[Review by Mike Marinaro]
[Writer: Marti Noxon | Director: David Solomon | Aired: 02/15/2000]
“The I in Team” [4×13] succeeded primarily because it focused on character development rather than the shakey plot arc of the season. This episode, on the other hand, focuses nearly completely on the plot arc and is greatly hurt by it. When BtVS episodes decide to drop away the focus from the characters, they better have a strong plot to make up for it. Unfortunately for much of the rest of S4, there isn’t a strong plot to fall back on. While the episode suffers, it doesn’t quite flounder. The scenes displaying Riley’s increasing withdrawl symptoms are very well done and there’s some timely humor mixed in. The plot isn’t a mess only because everyone’s still confused about what is happening, and the pieces set into motion during “The I in Team” [4×13] are still being sorted out.
Before I say anything else, I want to announce that Buffy’s yummy shushi speech is one of my favorite scenes in the entire series. Buffy is so cute here!! That speech alone gave the episode 5 points more than it would have been without it. Okay, back to the analysis. Like I mentioned in my review of the previous episode, Adam’s inquisitive nature about himself and his surroundings gets old very quickly. In fact, it begins to wear thin before the end of the episode. I think the writers are using his questioning to cover up his lack of an interesting personality. As an extension of this, his introduction to Buffy is so-so. I admit it’s always fun to watch a tough new demon toss Buffy around a bit, but Adam just doesn’t strike any fear in me. Maybe the stupid floppy drive in his chest is absorbing all the fear right out of him. Buffy’s subsequent worrying about Adam seems pretty contrived as well. I mean, she only fought him once and didn’t know what he was. I think it’s a bit soon to be saying “I could barely fight him. I-it was like Maggie designed him to be the ultimate warrior. He’s smart and fast.” He didn’t look very fast to me, and his intelligence is also yet to be seen from Buffy’s perspective.
Aside from the introduction of Adam, the focus is on two things: the Scoobies’ entrapment in Xander’s basement and Riley’s withdrawls. In order to make sure the Initiative can’t find any of them, the Scoobies all hang out in Xander’s basement for some amusing times. Giles wakes up to a mirror ball spinning in his face and loud noises coming from the other side of the room. There he finds the girls (Buffy, Willow, and Anya) all snuggled up together cutely watching cartoons. Turning off the TV, he isn’t amused. Buffy gets to talking about how Riley isn’t quite Joe Normal like she wanted. Unbeknownst to her right now, he is actually in the process of becoming Joe Normal as the drugs finish leaving his system. Riley’s not going to have an easy time giving up being physically enhanced with Buffy as his girlfriend. These problems are all addressed early in S5. Amusingly, later in the episode Xander tries to take advantage of an opporunity to kiss Buffy! This tells us that Xander is not in love with Anya yet (though he does care about her, as “Hush” [4×10] proved), and that he still has the hots for Buffy. He’s wanted to kiss her from the moment he saw her in “Welcome to the Hellmouth” [1×01] !
Riley’s slow decline into complete drug withdrawl is really well done and acted by Marc Blucas. This is the best and most subtle acting I’ve seen him do on BtVS up to this point. The scene where he’s pointing a gun at the old lady, wondering if she’s a vampire or not (by the way, why would an old lady be hanging out at a demon bar? Maybe she is a demon and Riley has a point), is fantastic. As Buffy points out at the end of the episode, Riley’s entire world is coming apart. He doesn’t know if he’s on the right side anymore and things have become ‘gray’ where they used to be black and white. This is another representation of what the Scoobies are just starting to go through as they continue to grow up. These shades of gray will be addressed with growing intensity during the next few seasons.
I was very pleased that Riley was getting the drugs through his food, not from those vitamins he was taking in the previous episode. All in all, this is a passable episode which focuses on plot rather than character development. Adam isn’t terribly terrifying and the problems and mistakes of the Initiative arc (which I described in great detail in my review of “The I in Team” [4×13] ) come into sharp focus. Riley’s decline into madness due to withdrawl is convincing and everything in Xander’s basement is hilarious. And oh yeah, Buffy’s yummy sushi speech is pure gold!
Minor Pros/Cons (+/-)
+ Spike telling Buffy that she has tragic taste in men.
+ The whole group admitting Spike has a point about Riley’s involvement in the Initiative.
+ Spike’s hilariously goofy “thumbs up” at the thought of Riley killing Buffy.
+ Giles saying Anya has Wagnerian snoring. In “Chosen” [7×22] Anya snores quite loudly. Cool.
+ Forrest smashed Spike’s TV! He’s going to miss Passions! 😦
+ Willie’s back!
+ Poor Spike is being beat up by demons now too.
+ Riley holding onto Buffy’s scarf is sweet.
– Buffy overhears what’s wrong with Riley by hiding around a corner. Contrived and cliched? Unfortunately yes.
– Buffy’s worrying for Riley gets tiring by the end.
* Willow wants to perform an important spell with Tara to locate nearby demonic energy. Tara sabotages this spell because she thinks she’s a demon, which we find out in “Family” [5×06].