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Cultural Catchup Project: “Into the Woods,” Caught in the Weeds (Buffy the Vampire Slayer)

“Into the Woods,” Caught in the Weeds

August 2nd, 2010

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As the Slayer, Buffy has always had to balance various parts of her life: with great power comes great responsibility, and so there were times when her friends and her studies suffered as a result of the time she had to spend patrolling and keeping Sunnydale from falling into the abyss.

However, in previous seasons the consequences of an imbalanced life were fairly minimal: it created tension between friends which could be smoothed over without much difficulty, and it led to conflicts with principals which were ultimately inconsequential – even Season Four, as Buffy graduated to the college life, it still seemed as if the challenge of balancing her various commitments (to slaying, to the Initiative, to school work) was still pretty easy to overcome (especially when you consider that they went most of the season without exploring her distance from her mother).

But in the fifth season’s absence of an omnipresent story arc – with Glory sitting on the bench for extended periods, biding her time before making her next move – the series has delved further into decidedly human drama: after it becomes clear that Joyce’s condition is not related to Dawn’s arrival (except that the tumour gave her the ability to see Dawn for what she was), Buffy’s life becomes infinitely more complicated, and so she starts to let that balance fade. And while ignoring her studies is something the show cares little about, and ignoring Spike’s advances is not a particularly challenging thing for Buffy to do, ignoring Riley’s descent into a dark place is a consequence she had not prepared for.

It is, however, a consequence which I’ve been preparing for since the season began: while “Family” established that Tara is part of this family, and “Triangle” went out of its way to answer any lingering doubts about Anya’s connection with the group, “Into the Woods” seems like it should pick up on the season’s gradual argument that there is no worse outlet for Riley Finn’s psychological struggles than his efforts to make Buffy feel for him as she felt for Angel.

Unfortunately, all “Into the Woods” proves is that Marti Noxon might as well face that she’s addicted to love, to the detriment of Riley’s swan song.

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