[Review by Mike Marinaro]
[Writer: Jane Espenson | Director: Michael Gershman | Aired: 01/25/2000]
This is the first episode since “The Dark Age” [2×08] that is pretty heavily focused on Giles. I also feel it is a fair amount more successful, mainly because as silly as the plot of this is, it’s not inconsistent like the one in “The Dark Age” [2×08] . Some interesting character insights come clearly through though. It’s Buffy’s birthday (which is never fun), Giles is feeling neglected, Buffy and Riley continue their relationship and some foreshadowing of its failure comes into play, and Willow has begun actively hiding her meetings with Tara from Buffy.
Giles’ feelings of confusion over what to do with his life have been continuously shown since the beginning of the season (in “The Freshman” [4×01] Buffy even told him, “Okay, remember before you became Hugh Hefner, when you used to be a watcher?”). In this episode, at least for a while, feeling neglected is added to his list of woes and actually begins to get him down. We see all of his problems brought to the surface here, and it all starts at Buffy’s surprise birthday party. It’s interesting to think back two years and remember that she also had a surprise party in, well, “Surprise” [2×13] and ended up losing her virginity to Angel who then lost his soul. Her and Riley are getting pretty close here as well. Anyway, Giles explains to her that the ‘surprise’ part wasn’t his idea and that he wanted to go with something more personal (which is exactly what he wanted back in “Dead Man’s Party” [3×02] for her return party). But this time he has a more personal motive to want it to be just the gang: he knows he’s going to have nothing to do. At the same time exactly that is happening, Buffy surprises Giles with the news that she’s got a new boyfriend.
This news very much makes Giles feel out of the loop, and rightly so. Later on, while searching for Buffy, he has a chat with Professor Walsh. She tells him that “Buffy clearly lacks a strong father figure.” This directly insults Giles and his relationship with Buffy. He calls Buffy a ‘girl’ while Professor Walsh calls her a ‘woman.’ This even further underscores Giles’ fatherly love for her. Parents often have a hard time seeing their children grow up and to some degree always see them as a child. Giles is certainly in this mindset until S7 when he finally accepts Buffy as a woman, rather than a girl who needs parental advice. Admittedly, this is a rough transition (see “Lies My Parents Told Me” [7×17] ).
After getting lost at the university (haha) Giles, Willow, and Xander all head to a monastery where they expect to find a newly-risen demon. The demon’s not there and conversation between the three begins. This is where Giles finds out that Riley’s a commando and that Professor Walsh is head of the Initiative. He’s literally flabbergasted by this news. Hearing that Spike knew before him doesn’t help matters in the slightest either. With all of these feelings of neglect and uselessness being forced to the surface, Giles decides to drown his sorrows with an amusing newly returned Ethan and some, what do you know, beer (I think we got the message the first time ME, thanks). During this conversation Ethan spouts off some nonsense about demons knowing something about ‘314’ and that the demons are all scared. Wait a second. How do any demons know about 314? All the demons that are operated on in there are already dead!
This brings me to my primary problem with this episode: the plot. Giles gets turned into a demon by Ethan and then goes running around town being extremely hokey. I’ve got to admit that I found a few of these scenes entertaining, especially when Spike enters the picture, but I honestly found myself bored through most of the rest of the episode. The plot does end on a satisfactory note, though, when Buffy stabs Demon Giles and then realizes it’s actually him because of the look in his eyes. This is a really nice way for her to prove to him that she still greatly knows, needs, and cares about him without getting overly explicit about it. At the very least, Giles’ feelings of neglect from Buffy can be put away. It’s important to note that his uselessness is still very much present, and the events of this episode only bring that to Giles’ attention even more. This is another piece leading up to the moment he plans to tell Buffy he’s heading back to England (“Buffy vs. Dracula” [5×01] ).
There are two other relationships being developed along the sidelines in this episode as well: Buffy/Riley and Willow/Tara. There’s a vital scene where Buffy is lightly ‘training’ with Riley and taking it easy on him. He tells her not to hold back, so she kicks him across the room. The look on Riley’s face when Buffy runs over and looks down at him to ask him if he’s alright says everything. That look, a look of complete embarassment and inadequacy, will be Riley’s primary issue with Buffy their whole relationship! He says he likes how she takes charge and has a lot of power at the end, but this isn’t true. He’s diluding himself into believing he can get over the fact that she’s much stronger than him. Riley’s an old-fashioned guy and wants to be the physically strong one to protect his girl — it’s just who he is and how he was raised. These issues are brought to the surface and explored in detail at the beginning of S5, but the hint of what’s to come was placed here.
Willow and Tara’s secret magic meetings also begin here. They perform a cool spell together and Willow later directly hides the fact she was with someone else from Buffy and the gang. This episode represents the beginning of the big separations the group will be facing over the second half of the season. Willow is separated more and more from the group because of Tara, while Buffy is separated because of her infatuation with Riley, Xander is still jumping from job to job with no direction, and Giles is continually lonely. Anyway, this episode had some good character development and foreshadowing along with a mediocre plot. Not bad, but not great either. The character-related material, once again, completely outshines the plot.
Minor Pros/Cons (+/-)
+ Buffy and Riley’s reaction to the surprise party. She slowly lowers her stake in confusion and Riley sneaks in from the back with a crossbow. Very funny.
+ Buffy talking up Professor Walsh to Giles, which of course only makes him feel more useless.
+ Spike expresses some light angst about Buffy not showing up to “shed a few tears” over him moving into a new crypt.
+ Giles interrupting Ethan’s big “I’m back speech.” I love how this series plays around with cliches.
+ Xander’s reaction to Demon Giles. 🙂
+ Spike helping Giles for cash and then later making fun of his car (which gets smashed).
+ Buffy giving orders to Riley instead of the other way around.
+ Giles scaring Professor Walsh just for the fun of it, right after his speech about having a concious. haha.
+ Professor Walsh making fun of Riley’s hokey “she’s the truest soul I’ve ever known.”
* Spike and Anya are really friendly to each other in this episode. Both of them make fun of Xander’s apartment and Anya even wants to give him a moving-in present! This seems to subtley continue in the next couple seasons and leads up to the point where they have sex in “Entropy” [6×18] after being essentially ‘dumped’ by their partners.
* Anya’s distaste for Xander’s apartment. This comes to a head in “The Replacement” [5×03].
* Giles says to Professor Walsh, “I think it’s best if-if… if we let a young person find their own strengths. If you lead a child by the hand then they’ll never find their own footing.” This opinion of Giles comes out very bluntly when he decides to move back to England in “Tabula Rasa” [6×08] so Buffy’s can “find her own footing.” He sings about this very topic in “Once More, with Feeling” [6×07].
* Buffy kicks Riley across the room while training. His initial reaction is that of complete inadequacy, which is a major reason why his relationship with Buffy never works. He’s never able to get over being physically inferior to her. “Out of My Mind” [5×04] begins to directly address this issue.