[Review by Mike Marinaro]
[Writer: David Fury | Director: James A. Contner | Aired: 05/16/2000]
The Initiative arc thankfully ends and, while not a great episode, two incredibly entertaining things happen. One, there’s a huge fight that culminates in an Uber Buffy which is very fun to watch and two, Zombie Forrest gets all blow’d up! What more could an attentive viewer ask for? All the problems that plague the Initiative are exposed here and it’s not nearly as pretty as seeing it all exploding and ending. This episode is all about explosions, special effects, and quick resolutions. Much of it is fun to watch, but it’s doesn’t have the depth of the usual episode.
Towards the beginning, Buffy is seen feeling even more alone than she felt when she returned from her visit to L.A.. She even picks up that trademark photo of her, Willow, and Xander all happy in the S1 and S2 days, which always serves as a reminder of who they used to be and how far they’ve come. This photo makes appearances in a number of episodes including “Dead Man’s Party” [3×02] and “Empty Places” [7×19] . Xander, on the other hand, doesn’t feel alone as much as terrible about the fight, “‘Cause I think maybe they’re right” about him being a “lost, directionless loser with no plans for his future.”
For the first time I can remember, Anya shows some actual love to Xander that extends beyond his penis. She says, “So what if they are? You’re a good person, and a good boyfriend, and…and I’m in love with you. Whatever they think of you, it shouldn’t matter.” I think this moment is a bit of a turning point for Xander, because in “Buffy vs. Dracula” [5×01] he refuses to be the “butt monkey” anymore and in “The Replacement” [5×03] we see him working in construction again.
Fortunately for the group, Spike slips up when revealing he knows about the fight the Scoobies had the previous day. This tips off Buffy to the idea that maybe he masterminded their entire conflict (which, of course, he did). This leads to the scene where the core Scoobies gather outside and Buffy finds out that Spike manipulated all of them (“He played us. He wanted us to fight to split us up. That’s where it came from. The stuff we said the other night.”). Even with this news, nobody seems quite convinced to simply ‘drop’ all the things said. Discussion about Adam keeps their minds off of it though. Because of the discs Spike gave Willow the group now knows Adams’ plan, and Buffy figures out why he wanted her to know it (“Adam’s gonna make sure the demons attack the Initiative from the inside … He wants me there. Probably figures I’ll even the kill ratio”).
They meet up at Giles’ place and come up with a plan to defeat Adam. On the way down the elevator shaft of the Initiative Buffy and Willow have an opportunity to work out their remaining issues. Buffy says, “I just…I’m sorry. I hate that things have been so strained between all of us … I think we’ve all sort of drifted apart this year, don’t you?” Willow replies, “Maybe a little. But, you know, first year of college, it’s hard to keep the old high school gang together.” Buffy says, “But I want it together. Will, I miss you. And Giles, and Xander. And it is my fault. I’ve been wrapped up in my own stuff, I’ve been a bad friend.” I’m pleased that Willow finally admitted to Buffy, and herself, that “I haven’t been Miss Available either. I kept secrets. I hid things from everyone.” Then they hug, Xander falls into it, and apparently all’s okay again?
While I like the dialogue, I feel that this scene is a cheap resolution to the issues at hand. “The Yoko Factor” [4×20] really set the stage and showed us what a season’s worth of growing issues can do to a group of friends. This episode, though, takes the easy way out favoring plot over naturally addressing said issues. Fortunately, these issues aren’t forgotten about in subsequent seasons. It does, though, feel like the Scoobies are beginning to make the transition from friends to family, which is a big theme in S5.
The rest of this episode is all about the plot, so I’ll be brief. First of all, Zombie Forrest is ridiculously dumb. The acting is terrible and he has some of the worst lines the series has ever had. Examples include “your will belongs to us now” (what, is Adam creating the Borg Collective?) and “look who’s come off the bench!” Grr…Argh! There are a few pieces of the plot I enjoyed, though, including watching Buffy talk down a colonel, the thrilling scene where Buffy battles through the chaos to reach room 314 (with a slow motion Spike included), the ultra cool joining spell (“last to ancient first“), and the ridiculously satisfying fight between Uber Buffy and Adam. I particularly enjoyed Adam’s increasingly worried reactions. After Buffy stops all his bullets with an invisible shield he says, “(worried) very interesting.” Their quick hand-to-hand fight, where Buffy wails on him, is extremely fun to watch as well.
The very end of the episode is a speech by the U.S. government declaring the Initiative as a complete failure. I think that statement speaks to it being a failure as the arc of the season as well. So while there’s a few good character moments, they take a back seat to finishing up the plot arc of the season. This episode is fun to watch, but it lacks the kind of depth I’ve come to expect from this series. In that respect, it is a disappointment. Fortunately, it’s not the season finale. The intensely complex “Restless” [4×22] is.
Minor Pros/Cons (+/-)
+ Willow and Tara feeling awkward around a Giles with nothing but a bath robe on, and vice versa.
+ Buffy realizing that Adam is so not worried about being destroyed by her.
+ Xander having the winning ‘combo’ suggestion.
+ When Buffy and Willow hug Xander, he says “oh God, we’re going to die.” Then he says, “Giles, hurry up! You definitely wanna get down here for this!”
– Adam wanting to make Riley like him. Yawn.
– Zombie Walsh and the blood tubes. Very stupid-looking!
– Buffy says to Willow, “you’re my best friend!” This feels really hokey, which is one of the rare occasions when SMG doesn’t nail her line.
– How is Riley able to fight Zombie Forrest after cutting into himself and yanking a chip out of his chest? Don’t look at me for answers!