Posted by: thebuffyrewatch | April 22, 2012

Cordia’s Review: S4, E07 – The Initiative

The Initiative
Season 4, Episode 7
Original airing: 11/16/1999

My Rating: 52

The Good: I really struggled with this episode. Overall, I thought it was pretty poorly done (see The Bad). But I do really like how they are handling Willow and Oz’s breakup, as well as the re-introduction of Spike.

Willow is obviously deep into her denial period here. She argues with Riley that Oz will be back in class soon. Then, when Riley comes to ask for her help with Buffy, she keeps knocking him down. She views all boys differently now that Oz has hurt her. And yet, her basic nature forces her to want to help. In the end, she can’t let her misery get in the way of helping a friend be happy. But she does it all with a real edge, especially at the party where she threatens and encourages Riley in turns.

I also really liked the initial scene between Willow and Spike. When he walks into the dorm room, he’s all puff and swagger. Willow’s terrified reaction is perfect. It immediately brings to mind their encounter in Lover’s Walk (S3E8) when he kidnaps her and seemingly kills Xander with a laboratory microscope. While Xander is bleeding from the head, Spike confides in Willow, then holds a broken bottle in her face, then seemingly considers raping her. This was a very unpredictable, and very scary, Spike.

This scene is a continuation of that dynamic. The overlying rape connotations can’t be missed here as Spike turns up the music and pins Willow to the bed with a terrible smirk. The hallway pan immediately following really kicks it home by showing no one else in the dorm is even remotely concerned by the loud music. It’s because of this difficult to watch and incredibly well-crafted scene, that I found the following scene about sexual impotence so very not-funny (see The Bad).

The Bad: Overall, I really struggled with the logic in this show. Most TV show episodes have one or two little things happen thought don’t make sense in terms of time line, physics, or some other real world or show created logical basis. And usually I can brush off those few happenings and still enjoy the episode. But when these kinds of things happen over and over and over in an episode, I find it incredibly distracting.

In The Initiative, just to list a few, we had people being really bad at their jobs, then being really competent; people change clothes too quickly; vampire physiology is twisted and distorted from previously described in the show; a gigantic (and expensive) secret lab is revealed under a frat house with no explanation; and a flare gun acts in a highly improbable manner. That’s just a sampling of what was going on and distracting me from the story. A well-written show can create its own logic, but then it will stay within it.

Aside from all the logic stuff, I found Riley extremely annoying. He’s obviously set up to be Buffy’s new boyfriend, but I didn’t find his behavior endearing or intelligent. He’s incredibly unobservant for a trained commando, both about his environment as well as his own motivations and feelings. I think this makes Riley come off as stupid, not cute. His behavior in the show up until this point has been consistent in this manner, so I assume it’s a deliberate choice by the writers and actor, but I personally am not enjoying it.

I was also really disappointed by the Spike and Willow scene. I thought the beginning of their interaction was awesome (see The Good), but the post-commercial cut was just too long. The idea of turning his inability to bite Willow into an impotency joke was very typical Whedon and clever, but it never ended. They strung it out so long Willow was eventually begging Spike to bite her! In some ways, this hints at suicide. And I just don’t see that as a path Willow would consider at this point. Willow should have still been scared of him. She doesn’t know what’s going on and he could re-attack her at any time. The longer the scene continued, the worse it got.

And to focus on the big issue, the Initiative is quite out of left field here. I’m totally willing to get behind this story line if it can be explained. I love the idea of other demon fighters. But at the moment, we’ve been introduced to a highly expensive operation which seems to be run by a college professor and a hand full of college boys. We need to know: where did the money come from, who tipped them off to all of this, and how long have they been operating? Without this knowledge, this is just too bizarre. Especially since we’ve seen Buffy operating single-handedly for the last three years in the same town. There also has to be some explanation for how that giant, underground laboratory came into being. This is similar to the question of what the Mayor was up to all during season two while Angelus and Spike were running amok. A new villain who has presumably been around during past happenings needs to be integrated into the story line somehow to make it believable.

Favorite Moment: I really appreciated Alyson Hannigan’s acting in this episode. Her on-going pain from her break-up with Oz is coloring all of her experiences and reactions. But I think it’s best show-cased in her second chat with Riley. When he comes to the dorm room looking for Buffy, Willow is abrasive, overly honest, and suspicious. But then, her best Willow nature comes out and she agrees to help him. It’s a very well-done and very believable transition.

The Bottom Line: I didn’t like this episode, but it wasn’t terrible. There was just a lot introduced that needs more explanation. And I really hope Riley improves as a character. At the moment, he’s just too much of a doofus to be taken seriously as a threat or an ally.

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