Covering from “The Initiative” to “Something Blue,” in which, not to be all obvious, but a bear is made, and will is done.
Man, this here, this is a great run.
So, Riley Finn. I don’t think he’s anyone’s favorite character, and based on this poll I found, he’s very few people’s favorite Buffy beau, and I certainly didn’t think much of him when I started. But I wonder, how did people think about him at the time, watching these live? He’s been around all season as a background player, a little bit of college color (hey, “beige” is a color), and was increasingly positioned as the anti-Parker. Did it work? Was there an outcry that Buffy was crashing over that piece of shit while ignoring the actual nice guy who’s right there!? Was it a huge shock when that guy who’s had a scene or two all season turned out to be one of the mysterious commandos, and just when he actually became something of a character and showed an interest in Buffy? I wonder.
I actually appreciate Riley’s role much more this time around. He’s not exactly flashy, and the words you’d use to describe him—“nice,” “decent,” “uncomplicated”—are not exactly the sexiest narratively, compared to things like “forbidden,” “tempestuous,” and “passionate.” But especially at this stage, Buffy needs nice, decent, and uncomplicated to mack on. Though come to think of it, his role as a member of the Initiative complicates things plenty. How about “little baggage” then. Or how about just “not the immortal undead.” Dude uses “court” as a verb unironically, and it’s kinda fun to see Buffy unwittingly pursued for a change (he’s also good with Willow, who gets kinds of attention from two boys in “The Initiative,” in some doubly unfortunate irony). Anyway, such a character type had been truly uncommon so far, especially in an extended capacity.
He isn’t so simple, though, as he’s connected to the Initiative, who are named here and obviously operate under some sort of governmental aegis, but we don’t learn a whole lot about them. They’ve got monsters in cells, and are experimenting on them, and at this stage, that doesn’t seem particularly bad. The implant they’ve put in Spike, after all, unquestionably saves Willow’s life. At the same time, though, it’s undeniably a cruel thing to inflict on him. Are they justified?
Questions of justification are at the center of “Pangs,” along with being incredibly funny. The full ramifications of the implant become clear, and Spike goes from a magnetic, dangerous menace to a pathetic, helpless outcast almost instantly. Is that fair, or is it absurd to ask about fairness in regard to such a creature? He’s evil, but he’s still intelligent and has feelings, shouldn’t that be a factor? Is this implant worth the effort? Well, it gave the writing staff an excuse to bring him more directly into the cast, and given his role in “Pangs,” we can say immediately Yes, it was worth it. In addition to the humor he brings to an already quite humorous episode, he says the truest thing in it.
“Pangs” isn’t really about America’s history of atrocity as much as it is about how white, privileged college students deal with America’s history of atrocity, which is to say poorly and ineffectually. Spike, however, cuts through the rarified lofts of what to do about the rampaging Chumash spirit of revenge pretty succinctly—“You exterminated his race. What could you possibly say to make him feel better?” Which, you know, really gets to the heart of it. History happened, and talking can’t fix it. You actually have to do something about it. Redressing of grievances takes more than letting a spirit give Xander funny syphilis.
“Pangs” crosses over with Angel by way of a pretext so thin and threadbare, it’s almost genius in a way—his new friend had a vision she was in trouble. So he comes back to Sunnydale to make sure she’s ok. Except he doesn’t actually go to her or anything, he hides out, lurking in the shadows and sneaking furtive glances (rather inadvertently highlighting the virtues of a nice guy like Riley) in a real patronizing way, such that everyone assumes he’s evil again when he comes to them (though, as Anya notes after some of his trademark speedy violence “What’s he like when he is evil?”). So in “I Will Remember You,” Buffy goes to LA to chew him out. In the process he touches some restorative demon blood and becomes human again, and basically the episode is shipper wish-fulfillment, giving those fans some time for Buffy and Angel to languish naked and hang on the beach before order is restored, and as far as that goes, it’s fine.
Now, as much pain as Willow has been in since Oz left, she really crosses a line in “Something Blue.” Yes, you all know what I’m talking about. Blink 182, Willow? Really? Really! I understand you are hurt, but that is no excuse for dancing to Blink 182. “All The Small Things,” Willow? My tongue clucks.
The dance scene also features the gang getting super judge-y over the one mostly-full beer they find on Willow. Their humorless teetotalling is a particularly inauthentic note.
In all other respects, this episode (like the other two here) is really great. “Something Blue” is mainly about Willow’s injudicious use of magic, a long-running story thread that, well, we’ll get to later. Right now, it’s another of the show’s trademark excuses for people to put on new personae, even if this time it’s limited to Buffy and Spike (Giles and Xander get circumstances inflicted upon them by Willow’s spell), and to say they’re in “new personae” is a bit of a stretch. They’re actually just themselves—Buffy’s daffy, starry-eyed romanticism is well known, and Spike’s twisted gallantry has been hinted at, but becomes apparent here, and, of course, they’re both pretty lusty. It exemplifies many of season 4’s virtues—it finds a clever new twist on a set-up (“Spell goes wrong” is one of the show’s standards), and executes it great.
Not as great as the next one, though.
Costuming Alert!: The garment that inspired the Season 4 Theory. I don’t even know what the fuck this is. A toaster cover? A tea cozy? A hand-knitted straight jacket? An ironic death shroud? Why are you wearing this, Willow? Why?