Season 5, Episode 10 “Into the Woods”
For once, a little good news. After anxiously waiting for Buffy’s mom to get out of surgery, the doctor-with-no-bedside manner tells them that the procedure was a “complete success.” They’ve removed the tumor, and Joyce should make a full recovery. Yay!
But of course, this is a Joss Whedon show, so good news must be counterbalanced with bad news. Now that the crisis is over, Buffy and Riley get time and energy to focus on their relationship, and it’s in trouble–in Riley’s mind, at least. They have a well-deserved romantic night together, complete with slow-dancing and sex–and for the record, Buffy seems super into it! She matches him gaze for gaze and tells him everything is “perfect.” But then he expresses admiration that she “never even cried” during the whole ordeal with her mother, and she admits that she “cried so hard she thought she’d never be able to stop.” So she’s opening up about her feelings, but he’s all upset because… she didn’t cry right in front of him, I guess? Those are super specific parameters for what it means to be emotionally available in a relationship!
So Riley sneaks out of bed, giving Spike an opening. He comes in while Buffy’s asleep–and naked!–and tells her there’s something she “needs to see.” She reluctantly follows him to the vampire equivalent of a crackhouse, where vampires are feeding on willing humans. He tells her not to start slaying, because that’s “not what we’re here for,” and takes her to dark room where she finds… Riley, getting bitten by a skinny brunette vampire and telling her to go “harder.” (Wait, is this supposed to be a crackhouse or a whorehouse? Unclear.) [It gave me definite brothel vibes, in a seamy Victorian brothel kind of way, so that’s what I’ve been referring to it! –Nerdy Spice] Riley calls after Buffy, but she runs out, disgusted.
When Riley gets home–he doesn’t immediately go back to Buffy’s house, for some reason–he’s greeted by Graham and the other military guys. They tell him there’s a demon tribe attacking missionaries in Belize, and they want him to help them stop it. He says he’s done with the government, but they tell him it’s not the Initiative–”We don’t care what makes monsters tick. We just stop them.” (No thinking, just mindless, ego-fluffing violence? That does sound right up Riley’s alley!) He has until midnight the next day to decide.
Buffy brusquely tells the Scoobies what’s going on, minus Riley’s involvement. Giles and Anya confirm that people have been paying vampires to bite them for centuries–they “get off on the rush” (again, this could easily be heroin or sex work, not sure what they’re going for here). Buffy bites their heads off that they didn’t tell her about this sooner, and Giles points out that they have “less ambiguous evil” to worry about, like Glory. Buffy says she’s taking down the nest, whether they back her up or not. When they get there, the place is empty–they’ve all fled since the Slayer found their hideout. Buffy is pissed, and burns the whole place down anyway. The Scoobies look concerned, rightfully so.
Even though Riley has less than 24 hours to make things right with Buffy, he decides his time would be best spent attacking Spike in his crypt. Spike tells him not to kill the messenger, and Riley stakes him (!) and says, “Why the hell not?” We cut to commercial break, but of course Spike isn’t dead–Riley used plastic wood grain to prank him. Cool?
Riley does his tough-guy schtick and tells Spike to stay away from Buffy, “or we’ll do this for real next time.” Spike taunts Riley that he was never the “long-haul guy,” and he must know it, if he’s getting “suck jobs” from vampires. (Yeah, I guess we’re going with the sex work metaphor.) Spike repeats the line about Buffy needing “a little monster in her man,” which I honestly hate. She’s only had two serious relationships, and one was with a vampire–that’s not a statistically significant sample size!
They sit down and drink together, out of the same bottle, which is kind of cute. Spike admits he doesn’t have a shot with Buffy, but sometimes he thinks he got the better deal. “To be that close but still not have her? To be alone even when you’re holding her? Feeling her beneath you? Her scent… Never mind, you got the better deal.” Heh. And, ew. Riley takes another swig and says bitterly, “Yeah, I’m the lucky guy.” Shut up, Riley.
Lucky for us, the end is very clearly nigh for these two. Riley confronts Buffy while she’s pummeling a punching bag in the back room of the Magic Box. She says she’s not ready to talk to him yet–a totally reasonable response–but he selfishly forces the issue, grabs her arm, and says he “needs [her] to hear [him] out.” She responds, ice-cold, “Fine. Get your hand off of me.” Yes! Go Buffy! Kill, Buffy!
In honor of his last episode, let’s go a little easy on Riley for a second, and start with the pros. He admits that he was irrational to be jealous of Angel and Dracula (wtf? Dracula’s not her ex–he metaphorically raped her!). He admits this is all his fault, absorbs Buffy’s anger, and gets vulnerable as he tells her that he went to the vampires because he needed to feel needed. “It was beyond passion… they had such hunger for me.” And I’m actually sort of on his side when Buffy yells at him that he doesn’t understand what the vampires were feeling: “You weren’t a passion to them–you were a snack!” Funny as that line is, she’s sort of missing the point–it’s not about what the vampires actually felt, it’s about what they made Riley feel.
BUT, then he grabs her arm again and blames her for “keeping [him] at a distance,” on the grounds that she didn’t call him when her mom was in the hospital. “Oh I’m sorry that I couldn’t take care of you while I thought my mother was dying.” Yes! Team Buffy. He argues that he wanted to take care of her, but like–what does that even mean? You can’t “take care” of someone in a way that they don’t want–then it’s not about them, it’s about you. He says she “doesn’t have to be on top of everything all the time,” and Buffy points out, quite rightly, that she literally does have to be on top of things all the time, because that’s part of what being a Slayer is. “And that’s what this is really about, isn’t it?” Buffy says. “You can’t handle the fact that I’m stronger than you.” Boom. Mic drop.
Riley admits that it’s “hard”–ugh–”but that’s not it.” Read: that’s 100% what it is. Remember when he challenged her to a fight and got all butthurt that she won? Buffy says she’s given him her “heart, body, and soul,” but Riley doesn’t feel it. “And whose fault is that?” Buffy says. YES.
Sidebar: I will begrudgingly admit that I sort of get where Riley is coming from. She doesn’t seem quite as passionate about him as he is about her. But I think that’s really just a product of differing relationship styles–he thinks that love is equivalent to need, and she values self-sufficiency too much to need anyone. It’s okay if he decides that her relationship style doesn’t work for him, but it’s super unfair of him to treat her like she’s defective in some way because she doesn’t love the same way he does. It’s also unfair to compare it to the way she loved Angel–you’re never going to love anyone the exact same way you did when you were sixteen and had never gotten your heart broken before (and that’s not a healthy kind of love anyway!). It doesn’t mean she likes Riley less, it just means that she’s a different person than she was when she was a literal child.
Riley chooses this moment to tell Buffy that the military wants him back, which is manipulative AF. He insists he’s not issuing an ultimatum, but then he says “I’m leaving tonight, unless you give me a reason to stay.” Um, does he know what an ultimatum is? When she tries to leave he GRABS HER ARM AGAIN and, when she tells him to let her go, he says, “Or what? You’ll hit me?” He tells her he seriously wants her to hit him, because that’s how she proves she’s passionate about someone, I guess? (She does hit Spike a lot, heyo!) She just walks past him, which he interprets as cold, but I interpret as–not abusive.
After Buffy walks out on Riley, she gets jumped by a group of vampires who are mad that she torched the vampire brothel. A few seasons ago, this would be a genuinely scary situation, but Buffy’s become so much stronger and more confident in her powers, she literally just gives them a withering stare and says, “Walk away.” They don’t listen to her, of course, and she channels her anger into easily killing them all. It’s pretty awesome, even if there is a little bit of that TV thing where they each politely wait their turn to be staked. When she confronts the last vampire, she realizes it’s the woman vamp she saw biting Riley. She lowers her stake and lets the vamp run away, but then comes to her senses and throws a long wooden stick into her heart like a spear.
Xander comes up behind her, saying that he thought she might want to talk. She makes it very clear that he doesn’t, but he insists, because she’s “acting like a crazy person.” Wow, what a supportive friend. She tells him to leave her alone and that he “has no idea what’s going on.” He says, “Oh good, so you and Riley aren’t imploding?” He’s all smug when he says this, even though A) Riley just morosely asked him and Anya to clear out of the Magic Box because he “needed to be alone” with Buffy, so it was pretty obvious that they were fighting, and B) he’s known for weeks that Riley was feeling insecure in the relationship, but he chose not to give Buffy a heads up for… reasons? Still, he feels the need to be a total dick to Buffy and say things like, “What I can’t figure out is how you never saw it coming.” Why does she keep all of these pushy men around?
Buffy gets fed up with this, and tells Xander what Riley did. “He lied to me,” she says, sounding genuinely hurt. Aw. Poor Buffy. “He ran around behind my back and almost got himself killed!” Somehow, Xander is still on Riley’s side, and asks if she’s going to just “let him go.” “What am I supposed to do?” Buffy asks. “Beg him to stay?” He says yes, and then dings her on calling him “dependable.” “I think you mean convenient,” he says. “I think you took it for granted that he would show up when you wanted to and take off when you didn’t.” Again, there’s little evidence of this! I don’t remember a single time that Buffy was egregiously inconsiderate of Riley’s needs–maybe that one time when she forgot about their afternoon plans?
Xander condescendingly psychoanalyzes Buffy: “You got burned with Angel,” he says. “Then Riley showed up. You’ve been treating Riley like he’s the rebound guy, when he’s the one who comes along once in a lifetime.” OMG! Let me count the ways in which Xander is the worst friend right now. He’s taking Riley’s side, even though Riley essentially cheated on Buffy, because Xander identifies with him as a fellow Nice Guy. Also, he’s implying that just because Riley is a Nice Guy and “would do anything for [her],” that she should be madly in love with him, when he should only want her to follow her own feelings. And by saying that Riley’s the one who “comes along once in a lifetime,” he’s also implying that no one will ever be nice and devoted to her again. He’s Buffy’s friend, not Riley’s! Gahd!
The most annoying thing about this conversation is that it has that “ring of truth” vibe, like we’re supposed to believe that Xander is dropping some deep revelations here. So he says, “If you think you could really love this guy–I’m talking scary, messy, no emotions-barred need? Think about what you’re about to lose.” And I guess we’re supposed to agree with him? Buffy runs out, and we start interspersing between shots of Buffy running and Riley looking out into the forest while the military chopper waits for him. (Even though he never told her where they were picking him up? How does she know where to go, and why does he think she’s coming?) The romantic music swells, and she gets there just as he goes up in the chopper. She yells for him, but he doesn’t look back. It’s sad, because Buffy is sad, and because the whole set-up is emotionally manipulative. But also not sad, because Riley sucks.
Notes from a New Fan:
- It occurs to me as Buffy is watching the surgeon approach after her mom’s surgery, that this is one of the few times we’ve seen her show fear.
- Xander and Anya are babysitting Dawn, and they discuss seeing a movie where a chimp plays hockey and Xander quips, “Is that based on the Chekhov?” Funny, but come on: like Xander a) is above chimp hockey movies or b) has heard of Chekhov? Come on, I don’t buy it.
- Dawn has been thrown out of the house so Buffy and Riley can have “loud, obnoxious sex.” I don’t know about the sex itself, but Buffy and Riley’s pre-boinking flirtation is the most obnoxious thing. It involves silly jokes about the tension leaving Buffy’s body, Buffy calling Riley “Mr. Finn,” and slow dancing with a bunch of candles. I literally was grimacing at the screen, it was so gross. (Then there’s an actual sex scene which TBH is also kind of a bummer.)
- This is one of those times Janes talked about where they remind us that Spike is a creeper: he’s just standing outside smoking and watching Buffy and Riley through her window, which is Not Okay.
- Mrs. Buffy takes it surprisingly well when Buffy off-handedly mentions that even if they spend the day apart Riley will come over for sex, uh I mean “Bible study.” Come on, Buffy! No wonder you never managed to keep your Slayerhood a secret!
- When Buffy woke up with Spike in her room I totally thought she was just having a sex dream, I mean a “Bible study dream,” about him.
- I can’t believe Buffy actually goes with Spike without even knowing where he’s taking her! She totally does have the hots for him already.
- I kind of love it when Spike throws the vampire into the ground so Buffy can keep looking for Riley unimpeded. Yet if Riley did that I’d be annoyed. But it’s our blog and we can have double standards if we want to!
- When the army guys try to recruit Riley they actually have this exchange: “I quit the government a long way back.” “We’re not government. We’re army.” I… what? Also, “I quit the government” is a hilarious thing to say. Do you think he just called the main White House switchboard to give his resignation?
- “If it wasn’t for me, Giles would be a terrified old man staring at a quarterly tax statement and wetting himself,” Anya says. Hee!
- Giles rightfully points out that Buffy marching into what is basically a nest of vamp prostitutes with a knife is kind of like killing vamps that weren’t actually doing anything wrong. The people are “willing victims.” And while at first I didn’t even notice anything wrong with what Buffy was doing, I would have to say, yeah. Her approach has a very War on Drugs feel to it. [Oh, that’s funny, I interpreted what Giles said as like, these people aren’t worth your time or effort because they made bad choices, which is also a conservative line of thinking. But I agree that Buffy went way overkill here, no pun intended. –Janes]
- Wait, a plastic stake doesn’t kill vampires? That’s so weird.
- And again with my brazen double standard: I’m vastly annoyed at Riley being all, “If you touched her I’d kill you for real,” like, maybe just let Buffy touch who she wants to touch? Jeez. Whereas Spike saying it has more of a ring of “jealous villain,” as it should, instead of Riley’s vibe of “heroic romantic from a bygone era where it was thought appropriate for men to own women’s bodies.”
- Then Spike evens the score by saying some truly gross stuff about Buffy’s scent, and now I just am annoyed by both of them.
- Anya has sympathy for Buffy’s “Rambo” moment at the vampire den: “This one time I made a guy spontaneously combust, and he set his whole village on fire.” I laughed so hard. It’s her matter-of-fact delivery that gets me every time.
- Riley BLAMES BUFFY for his nonsense! He says that it’s because Buffy let Dracula bite her. Oh, vom.
- Buffy tells Riley, “You can’t handle the fact that I’m stronger than you.” NICE. I’ve been waiting so long for her to call him on that.
- I don’t know if I buy what Buffy says about how she’s given Riley the “whole package.” I believe she believes it, but…
- Ugh, Buffy’s so right that it’s a crap move for Riley to say he’s leaving unless she gives him a reason to stay. Um, you’re the one metaphorically cheating on her with vampires, Riley! YOU should give YOURSELF a reason to stay. Boo.
- It’s a VERY dark moment when Buffy almost lets the vampire who bit Riley run away, then stakes her in the back.
- “You’ve been treating Riley like the rebound guy when he’s the one that comes once in a lifetime,” says Xander. Spoken like someone who secretly thinks he’s a once-in-a-lifetime catch too!
- This episode is so odd to me. There’s been so much messaging about how Riley isn’t the “long-haul guy” and that felt convincing even though there was some grossness to that assertion that Buffy couldn’t like a nice guy and needed a “monster.” But this stuff about how Riley is once-in-a-lifetime love and Buffy is running to get him, and Xander’s the one who convinced her of it? I just don’t buy it.
- And what a cheap-ass ending, honestly, to have Buffy finally decide to go after Riley and he just… doesn’t hear her. Ughhhhh. After putting up with this relationship for two seasons I really wanted them to tie a final bow on it that this was Not True Love. Now I feel cheated, like I’m supposed to believe this whole thing was something I was supposed to care about. And just, no! I was racing to the end, looking forward to a true reckoning of why Buffy stayed so long with someone she obviously didn’t love as much as she was capable of loving someone, not to mention why she let him try to be the Strong Guy all the time even though she was visibly, obviously, perennially and permanently stronger than him, why she made herself so much smaller and less powerful so that she wouldn’t threaten his fragile masculinity, and all I got was a breakup that would’ve been a romcom ending if the timing had worked out! What a letdown!
- Aw, but I love that Xander learns a lesson from all this and tells Anya he loves her.
Notes from a True Stan:
- It’s sweet that all the Scoobies are waiting for Buffy’s mom to get out of surgery!
- When Dawn recounts a Slayer game she and Buffy played when she was little, Anya deadpans, “That’s disturbing. You’re emotionally scarred, and will end up badly.” Hee!
- How does Anya “always win” at Life? Isn’t it a game of luck?
- Xander makes a crack about whether the movie about a chimp is “based on the Chekhov” and like–what? Xander knows who Chekhov is?
- When Dawn says that Buffy and Riley’s “alone time” translates to “get Dawn out of the house so we can have loud, obnoxious sex,” Anya turns to Xander and says, “Oh, does that mean we can’t?” Ha! Anya is on fire this episode!
- The fight between Riley and Buffy is really intense, but sometimes I get distracted by how comically large Marc Blucas is compared to SMG. He makes her look doll-sized.
- “Why is he STILL HERE,” my partner asks, for the last time.
- “If you don’t want to hear what I have to say, I’ll shut up right now,” which–she never wanted to hear what you had to say!
- Xander is completely dismissive of Anya for the entire episode–taking Willow’s side in a dispute, scolding Anya like a child when she talks about their sex life, tersely turning down a cute request for sex because he has “things to do.” But I’m supposed to think it’s cute that he realizes he’s in love with her and says she “makes him feel like a man”? Gross.
- Riley left the way he came: inappropriately grabbing Buffy’s arm and projecting all of his insecurities on her. Good riddance.
Season 5, Episode 11 “Triangle”
So Buffy and Riley are over. Yay! Except that everyone’s still talking about it, despite Riley being the least memorable man of all time. Buffy is still functional, but she does mention being “nun-curious” while demon-hunting at an abbey, and she’s taken down her pictures of Riley. She says philosophically, “These things happen,” to Giles, and tells Dawn that she knows each day will get a bit better. But she’s clearly very sad. She even becomes verklempt over whether Xander and Anya are going to break up, which clearly shows that she’s not in a good headspace right now.
Giles goes to England to find out more about Glory from the Watchers, leaving the kids in charge, and promising Buffy he won’t let on that Dawn is the key. His main worry is leaving Anya in charge of the shop… and customer service. “I have finesse coming out of my bottom!” Anya yells, offended.
Willow promises to help keep an eye on things, which offends Anya, and they proceed to bicker constantly. It comes to a head when Willow tries out a spell she’s been working on with Tara, to let Buffy create sunlight to kill vampires. Anya keeps talking during it, and it causes Willow to accidentally conjure up a huge troll instead of a cute little ball of sunshine–a troll who just happens to be Anya’s ex, who she turned into a troll as vengeance when he cheated on her! ! He destroys the shop and goes marauding and rampaging through town, happily threatening to burn down the village and, uh, rape everyone’s daughters. Um, funny? He gets distracted when he smells beer, and ends up at the Bronze. Meanwhile, Willow and Anya drive through town bickering over whose fault it all is; and when Buffy and Willow stop by the magic shop after class, they immediately leap into action to try to find whatever tore the place apart.
Spike has been unsuccessfully trying to practice apologizing to Buffy for bringing her to the vampire-bite brothel to see Riley (he keeps getting into imaginary fights with her and calling her an “Ungrateful bitch,” so uh, I’m gonna say he needs a little more practice before he gives an apology in real life, much less enters a real-life relationship). He runs into Xander at the Bronze and subtly tries to find out if Buffy’s mad at him, but Xander isn’t much help except that he’s always willing to play pool and complain about the wimmenfolk. Spike works himself up into a rage again, and demands of a very confused Xander, “What does a person have to do to make it right?!” (It’s tough developing a conscience for the very first time!) Luckily or unluckily for Spike, Xander never figures out what’s going on because he’s too busy with his own problems, and then with the fact that the troll has barged into the bar.
Willow and Anya show up, followed by Buffy. Buffy goes in for the kill (mildly hampered by the enamored Spike attempting to “help” her, or possibly grope her, it’s a little hard to tell). Finally Anya and Willow admit what they’re really fighting about: Willow’s worried Anya will vengeance-demon Xander, and Anya’s worried that Willow’s going to break up her and Xander “with her lips,” like she did with Cordy. Is Xander really worth forty minutes of squabbling? Come on, ladies.
Just then he shows up and leaps into the fray to protect the women, though he’s knocked flat by the troll’s hammer in about half a second. The troll “rewards” Xander for his “bravery” by telling him he can choose which of the women the troll will kill. Xander volunteers to die instead, which might be the one reasonable choice he’s made. But then Anya volunteers to die instead, which is surprisingly selfless, and Willow tries to cast a spell to stop the troll, so unfortunately it looks like we’re stuck with Xander for awhile longer. Finally Buffy defeats the troll with a combination of her fightin’ skills, Willow’s magic (which removes his hammer power), and Anya’s sharp tongue (which distracts the troll and “emasculates” him, in his words).
After they’ve defeated the troll, Giles returns and it turns out that the Watchers don’t know anything about Glory, but they’re going to find out. In the Summers’ kitchen, the three adults talk about the Key… and Dawn just happens to be listening on the stairs. Ruh-roh.
Notes from a New Fan:
- “Relationship debris is piling up on the Buffy highway,” Xander says. I mean. Two boyfriends in five years? Come on, Xander. She’s nineteen and beautiful. Two boyfriends is not a lot.
- Then Anya remarks that Buffy is making the same mistakes over and over again, and Xander says, “Now that it happened again, with man number two, I wonder how she’s dealing with it.” They’re acting like being broken up with twice in the space of five years is like, some kind of shameful anomaly. Both men left after basically pledging eternal love to her, anyway. That’s one of those TV ways of getting dumped where it’s not even humiliating, and only ever happens to “it girl” main characters like Joey Potter and Buffy Summers.
- Buffy may be nun-curious, but she looks great–cute bun, and a pink satin shirt that probably wouldn’t have seemed so aggressive at the time.
- “I trust these Watchers about as far as… you could throw them,” Buffy says to Giles. Hee. Nice self-correction there.
- Giles explains that he has to go to England because the Initiative is gone and Riley was the “last link we had to the government,” which is a hilarious way to put it, just because like, you could probably go down to the DMV and kill four hours or so with “the government” any time you want.
- Mrs. Buffy is up, out of bed, and even dressed! I guess she isn’t gonna die.
- Buffy hopes Riley will hate the jungle, or maybe want to give it another try with her. “I could say all the things I didn’t get to say.” Are we really still pretending that she had that much to say to him? [Eh, that scene was pretty perfunctory, as post-breakup grieving scenes go. Remember how much sadder she was about Angel? –Janes]
- Willow mentions having tried to use something called hellebore to “de-rat” Amy and says that instead, it just made her really smart. OK, this Amy stuff is DARK. She is still a rat after all these years?! That’s terrible!
- Xander is rightfully tired of being pulled into their fights, but also I feel like he should be on Anya’s side… but then Tara refuses to be on Willow’s side and–fair or not–I immediately become less angry about Xander’s refusal. More double standards and I won’t apologize for it! Nothing Xander does is ever right around here, and I’m fine with that.
- Willow accidentally turns the cash register to dust. That’s… a very expensive mistake. She undoes it, but has the nerve to make fun of Anya for being worried about the money. I mean… this is kind of Giles’ livelihood that you just temporarily turned to dust?
- I love that Buffy is being friendly to Tara after the class, and bantering with her. They’ve overcome their initial coldness. Yay!
- Buffy says she doesn’t want to take Central American geopolitics because it will remind her of Riley. Yeah. That’s the reason.
- The troll demands some plump, juicy babies to eat to go with his ale, and Spike helpfully suggests the hospital. Heh.
- Willow says she wishes Buffy were here, and Buffy immediately bursts through the door. Then Willow says, “I wish I had a million dollars.” That is literally a joke from the pilot of Friends: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pgFNUjal1zc&t=109s
- When the troll throws Buffy on top of Spike, he tries to hold onto her instead of letting her go to fight–not to protect her, I think, just to creep on her. I might be losing my love of Spike just a bit. (He’s still better than Riley though.)
- Then he says that he’s not eating the bleeding people all over the floor because Buffy wouldn’t like it. I am about to melt at the romance of that when Buffy says, “You want credit for not feeding on bleeding disaster victims? You’re disgusting.” Oh. Yeah. Buffy’s reaction is probably the right one.
- Mrs. Buffy freaks out about Dawn and goes to “get some more milk.” That’s a very Mrs. Buffy response.
Notes from a True Stan:
- It seems fitting that Xander is grieving Riley more than Buffy is. Buffy’s just afraid that she’s going to be alone forever–standard breakup stuff–but Xander is lying around saying romantic things like, “Sometimes I forget that he’s gone, you know?”
- Willow is being so condescending! I am fully Team Anya in this fight.
- Okay, the blonde mannequin is creepy, but I totally have imaginary conversations with people I have unresolved tension with. And I also inexplicably start yelling at them mid-conversation and have to start over. It’s not that weird.
- Um, Willow is stealing from the Magic Box, admits that she doesn’t plan to tell Giles or pay him back, mocks Anya’s speech patterns like a mean middle-schooler, disappears the cash register, and Xander’s response is that he’s “sick of being the one in the middle”?? How hard is it to be on your girlfriend’s side when your friend is being a complete monster?
- Willow says to Anya, “Tell me what really has you mad,” and Anya’s literally like, “I’ve said it already.” Because she has! She said not to steal from the Magic Box or endanger the money!
- This is such a boring conflict that comes out of nowhere. Willow’s always been condescending to Anya, but like, so is everyone else, including her boyfriend. And Anya’s rude to her, but she’s rude to everyone–it’s not personal! When were we supposed to glean that they hate each other in some sort of special way?
- “I cringe to think what the place would have looked like if I had been gone for more than three days.” Poor Giles!
- They brought back the world without shrimp!
- I know this is a classic TV thing, but how could they talk about Dawn being the Key in the middle of the living room??
- My partner thought the troll was Joss Whedon in disguise, but I totally recognized him from George of the Jungle.
Season 5, Episode 12 “Checkpoint”
Buffy’s having a very bad day. First, she’s humiliated by one of those nightmarish college professors who, as far as I know, only really exist on TV. Buffy questions him on the “near-consensus” surrounding Rasputin’s death (I guess she thinks Rasputin might have been a vampire??), and he forces her to stand up, berates her for questioning him, and condescends that maybe she should teach her own class: “‘Flights of Fancy,’ perhaps? Speculation 101?” I know this scene is silly on several levels–is she really trying to convince her class every single week that various historical figures might have been vampires?–but I’m still mad on her behalf. How dare he talk to our beloved Buffy like that?
Then, while she’s working out her aggression on a vampire, yelling, “Maybe you’d like to teach your own class!” (Hee!) Spike interrupts and kills him for her. When she gets annoyed with him, he says she’s only mad because she can’t keep a man–and wow, everyone around Buffy is bizarrely obsessed with this narrative! Sexism aside, two long-term relationships dissolving before the age of twenty-one isn’t quite what people mean when they say a woman “can’t keep a man”! Spike says a lot of other gross, unrepeatable things about women’s aging bodies, and finishes off with “Or maybe, you just don’t hold their interest.” Poor Buffy.
Lastly, the Council has information about Glory, and they’re holding it hostage. They come from England and immediately start throwing their weight around–criticizing Giles, forcing him to close the Magic Box, and insisting that Buffy pass a “review” before they’ll tell her what they know. When Buffy walks into the Magic Box and sees them, she literally tries to turn around and leave: “Bad day,” she says. “Bad, bad day.” (And after what they did to her in season three, who could blame her?) He condescends to her just like her professor did: he says that the Council fights evil, and she’s just their “instrument.” He also threatens to close the Magic Box permanently, or even deport Giles, if she doesn’t comply. Giles gets in his face, protesting that Buffy is nobody’s instrument (aw!), and Quentin says smugly, “Let me talk to Buffy, because I think she’s understanding me.” Ugh!
The tests begin, and they don’t go very well. Quentin puts her through a ridiculous test where she has to protect a scarecrow-dummy thing, blindfolded. Quentin calls out the Japanese names for the martial arts moves she’s supposed to do, even after he figures out she can’t speak Japanese. (And what scenario is this supposed to simulate, exactly? Are there demons that Buffy can’t see but Giles can?) Buffy sort of fumbles through this absurd exercise, then says, “You know what? I’m gonna have to do this my way, guys.” And then she kicks ass! She also throws an axe right into the dummy’s chest, but whatever, we all know how she feels about dummies.
Then, Buffy goes home, and finds Glory in her living room. (This is an exciting episode!) Glory calls a truce, saying she would squash Buffy like a bug, but she wants to know where the key is. She also threatens to start killing Buffy’s loved ones, and it doesn’t really make sense–why doesn’t she just start torturing Buffy’s family right now?–but it’s pretty scary. Especially when Dawn comes into the room, even though Buffy clearly indicates that this is a dangerous situation. Buffy insists she doesn’t know anything, and Dawn says, idiotically, “I know some stuff!” Luckily, that’s the most teenager-y thing she could say, and Glory immediately believes that she knows absolutely nothing. She leaves with one last threat, “The next time we meet, something you love dies bloody.”
Buffy tells her mom to pack a bag and drops her and Dawn at Spike’s crypt. Spike gets all snarky with her, telling her to pay him and asking why she’s giving him such a “manly boatload of responsibility,” but she says, very seriously, that she needs him to take care of them. “You’re the only one strong enough to protect them.” This is such a big step in their relationship–she trusts Spike to watch the people she loves most, and without even paying him!
When Buffy gets to the review, she’s already late, and she’s interrupted by a bunch of old-timey guys in chainmail armor, wielding swords. She easily dispatches them, and the last one standing tells her that they’re part of a vast army that’s coming after her. She assumes they work for Glory, but they’re actually trying to fight against her by destroying the Key. They have that whole religious fervor thing going on, and he says they’ll do whatever it takes: “If it takes a hundred men, we send a hundred men, and if it takes a thousand, we’ll send a thousand.” Wow, they’re really raising the stakes this episode!
Buffy walks into the Magic Box with a long sword, lays it down in front of Quentin, and says, “There isn’t going to be a review.” Ugh, this scene is so epic that I just sort of want to write the whole unedited speech right here, but I’ll try to summarize. She takes control of the room, saying, “No hoops, no jumps, no interruptions.” She says that a lot of people have been talking down to her in the last few days, and she’s finally figured out why: “Power. I have it. They don’t. This bothers them.” Glory could have killed her, but she didn’t, because she needs something from her. And the Council needs her a hell of a lot more than she needs them. “You guys didn’t come here to determine whether or not I was good enough to be let back in,” she says. “You came to beg me to let you back in.” (Which of course makes perfect sense, and yet you don’t really think about it until she says it. What have they been doing with their lives since she quit?) When one of the Council guys manterrupts her, she throws a sword into the wall right next to his head and says icily, “I’m fairly certain I said no interruptions.” So cool! She lays out her terms, which essentially state that she will do things her way, like she always has, and then finishes off with, “I want an answer right now from Quentin, because I think he’s understanding me.” LOL!
After a long pause, he says, Britishly, “Your terms are… acceptable.” The Scoobies erupt in cheers, but Buffy immediately wants to know what they know about Glory. “Just tell me what kind of demon I’m fighting,” she says. But Quentin says, Glory isn’t a demon at all–she’s a god. Oh shit!
Notes from a New Fan:
- Buffy finds Riley’s sweatshirt in the mess in her house and grows morose. Come on, Buffy! Get over it!
- Buffy doesn’t want to get almost killed by the Council again, but Willow is hopeful that the Council won’t care enough to try to kill her this time. Very supportive!
- We know that Buffy doesn’t like history, but she gets interested by a conspiracy theory about Rasputin, and the professor gets incredibly mean about it. Instead of being glad that someone is inquisitive, the professor is just offended and personally insults Buffy. It seems a little unrealistic!
- Spike has grown so desperate that he tries to help Buffy slay demons. When that doesn’t work, he just aggressively negs her about not being able to keep a boyfriend. Complete with bizarre remarks about a notch on a headboard even though she’s only had sex with like three people in this entire show! Why don’t these dudes get OVER their stupid madonna-whore complexes?
- The head Watcher, Travers, remarks that Buffy’s been used to “idle threats and sloppy discipline.” That’s a very English burn.
- I love how terrified Jinx is when Glory cuddles up to him and says he’s the only one who understands. I was wincing, thinking she was going to kill him suddenly, but apparently she really WAS just cuddling. Clearly, Jinx, who lets out a terrified shuddering breath as soon as she leaves, had the exact same thought.
- Xander has dressed up for his interview with the Watchers, in a sweater and a buttondown. That’s so cute!
- Poor Xander. He’s being grilled on how he helps on the patrols! What can the poor guy say, “I’m always taking the first punch so everyone has more time to beat the demons”?
- Why are Willow and Tara lying about being registered witches? Do they not realize that by definition of “registered,” this lie is verifiable?
- I snickered at the Watchers nervously pointing a cross and a crossbow at Spike while they interview him.
- Ooh, this lady Watcher has a crush on Spike! Hee.
- I love how Buffy doesn’t even bother putting her hair in a practical hairdo for a test of agility. At first I was like, “Seriously, a braided halfback with full blow-out for this?” But then I realized that just makes it all the more impressive when she blows everyone out of the water.
- “Ooh, big deal, stronger than humans. Who isn’t?” says Glory about Buffy’s super-strength. Heh.
- You know how sometimes when reviewing, someone will write that they “sat up straight” when something happened? I just LITERALLY sat up straight in my chair when Buffy showed up at Spike’s lair. I just love to see these scenes!
- She asks him to protect her mom and sister, and he actually agrees, and it’s SO SWEET omg. I can’t tell if she has some kind of underlying plan or if she’s really just asking him a favor because she secretly knows he’ll do anything she asks.
- Aww, Mrs. Buffy and Spike bond over loving Passions. So adorable.
- I love when Buffy whips the sword at the Watcher who interrupts her!
- Xander’s clocked a lot of field time, Buffy says smoothly. Yeah… a lot of lying-on-the-field time.
- OK this was a GREAT episode. I love how Buffy realizes she has power and reclaims it, so explicitly and so satisfyingly. And of course I love how she puts those Watchers in their place. And how she even handles Giles’ “retroactive” cough and works it in to her speech to negotiate him a better deal! Way to lean in, Buffy!
- I complained two episodes ago that Buffy has spent years making herself smaller and less powerful to avoid threatening Riley. Well, in this episode she basically said fuck-you to the entire patriarchy, announced that she was powerful, and used her power. It was amazing. And it’s probably not a coincidence that this happened just after Riley left. Could she really have done this if Riley were still here? She’d have been distracted trying to prevent Riley from trying to fight her battles for her, and trying to pretend there was some level on which she needed him. Now she’s just like, sure, I’ll kill four dudes on my way to my scary interview, and then once I get there I’ll keep ten powerful men silent while I tell them how fucking powerful I am, and when I’m done they will accept my terms without a peep. Yeah, Buffy!! So satisfying!
Notes from a True Stan:
- I love Council episodes! They’re so explicitly feminist. Even the previouslys montage, where Buffy tells Wesley “I don’t think I’m going to be taking any more orders,” is getting me all riled up.
- Buffy gets super worried when Dawn interrupts the Scoobies’ conversation to get a snack, even though this is the one time they *aren’t* loudly discussing Dawn being the key.
- I know I’m supposed to be on Giles’ side when Quentin gets down on him for having dangerous things in the Magic Box that can potentially melt human eyeballs, but like–isn’t he kind of right? Giles gets all miffed and says he’s “careful,” but he sold Glory that amulet thing!
- I love Anya’s elaborate backstory: “Ever since I moved here from southeastern Indiana, where I was raised by both a mother and a father!”
- I similarly enjoy the minion’s description of Buffy: “Short, symmetrical, hair on top?”
- The Council asks Willow and Tara whether they’re “registered” as witches “under the names [they] gave,” and they say yes, which seems like a very bad lie! Then he asks what level they’re at, and they have no idea what he’s talking about, so Tara blurts, “Five!” LOL, but like, he’s definitely going to check!
- The sour-faced Council guy speaks for the audience when he summarizes that Xander has “no special skills, or powers, or knowledge that [he] brings to the mix?” When Xander protests that he helps, the Council guy says, “How? Be specific.” Hee!
- LOVE when the Council lady says she wrote her thesis on Spike. She is so thirsty.
- I want to watch a spin-off that’s just Spike and Joyce watching Passions together.
- Buffy doesn’t mention the history teacher in her epic monologue, but I think he was also bothered by her power.
- The Council agrees to not only pay Giles again, but pay him retroactively–when does Buffy get paid for her more-than-full-time job??
- Buffy’s hair is like, impossibly amazing this episode. So golden, so wavy, so shiny. Her black beanie is also enviable.