Cultural Catchup Project: “Intervention” (Buffy the Vampire Slayer)


September 4th, 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.

Marti Noxon faced certain challenges in “Forever,” transitioning from the tragedy of “The Body” into the season’s conclusion, but Jane Espenson faces more substantial obstacles with “Intervention.” She’s given the task of bringing back the series’ sense of fun and its second of humour, qualities that seem particularly incongruous with the grieving process still unfolding. The episode is going to be awkward no matter what you do with it, which is what makes it a difficult task for any writer.

However, Jane Espenson does awkward pretty damn well: her episodes are always strong at mixing the dramatic with the comic, and here she adds the tragic into the mix with little difficulty. “Intervention” picks up the story where “I Was Made To Love You” left off, comfortably settling into the path which will lead the season to its end and delivering some meaningful laughs along the way

I don’t think that “Intervention” is a classic by any means: this isn’t to suggest that it’s a weak episode, but rather that you can feel Espenson rushing through story material. It’s interesting to see the First Slayer return in order to deliver Buffy some advice about the importance of love and death in a cryptic fashion (yet another example of where “Restless” comes back into play), but the scenes fairly static with Buffy just sitting on the rock waiting. Even the opening scene, where Buffy and Giles discuss what to do next in terms of their training, feels expository and functional rather than natural: the awkwardness of having to re-enter the traditional rhythms of the series should be evident within the story, but I think it’s a bit too evident in the earlygoing and throughout “real” Buffy’s side of the story until her return to Sunnydale.

But once she does intersect with the “Robot Buffy” side of the storyline, things get a lot better. It helps that the humour of Robot Buffy is quite welcome: not only is Sarah Michelle Gellar very adept at playing a caricature of Buffy who’s madly in love with Spike, but the design choices in terms of the Terminator-like breakdown of each character was just a very smart piece of writing from Espenson. Yes, the big laugh comes from a fairly broad bit of comedy (Willow’s “Gay 1999-Present”), but there’s also smaller moments like Anya’s appreciation for Buffy asking about her money – Espenson is always strong with detail-oriented humour, and I felt that this was a fine example of that. And even when they do come together, and the story amps up into a more dramatic space, there’s still room for a few gags like “Guy-ulls” to help keep the comedy moving.

And yet, at the same time, Espenson gets some legitimate romantic mileage out of the scenario: it’s somewhat hard to believe that an episode where Spike creates a robot Buffy to have sex with would result in a real emotional connection to his beloved, but by golly Espenson made it happen. There’s nothing particularly surprising about the final scene: it’s obvious for the audience that it’s really Buffy, and so our surprise regarding the kiss comes before Spike’s, and the weight of the moment sinks in almost immediately. That’s the difference, really, between someone like Spike and someone like Riley: while Buffy’s relationship with the latter was perhaps meaningful, it never felt as if it had a great deal of weight within the story, and what weight it did have seemed contrived. And while, as mentioned, early parts of “Intervention” felt a bit rushed, the ending felt pretty darn natural considering how antithetical it could have seemed, which makes the episode particularly accomplished in that area, and in general.

Cultural Observations

  • Maybe this is just a continuity thing, but would Spike have been able to tell Warren to program RoboBuffy to not know that her mother had died? It was bugging me throughout that the robot never asked about Joyce, and never responded to Willow’s mention of Joyce within their conversation on the balcony – did Spike update her programming when Joyce passed away, or was this simply a contrivance to keep Joyce’s memory from hanging too heavily over the episode? There was certainly room for a scene where RoboBuffy walks into her house and asks where Joyce is, bringing all of that back to the surface, but it’s likely something they chose to avoid in moving forward.
  • Loved that, out of all of the programming done on the robot, the only part in which Spike’s voice is directly apparent is in her response to Angel (“His hair goes straight up, and he’s bloody stupid!”)
  • Yet more dangerous curiosity from Willow, as she notes her ability to put the robot back together despite the fact that it would be creepy – I know enough about what’s to come for Willow that this, coupled with “Forever,” is heading in a certain direction, so it’s interesting to see it thrown in here in a subtle fashion.
  • Neat little visual parallel in Spike being thrown onto the bed by Buffy in the midst of their foreplay and then tossed onto the bed by Glory in the midst of her torture.
  • I always approve of a Bob Barker reference.


Filed under Cultural Catchup Project

41 responses to “Cultural Catchup Project: “Intervention” (Buffy the Vampire Slayer)

  1. Eldritch

    Maybe this is just a continuity thing, but would Spike have been able to tell Warren to program RoboBuffy to not know that her mother had died?”

    I have a lot of problems with artificially intelligent robots on Buffy (or most other shows for that matter). They’re just not being made anywhere today. So it’s quite a stretch that isolated tinkerers and DeVry students can just throw them together.

    I also have problems with Spike’s knowing enough to program such a robot with sufficient personal knowledge about the Scoobie gang. I don’t see him having the patience to jot down all those individual bits of information for Warren to input either.

    I can accept vampires with and without souls, but this bit of pseudoscience annoys me. But what can I say, sometimes you just have to go with the flow. The Buffybot was pretty funny. And at my most recent viewing of the episode, I was particularly impressed with how well Gellar portrayed the very different Buffy and Buffybot.

    • devilscrayon

      But Spike spent a good amount of time hanging around the Scoobies in S4, and he’s pretty perceptive (except when it comes to himself). I don’t find it that hard to believe that he’d have picked up on some details.

      • Eldritch

        Think of what I’m saying this way: Imagine you were to program a robot to impersonate someone well known to five of your friends. Could you really come up with enough details to do that flawlessly? Can you remember everything each one of those people have done over the last several years? How can you replicate all those hours those people done things without you? Could you program a robot to be familiar with all that?

        I don’t think it can be done. The robot would quickly reveal itself for not sharing enough common memories.

        • skittledog

          I think ‘flawlessly’ is a bit of a strong statement for the Buffybot. “You’re recently gay!” Heh. I have less of a problem with the programming and more of a problem with the physical reality of her – surely her skin/muscles etc just aren’t going to look real, and there’s no hint here that the robotics were augmented with any form of magic (though I guess that’s possible).

          But to me, the Buffybot’s level of detail is not beyond what I imagine Spike’s level of patience with such an exercise would be. He wants a robot with some idea who she’s supposed to be, after all.

        • Well, Spike doesn’t want the Buffybot to go undercover (well, not figuratively, anyway). He wants an approximation of Buffy to have sex with. The Buffybot isn’t very good at passing as human, and it’s only because of the recent emotional stress (and for the sake of comedy) that the Scoobies don’t catch on even sooner.

          • What’s weird to me is that there’s really no reason why Buffybot would NEED to know many of those things: Spike couldn’t have imagined this specific scenario (Buffy goes away, Buffybot breaks loose) in programming, so this implies that he programmed it that way to achieve a verisimilitude which would keep up the charade as much as possible. In which case I think he would go to certain lengths to program the details of Buffy’s life, albeit shoddily and with an editorial gaze.

          • skittledog

            Buffyboy? Now that’d be a different sort of episode… 😉

    • Karen

      Yeah the Buffybot (and Buffyverse intelligent robots in general) really make the case that the Buffyverse is an alternate reality, noy *our* reality. They very nearly break the suspension of disbelief. If they weren’t so much fun and handled so well…… 😉

  2. ck

    I love that there is a place I can go to discuss the effectiveness of robot programming.

  3. lyvvie

    Possibly a slight nitpick, but I don’t think that’s supposed to be the First Slayer, it’s supposed to be a ‘guide’ who has taken the First Slayer’s form.

    I gotta admit, I love this episode. The Buffybot is hilarious and SMG plays her so well. I love how the Scoobies don’t catch on and see this as a manifestation of Buffy’s grief as it’s such a clever way of getting away with the Buffybot walking around saying crazy/funny stuff.

    But I think the thing that interests me most in this episode is Buffy’s emotional state. She feels that being the Slayer is making her lose her ability to love, is making her hard inside. Riley left because he didn’t feel loved, Joyce died suddenly and of course Buffy wonders as anyone would in that situation, whether she knew that Buffy loved her. The guide’s advice of ‘love, give, forgive’ is interesting and brings about the end of the episode as Buffy starts to put these things into practice by forgiving Spike (you could argue a bit of ‘love’ and ‘give’ there as well).

    The rest is spoilers 😉

  4. tjbw

    Myles wrote:

    “…it’s somewhat hard to believe that an episode where Spike creates a robot Buffy to have sex with…”

    So I see you’ve already forgotten “I Was Made to Love You”. Warren told us that he doesn’t make sexbots, he makes girlfriends (I know, I know. Sometimes girlfriends are just sexbots, but that’s a topic for a different conversation). You want to know why “Intervention” doesn’t come off as creepy as it should? This is why.

    • I haven’t forgotten it at all: it’s just that the episode sort of shorthands Spike’s interaction with the robot to the sexual programming (programming which he confirms with Warren is present).

      • lyvvie

        Surely Spike just builds a robot Buffy to play checkers with. Right?

      • Gill

        We see the sex, because that is funny, but we also see how desperately Spike wants her not to be a machine, but the real Buffy, so it’s not beyond imagining that he would also have used her as a confidante. Presumably this robot learns more efficiently than April did.

  5. lawrence

    The only real issue I have with this episode is that the Scoobies have suddenly become incredibly stupid. Buffy’s line about “You couldn’t tell me apart from a robot?” really highlights that.

    I get that they wanted to give everyone an episode with a double, and Intervention was funny, but it’s very hard to suspend disbelief when you have to do it in universe. That is, it’s completely implausible that not a single one of Willow or Xander or Anya would notice that ‘Buffy’ was not right.

    Plus, how does the BuffyBot know so much about Glory and the Key? Did Spike tell Warren about that? Or did Spike sit around chatting and playing checkers with his sex bot before they got physical?

    Maybe it’s not worth examining the funny episodes that closely, and better to just let them be funny, especially since, uh, there’s not going to be a whole lot of funny for a while.

    • Susan

      If we attribute the group’s lack of perspicacity (albeit extreme) to being still “off” since Joyce’s death–and to everyone assuming that Buffy would still be “off” (Xander actually says as much, IIRC)–it’s a bit easier to swallow, I think.

      Besides, the episode is funny enough (and, finally, sweet enough), and SMG is great enough in the dual roles that I’m willing to give it lots of slack regarding this question as well as the question regarding whether the bot could be so well programmed. I’m happy to just go with it.

    • Gill

      Plus, how does the BuffyBot know so much about Glory and the Key?

      I have a feeling the only conversation Spike has with the Buffybot about The Key is at the end, when the Bot actually is Buffy.

      However, he really does want her to be Buffy, not just a sex toy, so it’s not unreasonable that he would have talked to her about such things. I imagine a slightly maudlin post-coitus Spike pouring his heart out to the robot which, of course, has total recall.

      • mothergunn

        Gill, this makes the most sense to me. Isn’t the whole problem with the Spike/Buffy (Spuffy? heh, that’s awesome) drama that he wants to be honest with her but every time he is, she’s totally repulsed? I’m not going to try to argue that sex isn’t a factor (because we all know Spike too well to buy that nonsense) but I think the biggest reason he wanted the Bot was for the companionship. I mean, he’s had Dru around for the majority of his existence and he never had to lie to her about any part of himself. Now he doesn’t have that; sure, he has the Scoobies around to pay him so he doesn’t starve or succumb to nicotine withdrawal, but he doesn’t have anyone to talk to. Of course, he can’t say that, cuz then he wouldn’t seem as cool…

        • Aeryl

          I totally agree, he wants to pretend he has a relationship w/Buffy, not just sex.

          And I can tell this, from the first time you see Spuffy/bot get it on, when Spike heads downtown.

          Now, I know that there are plenty of guys who enjoy this, but primarily this is performed for the woman’s pleasure. Did Spike really have to worry about the bot’s pleasure, if all he was wanting was the sex-ay thrills? No, but he’d do it for Buffy, hence he does it for the robot.

          So of course they’d also do all the other relationship things that he wants to do, pillow talk about the job(which in this case is Glory and the Key), and to listen to her talk about her friends(so she’d have to have some rudimentary knowledge).

          Plus, protecting Dawn and all that aside, Spike is still a soulless evil creature. Who’s to say that his eventual plan wasn’t to slowly integrate the Buffybot into the Scoobie gang, learning all of Buffy’s true idiosyncracies, before having the real Buffy killed by the bot, only to take her place, and have a publicly open relationship w/Spike?

          • mothergunn

            Now, that is an interesting thought experiment. I just envision a future Sunnydale with Spike and his wacky Bot sidekick ruling the night…

  6. skittledog

    I like Intervention quite a lot for an episode which is fairly open-ended and doesn’t contain a whole lot of plot. I don’t think I’ve ever watched The Body – Forever – Intervention straight through since the first time, so I don’t really notice the mood acrobatics it’s got to pull off, but you’re right that it manages to balance leftover grief with comedy and new arc plot fairly well.

    The Buffybot hits the right level of ridiculous humour for me – although I don’t love her interactions with the Scoobies prior to Buffy’s return (they are just a bit too clueless and perhaps it hits a little hard to home in that I do actually happen to believe they are not great friends in a lot of ways), the dry comedy of her lines is undeniable and SMG plays her with such a lot of bounce and enthusiasm that it’s just a joy to watch.

    And I’m a fan of the Spike arc going on here, so of course the ending works for me – but it also works very well within the story. We know that’s Buffy, yes, but we also knew that Spike wouldn’t have told Glory anything. So we get to see both of them be a little surprised by the other when we already knew what was going on. And I kind of like that.

    It’s a tiny moment but I really like the shot where Buffy puts her head down on the table to look at the Buffybot in perfect symmetry of curiosity. Heh.

  7. greg

    I’ve always wondered if the Buffybot is just a modified April or if Warren started from scratch.
    Did they just leave April sitting on the swing for anyone to take away (and ask questions about?) or was she dismantled and disposed of in some way and, if so, by whom? Willow? Warren? What the frilly heck ever happened to her?

    I recall when the episode first aired, I was more concerned that Spike basically told Warren everything about the Scoobies than I was about how Spike knew everything (c’mon, even as far back as ‘Yoko Factor’ and ‘Something Blue’ is was clear that Spike was pretty observant and insightful wrt the people around him) I really expected that Warren was gonna play a part in Glory cornering the Scoobs. I guess the writers didn’t see Warren as being as much of a threat as I did.

    • Gill

      I guess the writers didn’t see Warren as being as much of a threat as I did.


      They caught on to that eventually. He really is a sleezeball.

      • mothergunn

        Agreed. As much as Warren isn’t the Biggest Bad of all Bads, he’s definitely the creepiest. It’s always satisfying to me when he gets his.

  8. Karen

    ****Possibly spoilery topic*****




    And another point in Intervention’s favor – it plants the seeds for a new direction very well, imo. In addition to balancing the humor, drama, and tragic baggage, I also mark this as a game-changer for the rest of the series. Subtle in some ways, to the point that some viewers never accept the “game-change”, and not a *series* changer as much as a character/relationship changer in the eyes of many, but *things are different* from this point on….

  9. Gill

    It is odd that the people who so readily grasped that April was a robot don’t see through the Buffybot, but I think it shows that their attention is too diffuse at this moment for them to see it. I’m ready to grant quite a lot of leeway to an episode with such hilarious moments, interspersed with some really touching elements.

    Spike hits both the depths – the sleaze of getting a Buffyalike sexbot – and the heights – his endurance in the face of Glory, which is both hilarious and heroic. His insults are pure gold, yet there’s never a doubt that he is in real pain and it’s costing him a great deal to keep the secret. The final scene knocks it out of the park for me – SMG’s instant switch from vacuous robot to gentle, censorious yet appreciative human is wonderful, and the way in which Marsters communicates disbelief and wonder as he realises what has happened is amazing.

    Yes, wrenching the main arc back on track takes effort, but I love this episode. We see how Spike has changed since Crush – it is no longer just about him, but all about protecting Buffy. It takes an Espenson to write something like this and make it work so well.

    • mothergunn


      I swear, Gill, I’m not trying to date you or anything, you just managed to beat me to what I was going to say. A couple times 😉

      Also, not to threadjack or anything, but we did all notice that Espenson is one of the writers for the Torchwood reboot, yes? I expect this level of awesome from her there, as well. Especially if she’s going to be writing for Marsters again.

      • Karen

        I knew JE was doing the TW reboot but thought JM wasn’t involved. :::runs off to surf:::

        • Stevi

          JM isn’t part of the main Torchwood cast. But there’s definitely room for Captain John as a recurring character ( Since Espenson is a fan of Marsters, and vice versa, I think the only obstacle is timing. Personally, I’m crossing all my digits for the timing to work out. Hope JM is still practicing that accent…

          • mothergunn

            I saw an interview with JM recently wherein he said he really wanted to be in it, and would be very upset if RTD didn’t call him. I think the odds are good he’ll be in it, tho as I far as I know they haven’t released any casting yet (other than Barrowman and Myles).

  10. Bob Kat

    A poster on “another website” suggested that all the episodes which involved impossible but non-magical events, not onyl warren’s robots but also “No Assmebly Required,” Ted,” & “Go Fish,” were still Hellmouth-related; its forces “Allowed” these things to occur and it wouldn’t’ve worked elsewhwere. Which emans Warrne rpesumably built April at home and took ehr along to his dorm in Dutton latter. And April was probably cannibalized for parts for the Buffybot.
    I never really cosnidered the impalusibility of Spike’s tellign Warren about The Key, good catch. Maybe he told the ‘bot that directly, or maybe he just assumed Warren was in such a hurry to leave town he wasn’t worried.
    So far, Warren is ultra-creepy but sympathetic.

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