Posted by: thebuffyrewatch | May 27, 2012

Robin’s Review: S4, E12 – A New Man

Synopsis: At Buffy’s surprise nineteenth birthday party Giles feels old and irrelevant. When he finds out that no one told him about the Initiative he is double annoyed. He tries to talk to Maggie Walsh about what is best for Buffy and is even more irritated. After all that he runs into Ethan Rayne and they go out drinking. The next day Giles wakes up as a demon and can no longer be understood in English. Xander is scared when he sees him and only Spike can help. Buffy and Riley get on his trail and track him to Ethan’s motel room.

The Good: Finally we get a glimpse of what this season’s big bad may be and naturally it has something to do with the Initiative. Ethan thinks they are sticking their noses into an area they don’t understand and now we wait to find out what is in Room 314. Even though we have nothing more to go on the beginnings of a narrative have been built. The Watcher’s Council have been happy with just a teenage girl and adult Watcher keeping the hellmouth shut. Now that the US military has decided to get involved it seems natural that a heavier handed response would lead to something bad in return.

Buffy and Riley as a couple are also just about on the good side. They seem genuinely into one another and his interest in her Slaying and powers mean he is getting to know the real her. Her excitement is understandable given that she can’t usually share everything with new people. The revelation that he has only captured seventeen demons (a number he is proud of) was cute although much of their romantic banter remains awkward or cheesy.

The Giles story had its moments. It was certainly interesting to watch him, just as it was when the other scoobies turned into vampires over the years (110, 309). There was also plenty of good comedy. I particularly liked the touch that Giles could no longer speak English leading to Xander being totally freaked out by this hulking figure waking him up. The surreal sight of Spike measuring a crypt amused me and the pair of them had fun driving around together, bickering and scaring Maggie Walsh. I also enjoyed drunken Giles chatting with Ethan about he has a “tendency to get knocked on the head” (how true) and Ethan responding with a gag about poisoning him.

The Bad: The Giles story lacked subtlety, a sense of consequence and a good resolution. It’s understandable that he would feel old at a college party and obsolete when he discovers what the Initiative are capable of. However both points were driven home with a sledge hammer in the opening scenes.

After that he discovers a prophecy about some demon Prince and rushes off to find Buffy. She proves elusive and so he decides to have a word with Maggie Walsh. It felt bizarre watching him languidly discuss education with her given what a rush he was in. I also don’t feel like she has been established enough to be a real threat to his paternal Watcher role. Yet the writers again decided that they needed to make this point as obvious as possible. So Maggie not only disagrees with Giles but claims that Buffy’s problem is that she hasn’t had a strong enough father figure. That felt needlessly literal and probably too personal a bit of analysis to reveal to a stranger.

Once Giles wakes up as a demon we know where the episode is headed. But somehow the story never took you on the ride which Buffy usually does. The sense that Giles was being turned into a demon never felt threatening nor the idea that Buffy might kill him. Perhaps it was the utter convenience of Spike that didn’t help. No explanation was given for why Spike would be fluent in Fyarl. I’m sure they could concoct something but it doesn’t fit his character. As soon as Giles ran into Spike though it was clear that everything would be alright. If Giles had had no allies perhaps a more dramatic sense of danger could have been conjured up.

There was also some bad physical comedy with Giles being too strong for his apartment and generally wandering around goofily with a clearly dubbed voiceover.

Buffy then beats Giles up and stabs him but has failed to find real silver (convenient) and then realises it’s Giles from his eyes. I suppose that is possible but it wasn’t filmed or set up in such a way to seem particularly believable or moving.

The Unknown: Willow and Tara meet up again to try some magic and may have inadvertently uncovered something about this 314. I was interested that Willow didn’t tell Buffy who she was with. The music used during their time together left us in no doubt that there was something romantic in the air. I like that Willow wouldn’t tell Buffy about that yet as it must be a confusing time but I think this could have been handled with more subtlety.

Is that the end of Ethan Rayne? I wonder what the Initiative will do with him?

Best Moment: Amidst some less than stellar moments we did get a classic bit of Buffy. Giles is infuriated at the thought that the Initiative just scanned the area for mystical energy and took care of his demon Prince days before he was aware of it. He sends Willow and Xander home and sits disconsolately in the crypt. He then gets up to go saying “Nothing was going to happen.” Ethan emerges from the shadows saying “I wouldn’t say that. I wouldn’t say that at all” in typically villainous fashion. He continues to talk and the door swings open as Giles asks “Is someone there.” A surprised Ethan cries out “Oh bugger I thought you’d gone!”

The Bottom Line: It’s hard not to conclude that Buffy has lost a step. “Hush” aside I would say that six of the last seven episodes haven’t been what they could have been. The addition of Spike and Riley has been awkward and simple stories suddenly complicated. I hope it will simply be a period of adjustment and not a permanent shift.

57/100

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Responses

  1. Hello Cordia and Robin,

    I just recently found your Buffy Rewatch podcast, and it’s great to hear your perspectives on the show. I’ll just admit right off that I’ve watched the whole series through way too many times, to the point that I can’t remember how I first reacted to the episodes, so it’s nice to hear how other people are reacting who haven’t seen it so much. Over time I have found that the moments between the characters are what stay the strongest, even after the various plot twists have lost their suspense and I already know what is going to happen in each episode.

    Season Four isn’t my fave, and the Riley/ Buffy arc and especially Riley himself don’t hold up well over time. But there are always good scenes between characters, even if the episodes as a whole are not great. I like the bits about Anya’s character development, Willow’s growth in confidence and power in this season, the Willow/ Oz arc, and her relationship with Tara. Also the humor is particularly strong this season.

    A New Man is actually one of my favorite episodes, although what you each said about plot holes and illogic wasn’t wrong. There are a lot of scenes that are “Buffy Lite,” i.e., have the humor and action without the emotional depth. However, the scene between Giles and Ethan at the bar is really well written dialogue start to finish, and I really got the sense of the two of them having a shared history and experiences in the world of magic. It’s a shame that Ethan was never brought back, he could have been a really interesting anti-Giles, much as Faith was the dark reflection of Buffy.

    Anyway, thanks for your work!


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