Covering “Triangle,” in which Kubiak is here to burn your crops and make merry sport with your more attractive daughters!
The departure of Riley looms large in everyone’s minds as “Triangle” begins (an episode that I wager most people forget or think is far too silly, but I adore for idiosyncratic reasons, many revolving around one scene in particular), much of that looming is not shock at all that their split happened, though there is confusion as to why it happened, beyond the vampire strumpets. The season has been smattered with hints—Buffy’s dark and deepening connection to her Slayer impulses leaving her more and more disconnected from everything else, a critical lack of passion, Riley needing a purpose, Buffy possibly preferring bad boys, Riley’s rapidly growing recklessness, Buffy perhaps taking him for granted, and even Riley’s rather unappealing paternalism (among many instances of this, in the last batch, he rather absurdly try to take the gang to task for “letting” her go after Glory, as if he wouldn’t “let” her and had a prayer of enforcing that edict)—enough that Buffy, in a bit of transference, worried about little things becoming big things, leading to break ups. While there’s some truth to that, really it’s as simple as this—they just weren’t ready to make their lives together.
Riley, though, goes largely unexamined, though, because, well, he’s gone—humping through some jungle that Buffy hopes he finds disagreeable enough to send him back to her. Buffy remains behind, so she gets to shoulder the examinations, the worry, and the emotional wreckage. Except there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of emotional wreckage. Buffy is not necessarily sanguine, but she’s not as wrecked as she traditionally gets, even if her comical transference does reveal she is hiding and denying a great deal. Still, Dawn notes how long it was before Buffy took down all her Riley photos, and while Spike fears he’s going to end up being blamed, such thinking doesn’t seem to ever enter her mind. The blame she holds falls on herself, and that blame seems to be not for Riley leaving, but for not seeing the leaving coming. With her mother’s health troubles, Dawn, Glory, and Giles departing across the pond to give the Council some very limited information, she directs her energies elsewhere.
Just in time for Anya’s ex to come to town.
The title is a little misleading, as there’s really much more of a quadrangle going on here. Obviously, the central tension is between Willow and Anya over Xander, but Buffy winds up proving an important counterpoint to the other end than Willow, as driven by her transference, and I like to think to apologize for heaping contempt on Xander’s relationship when he was trying to intervene for the well-being of hers, Buffy serves as a zealous supporter to Willow’s harsh critic.
“Triangle” is really all about an aspect of relationships that the show has only fleetingly touched upon—integrating them with existing friends. Those fleeting times this has been touched upon generally involve Willow responding to some relationship of Xander’s—Cordelia, Faith, the Incan Mummy, an almost legendary string of deep, well-founded relationships that did not end in disaster, humiliation, or near death. So she’s not exactly unjustified in being skeptical, and she wasn’t privy to the lovely scene at the end of “Into the Woods.” But then again, Anya’s pretty justified in being pissed off that Willow seems to be constantly riding her ass. Willow’s previous angst and anger over Xander’s paramours was always framed by her long unrequited crush, but as she notes here “Hello, gay now,” so her contempt seems…well, significantly more petty, even if it has to be said, Anya’s first real true showcase hinged on her tricking Willow and sending her vampire self after her. She says Anya is “the fish,” of The Cat in the Hat fame (and Anya rightly calls her out for yet another reference seemingly designed to exclude her, however cutely she tries to play it off), but goes on to allude to her young attempt to play the cat, which cost her fish owning rights, which undercuts her position that Anya needs to lighten up and let the witches keep stealing from the store.
Anyway, their feuding produces Olaf the Troll, once just Olaf the dude until he cheated on Anya and she cursed him. And Olaf (apparently Abraham Benrubi is best known from ER, but he’s always Kubiak of Parker Lewis Can’t Lose to me, and I really only remember that show because of this episode) really makes the episode. Yeah, he’s silly, and stupid, and absurd, but he’s very funny, someone’s really awful D&D baddie given free rein to run amok through the show for a while.
Which leads us to The Scene, and it’s actually not Willow and Anya continuing their argument in Giles’ car while they pursue Olaf (though Anya being excited about learning something new is always great). No, I’m of course talking about the extended business at the Bronze, where Xander takes refuge from the arguing and runs into Spike. Scenes of Xander talking out dude stuff with other dudes were pretty rare over the course of the show (and given how absurdly unbalanced shows still are to this day, it’s not like that was a critical failure), but they were always welcome, and pretty fun as they sublimate their contempt for each other just enough to commiserate over their girl troubles (it turns out a lot of people didn’t get Dru). And then Olaf arrives, drawn by the smell of ale, and, feeling peckish, hoping to find some succulent babies to eat (“What do you think, the hospital?” Spike asks Xander for affirmation before being told to shut up), but he is not swayed by the promise of boars, stags, hearty grog, or even an entire fried onion (Spike’s affinity for bad bar food is great).
Olaf’s just a hilarious creation, from “Puny receptacle!” to “It was only one wench! I had a great deal of mead!” almost everything he says elicits a laugh. Is he silly? Incredibly. Is he stupid? Quite a bit. Is there a bit much coincidence and contrivance fueling his episode? Yeah, probably. But he makes me laugh, a lot, which is a worthy enough reason for it to be my favorite. It’s against the rules, but rules are stupid.
Good thing it’s so fun, because from here on out, it’s going to be more slog than sunshine.