Thought Catalog
September 10, 2012

I’m Rewatching Buffy: A Review Of Season 4

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What is the issue?
This is part of a series called “I’m Rewatching Buffy,” in which I’m rewatching Buffy The Vampire Slayer. For analysis of seasons 1 and 2, go here. For analysis of season 3, go here.

Season 4 is soooo long and so complicated. Does it feel that way to anyone else? It just goes on forever. There’s like, a zillion different plots and people get totally left by the wayside. (Do we even see anything of Xander for this whole season? He’s just off in the corner with Anya.) Plus…Riley.

This season of Buffy feels very different — more grown up and dark — than previous seasons. Buffy starts college. Faith returns. Angel returns. Willow falls in love with a woman. Some very awesome things happen. But it’s slow-goings, for sure.

Buffy The Vampire Slayer: Season 4

The Initiative

This is…dumb. The whole thing is dumb and I was bored by it. The first time around, I remember thinking it was mysterious and shady and cool but now I’m like, “Oh yeah, this dumb thing that doesn’t go anywhere for FOREVER.” Also how is it that the Initiative is so all-encompassing and yet they don’t know about the Slayer? That rang so false.

Anyway, the Initiative doesn’t get scary until the final two episodes and before that it takes up all our time doing nothing. Nothing! This show works best when it focuses on the characters we love and their relationships. Season 4 gets all jumbled and weird with trying to explain the plot-driven nonsense of the Initiative, which in the end, no one is scared of, understands or cares about.

In fact, I only started to get really freaked out when they brought Professor Walsh back as a Franken-zombie which shows how she should have been the baddie all season long instead of killing her off and replacing her with Adam. Adam was stupid. He was just stupid.

Willow and Oz

Oh my god, the tears. The tears! I cried so, so hard when Oz returned and they had that final conversation in the van. I mean, at that point, I wanted to her to choose Tara. I knew she was going to choose Tara. And I knew that Tara was right for Willow, but maaaaan. Seth Green and Alyson Hannigan acted the bejesus out of that scene. It crushed me for days. I kept thinking about it and welling up. Just so, so sad and real.

Buffy: Season 4

Willow and Tara

Dear lord did I need to see this relationship on my TV when I was a kiddo. It was so, so nicely handled — not dramatic, not played for laughs, not a focal point. Just two people falling in love. They were the best around this time, guys. The best. They made me want to grow up and wear long skirts and be Wiccan. (I’m sure the Parent’s Television Council is having a fit right now.) Gah, they seemed SO cool to me when I was young and coming out. Stuff is gonna get so dark with these two, so let me just have this right now. Let me have this!

Standalone Episodes

Oy vey. To fill time or because their main villains were so lackluster, the writers put in a bunch of standalone episodes that are analogies to, I don’t know, college life or growing up. When the Scoobies were in high school, these were cool and sort of smart. Now, they were terrible. “Beer Bad,” anyone? Yikes. It’s so on message it’s ridiculous and cheesy.

And yet, when they nail it? They NAIL it. Conventions are turned on their heads. The innovation of this season is striking. A silent episode? Sure, let’s pull it off. A body-snatching episode? Definitely. (Awesome Spike/Buffy foreshadowing there.) People’s fears manifesting into reality? Great for some character development. The supernatural aspects of Buffy only serve to elevate the realness of the characters. That’s art right there.

Riley

Riley…serves his purpose. I actually never hated the dude, though I was glad to see him go when I watched his departure the first time around. I mean, who hasn’t had that relationship that you knew wasn’t “forever” but you needed to be in it, to grow and learn about yourself? Buffy needed to have that. As much as Riley didn’t end up being the “normal” boy she wanted, he was way more normal than Angel — and way healthier. Riley also served to show some growth in Buffy away from her high school friends. While it is sad to see the kids moving away from each other and into independent people with their own relationships and problems, it feels real and inevitable. When Willow says she wants to keep Tara to herself, I believe her. When Xander feels he has nothing in common with his college-going buddies, I believe him. When Giles drinks away his listlessness, I believe him. The Scoobies are a family, but they’re becoming less and less like friends. (Luckily, it gets resolved in an adorable way and the fearsome foursome rides again!)

It’s a smart move to set up Buffy’s later feelings of isolation. But it’s still super depressing.

Buffy: Season 4

Spike

Best part of this season aside from the witchy lesbians. Spike is forced to work with the Scoobies this season, because of that danged chip in his head — but also I get the sense that Spike is changing on his own too.

His hilarious back and forths with Xander are a high point. (I ship it.) Not that he doesn’t still want them all dead. I never got the impression that’s really what Spike wanted though — there were multiple points where he could have really done damage (beyond breaking up the gang) or where Buffy could have staked him but neither of them did anything substantial. Not sure if this is an intentional set up for later seasons, but it seems like it.

Ultimately, this season is necessary to take us from the “high school years” of Season 3 to how adult and different everything feels in Season 5. It’s like college itself, in some ways. Super all over the place and not what you expected, but when it’s right, it’s oh so right.

On to Season 5! My little Scoobies are all grown up! TC Mark

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