In every generation, there is a chosen one. She alone realizes that she hasn’t written a Buffy recap for over a year but damn, what’s she gonna do, 2019 was a hell of a year. She will also recap every episode of Buffy The Vampire Slayer with an eye to the following themes:
- Sex is the real villain of the Buffy The Vampire Slayer universe.
- Giles is totally in love with Buffy.
- Joyce is a fucking terrible parent.
- Willow’s magic is utterly useless (this one won’t be an issue until season 2, when she gets a chance to become a witch)
- Xander is a textbook Nice Guy.
- The show isn’t as feminist as people claim.
- All the monsters look like wieners.
- If ambivalence to possible danger were an Olympic sport, Team Sunnydale would take the gold.
- Angel is a dick
- Harmony is the strongest female character on the show.
- Team sports are portrayed in an extremely negative light.
- Some of this shit is racist as fuck.
- Science and technology are not to be trusted.
- Mental illness is stigmatized.
- Only Willow can use a computer.
- Buffy’s strength is flexible at the plot’s convenience.
- Cheap laughs and desperate grabs at plot plausibility are made through Xenophobia.
- Oz is the Anti-Xander
- Spike is capable of love despite his lack of soul
- Don’t freaking tell me the vampires don’t need to breathe because they’re constantly out of frickin’ breath.
- The foreshadowing on this show is freaking amazing.
- Smoking is evil.
- Despite praise for its positive portrayal of non-straight sexualities, some of this shit is homophobic as fuck.
- How do these kids know all these outdated references, anyway?
- Technology is used inconsistently as per its convenience in the script.
- Sunnydale residents are no longer shocked by supernatural attacks.
- Casual rape dismissal/victim blaming a-go-go
- Snyder believes Buffy is a demon or other evil entity.
- The Scoobies kind of help turn Jonathan into a bad guy.
- This show caters to the straight/bi female gaze like whoa.
- Sunnydale General is the worst hospital in the world.
- Faith is hyper-sexualized needlessly.
- Slut shame!
- The Watchers have no fucking clue what they’re doing.
- Vampire bites, even very brief ones, are 99.8% fatal.
- Economic inequality is humorized and oversimplified.
- Buffy is an abusive romantic partner.
- Riley is the worst.
- Joss Whedon has a problem with fat people.
- Spike is an abusive romantic partner.
- Why are all these men so terrible?
- Wicca doesn’t work like that.
- Alcohol is evil.
- Head trauma doesn’t work like that.
Have I missed any that were added in past recaps? Let me know in the comments. Even though I might forget that you mentioned it.
WARNING: Some people have mentioned they’re watching along with me, and that’s awesome, but I’ve seen the entire series already and I’ll probably mention things that happen in later seasons. So… you know, take that into consideration, if you’re a person who can’t enjoy something if you know future details about it.
So, diving right back into Buffy, since people have been asking for about a year now if I’m giving up on these and the answer is NO I WILL NEVER GIVE UP ON THESE I WILL BE WRITING THESE AT MY OWN FUNERAL. We’ve reached the episode where we really get some answers about the Initiative and it’s the return of Spike, so we all rejoice at our snarky, super problematic fave.
The cold open begins with a voice-over in which Forrest, Riley’s friend, objectifies the women in line in the cafeteria, talking about their nubile bodies and so on. Then, he spots Buffy fumbling to fill a cup at the soda machine.
Forrest: “Oh…check her out. Is she hot or is she hot?”
Riley “She’s Buffy.”
Forrest: “Buffy? I like that. ‘That girl’s so hot, she’s Buffy.'”
Riley: “That’s her name, Forrest.”
I love that joke and I will strive to remember to describe hot blondes as “Buffy” from now on. And that might seem derogatory but obviously I mean it in the most complimentary way possible.
Forrest interrogates Riley as to why he has no opinion on the hotness of Ms. Summers. As she fails to operate the ice cream machine (and ends up abandoning it in a panic as the ice cream overflows onto the floor), Riley explains that Buffy is “peculiar” and he finds her weird behavior off-putting. Then she slips and falls on the floor. I don’t know why the Slayer is so clumsy here, other than that being a way to build false charm in heroines. #6 on this scene, not just for depicting Buffy as a gravity-challenged airhead for the convenience of a male conversation, but also for the contents of the conversation itself which includes Forrest musing whether or not she’s “mattressable.”
After Forrest says that a lot of guys would like to get their hands on Buffy, we cut to Spike, half-conscious and mumbling about killing the Slayer. He wakes up fully to find himself in a small, aquarium-style cell with scientists milling around beyond the glass.
After the opening credits, we join Giles and Xander at Giles’s place, hanging out for some reason. You guys, during my sabbatical, I forgot how hot season four, depressed dad Giles is. He’s made a sketch of the soldier Buffy described to him and laments that since they’re clearly human, he and Xander aren’t critical to the mission.
Giles: “Once again, I’d say that you and I will not be needed to help Buffy.”
Xander: “Well, how about this? We whip out the Ouija board, light a few candles, summon some ancient, unstoppable evil, mayhem, mayhem, mayhem, we show up and kick its ass?”
Giles seems to consider this for a minute but then Buffy comes in and Giles reluctantly denounces the idea as unethical.
When Giles asks Buffy if she’s patrolling that night, Buffy explains that she has to take Willow out to a party to try and make her feel better after Oz pulled his bullshit and nonsense. She tells Giles and Xander that they’re going to patrol in her place, then leaves so she can “find something slutty” to wear to the party. Which was actually kind of an empowering remark at the time, when women were trying to reclaim the word so I’ll let it slide.
Back at the Initiative, Spike prowls his cell like the albino tiger of a man he is. A hatch opens in the ceiling and a bag of blood falls in but a vampire in the next cell warns him not to drink it. It’s drugged and once the vampires are knocked out, that’s when the experiments begin.
Spike: “And uh, they are? The goverment? Nazis? A major cosmetics company?”
Vampire: “Who cares? All I know is, one minute, I’m running from the Slayer and the next minute, I’m here.”
Which, of course, makes Spike think that Buffy is behind all this.
Spike: “I always worried what would happen when that bitch got some funding.”
He says he’s going to kill her, no matter how brilliant she is, and we cut to Buffy in class, having exploded a pen all over her notes. Willow approaches Riley after class and tells him that he left Oz’s name off the roll call. Honestly…I don’t remember Oz being in this class. I’m sure it’s not a continuity error and it’s probably just because I haven’t watched the show for like, a year and also I had a nervous breakdown that permanently damaged my brain, but I was like, wait, what? Anyway, Riley tells Willow that it wasn’t a mistake, Oz is just no longer in the class. Willow insists that’s not the case and Oz will definitely be back, at which point Maggie Walsh steps in because obviously her class and her expectations should be at the very forefront of Willow’s clearly distressed mind.
Maggie: “Not to my class, he won’t. An educated guess. You know the rules, you know I hate exceptions, and yet somehow you feel your exception is exceptional.”
Willow: “Oh, but–”
Maggie: “It is. To you. But since I’m neither a freshman or a narcissist, I have to consider the whole class. If your friend can’t respect my schedule, I think it’s best he not come back.”
Willow leaves, close to tears, and Buffy decides she’s had it and confronts “the evil bitch monster of death,” as we’ve seen Walsh so proudly describe herself.
Buffy: “You know, for someone who teaches human behavior, you might try showing some.”
Maggie: “It’s not my job to coddle my students.”
Buffy: “You’re right. A human being in pain has nothing to do with your job.”
Fucking right on, Buffy. There’s no reason at all that Walsh should even be discussing another student’s enrollment status with Willow, especially not like, “Oh, hey, I’m kicking this student out of my class.” I know that Walsh is supposed to be no-nonsense and strong but she’s really just a bully.
After Buffy leaves, though, Maggie tells Riley that she likes Buffy, to which Riley responds once again that Buffy is “peculiar.”
Over at Xander’s basement, there are a lot of weapons and tactical gear. Where did they come from? Oh, just from Xander’s convenient Army Man Halloween costume two seasons back. Giles even points out that hey, it’s been a while since this plot device has been used, and Xander explains that while he still remembers some stuff, a lot of “training” hasn’t faded. He struggles to load a handgun, which Giles takes from him and easily loads, fully comfortable handling a firearm. So, yet another one of those skills that Giles has that is surprising and never fully explained. It’s stuff like that which lends the character mystery and keeps him from being a one-dimensional stuffy adult stereotype and I live for these moments.
Xander’s Mom: “I made a nice fruit punch for you and your friend. Would you boys like some?”
Giles; “Is it, um, raspberry fruit punch?”
While this is funny, it’s 100% out of character for Xander’s mom, who is usually portrayed as uncaring and cheap.
At UC Sunnydale, Riley tells Forrest about how unbelievable it was that Buffy stood up to Walsh. SFD passes by and Forrest asks him what Buffy is like. SFD tells them that Buffy is clingy and says a bunch of shit about how she is in bed.
Douchbag: “You know the difference between a freshman girl and a toilet seat? A toilet seat doesn’t follow you around after you use it.”
And Riley straight up punches him in the face. Which would be an amazing and likable thing for him to do, until he’s outside with his friends and trying to figure out why it’s okay when they say shit like that about other girls but it wasn’t okay for SFD to say it about Buffy. Know why? Because he likes her.
#38 and #41. The verdict is that it’s fine when they talk about other women that way, just not when it’s one Riley is romantically interested in.
In his cell at the Initiative, Spike is unconscious. Assuming he’s drugged, a scientist takes him out of the cell and puts him on a gurney, presumably for dissection or something else nasty. But wait! Spike isn’t really drugged at all. He grabs the scientist by the throat and says:
Spike: “Sorry, can’t stay. Got to go see a girl.”
We cut to a commercial and when we come back, all hell has broken loose on the Spike situation. He fights his way free and lets the other vampire prisoner out. They make a run for it and Spike sacrifices the other vampire dude to save his own skin. Like a villain does. Because he’s still a villain at this point.
Willow is in the dorm, listening to sad music and nursing her broken heart when Riley knocks on the door.
Riley: “Gee, I hope I’m not interrupting anything really depressing.”
Ah. So he’s not there to check and see if a distraught Freshman is okay after leaving his class basically in tears. Nope, he needs her to turn off her sad music and help him with his dilemma. He wants to ask Buffy out.
See, Riley? This is why nobody likes you. You show up, you see that Willow is having a hard time, and without addressing that or asking her what she’s doing, you’re like, hey, can you pause your life real quick and address my issues, even though we don’t really know each other that well, I have friends of my own, and you’re clearly shattered right now? #38 coming in for another flawless landing.
The whole scene sucks. At least, Willow throws a bucket of sadness all over Riley:
Willow: “Okay. Say that I help and you start a conversation. It goes great. You like Buffy, she likes you. You spend time together, feelings grow deeper. And one day, without even realizing it, you find you’re in love. Time stops and it feels like the whole world’s made for you two, and you two alone. Until the day one of you leaves and rips the still-beating heart from the other, who’s now a broken, hollow mockery of the human condition.”
And this is kind of where Riley gets the hint, saying he understands if she doesn’t want to help him. But then, of course, he keeps going on.
Willow: “Why should I trust you?”
Riley: “Just sort of hoping you’d think I have an honest face.”
Willow: “I’ve seen honest faces before. They usually come attached to liars.”
Cynical!Willow might be my favorite Willow.
Riley finally decides that maybe now is not the time, so he heads for the door. As he leaves, Willow throws him a bone and tells him that Buffy likes cheese and is going to a party that night.
CUT TO MY FAVORITE THING IN THE WHOLE SHOW:
Harmony, you’re frickin’ awesome.
So, let’s talk about my controversial #10. The last time we saw Harmony was when Spike was trying to find the Gem of Amara, and he staked her to test its effectiveness. If someone stakes you, that’s pretty much a breakup. But Harmony tackles the situation like a total champ. She doesn’t get her shit and move out of Spike’s house. No no, friends. She just takes his fucking house. She straight up doesn’t give a shit and starts hanging tacky crap everywhere. And she is totally unbothered by the fact that she hasn’t seen Spike since he ran off to get the ring back and potentially kill the Slayer. Okay, whatever, do your thing, I don’t care if you live or die. That’s a pretty cool move. Every time we see one of the core cast go through a breakup, it’s steeped in pure heartbreak. Meanwhile, Harmony is moved the fuck on by the time you’re out the door. Harmony is a SURVIVOR.
She’s not cool with him just showing up again, either. She acts as though she’s going to run into his arms, then slaps the shit out of him instead.
Harmony: “Bastard! You dumped me and staked me and hurt me and left me and–”
She turns on a dime immediately when Spike tells her he missed her. All is forgiven, now that he’s back. And you might be going, “Jenny, how is she a strong character when she goes right back to her abuser and physically assaults him,” but let me tell you, I’ve known a lot of real strong women who did that. This is part of her arc; even strong characters have to have lessons to learn or their stories would be boring.
We join Xander and Giles on their patrol, already in progress:
Xander: “Every man faces this moment. Here. Now. Watching, waiting for an unseen enemy that has no face. Nerve endings screaming in silence. Never knowing which thought might be your last.”
Giles: “Oh, shut up.”
And that’s the whole scene. And it’s brilliant.
Buffy and Willow arrive at the party and Willow surreptitiously finds Riley to give him advice on how to get close to Buffy:
Willow: “Okay she’s wearing the halter top with sensible shoes. That means mostly dancing, light contact, but don’t push your luck. Heavy conversation’s out of the question.”
But she’s still not a hundred percent behind the concept of romantic love again:
Willow: “And remember if you hurt her, I will beat you to death with a shovel. A vague disclaimer’s nobody’s friend.”
Riley finds Buffy and chickens way out, asking her if she’s done the reading for class. To which she responds with this face:
You’re doing great, Riley!
Still on patrol, Xander is muttering to himself about Giles’s insistence that they split up and wander around separately. He stumbles through some bushes and spots Harmony throwing a bunch of stuff in a pile and pouring lighter fluid on it.
Xander: “That’s close enough. I’m warning you, I’ve been highly trained to put this through your heart. No mercy, no warning.”
Harmony: “I can kill you where you stand.”
Xander: “Bring it on, then.”
What ensues is the most pulse-pounding fight scene ever committed to film:
Okay, so it’s actually just them sort of slapping at each other. Harmony does call Xander a “sissy” at one point, which some people feel is a homophobic thing but I don’t really want to see that argument hashed out again out so I’m just going to mark it #23 and call it a day. Ultimately, they end up putting each other in headlocks and pulling each others’ hair until they decide to call it a draw. Harmony tells Xander that Spike is back and out to kill the Slayer, and she’s burning his stuff because he’s too obsessed with all his nefarious schemes to spend any quality time with her. She’s decided not to take him back and lights up all his stuff to rid him from her life.
At the party, Willow and Riley sit on a couch and watch Buffy dance. Willow continues to coach him through trying to ask out Buffy, until a Dingos Ate My Baby song comes on and bums her out. Willow leaves the party and tells Riley to use it as an excuse to stay with Buffy. When she leaves, Riley relays Willow’s message about leaving the party. He’s about to make his move when Xander bursts in and cryptically warns Buffy about “unfinished business,” at which point she rushes off before Riley can even ask her on a date. Forrest and Graham rib Riley about his failure to woo her, and mention they need to go downstairs.
Aha, a viewer might ask themself, but aren’t they on the ground floor of the house? Why yes, they are. They are on the ground floor of a house…built right above the Initiative!
This is the big reveal, folks. After a retinal scan clears the three of them, a mirror opens to reveal an elevator with a voice recognition security system. As they hurry down the industrial stairs to the main work floor, Riley laments his chances for a normal romantic life.
Riley: “The problem is, what kind of girl who’s going to go out with a guy who’s acting all Joe Regular by day then turns all demon-hunter by night?”
Graham: “Maybe a peculiar one.”
I heart this setup. I heart it so hard. I wish Riley had been a completely different character because he’s the worst (please sing that in your head like Jean-Ralphio), but the concept is so awesome. They’re both pretending to be normal to each other while secretly hiding similar double lives. WHAT? That’s adorable.
Again, if it weren’t Riley.
The camera pans around a creepy looking, foil-covered room where people in lab coats and scrubs and masks and such are milling around doing experiments on various monsters. The masks are what get me. Only a few people are wearing them and it’s like…are you gonna get a demon sick? Is that the logic behind wearing that?
Look at how funny this is:
This is one of those times that a show is like, “We want to do something that looks medical!” and they just throw in anything they could think of. Why does that demon need an IV? What do the leather restraints on his legs do when his arms aren’t tied down? And I just noticed that for some reason, they appear to be wearing sunglasses. Where are you gonna need those in a facility where you’re housing vampires as test subjects? I know this isn’t a documentary but damn, I feel so sad that they didn’t invest just a little bit more worldbuilding here. They just kind of tossed stuff together and went, “Good enough,” on the season’s Big Bad.
Riley, Graham, and Forrest all report to an off-screen commander. The camera cuts to Maggie Walsh, who says something cryptic about “Hostile 17” escaping. Having just been delivered the shock that Riley is a part of the weird shadowy monster operation and Professor Walsh is the head of it, we cut to commercial. This was a pretty sick reveal, tbh, when I first watched it. I was like, “What the helllllll….”
On the other side of the commercial, Walsh hands over command to Riley, who gives a bunch of orders to the commandos. They all set off in search of Spike.
At Giles’s place, Buffy is furious that her night off has been interrupted, and by Spike of all jackasses. She tells Giles and Xander that she’ll just go kill Spike real quick and get him out of her life forever but her confidence clearly doesn’t reassure the guys, who are just kind of resigned for waiting for her while she goes off into danger. Xander does give Buffy a flare gun to use in case she needs help.
Not sure how you’re gonna spot a flare gun from inside Giles’s apartment.
Spike breaks into some kind of office and looks up Buffy’s dorm room number. Note, Spike can use a computer. Angelus straight up just chucked a monitor on the ground and thought all his problems were solved. Jerk. But this does subvert #15.
Riley and the commandos are sneaking around the campus when they spot Buffy sitting all alone on a well-lit bench.
Forrest: “Just thinking. If you were Hostile 17, living off the crap we feed them, what would you rather eat than that?”
Riley: “You want to use the girl I have a crush on as bait?”
Forrest: “I can tag a hostile at fifty yards.”
Forrest: “She’d be safe the entire–”
Riley: “I said denied, agent.”
Forrest: “Did you just pull rank on me?”
I’ve always felt like this was totally fucking weird. These guys are in the military. Why is this conversation so personal? Why is Riley saying, in essence, that it’s unacceptable to use Buffy as bait because he has feelings for her, when the point he should be making is that it’s wrong to use civilians as bait. It would have been such great foreshadowing for when Riley breaks away from the Initiative later in the season. He’s working with an organization that has no qualms about endangering civilian lives. We could have just seen that Riley is opposed to that. Instead, we saw that he’s cool with it as long as it’s not a civilian he wants to fuck. And Forrest is somehow offended that his commanding officer actually gave him an order, so…how did he make it this far in the military that he’s on a secret project like this?
In an effort to get her out of harm’s way, Riley ditches his tactical gear and walks up on her like he’s just out for a late-night stroll. Buffy is awfully fidgety and evasive and tells him that she needs to be alone. They bicker over whether or not Buffy needs help or even whether or not she should go home. Riley admits that he feels boys should protect girls, which, you know, goes over great with Buffy. Then they hear a scream and both take off in different directions.
Willow is still laying on her bed with her sadness. When someone knocks on the door, she blithely says, “Come in.”
A town full of vampires.
That need to be invited in.
Vampires which she sometimes fights.
Alongside her BFF the Slayer.
#8, Willow. You should know better.
Obviously, it’s Spike behind the door and he’s just been invited in. Willow tries to run but he corners her and tells her she has a choice: she can either die or he’ll make her a vampire when he’s done killing her. Then, in a scene that is disturbingly too much like a rape scene, Spike turns up the music to cover her screams and pins her to the bed, biting her before we cut to the dorm hallway, where people aren’t hearing the struggle or Willow’s cries for help.
Hey, you know what none of the dormitory doors in this hall have? Peepholes. BTW, that’s going to be an issue in another episode real soon here, as well.
So, while Willow is being attacked, we go to commercial.
When we come back, things have not gone according to Spike’s plan. Much like, you know. Every single one of Spike’s plans. How is this dude not dead yet? He’s so bad at being a vampire.
Something has gone terribly wrong:
Spike: “I don’t understand. This sort of thing has never happened to me before.”
Willow: “Maybe you were nervous.”
Spike: “I felt alright when I started. Let’s try again.”
He tries to attack Willow but recoils in agony. A third attempt to bite her results in the same reaction.
Willow: “Maybe you’re trying too hard. Doesn’t this happen to every vampire?”
Spike: “Not to me, it doesn’t.”
Willow: “It’s me, isn’t it?”
Willow feels totally rejected, pointing out that Spike is just settling for her when he really came to kill Buffy.
Spike: “Don’t be ridiculous. I’d bite you in a heartbeat.”
Spike: “I thought about it.”
Spike: “You remember last year? You had on that, uh, fuzzy pink number with the lilac underneath.”
He promises that if he could bite Willow, he would, and she tries to cheer him up by telling him he’s still terrifying.
Using a thermal camera, the commandos spot Spike in the dorm, where Willow is still being nice to Spike. She tells him he’s being too critical of himself and they can wait a while and try again, before she regains her senses and bashes him over the head with a lamp. As she runs for the door, the power in the building goes off and the heavily armed commandos storm the halls.
Way to be sneaky, y’all.
The commandos come up on Willow as she cowers on the floor and in Riley’s haste to protect her from being shot, they’re jumped by Spike. All Spike can do is clutch his head and howl in pain, though. They put a sack over his head and try to subdue him. Forrest wants to take Willow and quarantine her to make sure she hasn’t been turned. I feel like it would be pretty easy to check on the spot, tbh. They have a thermal camera they’re using to track people’s body heat. Just like, you know. Point it at her.
The commandos are about to drag Willow off when Buffy intervenes to save her. Unfortunately, this allows Spike to escape, as well. Buffy and Riley fight each other but can’t see through the haze of smoke after Buffy shoots the flare gun as a distraction. Riley gets his ass kicked and orders everyone to retreat.
When Riley and the commandos return to Maggie Walsh, she is pissed. Riley tells her that “the implant” works and Hostile 17 can’t hurt anyone.
So…how did he fight those doctors in the Initiative headquarters? It just conveniently didn’t start working until it would be humorous and/or convenient to the plot?
The final scene has Buffy and Riley making up from their argument and agreeing to go on a date and I’m just skipping past it because their romance bores the shit out of me. But, Buffy does tell Riley that he’s “peculiar,” which I think is an adorable callback.
If it were someone other than Riley.