Posted by: thebuffyrewatch | November 26, 2012

Robin’s Review: S5, E10 – Into the Woods

Synopsis: Joyce’s surgery is successful and Buffy spends an evening in with Riley to celebrate. Spike watches jealously from outside and follows Riley when he leaves in the middle of the night to go meet a vampire. Spike takes Buffy there and she is furious and upset at what she sees. The Scoobies worry about her when she sets fire to the now abandoned vamp-nest. Meanwhile Graham and his unit offer Riley the chance to come with them to South America. So he confronts her and tells her that at midnight he will leave. She is still angry and Xander comes to talk things through with her.

The Good: There was a lot of quality acting throughout this episode. Buffy, Riley and Xander handled their big speeches with aplomb while Spike and Anya did very well in supporting roles. The story was solid but not quite what it should have been.

The dynamics were very solid. Spike turns Riley in in order to improve his position with Buffy. Riley nearly kills him but actually can have an honest agreeable conversation about what being in love with Buffy is like. The big confrontation was strong stuff with Riley making a pretty good case for why he felt the way he did. I really liked that he brought up Dracula (501) biting Buffy. She did, to some extent, let that happen and that was tantamount to cheating. Riley made an eloquent and sad case for how the feeding vampires “needed” him more than Buffy did and how she wouldn’t let him take care of her. It’s more than just being the Slayer it’s as if she won’t or can’t love him the way he loves her. She practically admits that by claiming that she is giving all she has and his response “I just don’t feel it” had a brutal honesty which cut both ways.

Then Xander stepped in to tell Buffy things she was too close to really see. He pushes her to admit that she saw Riley as dependable rather than the object of her passion. Recognising her own complicity she rushes out to try and salvage something but it too late. She also lashed out at Anya and after an earlier argument at the Magic Shop Xander feels the need to tell Anya unambiguously how much he loves her. It was a sweet and grown up moment and probably the best Xander has had in two seasons.

The Bad: The problem with the Xander intervention is that it felt entirely contrived. It’s nice that he is growing up and is capable of taking on this kind of role in Buffy’s life but it didn’t feel convincing. This is the guy who last year said he just took people at face value (404) and looked pretty shocked when Riley told him the truth about his feelings (503). Yet now he feels so confident that he can lecture Buffy on how she has neglected her boyfriend and how he saw it all along. His advice becomes so wise and so direct that it no longer sounds like him as he pushes her to choose love. This kind of Xander hasn’t been introduced yet and so this all felt heavy handed.

Riley’s ultimatum and exit were handled very poorly. The structure of the episode made it seem like he told her about his rendezvous within an hour of leaving. We cut from their argument to her walking the streets and if hours were meant to have passed then it was not communicated. It wasn’t clear what Buffy was doing with her time and you can’t blame the delay on the vampire gang as she dusted them in seconds. Buffy looked stupid for “hanging out” way across town at 23.30 if she was harbouring serious thoughts of asking Riley to stay. But worse she then runs after him and he leaves. On a helicopter. Refusing to look back. On a mission where he is un-contactable. The emotion felt all wrong. It felt like a TV show cheating us of a proper conclusion to the story. Instead of Buffy admitting to herself that he wasn’t the one we were left with “cruel fate” keeping them apart. It would have been far more moving to see her unable to convince him to stay.

Spike getting stabbed in the heart with a wood grain stake was pretty cheap. Not only was it a fairly pointless shock tactic but it didn’t seem to hurt him nearly as much as it should have.

The Unknown: I wondered if the writers were trying to draw a link with Xander’s speech to his own past love for Buffy. He would understand what it felt like to adore her from afar and be ignored. But if that was the source of his wisdom then I think it might have been helpful to draw it more clearly.

The tension between Anya and Willow (and Giles) appeared abruptly. The problem with such a large ensemble is that we’ve had little hint of Anya feeling like an outsider so when her outburst came it didn’t feel natural. Of course it didn’t feel implausible. She is an ex-demon who is quite literal. Buffy certainly dismissed her in harsh terms that reminded me of remarks she once directed at Cordelia. I find it perfectly believable that moral compass Buffy would be dismissive of girls without her priorities. However it makes her look mean and hypocritical and I’m not sure those are good colours on her.

The sight of Buffy dusting half a dozen vamps was both cool and disappointing. Thanks to Giles, Willow and Xander giggling through a Slay last week it was impossible to feel any tension even in Buffy being surrounded. But if the story of the season is her powers developing then this was a pretty powerful demonstration.

Best Moment: Although Xander’s love for Anya was touching I actually really admired Riley for speaking the truth to Buffy. To see him open and honest and her swimming in denial put me in his corner.

The Bottom Line: Inevitably this story felt rushed. To have Buffy discover the truth about Riley and say goodbye within one episode just left you thinking that the writers were finally done with Riley. They never successfully integrated him into the Scoobies and the best story he had was the one which led to his departure. He won’t be missed but I think he deserved better than this.




  1. This episode made me understand why everyone seems to hate Riley. It also made me rant a bit. I wrote it down here:

    I mentioned the podcast briefly.

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