Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Buffy Rewatch: In Your Eyes

Season 4's storyline gets boring with "The I in Team" and "Goodbye Iowa", but then an old friend visits in "This Year's Girl" and "Who Are You".

"You're not going to kill these people."
"Why not?"
"Because it's wrong."

Watching these four episodes (two pairs of episodes, really) back to back just serves to highlight how uninteresting the main arc of season 4 has become. By the end of "Goodbye Iowa", Maggie Walsh is dead, at the hand of Adam, her Frankenstein's Monster-like creation. The Initiative is in disarray, Riley is completely disillusioned, Adam is on the loose and attempting to recruit assorted demons for his army or whatever, and frankly, no one cares.

Looking back on it 14 years later, it's not that the Initiative storyline was a bad idea - it makes sense that the world broadens as Buffy and Willow go to college, and government-sponsored demon researchers seems like an appropriate development. It's just that, for whatever reasons, the big showdown just isn't as personal as it was in previous seasons. If you look at the core foursome of the series (Buffy, Willow, Xander, Giles), season 4 is about how they have to redefine their relationships as two of them go off to college and the other two feel left behind. (I remember feeling that Giles and Xander had become very minor characters when this season first aired; they seem less extraneous now, watching the episodes much closer together.)

There were things I liked in "The I in Team", particularly Buffy's constant questioning of Professor Walsh. Of course Buffy's going to have an issue with such regimented authority. But I think Walsh's attempt to have Buffy killed happened far too quickly and without nearly enough motivation. Though I do like Buffy's speech after she survived the attack. "Goodbye Iowa" is pretty much an anonymous shrug of an episode - when the central tension is where Riley's loyalties may lie, well, that's problematic.

The other thing that shows how boring the Adam story line has become: the return of Faith (and, briefly, Mayor Wilkins) in "This Year's Girl" and "Who Are You" is a reminder of how truly great and complex this show's antagonists can be. "Who Are You" is the halfway point of the series (episode 72 of 144), and while it's obviously a complete coincidence, it's fitting that an episode exploring the nature and identities of two Slayers happens at what is literally the center of the series.

"This Year's Girl" is a solid set-up episode. Faith wakes from her coma, figures out what happened at Graduation, and goes after the Scoobies. But not before getting a message from Mayor Wilkins - and a handy body-swapping thing-a-ma-doodad. But really, this story is all about "Who Are You". Joss Whedon wrote and directed "Who Are You", and this episode, like "Hush" (but in a completely different way), shows him at the peak of his powers.

"Who Are You" is an A+ episode for Gellar, who is clearly having a blast playing Faith pretending to be Buffy. (And while it's perhaps too bad for Eliza Dushku that Gellar gets to play Faith in what's probably the most memorable Faith episode, Dushku does a great job playing Buffy in Faith's body, too.)

There may not be a better dialogue in all of BUFFY than this one, as "Buffy" confronts Spike at the Bronze: "I could have anything. Anyone. Even you, Spike. I could ride you at a gallop till your legs buckled and your eyes rolled up. I've got muscles you've never even dreamed of. I could squeeze you till you popped like warm champagne and you'd beg me to hurt you just a little bit more and you know why I don't? Because it's wrong." Gellar has such amazing chemistry with Marsters even when she's not Buffy. It's 100% clear after this episode that Spike and Buffy will eventually hook up (how could they not, really?), though there's still A LOT to go through before they get to it.

Another thing I love about "Who Are You" is that it's not a typical lessons-learning body-swap scenario. Often in body-swap stories, the characters learn what it's like for the person they swap into; here, Buffy and Faith learn more about what it's like to be themselves. Especially Faith - as she fights Buffy in the episode's climax, and beats up her own body, it's pure self-loathing: "You're nothing! Disgusting, murderous bitch!" is obviously more about herself than it is about Buffy. (And throughout the episode, as Faith sees how everyone (Willow, Riley, the random girl she saves) reacts to Buffy, what she sees is how they wouldn't react that way to her.) It's both rock-bottom and an epiphany - and though Faith's arc will continue on ANGEL, we won't see her again here until the last few episodes of the series.

I know I'm still a couple of weeks behind schedule, but I'm going to plow through the rest of season 4 this week, because after "Who Are You", I think there are only a couple of episodes this season that I'm interested in talking about.

"The I in Team": C
"Goodbye, Iowa": C
"This Year's Girl": B+
"Who Are You": A+

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