[Review by Mike Marinaro]
[Writer: Rebecca Rand Kirshner | Director: David Grossman | Aired: 10/17/2000]
Here lies an interesting yet uneven episode. On one side, there’s enormously wonderful insight into Riley and his relationship with Buffy. On the other hand, the main plot is excessively contrived. The thing is, I once again can’t help but not caring a lot because of the perfect character material at work. I know most people hate Riley, but I’ve always found him fascinating in his relationship with Buffy. This episode deals directly with that, which makes it fascinating as well. Spike gets a lot of important attention here and Harmony hangs around doing what she’s best at: second-hand comedy. This is also when Joyce’s illness first pops up.
Everything begins with yet another awesome trailer, which immediately brings up two important characer-based threads: Spike’s ‘frustrations’ and the Buffy/Riley relationship. Buffy’s ‘hunting’ skills continue to improve and both Riley and Spike join in the fun early on. As both Riley and Spike each stake a vamp, Buffy’s “why do I even bother” is perfect. Spike immediately notices a glace from Buffy to Riley after Riley tells Spike that he shouldn’t be out there while Buffy’s patrolling. He jumps on the opportunity to make Riley look like a weak fool. Riley wants to be a part of Buffy’s life. He’s always said that he sees demon hunting as kind of an adventure, and Buffy doesn’t want him to be a part of that because she has a radically different view on the subject. This is a problem that goes all the way back to “Doomed” [4×11] and why this relationship was “doomed” from the start.
The main focus here, besides the forgettable plot, is the Buffy/Riley relationship, and it is something I’m going to dive right into. First I’ll say that if there’s one problem here it’s the plot, which also centers around Riley. His apprehension to get government help for his heart problem is understandable, but to outright refuse it and claim the government’s still out to get him is a little overkill and a bit immature. His other reason for not wanting the operation, the Buffy reason, makes a lot more sense. The fact this problem just popped up in the span of the last couple weeks is a pretty contrived, being that it’s a result of what Professor Walsh did to him nearly a year before. At the very least I can say that the plot is still used to service the characters.
Anyway, I’m glad to see Buffy’s gracious gratitude over her new training area and I love how Giles and Xander helped build it for her together. Particularly of interest is how when Riley’s all buzzing to spar with her, she just walks right past him. Ignoring Riley is really the thing for Buffy to do over the next group of episodes. However, later in this episode their problems explode to the surface and are initially addressed. Riley wants to be strong enough so that he can fight by Buffy’s side — be at least close to her in strength. This feeling isn’t entirely Riley’s fault. Buffy’s comment at the beginning of the episode about not wanting Riley to patrol alone is very much proof that his strength isn’t enough for her either. He also brings up Angel and how he could never fit in that mold for her. He doesn’t have that vampiric nature that does attract Buffy and he doesn’t have any kind of powers to keep up with her. I really sympathize with Riley, but Buffy explained all of this to him before they began their relationship, and he claimed he still wanted it. I think now he’s finally realizing he isn’t the right guy for Buffy, something that, after watching “Doomed” [4×11] , is obvious to the viewers but not to the characters.
When Buffy counters that she’s opened up to Riley in ways she hasn’t before, she’s very much telling the truth, but that’s not because she didn’t want to open up that way before. She couldn’t give herself physically to Angel, so Riley’s the first relationship she’s had quite like this. The fact of the matter is, though, that Buffy does keep Riley at an arm’s length and doesn’t fully trust his heart for her. She does very much care for him, but based on the evidence in their relationship, I just can’t say that she loves him. He’s been a great boyfriend for her, but nothing more. Listening carefully to Buffy’s words when convincing Riley to see the doctor is important. She says, “Riley, I need you. I need you with me … and I need you healthy.” Notice how she never says ‘I love you’? One would think in a situation like this, if she loved him she’d tell it to him. This cannot be explained other than the simple fact that he’s not ‘the one’ for her. This is sad but, as we can clearly see here, true.
Riley says, “loving you is the scariest thing I’ve ever done.” I can see his point, because his love for her is what lost him his purpose in life and is what leaves him uncertain about his future. At the end of the episode Graham says it like it is: “Okay, right, there’s her. And? You used to have a mission, and now you’re what? The mission’s boyfriend? Mission’s true love? You belong with us.” I think it’s telling of Buffy’s naivete to respond, “I don’t know why,” to answer Riley’s statement. All this just adds up to more growing up for Buffy.
After Joyce collapses in the kitchen there is a great scene at the hospital which introduces us to three issues, two of which introduce season-long plot elements. First is the plot of this episode: Riley’s heart condition. Second is the abruptness of Joyce’s collapse and upcoming tumor problems which lead to her death. Third is the introduction of Ben who, of course, is kind of sharing a body with Glory. It’s really neat how they managed to have so much going on in what initially seems like a pretty throw-away scene.
While Riley does get quite a bit of attention here, Spike gets almost as much as well. Buffy’s visit to Spike when she’s looking for Riley really begins to bring out Spike’s growing frustration, which is something the writers really, but still subtly, hit on hard here. She charges in, offers him money to help her find Riley, slaps him when he mocks the situation (“Oh, dear, is the enormous hall monitor sick? Tell me, is he gonna die?”), rips the down payment in half, and then charges off. Spike’s extreme frustration is palpable thanks to James Masters’ usual awesome facial expressions. Spike is incredibly smart here though. He immediately takes advantage of an opportunity to rid himself of the chip. I don’t fault Buffy for giving him the information, because she was in a hurry to find Riley and didn’t think things all the way through.
After all the action in the operating room, where Spike was repressed from drinking Buffy’s blood again, he starts losing it. He gives off more hints that his feelings of anger are really beginning to mix with sexual attraction. His rant is particularly telling, “Buffy, Buffy, Buffy! Everywhere I turn, she’s there! That nasty little face, that … bouncing shampoo-commercial hair, that whole sodding holier-than-thou attitude … I can’t get rid of her. She’s everywhere. She’s haunting me.” All of this, of course, perfectly leads to Spike’s sexualized dream expressing love for Buffy. This is an awesome shock, yet it makes complete sense and was very much led up to. Frankly, just remember the scene where Spike hunts Buffy for the first time in “School Hard” [2×03] . His reaction to this dream is perfect as well: “Oh God no. Please, no.”
Moving on to another topic, I need to mention how much I enjoyed seeing Xander using his new job skills to help Giles put together stuff at the Magic Box. This is great continuity and continued character growth. It’s amusing how incredibly useful this skill is for the Scooby Gang. With stuff constantly breaking, they now have someone to repair it all for free! Xander’s comments about seeing a parallel between him being rejected by Buffy way back in “Prophecy Girl” [1×12] and Buffy, in a roundabout way, rejecting Riley here (see Riley’s episode ending speech in “The Replacement” [5×03] ) is very cool. I respect this kind of continuity like you woudn’t (or maybe you would) believe. Xander is trying to subtly help Riley out here, but of course no one has any idea what he’s talking about. It’s especially funny how Anya confuses what he says and thinks he is talking about her!
One little thing that bothered me a bit was Buffy’s comment about the government in her room. While it’s somewhat true that they listen to you when you don’t want them to and ignore you when you want them to hear you, I still feel it’s far fetched that the remnants of the Initiative have been listening in on Riley this entire time. It’s not like Professor Walsh is still around. Although, Graham does say that they’ve been bugging him for weeks about this, so maybe they didn’t hear Buffy’s ‘message’ in the phone after all.
Regardless of my complaints, which stem from, surprise, the plot, I think this is a very solid outing with wonderful continuity and continued character development. We get huge movement for the Buffy/Riley relationship and Spike’s destiny. Future plot threads are also introduced including Joyce’s illness and the subtle introduction of Ben. Overall, I’d call this mostly successful, with only the contrived plot bringing it down a level.
Minor Pros/Cons (+/-)
+ Spike’s speech, “I will drink deep.” Then he trips and falls into an open grave.
+ Willow’s excitement over having an intellectual debate with Buffy on schoolwork. Willow proves that she’s still got the smarts though. Their conversation here is adorable!
+ The fact that Buffy even knows about Q from Star Trek: The Next Generation is completely awesome. I love this girl!
+ Spike getting frustrated over watching Passions. Hahaha.
+ Spike’s extreme amusement over Harmony’s panic of thinking Buffy’s after her even though he knows she’s obviously not.
+ The girl chat about Riley between Buffy, Dawn, and Willow. Dawn’s Castro comments are hilarious.
+ Buffy saying Spike is bugging her in “that special way.” I love the cut from her saying he’s “hanging out in his crypt all day. You know he’s doing something nasty” to Spike playing Twenty Questions with Harmony.
+ Willow’s cool ball of light spell.
+ Buffy being suitably kind and gentle to Riley after his operation.
– Spike’s head doesn’t look bloody after the brain surgery.
– Spike pinning Buffy down so easily when he thinks he is chipless feels contrived.
– The doctor telling Riley, “all patched up.” Is it just me, or does he recover awfully quickly from something so suddenly life threatening?
– Why doesn’t Buffy kill Spike after what he did here? I could buy the excuses before, but this time no good explanation is given and it’s later forgotten about.
* Willow uses magic again for small convenience: to light a room in this case. It is obvious that Tara was surprised and not all too excited of the thought that her natural spell was messed with to create something else.
* Buffy tells Riley, ” Do you think that I spent the last year with you because you had super powers? If that’s what I wanted, then I’d be dating Spike.” Wow, Buffy, wow. You’re going to be eating those words in a year’s time.
* The tombstone Spike smashes when he’s angry in the cemetery has “Mama” printed on it. This possibly hints at Joyce’s upcoming death (see “The Body” [5×16] ).