Buffy Season 4 Review

[Review by Mike Marinaro]

[Overview]

What an absolutely jumbled season! I say this not necessarily in a bad way, but in more of a ponderous way. While I consider this season to be the worst of the lot, aside from the first, that doesn’t mean there’s not brilliance here. On the contrary, there’s a lot of brilliance here. That brilliance, unfortunately, has nothing to do with the main plot arc, and that’s ultimately this season’s downfall. I loved that Whedon and Team continued to do what always helped make this series special: change for the better. Now, keep in mind, change isn’t always good — a lot people seem to miss this important fact. In the case of BtVS, though, change is very good.

The college setting allowed a whole new plethora of metaphorical stories about growing up to be told, many of which have more of an adult feel to them. This season also showed more of a direction to dive into areas of gray rather than sticking largely in a black and white zone of seeing the world. Aside from simply the setting, many other things are fresh this season including there being no library for everyone to meet at, no Cordelia, no Angel, and an intimidating future beyond high school.

I feel that “The Freshman” [4×01] , while flawed, is a fantastic introduction to the new setting and problems Buffy and the Scooby Gang will be facing in this new time in their lives. One thing I neglected to mention in that review was how much I adored how Buffy was hugging that UCSD book in the post-credits opening sequence. It’s a small thing that really connects the viewer to her. From personal experience I can say I also tend to latch onto objects like that when unsure of my setting and surroundings. Buffy has good reason to be nervous and a bit scared: this season makes a huge transition for the characters and the series as the bridge between the years of being a child to the years of becoming and being an adult. S4 does succeed fantastically at accomplishing that goal through its wonderful continued character arcs and development.

While I observed S3 as being about identity, I see this season as more about separation and exploration: physically, sexually, and emotionally. These issues are being encountered by all the characters, including new members Anya and Riley. Buffy is dealing with life after not only college, but also life after Angel. This leads her initially to Parker and then later to Riley. Xander is facing the prospect of getting endless junk jobs in conjunction with living in his parents’ basement forever and exploring an interesting relationship with Anya. Willow loses Oz in a painful way, continues to delve into blacker magics, and gets involved with Tara, which is obviously a huge change for her and a surprise to everyone. Giles is completely lost and without direction this season, in some ways similar to how Buffy is lost in S6 (though obviously not nearly to the same extent). Spike joins on this season not only as a regular cast member, but also one who is separated from what he’s used to and is exploring new ways to survive.

From a plot perspective, the season begins with a five episode non-arc of stand-alones that tackle what it’s like for the Scoobies post high school. “Wild at Heart” [4×06] sends Oz off and “The Initiative” [4×07] sparks the primary plot arc. One problem is that there isn’t another arc episode until “The I in Team” [4×13] . It just goes to show the writers didn’t seem to have a lot of gas to fuel the Initiative from the very beginning, although I’m not complaining too much considering we got episodes like “Pangs” [4×08] , “Something Blue” [4×09] , and “Hush” [4×10] in between. After “Goodbye Iowa” [4×14] , though, the plot arc was once again ignored until the end of the season, once again producing excellent stand-alones like “Who Are You?” [4×16] instead.

The Faith two-partner really gave this part of the season the jolt it needed to keep from sinking, because a lot of the episodes around it didn’t succeed very well. Finally, the end of the season rolls along with the character-driven “The Yoko Factor” [4×20] and the action finish of “Primeval” [4×21] . As kind of an epilogue to the season, we get the cryptic masterpiece that is “Restless” [4×22] to finish things off and wonderfly set up the final three seasons. In terms of scoring, the season is up, down, and all around. The consistency that S3 had is not seen here, but the standout episodes this season eclipse the standouts of S3. This is a solid B season: great character progression and lots of fun mixed in with a poor seasonal plot arc.

 


[Cons]

  • The Initiative (which happens to be the main plot arc).
  • Lack of focus.
  • Too much cheese.
  • Lack of big plot episodes with real danger (think “Passion” [2×17] , for example).
  • “Where the Wild Things Are” [4×18] : first F since S1!

Many people assume that just because this is one of my least favorite seasons, I don’t like it. This assumption would be incorrect. This is a great season of television, only behind the pack by BtVS standards because of its weak plot arc: the Initiative. While very flawed from its introduction in “The Initiative” [4×07] because of the simple fact that the writers made this secret military organization oddly incompetent, the Initiative didn’t really begin to completely lose credibility until “The I in Team” [4×13] and especially “Goodbye Iowa” [4×14] . The biggest problem with using the Initiative to initiate discussion on the theme of magic vs. science was that no serious discussion was ever genuinely started. Early in the season the writers seemed to be setting up Professor Walsh as an intellectual villain who whole-heartedly believes in science. This was smart, but never utilized. Instead they opted to kill off Walsh mid-season (big mistake), which left the lackluster Adam in charge.

I don’t really blame Adam for this season’s poor plot arc. I think if he had been used correctly, possibly as just a minion of Professor Walsh, he and his dialogue would have been much more fascinating. Seeing Walsh and Buffy having debates about ethics, science, magic, war, and the likes with Adam as the Professor’s fist would have been extremely captivating if written well. What we’re left with instead is the light shining brightly and soley on Adam, as when he appears the entire Initiative fades into the background and gets even more incompetent. The dialogue that Adam does get is largely uninteresting, even though he occassionaly has something somewhat insightful to say. Unfortunately he completely fails as the primary villain. He doesn’t do anything, gets little screen time, and is only slightly threatening because the writers made him pretty strong. As a minion he would have had enough depth, but as the big bad, it’s just not enough.

All of the problems mentioned thusfar ultimately result from a serious lack of focus. It took forever for the Initiative arc to establish itself, then the writers just sat on it. There’s really very little in the way of direct plot development or movement in this season. The Initiative appears, Adam kills Walsh, Adam tries to build his demonoid army. That’s it. The rest of the season was busy telling stand-alone stories, many of which were admittedly great character pieces, but still don’t help create a coherent whole. That’s really the entire problem here. When looking at the season one episode at a time it seems pretty sharp, but when looking at it as a whole it stumbles.

While I love the food type of cheese as much as Buffy does, I can’t say the same for that other kind of cheese that applies to film. While not extremely prevalent this season, the cheese factor did become much more apparent than in previous seasons (excluding S1). Examples where I tend to cringe inlcude moments in “Living Conditions” [4×02] , “Beer Bad” [4×05] , “Doomed” [4×11] , “Superstar” [4×17] , and “Where the Wild Things Are” [4×18] . Many of the hokey things done this season simply weren’t necessary and detracted from the overall quality of the episodes they were in. Fortunately, this issue was limited to a relatively small group of episodes and did not seriously hurt the entire season. Thankfully this is the last time noticeable amounts of cheese are present in the series.

The final major thing that bothered me about this season was that it inherited one of S3’s biggest flaws: lack of big emotional outpours, danger, and pain. In some ways it’s nice to have a relatively lightweight season before the final three heavy-hitters step up, but I just need there to be heavy emotions involved to be riveted by something. Once again I must use S2 as an excellent example of not only producing one of these plot-heavy, life-altering, emotional extravaganzas, but rather three of them! It’s clear to me that S2 is the winner for riveting television out of the first four seasons. Fortunately the final three seasons manage to remember this important piece of the Buffy puzzle and finally compete with S2 in this area. It’s one of the main reasons I love those final seasons so much.

 


[Pros]

  • Character development and interesting changes.
  • Continued brilliant writing and continuity.
  • Standout individual episodes.
  • Humor!

As has been stated before, S4 is very much a transition season. When I think what it’d be like to jump from the end of S3 to the beginning of S5, I freeze up. That wouldn’t work! That just goes to show that the development all the characters had this season was very important and meaningful. The group as a whole split apart, and when they get back together the relationship between them is left in a very different state from where it was before. Early in the season they’re still just really good friends with each other, while by the end they start to resemble more of a family, which is where S5 begins. The characters that undergo the most change this season are Willow and Spike. However, Giles, Faith, and newcomers Riley, Anya, and Tara all get a lot of superb growth themselves. I’ll go into more detail about the specifics in each character’s respective section (or in Tara’s case, Willow’s section).

Although I’ve repeatedly mentioned my problems with the plot arc of this season, I feel it’s equally as important to mention how utterly brilliant the writing still is. The writers still ‘have it’ here and episodes with the character analysis of “Fear, Itself” [4×04] , the stunning hilarity of “Pangs” [4×08] and “Something Blue” [4×09] , the sheer innovation of “Hush” [4×10] , the amazing development for a secondary character in “Who Are You?” [4×16] , the textured relationships in “New Moon Rising” [4×19] , and the layered and cryptic foreshadowing that is “Restless” [4×22] are all (and not exclusive) evidence to prove it. I also feel the need to bring attention to the very intelligently-handled Parker arc in the first third of the season. I thought this was well-done, interesting, realistic, and informative all at the same time. With this level of continuity and intelligent writing, this season still soars high above the vast majority of television seasons I’ve seen in my life. Not only that, but this season took some substantial risks in what ended up being the big episodes of the entire season: “Hush” [4×10] , “Who Are You?” [4×16] , and “Restless” [4×22] .

In addition to everything already mentioned, my favorite thing about this season is definitely the humor. I’m calling this BtVS’s funniest season. Starting immediately with “The Freshman” [4×01] the dialogue sparkled with wit and fun. The trend continued heavily throughout the first half of the season. In here lies what I feel are two of the best comedic episodes in the entire series: “Pangs” [4×08] and “Something Blue” [4×09] . Even episodes like “Living Conditions” [4×02] , “Fear, Itself” [4×04] , “Beer Bad” [4×05] , and “Doomed” [4×11] had their fair share of really amusing moments. The second half has its humor as well, especially in “A New Man” [4×12] and “Superstar” [4×17] . This is a purely entertaining and fun season to watch, even though the plot arc is lacking. By BtVS’s standards it’s near the bottom of the pack, but but any other standard this is still wildly entertaining television.

 


[Buffy]

This is a very tumultuous season for Buffy. She faced a number of challenges that, while not as life altering as previous years, prove to be necessary development. These challenges include: life in college, the Parker Incident, Riley, increasing isolation from her friends, the return of Faith, and reconnecting with her friends. Buffy begins the season overwhelmed by the freedom and size of her university. She feels lonely and even a bit out of her league in this environment, and these emotions affect her slayage immediately in “The Freshman” [4×01] when Sunday, a vampire leader on campus, beats the crap out of her. Even though I felt the writers over-amplified Buffy’s troubles here, the point made is still valid. I know that I felt like Buffy did on my initial days at university. “Living Conditions” [4×02] continues on the college experience theme by focusing on “the roommate from hell” idea. With the roommate actually being a demon, her and Willow finally dorm-up like they should have in the first place.

It is in “The Harsh Light of Day” [4×03] , however, where we finally get to see some of the negative consequences of indulging in the university lifestyle. This is actually a very important episode for Buffy, as the last remnants of her being able to open up on a supremely personal level are destroyed by her sexual encounter with Parker. While she obviously has sex again in the future, her heart is completely closed up after Parker, even though the root of her problems stem from the repercussions of “Becoming Pt. 2” [2×22] and can even be traced as far back as her parents’ divorce. Buffy’s entire relationship with Riley, which is one of love that’s not entirely from the heart, is evident of this. All of these relationship issues Buffy has are wonderfully brought to the surface much later, in “Conversations with Dead People” [7×07] .

A lot of people don’t like Buffy’s relationship with Riley. Personally, I love it. This is not because I think Riley has a sparkling personality (he doesn’t), but more because I love seeing what he brings out in Buffy. This relationship isn’t one built on undying love or romance for Buffy (see all of “Doomed” [4×11] for starters) like it was with Angel, but rather one out of companionship. While Buffy genuinely cares about Riley, it is obvious at each step of the way that this isn’t a solid relationship built on trust and love. Riley is full of insecurities and Buffy just gets used to him being Mr. Dependable. Both of these issues are brought out in the aftermath of the Buffy/Faith body swap in “Who Are You?” [4×16] . While S4 continuously drops hints at this relationship’s eventual failure, it never directly addresses it. This is where S5 picks it up and runs with it.

An important side-effect of Buffy’s newfound attachment to Riley is that she spends significantly less time with the Scoobies. The fallout of this involves continued isolation and friendship bonds that are being stretched thinner and thinner. Buffy’s relationship with Willow, Xander, and Giles is very strained and will never be like it was. What I love so much about this series is how the characters and their relationships are naturally and constantly evolving. They never return to a place they used to be at. These isolation issues began early in S3 when no one really got a chance to properly resolve the issues surrounding Buffy taking off after “Becoming Pt. 2” [2×22] . My only problem is that this seems like a fault of the writers (see “Dead Man’s Party” [3×02] ) rather than the characters. However, at least those unresolved issues line up with how the characters started breaking apart in S3.

The separation that began in S3 continues to accumulate in this season, which finally explodes out into the open in “The Yoko Factor” [4×20] in a way that reminds me distinctly of “Innocence” [2×14] . The fact of the matter is, Buffy’s been so caught up in her own stuff (Riley, the Initiative, slaying) that she’s let her friendships go to the wayside. Buffy is not the only culprit of this, though, as the others are also going through their own crap. It’s in “Primeval” [4×21] that wounds are healed and friendships are repaired (albeit far too quickly). Buffy’s relationship with the gang, however, resembles more of a family dynamic rather than a group of friends by the end of this season. Giles still serves as her father figure (this is something that remains unchanged throughout the season and is even solidified in episodes like “A New Man” [4×12] ) and mentor, but the rest of the gang feels more like a group of siblings to Buffy rather than simply her friends.

S4 wisely focuses on Buffy’s external relationships and issues rather than on her psyche and personal issues. This sets up and allows S5, now with most of the external issues addressed, to return the focus to Buffy’s emotions and internal struggles.

 


[Willow]

If I were to give an award for the most changed character this season, it would definitely go to Willow. It’s really amazing how far she’s come over the years. This season we get to see her really dive into witchcraft, lose Oz, gain Tara, and come into her own more than ever before. It turns out Willow’s comment in “The Freshman” [4×01] had a lot more meaning than I originally thought. She says, “It’s just in high school, knowledge was pretty much frowned upon. You really had to work to learn anything. But here, the energy, the collective intelligence, it’s like this force.” Now that’s what I’d call embracing the freedom that university can offer. While this freedom can be a positive thing, it can be equally as dangerous. We get to hear exactly where Willow is heading with her questionable ambitions in “Fear, Itself” [4×04] and the first strong signs of Dark Willow appear in “Wild at Heart” [4×06] .

When the season begins, Willow and Oz appear happier than they’ve ever been before. Very quickly, however, problems are seeded and grown. The very first sign of upcoming trouble was the passioned glance Oz and Veruca shared “Living Conditions” [4×02] . This gets extended further in “Beer Bad” [4×05] where Oz gets extremely distracted when Veruca sings. This gets Willow a little worried, but naturally she doesn’t make it into something it’s not. It’s obvious, though, that she’s not pleased with how entraced Oz is becoming with another girl. It’s in “Wild at Heart” [4×06] , though, that everything blows wide open. Oz and Veruca make some werewolf love and Willow’s heart-broken. I feel terrible for Willow here, because she did absolutely nothing wrong. She was even extra supportive at first and told Buffy, “I don’t wanna be the kind of girl who freaks every time my boyfriend notices somebody else.” And so Oz is gone, Willow is completely shattered, so here comes the magic!

In “Fear, Itself” [4×04] Oz himself realized the danger in Willow’s path of magic. Willow says, “Then again, what is college for if not experimenting? You know, maybe I can handle it. I’ll know when I’ve reached my limit.” Oz eventually replies that he’s afraid she will get hurt and that “I won’t lie about the fact that I worry. I know what it’s like to have power you can’t control.” “Fear, Itself” [4×04] is also a big episode for bringing out what exactly it really is that Willow wants from her exploration of the black arts. She doesn’t want to be Buffy’s “sidekick” anymore — she wants power and wants to be respected for having that power. Obviously this is a dangerous path and we all know where it eventually ends up: Dark Willow.

An important moment to recognize is Willow’s reaction to finding out about Oz and Veruca’s sexual encounter. In a moment of extreme pain and anger she nearly casts a very evil spell on both Oz and Veruca, but barely stops herself. We can see what she might be capable of when she is hurt bad enough. This constitutes massive foreshadowing of her actions in “Tough Love” [5×19] and “Seeing Red” [6×19] . We see a more immediate follow-up to this in “Something Blue” [4×09] where Willow casts a spell to have her will be done. While the spell is cast in innocence, intended just to make her pain go away, she continues her pattern of failing to confront the nature of the magic she is indulging in. We see short term consequences of her friends being annoyed by her (and Buffy disgusted over kissing Spike…*wink*), but her unwillingness to realize how unpredictable and dangerous this magic is continues.

Enter Tara. At first I was thinking that Tara was a magic catalyst for Willow that sped up her development even faster than it would without her. Upon further thought, however, I think I got it backwards. Every time Willow wants to do something dangerous or over her head, Tara is the first to point that out and tell her to slow down. So in that respect, I believe that Tara was certainly a positive companion for Willow. Their relationship, which is inextricably tied to magic, is also of interest. I’m not exactly sure when or how Willow discovered she was a lesbian, or even why Whedon felt the need to take this route. I can say that the way her relationship with Tara was handled was superb. It began as a pure friendship based on the mutual love of magic. At some point in the latter half of the season it became something more. I really appreciated how gradual and natural this development was — this is a touchy subject that could have easily been botched by gratuitous scenes. Instead, the more racy stuff was left to subtext while the focus of the screentime between them was on their friendship and care for one another.

It’s also interesting to note how much sense it makes that Willow would want a relationship with someone like Tara, personality-wise. Tara essentially idolizes Willow for her confidence and raw magical ability. This behavior completely panders to what Willow reveals, in “Fear, Itself” [4×04] and even back in “Doppelgangland” [3×16] , she wants so badly: power and respect. Tara gives Willow the dominance and therefore power in their relationship because of her own lack of confidence, one which will grow significantly over the next couple seasons. As Tara’s confidence grows, the two of them start to have some disagreements because Tara is speaking up for herself. All of this, of course, leads right into the thick of the S6 issues. Willow’s relationship with Tara also had another side-effect: isolation from the other Scoobies. Just as Buffy isn’t around much because of Riley, Willow’s equally away from the gang because of Tara. This bit of isolation is yet another thread that Spike is able to grab onto and use to his advantage to split everyone up in “The Yoko Factor” [4×20] .

When S5 begins Willow is in a pretty good place, but unbeknownst to her extremely dark roots within are just waiting to burst free. They finally do in “Tough Love” [5×19] .

 


[Xander]

This season Xander is really in search of his place in the world. He jumps from job to job with no focus or direction, and is stuck living in his drunken parents’ basement the entire time. This is not a good year for Xander, but a necessary one. The only thing besides his friends, who even lightly make fun of him from time to time, he has in his life is Anya, who really comes into her own and falls in love with him. This is an odd, yet highly entertaining, relationship that begins with pure sex and awkward discussions (see “The Harsh Light of Day” [4×03] ) then grows into something much more real (beginning in “Hush” [4×10] ). All of these issues naturally lead to Xander feeling lesser than the college-bound Scoobies as well as being in a bit of his own world, which brings us back to the isolation thread running loose this season. All of these issues are, of course, exposed through an excellent use of Spike in “The Yoko Factor” [4×20] .

“The Freshman” [4×01] is a really great season opener for Xander. When he surprises Buffy with his return at the Bronze, we get some vital insight into where this guy’s at. First we hear about his summer journey involving a broken car and work in interesting places. More importantly, though, we find out Xander still has his sense of humor and admiration of Buffy. This is made completely evident by his speech made to cheer Buffy up, something that he does consistently throughout the series. I feel this speech really says a lot about Xander’s character, so here it is: “Buffy, I’ve gone through some fairly dark times in my life, faced some scary things, among them the kitchen at ‘The Fabulous Ladies Night Club.’ Let me tell you something, when it’s dark and I’m all alone and I’m scared or freaked out or whatever, I always think, ‘What would Buffy do?’ You’re my hero. Ok, sometimes when it’s dark and I’m all alone I think, ‘What is Buffy wearing?'”

Although Xander’s infatuation with Buffy never fully disappears, it’s this season where we really begin to see him develop a relationship that might really last. Anya proves to be a great match for Xander exactly because of how unique she is. She’s got a sense of humor Xander loves and is very literal about the way she views things (in more of an innocent way than Cordelia dealt it). It’s also extremely fitting that their relationship begins with pure sex, something Xander’s always spent a lot of time thinking about. For a while it appeared as though this relationship wasn’t going anywhere, but “Hush” [4×10] showed that there is something more to this relationship than sex. That, however, was only the beginning for these two. Throughout the rest of the season their bond only continued to grow. It’s in S5 that Xander realizes just how much he seriously loves Anya and takes a big step forward in the relationship (see “Into the Woods” [5×10] ).

Xander spends a large part of S4 getting all kinds of jobs including bar tender, pizza delivery guy, construction worker, and ice cream truck driver. While he doesn’t really find a steady job by the end of the season, he does gain something of insurmountable value: experience. Anyway, as each job comes and goes, the one thing that remains static is being stuck in his parents’ basement. We get to see more evidence of how unfavorable his family is and that being stuck with his parents, in that environment, is driving him nuts. In “The Yoko Factor” [4×20] everyone’s feelings about each other come to a head, and Xander finds out that his friends pretty much think he’s, as Anya puts it, a “lost, directionless loser with no plans for his future.” During a scene with Anya in “Primeval” [4×21] , Xander replies “Anya, you can’t “pfft” that stuff away … ‘Cause I think maybe they’re right.” I feel this is a big moment of realization for Xander, and the beginning of his growing motivation to make things change in his life for the better. In S5 we get to see this thread being picked up on immediately. He discards his status as “butt monkey” in “Buffy vs. Dracula” [5×01] and moves out of the basement in “The Replacement” [5×03] .

 


[Giles]

Several times in S4 both Giles and Xander can be seen hanging out together alone. There’s a reason why: both are in very similar situations. Both of them have employment and self worth issues. Both of them are completely directionless. All of these issues developed as a result of the fallout from S3 where he lost his job as Buffy’s Watcher and his job as school librarian. We can see, in “The Freshman” [4×01] , that while Giles wants Buffy to be able to handle things on her own, he stills wants to be her father figure and to be needed, appreciated, and loved. This is why we see Olivia, his girlfriend, make some appearances. She is a manifestation of the kind of companionship and love he wants, even though it’s extremely obvious Olivia never satisfies that role.

“A New Man” [4×12] is the episode that really tackles all the problems that make Giles feel so worthless and out-of-place. It turns out Buffy forgot to tell Giles that Riley is a commando, and this understandably makes him feel like he’s really not a part of Buffy’s life much anymore. This is further developed later in the episode when Professor Walsh tells him that “Buffy clearly lacks a strong father figure.” All of this leads to him feeling like he’s not being understood and appreciated, and he worries that Buffy is separating herself from him. The charm of the episode, though, is that Giles gets turned into a demon where he literally can’t be understood, gets a chance to scare the crap out of Professor Walsh, and ends up seeing that Buffy still does deeply care about him. This occurs when she stabs him but realizes right afterwards that the demon is actually Giles by simply looking in his eyes.

While Buffy’s reassurance of her daughter-like love of Giles is very comforting, it still doesn’t nullify his feeling of being completely directionless. This leads him to, for the first time since arriving in Sunnydale, consider flying back to England and rebuilding his life there, which we see in “Buffy vs. Dracula” [5×01] . It’s really not until the end of “Buffy vs. Dracula” [5×01] and into “Real Me” [5×02] when he finally regains a focus and purpose to his life in Sunnydale with Buffy’s new attitude about learning her Slayer heritage and his ownership of the Magic Box.

Note: for even more analysis on the core four characters, I recommend reading my “Restless” [4×22] review.

 


[Riley]

Ah yes! It’s time for Captain Cardboard! Riley is a widely hated character in the Buffyverse, and I can understand why. The guy’s horrendously boring most of the time. However, while not one of my favorite characters, I will say I often love what he adds to the mix. I’ll be up front here I say that I find Riley considerably more interesting in S5. Here, though, he goes from All-American government good boy to outcast, and becomes Buffy’s love interest. This is where I feel he shines the most, although I admit that in the middle part of the season even I was tiring of some of the pining. As a tool of the Initiative, Riley has some insightful moments. Some of these occur with his introduction to the world of gray in “Goodbye Iowa” [4×14] and others arise from just living in Buffy’s world for an extended time (see “New Moon Rising” [4×19] ).

Aside from his loss of innocence through the nature of the Initiative, which as stated has its insightful moments, the real reason I find Riley so fascinating is in his relationship with Buffy. Here represents that normal guy that Buffy’s always wanted from the beginning of the series (think Owen in “Never Kill a Boy on the First Date” [1×05] ). Buffy’s got him, and yet something still isn’t quite right — this relationship’s got its share of problems as well. Just look at Riley’s face when Buffy kicks him across the room in “A New Man” [4×12] ! That happens to be just one of the problems the two of them face. However, most of their issues do revolve around the fact that Buffy is different, not whether or not her boyfriends are supernatural. This is an incredibly important point, because it really goes to show she can make a relationship with just about anyone work as long as both people are understanding of the other and completely honest with each other. This revelation is why I find Buffy’s relationship with Riley so important to the overall fabric of the series.

If nothing else, I think everyone can agree that Riley punching Parker in “The Initiative” [4×07] for Buffy’s sake was awesome. When S5 begins, we can see that while Buffy and Riley have had a relatively happy summer, all their issues that were subtle but prevailent in S4 are all still there. These issues are dealt with head on in episodes like “The Replacement” [5×03] , “Out of My Mind” [5×04] , and more.

 


[Spike]

This season represents a huge change for Spike. Although at times he appears quite pathetic, with the chip and all, he still develops as a character and certainly still entertains. Spike is hilarious this season, being forced to work with the Scoobies in order to keep fed. If there’s one thing that annoyed me a bit, it’s that Buffy didn’t stake Spike at multiple points in the season. Sure he had information on the Initiative, but I still feel like the writers could have given some more reasons why Buffy shouldn’t just off him. In addition to pure survival, Spike also began an amusing relationship with Harmony. There’s really not much to say about this relationship, though, as Spike only keeps Harmony around for easy sex. An interest parallel to the Harmony/Spike relationship is the Buffy/Spike dynamic in S6. There Buffy treats Spike like Spike treats Harmony in this season. But because Buffy’s human, the Slayer, and has a massive history with Spike, the connection between the two couples ends there.

Aside from a brief stint in the sun with Buffy in “The Harsh Light of Day” [4×03] , we get to see Spike in a very vulnerable and pathetic state for the first half of the season. He’s actually begging Buffy for help in “Pangs” [4×08] , and in “Something Blue” [4×09] he becomes trapped in Willow’s inadvertant spell for much comic relief. It isn’t until “Doomed” [4×11] , now living with Xander in his basement, that we see all this lameness amount to something significant. Spike feels utterly useless and worthless, so he tries to stake himself. After he fails, he talks with Willow and Xander about it only to discover he does actually have some power left: the spoken word. He tears into Willow and Xander, making them feel more pathetic than him, using his knowledge of the group’s inter-dynamics against them. This is something that will come up again in a huge way during “The Yoko Factor” [4×20] when Spike tears apart the entire group with nothing more than a sly mix of truth and lies.

“Doomed” [4×11] represents a turning point for Spike this season, because in “A New Man” [4×12] he decides to branch out and live on his own by moving into a crypt and making it his own. At this point he helps the gang out occasionally in exchange for cash so he can buy blood and cigarettes. It’s important to note he realizes fairly quickly that just because he can’t hurt anyone himself, it doesn’t mean he can’t send a “loose canon” after them. Although he threatens them in that way when he hears about Faith in “This Year’s Girl” [4×15] , he doesn’t actually act on it until he hooks up with Adam in “New Moon Rising” [4×19] . Additionally, Spike thinks this little alliance will lead to him getting his chip removed.

All of this build-up leads to Spike really screwing with the Scoobies in “The Yoko Factor” [4×20] . He uses the personal information and instabilities facing the group this season to split them all apart for Adam’s gain. Sure he messes up with the follow-through (giving the disk to Willow), but this just proves how good Spike is at understanding the people around him and using that knowledge for his own personal gain. We see this skill put to use a lot in S5. By the end of S4, Spike is once again stuck working with the Scoobies and is really beginning to get frustrated about it. This is where S5 picks up and directly addresses it in “Out of My Mind” [5×04] .

 


[Anya]

Now here’s a character that has a rich history, unfortunately left largely untapped until “Selfless” [7×05] , and a wicked sense of humor. Anya is a wonderful (if obvious) replacement for Cordelia, and one that I actually prefer. This season she was left largely undeveloped, but the development she did get was solid. Her season-long focus was pretty much tied to everything Xander, as that relationship means everything to her. Anya always globs onto to whatever comes along: Olaf, being a vengeance demon, and now Xander. This obviously presents problems for her future, but for now she’s completely invested in loving Xander. At first she just has sexual feelings towards him and, very directly, seeks to inact those feelings. That act, in “The Harsh Light of Day” [4×03] , didn’t have the affect she was expecting though. Instead she only become more attached to Xander. In “Hush” [4×10] she asks him some important questions that show she’s serious about having a real relationship, and by the end of that episode Xander ends up showing that he feels the same way.

The relationship between Xander and Anya pretty much stays exactly the same throughout the rest of the season. S5, however, gives this couple some serious foreward movement. Anya also develops a lot as a human being and flourishes as a result of her work at the Magic Box.

 


[Adam]

Adam is a really poor big villain. As I’ve mentioned before in my episode reviews, he just doesn’t have enough personality to warrant being the big bad. Sure the writers made him pretty strong, but since when does pure strength constitute a good villain? The real mistakes here were not developing the Initiative correctly and then murdering Professor Walsh, who was actually proving to be an interesting opponent for Buffy. Instead the Initiative completely falls apart and acts like a bunch of monkeys while Adam is left alone as the only threat remaining, and he just doesn’t cut it. I found some of his child-like pondering about his existence and the world around him fascinating, especially a speech he gives to some vampires in “Who Are You?” [4×16] , but ultimately I just found him mostly boring. I really believe that had he simply been a primary minion of Professor Walsh’s, he would have worked beautifully. As it stands on film, though, I rank Adam as the worst villain in the series besides the Master.

 


[Conclusion]

I’ll begin wrapping this up by saying that this is a fantastic season of television. When comparing it to other seasons of BtVS, though, it unfortunately does fall short. This is a season with a very flawed primary plot arc, but one that also has stunning character development, astonishing individual episodes, and a whole lot of humor. In the grand scheme of the entire series this season proves to be a vital entry in these characters’ lives and is extremely important to the flow of the series. This is a year of confusion, transition, uncertainty, exploration, and identification. While I consider this my sixth favorite season, I don’t want that fact to dimish how much this season accomplishes and does right. It ranks so low only because it’s up against such stiff competition.

Well, that’s it. The more light-weight years are now over. Next up is the wonderful fifth season and all the life-changing events that come with it. I can’t wait to get started!

 



[Score]

84/100

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88 thoughts on “Buffy Season 4 Review”

  1. [Note: Grounded posted this comment on July 13, 2006.]

    Just had a quick scan (it is veeeerrry long!). I don’t think we can class killing Walsh as a mistake – I’m fairly sure her character was written off, like Trick in S3, because the actress was unavailable.

    Hehe, WTWTA picks up the trifecta of bad ‘awards’. 😉

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  2. [Note: Dingdong posted this comment on July 13, 2006.]

    I saw all of S4 again recently, (except for WTWTA, as Sky dropped that) and was surprised by how much I liked it overall. When I first saw it, I didn’t think it was an improvement on S3, but having the big picture I think it is. I still think the plot arc is rather bad, but it doesn’t take up much space, and the characterisation improves throughout the season, culminating in the brilliant “Restless”. Xander’s character, in particular, is redeemed after his weak characterisation in S3, Cordelia is gone, to be far better written on Angel, Willow is even better done than in S3, and Tara is introduced quite successfully. Giles is also rather well characterised, although arguably not better than in S3. I agree with Mikejer that S3’s plot arc was in general much better, but I was never overwhelmed with that either, and I thought the character episodes of S4 were better than those of S3, and the plot took up less time, which was good. Episodes like “Wild at Heart”, “Hush”, “A New Man”, “Who Are You”, “New Moon Rising”, “The Yoko Factor”, and of course “Restless” really bring the season up. And of course, “Superstar” is great fun.

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  3. [Note: 20questionsgenius posted this comment on July 14, 2006.]

    Just yesterday i finally finished watching S4 with my dad, he’s a great dad watching the series with me as i go through my second time. He loves it by the way. The only episode he didn’t watch from S4 was “WTWTA” because its not arc relevant nor did i want to turn him off of watching with me lol. And to be exact, this is my third time to see S4 all the way through, i borrowed the S4 DVD from my friend before i got the Chosen Collection because S4 has “Something Blue” which is currently tied for my favorite episode.

    Anyhow, i have to say that i totally love S4. I know that the main season arc isnt fantastic but the standalones are some of the best of the series in my opinion. I mean you have obviously “Something Blue”, but you also have “Hush”, “Restless”, “Pangs” one of the funniest episodes of the entire series i think, and so on and so forth, everyone here knows the great ones from S4. Anyway I really love S4 because its so light and airy, and funny without that sense of dread I have for the characters from “Restless” on out.

    I think as far as ranking the seasons for favorite puposes my list would be 7, 5, 6, 4, 2, 3, 1. We just watched “Restless” and i was telling my dad, “Now you have to pay close attention to this episode, that means no walking around everywhere getting up every 5 minutes ok?” because he’s always saying, its alright if i miss a few minutes of an ep because it’s Buffy, I can figure it out. It drives me crazy but he actually listened and sat down the whole time and when it was over, he was really impressed with how deep and meaningful the entire ep was.

    I’m excited to begin S5 because it just gets better.

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  4. [Note: bookworm posted this comment on July 15, 2006.]

    when me and friends watched iwmtly, she started to adjust the pillows the couch, and I was really harsh and told her in a serious tone: “no, not now, concentrate on the tv. And no noise. There’s something happening!” because everytime, “mom, mom, MOM, mommy…” gets me, and I have to see it twice, and then at the beginning she started to fast forward the scene, and I told her NO! And she was really pissed of, and the three of them really didn’t like “the body”, because too much crying, and too much bad, not enough fun…

    and they didn’t like “restless” neither, because they didn’t understand any of it, and it wasn’t enough of the light fun, they want to see, really complicated with them…

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  5. [Note: Dingdong posted this comment on July 29, 2006.]

    I actually pretty much agree with all of your points, and view it as a fair summaristion, except for the complaint about cheese, which I think is more prevailant in S3 than 4. Anyway, despite agreeing with the review, I must say I always find this season to surpass S3 mainly because of the quality of the standalones. Doubtless the arc is much worse, but I never got very engaged by the S3 arc anyway.

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  6. [Note: Austin posted this comment on August 28, 2007.]

    I like the way season 4 ended because if it had been all emotional and weepy like S2,5,6,7 and to some extent 3, then by the time the later seasons rolled arround, it would have gotten kind of old. I like that she didn’t have a painful breakup with a boyfriend or a (near)death experiance, instead this season leaves me excited and ready for a fantastic season 5 and beyond. I agree that the arc was lame but I really did enjoy Buffy getting to experiance a somewhat normal relationship, I think she deserved it after all the pain she’s gone through. Being in my first year of college myself, I can really relate to the entire gangs experiances.

    Anyways, I dont like to rank the differnt seasons against each other (besides season 1 which is obviously the worst) since they are all unique and have their positive and negative qualities.

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  7. [Note: buffyholic posted this comment on November 8, 2007.]

    Aside the Adam and Initiative failure, I feel this is a pretty good season and I like a lot, mostly because of wonderful character development, truly outstanding episodes (Hush, Restless, Who Are You, Pangs, Something Blue) and the humor. I think the humor in this season is amazing as well.

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  8. [Note: gabrielleabelle posted this comment on November 11, 2007.]

    Main plot arc aside (I think it can be agreed that it sucks), I enjoyed this season. Generally after watching any other season of Buffy (S6…S7…whatever), I end up having to pop in a S4 disc and watch Pangs or Hush just to cheer myself up. It’s a nice break from all the heavy angst that tends to run in the series.

    Still, from a purely dramatic and storytelling standpoint, S4 is the weakest. The main arc is just poorly done. What redeems it is the individual (standalone) episodes.

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  9. [Note: Bill posted this comment on February 14, 2008.]

    While on the surface I enjoyed this season, a deeper inspection shows a season that is so flawed that it is barely passable television. And I’m not going with the ridiculous, “It’s Buffy so even if it’s not the best of Buffy it’s still better than other television” argument. This was bad TV, period.

    There were some great episodes, but a season is not defined by individual episodes when it revolves around a main plot that carries throughout the season. The main problem with this season was the writing, it was simply put, horrid the majority of the time. The reason for this is that while the writing may have shined through like usual in the witty banter and core character development departments it was pure tripe when it came to the overall plot. Not even in a fantasy world can I buy a government agency being this inefficient, or civilians being allowed the leeway they were in this season. You couple that with the usual writing of the Buffy character herself that I can’t ever get behind (I mean it’s not a good thing when all your writing does is make the main hero not ever seem to be in the right and basically to be a giant ***** just because she can and to be about as selfish of a main character as is possible. But you force her to be in the right because she is the heroine and must be in the right, and you use the auxiliary characters to somehow try and justify her selfishness and *****iness. But Buffy not being a good character is a whole nother issue) along with other issues that I will go in-depth on at some later point and you have what is easily Buffy’s worst season. I think you were actually far too easy on this season, I’d have placed it somewhere in the low C to high D range.

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  10. [Note: MikeJer posted this comment on February 15, 2008.]

    Bill, I feel you’re far too harsh on this season. However, if plot matters that much more to you than character development, I can see why you dislike it so much. I agree with you in that the plot of the season is overall very poor (it has a few nice moments in the first third of the season), but I feel the character development this season shines even brighter because of its poor plot.

    Your extremely dislike (hatred?) of Buffy herself is something I see appear every now and then in some people. I respect that you don’t like her and see her in a very poor light, but I do not. Personally, I think she’s the most developed, rich, and complex character on the show (and on Angel for that matter — although Wesley definitely gets a mention in this category).

    I love Buffy as a character, flawed as she is. I love most of the character development in S4, and I love some of the individually risky and intelligent episodes that were thrown out there. Overall: A very poor plot arc makes for a flawed season, but I dare say one which still has a lot of value to offer. Imho, of course.

    I’d like to add that, if not already obvious, character development is the most important thing to me. Everything else comes second in terms of how I look at the world of television. Buffy is not renowned in the medium for its spectacular and/or original plots. It’s known, for good reason, as a show that has fantastically realized characters that develop from episode-to-episode in an incredibly natural and life-like way. This attribute is why it’s my favorite show and why I’m here reviewing it. So when one is to understand my approach and scoring, I sincerely recommend looking at it from that perspective. 🙂

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  11. [Note: Bill posted this comment on February 15, 2008.]

    Character development is usually what I look at first and foremost as well, and the Buffyverse is great at that. Although I would counter that Buffy never really grows as a character at all, she’s the same person trying to run away from her friends and problems while being flippant towards everyone around her in season 7 as she is in season 1. But, for as much as I like character development, not every character has to develop. Too often, and I’m not saying you do this, but people expect development out of every character, but that’s just not how life works. I have no problem with Buffy or Xander never developing past their base roots, because some people are like that. They stay stagnant and the same and don’t develop, so the stunted development of those two characters really helps to ground the series in reality for me.

    That is why I am so harsh on this season though, reality. Buffy is a fantasy and I am perfectly fine in accepting all kinds of wacky things at face value because that is a necessary must for the show. However while the ghouls and goblins and witchcraft can all be spectacular and out of the norm and I won’t bat an eye it can’t be that way for realistic concepts. The militaristic Initiative is a realistic concept that they make so unbelievable that ut kills the season for me.

    Like I said, I love character development, but in an arc driven season character development can’t overcome a terrible main plot. A weak plot can be overcome, but one that is terrible and completely unrealistic within even the Buffyverse can not. The character development and some other factors are what cause me to place this season in the C range, because the plot is so bad that it really, really drags the season down. So, I understand where you are coming from, but from my end I can’t overlook a plot as bad as this one in favor of characterization, because even characterization needs a halfway decent plot to fall back on.

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  12. [Note: MikeJer posted this comment on February 15, 2008.]

    I’d argue that Buffy has a ton of development as a character. Her values, opinions, maturity, and skill change drastically from S1 to S7. I’m really sad you can’t see that, because it’s most definitely there. All I can say is to try to bypass your dislike of Buffy’s personality (which is nothing I can convince you otherwise) and dig a little deeper into other aspects of the character. A ton changes about her, much of which I try to point out throughout my reviews.

    With that said, I also don’t need every character to develop a ton to be satisfied. However, most do. For example: Anya. While Anya does develop a bit throughout the series, it’s very little, and I honestly have no problem with that because (a) she’s hilarious and (b) most of the other characters do get a ton of development, which in general I do like. Even if some characters don’t change in drastic ways, a little bit of development still goes a long way. Very few people never change at all in their lives, especially when it comes to their views, feelings, and opinions, not necessarily their base personality. But base personality isn’t the only thing that makes a person who they are.

    As for your point about the plot, I suppose I just can overlook a bad plot in lieu of what I see as mostly fantastic character development. I don’t see S4’s plot in quite as bad a light as you do (although it is very flawed). One reason why I don’t particularly let the plot take the season down quite as much as you’d like, other than the character development, is because it takes up a very small percentage of the total episodes. Only 5 out of 22 (~22%) of the episodes actually focus on the Initiative plot! Also, 2 of those 5 episodes I feel are even pretty good. There’s no way I can let 3 mediocre (or even poor for the sake of argument) episodes drag down an entire season down to a C (or a high D like you were originally suggesting).

    But, as is usual, that’s just my opinion. 🙂

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  13. [Note: Bill posted this comment on February 15, 2008.]

    I guess we’ll just agree to disagree about Buffy. Believe it or not I used to be a big fan of Buffy and I used to think her character changed a lot and was very dynamic as well as good, but repeated viewings of the series and deeper looks into her character completely changed my view into the one that I share today.

    As for the rest, all good points. You just happen to see things differently than I do, but that makes for good discussion I say. 🙂

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  14. [Note: MikeJer posted this comment on February 15, 2008.]

    Fair enough. It’s intriguing to me how the more times I’ve seen the series (I’ve lost count, but I think I’m over 8 complete passes now), the more I love Buffy as a character. Each to his own though. 🙂

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  15. [Note: Nix posted this comment on February 15, 2008.]

    Buffy, selfish? Voluntarily dying to save the world, twice (or `only’ once if you ignore near-death experiences) isn’t what I’d consider selfish, whatever else she does. Sure, the second time she’s also doing it to save her sister, after giving up her education for her sister’s sake. That’s really selfish, that is. Then she spends much of the next year battling through depression while earning money for her sister’s sake, *even though she knows her sister is synthetic*.

    I think Bill is channelling Cordelia. Personally I’d consider my life well lived were I as ‘selfish’ as this.

    (As for the government thing and the Initiative being ridiculously incompetent and inefficient: government agencies are always such *paragons* of efficiency, the military especially. Oh yes absolutely.)

    Finally, `people expect development out of every character, but that’s just not how life works’. Everyone changes with time, especially before adulthood. Show me someone who doesn’t change and I’ll show you someone who’s dead (and actually Spike was wrong here in _School Hard_: he himself proves that demons *can* change).

    (Anya’s lack of development makes logical sense too. Although she doesn’t act like it, she’s *old*. Old people don’t change as fast as young ones.)

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  16. [Note: Bill posted this comment on February 15, 2008.]

    Are you really being selfless when you are doing things out of a sense of superiority? It is very selfish to sacrifice yourself because you think you are completely in the right and refuse to hear any argument from anyone else on the matter. It is very selfish when you go through life with an ego the size of a mack truck and only do things such as saving the world out of a sense of personal gratification. That is Buffy to a tee.

    Oh, c’mon, there is no way that anyone can defend the way the Inititive was written. No goverrnment agency would be that inept from top to bottom, nor would any government agency allow a group of civilians the liberty they did the scoobies. That just isn’t realistic, and if you think differently that’s fine, but then I would sy you are letting your love for the source material cloud your judgment.

    No, some people don’t change with time. Some people do, but some don’t, that’s how life is. Xander is the exact same character in episode 22 of season 7 as he is in episode 1 of season 1. He is still the man that tells jokes to hide his true feelings and sees all that is going on around him but chooses to ignore it because acknowledging the truth would put too much pressure on him. He still feels he is useless to the group, and that is shown by the fact that there are countless episodes where people try to tell Xander that he is useful but the words never take. He is still scared to death of committing to anything or anyone, etc. Some people don’t change over time, that’s just the way it is.

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  17. [Note: wilpy1 posted this comment on March 1, 2008.]

    “she’s the same person trying to run away from her friends and problems while being flippant towards everyone around her in season 7 as she is in season 1. ”

    That’s completely untrue. I can’t see where you come from when you say she tries to run away from her friends early on. In the first two seasons, she tries hard to be a normal girl. She hated the burden of being the Slayer. All she wanted to do was make friends, go to parties, go on dates, etc., which she attempted in ‘Never Kill A Boy…’, ‘Reptile Boy’, etc. The first two seasons showed Buffy with a deep connection to her closest friends. She had sleepovers with Willow, she held her hand often (I always thought that was kinda weird), and frequently chose her personal life over her Slayer calling. She only became more detached from reality after the events of ‘Becoming Part 2’. This gradually grew worse over the series.

    What you say about Buffy running away from her problems is equally untrue. She might’ve chosen personal life over her calling in season one, but in season 7, she was intent on facing her fears. Not only facing them, but seeking them out – this was what ‘Bring On The Night’, ‘Get It Done’, ‘Dirty Places’ and ‘Chosen’ hit on especially (and outright stated).

    Any disrespect or flippancy Buffy showed towards her friends in season 7 was for a reason: she distanced herself to help with her role as an army General, and to protect her from future grief (as imminent death was almost a certainty for many). This was explained in ‘Touched’ to some extent. As for disrespect to her friends in season one, I don’t know why you mean. Buffy’s character was the most richly developed character on either BtVS or Ats. Other characters might have deviated from their original selves more than Buffy did, but she definitely got the most attention in terms of dialogue revealing her development. Her morals, motives, values, realisations about herself, etc all changed drastically over the series. It’s a shame you can’t see that.

    As for the “who changes” argument, I think fundamentally everyone changes to some extent over time. Some people’s ethics, values and personalities change, like Buffy, but some people only change in the sense of becoming more mature, like Xander. You’re right that he doesn’t change his status in the group at all during all seven seasons, but he does become more mature and self-reliant, e.g. ‘The Zeppo’, ‘The Replacement’.

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  18. [Note: lee posted this comment on May 4, 2008.]

    season 4 is just 2 good. harsh light or who r u for best ep. i actually thought the initiative was original and intreaguing. spike steals the season once again.

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  19. [Note: lee posted this comment on May 4, 2008.]

    Q. do you think that joss decided to create the ‘initiative’ just to accommodate Spike??? I assume most fans would agree that Spike is one of the, if not THE single best thing about btvs overall, so, without something capable of restraining Spike(the chip) he would have to eventually be killed off. Or they could have returned his soul, which would’ve been stupid. A spell would just have been cheesy and *unrealistic*. so there isnt much the writers could have done except create an ‘initiative’ so they could make Spike a mainstay. So considering the Adam/Initi arc probably wasnt even joss’s 1st choice, he made it work well.

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  20. [Note: lee posted this comment on May 7, 2008.]

    i mean, when wondering how to keep spkie on they thougt ot initi and relized they could do so much more than just chip spike

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  21. [Note: lela posted this comment on December 24, 2008.]

    If I was to describe Season 4 in one word I’d chose “Goofy.” Season 4 was probably the most light-hearted and funny since Season 1. Sure it had its dark moments, and creepy bits but the fun and bubblegum feel was obvious in this season. I always think season 4 as my favourite season although I agree that is one of the most flawed. It has all my favourite episodes in it and my 2 favourite characters, Spike and Tara are back in it. I think people dislike the season because it is too fun and light compared with season 2 and season 5 which balanced fun and tradgedy perfectly. Too much fun is sometimes a bad thing and vice versa. I’d say the same thing about season 6 because most Buffy fans including myself dislike that season because it’s the total oppisite of season 4. Too much angst and not enough fun. Season 2 and 5 balance the angst and fun which make them some of the best seasons. Season 4 has too much fun and season 6 has to much angst. I can’t say that much about season 7 unfortuntely, because I haven’t seen all of it but…yeah.

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  22. [Note: Tara posted this comment on March 22, 2009.]

    Season 4 is my least favourite Season, after Season 1. Yes, it is very character driven, which is fine in itself, but it ultimately makes the Initiative arc even more baffling. To illustrate my point, let me compare it to Season 6.

    With the possible exception of Season 2, Season 6 is probably the most Buffy-Xander-Willow centered of the show. Like Season 4, it is relatively light on the arc, maintaining a more episodic feel, but it works. This is because the theme of Season 6 – struggling to get through the hardships of everyday life and the difficulty of integrating into the adult world – is reflected in the lack of clear progress and sense of purpose, and also in the frequent pitstops the characters experience. Note that Buffy’s fifth Season – the time when she is most committed and confident in her calling – is much more arc heavy.

    However, with Season 4, I get the impression that this aimless quality is less to do with illustrating the metaphor of the Season than the writers’ lack of clear ideas about the Initiative. If you are going to go to the trouble of setting up such a powerful institution that will inevitably clash with the Slayer ideology, you’d better be sure to have a good few episodes that can delve fully into the concept and give it the exploration it deserves.

    Instead, we get almost an entire Season of standalones that do nothing to advance the plot, and by episode 13 – over halfway through the Season – we’ve only had one episode that directly deals with the Initiative. The writers seemed to bite off more than they could chew; introducing an idea then doing nothing to fully flesh it out. Killing off Walsh was the first mistake. The second was never utilising a delightfully foreboding hint raised by Ethan Rayne:

    “Something’s happening in the darkworlds… This new outfit, it’s blundering into new places it doesn’t belong. It’s throwing the worlds out of balance. And that’s way beyond chaos, mate. We’re headed quite literally for one hell of a fight.”

    Like everything else in the Intiative arc, it raises fascinating concepts that never get any payoff. This makes Season 4 an incredibly frustrating Season to watch. Character is all well and good, but if the Initiative arc had realised its potential, we could have seen Buffy really questioning her methods, her idealogy, the ethics of science, and reluctantly coming to the realisation of the darkness that is an inherent part of her power. If we had seen this, it would have been an even more perfect set up for the fifth Season: to see Buffy still struggling with these concepts to finally embracing who she is in The Gift.

    This is why standalones are not enough to make a Season: good story arcs inevitably drive characters forward and have them grow and develop. A lack of coherent storytelling more often than not results in characters remaining static. While Buffy through the strength of its writing manages on the whole to avoid this, the fourth Season still suffers from a flawed structure and seems to intent on playing safe – lacking the willingness to break boundaries that made Buffy so brilliant in the first place.

    Incidently, I found the quality of the standalones to be somewhat lacking. The only episodes that really impressed me were Hush, the Faith two-parter and Restless. The other standalones lack the quality of Season 3’s Earshot, The Wish, and Doppelgangland.

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  23. [Note: Ollie posted this comment on April 14, 2009.]

    Hey again, great review. One little thing that I wanted to add was that the writers definitely wanted to go in a different direction to the last two seasons. They’d done the dark, mysterious thing with Angel and Riley was presented as a regular Joe. Good idea, but he came off as simply boring. Also, Adam was very much an opposite to the last few Big Bads. Although evil, most villains on Buffy have had real, genuine emotions. Spike and Drusilla had genuine love for each other, the Mayor cared for Faith like a daughter, even complete monster Angelus was obsessed/in love with Buffy. Season Four went for the complete opposite – a villain without feeling, without emotions…. without character. He had no personality, no motives, just a purpose. And that could of been terrifying, but it came off as simply boring. The villains of the past may have had their weaknesses in their emotions, but that’s what made them interesting.

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  24. [Note: edward posted this comment on July 26, 2009.]

    I really REALLY enjoyed this season and I dont think it deserves the amount of crap thrown at it as most say it is. sure the adam plot is goofy and terible but just as you pointed out mikejer the initive plot only takes up 5 episodes out of 22. I also like riley fin as a character. and also I looked at your episode scores and skipped the episodes that bring the season down. [4×18 as u said it was terrible and beer bad and the johnathan episode] and the season really flowed well.

    what I loved throughout the season were a couple of things But mostly I think this was a fantastic willow season. her character development is huge and really does set up future seasons [boy I am so glad I didnt listen to those reviewers who sugested to skip season 4 and jump from 3 to 5!] her breakup with OZ and his exit was handled wonderfully and especially with his welcome return to give the character a proper sendoff.

    and the relationship with willow and tara was like magic! their was just so many beautiful scenes of their growing relationship and their chemistry was instant and spontaneous. at the moment of writing this im on ep 6 of season 6. [and yes i know about future events like the dark willow arc and the end of tara]

    But I do wish that tara developed more as a character in S5 although I did love the ep of her parents and her geting the courage to stick up for herself with her friends helping her. but they did get pushed into the background alittle too much for me. alot of willows arc really made parts of this season special. and the first 9 episodes I thought were really hillarious. [spike in the bathtub complaining about missing passions!:classic!] and buffys arc was pretty good too although i do understand some of the fans comments about riley. and from looking at the season 5 extras and the writers comments it looks like they did understand fan comments that he was too clark kent. cause he did kinda get alittle batman-ish in season 5 but if they had that darkness right from the begining he would have been a better character. all in all i did like him though.

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  25. [Note: someone new posted this comment on January 29, 2010.]

    You might have liked those last 3 seasons, but most fans agree season 5 was the last great season of Buffy, and those emotionally heavy seasons are what doomed Buffy into non-existence. According to most online polls I’ve seen, most fans prefer season 3, as do I, season 6 and 7 are kinda generic and depressing, and season 5 is a little too depressing ( I know everyone says 6 is the most depressing, but season 5 has always been the saddest to me).

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  26. [Note: Lizzie posted this comment on June 28, 2010.]

    Mike, about what you said about Buffy not staking Spike, I think she just doesn’t have it in her to kill someone who cooperated with her, whoever reluctant, just because they are a vampire- a rather harmless one for that matter.

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  27. [Note: Neil posted this comment on January 18, 2011.]

    Hush just beats Restless to the best episode award in my book, both are excellent though. I prefer this season to season 7.

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  28. [Note: Myke posted this comment on April 4, 2011.]

    I am so frustrated with this season. I mean, season one was enjoyable and fun–not perfect, but entertaining television. Seasons two and three were some of the best television I have ever seen. Regrettably, season four was easily the worst season of any show that I have yet to waste my time watching. I don’t even know if I should continue with the series. I hate that a show I loved became this lousy. There are tons of reasons I hate this season, but the thing I miss most is the emotional resonance. I miss feeling for the characters, correction…feeling “with” the characters. That is why I fell in love with this show. I just hope season 5 reminds me why I love Buffy so much…otherwise I’m done.

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  29. [Note: liz posted this comment on April 13, 2011.]

    Mike i am not sure what you are looking for into a show but a lot of people think that season 5 is the best as it balances arc, emotions, character developement in an almost perfect way.

    I do hope you stick with it.

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  30. [Note: Myke posted this comment on April 13, 2011.]

    Yea, season 5 was my favorite. Happy I finished the series. The show is a definite top 5 best show ever, but season 4…I still stand by my opinion that it was the worst season of any show that I have yet to waste my time watching :-/

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  31. [Note: keekey posted this comment on December 21, 2011.]

    Season 4 works better for me if I think of the “Big Bad” as being the growing divisions between the core 4 over the course of the season, rather than Adam. Looking at the season from that standpoint, Professor Walsh primarily serves the function of helping to sow division in the group and Adam serves the function of bringing them back together to defeat him. Although Professor Walsh would have made a great villain mastermind and I expected her to stick around longer, if the story had gone that direction, I think the Scoobies probably would have formed a unified front much more quickly and avoided the conflict that comes to a head in The Yoko Factor. Maybe that would have been a better season, but I really like that Season 4 focuses on the idea of people changing and often growing apart post-high school and for me, on those terms, Season 4 largely succeeds.

    The placement of Restless as the season finale also makes more sense for me when I think of the Big Bad as being the group’s growing divisions. At the beginning of Restless, we see the Big Bad defeated (i.e., the group all relaxing together, having killed Adam, with all of the season’s distractions out of the picture for the moment–e.g., Riley, Anya, Tara, and Spike are nowhere to be seen), but the core 4 all fall asleep and their subsequent dreams indicate future issues coming between them, showing that the Big Bad hasn’t really been defeated, just temporarily pushed back.

    It actually never bothered me that the Initiative turns out to be pretty incompetent. In the show’s universe, it seems like most bureaucratic institutions Buffy encounters are fairly incompetent and/or corrupt, such as the high school administration, the local government, the Watcher’s counsel. It seemed almost inevitable that the Initiative would end up having the same issues–I actually would have been surprised if the Initiative had turned out to be hyper-competent.

    I would give Season 4 a B+. Definitely not as strong as some other seasons but, as a transitional season between high school Buffy in Seasons 1-3 and the more grown-up Buffy of Seasons 5-7, it worked very well for me and it featured some of my favorite episodes (Hush, Pangs, Something Blue).

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  32. [Note: BGAP posted this comment on February 24, 2012.]

    Really enjoyed seeing the characters in college and I respect the writers/Whedon for graduating them in S3, as opposed to stretching out their high school years over more seasons. It’s too bad the Initiative/Adam plot arc was mediocre. Obviously they were trying to do a contemporary Frankenstein. I have to put in a plug here for the brilliant Frankenstein story by Mary Shelley – Highly recommended. Adam was like the creature from that book with his philosophical musings/inquiry into the nature of life. Too bad the writers weren’t able to make the character work in a way that was entertaining. The floppy disk drive in the chest was painfully dumb and now really dates the show.

    A personal aside – I starting watching S1 on Netflix streaming to see if it was OK for my 9 and 11 yr old daughters. While I was hooked after a few episodes, I’m going to wait a couple of years before I allow them to view it. Too many ‘ewwwww’ moments. They’ll get a lot more out of it as teens.

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  33. [Note: Erin posted this comment on April 15, 2012.]

    I’ve never been a huge S4 fan. I felt like it took a few too many episodes to really kick into action. There are some episodes I adore like ‘Hush’, ‘Who Are You’ ‘Wild at Heart’ and I love all the Willow and Tara action, I felt like the main arc of the show was rather boring. The Initiative did nothing for me, and Adam was a lame villain, especially in comparison to The Mayor from S3 and Spike, Angelus and Dru from S2. It’s a great season if you watch random episodes on their own, but if you sit down and watch one ep after the other the arc becomes quite boring.

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  34. [Note: NewSpock posted this comment on August 19, 2012.]

    Agree with this review of season 4, it is indeed subpar. But thanks to a brilliant Hush- and breathtaking Restless-episode as well as the great Buffy/Faith-episodes and the nice Oz-related episodes, it still pulls a lot of punch.

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  35. [Note: JEL posted this comment on December 8, 2012.]

    – QUOTE – The final major thing that bothered me about this season was that it inherited one of S3’s biggest flaws: lack of big emotional outpours, danger, and pain.

    I agree with this. To me it seems like the big emotional episodes all went to the Angel crossovers. When I watch Buffy Season 4, I always watch the 4 crossover episodes (“In the Dark”, “I Will Remember You”, “Five by Five”, “Sanctuary”) as well (so my Buffy Season 4 ends up being 26 episodes long). It is the last two that have the biggest emotional punch of the season for me. Particularly “Five by Five” whose ending always brings me to tears.

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  36. [Note: Gemma posted this comment on December 9, 2012.]

    The first slayer; making her first appearance in Restless highlights the end for me. Having watched the series in its entirety Restless poses as the set up for the events of season 7. Does anyone feel the same? Restless, in my opinion is the set up, or act as a contrast as to what was and what will be. Buffy and faith were chosen following the ancient slayer law; one girl in every generation… but season 7 as we all know knocks this on the head when Buffy chooses to bend the rules and activate all the potentials thus ending the line of slayers to be called. She creates a new history for slayers, the ability to access what some may never have access to. Therefore surpassing or ending what man intended, what the watchers council answer to.

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  37. [Note: Waverley posted this comment on February 18, 2013.]

    Did S4 have the best episodes? This is something I’ve thought about quite a few times.

    I know, I know, the overall arc was patchy at best but season four has some serious contenders for best episode of the entire series in a number of categories:

    Hush – scariest

    Pangs – funniest (with Something Blue being another possible nominee)

    Restless – best mess-with-the format type episode

    The Freshman – best season opener (this one is more of a stretch – I prefer When She Was Bad anyway – but I think the thin competition gives this at least a claim)

    Where the Wild Things Are – OK, here I’m just screwing with you 😉

    The point is, the individual episode quality is overall very high. The strange duality between good episodes and patchy arc is covered excellently in Mike’s review and it’s something I think makes this season fascinating. I’ve noticed that when I just want to watch a single Buffy ep, without commiting myself to reveiwing a whole season or series of episodes, S4 is often my first port of call. On top of the episodes listed above there is the amazing two parter with Faith (I wanted to nominate that for one of my fictional awards but couldn’t think up a decent category). And I think S4 was by far the funniest of the series – which is a major plus in my book.

    I’ve often head it said that S4 is the worst of the entire series. But I always had this theory that this was because a lot of people got so attached to the characters and the format in the first three seasons that a change was always going to bring negative reactions. Pretty much every new main character introduced from this point on got a rough reception (even Tara at first) and I think that resistance to change had something to do with that too. I can understand the criticisms of Riley but at the same time the character did exactly what he was supposed to do, act as an opposite to Angel and force Buffy to look into her dark side by realising that the more simple, nice guy she may have wished Angel to be at times isn’t what she really wants. This is played out for some great conflict in S5 and is a lot of the basis for Buffy-Spike in S6. I’ve outed myself as pro-Dawn and pro S7 in previous posts so I may as well come clean about not-hating Riley either to get my clean sweep of BtVS bugbears 😉

    Anyway, I’ve gone off on a tangent. I think I put S4 somewhere in the middle range of seasons based on individual episode quality, humour and the considerable achievement of turning the characters into adults whilst keeping them true to themselves.

    Final point is that it’s interesting Mike describes S4 as the last of the lightweight seasons. Even though two and three rank among the most highly for me, I more often find myself dipping into the later seasons. Something about getting older, I guess. I needs a bit more meat to my plots 😉

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  38. [Note: Sker posted this comment on October 16, 2013.]

    There is just something about this season that keeps me coming back for more, more so than the other 6. While I agree the Initiative plot is crud, the episodes that don’t involve the main arc are the most entertaining of the entire series in my opinion. The characters are what makes this show one of the best to grace television, not the Big Bad story arcs. I love every season, but one whose main focus is the characters first and foremost is always the most entertaining to watch for me, and is why this is the season I find myself watching more than any other.

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  39. [Note: FaithFanatic posted this comment on January 9, 2014.]

    In my opinion ‘The Freshman’ is one of the worst season openers, about on par with ‘Buffy vs Dracula’ and ‘Lessons.’ The biggest problem is the way it characterizes Buffy, which is inconsistent with what we have seen of her personality so far, in a cheap attempt to manipulative the viewer. I cannot believe that UC Sunnydale was enough to throw her off her game so as to be beaten by a regular vampire (although it has happened to her at the best of times – see ‘Fool for Love’) but even if I accept that, I can’t deal with her thinking she can’t cut Slaying because she lost one battle. This is the girl who killed the Master, sent Angel to Hell, blew up the Mayor-snake and averted no less than five apocalypses – and she lost in a fight against the vampire and considers giving up? That’s out-of-character behaviour and I don’t like it one bit. On the other hand, Willow is great in this episode, Xander gets a chance to be insightful and I quite like what happens with Giles, setting up his arc for the season. Altogether though, this is one of the weaker series openers. ‘When She Was Bad’ ‘Anne’ and ‘Bargaining’ (Pt.1 at least) are all better than this.

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  40. [Note: Kyle posted this comment on January 25, 2014.]

    While season 5 in my opinion is the best season of the series… this season is my favorite one to watch. The humor in it is brilliant, as are the light tones, and just sheer fun creativity (“Restless” and “Hush”). The characters this season are explored more than any other season. Although, other seasons have better character development than this one, the changes explored in the characters this season are both intriguing and fun. This was one gutsy season, and, for the most part, it paid off… 🙂

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  41. [Note: ML posted this comment on January 31, 2014.]

    It’s kind of foreshadowing when Giles and Spike are on the swings and Spike says Giles is training to be a watcher and Xander responds “I thought of that” (or something like that, I think) and in season 8 (comics), Xander does become kind of a watcher.

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  42. [Note: MikeJer posted this comment on January 31, 2014.]

    FYI: These reviews only take into consideration the TV show — not the earlier movie, and not the comics.

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  43. [Note: T.G. posted this comment on January 31, 2014.]

    Just out of curiosity, are the comics even a continuation of the show? Or are they non-Canan. I’ve looked this up and I still have a hard time figuring it out, the internet is not always clear.

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  44. [Note: MikeJer posted this comment on January 31, 2014.]

    Early in the Season 8 comics I recall hearing Whedon state them as canon. He’s also said that if he ever got the opportunity to do a live action continuation of the series that everything in the comics would be promptly thrown out the window, which tells me a lot about their (lack of) importance.

    As for my reviews, well, canon or not, the comics aren’t on my TV screen and don’t have the actors, so I’ll always see them as a completely separate beast. Even if I liked the comics, which I vehemently don’t, I wouldn’t include them with these reviews. The TV show is one autonomous piece of work that should be judged on those grounds.

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  45. [Note: Kyle posted this comment on January 31, 2014.]

    Oh, I agree… I started getting into the comics, but I had to stop… They were way too overblown for me… I personally don’t consider the comics part of the buffyverse, and that the actual show should be analyzed separately.

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  46. [Note: Jeremy G. posted this comment on February 1, 2014.]

    Actually, Mike, didn’t you write reviews of some Season Eight comics a few years back? I recall seeing them when I first happened across the site, but they don’t seem to be around now.

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  47. [Note: MikeJer posted this comment on February 1, 2014.]

    Yep. I had reviews of the first 10 issues or so of the Season 8 comics. It never felt like a good fit and the quality of the comics kept getting worse and worse, so I axed them. I think they’re still living in the database, like ghost reviews from another time. 🙂

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  48. [Note: Alex C. posted this comment on February 2, 2014.]

    I’m fairly certain that I read a quote from Joss Whedon somewhere, to the effect that although the comics are “canon”, if he ever did a live action continuation of the show, everything that happens in them would be tossed out the window in a heartbeat.

    I’d say that sums up quite handily how much significance they should be ceded wrt what they have to say about the story and characters.

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  49. [Note: ML posted this comment on February 3, 2014.]

    I actually have never read the comics. I don’t even have access to them, though I have been curious about them, until now… Nevertheless, I don’t think it would be a horrible idea for Xander to become sort of a watcher.
    Also, of course, I knew this was only about the TV series, so far I haven’t seen any reference to any other Buffy thing.

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  50. [Note: Lydia posted this comment on July 6, 2014.]

    There is just something about this season that keeps me coming back for more, more so than the other 6. While I agree the Initiative plot is crud, the episodes that don’t involve the main arc are the most entertaining of the entire series in my opinion. The characters are what makes this show one of the best to grace television, not the Big Bad story arcs. I love every season, but one whose main focus is the characters first and foremost is always the most entertaining to watch for me, and is why this is the season I find myself watching more than any other.

    I think Sker (#40) nailed it. This is a wonderful season if you put aside the Big Bad dealio for a moment. First of all, this is a character-driven show, if the characters weren’t so damn amazing I am quite sure I wouldn’t have looked twice at Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I mean, the plots aren’t exactly stellar, never have been (leaving for some exceptions, of course). Clearly, the reason this season went downhill was because the actress who played Walsh left abruptly leaving a lot of open wounds left for the writer’s to fill. They could have done a better job, of course, but the result isn’t as disappointing as some fans make it out to be. Plus there are 2 instances where the Initiative actually worked. #1. Xander’s dream in Restless (you know what I’m talking about!) and #2. Spike’s Chip ;). MikeJr, I’m going to assume that the reason Buffy did not kill Spike when she had the chance in Season 4 was because he wasn’t doing any real damage. I mean emotional, yes (The Yoko Factor, etc.) but he wasn’t killing or sending off minions to do his bidding. Also, because Buffy is such a nice person, she doesn’t want to kill something as ‘harmless as a bunny’ as Buffy herself puts it, when talking to Riley in doomed. If he can’t kill, I’m just assuming Buffy doesn’t feel like it’s right to kill him. And then there’s also the fact that he’s helped her a couple of times. Just an assumption, though.

    Anyway, this season had so many kickass stand alones, “Something Blue” “Pangs” “Hush”, the Faith two-parter and so on. It really does work and is vital in the development of all of the characters. I think a light-hearted Season is just what we needed before Seasons 5-7 which are heavy on the emotional turmoil. Buffy has always had the reputation of being an angst-driven show, Season 4, however, proves that it can be so much more than that. BtVS has some of the most humorous lines I have ever encountered, sometimes, I find myself laughing at things characters say more than I would on a sitcom. BtVs language has been added to my daily vocabulary, like adding ‘y’ to everything, a world of no, doesn’t make with the sense. There’s more, not that I can remember. Anyway, this season is super funny and really fun to watch, most of it, anyway. The Initiative and Adam don’t get as much screentime as other Big Bads in other seasons so I can safely say I’m satisfied. I would have given the season as a whole a B+.

    Also, relating to the comics discussion, I gotta agree I don’t consider them canon at all. All my friends who have watched Buffy and read the comics say that they are crap. I’ve heard really stupid things happening in those comics. Xander and Dawn hooking up, Buffy turning lesbian, and other weird stuff. The TV defends stands on its own footing, though.

    Anyway, on to Season 5, one of my (if not THE most) favourite seasons in Television as a whole, and the Buffyverse, obviously.

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  51. [Note: FlyingPenguin posted this comment on July 15, 2014.]

    I feel the need to sound a somewhat different note here and defend the “main plot arc” of season four a bit. I certainly agree that it was flawed, and I totally agree that it could (and probably would) have gone much better if Professor Walsh hadn’t had to be killed off prematurely. And I understand people’s objections to the effect that the Initiative was unrealistically incompetent at times–even if this flaw doesn’t actually bug me all that much. But I also think there were some really interesting ideas at work, at least some of which genuinely did play out in interesting ways.

    I also think that to say (for instance) that there were no “arc episodes” between “The Initiative” and “The I in Team” is overlooking a fair bit. I mean, in “Hush” and “Doomed,” Buffy discovers who/what the commandos are and that Riley is one of them, and “A New Man” has the meeting between Buffy and Professor Walsh with their respective secrets revealed, as well as relevant developments in the Buffy/Riley relationship. (Also, it’s worth pointing out that previous seasons similarly advanced the plots of their “main arcs” mostly via a relatively small handful of episodes.)

    Maybe it depends on what, exactly, you consider the “season arc” to be. But I find comparison with season two (my personal favorite season) instructive, here. I mean, the “main arc” of season 2 revolves around Buffy’s relationship with Angel: their gradual coming-together, the big turn in “Surprise” and “Innocence,” and then Buffy having to deal with the fallout and work herself up to the point of being able to confront and “kill” him in “Becoming.” One interesting thing about this arc, though, is that in some respects, it’s an arc that really lives much more in the realm of character development than “plot,” per se. Looked at in one way, only a tiny handful of episodes seem like “arc” episodes (especially to a first-time viewer who doesn’t know where things are going)–but in another light, every early-season episode that dealt with Buffy and Angel progressing toward the no-holds-barred passionate relationship that emerges mid-season is part of the “arc.”

    A similar case can be made about the fourth season. Riley was a character who paralleled Buffy in having a duality, and hidden agenda, about him–he was Mr. Psych Grad Student/T.A., but also, secretly, Mr. Initiative, just as Buffy was Ms. Normal College Freshman, but also the Slayer. Additionally, the Initiative existed largely to throw the egalitarian, individualistic, and (over the course of the season) increasingly conflict-ridden and dysfunctional Scoobie gang into sharper relief by contrasting it with a hierarchical, institutional, smoothly efficient “team without an I in it.” Given all of this, the show–by spending time on things like building the Riley/Buffy relationship, or establishing Dr. Walsh as smart-but-authoritarian-and-harsh–was developing its central arc in many of those early episodes.

    What’s more, even after the disappointing end to Walsh and the rather unfortunate shift of focus to Adam later in the season, the thematic aspects of the Initiative arc continued to be developed to a pleasantly surprising extent. Riley’s story dramatized the dangers of being a “follow orders” kind of guy, while the interpersonal stuff among the Scoobies (culminating in “The Yoko Factor” dramatized the downside of their approach. The latter ultimately pull it together, though, and clean up the Initiative’s mess (once they figure out how to function collectively without sacrificing their individuality and egalitarianism)–and although the confrontation between Buffy & co. and the colonel guy in “Primeval” would doubtless have been better if it had been Professor Walsh instead of the colonel, it was still satisfying and on-theme in several ways.

    That’s how I see it, anyway. Thoughts, anyone?

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  52. [Note: Dobian posted this comment on August 14, 2014.]

    Killing of professor Walsh was the big mistake of the season. She was the interesting villain, and it was a huge missed opportunity to not portray the relationship she would have had with Adam, her Frankenstain creation. Adam wasn’t a bad character, he was just put into the wrong role. He should have been Odd Job to Walsh’s Goldfinger.

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  53. [Note: Riderofapcoalypse posted this comment on August 27, 2014.]

    OH, where to start?

    First off, if I forgot anything worth mentioning, I apologize. I’m going to be adding my comments per season before I voice myself in each episode. Anyways…

    FOR ME, Buffy season 4 was a complete failure, a ‘never was’. If you want to know why, continue reading. If not, well this is my opinion in a nutshell.

    I’m not a fan of Buffy and Co. going to college/working sh*t jobs after high school, although I completely understand showing life after high school for viewer relate-ability reasons.
    – Personally, once Faith was out of the picture, I think Buffy’s aspiration’s of a ‘higher standard of education’ would realistically be shot down. I mean, out of the Scoobies, once Faith was gone I think Buffy would have the best shot at being successful in construction/demolition, or even in private security. But again, I understand showing her going to college /trying to relate to the viewer.

    Now, this season did have some good along with the bad. Let me explain:
    Ex of Good:
    – Beer Bad, cheap way to tell kids not to abuse alcohol and party to hard in college but very entertaining. Plus who hasn’t fantasized about cavewoman Buffy having her way with him/her?
    – Thanksgiving episode, ‘You made a bear….undo it! undo it!’
    – Hush, enough said.
    – Halloween episode, Giles with a chainsaw.
    – Episode with Oz leaving, (actually showing werewolf aggression in human form when raising his voice to the werewolf girl…about F’in time! This guy has the beast raging inside him, bottled since day one, but he acts like he is on Ritalin 95% of the time…like…what? I love Seth Green but I hated how they displayed his character, baring his funny moments)
    – Anya/Xander and Tara/Willow. I was legitimately angry when these two relationships ended. I’ll display my anger for the correct season’s review on Anya/Xander.
    – Faith, bow to the queen, enough said.

    Ex of bad/what could have been good:
    – I can understand the idea of the initiative, on paper. I mean after the Mayor in S3, the government implements a secret organization to contain and study otherworldly entities. Ok great, that seems believable.
    ….That said, IT WAS HORRIBLY EXECUTED! Hellboy, Men in Black, those are examples of great execution with the initiative idea. I actually thought the initiative theme had pretty decent potential because it could replace the Watcher’s Council. That bullsh*t story line of the Watchers Council not giving a rat’s a$$ about the Slayer medically, mentally or finically. The one weapon specifically designed to combat the minions of hell, a weapon created by the original Watchers as we learned in S7. Ya, cause that makes sense…F U Quentin Travers.

    – Someone explain to me why the Scoobies couldn’t spearhead the governments initiative operation once the two factions met? At least in it’s infancy? (Imagine the episodes we could of had in S7 when the First Evil destroyed the Watcher’s Council AND THE INITIATIVE). This way we don’t have to deal with the bullsh*t notion that any of the Scoobies have to try and be successful at a ‘normal job/life’. THE SCOOBIES WILL NEVER BE NORMAL! Explain to me how you can be normal after saving the world from vampires and demons of all shapes and sizes. The Scoobies are supernatural freedom fighters against the forces of hell itself for god sakes! (I am letting Xander’s whole military/Halloween thing not factoring in…don’t get me started on that bull).
    – Anyways, I think the initiative idea could have worked if they continued to have our favorite band of merry men/woman stick together instead of branching out and doing their own thing.

    – This leads me to this season’s love interest in Riley Finn. Again, a good idea on paper but executed horribly. (Admittedly I hated this Captain America wannabee until I started reviewing the show myself). What’s wrong with Buffy and Riley just being f*ck buddies who are captain’s of their respective separate units within the initiative? Or even have Riley be assigned to Buffy’s team to ensure they follow government/military protocols?…and then they hump like rabbits. Riley left Buffy in the show because of the emotional detachment…This couldn’t happen with the idea(s) above? With the two mistaking love for sex like many younger people do?
    – Riley Finn was portrayed as a boy scout instead of a badass like an angry Angel/Angelus, serious Giles or ‘born again Christian’ Spike. (His fight scenes got way more attention/better after Spike got his soul back…for me anyways). Basically, Riley was a wholesome and boring character that nobody wanted to see.

    – And finally, THE MAIN REASON(S) WHY THIS SEASON WAS A ‘NEVER WAS’ TO ME.
    Transformers Adam….and Super Sayain, Witch Doctor, Buffy.
    Since when the F does this show expect us to believe Buffy fights both the minions of hell and Optimus Prime? Everything about Adam was a failure, from the character himself to the method of his defeat. The only cool thing worth mentioning is the demonic riot within the initiative at the end of the season, which I still think they could have done better.
    AND NOT ONLY does Adam transform into Optimus Prime with his Gatling Gun arm that disappears into his body without his body changing/accommodating for it…BUFFY TURNS INTO A SUPER SAYIAN THAT IS IMBUNNED WITH THE PRIMAL STRENGTH/SPEED/AGILITY OF THE ORIGINAL SLAYER…WHO CAN TURN BULLETS INTO DOVES SOMEHOW…AND NEVER USES THIS STATE OF BEING AGAIN TO TRY AND BEAT A TURAKHAN VAMPIRE OR GLORY!…WHAT!?…JUST WHAT?!
    – THIS is the reason why a friend of mine I got to watch Buffy, stopped watching the show. He tells me the show has a ton of plot holes but is still good from the second half of season 1 and on…and then calls me to ask me why Buffy is a cross between Goku and Doctor Strange? And why she is fighting Optimus Prime?
    – I always wanted to ask the show’s creative team what in God’s name they were smoking during season 4. Literally, I want to go to comic con, stand up, look at them and say. ‘Guys…season 4…what the F*ck?’

    Anyways this is my condensed opinion/review of season 4. I certainly hope I did not offend anyone with what I wrote. Again this is my opinion. If you liked Season 4 than more power to you.

    Thanks.
    Riderofapcoalypse

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  54. [Note: Calon posted this comment on January 22, 2015.]

    This season was my least favourite when it first aired but having watched the series dozens of times since, the general feel of transition running through it and humour make it the most fun to watch for me. Hush and Restless are probably my two favourite episodes of television ever. Pangs and Something Blue are in my top ten favourite episodes of Buffy as well.

    I’ve noticed fellow Buffy fans tend to lump a lot of hate on this season because of Adam/The Initiative. Obviously some of it’s warranted but focusing just on that underestimates what this season achieved and did really well in my opinion. For me, this season’s ‘Big Bad’ is change and how people adapt to it. Adam is just an extension of the theme (rather than the cornerstone of it) in that he’s part demon, human and machine, which I take to be metaphors for the past, present and future.

    I think there’s a pretty consistent subtlety to all of the episodes in S4 (WTWTA notwithstanding) that gives the transition the characters go through a more organic feel compared to other seasons. It all seems light-hearted on the surface and so you don’t really notice just how much the characters change as individuals. What I think is clever is that it’s not because the change comes about due to any major life events, at least none anywhere near as dramatic as the things that happen in Seasons 2, 5 and 6. It’s actually a pretty uneventful year in that regard. But that’s what helps the writers capture the general feel of change over time much more authentically for me, because in real life we don’t tend to notice change on a day-to-day basis; it’s only when you look back sometimes and reflect on what has happened to you over the past 6 to 12 months (or longer) do you get a feeling that you’ve changed a little but also peculiarly you know you are still the same person. That’s the general feeling that I love about this season and can relate to at present, and I think Restless ties all this up brilliantly.

    tl;dr version: this season is way cleverer than people think!

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  55. [Note: Krssven posted this comment on July 6, 2015.]

    Personally, I find Season Four one of the more consistent seasons in terms of interesting episodes, plot developments, and character moments. For reference, I consider the best season to be S2, followed by S5, 4, 3, 7, 6, 1 in that order. Yes, I really do think series 6 is that bad, as in barely above S1 by default. I’ll post about why in the series review at some point.

    It gets things right, like Season Seven, by kicking off with a group of episodes that establish and ground the season. The first episode is so good, it really does feel we’re kicking off a new era. Seasons 5/6 don’t manage to keep the ‘college’ mindset at all, which is a shame because moving the series to a new setting was perhaps the most important thing they needed to do post-high school. It works fantastically well in this season and then the college backdrop gets entirely kicked into touch. Not just dialed down…booted off the screen.

    I love the character development here. Buffy is distracted by College, Riley and the Initiative and Willow by College and Tara. Giles and Xander are equally distracted with finding their places in the world and Xander also has a new relationship. As it’s exploited by Spike, they’ve all grown apart and didn’t notice that their group dynamic from high school had been blown apart by the demands of college (or life in general).

    Personally I was a big fan of Riley. I was a big Angel fan too, but that story had run its course and didn’t need to be dragged out. It wasn’t nice to see cracks develop and Riley eventually written out in S5, because this period (late S4-early S5) is probably when the gang starts to evolve into what it will be for the remainder of the show’s run, with all the principal characters in place. I always wonder ‘what if?’ with Riley and BtVS in general, a thought experiment that you should all try with the characters of Riley, Tara and (especially) Jenny. I liked that Riley’s introduction and personal arc was closely tied to the Initiative and Buffy – it made him interesting as a character. I don’t understand the ‘Captain Cardboard’ vitriol – I always just assume that those people where Bangelites who couldn’t stand Buffy with anyone else, with the vitriol moving onto Spike in later seasons.

    The Initiative isn’t intended as anything more than a ‘what if the government were doing what the Scoobies do?’ exploration. I 100% think this is what the US government would consider a safe exploration of such a situation – treat them as ‘hostiles’ or animals, not sentient creatures, and be surprised when your meagre security and containment protocols fail. Even vampires were too much for regular military, even if they called them ‘commandos’. The whole outfit seems a lot more professional when it makes a return cameo in S6. I’d have liked to see Walsh as more of a villain, perhaps as a Big Bad with Adam as her Dragon, but in this case Whedon seemed more taken with the Frankenstein metaphor. As is always the case on Buffy, when it strays too far into metaphor (as it does in S6 in a horrendous way) you end up with underdeveloped or downright non-existent villains. I like Adam as a villain – he is a severe test for Buffy, who still tries her default strategy to defeat him (I’ll just run over and hit him) but manages to realise – with help – by the end of the Initiative arc that she needs some serious help to defeat him. The fusion of magic and technology that Walsh managed to create unleashed a serious threat. As with Mayor Wilkins I really got the sense that had Adam succeeded, then swathes of people were going to die at his or his minions’ hands. Adam seemed to genuinely know what his plan was and was clever enough to keep it away from anyone until very late on. In addition, Adam had genuine belief and confidence in his voice – his monologues (even when others are in the room, his dialogue sounds like a monologue) were actually quite intimidating in a strange way. This is altogether different from the campy Master, sinister Angelus and the quite affably evil Mayor. This is something they don’t manage in S5, where despite being a reasonably interesting villain, Glory is simply insanely single minded and callous. So I think Adam has more depth than you say here – you seem to be looking for what you would’ve preferred rather than at what is there.

    I did like the wonderful development of Willow in this season – after losing Oz in such a painful way it was great to see her develop both magically and in terms of a new relationship. I do recall on first getting this season on DVD looking for the definitive point where Willow and Tara become an item and I can never find it. There is their big spell together (I think the episode is ‘Who are You?’ but not sure) which Whedon touted as the equivalent of a sex scene, but I was looking for actual relationship vibes rather than heavy-handed metaphor. BtVS is all about metaphors, but the demons/vampires/magic etc are still real in the show’s context and setting, so a spell is still just a spell – even if it is full of sexual tension.

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  56. [Note: Cotten posted this comment on August 2, 2015.]

    After my latest rewatch of BTVS (what can I say Im an addict) I was wondering if anybody knew why SMG was nominated for a Golden Globe for season 4? Dont get me wrong, she did her usual bang-up job but Ive come to think that maybe AH would have been a better choice given the somewhat daring (for its time) plotline they ran with. If SMG was going to be nominated for a season level award she should have be nominated for S2, S3, S5 at least.

    And yes Ill come out and admit it, I come from the team that feels that the main cast and BTVS in general were totally screwed by the television award system. Emmy´s and Golden Gloves espically.

    PS: Just so Im clear Im not saying she didnt deserve the nomination I was just wondering.

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  57. [Note: Krssven posted this comment on August 4, 2015.]

    While the Willow-Tara plotline as a relationship was certainly fresh, it was not original. One of the first (possibly the first) was a female-female kiss on LA Law in 1991. Here in the UK, it had also already been done (in tv soap Brookside, which my mother used to watch…heavily). I remember some making a big deal over Willow-Tara kisses, but it was not the first show to do it by any stretch.

    As for SMG, I felt her acting was at its best in S4-5 so I’m not surprised she was nominated in that period. BtVS was always thrown into the ‘genre’ or ‘scifi’ (or ‘cult’ here in the UK) bucket and I think that hurt it a lot in terms of awards.

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  58. [Note: Cotten posted this comment on August 4, 2015.]

    I was just wondering what was it about season 4 that made it so special. Granted there were a couple of great episodes no doubt, but season 5 was so much better…at least in my opinion. Ofc it could just be my dislike of the whole Intiative plot thats rearing its head. I found the whole thing just so boring.

    And ofc I do know about the tv awards dislike of the scifi/fantasy genre. Btvs/Ats probably came about 10-15 years too early. Hell just look how many emmy nominations Game of Thrones got this year around. From what I remember of the 90´s I seriously doubt it would have even gotten made…at least not in the form it is now.

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  59. [Note: Boscalyn posted this comment on August 6, 2015.]

    Practically the entire cast of Game of Thrones got nominated for what most would call its worst season. Not to mention that Tatiana Maslany finally got nominated for Orphan Black, but for the season where she did the least work and had the least good material. Reaching back a while, but Star Trek TNG won Best Drama for its final season, when it was well off its peak.

    So award ceremonies do nominate genre stuff, just… not at good times.

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  60. [Note: Jeremy G. posted this comment on August 6, 2015.]

    TNG was nominated, but lost to Picket Fences. Still a strange time to give them a nod, though.

    The X-Files was nominated for numerous Emmys, and Gillian Anderson won for the fourth season for giving an “Emmy-worthy” performance.

    (Those of you who’ve seen the fourth season of X-Files will understand why I put “Emmy-worthy” in quotes.)

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  61. [Note: LouisLittForEmperor posted this comment on August 6, 2015.]

    Meh I’m not sure that Tatitana was doing less work necessarily it’s just that someone else was taking up screen time as some doubles. If anything she did less work in Season 1 since in the beginning there wasn’t as much clone interaction which seems to be what the people love.

    Plus that dinner scene at the end of the season would have been a bitch to film.

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  62. [Note: LouisLittForEmperor posted this comment on August 6, 2015.]

    No need to pick on GA for that Jeremy. Anything you may complain about has more to do with the writing and she still does great work as this review agrees http://www.avclub.com/review/the-x-filesmillennium-memento-morithe-thin-white-l-49452

    In fact that overall arc is probably one of the dramatic high points of the show (though once again I spoiled myself by mistake, though knowing about it made that bit in Unruhe (the one by Vince Gilligan with the cameras) very interesting) and is probably the main thing making it hard to pick between 3 and 4 for best season.

    If your maybe complaining about it being very dramatic which is something the Emms appreciate, and thus your making fun of them for that I guess that’s fine. That being said I’m not sure who else would have won that year, haven’t seen the other nominees and I can’t really think of any awesome 1996 female performances I’ve seen.

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  63. [Note: Jeremy G. posted this comment on August 6, 2015.]

    X-FILES SPOILERS

    I have zero, zero, Mostel McZero problems with Gillain Anderson’s performance. I was merely referring to the fact that she spends the fourth season with cancer. Awards ceremonies like the Emmys love actresses who play women with fatal diseases, and shower them with awards even when the genre is completely un-Emmy-like. This is actually a thing.

    And this, of course, is yet another reason to hate the Emmys.

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  64. [Note: Boscalyn posted this comment on August 6, 2015.]

    But by all accounts, S2 should have been when Tat got the nomination. You have the clones-imitating-clones hitting its peak with Sarah-as-Alison-as-Donnie, you have the dance scene, and Cosima spends the entire season dying, which makes the Emmys swoon.

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  65. [Note: LouisLittForEmperor posted this comment on August 6, 2015.]

    Had to look up the Mostel reference. Didn’t realize it was referring to the gentlemen from The Producers.

    Just be careful next time when you’re demonstrating your Emmy hate cause the uninitiated might think your slanting the performer as opposed to the organization. Not sure how you could get that point across better but it’s something to keep in mind.

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  66. [Note: Jeremy G. posted this comment on August 6, 2015.]

    Objective Comment about Emmy Preferences + Reference to Fatal Diseases = …Half-Baked Joke About My Critical Tastes?

    That makes some kind of sense, I suppose.

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  67. [Note: LouisLittForEmperor posted this comment on August 6, 2015.]

    Putting aside any snide remarks of what the Emmys view as quality the story didn’t really do much to gain me sympathy as far as the “dying” part went. The fact she was dying only seemed to come up when it was convenient and stuff didn’t really even start to get crazy until like the last 3 episodes and even then she was saved in a vaguely deux-ex machina way that still hasn’t been fully explained, even Scully was saved in a more logical and easy to understand fashion and that’s one of the only other shows outside of OB to make things more convoluted if could afford to.

    I wasn’t insulting Mostel. I just didn’t know where Jeremy was coming from with Mostel McZero as Mostel’s name is not synced in my brain and I’m not even sure what the Mc part has to do with anything. In fact I referred to him as a gentlemen since I’m aware from Confused Matthew that he has a pretty strong reputation and I didn’t want to demean him unnecessarily. DON’T HURT ME.

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  68. [Note: Jeremy G. posted this comment on August 6, 2015.]

    I’ve referenced Anderson’s 1997 win at least a couple of times on the forums. I only didn’t talk about it here to avoid spoilers.

    I’m going to quietly bow out of this discussion now, because it’s starting to hurt the logical part of my head.

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  69. [Note: LouisLittForEmperor posted this comment on August 6, 2015.]

    Afraid I’ve yet to see the episode so I can’t leap to anyone’s defence here.

    I’m all in favour in avoiding spoilers but the execution could have maybe been a little better.

    Bowing out might be a good idea as the people coming back here in 5 years are probably going to question our sanity lol

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  70. [Note: LouisLittForEmperor posted this comment on September 15, 2015.]

    Having now seen The Long Goodbye and having reread Jeremy’s blurb in the forums I can responsd to Jeremy’s humour inquiry. Bos was using the ancient art of sarcasm. This was a means of humour where a person implies something that is pretty obviously not true in a smug tone in order to play with expectations and perhaps get a reaction out of people. Due to a lot of the effectiveness of sarcasm being down to delivery when commentors on the Internet attempt to use sarcasm it can vehard to detect due to the lack of inflection. Usually these wacky commentators would need to type out phrases such as “lol” and “jk” in order to affirm that were indeed being sarcastic.

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  71. [Note: Jabari Jefferson posted this comment on December 19, 2015.]

    Unfortunately Mikejer, I have to disagree with the score you gave for this season. I disliked Season 4 greatly. It is my least favorite season of the show and that is becuase The Initiative/Adam storyline was not really compelling at all. I think part of it comes from the fact that the show took too long to introduce them.

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  72. [Note: Samm posted this comment on December 19, 2015.]

    The Initiative and Adam really did knock this season down, but i still felt on the whole it did a good job. It had great character development, some brilliant stories and the most humerus season for me. For me personally, i have it above season 1 and 7, as they both have just as poor season storylines and this season had more things to like out of the seasonal storyline.

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  73. [Note: Big Time James posted this comment on December 20, 2015.]

    As many have noted in the comments here, s4 is conflicted and hard to measure because:

    1) Yes, the central story was weak as hell.
    2) There were a lot of great smaller stories and episodes s4.

    Pangs, Hush, the Faith 2-parter, Superstar, Restless were all highlights of the series for me. Though most don’t like Superstar as much as I do.

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  74. [Note: Steelerbob posted this comment on December 5, 2016.]

    the biggest problem with the initiative is the sudden appearance. If they have been around a while, how could they never have run into this in earlier seasons. That part just makes no sense. There were numerous apocalypses and the government presence was in that very town and Buffy and the gang never know it. just seems illogical based on the previous seasons.

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  75. [Note: Samm posted this comment on December 5, 2016.]

    It was a secret government base and they didn’t find their presence in a graveyard, rather at the college. Also I don’t think they knew anything about apocalypses all they cared about was finding demons to experiment as shown in doomed.

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  76. [Note: Sirena posted this comment on December 6, 2016.]

    Hi Steelerbob,

    I agree with you. Whedon and the writers should’ve given the viewers glimpses of the Initiative in previous seasons (even if we never fully learned who they were until season four). In the episode “Out of Sight, Out of Mind,” we see mysterious men in black come to collect Darcy and take her to a facility where she will learn about espionage. So, what this demonstrates is that the government is aware of what occurs within Sunnydale.

    Throughout the fourth season, Riley and members of his team engage in routine patrols within Sunnydale. In season five (?) Riley tells Buffy that he has a master key that opens every shop in Sunnydale. Further evidence that the Initiative isn’t confined to the college. Also, as a shadow branch of the U.S. government, it isn’t a far fetched idea that they would concern themselves with potential threats to national security (i.e. an apocalypse or a vampire lord who wants to enslave humanity).

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  77. [Note: Poltargyst posted this comment on December 25, 2016.]

    I like Season 4. I like it’s lighter tone. I like that Buffy and Willow are in college. I wish they’d been in college for the rest of the show. I really don’t need to see Buffy having to worry about real-world problems like having to earn money or raise a sister. I live those kinds of problems, I’m trying to watch a fantasy show. I like the humor of Season 4 and some of the stand-alones are great.

    I don’t really get dinging an episode for being a standalone, for not being part of a season arc, and I’m not concerned about the poor arc of Season 4. Maybe it comes from the fact that as a kid I would watch Star Trek TOS episodes avidly. There were no season arcs! ALL of the episodes were standalones! And as long as I get consistently good episodes, even allowing for some klunkers (of which there are few in BtVS), I’m happy. The episodes are consistently good in Season 4, season arc be damned, so I’m happy.

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