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Season Three of Buffy the Vampire Slayer ended with our title character (Sarah Michelle Gellar) and her friends defeating the demon Mayor (by utterly destroying their high school -- fortunately, this was after they'd already graduated), rogue Slayer Faith going into a coma after a brutal fight with Buffy, and Buffy's vampire boyfriend Angel (David Boreanaz) leaving for the streets of L.A. (and his own spin-off series on the WB).
Season four seems to be big on the new relationships front. Buffy finally finds a human boyfriend in the seemingly-normal Riley Finn (Marc Blucas), Xander (Nicholas Brendon) ends up in a relationship with ex-demon Anya (Emma Caulfield), Willow (Alyson Hannigan) goes through a tough breakup with Oz (Seth Green) only to find love with fellow witch Tara (Amber Benson), and even stuffy old Giles (Anthony Stewart Head) has a romance with this chick Olivia who appears in like three episodes (one of them in a dream). There are even more changes ahead for our characters as well. Now that they've survived high school, they either have to find jobs (Xander) or start college (everyone else). Plus there are those weird military commandos wandering around town. While season four's definitely not one of my favourites, it does have its moments (most notably "Hush", one of the bestest Buffys ever).
In the grand tradition of the previous premieres (well, except the first one), this episode gets the season off to a weak start. Buffy's having a tough time adjusting to college life, and as if things weren't bad enough, she runs into a group of vampires on campus and gets her ass kicked by their leader.
Xander: Well some friends of Buffy played a funny joke and they took her stuff and now she wants us to help get it back from her friends who sleep all day and have no tans.
Buffy's perky, Celine Dion/Cher-obssessed roommate Kathy is driving the Slayer insane -- quite literally, her friends fear. After collecting some of Kathy's toenails and witnessing their growth after they'd been cut!, Buffy comes to the conclusion that Kathy is evil, thus in need of a good being-killed.
Willow: Giles. I just talked to Buffy and yeah, I think she's feeling a little crazy. No, not b!tchy crazy, more like homicidal maniac crazy. So I told her to come see you, 'k?
The Harsh Light of Day
Big Bad Spike (James Marsters) has returned to Sunnydale, and he's looking for the Gem of Amara, which will make any vampire who wears it invincible. Meanwhile, Buffy sleeps with this guy Parker, who turns evil immediately after (no, not Angelus evil, typical male evil. You decide which is worse), and Anya attempts to seduce Xander.
Anya: I like you. You're funny and you're nicely shaped, and frankly it's ludicrous to have these interlocking bodies and not... interlock. Please remove your clothing now.
Xander: And the amazing thing? Still more romantic than Faith.
Buffy and friends go to a Halloween frat party where someone's conjured up a demon who feeds on fear. The episode suffers a bit from being too similar to season one's "Nightmares", where everyone's nightmares, rather than fears, came to life, but it's worth it to see Giles in a sombrero, Oz as God, and Anya as that most terrifying of creatures, a bunny rabbit.
(about Xander's pumpkin)
Willow: It does appear to be mocking you with its eye holes.
Oz: Yet it's nose hole seems sad and full of self-loathing.
Buffy decides to get over Parker by drinking her troubles away. But it turns out this beer turns people into cavemen... or cavewomen... cavepeople? Lots of hooting and hollering and jumping around, but little redemption to be found.
Wild at Heart
Fellow werewolf Veruca tries to convince Oz to embrace his wolfiness, the two end up having hawt wolf sex, and Willow finds them the morning after. Seth Green's and Alyson Hannigan's powerful performances almost make up for guest Paige Moss, who rolls her head around a lot and tries to look sexy. Almost.
Willow: I have wrong feelings about other guys sometimes, but I feel guilty and I flog and punish.
Buffy: Exactly. I'm sure Oz is flogging and punishing himself... this is sounding wrong before I even finish.
Finally we get a clue as to what those commandos are up to. They're called the Initiative, Riley and Professor Walsh are part of the organization, and they hunt demons and experiment on them, as we find out when Spike is captured by them and manages to escape, now unable to kill or even hit people.
(after Spike tries and fails to bite Willow)
Spike: I don't understand. This sort of thing's never happened to me before.
Willow: Maybe you were nervous.
Spike: I felt all right when I started. Let's try again... Damn it!
Willow: Maybe you're trying too hard. Doesn't this happen to every vampire?
Spike: Not to me, it doesn't!
It's Thanksgiving, which means a Native American spirit has come to avenge the wrongdoings against his people. But luckily, Angel's come to Sunnydale to protect Buffy. Of course, his form of protection involves letting everyone except Buffy know he's there and offering no information or help in battles. Don't get me wrong, I like Angel, just when there's actually a reason for him to be there.
Willow's still in some deep pain over Oz's departure (her and me both, baby), so she tries casting a spell to make her wishes come true. Unfortunately, something goes wrong, causing Giles to go blind, Xander to become a target for demons, and Buffy and Spike to get engaged. It's good to have a fun little episode like this every once in awhile.
Buffy: Now, do you want to be William the Bloody or just Spike? Because either way it's gonna look majorly weird.
Spike: Whereas the name Buffy gives it that touch of classic elegance.
A group of demons called the Gentlemen comes to town and steals everyone's voices, leaving them unable to speak (or scream). More than half of the episode is done in complete silence, and for a show that relies so much on its witty dialogue and pop-culture references, that could spell trouble. Fortunately, there's so much to love here -- the Gentlemen, who do indeed seem like fine, polite gentlemen, if it wasn't for that pesky being-evil thing; Giles' slideshow, complete with graphic bloody drawings; Xander blaming Spike for the loss of his voice; and the moment when the town's voices have been restored, and Buffy and Riley sit down for a talk, but just stare at each other in silence. If this isn't my favourite Buffy, it's at least in the top two.
Buffy's freaking after her and Riley's secret identities have been revealed to each other, and to make things worse, some demons are trying to open the Hellmouth (yes, again). I loved seeing Spike in Xander's dorky clothes (and his bad American accent), but what the hell was up with Giles' voice in his first scene? He sounded like a dubbed in fanciful character on some children's show. Maybe I'm just crazy, but has nobody else really never noticed this?
A New Man
Giles' old pal (and current Chaos-worshiping mischief-maker) Ethan Rayne returns and turns Giles into a demon. Giles, feeling a bit out of the loop, is too embarrassed to let Buffy know what's going on and so instead seeks help from Spike. The transformation doesn't actually happen until a good way through the episode, but the slow buildup is worth it just to see Giles as Fyarl demon rush at Professor Walsh, his payback for her saying he wasn't a good male role model for Buffy.
The I in Team
Buffy follows Riley to the Initiative, neglecting her friends and asking lots of questions. Professor Walsh decides she's a threat to the mysterious project in room 314 and must be eliminated.
Willow: Guess she's out with Riley. You know what it's like with a spanking new boyfriend.
Anya (looking at Xander): Yes, we've enjoyed spanking.
After killing his creator, Professor Walsh, the human/demon/cyborg Adam, escape from the Initiative and goes on a killing spree. Buffy and friends hide out in Xander's basement, while Riley goes through withdrawal from the drugs the Initiative had been secretly hiding in his food.
Willy: Hey! We got new rules here: no killing.
This Year's Girl
Faith finally wakes up from her coma, and it's about damn time. I mean, if Buffy was the one in the coma, they'd have her waking up in the next episode. But anyway, Faith goes to find Buffy with a device that will allow the two to switch bodies. This one takes awhile to get interesting, but that's how it usually is with these two-parter deals. Plus, less Adam and more Faith? Both good things.
Buffy: Faith, these are innocent people.
Faith: No such animal.
Who Are You
While Buffy in Faith's body is kidnapped by the Watchers Council, who want to take her back to England, Faith in Buffy's body is having a grand ol' time. She makes fun of Tara's stuttering (which is cool, cuz it gets really annoying), flirts with Spike, and even has sex with Riley. Both SMG and Eliza Dushku are excellent; pretending to be a character who's pretending to be another character has to be pretty tricky. I was also impressed with the way Faith's inner turmoil over what she's done was dealt with.
Buffy: Oh, when I had psychic power I heard my mother think that you were like a stevedore during sex. Do you want me to continue?
Giles: Actually I beg you to stop.
Former nerd Jonathan is now a super cool guy who's perfect at everything he does. He's starred in The Matrix, he's a singer and basketball star, he fights demons like no one else can, and he even invented the Internet. Another of those filler episodes, but it's all in good fun, and Anya is hilarious. And you just gotta love the Jonathan-centered opening credits.
Buffy: Anya, tell them about the alternate universes.
Anya: Oh, okay. Um, say you really like shrimp a lot. Or we could say you don't like shrimp at all. "Blah, I wish there weren't any shrimp," you'd say to yourself...
Where the Wild Things Are
A textbook example of bad filler, this episode focuses on Buffy and Riley having sex all day and night, unleashing repressed sexual energy. The scene with Anya and Xander in the ice cream truck is a hoot, as is Giles performing at the Espresso Pump (and the gang's reactions), but overall, definitely not one of the series' better moments.
(watching Giles sing)
Xander: Um... could we go back to the haunted house? Because this is creeping me out.
Tara: Does he do this a lot?
Xander: Sure, every day the earth rotates backwards and the skies turn orange.
New Moon Rising
Oz finally returns to Sunnydale, and he's learned to control his werewolf tendencies. This is all well and good, until he finds out about Willow and Tara, causing him to change into the wolf and be carted away to the Initiative. You kinda know where it's going from the beginning, but it's always great to see Oz, no matter what the circumstances (even if they're gut-wrenchingly sad and painful circumstances).
The Yoko Factor
Spike, who's now working for Adam in the hopes of getting the behavior modification chip out of his head, works to try to split the Scooby Gang up. Angel comes to town to reconcile with Buffy after the events of the previous week's Angel, but ends up fighting with Riley. This is one of those rare cases where the first half of a two-parter is just as good, maybe better, than the second.
Giles (about Adam): You never train with me anymore. He's gonna kick your ass.
In order to defeat Adam, Buffy, Giles, Willow, and Xander perform a spell to create a sort of Super Buffy, who possesses qualities of all four of the gang. I thought the whole Super Buffy thing was cool, and it was great to see the gang begin to patch up their friendships after the damage Spike had done. In a nice little twist, season four doesn't end with the big two part boss battle -- there's another episode after this one.
Willow: Oh, wonderful Xander!
Buffy: You know we love you, right?
Willow: We totally do.
Xander: Oh god, we're gonna die, aren't we?
Now this is a weird one. Buffy, Giles, Willow, and Xander all have these strange dreams in which they are stalked by a mysterious primeval being. Some of the events foreshadow what is to come in season five, some were hilarious (the drama club's production of Death of a Salesman), and some were just plain strange (the Cheese Man). Very odd, but very good. And I loved Giles' song.
Xander: Dinner is served, and my very own recipe.
Willow: Ooh, you pushed the button on the microwave that says "popcorn"?
Xander: Actually I pushed "defrost", but Joyce was there in the clinch.
About the DVDs
The DVD set contains six discs, all with the same crisp and clear audio and video we've seen on the other Buffy boxed sets, definitely a step up from my crappy VHS copies. Finally, a real live cast member actually shows up to do some commentary -- Seth Green (with creator Joss Whedon and writer Marti Noxon) on "Wild at Heart". There are also commentaries for "The Initiative," "Hush," "This Year's Girl," "Superstar," and "Restless," along with a couple featurettes, scripts, cast bios, and photo galleries. Sure, the extras are neat (some of 'em anyway), but the real treat is just having all these episodes together.
Like I said, this is one of the weaker seasons of Buffy, but weak Buffy still manages to kick the asses of just about every other TV show out there. As much as I hated Oz's departure, I did like the addition of Spike and Anya on a regular basis, and Riley wasn't quite the selfish bastard he'd turn out to be in season five. Plus, this is the last season without Buffy's brat kid sister Dawn, so it's something to be cherished. If you're new to the show, you might not want to start here, but don't worry, you'll end up buying all the seasons eventually. I have faith in you.
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