Posted by: thebuffyrewatch | April 22, 2012

Robin’s Review: S4, E07 – The Initiative

Synopsis: Spike wakes up in a lab but escapes. Riley punches Parker in the face for talking about Buffy in a disrespectful manner. Having realised that he likes her he asks Willow for advice on how to ask her out. Willow is trying to come to terms with Oz’ departure but offers some help. We also learn that Riley and his friends are the army commandos and Professor Walsh is in charge of the lab \ army base they operate out of. They go searching for Spike who is in Willow’s room. He tries to bite her but experiences searing head pain. Riley’s group assault the dorm just as Buffy returns and in the confusion Spike escapes.

The Good: The overall plotting was pretty interesting here. We finally discover who the army guys are and something of what they are up to. The ambition of the show has grown considerably from the Mayor being a demon to a whole anti-demon military organisation operating under Sunnydale. The two emotional hooks we get are Riley’s new role as proto-boyfriend to Buffy and the neutering of Spike. Both stories set up fresh dynamics which will hopefully be interesting to watch.

Certainly Spike will always be watchable. His cunning plan to escape made good use of the vampire we saw get caught by the commandos back in “The Freshman” (401). Then he unconvincingly reunited with Harmony only to continue his obsession with killing Buffy. I loved the line “Ello gorgeous” as he worked out which dorm she lived in.

I liked the little moments Willow had as she mourns Oz’ departure. First getting crushed by Professor Walsh and then tearing up when some Dingoes music gets played at the party (something we can all relate to). It was a nice idea to have her grudgingly help Riley when he proved himself sufficiently honourable to be worthy of Buffy’s time.

The Bad: The Xander-Harmony slap-fight fell completely flat for me. I can see why the producers thought it would be hilarious but it was a joke too far. I thought they were both out of character in slapping and hair pulling the way they did. We have seen Xander kick plenty of ass and he knows how dangerous vampires are so should never have taken her as lightly as he did. Similarly she may have retained a lot of her human personality but her soul is now demonic and she should have at least knocked him over easily.

The Unknown: I have similar feelings about the Spike-Willow scene. Again I can see why the writers went with the spoof they did but too much was going on. The rape metaphor was pretty apparent when Spike cranked the music up and pinned her down. But we then changed gears abruptly when he couldn’t bite her. He verbally doubted himself in terms that made it clear what equivalent sexual behaviour he was supposed to have “failed” at.

It was a typically brazen gag but I wasn’t pleased with Willow almost encouraging him to try again. This continued as she questioned whether it was her that he wasn’t “attracted” to. This attempt to link their situation to her feelings about Oz felt like a stretch to me. After last season’s terrifying scenes (308), she should have been thinking only of how to get out of the room. Instead we now moved into a second analogy joke as he admitted to wanting to bite her back then. You know, he wanted (to bite) her.

From rape to humour to fear to no fear back to humour. There were just too many gear changes in the scene and it obscured the intriguing development that Spike can no longer harm people.

I wasn’t very happy with the continuation of the Xander-Giles are lost without the Scoobies story. They both came across as pathetic here. I suppose that was the intent but I hope they find constructive new projects soon.

Ok so let’s talk about Riley. In some ways this was an episode with Riley as the central character. We opened on him and his friends talking. We focussed on his love life. We saw the “courting” of Buffy from his point of view. We spent time with his Scooby gang fighting vampires. By the end of the episode it was Riley who was getting the concluding moment as Buffy began to notice him at last.

All season Riley has been positioned as the new Angel and this episode brings that fully into the light. Initially I was pleased that he could see something was off with Buffy that was worthy of comment. But then to give him his own demon-fighting secret identity feels a bit repetitious. He is now filling Angel’s role on the show in quite a direct way.

His personality is an interesting choice too. He is unnaturally wholesome and moral and seems to occupy the righteous moral space that Buffy stands in. It’s hard to see initially how such a nice character will fit in. Buffy has an edge as a show. Buffy herself is always aware of irony wherever it stands. Oz, Xander, Spike and others all supply the witty one liner usually from a cynical or disarming disposition. It’s clearer now why some of Riley’s lines have felt awkward. He doesn’t feel like he has any edge. What you see is what you get and it’s not easy to fit that into the quippy Scooby world. I cringed when he said “Nobody’s failing on my watch.” That’s exactly the kind of line the show usually mocks.

In terms of actual plot I thought Riley was fine as the awkward boyfriend to be. The army stuff was not so good. It didn’t help to start our view of the Initiative with a failed mission. They not only lose Spike but bicker about their personal lives and Riley clearly puts his feelings for Buffy above the mission (by hesitating to clear her from the bench and Willow from the hall). The fight scene with the smoke was fun though and created plausible confusion for everyone to escape undiscovered.

Best Moment: You gotta love Spike responding to Harmony’s list of his abusive behaviour by saying “I know sugar but you’re forgetting one other thing I did…I missed you.” Brilliantly shameless.

The Bottom Line: I think the writing attempted too many things here. However I like where the plot went and I want to see more.

57/100

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