Cultural Catchup Project: Pulling Back the Curtain (Buffy the Vampire Slayer)

Pulling Back the Curtain

June 23rd, 2010

You can follow along with the Cultural Catchup Project by following me on Twitter (@Memles), by subscribing to the category’s feed, or by bookmarking the Cultural Catchup Project page where I’ll be posting a link to each installment.

I’ve talked a bit along the way about the notion of spoilers as it relates to watching these series. I know enough about Buffy as a whole that there are certain things I have unknowingly committed to memory which have effectively spoiled certain elements of the series. For example, I distinctly remember a marathon of the “Top 10″ Buffy episodes that my brother taped on television at some point early in the decade, and during that time I remember seeing bits and pieces of “Hush,” and “Once More with Feeling!” As a result, there are certain images etched in my mind, in some cases mistakenly (as we learned when I thought it was Cordelia with Xander in “Once More with Feeling”) but in all cases meaningfully. For better or for worse, Buffy’s substantial cultural capital meant that there were things about the show I internalized without fully understanding the context.

In some ways, the Cultural Catchup Project is a dangerous way to watch the show if I’m concerned about further spoilers, but in reality nothing that has been “revealed” by the comments on these posts hasn’t been fairly clearly choreographed by other signifiers. While I remain wary of substantial plot spoilers which may not be so easily predicted, it is only inevitable that watching a series which aired a decade ago and doing so with an observational eye will undoubtedly reveal things that may have surprised other viewers at the time.

So long as the show around them remains entertaining, as it does when Joss Whedon and Co. finally pull back the curtain on Buffy’s fourth season in “Wild at Heart” and (particularly) “The Initiative,” all these subtle spoilers will do is alter the experience from one of shock and surprise to one of appreciation and curiosity. It may not be the same, but it is not definitively less rewarding either, indicating how no one person will view a series in an identical fashion as any other.

Seth Green’s exit at the conclusion of “Wild at Heart” is one of those circumstances where spoilers have somewhat affected my attachment to a character from the very beginning. I like Oz quite a bit, but there was never a point where he felt like he was going to stick around forever as a result of my knowledge of Willow’s impending romantic involvement. Yes, I am aware at the direction which Willow takes in subsequent episodes (I’m avoiding spoiling in case others with less knowledge are reading along at my pace), which means that I’ve always known that Oz was not “the one” for Willow. However, what’s interesting is that I think the show has always sort of reflected this: Oz has always been a transient figure, never entirely involved in the Scoobies’ efforts and always somewhat detached through both his mono-syllabic nature and his general lack of emotion. I think Seth Green played those qualities well, and I think that they speak to Oz as a character: here’s someone who didn’t bother graduating out of high school out of sheer laziness, which could be considered a plot contrivance to keep him around but still reflects on his character at the end of the day.

In some ways, I thought Oz’s general behaviour did a better job of writing the character off than did “Wild at Heart” itself. Alyson Hannigan is stunning in the episode, as she reacts to Oz’s lycanthropic tryst with Veruca, but despite a bit of foreshadowing in a previous episode it feels as if too much of the conflict is worked into the single episode. Oz’s concern that the wolf is taking over his human self doesn’t really mesh with what we’ve seen of the character over the previous episodes, considering that he’s been just as mono-syllabic as usual. Reading on Wikipedia, it is as I suspected: Green left abruptly to pursue a movie career, which meant that the plans to establish this love triangle over time were scrapped in favour of sudden realizations and immediate betrayals of trust. You can see evidence of the themes they wanted to play out within a longer storyline, like Willow being caught between her life with Oz and her life with magic offering a parallel to Oz’s position caught between his two sides. It makes Oz’s inner werewolf out to be a bit of a horndog, being attracted to the first female werewolf he finds, and it makes Willow pain that much more damaging.

Ultimately, it’s not the worst case scenario: Hannigan is so good at playing emotional beats that the sudden nature of the breakup ends up playing out beautifully, and the actress playing Veruca is unpleasant enough that I wouldn’t have wanted her to stick around forever. I know that Oz returns in a recurring capacity a few times this season, so I know it’s not the character’s goodbye, but it’s an end to an arc which couldn’t have really been spoiled. I knew he was departing, and that it wasn’t forever, but I was still surprised to see it happen this quickly, so of course it was some behind-the-scenes decision making which would lead to such spontaneity overcoming my previous knowledge.

Meanwhile, in terms of the reveal of the season’s overarching storyline in “The Initiative,” this is one of those circumstances where the show really didn’t hold its cards very close to its chest. The conclusion to “The Freshman” very clearly indicated that these masked men were demon hunters of some capacity, so it’s not as if we shared Buffy and Giles’ confusion as to their function (throw in Spike being taken at the beginning of “Wild at Heart,” as well). And while the show has been a little bit more subtle in terms of involving two recurring characters (Maggie Walsh and her T.A., Riley), I saw both of them coming: I have vague recollections of Riley and Buffy together wielding guns from my vague remembrance of that marathon, and the fact that Lindsay Crouse was listed in the credits with an “as Maggie Walsh” credit which indicated her character was more important than simply a recurring professorial role. Combine with the purposefulness of a groundbreaking psychiatrist as one of Buffy’s teachers, which would tie nicely into some form of experiment, and I wasn’t particularly shocked to see Riley and his buddies turn out to be the key strike team for The Initiative.

In terms of how the storyline developed, I think parts of it are quite interesting and other parts threaten to be a bit repetitive. As for the former response, I’m fascinated by the idea that Spike has been implanted with something which keeps him from killing, both because it’s an interesting philosophical state for the character (who has, as I had known ahead of time, been added to the main cast) and because it resulted in that wonderful (if a tad bit repetitive itself) scene where Spike’s struggles become an extended play on erectile dysfunction. And I think the notion of two different schools of thought as it relates to stopping vampires is intriguing: it’s funny in that the Slayer side of things is more focused on killing the vampires and demons, but in many ways the Initiative is more cruel both in terms of their use of violence and their choice to use vampires and demons as lab rats. I like all of that potential, and I think it sets up plenty of interesting questions moving forward.

What I’m slightly more concerned about is Riley’s involvement, which says less about the character himself and more about Buffy once again finding her Romeo on the other side of the conflict. Marc Blucas and David Boreanaz have some similar qualities as it is, both in terms of basic physical stature and certain halting speech patterns, but the idea that Buffy has again entered a relationship with someone from the other side of the tracks, as it were, seems a bit suspect to me. I like the way Riley sort of stumbles into his realization that he likes her, and I thought Riley and Willow’s teamwork in trying to make first contact was really charming stuff. It’s one of those situations where it’s about diminishing returns: while I think they do everything quite well within the storyline, as they bring the two characters together and fully reveal the parallel lives they lead, there’s still that uncomfortable comparison with Angel. It isn’t that the storylines are identical, but rather that Angel and Buffy’s conflict was complicated by Angel’s soul, and then Angel’s lack of a soul, and the ways in which the human/vampire binary was subverted by their relationship. Here, there’s a similar conflict in that Buffy and Riley are ostensibly on two different teams, but there’s really no comparative complexity to be found at this early stage. Perhaps if Blucas didn’t remind me of Boreanaz I wouldn’t have had such a strange reaction to the storyline, but for as much as I enjoyed what I was seeing I couldn’t help but be a bit wary of where things are headed.

However, it’s not shocking that the show would use a certain shorthand to get itself into a relationship, or to write a character off the show, or to write a character into the show more thoroughly. Part of what makes this season of Buffy so interesting, if perhaps a bit predictable at spots even without spoilers, is that they’re purposefully playing with previous tropes but giving them a little bit of a college twist. “Beer Bad” is sort of a college version of “Band Candy,” for example, while “Fear, Itself” presents itself as a sequel to “Halloween” (as humans once again create demonic activity on the day demons find too commercialized to wreak havoc on). At this point, the show has built up a back catalogue of character interactions and relationships, and the change in setting those moments still mean something (like Oz bringing up “Lover’s Walk” in his confrontation with Willow) and will still inform future storylines. And so, while “The Initiative” may be the start of something new, and “Wild at Heart” may have been a turning point for Willow, any of their current problems are only problems if they don’t evolve into part of that catalogue, which has never really been Buffy’s problem.

Cultural Observations

  • So how’d that movie career turn out, Seth Green?
  • Loved the Harmony/Xander slap fight a great deal – I will say that I think they turned Xander into a bit too much of a sissy (considering he’s been knocking people out for a while), but it was worth it for the comedy, and that was a wonderful use of slow motion.
  • I remember back when discussing an earlier episode that the comments were more or less “If you think this episode shows that Whedon loves to make Alyson Hannigan cry, then just wait until Season Four.” Well, your predictions were right: while Green was quite good in those scenes, all of my attention was on Hannigan, who was just mesmerizing.
  • Not too much to say on “Fear, Itself” beyond the fact that Giles with a chainsaw and Anya in a bunny outfit were both highlights – felt the conclusion (with the “actual size” demon) was a little bit too slapstick for the series, but I laughed, so I guess mission accomplished.
  • “Beer Bad” was a bit all over the map, but it shows (like “Living Conditions”) that Sarah Michelle Gellar is quite engaging in more comedy-focused roles, and the final bit of slapstick in this one (Cavewoman Buffy hitting Parker over the head) was satisfying even if it came a few episodes too late for me to give Buffy credit for it. She ignored the poophead principle a bit too long, I think.
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78 Comments

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78 responses to “Cultural Catchup Project: Pulling Back the Curtain (Buffy the Vampire Slayer)

  1. Mel

    Blucas, not Bloucas.

    I love that you found the Riley Willow teamwork charming–that early character stuff is one of the reasons that I am one of the very few Riley fans. This season is a controversial one among fans in part because of Riley and in part because of the Initiative. I like to think of it as “season one, part two” in that everyone, characters, directors, writers, are dealing with a new situation and they’re gonna make some mistakes. But a lot of fans see the whole season as a mistake. Its not my favorite, but its not the one I see as the worst, either (1 and 6 vie for that honor with me, but I want to stress that both of them have some bitchin episodes despite being flawed seasons in my eyes, and I wish other fans would have a similar feeling about 4)

    • I like Riley too. He’s such a sweetheart, and I like romantically-dorky guys rather than deep-superior-broody guys. (“Cheese?”)

      The “Seven Seasons of Buffy” book of essays points out that of all her romantic interests, Riley would be the best boyfriend for Buffy in real life… which makes him kinda boring on TV. I always thought that was a good point.

      • Mel

        Did Willow tell you I like cheese?

        well I think they combated the potential happy relationships are boring thing pretty well with the clean marine, personally. I mean, first, theres the “he’s a demon fighter, she’s a demon fighter, neither knows and they have to be all secretive” and then theres the whole later half of season 4 thing that I’m not mentioning, and then there’s that whole season 5 thing. (when he said that line to Xander in the basement, I always want to cry and hug him and tell him he’s wrong. and Blucas being a hottie, also invite him home with me…) but I know a ton of people did think he was boring (I believe they referred to him as a potato over at TWoP)

        • Hahaha, Riley the potato. Poor guy.

          I think I mostly meant that “men who treat you badly” make for better TV than “men who are awesome to you.” But no, I don’t have a problem with Riley.

          You think he was wrong in that ep? I think he was absolutely right. We will have to discuss more when we get there.

          • mothergunn

            Yeah, I think he was right, too, and so does Xander (he doesn’t say it but you can tell by the look on his face). And as much as I don’t really care about Riley, I always feel really bad for him in that scene, and totally want to give him a hug.

      • AO

        “The “Seven Seasons of Buffy” book of essays points out that of all her romantic interests, Riley would be the best boyfriend for Buffy in real life…”

        In some ways he honestly is the best imo, but in others I’d characterize him as the worst. All of her romantic interests (at least to this point) have definite negatives to them and I think that anlyzing them all will make for some good conversations down the road.

        • Well, just to clarify, by “best in real life” I mean “least dysfunctional.” I think the Buffy/Angel relationship is pretty unhealthy, really. Though of course it would be desperately romantic when you’re a 16-year-old girl.

      • Caravelle

        Riley would be the best boyfriend for Buffy in real life…

        SPOILER :
        I agree in the abstract, but in practice Riley turned me off with his whole “you don’t love me. Love me ! More than that ! Seriously, why aren’t you loving me ?” schtick. Passive-aggressive needy asshole: she can’t help how much she loves you and she loves you a whole damn lot (she hasn’t sent you to Hell, for starters), if you don’t like that just leave, don’t put it all on her.

        • jarppu

          SPOILERS!

          “you don’t love me. Love me ! More than that ! Seriously, why aren’t you loving me ?” schtick. Passive-aggressive needy asshole

          Getting a little carried away are you? I myself blame that crappy Riley-wants-be-sucked-by-vampires -storyline in the crappy writing that season 5 had. In season 4 Riley was a decent character, but in season 5- like many other things – his character was turned into crap.

          • Caravelle

            Getting a little carried away are you?

            I really am, sorry ^^
            The sad thing is that that I don’t even remember how I felt about Riley before, that scene (and Xander’s “he’s right ! crawl to him Buffy, crawl !” afterwards) soured me on him so bad. I should re-watch season 4 to recover a more balanced view.

            My main gripe is, I get the vibe from some comments that people use Riley to make an argument about calm vs. passionate love, and that if you think Buffy needs the former you think Riley is the best boyfriend for her and if you think the latter you’ll root for Angel. Or Spike. And I hate that frame : I think both calm and passionate relationships can work, it all depends on other things. Like, the boyfriend’s actual personality and how he treats you.

    • Beth

      And Marc, not Matt, haha.

      Fans are often a series’ harshest critics. I also liked Riley – for the most part – just like I liked Angel – for the most part. Did his self doubt start to get annoying? Yes. But he was good for Buffy even if ***SPOILER*** she didn’t always see it that way. Did anybody else feel sorry for Riley a little in Season 5? ***END SPOILER***

      You’re just getting into a fantastic string of episodes in Season Four. You are in for a treat.

      • You’re not alone Beth. There are some of us out there who actually like to look past the whole shipper wars and are more interested in the longer term meaning and impact of the various relationships. In light of this, I love every one of Buffy’s relationships as each one applies to a different stage in her life and growth as a person. They’re all excellently characterized relationships to boot.

        *SPOILER* I’m one of the only people in the known universe who was actually a little sad to see Riley go despite loving what followed.

        • Tyler

          Agreed on all counts, mikejer. All of the relationships have something interesting to say about Buffy, and change her, and for those reasons alone I enjoy them all.

        • Gill

          My problems with Riley come more from his core assumptions – shared by Xander to some extent – than his personality. There are definitely points where I sympathise with him, though less so in S5.

          SPOILER
          SPOILER
          SPOILER

          I just don’t think he’s capable of seeing himself as Buffy’s equal. Superior, initially, he takes for granted. Inferior, he struggles with. But equal? No.

          • *SPOILERS*
            *SPOILERS*
            *SPOILERS*
            Just because I liked Riley as a character doesn’t mean he wasn’t flawed. He made some pretty big mistakes, particularly in S5. But Riley’s concerns about Buffy’s investment in him aren’t entirely wrong either. I think the writers characterized him quite well, for the most part, giving him an arc of his own while also having a big impact on Buffy’s life (moreso in retrospect) and outlook on relationships.

            Sometimes it feels like people have a hard time stripping away their own opinions and beliefs (to an extent) and putting themselves in someone else’s shoes. Not everyone thinks the way you do or believe what you believe. Riley had a drastically different upbringing than Buffy did which is where not a small amount of their personality differences come from. But as we see later in S4 he’s more than willing to learn from his mistakes and grow from his experiences. Riley’s a flawed but really nice guy at the core, and I feel he deserves more credit than bile the fandom throws at him. If not for his sake then at least for how important he turns out to be in Buffy’s growth as a person.

          • mothergunn

            OMG, MYLES, SPOILERS!

            I really hope he just skipped over this whole section. Guys, I think it’s really important that he not know about Buffy’s relationship with that one guy until it happens. I was trying to expose a friend of mine to Buffy and her enjoyment of the show was spoiled, at least in part, by her foreknowledge of that relationship. I really want Myles to have that shocking OMGWTF?! moment that I had when that bomb dropped.

  2. First! (Depending on how long it takes me to type.)

    I’m glad you found Veruca so unpleasant. Is it the character? The actress? I don’t know, but she pisses me off every time. I wish werewolf-Oz had better taste. And human-Oz could use some better judgment… did the concept of SEPARATE CAGES never occur to him???

    Glad you enjoyed Spike being unable to perform. I think that’s one of the funniest scenes in probably the entire series. Spike’s chip also leads to interesting questions about the nature of a “good” vampire… is Angel any more moral than Spike? He didn’t want his soul, and Spike doesn’t want his chip, so isn’t Angel just as coerced into not-doing-evil as Spike is? Of course, not-doing-evil isn’t the same as actively doing good, but the concepts are there to play around with. (Much, much later episodes will have more to say about this).

    I’ll have to think more about the possible Angel/Riley parallels, as that hadn’t really occurred to me before. With Angel there is a good-vs.-evil problem, while Riley and Buffy mostly just differ in their methodology. And the show could hardly give Buffy a love interest who doesn’t a) know about the demonic underworld and b) have something on his side to help him keep up with her physically.

    Anya and Giles in their Halloween costumes were so popular that action figures were made :-D

    And finally, many people loathe and revile Beer Bad, but oh how I love the humor in it. Buffy with dreds, spinning around and around on her desk chair… the whole thing just cracks me up.

    • Mel

      I hate Veruca because of what her character’s effect is (although I totally dig the voiceover singer, and downloaded some of her stuff) particularly on Willow (and we do get some secondhand annoyingness like Wil mocking her when Veruca called Wil a groupie)

      I think part of the reason Oz didn’t do two cages is a) he is a young dude, who, while outwardly cool and collected, has this metaphor for sexuality beast in him (even if faith is wrong and all guys aren’t animals, which I generally feel she is wrong, humanity is just another type of animal, and part of the male animal instinct is to mate with as many females as possible) and b) he knew Veruca wouldn’t get in a second cage. She only got in that one to get busy with Oz.

    • Mel

      They made a Giles with a Chainsaw figure? I never saw that one!!

      Want people back! Where people go?

  3. diane

    As always, excellent reviews.

    It’s remarkable how subtle foreknowledge can be in spoiling an episode or series plot, or character evolution. That should (maybe) remind me to be very careful about discussing future episodes. Or not. (However, I’ll note that many huge occurrences haven’t even been mentioned, so maybe we’re not being total spoilerheads.

    So what happened to Angel seasion 1?

  4. It’s actually Marc Blucas, fyi.

    Interesting thoughts Myles. One thing to keep in mind as you go through S4 is that the ongoing character arcs are what largely drive the season (and are, personally, what separates Buffy from other great shows). The plot arc has its moments but don’t expect it to be a heavy focus of the season as it’s quite scattered.

    It’s interesting that you didn’t see more in “Fear, Itself” although I find it hard to fault you too much without knowing what comes next. I find it to be a rich episode that offers a whole lot of character insight. The one bit I can mention spoiler-free is that the episode directly foreshadows Oz’s departure. We see his fear being that he can’t control the wolf inside and has to leave Willow because of it. This obviously happens in two episodes.

    There’s actually a whole lot more of that kind of foreshadowing and insight in “Fear, Itself.” It unfortunately goes into spoiler territory, so I’ll keep my mouth shut. But there’s a lot of good stuff in the episode for Willow in particular. If you ever watch this episode again after you finish the series (or even season) I think you’ll find a whole lot more to think about.

    As for seeing parallels between Angel and Riley… it feels weird to me because they have completely different personalities. Your point about “different sides” is a good one, but I think you’ll find that the show quickly decides to go in a new direction with Riley.

    Oh, and that impotence scene with Spike and Willow is just sublime. It cracks me up every time I see it.

    • Susan

      “As for seeing parallels between Angel and Riley… it feels weird to me because they have completely different personalities. Your point about “different sides” is a good one, but I think you’ll find that the show quickly decides to go in a new direction with Riley.”

      I agree–I was taken aback by Myles’ comparison of Angel with Riley. And wow, I don’t think they look alike (jeez, just about everyone is tall next to SMG). But I imagine his understanding of Riley will be revised very soon.

      Riley’s a good, more or less regular, guy. That’s his main problem, though, and the reason most fans (shipper or not) aren’t really on his team.

    • Raine

      I was going to mention that about “Fear, Itself” as well. There are multiple lines that were far funnier the second time through because of what I knew was coming. It’s actually one of my favorite episodes to rewatch.

  5. Morda

    Alyson Hannigan is truly phenomenal in this episode – Hell, in this season. No, wait wait…This series. Sorry, but no one can cry like the Hannigan. Not even Gellar who is a f***ing incredible crier.

    You’ll find that with this season, Willow’s role within the rest of the series is substantial heightened to the point where you could arguably call her the second most essential character to the series after the young, entitled Vampire Slayer.

    I’m surprised you didn’t like Fear, Itself more. It’s a very, I think, poignant episode yet stays away from any kind of hard going weight by the fact that it’s both very funny and very cinematically horrific. But thematically the whole Gachnar thing says alot about how fear is only as powerful as we let it become and facing it is never going to be as hard as you think. Just when translated to Buffy that means that it’s a tiny little demon who can be squashed like an insect.

    I’m interested by your take on the whole Riley thing. Although I see where you’re coming from with the breathing comparison with Boreanaz (Something that has always pissed me off slightly considering Angel is a vampire and subsequently has no breath – Yet Boreanaz seems to breath whilst speaking far more than the average human…Weird) I’ve yet to hear the argument that the two characters (Riley and Angel) are similar. I’m watching through both series again (One episode of each at a time) and I’m round about the same part as you yet that comparison didn’t strike me. I think you’ll find as you progress through the Buffy/Riley relationship that one of its key components is its difference to that of Angel’s. This might sound confusing because I’m not explaining it well but once you watch more you’ll understand.

    People may have mentioned that this season is narratively lesser than previous seasons. And although this may be true (I guess in many ways it comes down to whether you prefer Sci-Fi or Fantasy) I think episodically this season has both some of the greatest eps of the series and some of the worst. In fact, I think this season contains my absolute favourite episode of the series and my absolute least favourite (And by series I mean the Buffyverse not just Buffy). Compared to the evened brilliance that was season three, four may seem a little bit anarchic – Some times it’s on at full heat and some times the gas ain’t even burning. In terms of characterisation however, it could very well be one of the strongest.

    This is all just a big ramble since the only way this could have resonance with you is if you’d seen what is to come. Oh well, just keep in mind that there are far deeper things going on this season than the workings of The Initiative.

    • Typo fixed – I don’t know why that was so stuck in my head as “Matt Bloucas,” but alas.

      I think it’s not so much that Riley and Angel are alike, and more that the series has created a somewhat similar relationship structure which perhaps unfairly points out how much more boring Riley is compared with Angel. I think part of the reason why some likely dislike Riley is that the intense melodrama evident in Buffy and Angel’s relationship is replaced by a complicated, but ultimately not that dramatic, conflict between Buffy and Riley’s paths in life. But you’re right, I’m sure the paths depart with time, but it was my first reaction is all.

      As for “Fear, Itself,” it’s one of those episodes I enjoyed, and where I saw some interesting elements (Willow’s growing frustration with being Buffy’s sidekick and being unable to successfully perform magic, Xander feeling like nobody sees him anymore, Oz’s inner Wolf threatening to emerge outside of the full moon, etc.), but where most of it seemed to be pretty straightforward and where most of its meaning would be derived by future episodes. Know that I did take note of the way the episode functioned and the things it revealed for future reference: while I think its subtlety in regards to Oz was washed away by how quickly they orchestrated his exit, I’m looking forward to seeing how those other issues play out.

    • fivexfive

      Ohmigod, those girls ARE incredible criers. Ally rips your heart out. And Sarah, the way her eyes get all wide like she’s trying to hold the tears back… gets me every time.

      • It’s the only thing missing from HIMYM. I want them to make Lily cry at some point. Guess it wouldn’t really fit the show though.

      • Morda

        Agreed. I actually just watched “I Will Remember You”, so I pretty much just maxed out my “Buffy crying but trying to hold the tears back” quota. One of the best Angel eps….OF ALL TIME!!! :)

        • That ep leaves me high and dry… which just proves to me that I never connected with the Buffy/Angel relationship. I just can’t be bothered with melodrama.

          I’m sure that my response would have been VERY different if I’d been watching when I was seventeen!

        • fivexfive

          I love that episode, too! It was my favorite for a long time, but partially because of my strange introduction to it. I had been watching Buffy regularly since season 4, but for some reason I didn’t start watching Angel when it first came on. My friend was watched “IWRY” and taped it, told me how good it was, then made me listen to the scene with the Buffy crying over the phone. It was strange.

        • Denita

          I heartily disliked IWRY. It’s one of the few “Angel” episodes I couldn’t stand.

  6. greg

    I usually find myself disinterested in Buffy’s relationship issues in season four in favor of Willow’s, primarily because Buffy’s are really more of a plot point than emotionally connecting (and also because Riley’s “cowboy guy” persona is bland enough to make me very, very sleepy)

    Most of what I love about season four is how the situations affect the personalities (as opposed to vice versa); Spike’s ‘Clockwork Orange’ status allows him to become part of the group (obviously) but also because it allows him to grow. As one character says in a future episode:”soul; chip – same diff”; quite possibly NOT true, but something the writers clearly want the audience to debate amongst themselves.

    And, speaking of Oz and Willow and Buffy and Riley and, umm, others I maybe shouldn’t mention… any thoughts on whether the Buffy Season Eight (or Angel: After The Fall) comic book series is gonna be included in this. And if spoilers for that need to be avoided as well. Any further interest in what happens to these people after Fox and the WB shut off the power?

    • Ooh, the comics… there’s an interesting thought.

      I really don’t see the comics as a continuation of the themes/storylines of the TV shows. Both BtVS and AtS were fortunate enough to know when they were cancelled, and each of them go out with (IMO) a really solid closing. The comics are interesting, but they ruin the closure of the series finales, and holy crap but Season Eight has rambled on and on and on and on and on….

      Except for Fray. Everybody needs to read Fray.

      • I hear a lot of people say Buffy was “cancelled” yet to my knowledge the show *ended* because Sarah and Joss agreed it was time. Angel, on the other hand, *was* cancelled by the network.

        • greg

          The first word that got out publicly about the end of ‘Buffy’ was an Entertainment Weekly interview with SMG where she said that she was through with the series at the end of this season (7) – (it’s online, dated sometime around March 03, but don’t search for it unless you’re comfortable with spoilers). I do recall some comments made by Alyson about how annoyed she was that no one had been given advance warning; not so much for the other actors as the people behind the scenes who weren’t as well paid and counted on each paycheck. There also might have been some diplomacy on Joss Whedon’s part. On the commentary track for the season premiere of season seven, he plainly states that he planned this season to be the end of the show right from the start and that it wasn’t Sarah’s fault. However, he also later claims that they had to rush to finish the series (with the finale he envisioned) by the end of this season and that the final five episodes had to squeeze in more than they should because of this. That’s not consistent. There was some talk online during the negotiations between Mutant Enemy and UPN between seasons 5 and 6 that other major characters had signed on for four more seasons but that SMG and one other actor (telling who might be considered a spoiler) had only signed on for two. Not sure how much of that was uninformed fan rumors (or wishful thinking?) and how much was gospel truth, but I don’t recall any of it being categorically denied at any point. Regardless, from a fan perspective at the time it was odd that Joss & Co. started claiming that they’d always intended for season seven to be the finale only after word of SMG’s shutting down the show got out. If it was a mutual decision between everyone involved, you’d think they would have handled the PR better. As it stood, much of the online fan response during the last half of season seven was that the show WAS canceled, but by SMG rather than UPN.

          • Susan

            That’s pretty much as I understand it, too. I’ve heard/read/etc. from various sources that SMG was seriously discomfited by S6 and that she told Joss at the beginning of S7 that it was her last.

            She gets a lot of vitriol from a segment of the fanship for her decision.

            Though I am and have always been an extremely enthusiastic fan of Buffy, and though I mourned its end deeply, I am not one who blames SMG for being done. I really like S6 and I get where the writers were going and how they got there (for that reason I even like the “Big Bad,” as it were), but I also understand why it would be especially difficult to be Buffy during it.

            SMG illuminates some of her trouble with S6 on the 2008 PaleyFest panel. (I’m sure we all know it’s available on DVD–but not for you, Myles, of course!)

            I even understand the short notice.

          • Yes, yes, but the IMPORTANT thing here is how everybody needs to read Fray.
            ;-)

      • KokoBuffs

        re: Fray

        “My hand. It doesn’t shake at all.”

        Fray was an experience, an event like no other. I wish that I could sit in a futuristic chair in a zombie day-spa, have my memeory wiped, and do it all over again. And again. And again.

        Gorgeous, exciting, heartbreaking, powerful. I remember when I got the last issue, I actually held off on reading it for a looong time, just cause I didn’t want it to end. And people reading it now should thank their lucky stars that they don’t have to be tortured to death waiting like 6 months to a year between the last couple issues. After huge reveals and cliffhangers! Evvvil.

        Though I must say, if people read Buffy Season 8 comics, it’s spoilerific for Fray. My suggestion to all, drop everything you’re doing and go read Fray. Avoid The Time of Your life arc in Season 8 until you’ve done so. Fray is AMAZING unspoiled.

    • KokoBuffs

      “Most of what I love about season four is how the situations affect the personalities (as opposed to vice versa); Spike’s ‘Clockwork Orange’ status allows him to become part of the group (obviously) but also because it allows him to grow.”

      Exactly. The “plot” was the ‘maguffin’ for character/relationship study and philosophical explorations on humanity. That’s what I came away with by the end of Season 4 on first viewing.

      “As one character says in a future episode: ”soul; chip – same diff”; quite possibly NOT true, but something the writers clearly want the audience to debate amongst themselves.”

      Spike’s chip in particular is a great device for doing that very thing. What I love about this season is that “ideas” continue to get really nuanced in interesting ways.

      Spike being a perfect example which we’ll get to discuss more later, but the pros and cons and limitations of changes are laid out but sometimes go unrecognized by the viewer, for one reason or another.

      There’s another great quote coming up that takes the exact opposite viewpoint of the one you mention regarding the chip. What’s great about this show is that you start to learn that the truth or the “reality” or what “matters”–in context–is not often at either extreme (those extremes usually espoused rather justifiably by each character in the context of what they know about the situation (e.g., scoobies in “Dead Man’s Party” ) but in the nuance in the middle.

      Ok, trying to make sense while being vague is hard. Makes me ramble even more than usual, sorry. :)

  7. Hansen

    Thank you for not hating Beer Bad. That one gets a lots of mistreatment on the web and I like it quite a bit.

  8. Denita

    Also a Riley fan here!

    I found your comparison of Riley with Angel interesting. It’s one I’ve seen quite a bit of and one that always leaves me shaking my head, wondering if everyone forgot Owen from season 1.

  9. Susan

    IMO as a group we’re really coming up hard against the spoiler line.

    I find myself with a TON to say in connection with these past couple of reviews and terrified to say most of it. Several times I’ve started a comment, gotten pretty deep into it, realized that I’m getting into dicey territory, attempted to vague up some bits, and then given up the whole thing as a bad job.

    Part of the problem is that SO MUCH is happening and changing (whatever you think about seasons 4-7, they are newly dynamic) and so many moments upon which Myles has commented are meaningful in ways he couldn’t–and shouldn’t–yet know. An entire dimension of cool stuff we know and love and want to talk about.

    His remark above about how what he so far has known ahead of time has changed, but not adversely, his viewing experience is a good and interesting reflection on the communal nature of this project. But I hope we can continue to defer to his noob experience here and let him encounter as much as possible completely unspoiled–or at least not spoiled by us.

    • I agree, it is difficult… I have wished more than once for an off-forum site where I could say everything I was thinking! (To prove how right I am, of course… :-) )

      I think we’re doing okay, so far, but it annoyed me when (for example) commenters mentioned that Harmony would be back. But short of a group meeting, I’m not sure what can be done about it!

      I think that possibly Myles had no idea what he was letting himself in for here….

      • Becker

        The spoilers, even the little ones I know that Myles already knows, drive me nuts as I come from the Joss land of zero spoilers. And if Joss ever gave anything out on the old boards it was done in a completely misleading way or just flat made up non-sense. The promos always drive him nuts because there is the battle of getting the viewers interested to watch because big things are about to happen versus not wanting to give anything away about what is going to happen at all.

  10. Tausif Khan

    I was happy with the introduction of Riley. I was happy that she could have a relatively normal boyfriend that could be seen in the daily light. She is not literally fighting against his kind as with Angel (where the conflict came where she might have to actually have to kill him). I liked the potential of Buffy and Riley joining forces. She could openly work with her boyfriend. It was more healthy than than pedophile/stalker relationship she had with Angel.

    Seth Green (while not a movie career) I would say Robot Chicken is amazing and he is a voice for Family Guy so I would say he is quite successful.

    Maggie Walsh was also deemed by the writers as their first big movie star get so that might have been the reason they did an “and Maggie Walsh” deal.

    There are a featurettes on The Chosen collection which explores Oz/Spike’s character as well as the episode of Hush will you watch and comment on them?

    • Bob

      Actually, I think the Spike featurette gives away at least one key plot development best left unspoiled, so Myles shouldn’t watch that yet.

  11. AO

    Part of the reason that I disliked Riley at this point was the fact that I found him boring, (though I’d characterize him more as a huge black hole of charisma). Another reason is that I had a strong feeling that he was pretty dumb. I guess that it makes sense in theory that Buffy would be interested in the handsome, dumb, normal guy, but at this point in the show I was very much hoping that she would be attracted to someone who was at least moderately intelligent. Their forming a relationship seemed to me like an unavoidable trainwreck from his introduction, but I tried to keep the faith and hope for the best (no pun intended).

    The reason(s) that many detractors dislike (or hate) him so is still to come. Though in fairness, every relationship that Buffy has is disliked by some. For example, some Angel detractors point to their vast age difference and claim that he took advantage of Buffy while she was a minor, a few even claim rape and it’s something that they will never forgive him for.

    Personally, I hate Riley with a blinding, passionate fury and he’s unequivocally the worst character of the entire series for me. While I’m not one to make “Top _ Lists”, he might well be my #1 most hated character from any TV series ever. I’m someone who rarely loves or hates any TV character, but for me there are one or two things that he does that make it very difficult for me to keep my composure.

    • jarppu

      AO’s above post sounds like insane shipper rambling. Feel free to ignore him/her.

      • Becker

        And the unnecessary and rude reply award goes to….

        • Susan

          No kidding. We’ve all been admirably warm and respectful with each other, even in strong disagreement. That comment was all the more harsh because it’s so out of place here.

      • AO

        Thanks for assuming, but I actually don’t “ship” any of her bf’s. And what is it that I said that would classify me as “insane”? Those are very strong comments and I’m uncertain as to what precisely I’ve said to offend you, unless you are “insane” in your feelings for Riley?

    • Becker

      I take it you mean main character or do you mean most hated of any character? Veruca & Kathy are far past him for me if we’re including more minor characters. OK, I never hated him, but I never loved him at all either. Though Marc himself is an awesome guy.

      • Eldritch

        I don’t think I ever felt intensely towards Riley. He’s a good looking boy and all.

        I’ll just comment that I’ve seen Blucas in a number of other TV shows and movies, and frankly, he’s always kinda bland.

      • AO

        Any character. While I wasn’t a fan of Veruca or Kathy, I was never hugely bothered by either of them. Veruca is one that a lot of people dislike, for trying to steal Oz, being a skank, feeling superior to normal humans, but it seemed logical to me that there would be some supernatural creatures out there who feel that way. I’m certainly not a fan of hers, but I understand where she’s coming from and so am not too bothered by her.

        Riley does something later that I feel very passionately about. It may very well be that nobody will agree with me, and I understand that everyone has their own opinions and respect those who don’t agree with me. I don’t know much about Marc as a person or an actor, his performance here didn’t cause me to seek out his other works, but my problem is entirely with the fictional character and has no relation to who he is in reality. Hopefully he is a great guy, I certainly don’t wish him any ill will just because I hate one of the characters that he depicted.

        • Not getting into the who-was-rude argument b/c I think we’re all still friends here, and I get where everyone is coming from.

          AO — we’ll talk about this more when it happens — I understand how you could have such a passionate response to that particular part of Riley’s arc. I’m not making any assumptions as to your gender — but, as a female, I actually thought Buffy was too hard on him! I guess I thought it was more of a cry for help on Riley’s part.

          I’ve said too much already. We’ll talk more when we get there. :-)

        • Becker

          It was a combo of the character and the actress that just made her completely unwatchable for me. I have to fight to keep from fast-forwarding anything she’s in. Though, currently, it’s an easy fight as I don’t actually own 4-6 at this time.

          I think I know what you are talking about, but I have no problem waiting until the time comes to find out. I didn’t have all that high of a liking of Riley at that point to have that low of a thinking afterwards. It just seems like a long, long wait, even though Myles is making decent time with this and still having a life. :)

  12. Carlie

    If you watch no other special features for the entire series, watch the episode commentary for “Wild At Heart” when the season is over. It’s Seth Green and Joss Whedon, it’s very interesting, AND it’s hilarious. Just sayin’.

    • greg

      and Marti Noxon.

      It is one of the better commentary tracks (though, I understand, not available on the UK discs?) but it WAS recorded during the filming of season six and they DO casually talk about what’s going on with the characters in the “current” season. So maybe anyone wanting to avoid spoilers should save that for much later.

      • Susan

        I agree. No commentaries or bonus features of any kind for you, Myles. Not until the very end of the series, just to be safe. The Whedon crew tends to behave on those features as though people watching the DVDs are not new to the ‘verse.

        Once you can’t be spoiled, then they’re great, though!

  13. lyvvie

    Wow, you’re really picking up the pace Myles. I like it! But now I’m expecting to come on here every day to read something new ;)

    Are you planning on doing any in-depth individual episode reviews, or are you trying to keep up the speed? I have one in mind that I’d like to see and it’s probably not the one you think!

    I’m extremely spoiler-phobic so I’ll keep my comments relatively short. Trying not to come across as judgemental (though failing), I do feel some comments in these threads(?) are a bit too spoilery.

    I do see a little similarity at this point between Angel and Riley, particularly from the start of us knowing them. Both are a bit mysterious, both like Buffy from afar, both are pretty serious (though Riley does get a few funny lines) and both tower over Buffy height-wise (though as someone pointed out that’s not hard with SMG, and maybe Buffy just likes tall guys). When I first viewed the series I hated Riley, now after numerous rewatches I like him (a few issues aside which we’ll come to later), so I guess you can go either way (and most fans do).

    With Oz I had pretty much the same feelings as you, I never really connected to him. He had some good lines and a couple of nice emotional moments (S2 telling Willow why he wouldn’t kiss her/S3 why he wouldn’t sleep with her) but I never really had a strong emotional connection to the character. I think Seth Green has done pretty well for himself since, but maybe I’m just judging him by the success (or lack) of other Whedon-alums.

  14. Becker

    I despised Veruca and it’s something that always made it hard for me to like that episode at all.

    Seth Green was never a leading man, but he has always been a very busy man. If you look at all the work he’s done, the answer is, yeah, he was successful.

    Beer Bad points out something some of my friends have noticed about the episodes that are a bit of a parody or possibly bad in that SMG has bad hair in those. ;)

    I never saw a similarity between Angel and Riley and just thought Riley was bland. And I have never been a B/A shipper as I thought they (when together) got pretty boring as well.

    Anything is spoilery, so….

    • Becker

      Anything ELSE is spoilery. Eye = suck. (TM) -mere-

      • Denita

        Oh, hee! I haven’t seen the Eye = suck thing in a long time.

        • Jack_Kay

          What is Eye = suck?
          I’m missing out on some inside terminology here.

          Also missing out on being able
          to say that I know Marc Blucas is a nice guy… Jealous of Becker’s old job (I’m guessing that’s how you know MB is nice).
          p.s. Marc looks nice with his shirt off so I’ll forgive his characters’ discrepancies somewhat, as I think I’d give in to his charms more so than Buffy eventually does… But whatevs, My Bad!

          • Becker

            Eye = suck basically means “I suck” and was something termed by then NY Bronzer -mere- who later moved to LA and later became Angel writer Mere Smith. Bronzers were people who posted regularly at the linear board called The Bronze old official Buffy website from 97-2001, things got trickier after the move to UPN as the site shut down and a newer crappier one started up. But there are a lot of inside jokes that came out of there. And it got shoutouts on the show a couple of times. If you go back to The Prom and Willow has her white board of everyone running for Queen’s strengths and weaknesses, one of the the girls it says PB Crazed, which was a nod to the boards, which Aly used to post to a lot in the first year and Joss and the writers throughout the series.

            I had the job because the writers were at the Buffy lot, but Angel was filmed across town. So, if I walked outside, I was at the Buffy stages and I used to see them from time to time. In the beginning Marc didn’t have as much screen time, which meant he had a lot more sitting around and waiting time which is how I ended up talking to him from time to time when cutting through the lot. I’m jealous of my old job as I’m not in that business any more.

          • Susan

            For a totally off-the-wall comment: Yes, Riley does look good with his shirt off. As does Angel. But what is the deal with these guys and body hair–or, I should say, utter lack thereof?

            I find myself weirdly fascinated by these guys’ apparent lack of even underarm hair. Was there a “full body wax” requirement in their contracts or something?

            Oz, too, for that matter (when he’s human, anyway :D ). Only Xander seems to have been spared the full salon treatment.

            Gives me a bit of a wiggins, frankly.

          • Beth

            Susan – that is sooooo true.

            SPOILER??? (Don’t forget Spike.) END SPOILER

            I’ve thought that more than a few times. I think it’s kind of an epidemic really. I’m sure this is TMI, haha…but it was so refreshing to see the ads for that Prince of Persia movie with Jake G – I had been rewatching BtVS recently and told my friend that it was nice to see someone with body hair for a change. Ok, end TMI. :-)

      • Becker

        Susan, I can honestly say that that is something that I have never ever considered before. And I’m cool with that, especially having sat through a friend of mine talking about how she wanted to do a presentation showing the point at which Angel is played by Mike Massa but switches to David in the naked falling from the ceiling scene. Apparently there was going to be a lab coat, a large projector, screen shot stills and a pointer. ;) Way more of a conversation than a straight guy needs. ;)

        • Susan

          Heehee. Becker, you can tell your friend that she’s not the only one. I’ve played that scene frame by frame a couple of times to locate the body switch–once to demonstrate to my husband, who wasn’t nearly as interested as I thought he should be. I refrained from pulling out the coat and the pointer, though. :D.

          I’ve also freeze-framed a couple of scenes to determine as conclusively as possible whether Boreanaz and others might actually have gone so far as to wax their pits.

          After enough viewings, I guess, one eventually notices everything. Especially if one is, in fact, pretty damn interested in good looking guys going shirtless. :D

  15. Gill

    More good stuff, Myles, though I think you’ve missed the fact that The Initiative is, in essence, at least ostensibly on the same side of the tracks as Buffy – they are dedicated hunters and destroyers of demons and vampires, just as she is. Thus there is all the potential for partnership and/or workplace rivalry in the relationship with Riley. I am more concerned that Riley seems to be abusing his power and status as a TA to hit on a pretty freshman – or is that acceptable in US universities?

    In terms of how the storyline developed, I think parts of it are quite interesting and other parts threaten to be a bit repetitive. As for the former response, I’m fascinated by the idea that Spike has been implanted with something which keeps him from killing, both because it’s an interesting philosophical state for the character (who has, as I had known ahead of time, been added to the main cast) and because it resulted in that wonderful (if a tad bit repetitive itself) scene where Spike’s struggles become an extended play on erectile dysfunction.

    You are about to enter a run of episodes which, I promise you, will not feel repetitive. The issue of the chip leads directly to philosophical considerations of good and evil and how to distinguish between them. However it is also a wonderful opportunity to show off Marsters’ comic talent, which is awesome. Willow’s attempt to reassure him, and his to reassure her that it’s “not just her” is hilarious, but also speaks to layers of insecurity in both characters which will continue to play out. (Spike is still separated from Dru, remember – and it’s clear that Harmony is in his view a very inadequate substitute.)

    I am very much looking forward to your reviews of the next four episodes.

    • I’m very interested in your “Is that acceptable in US universities?” question.

      I think the short answer is probably “Yes.” A TA is almost invariably a graduate student, so they’re more peers with the undergraduates than with the professors. Occasionally you might have a large lecture, that also has a small-group component led by a TA, and that TA might be responsible for your small-group grade, and that of course would be naughty. But as long as the TA has nothing to do with your grades, then it’s no worse than a workplace romance.

      What is it like in the UK/Canada/Australia/Himalayas? (I realized that I shouldn’t make any assumptions about where you are.)

  16. Aeryl

    Heads up Myles, but you just got linked by Noel Murray over at the AV Club, cuz he’s taking a week off his recaps, and is sending his readers here to get their recap fix.

  17. mothergunn

    Spike and his chip are worth a lot of discussion, IMHO, and while we don’t have to do all of it here, I feel like we sort of missed it in the mix of hating on Riley (I mean, for a character most of us don’t care for, we did just spend a lot of time talking about him).

    “Soul, chip, same diff.” Sometimes I kinda agree, and I REALLY want to go into this further, but really can’t. vountarymanslaughter already started it up a little, and I really love that she’s already comparing Spike and Angel with regards to this idea. Is Angel more moral than Spike? Probably yes, which is what always really annoys me about Angel. He always has to make everything about his exhausting redemption, and he just needs to learn that it’s not all about him. Spike (SPOILER? maybe), in the end, just doesn’t really give a sh*t, and that’s what makes him the better hero. He, as we have mentioned, follows his blood, and doesn’t go all Hamlet and over-think things. I am trying to make a point here, but I’m gonna stop now because Myles doesn’t need to hear all this yet.

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