[Review by Mike Marinaro]
[Writer: Douglas Petrie | Director: Douglas Petrie | Aired: 02/26/2002]
“As You Were” has problems, but it really doesn’t deserve the poor reputation it has. Its goal is to be a key stepping stone on Buffy’s road to recovery and, for the most part, it succeeds at this goal. Sure, I would have liked a more cohesive package for such an important milestone, but I’m not going to let that bit of disappointment taint my entire view of the episode. Riley shows up and is able to provide Buffy the shock she needs to get herself back on track again. While this is happening, we get some nice moments between Xander and Anya in which they both express extreme nervousness at the impending wedding.
There’s two areas where the episode struggles: its plot, and Riley’s wife Sam. I’ll begin with the former. Like “Older and Far Away” [6×14] , the moment the plot kicks into gear, I immediately start to feel the cheese take over. The basic idea is that Riley’s in Sunnydale tracking a demon he hopes will lead him to a man who plans to sell the demon’s eggs to the highest bidder. Three things go wrong here: the demon is extremely poorly realized, the music is over-the-top, and Riley’s mission is overdramatically played. Frankly, I just don’t buy the stakes of what he’s up to. He can’t just drop in and expect us to care about him or his mission. It’s only when Riley’s actually, ya know, interacting with everyone in a non-plot way that he becomes interesting again.
Fortunately, after that early wave of cheesiness, the episode finally finds its grove and starts delving into some extremely probing material. The plot, though, unfortunately does slip up one last time, and that’s towards the very end of the episode when Riley and Sam are being pulled up into the helicopter. Let’s see here, we’ve got the cheesy music playing, we’ve got Willow with a big unrealistically happy grin, Xander way over-enthusiastically yelling “Bye Riley!! Bye Sam!!,” and we’ve got the camera shot of looking up at Riley and Sam together on a rope being pulled off into apparent marriage/military bliss. All of this is so unbelievably hokey and silly, I can’t even describe it. Well, maybe I can… Ow, pain! Bad, bad, bad! OW!
The other aspect of the episode that really didn’t work for me is the introduction of Sam, Riley’s wife. The only reason she seems to be here is so that we all clearly get the idea that Buffy and Riley aren’t getting back together, but I feel this would have still worked had we never seen Sam. Riley being married doesn’t particularly bother me in of itself. Sam, herself, though, is another story entirely.
The way the episode initially plays it, we should all be shocked and impressed over Riley’s brand spankin’ new wife. I guess I should feel good about the fact that Buffy clearly had a positive impact on Riley. While Sam may be strong and capable, I just wish she wasn’t made out of thicker cardboard than Riley is. Do they seem like a good match? I suppose so, but that doesn’t mean I have to like her. I’m going to take Willow’s job of hating her, even though I won’t change my mind because of one cheesy pep-talk that happens to compliment me.
There’s something about Sam’s voice and mannerisms that irk me — she just sounds totally fake to me. I can’t pinpoint whether’s it’s bad writing or just plain awful acting — maybe both. Regardless, Sam feels like a one-dimensional plot device rather than a real person, let alone the person who ended up marrying Riley. Apparently we’re also supposed to believe her story of going from a member of the Peace Corps to a covert special ops agent in the span of mere months. I’m afraid I don’t find her story particularly credible, which is a flaw that falls on Doug Petrie’s script. I also have a problem with Petrie’s timeline on how Riley got over Buffy. Sam says, “Took him a year to get over you.” Really? That would mean that Riley wasn’t over Buffy part of the time they’ve been married. None of this seems like it lines up at all.
Anyway, enough with the complaints. Those are the episode’s major problems, so now let’s get into the many things it actually did right. For that, it’s time to delve back into Buffy’s mind. The intro sets up the what’s to come nicely. The depressing routine has really set in and Buffy still can’t break out of it. The post-credits scene is particularly important because it presents her with two options: giving into Spike and continuing her routine of late, or going inside and spending time with Dawn. Buffy says, “I’m not letting her down by letting you in.” Even after the events of last episode, she can’t bring herself to just go inside. I think Buffy’s actually scared of what she’ll feel if she doesn’t continue being with Spike. Unfortunately her her, getting it on with Spike these days doesn’t look like it’s giving her the thrill it used to — the sex is becoming boring to her.
I enjoyed the scene in the house after Buffy gets in from her secret Spike encounter. Dawn seems a bit more understanding of Buffy this episode — she was very polite about telling Buffy she can’t have anymore Doublemeat dinners. I think Dawn gets off a bit easy for her recent theft because everyone is very understanding of why Dawn was acting out, and are giving her a second chance. This point, to me, became pretty clear with that smile between Dawn and Buffy in the final moment of “Older and Far Away” [6×14] . I do appreciate how hard both Willow and Dawn are trying to get Buffy to go out with them for a little bit of fun in this scene. Buffy’s not lying when she claims she’s seen more than enough action for one night and says, “You guys have some fun… (to herself) someone should.”
The next morning, Buffy misses the garbage truck with an amusing follow up line: “Don’t you want your garbage?” Sorry Buffy, you’re stuck with your own garbage. No one will take it out but you! This obviously reflects her state of mind right now. Depressing things keep piling onto Buffy when she gets a rejection letter from the university in the mail. Everything’s going wrong for Buffy today. All of these things serve as an excellent backdrop and foundation for where the episode leads us.
In the moments before Riley shows up, we see a Buffy who has sadly turned into the very thing she found so strange about the Doublemeat Palace at first: the near-emotionless worker who stares blankly around and does her job on autopilot. What does Riley provide? He provides a sense of urgent necessity and a reason to jump into action. When Buffy spends a moment to consider whether to help Riley or not, I think it causes some immediate self-reflection. Buffy’s been called into action again and it allows her, for the first time since her resurrection, to feel like herself again — like she has a purpose; like the person she used to be. This is what the title of episode is in reference to. Riley tells her, “I need the best. I need you, Buffy. Can you help me?”
They played up the unexpectedness of Riley showing up perfectly. Buffy gets reminded of her failure to be reaccepted at the university by her coworker right before bumping into Riley. This is not only a literal shock for her (“huh?”), it turns out to be the thing needed to shock her into recognizing the reality of her situation with Spike. This, by the episode’s end, prompts her to finally take action and give herself the foundation she needs to truly pull herself out of this unhealthy relationship. It definitely helps that, even though Riley can see Buffy’s stuck working fast food, he’s not here to rub anything in her face. He’s very complimentary of her the entire time. Buffy’s actually flirting with him a little, which is nice to see for a change.
Later on in the episode, when Buffy’s talking with Sam in a graveyard, we get the only time I actually enjoyed Sam — this is the only time she sounds genuine to me. I feel like she’s really trying to help Buffy out, even though she accidentally sets off some nerves when she says, “Better no guy than the wrong guy, that’s for sure.” How could Buffy not take that to heart considering her relationship with Spike? Sam’s not wrong here, though, and I can’t help but feel this conversation may have played a small part in Buffy’s decision to break it off with Spike at the end of the episode.
Before Buffy genuinely thinks about what Sam says, she instead acts on reaction and emotion. Right after Buffy and Sam part ways, she flees to Spike. It’s almost as if Buffy’s getting a twisted satisfation out of her own pain here. Even though she knows she’s doing wrong, she still thinks she wants more. Buffy and Spike’s exchange here is vital, as it really outright shows Buffy’s burgeoning desparation. Buffy says, “Tell me you love me … Tell me you want me … Shut up,” then the sex ensues. Oh, how much I love this ever growing and complex relationship. Buffy’s hanging onto her last thread here — you can feel the desparation in her. It’s almost as if she knows it’s all about to be exposed…
…and exposed is what happens. Riley bursts into Spike’s crypt, seeing Buffy and Spike in “bed” together. This can’t be a pleasant sight for him, as he knew Spike had a thing for her and was almost competing for her affection back in early S5. Spike even goes as far as basically repeating what he told Riley in “Into the Woods” [5×10] : “What can I say? Girl just needs a little monster in her man.” I really don’t believe this is true, although it certainly must seem like it from Riley’s perspective. Throughout the series Buffy has proven that, while often attracted to the danger of the monster, she doesn’t need it to be there. I think this entire relationship with Spike gets it out of her system for good — or at least I’d like to think so.
I really like how Riley behaves in this scene: in an extremely mature fashion. He reminds Buffy that Spike is “deadly, immoral, opportunistic. Or have you forgotten?” Although Riley’s correct about Spike, he is unaware of Spike’s genuine love for Buffy. This is the very dichotomy that makes Spike such an intriguing character. On one hand, Spike is completely devoted to Buffy — he loves her, wants her, and likes her. On the other hand, he’s selling demon eggs for cash.
Does it seem out of character for Spike to be this “Doctor?” No, not really, for two reasons. First of all, selling these eggs doesn’t directly hurt Buffy or any of her friends, which has always been the limit of his apparent “selflessness.” Secondly, Buffy expressed a need for money as the reason she started working at the DMP (see “Doublemeat Palace” [6×12] ). Spike claimed then, “I can get money.” I think this entire scheme is the realization of that comment. I, personally, think this is entirely within character for Spike to do.
That’s why Spike exasperately and rightfully claims to Buffy in his defense, “Well, that’s bloody funny coming from you! No more games? That’s all you’ve ever done is play me. You keep playing with rules you make up as you like. You know what I am. You’ve always known. You come to me all the same.” Spike has a point here! Buffy has played mind games with him over what she really feels and why she’s really with him. Buffy’s treated him poorly and deserves plenty of blame for her actions to him, and to herself. But, the blame goes both ways. After Buffy actually has a chance to think all this over by the end, she admits “That’s just you. I should have remembered.”
I greatly sympathize with Buffy for kind of forgetting Spike’s nature. He’s been seemingly decent for a while now, and it’s easy for her (and us) to miss that it’s just because of his love of her — not because of anything truly selfless — that he’s ended up doing some good deeds. Buffy claims, “I’m not saying Spike is good, but he’s not capab…” and gets cut off right when she has proof that he is capable, and is also responsible. Buffy’s been blinded to Spike’s nature because of his actions around her. I think this is an incredibly brave point the writers are making about Spike, even after so many fans had come to really like him and root for him becoming a better guy — myself included. There’s no doubt that Spike’s love of Buffy has vastly changed him, but he’s still nowhere near being a selfless individual. I’ve always maintained that Spike’s actions, good or ill, were always motivated out of selfish reasons when you really got down to it. Here’s an episode dedicated to proving it, and I very much respect it for that. What happens in “Seeing Red” [6×19] is somewhat led up to by what Spike does here.
As the episode wraps up, I think Buffy actually verbalizing out loud to Riley, “I’m sleeping with Spike,” despite Riley already knowing this, is a cathartic moment for her. Between that and actually taking Riley’s words — both when he finds her with Spike and before he leaves again — to heart, she comes to the vital realization that she must break it off with Spike. This relationship is slowly killing her, and she needs to stop, right now. Although many aspects of the plot of this episode come across as corny, the impact on the characters being described here is what transcends this above its otherwise questionable quality.
Riley’s final speech to Buffy is wonderful, and makes me still really appreciate him. He says, “None of that stuff touches you … Wheel never stops turning Buffy. You’re up, you’re down. Doesn’t change what you are. And you are a hell of a woman.” This compliment will ironically be repeated, almost verbatim, by Spike himself in “Touched” [7×20] , which really shows just how vastly different a Spike with a soul is compared to a Spike without a soul. I’d like to take this moment to also wish Riley a happy final farewell. I don’t care what anyone says, I like the guy.
The final scene of the episode is simply spectacular. Buffy finally breaks it off with Spike, and walks off to face that light which she claimed was blinding back in “After Life” [6×03] . After retreating from the light, she’s now passed through shadow and darkness to come out on the other side. It’s as blinding as it was in the beginning of the season, but she’s now much more aware of how to face it — and face it head on she will in “Normal Again” [6×17] . Buffy explains to Spike, “I do want you. Being with you… makes things, simpler. For a little while. I’m using you. I can’t love you. I’m just being weak and selfish … And it’s killing me. I have to be strong about this. I’m sorry, William.” Buffy treats Spike with enough respect here — by treating him like a man, not a monster — that, although he’s not happy about it, he’s accepting of it. This is a beautiful end to this part of their tumultuous relationship.
Before I wrap this one up, I’d like to take a moment to talk about Xander and Anya. Although they’re not the focus of the episode, their time together here turns out to have a lot of meaning. We see them totally consumed by wedding arrangements, and they’re both excessively nervous about it — Xander moreso, which is obviously a bit of foreshadowing of the next episode. Throughout the episode, compulsive consumption of potato chips amusingly take the manifestation of this nervousness.
The most interesting scene, though, is the one in the bathroom. Xander and Anya are hiding out from their relatives there, which really hints at Xander’s motivations in “Hell’s Bells” [6×16] , and is a sign that a rosy future is not likely to happen. Xander tries to make a point here that their wedding is not their marriage, that the former feels him with dread, but the latter doesn’t. Although it’s a truthful statement, it’s one Xander unfortunately won’t be able to see through.
So, in the end, this is an episode that has a few irritating missteps, but, despite itself, manages to pull itself into a really worthwhile episode containing some fabulous, character-altering moments. This entire season has struggled with its plots, but the character material still shines through brightly. The only thing that truly saddens me is how I so desparately want to give this episode a higher score, but simply can’t — this simply isn’t a tight episode. Fortunately, the season only picks up steam from this point on.
Minor Pros/Cons (+/-)
+ Buffy’s DMP coworker’s college talk. It’s good to hear that Buffy’s been thinking about going back to college.
+ Buffy singing the DMP jingle. This shocks her more than any vampire possibly could at this point.
+ The vampire Buffy sees in the graveyard is actually repulsed by her because she smells like fast food.
+ Willow’s joke about how she used to feel about Xander. I also love how radiant she is here simply because Tara is on talking terms with her again.
+ Buffy, alone, trying to wash out a grass stain (due to Spike sex) while listening to, wait for it, country music! Ah, more lovely continuity.
+ “National Forestry Service. We have a wild bear!” That is so not a wild bear. lol.
+ Anya equating traffic to being stuck in hell. Not too far off.
– Riley says, “love the hair,” yet he hasn’t seen her hair down yet. I guess you can tell it’s been cut, but still.
– Buffy’s comment about guns being never useful. Again, it bothers me a lot, just as it did in “Flooded” [6×04] . This is just bad continuity existing only to make a political point.