’s in Sumerian, which only Giles knows how to speak. Xander jokes that they should just combine together, which leads to a lightbulb moment for Giles. There’s apparently a spell that will allow the four of them to conjoin together in Buffy’s body, so she’ll have her Slayer strength, Willow’s magic, and Giles’ brain (and Xander is assigned the “heart,” which is like the equivalent of a participation trophy).
As they repel down an elevator shaft to get into the Initiative, Buffy and Willow finally have a real heart-to-heart about the issues in their friendship. Buffy acknowledges that if Spike was able to stir up trouble so easily, then there are cracks in the friendship, and apologizes for getting so wrapped up in other things–mostly Riley. Willow says she kept things from Buffy too, but Buffy assures her that wasn’t her fault, since she was “going through something huge.” Willow says she wanted to tell her sooner, and Buffy says she can tell her anything. They exchange I love you’s and hug. Aw! What a healthy conflict resolution! Then they make up with Xander by hugging him, and he’s all, “Oh no, we’re gonna die, aren’t we?” Heh.
Sidebar: I’ve seen some fans say that the whole conflict between the Scoobies comes out of nowhere. As I said in the recap for the previous episode, I don’t buy the specific conflict the Scoobies were having about everyone contributing–which also makes this whole spell thing a little silly. Like, of course everyone contributes (except Xander)! It doesn’t mean everyone needs to be literally in the room when Buffy’s doing her thing! But this scene between Buffy and Willow feels exactly right–that scuffle was just a red herring for all the classic college growing pains we’ve been seeing all season. Buffy has been too caught up in her new relationship (God knows why), Willow has been going through a lot of changes that she rightly thought Buffy might not know how to deal with, and Xander has been pretty irrelevant to their new lives. While I wish this fight got a little more room to breathe, it definitely didn’t come out of nowhere.
Anyway, they get into the Initiative, and are promptly caught by all the army guys. The annoying new general is totally clueless, and insists that there’s no way Adam could be in the Initiative, because he knows everything that goes on there. It becomes clear that he knows absolutely nothing about what’s going on–he doesn’t even know that 314 exists!–and Buffy spends the whole scene openly rolling her eyes at him. (Honestly, if there’s pleasure to be had from this whole Initiative plot, it’s watching Buffy openly roll her eyes at arrogant men who assume they know more than she does.)
Just then, Adam opens all of the containment cells, and the various demons start killing all of the soldiers. Their guns are mostly useless, because after all of those experiments they know absolutely nothing about what they’re fighting. The gang makes their way to 314, which somehow hasn’t been overrun by demons, and Buffy goes down to Adam’s lair. Adam sics Forrest on her while Riley watches, helpless. While they’re fighting, Riley uses broken glass to perform surgery on himself, even though he’s supposed to be brainwashed. Okay, then. He takes out the chip and takes over fighting Forrest while Buffy goes after Adam. She definitely has too much faith in his fighting abilities! Forrest thrashes him, but luckily, he just so happens to hand him a hydrogen tank at the exact moment it explodes. Bye, Forrest.
Buffy starts fighting Adam, and when he tries to skewer her, she breaks the skewer easily. “Broke your arm,” she says, but then his other arm becomes a freaking Gatling gun. “I’ve been upgrading,” he says. LOL! As he’s shooting at her, the gang completes the spell, and they all combine, which basically means Buffy is super powerful and has gold contacts. She performs a bunch of spells, which create a magical shield and turn his bullets into doves. Then she uses her super strength to punch into his chest and pull out his power source (which has yucky innards hanging off it), and he keels over and dies. That’s it?? Considering how all-powerful Adam was supposed to be, his death is pretty anticlimactic.
While the gang joins the soldiers in fighting the demons, we see a silly little coda where a bunch of old white guys exposit that the government created the Initiative to see if they could “harness” the otherworldly forces for their benefit–probably for nefarious military purposes. After the “prototype” took control, the soldiers suffered a 40% casualty rate, and it would have been much more without Buffy and the other “civilians.” They’re cutting their losses: all records expunged, Initiative filled with concrete. “Burn it down and salt the Earth,” says the old white guy. Thank God.
Notes from a New Fan:
- Have we talked about Buffy’s hair this season? It’s very pretty but it looks so time-consuming. I mean, going to town with a curling iron and achieving a full Pinterest bridesmaid hairdo every morning when you’re a freshman in college? Forget the high kicks, that’s a baller move right there. (Or maybe it’s normal in LA. I dunno.)
- Adam is usually not super scary, but calling Professor Walsh “Mother” is pretty dang creepy.
- I love how Adam talks about killing Buffy, and Riley goes, “No! You can’t!” and Adam says “Stop talking,” and Riley… does it. What a champ.
- Is Spike supposed to be bumbling all the time, or is it just this episode? I guess the British accent combined with the snark made me think he was supposed to be, like, a criminal demon mastermind. But this episode makes him seem more like the sidekick ot a Disney villain.
- Xander has to get up and go to the unemployment office to find a paucity of job listings. Man, life sucked before the internet! Now at least you can feel terrible about your career prospects from the comfort of your own home.
- “This is all how she planned it, except she thought she would be alive.” Hee.
- I enjoy that Buffy is walking around with this giant axe looking for Adam, but she’s also carrying a GIANT tote bag.
- Willow’s hacking results in text running both horizontally and vertically across the screen. That’s how you know she’s a really GOOD hacker.
- Tara answers the phone and it’s Buffy so she goes, “Yeah, she’s right… I mean… let me check.” Way to have Willow’s back, Tara. Buffy will never catch on!
- Forrest’s dialogue has become bizarrely stilted. “Adam made me to be nearly as bad as he is.” “He’s going to fix you up too, soon as we got some choice parts.” Didn’t he used to talk like a human? I guess to be fair, he is no longer human.
- And why doesn’t someone give Undead Professor Walsh some proper eyeballs?! Yuck.
- Wait, where in the world did the Scoobs get Mission Impossible style rope thingies to lower themselves into the Initiative? Not just one, but two of them?!
- I love the reconciliation between Buffy and Willow. So sweet!
- I was LITERALLY about to type the following: “For once, I love Xander’s response to something. When Buffy and Willow give him a sentimental hug, he says, ‘We’re gonna die, aren’t we?’” Then before I could even finish typing, Xander said the creepiest thing possible, which was: “Giles, you’ll definitely want to get down here for this!” This, being hugged by his two supposed friends. So basically, a) he’s turned on by getting hugs from Willow and Buffy, b) he’s announcing this in front of them, and c) he’s encouraging their incredibly age-inappropriate mentor slash father figure to also be turned on by their hugs. Gross, gross, gross! Xander is the worst. I regret ever approving of anything he ever said. That said, he is correct that when characters have a big reconciliation they are often about to die.
- Spike calls the security footage “Must See TV,” which just reminds me of how incredibly sad it is that NBC’s amazing Thursday night lineup of Friends and ER has morphed into the world’s least appealing streaming service and a matching unappealing tagline: “Can’t Not Watch.” Get it? It’s like “Must See TV,” but stupid!
- I love that the usually confident Spike says, “That’s one way of looking at it,” and then when asked what the other way is, he just runs (or tries to). That’s so wonderfully cowardly of him.
- I LOVE Buffy telling the Colonel he’s “playing on my turf.” You tell ‘im!
- I also love when she just beats up the two soldiers who supposedly have her under arrest and then moves on within half a second to her mission. So satisfying!
- The triumphant music as the Scoobs make it through the chaos is aggressive. I mean, yes, it’s a very satisfying episode, but is it the climactic fight at the end of an overlong Star Wars episode? Eh.
- Buffy has led them through a firefight between highly trained military people and a horde of angry demons, and she is also, say it with me, THE SLAYER, and Xander still has the effing nerve to be like, “Buffy, I still don’t like you going in alone.” Shut up, Xander!! She is the g-d- Slayer!!!!
- Huh… so Riley cuts his own chip out (I bet Spike wishes he had thought of that) and then … kind of saves Buffy? That’s vaguely annoying.
- Well, that shot of Forrest’s half-grafted head flying through the air after the explosion that kills him is… graphic.
- Not as graphic as this bonkers scene of Buffy pulling the uranium core out of Adam’s chest, though. Yuck!
- I can’t believe this is only the second-to-last episode in the season. What TF is left for the last episode?
- I think I’m vaguely surprised that the Initiative really is a government project. I think I assumed it was a civilian militia tricking well-meaning soldiers into thinking it was a government project. Maybe I’ve watched too much Alias.
Notes from a True Stan:
- Even Spike doesn’t see much of a difference between Normal Riley and Brainwashed Riley–he just pokes him and casually comments that he looks “a little stiffer than usual.” Hee!
- Aw, I love that Buffy looks at the same nostalgic, sun-soaked photo of the Scoobies that she did after she ran away in S3.
- Seriously, take a shot every time Adam says the word “destiny.”
- While Buffy is figuring out Adam’s plan, she thoughtfully says, “Give the demon his due. He thought this one out.” How smart could his plan be if you figured it out in all of five minutes??
- Buffy just tosses off that Riley told her Adam’s power source is a big uranium battery in his chest. How did Riley know that? Didn’t we only hear that from Jonathan in “Superstar,” when he was fake-briefing the Initiative? And if they knew where his power source was this whole time, why didn’t they come up with this plan before? So weird.
- I love Buffy’s mic drop moment with the general: “This is not your business, it’s mine. You, the Initiative, the guys at the Pentagon, you’re all in way over your heads, messing with primeval forces you have no control over.” (Episode title!) “I’m the Slayer. You’re playing on my turf.” Yessss.
- I can see why the writers thought the Initiative would be a good idea. I actually like the parts of the season that pit the Initiative’s coldly masculine logic and tech against Buffy’s magic and intuition. It’s very feminist! But the execution, aka Adam, is just terrible.
- This climax is literally the same as Cabin in the Woods. Except boring.
Season 4, Episode 22 “Restless”
The tl;dr of this episode — and I’m not entirely sure if it requires anything more than a tl;dr — is that the gang go to Buffy’s house for a well-earned Netflix-and-nap session (OK they’re rented videocassettes) after killing Adam, but their dreams are interrupted by the First Slayer who tries to kill them all, until Buffy refuses to be killed and they all wake up. Also there is a man who talks about cheese and he’s in all of their dreams.
Do I need to go into more detail?
OK. So Willow dreams that she shows up to drama class but it turns out the play is already going and she doesn’t know her lines. She’s very afraid that people will discover the truth about her, but also she’s being stalked by a mysterious creature we never quite see.
Then Xander dreams that Mrs. Buffy is hitting on him (as if!) and also that Willow and Tara are inviting him to have a threesome in the back of his taco truck. It’s pretty gross. But instead, before he can have sex with anyone, his dad rips his heart out of his chest. He’s also chased around by the same bad guy as Willow, a sort of demon-type creature on all fours with wild black hair.
As for Buffy, she dreams that she’s a child and Giles is sort of a father figure, taking her to a carnival. It’s very creepy. When she puts mud on her face, Giles realizes he’s seen something like that before. Eventually we figure out that the creature who’s chasing Buffy around, who was also in Xander and Willow’s dreams, is a human skulking on all fours with white paint on her face and black dreadlocks. (My real-time notes from about halfway through include, “This episode seems potentially racist…” Janes confirms that yes, it is pretty much full-on racist.)
Eventually Buffy ends up in a dream desert confronting this person, who can only speak through the medium of Tara translating her. She’s the first Slayer, and she’s very insistent that Buffy agree with her that Slayers walk alone. Buffy disagrees: “I shop, I sneeze.” Point to Buffy. The First Slayer tries to attack her, both in the dream and when she wakes up, but since she’s not real, Buffy wins, and then they all wake up and have hot chocolate with Mrs. Buffy. But at the very end Buffy hears Tara in her head saying, “You think you know what’s to come, what you are. You haven’t even begun.”
Welp! That’s it! I love how at the end of the previous episode I was like, “What’s left for the finale?” and the answer was a big fat “Nothing.” And I’m being kind of hyperbolical here. I mean, I appreciate that this episode tried to experiment with a more conceptual, less plot-driven format and to keep tying that thematic “bow” we were talking about on the season: that Slayers walk alone. Buffy is special not just because she’s a Slayer but also among Slayers, because she has her friends to support her. Fair enough, but I just found this episode kind of boring (and also kind of offensive. A bad combination!).
And I guess the other problem to me with this season is that it doesn’t feel earned for Buffy’s big conflict to be about whether being the Slayer requires you to walk alone through life. In this particular season, wasn’t her main thing to obsess over Riley and ignore her friends? It wasn’t exactly that she was too busy being a big important hero to pay attention to her friends. It all feels a bit slapped-on, as we discussed in the previous episodes.
Notes from a New Fan:
- Is Giles flirting with Mrs. Buffy by eating popcorn out of her bowl?
- I just got this overwhelming sense that Mrs. Buffy was about to die as she generously hosted a big slumber party of Buffy’s friends and teacher. Spoilers? Or just having seen TV before? Or a fake premonition? Who’s to say. [Update: She didn’t die! I’m legit surprised.]
- Tara and Willow’s kitten is sooooooooooo cute.
- This Tara/Willow dream has an almost Battlestar Galactica-like vibe: the choral music and bright lights and, of course, magical women.
- In case you didn’t get the spells = sex memo yet, Xander increases the font size to a blaring 72: “Sometimes I think about two women doing a spell, and then I do a spell by myself.” Thank you, Xander, for plumbing new limits of just how gross a human can be.
- Harmony: “Props?” Giles: “No.” Riley: “Props?” Giles: “Yes.” A very literal enactment of how when men repeat women’s ideas, they get accepted.
- Willow’s dream revolves around being afraid that people will find out the real her. Is this all a nightmare about being in the closet?
- Willow’s “real-Willow” outfit is a corduroy jumper with white opaque tights, revealing that she’s a nerd. OK, not to be a jerk, but like, her “costume” was just a yellow T-shirt—it’s not like she was disguised as a fashionista.
- EW. WHAT. Xander is having a sex dream about Mrs. Buffy?!?!
- You know it’s Xander’s dream when a woman (in this case, Mrs. Buffy) unsolicitedly tells him that she thinks he’s “really interesting.”
- “Well, I’m supposed to meet Tara and Willow. And possibly Buffy’s mom,” Xander says, still thinking he’s in the sex dream. I hate myself for laughing at this. But I really really did.
- Ew, Giles is hypnotizing Buffy and lecturing her about the way men and women behave? Gross. I don’t care if it is Buffy’s dream. I blame Giles for being a creeper.
- I really enjoy Giles’s rousing ballad about how the spell they cast with Buffy released a primal evil.
- Buffy is very preoccupied with Faith in relation to her, Buffy’s, bed. This must have been intentional fan service–it’s almost explicitly homoerotic.
- I love that Mrs. Buffy is living in the walls and she’s like “oh, hi, honey.” And then Buffy is concerned, but just as Mrs. Buffy agrees that maybe Buffy should break her out of there, Buffy gets distracted by Xander and wanders away.
- Riley as surgeon general sounds surreal until you consider that all of 2017-2020 happened.
- When Buffy interrupts Riley and Adam in her dream, Riley lectures her, “Buffy, we’ve got a lot of important work here. A lot of filing. Giving things names.” Hee!! Men’s work. (Literally, in the Bible.)
- Why is Tara dressed as I Dream of Jeannie?!?! I blame Joss.
- Buffy wakes up right as she’s about to go full Karen and start lecturing the Primal Slayer about her dreads in “the workplace.” Yikes, even the first half of that speech was one big cringe.
- Scoobs: “The first Slayer tried to kill us in our dreams.” Mrs. Buffy, immediately: “Oh, do you want some hot chocolate?” She’s totally unfazed. It’s hilarious.
- I thought Mrs. Buffy was going to die in this episode, but instead she remained alive and starred in Xander’s sex dream. Who’s to say which fate was worse?
- I also spent a long time wondering what the cheese slices represented, and Janes informed me the answer is nothing. That’s mildly disappointing.
Notes from a True Stan:
- Oh how I hate this episode. I asked Nerdy Spice to switch with me because it’s so freaking boring.
- Of course Xander uses the phrase “chick flicks.” I hate him even more than I hate this episode.
- Aw, the FBI warning. So quaint.
- I do love that Willow’s subconscious casts Riley as “the Cowboy Guy,” and doesn’t let him say anything other than “I’m the Cowboy Guy.”
- We’ve only been watching for five minutes, and my partner asked, “Is this a double episode or something? Or does it just feel long?”
- Yikes, the First Slayer is SO racist.
- This was my face during Xander’s wet dream about Joyce:
- Olivia! What happened to Olivia? Is Giles still dating her??
- Oh yes, call the scary black woman a “primal, animal force,” that’s not offensive at all.
- Giles is singing! (Crooning, really.) This is the only part I like.
- That and Anya’s attempts at stand-up. “Quiet! You’ll miss the humorous conclusion.”
- There’s some Dawn foreshadowing! First, Buffy says “Faith and I just made that bed,” referring to the previous Dawn foreshadowing at the end of season three. Then Tara tells Buffy to “be back before Dawn.” It’s not worth a whole dream episode, but I do appreciate that Dawn has been in the works for so long.
- Buffy’s subconscious has SO much contempt for Riley, even more than Willow’s. His important government job is world domination through making “coffeemakers that think,” and when the First Slayer comes, he and Adam go off to make a pillow fort.
- I actually like Buffy’s speech to the First Slayer about how she can “shop” and “sneeze” and can modernize Slayerhood, especially considering what we learn about the First Slayer later in the series. It would all be pretty much fine if she weren’t black?
- Am I the only Buffy fan who doesn’t find the Cheese Guy schtick funny? I feel like it’s so cheap.
- So Buffy defeated the First Slayer by… deciding to ignore her and making racist comments about her dreads? This episode has literally no stakes.
- I know a lot of people really love “Restless,” so I’m sorry for being so negative! I just can’t get on board–it gives me bad-student-film vibes.