Covering from “Out of My Mind” to “Family,” in which I was sorely tempted just to go Out. For. A. Walk. … Bitch.
What a study these three make.
In “Out of My Mind,” we attempt to give something of consequence to the Initiative while tying off season 4 and giving Riley a story, only to have Spike steal it right out from under him.
In “No Place Like Home,” some of the Dawn situation is explained, which means it’s mostly exposition.
And in “Family,” we get a Tara episode which is actually quite sweet, but also just so hilariously obvious with its allegory, it becomes a distraction.
There is precious little to say about “Out of My Mind”—believe me—but it’s…meh, so very rote. And nonsensical. Said it before, I’ll say it again here now, tight plotting has never been the show’s foremost concern, but the show is getting less and less adept at hiding that. I didn’t mention it talking about “The Replacement” because I love it so, but the way it’s assembled makes it appear that the two Xanders are confronting each other, including wrestling for Anya’s gun, in parallel to Willow arriving at Giles’, everyone gradually piecing together what is going on, and then driving to the new apartment, arriving just as the wrestling for the gun ends—indeed, the gun wrestling seems to span the entire drive from whatever part of town Giles’ lives in to whatever part of town the new apartment is in. Obviously, we aren’t meant to think these events actually are occurring parallel, indeed, the episode is fun and good enough that I don’t think it seems especially odd until you note this issue in other episodes. But “Out of My Mind” isn’t so lucky, so the absurdity of the Initiative doctor convincingly beginning and completing brain surgery, even a fake one, while Riley is on the very brink of death (and also without mussing Spike’s hair) sticks out quite a bit.
Like I noted, this is a Riley story that Spike essentially steals—Riley may not be right that Buffy, the vampire Slayer, doesn’t love him, but Buffy the Vampire Slayer sure doesn’t. He’s not aware that the show isn’t terribly interested in actual working relationships, but he’s very aware his only utility is as the muscle, and his depowering by the episode’s end means his days are numbered. Of less numbered days is Spike, even though the episode’s events lead Buffy to resolve it’s time for him to die, and we never really gain an understanding of what stays her hand. For Spike’s part, though, we learn that his hate for the Slayer is actually much more of a love/hate, which is the huge twist and development that overshadows everything else in the episode (except arguably for Joyce’s blackout), since it’s the first real step toward Spike becoming a good guy (even if that may not have been apparent at the time). Something like this had to happen if Spike was still going to be a presence on the show, and I’m of many minds about it, which can probably be saved for later. Suffice to say for now the episode’s best bits are Giles preparing for his grand opening, the Spike stuff when you can ignore the absurdity of the logistics (in particular his “make your neck my chalice” speech, right before tumbling into a grave), and Xander’s attempt to explain Riley’s plight under the thin pretext of talking about a friend only to have Anya assume he’s using the even thinner pretext of talking about a “friend” and running with it so she’s talking about her “friend” who actually does really feel for that “friend” of Xander’s, so his “friend” shouldn’t be concerned. Anyway.
Eventually, the mystery of Dawn had to be solved, and it’s a big enough mystery it deserved a whole episode, which was going to be a lot of exposition. And while “No Place Like Home” tries to hide that and liven things up with a trippy trance, but if you already know Dawn’s deal, there isn’t a lot to get all jazzed about except for all the business with Giles’ grand opening.
I don’t particularly hate the Dawn story. Truth be told, it’s got problems, but I actually quite like it for the Dickian Blade Runner questions about memory and reality and he interplay between the two the story poses, even if the show doesn’t exactly spend a lot of time actually asking them. Mostly that’s because Buffy doesn’t seem to think they’re particularly worth asking, and that’s actually something of a credit to her character—once she learns Dawn is innocent and vulnerable, she throws herself into protecting Dawn without question, like it isn’t something she should question. That resolve gives the episode at least a little bit of a shine outside the fun of the Magic Box.
Oh yeah, we meet Glory. I’ll go on about why Glory sucks later.
Of these, the best is unquestionably “Family,” Tara’s big episode. Tara’s been around for a bit, but precious little is known about her, which gets acknowledged in a very meta exchange between Buffy and Xander. And I quite like the story we get here to gain a firmer understanding of her. Mostly. Basically, I really like it, but it’s comically unsubtle about Tara’s family (including Academy Award Nominee Amy Adams!) being a bunch of judgmental, small-minded rednecks who hate them homosexuals. One of them is even Kevin Rankin, the master of small-minded rednecks and white supremacists!
What I know about how Willow and Tara went down (heh) is that while the network was ok with them being a couple, they were not ok with overt displays and intimations of physical affection between the two—an especially galling double standard given how, know what, just go watch fucking “Where the Wild Things Are” to see why it’s a galling double standard. Thus, in response, we got the barely subtextual magic scenes where, say, they hold hands and Willow gets all sweaty and panty and gasps as she arches her back before we flash to white. So, yeah, magic was obviously a metaphor for sex, specifically lesbian sex (it’s not a coincidence, I don’t think, that Giles seems less and less adept at magic as season 4 moved deeper in this direction), and we all knew it. Thus, had Tara’s family simply been a repressive bunch who told their young girls they need to stick around in case they turn into demons, which actually was just magic, we’d all get what was going on. There wasn’t a need to really punctuate the point, especially since making the Maclays (“Mr,” Donny, and Cousin Beth all came down in the camper) a bunch of Phelps-proxies going on about the sorts of lifestyles that can be lived in sinful big city California punctuates it with seven exclamation points.Still, just because I prefer a little more grace and subtlety in my didacticism doesn’t mean “Family” isn’t a sweet episode. I like Tara, even if as Buffy and Xander note, not much is know about her. We’re kindred in our habit of making poorly understood arcane references (though admittedly I fall closer to Anya’s IDGAF end of this spectrum). Her obvious terror and resurging awkwardness (complete with stutter) in the face of her cartoonish relations is plaintive and sad, and her misguided spell to hide what she thinks she should fear about herself aligns her with the long Buffy tradition of poor choices made out of fear and pain, while her instant reversal aligns her with the far more sympathetic figures of the show. Buffy and the rest of the gang rally around Willow’s special lady friend and do the Doctor’s recent “Do you think I care for you so little betraying me would make a difference” bit, which never fails to be moving (though it may have been more effective if the Maclays weren’t such laughable bigots), and Spike gets to save the day through a cunning punch (he says he doesn’t care what happens, but as we’ll see soon, you may at times have to separate Spike’s posture from his feelings). Perfect? No. But not too far from it.