Posted by: thebuffyrewatch | August 13, 2012

Robin’s Review: S4, E20 – The Yoko Factor (1)

Synopsis: Spike offers to break into the Initiative and steal some important files about Adam. As the Scoobies agree to his plans he spreads misinformation to make them turn on one another. Buffy returns from L.A. and Xander reveals to Riley how Angel lost his soul. Riley then finds Angel beating up some soldiers and the two get into a confrontation. Buffy and Forrest try to attack Adam when he appears in a cave and he kills Forrest. Angel apologises to Buffy and she reassures Riley about their relationship. The Scoobies fall out in a big way and Riley goes to see Adam.

The Good: The choices Spike made to sow discord amongst the Scoobies were very good. Particularly cunning was the way he feigned not knowing that Willow and Tara were together and claimed that he thought Buffy and Xander were discussing Willow’s “choice” to be a wicca. That cut right to the core of Willow’s fears about her friends reactions to her new relationship. Spike poked Giles with more predictable material about his unemployment and loss of status as Watcher. The lies worked nicely to crank up a season’s worth of tension and once more it was great to see Spike being an antagonist again.

Sadly what followed from Spike’s machinations doesn’t belong in “The Good” but I thought Willow’s discussion of her living arrangements did. She talks about how she and Buffy don’t spend much time together anymore now that they both have new relationships. It’s a story that feels authentic both with real life experience (as school friends go to college) and within the storyline.

In general the build-up to some sort of climactic finale was ok. The shots of the Initiative full to bursting point with demons makes it clear where the “high casualties on both sides” that Adam talked about last episodewill come from. The death of Forrest made it clear why Riley would go anywhere near Adam. And the fact that Adam once again brushed Buffy off easily does add intrigue about how exactly anyone can stop him.

The Bad: While Buffy season four aired on TV, Angel season one ran concurrently. In typically clever Joss Whedon fashion the two shows had stories which ran across one another. So far those stories have been kept apart in a way which meant if you watched one show you wouldn’t need to watch the other to understand what was going on. However after Faith hopped on a train at the end of “Who Are You” (416) she slowly made her way to L.A. In the episode of Angel which aired after “New Moon Rising” Buffy went to L.A. to help him deal with Faith and her explosive psychology. That’s all fine and dandy but for a viewer of Buffy only it led to a bizarre situation here where it felt like we had missed key details. Buffy comes back from somewhere looking distraught and exhausted and suddenly she and Riley are talking about Angel. It was abrupt and it’s difficult to expect viewers to watch a whole other show to keep up. Angel’s subsequent measuring contest with Riley felt like a needless distraction with Adam on the loose. Considering how easily Adam bested her it seemed odd that Buffy didn’t ask Angel to help fight with her.

The Unknown: Spike made an interesting choice in trying to turn Xander against his friends. He claimed that the girls were joking about Xander’s inability to find a job and suggesting that he join the army. This was an odd suggestion for several reasons. The implication Spike was going for was that the army was a good home for young men with no brains and no direction in life. That may be a middle class perception of the army in American society that I’m not aware of. It didn’t strike me as much of a putdown because men who join the army are going to end up being pretty disciplined and proficient. However given that Riley is a member of the army and the Scooby girls all seem to have a high opinion of him made it a difficult gag to land. Add to all that that Xander was turned into a soldier (206) and long retained some of that knowledge it could well have seemed like a sensible career choice for him. So I know why Spike would have said it but I’m not sure it would have worked the way it did.

The big Scooby confrontation was meant to bring a season’s worth of tension to the boil. I don’t think that it did. It’s true that the gang no longer function as they did back at the library but we’ve had almost no focus on their emotional response to that. We’ve still had no Xander episode and no discussion of what job Giles might take if he wanted one. They have been allowed to drift all season and so this fight felt more manufactured than it should have. Part of the problem was the use of Giles for drunken comedy which though initially hilarious (cracking up at Fort Dix) rapidly became too obvious (yelling things off screen). It also felt cheap to have Xander realise that Willow was gay in a throwaway comedy moment.

Best Moment: I did enjoy Riley refusing to leave Buffy’s dorm room when she wanted to have a word with Angel. As Riley folds his arms Buffy and Angel walk out the door and close it behind them. Beaten and for once recognising his own silliness Riley says to the empty room “Not movin a muscle.”

The Bottom Line: Very far from Buffy at its best. I can see some promise for part two but most of this was confused.

46/100

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