[Review by Mike Marinaro]
[Writer: Douglas Petrie | Director: David Grossman | Aired: 05/09/2000]
This is the successful payoff we’ve been waiting for all season. The Scoobies have been slowly separating from each other all season long, and now all these problems everyone’s had with each other explodes out into the open with just a nudge from good ol’ Spike, who’s been silently observing these conflicts all along. The big argument scene at the end is extremely well acted and I find it potent. The lameness of the Initiative isn’t even enough to pull this one down! In addition to more great characterization, the final pieces of the plot are being put in motion for the big battle to come in “Primeval” [4×21] . Lets not foget that Angel comes to town and beats up Riley, then whines to Buffy that “he [Riley] started” it. So, tastefully gentle reader, lets dive in!
These are quite the upbeat days for Spike, as he gets to prove to himself he is still dangerous. In the caves he gives Adam some advice on Buffy based on personal experience: “Little Miss Tiny’s got a habit of bollixing up the plans of every would-be, unstoppable bad-### who sets foot in this town. Just want you to know, when the big ugly goes down, the Slayer’s gonna be right in the thick of it.” Adam seems to be pretty perceptive as well when he analyzes Spike’s feelings on what it feels like to have the chip in his head. It’s when Adam suggests to separate the Slayer from her friends does Spike agree in excitement.
The thing that’s been keeping Spike from being able to defeat Buffy, since the moment he arrived in Sunnydale in “School Hard” [2×03] , are her friends and family. He says back then, “A Slayer with family and friends. That sure as hell wasn’t in the brochure.” Now he says, “There’s your — what do you call it — variable. The Slayer’s got pals. You want her evening the odds in a fight you don’t want the Slayerettes mucking about.” I also like how he draws a comparison between the Beatles’ separation and the Scoobies’ separation. He says that the Beatles “ruled the world. And when they broke up everyone blamed Yoko, but the fact is the group split itself apart, she just happened to be there. And you know how it is with kids. They go off to college, they grow apart. Way of the world.”
Using a combination of truth and fabrication Spike is able to pick the Scoobies apart and get them all angry at each other. He hits each one of the core 4, except Buffy, on their primary sensitive issues. First he goes to Giles, who has been feeling separated from the group and kind of useless. Spike offers to get sensitive files from the Initiative (which he conveniently gets from Adam) in exchange for blood, cash, protection, and immunity. Giles agrees, and here’s where Spike starts digging in. He says, “with a smile and a nod from you? Sorry. Not close to good enough. This deal’s with the Slayer.” He then reminds Giles that he’s not Buffy’s Watcher anymore and that she sees him “very much like a retired librarian.” Giles was drinking some alcohol before Spike came, and we’re going to see later that he’s going to continue all day long.
The next target of Spike’s verbal misleads is Xander who’s been constantly switching jobs, is lost, and is kind of lame right now. So Spike tries to put a wedge between him and Willow and Buffy using a bit of fabrication based on how they actually feel. He says, “Attitude. See how far that’ll take you in boot camp.” Xander replies, “Boot camp? Yeah. Like I’d go there.” When Xander asks who said he was joining the army, Spike replies, “Oh, your girlie-mates were talking. Something about, uh, being all you can be. Or all you can be. And having a laugh. Figured you were signing up.” Xander says, “This is so like them, lately. It’s all about them and the college life.” He has been feeling really left out this year. At least he has Anya to keep him frequent company.
Moving on, Spike pays a visit to Willow where he observantly notices, just by seeing Tara twirling Willow’s hair, that her ‘preference’ has changed. He then tweaks his approach to be more ambiguous and says, “No. I just heard you weren’t…Your mates said you weren’t playing with computers so much. (indicates Tara) Into the new thing … You know, you two. The whole wicca thing … Talking about, you know, it’s a phase. You’ll get over it.” Willow’s reply, “I knew Buffy was freaked,” tells us that she still thinks that Buffy is uncomfortable about her loving Tara. Also, Willow’s been very sensitive about her witchcraft, of which was highlighted in “Fear, Itself” [4×04] . Between these two issues, Willow’s not very happy with Xander and especially Buffy, and it is all because of Spike’s deadly mixture of truth and lies. While chatting with these three Scoobies he is very much acting like the business at hand is his reason for being around, and that these personal discussions are an annoying distraction. It’s of course, the complete opposite.
Another character to get a lot of attention is Riley. When the episode begins Riley and Xander are having a conversation at the new hangout (the ruined Sunnydale High). Riley knows that Buffy ran off to see Angel (“Sanctuary” [AtS 1×19]) and is aware of that relationship now, although we find out quickly he doesn’t have all the details. It’s amusing that, even though Xander gets jealous of all Buffy boyfriends, him and Riley bond a lot here over a mutual distaste of Angel. Very funny and well-written. It also plants a seed of friendship between the two of them that continues in S5 (“The Replacement” [5×03] comes to mind). Anyway, Xander ends up filling in the missing pieces of the story Buffy told Riley about Angel, and Riley isn’t very pleased. This makes Buffy’s recent departure to see Angel and her subsequent refusal to talk about what happened even more worrysome.
All of this built-up worry and tension over the situation comes to a head when Riley faces off against Angel, who tore apart some Initiative guys that jumped him. Because of the bodies lying on the ground, Riley just assumes Buffy had sex with Angel and he lost his soul again. He says, “Now what possibly could’ve happened with Buffy that would make you lose your soul?” Angel amusingly doesn’t even correct what Riley is saying and instead responds with, “That’d be between me and her.” The two of them then duke it out with fists and tasers in a incredibly delicious fight, and to no surprise Angel kicks Riley’s ### and then proceeds to Buffy’s dorm room.
This next scene is simply wonderful. Riley and Angel are exchanging harsh words to each other while Buffy is simply standing in middle with a “what the HELL…” expression on her face. Then, after Angel really goes over the line with “You actually sleep with this guy?,” Buffy has to pull the two of them apart and say “Okay, that’s enough! I see one more display of testosterone poisoning and I will personally put you both in the hospital! Anybody think I’m exaggerating?” Way to go Buffy! See, this is the point when a lot of reviewers will bring out their inner shipper and pick sides, nearly always Angel. Me? Well, personally I love all of Buffy’s boyfriends for what they brought out of her during different times in her life. I love what Buffy and Angel had, I love what Buffy and Riley have, and I while I don’t love what Buffy and Spike will have pre-S7 (because it’s depressing for Buffy), I very much love that it happened for reasons I’ll get to later in the series. I’m a shipper of all her relationships! So there!
After Buffy and Angel have a chat in the hallway (which I’ll talk about soon), her and Riley have a chat as well in which Riley shares that he thought the two of them had sex. She then explains Angel’s still good and Riley responds, “Even when he’s good he’s all Mister…Billowy Coat, King of Pain and girls really-.” What Riley was about to say is very interesting. In my experience Riley is completely correct. It feels to me that most girls would rather be with the risky bad boy than the kind and gentle guy, which is completely contrary to what they say they want. This phenomenon is very confusing to me and I won’t continue to dwell on it, except to say that I understand Riley’s worry.
Fortunately, Buffy responds well: “Have I ever given you any reason to feel that you can’t trust me?” Riley naturally responds “No” and goes on to say that “I’m so in love with you I can’t think straight.” While the depths of Buffy’s feelings for Riley are debatable, I think it’s pretty clear that Riley really loves Buffy as much as he says. Right after this, though, she breaks the news to him that Adam killed Forrest, which makes Riley get up and walk out of the room. Now, his response is very confusing to me. Did that news somehow trigger the chip in his chest, or did Adam just happen to trigger it right at the same time? This is never clearly answered.
In “New Moon Rising” [4×19] the Willow/Oz relationship reached a satisfying closure which resulted in the continuation of the Willow/Tara relationship. Here we see the same thing happen for Buffy and Riley. The ex-boyfriend comes back to town to “make things right,” but almost ends up accidentally messing everything up. After Buffy returns from Los Angeles in “Sanctuary” (AtS 1×19), in which Angel says to her “You don’t know me anymore, so don’t come down here with your great new life and expect me to do things your way. Go home!,” we see her lying on her bed looking very sad (and Willow not being there to talk to likely added to the sadness). Angel’s words were incredibly harsh but Buffy knows he’s not wrong, and I think that’s likely a large part of why she’s so sad.
After a quick rest, Buffy gets back in determination mode and goes hunting for Adam by herself — this time with a taser gun. Along with finding Adam himself, she also finds that he can absorb taser energy (why not bring a machine gun too?) and has to fight him hand-to-hand again, getting all beat up and tasered. While I didn’t feel Buffy was justified in freaking out about Adam before, I think she has more evidence to now. Where’d she put that rocket launcher? Anyway, after getting a big cut on her head and being knocked out she returns to her dorm and checks out the damage done to her. Something I found interesting was how her ‘wincing’ reaction to touching the cut on her head is very similar to the wincing she gave when mending her head wound in “Helpless” [3×12] . In both episodes she feels completely powerless and very much alone.
The Angel/Riley confrontration in her dorm soon happens and she takes Angel outside to ask a few interesting questions, like “Okay. I come to see you, to help you, and you treat me like I’m just…your ex … Shut up! And then you order me out of your city and then you come here and start pounding on my boyfriend!? I would really like to know what the HELL are you trying to do!?” Fortunately, though, instead of the conversation being another hurtful exchange of words, Angel’s response, “I was trying to make things better,” can instead only illicit laughs. This reminds me of Giles’ return in “Grave” [6×22] , and how he and Buffy simply laugh at all the ridiculous things she’s done since he left. It goes to show that Buffy has the capability to happily laugh at a ridiculous response from someone she loves, even when she’s angry or in pain. That’s a good trait to have.
After the “laugh track” and some clarification, Buffy is able to kindly respond, “It means a lot that you came.” This statement reinforces Buffy’s never-ending love of Angel, and the fact Angel did indeed come says the same in reverse. Additionally, when he shows up immediately after Joyce’s funeral in “Forever” [5×17] to give comfort to Buffy just goes to prove this even further. Anyway, here Angel leaves after saying, “oh, and Riley … I don’t like him. (smile),” and Buffy smiles in response saying, “thank you.” This is a wonderful way for these two to part.
As great as the characterization has been so far, nothing compares to the electrifying fight between the Scoobies at the end of the episode. The entire season has been building up to this specific scene. Giles is simply drunk and only manages to say “You never train with me anymore. He’s [Adam] gonna kick your ###” and “I am no Alfred, sir. No, you forget. Alfred had a job” before managing to drag himself into his bed upstairs. The argument manages to escalate into a three-way insult fest where they all vent their issues with one another.
It comes out that Willow doesn’t care for Anya (“Hey, do you think the umbilical cord between you and Anya can stretch that far?”). She also says, “Look, I’m not the one being judgmental here. I’ll leave that territory to you and Buffy.” Then Buffy snipes back with a statement which is frankly very true: “Judgmental? If I was anymore open-minded about the choices you two make my whole brain would fall out!” This validates the fact that Buffy has been very patient with the two of them and their recent radical changes: Willow with Tara and Xander with Anya along with his job problems. Eventually Buffy desparately yells “You guys, stop this! What happened to you today?” Willow responds with the truth, minus Spike’s fabrications, “It’s not today! Buffy, things have been wrong for a while! Don’t you see that? … We have to face it. You can’t handle Tara being my girlfriend.” Xander then chimes in with his complaints: “No! It was bad before that! Since you two went off to college and forgot about me! Just left me in the basement to — (turns on Willow in shock) Tara’s your girlfriend!?”
After all of this, Buffy brings the subject back to the core. She says, “Enough! All I know is you want to help, right? Be part of the team? … No! No, you said you wanted to go. So let’s go! All of us. We’ll walk into that cave with you two attacking me and the funny drunk drooling on my shoe! Hey! Hey, maybe that’s the secret way of killing Adam!? … Is that it? Is that how you can help? You’re not answering me! How can you possibly help? So, I guess I’m starting to understand why there’s no ancient prophecy about a chosen one…and her friends. If I need help, I’ll go to someone I can count on.” This entire scene is potent, sad, and a huge payoff, which traces back to more brilliant writing. On a whole, everything adds up to one fantastic episode!
Minor Pros/Cons (+/-)
+ Giles plays the guitar and sings some more!
+ Miss Kitty Fantastico! Very cute, awesome name.
+ Willow and Tara’s discussion about rooming next year.
+ Spike getting all excited about the gun Xander gives to him, but the chip prevents him from even pointing it at a human. It turns out it’s a fake gun anyway, which is mighty sad for Spike.
+ Buffy and Forrest finally having a direct face-to-face argument.
+ Angel’s grin as he walks by Riley to talk with Buffy in the hallway.
+ Tara and Anya admiring the tiles in Giles’ bathroom while the big argument is going on.
– Encrypted files aren’t a graphical application which shows flying text across the screen — they’re just encrypted files.
– The Initiative continues to be incompetent. Why are they even bothering to capture demons anymore? They should be killing demons in their search for Adam.
Willow’s semi-hostile feelings toward Anya are not to be forgotten. In “Triangle” [5×11] they are directly addressed.