[Review by Mike Marinaro]
[Writer: David Fury | Director: James A. Contner | Aired: 02/08/2000]
It’s been too long since the Initiative arc has been directly touched upon (6 episodes) and, while solid, this episode does not make up for the wait. Many of my major problems with this season begin to show themselves here, and even more so in “Goodbye Iowa” [4×14] . “The I in Team” is a turning point in the season, like “Innocence” [2×14] was for S2. The difference here is that this episode does not “change everything” in a good or exciting way. Professor Walsh gets killed off, which I feel was a dire mistake. Additionally, the entire idea of Commando Buffy just doesn’t work and looks ridiculous. Not only does the military not mesh with anything that is Buffy, but the fact a secret military group would show her their operation and send her out on missions that quickly is ridiculous. The Initiative rubs off as unprofessional and sloppy.
Putting aside the flaws for the time being, this episode is still pretty good. The characters continue to logically develop, which in this season involves separation from one another. An early conversation, while playing Poker, between Willow and Xander is telling. Willow says, “Guess she’s out with Riley. You know how it is with a spanking new boyfriend.” This statement says a lot. Willow is a little annoyed that Buffy’s spending more time with Riley than with her. We see this annoyance return later at the Bronze when Buffy shows up an hour late, and with a bunch of Initiative guys. Now this is interesting, because Willow’s been hiding her growing relationship with Tara from Buffy.
It is unfair of Willow to expect Buffy to be hanging out with her when she, herself, is busy with another person. Willow’s double standard is blatant when both Buffy and her walk into their dorm the following morning. Buffy wasn’t the only one out with someone all night, and at least Buffy’s not concealing what she’s doing. I can remember not too long ago, in “The Harsh Light of Day” [4×03] , when Willow was running up to Buffy with friendly curiousity about whether or not she had sex the previous night. The two of them have lost touch of their friendship because of new people in their lives.
Still during the Poker game Xander eventually poses a question I think the whole group, non-Buffy, is thinking: “am I the only one with a big floating question mark over his head about this Initiative thing? There’s still heaps we don’t know about these commandos. What exactly are they up to?” The truth of the matter is something that sounds more like it belongs in a Star Trek episode. The plot arc of the season has been said to be magic versus science. While that’s an interesting comparison, S4 falls flat on delivering much of anything in the way of interesting thought on the matter.
I think the writers should have left Professor Walsh alive until the end of the arc (or at least close to the end). She should have been the “big bad” with possibly Adam as the leader of her growing army of demonoids. I was very pleased to see that the Initiative was working on something insidius, but unfortunately all that opportunity is squandered the moment Walsh (and her co-scientist guy in “Goodbye Iowa” [4×14] ) dies. The season then just turns into Buffy versus Adam, which honestly isn’t all that interesting. Buffy versus Walsh, with Adam as a tough obsticle in her way would have been much more powerful. Buffy had an entire semester of Psychology with her — imagine the awesome topics that could have been debated! Instead Adam just wanders around all day asking questions about his existence, and that gets boring quickly. It doesn’t help that the Initiative completely falls apart as well, getting even more sloppy and ridiculous. This is the moment where the plot arc of S4 starts to fall apart.
Anyway, in this episode Buffy essentially ‘joins’ the Initiative after a worried Professor Walsh sees her demolish the commando team. Right before Buffy sees the Initiative base, Riley tells her “You don’t have to do this … I mean, if you’d rather wait.” This is a very clever bit of wording, because we think Riley’s talking about sex, when really he’s talking about entering the Initiative. Sex and the Initiative do have a lot in common here. Riley’s words are similar to Parker’s words to Buffy right before sex in “The Harsh Light of Day” [4×03] . Parker says, “Is this okay? It’s your choice.” Both men are giving Buffy a choice, and both times Buffy decides to move forward even at great risk and uncertainty. Parker betrays her expectations and the Initiative turns out to do the very same. This ties both Parker and the Initiative together as manipulative bastards who only have their own disturbing agenda in mind.
Later, in a really interesting scene, Buffy and Riley do have sex, so the sexual innuendo to the viewer earlier might not have been a mislead after all. This also makes me sure that the only reason Buffy is working with the Initiative is because of her relationship with Riley. The sex scene itself is very weird and original (as far as I know) — I like it a lot. It is blended together with the two of them fighting a Polgara demon (which looks incredibly hokey and hurts the scene a bit). The connection for Buffy between fighting and having sex is once again established.
After the fight, a flustered Buffy asks Riley what he wants to do now. Notice how Buffy didn’t kill the demon — she only helped capture it. Faith says in “The Zeppo” [3×13] that the demon she is fighting “got me really wound up. A fight like that, and no kill. I’m about ready to pop.” It’s obvious that here Buffy is too, which goes to show that Faith’s “hungry and horny” philosophy of Slaying might be a universal trait of Slayers after all. I’d also like to add that I am pleased the writers didn’t make a big deal out of Buffy’s sexual encounter here. I think by now we don’t need to treat it like a monumental deal each and every time. Although, I was very much amused by Buffy’s reaction the following morning. She wakes up, gets really worried, and quickly turns around to see if Riley’s actually there still. He’s awake and immediately tells her, “Weren’t expecting to see me?” Buffy replies, ” I never know what to expect.” Fun!
The rest of this episode is concerned with moving plot pieces forward. The best example of this is when Professor Walsh is very disturbingly watching video of Buffy and Riley having sex. That and the fact Buffy’s question to Riley about ‘314’ got him suspicious is enough for Professor Walsh to worry on a new level. Walsh undoubtedly thinks Buffy is using sex as a way to get information out of Riley. As a result of this, she attemps to kill Buffy before things get further out of hand. This development makes a lot of sense, and even sets up a big upcoming conflict between Buffy and Professor Walsh. Unfortunately, as described above, that conflict never happens because of Walsh’s death.
One final thing I’d like to point out is Giles’ attempt at taking advantage of Spike’s current chipped situation. He tries to pose the possibility of Spike helping out the group more frequently. Spike’s response to this is “piss off!” Also in retaliation he throws out some unkind words about the Scoobies. It’s interesting that he doesn’t insult either Anya or Buffy, once again showing that he likes Anya and has respect for Buffy as a Slayer even though he very badly wants to kill her. To sum it all up, this is a good episode which gets the Initiative arc moving again. Unfortunately, the direction it’s going in isn’t nearly as great as it could have been.
Minor Pros/Cons (+/-)
+ Willow chanting while playing Poker and Xander getting angry. “That wasn’t magic. I was praying.”
+ Xander with yet another crappy job.
+ Spike telling Giles his crypt “needs a woman’s touch.”
+ Buffy’s tour of the Initiative.
+ I really like Tara. She is shy, kind, and very sweet. She’s also a great contrast to who Willow is turning into.
+ Willow sharing her concerns about the Initiative to Buffy. Their conclusion: the Initiative may be conditioning demons to work at Walmart!
+ Buffy looking so out of place during the Initiative mission briefing.
+ Buffy being all girly when patrolling with Riley and the Initiative guys.
+ Commandos shoot a tracer into Spike. Poor Spike!
+ Giles’ reaction to eating Xander’s Boost Bars. “Please leave my home now.”
+ Spike turning to the Scoobies when he’s desparate.
+ Riley immediately walking out of the Initiative after Professor Walsh’s betrayal.
+ Professor Walsh’s speech to herself at the very end is really hokey.
* Giles says to Spike, “Um, thinking about your affliction and, uh, your newfound discovery that you can fight only demons; it occurs to me that (chuckling) I realize this is completely against your nature but has it occurred to you that there may be a higher purpose?” Spike’s too busy counting his money to care, but this is a fun little hint of where he’s headed.
* Forrest expressing his first serious concerns about Riley’s relationship with Buffy. This becomes more severe as the season moves on.