Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Buffy The Vampire Slayer: Season 4

4.01 The Freshman

An immensely enjoyable and painful episode of the series that explains why I fell in love with this series in the first place. Having just started University myself, I could relate a lot to the difficulties Buffy has in this story (your friends finding better people, feeling like your drowning in the sheer number of people, the people you meet deserting you, the people from school not wanting anything to do with you. The usual stuff), which made it an immensely personal and painful experience because it felt so real. Even the Vampires here feel real because they’re wisecracking and clever and seem to only be in it for the rewards that they’re going to get. Sunday is an immensely bitchy creation and her sarcasm with Buffy is brilliant and very witty. In fact, what saves this episode from being quite so sad is that all of the characters here deal with the situation with their usual mix of seriousness and humour. It also feels oddly apt that Xander (previously one of my absolute least favourite characters) redeems himself by inspiring Buffy and helping her deal with Uni. It’s strange that probably the most painful and shocking moment in the episode comes when Sunday breaks Buffy’s award because it means so, so much. Absolutely wonderful, with just the right amount of sadness, makes this a very enjoyable story.
VERDICT: 8/10

4.02 Living Conditions

Living Conditions is very, very funny. Kathy, Buffy’s roommate, is driving her up the wall because of her unusual habits and behaviour. This allows for some deeply amusing moments of psychological bitch-fighting between the two of them, particularly when they use sounds (which are increased in volume) to get back at one another. More interesting, however, is when their fight becomes physical and Kathy references the window and “its share time, Buffy”. It’s moments like these that lift an otherwise fairly thinly plotted story from being forgettable. For much of the duration, we’re just like the Scooby Gang, convinced that Buffy has gone completely crazy for no real reason, so when she states that Kathy needs to die, the story shifts into a very different gear, allowing for some ‘everyone thinks Buffy’s crazy, but she’s not’ moments which has actually happened quite a lot on this series. Anyway, the episode ends with a hilarious coda that reveals Willow has moved in with Buffy, but it is clear that Buffy might be a little crazy as she squints furiously. Quite funny, this story shows just how much potential the college setting will have for the series. Two episodes in and this is already more enjoyable and watchable than most of the previous season.
VERDICT: 8.5/10

4.03 The Harsh Light Of Day
 

For an episode that reintroduces three major characters, this is simply wonderful. It continues this series’ obsession with the difficulties surrounding relationships with three very different ones on display here. Parker and Buffy’s relationship is horrible because it hurts her a lot and throws her into doubt about men. Harmony and Spike’s is very rough, but also provides this episode with some of its best moments (I felt really, really sorry for her even though she was quite annoying) while Xander and Anya’s is hilarious. I love Anya and she’s fast on her way to becoming a new favourite. However, the plot surrounding the Gem of Amarra never feels entirely essential to the plot (possibly to do with the fact that it links more closely to Angel’s spinoff) so that weakens this episode a little bit. Apart from this, though, this another wonderful and immensely enjoyable episode that is continuing the good omens for this season. Especially love the final shot which is so moving as the three jilted women walk in different ways.
VERDICT: 7.5/10

4.04 Fear Itself

Now that was a scary episode! This is brilliantly frightening with a number of terrifying moments (Xander becoming invisible, Oz becoming a werewolf, Buffy being attacked by zombies, the Skeleton with a knife has to take the cake, though) but that also tells us something about the characters as well (Xander is scared of being forgotten, Oz is afraid of being unable to control being a werewolf, Willow’s afraid of her spells going wrong and Buffy… I couldn’t quite work out hers). It’s not as emotionally devastating as Buffy can be but manages to tell a scary and funny (love Anya in the bunny costume. Actually, scratch that, love Anya overall. And Giles with a chainsaw, how can you beat that?) story that is very memorable. It loses a mark for having such an odd climax which feels a tiny (hehe) bit like a letdown, but it’s quite funny, so I’ll give it that. This is just wonderful and as I was watching this, I was thinking why can’t this show be this scary every week? Now, that’s an interesting thought…
VERDICT: 9/10

4.05 Beer Bad
And from the subtle brilliance of the previous episode, we have this, possibly the least subtle thing in the Universe. The moral beer is bad is so incredibly obvious you have to wonder if the program makers that the audience was so stupid that we couldn’t work it out for ourselves. It’s stupid beyond belief with horrifically unnatural dialogue. Even Xander talks like a caveman. I think this is supposed to be a comedy episode but because it isn’t funny (except for the bit when Buffy whacks Parker for the second time. He was annoying me) it feels really awful. The best thing about this story is the scene with Veruca at the bar with such a moody song. It’s brilliant and I have a strong feeling it’s going to be very, very important. Anyway, probably the worst episode of Buffy so far (hopefully) brings to an end the arc surrounding Parker and paves the way for some of the better episodes. Let’s just treat this as an absolutely horrible blip and try to forget about it.
VERDICT: 1/10

4.06 Wild At Heart
Oh, God, why do I watch this show when we get an episode like this that breaks my heart? The end of Willow and Oz’s relationship comes to a tragic end, as the entirety of their relationship is charted. It’s the most heartbreaking and emotionally scarring episode because Willow is my absolute favourite character so to see her in such a world of is incomprehensibly depressing. I’m not really one to cry very often. I come very close sometimes, but it’s rare that I break out into full floods. This series has done it at least twice to me so far (the other being Becoming – Part 2 which I am still trying to recover from, one and a half seasons later) but this episode is the most upsetting so far. It just feels so utterly real and you can’t help but be caught up in the strength of the emotion that is on display. Veruca is also a very real creation, not afraid to show her rampant sexuality and get what she wants even if it destroys other people in the process (summing her up like that makes her sound exactly like Parker, but she succeeds where he fails because she is so dangerous and oddly alluring, even to Giles and Xander). But this episode owes everything to the performance of Alyson Hannigan who once again proves that she’s simply the best thing this show has to offer. The scene in which Willow has just witnessed WereOz killing WereVeruca before almost killing her resonated with me in such a deep and personal way (because my Dad has BiPolar and sometimes it’s very, very painful) which so few shows can do. The most emotionally devastating episode yet and one of the best of the series so far. Like Becoming, I really don’t know where we’re going to go from here.
VERDICT: 10/10

4.07 The Initiative

The Initiative is a whole series of surprises and comic moments that never quite blend together into a satisfying whole. It’s an important episode for both current arcs (Willow’s grief over Oz leaving her) and future ones (Riley’s feelings for Buffy and the Initiative) and features some rather awesome moments such as the reveal of the Initiative’s base and Riley’s place within it and Spike attacking Willow. The latter moment is actually very, very funny as he is unable to kill her and it becomes almost as though they are talking about sex. The comedy is actually very present within this story with Riley’s awkwardness and the funniest moment of the season (possibly the series) is Harmony and Xander’s absolutely hilarious sissy fight complete with epic music and slow motion effects. It’s just wonderful. Unfortunately, however, tonally this is all over the place with the funny moments, the horrific moments and Willow’s sadness never quite meshing in a way that is entirely satisfying. It is probably what we needed after Wild At Heart, though.
VERDICT: 7.5/10

4.08 Pangs
As Xander so rightly puts it, this episode feels like a return to the wonderful old days of Buffy, complete with Angel. While he comes across as a bit of a creepy stalker (who has Buffy’s best interests), he does provide the episode with some of its more unusual moments (particularly when he asks about Riley) making me miss him immensely. It is a good time to reflect on how much this show has changed since his absence, particularly how Anya replaces Cordelia perfectly. Anya is one of my absolute favourite characters at the moment, with her honesty about sex and tenderness about Xander being an absolute joy to watch. This episode, however, is also quite dark, reflecting on the tragedy and hypocrisy behind Thanksgiving (particularly the death of so many Native Americans) which is what this series does so well. What makes this episode stand out is its use of humour which is often deeply amusing, particularly Buffy’s attempts to have the perfect Thanksgiving dinner and Spike’s honesty. This episode is just brilliant, far more than just a prequel to an episode of Angel (which I am deeply tempted to see now), it works to remind us how much this series has changed and how much we have to look forward to.
VERDICT: 9/10

4.09 Something Blue
Another deeply amusing comedy episode, this is just wonderful. Spike and Buffy are getting married (which is completely shocking, particularly in the Scoobies reaction to it), Giles is going blind (allowing for some of the episode’s slightly darker material but also some comic tripping over things) and Xander becomes a demon magnet (which provides the episode with some menace). It’s all because Willow becomes even more depressed about the loss of Oz. This feels slightly odd seeing she didn’t seem particularly affected during the last two episodes, so it feels a little incongruous. Something Blue also feels like a step down from this series’ usual dark and depressiveness which makes it come across as something like a childrens’ television program (except for the sex references). Overall, though, it is sometimes laugh out loud funny and a welcome glance into a very different side to these characters.
VERDICT: 8/10

4.10 Hush
Perfect. Absolutely perfect. Terrifying, but perfect. I have never been so scared as I was when watching Hush. It was more than just the jump scares, this was a truly visceral terror, the horror of being in that situation. It’s also a surprisingly deep mediation on the importance of language within our society and how it would break down if we were to ever lose the ability to speak. However, that is not how I will remember this episode. I’ll remember it as the episode that absolutely terrified me. The Gentlemen are one of the greatest Buffy monsters ever, making the everyday frightening by putting a horrifying face to it. Their politeness and constant grins are just immensely unnerving. The episode’s most terrifying moment comes when Tara trips before realising that the Gentlemen are advancing on her (although, the bit where Giles’ “orgasm friend” sees a Gentleman outside the window… God damn). The music goes crazy like a Danny Elfman score (ironic seeing he usually works with Tim Burton who would have relished the Gentlemen) and much of this episode’s appeal comes from the effective use of some truly wonderful music (I instantly felt the need to download the soundtrack). It is also a major piece for the arc, expanding Riley and Buffy’s relationship and introducing Tara who I just know is destined to be a favourite character of mine. Overall, Hush is probably my favourite Buffy episode so far. It’s terrifying, but with a deeper social commentary and some wonderful character work. One of the greatest television episodes of all time.
VERDICT: 10/10

4.11 Doomed

Doomed is an odd episode. It’s like it just can’t quite decide which plotline to focus on and so jams all of them, giving them equal weighting, into one story. It’s Buffy and Riley’s story about their relationship (Buffy’s angst about this feels odd considering what happened with Parker earlier in the season), it’s about opening the Hellmouth (such a ridiculously pointless plot point), Willow’s feelings of insecurity, Spike’s desire to stake himself and the Slayorettes’ feelings of inadequacty. Few episodes feel like they are trying to push the plot so far forward, but end up looking like it’s just a series of events that aren’t linked and don’t follow logically on from one another. It’s all plots at once, while meaning nothing. Pointless, plotless television.
VERDICT: 4/10

4.12 A New Man

This is one of those episodes that only this series could do. It’s a surprisingly moving examination of Giles’ sadness at feeling so left out (as he has been on the sidelines for much of this season) but it’s also absolutely hilarious, with the double act of Giles and Spike being one of the greatest within the show. To take such a dark concept (such as abandonment) and make it both bitingly funny and surprisingly uplifting is something of a miraculous feat. It’s an episode that you can’t help but smile with, especially in the episode’s most utterly hilarious moment of Giles terrifying Maggie Walsh after she had been a bitch, suggesting that he had not been a satisfactory male role model for Buffy. Also, the return of Ethan Rayne is brilliant and he gets some of the best lines (Giles walking in on him threatening the professor is very funny). It’s sad that we never get to see him again. One of the better episodes so far, but also with a sense of foreboding as the Initiative seems to be far more than what it seems…
VERDICT: 9/10

4.13 The I In Team

Another strong episode with some great moments that accelerate the story and the characters. Chief among these has to be the moment where Buffy and Riley fighting a demon is cut with their post-battle lovemaking. It’s a great scene, brilliantly scored to match both scenes perfectly. It’s such an emotional roller-coaster for the scene of only a couple of minutes ending with the horrifying realisation of just how much influence Walsh has on Riley’s life. One of the most effective scenes within the series, up there with some of the best of season two. Other aspects of the episode also work quite well, such as Willow and Tara’s growing romance (which is just so, so sweet) and the gag about the ioniser, making the Slayorettes’ hair stand up. But, it’s the developments between Riley, Buffy and the Initiative that are the most interesting. Aside from the aforementioned scene, the scene where Walsh tells Riley that Buffy’s dead as she appears on the screen behind them is magnificent and you know, that there’s going to be hell to play between Riley and Walsh, but then (rather brilliantly) this is cut off by a terrifying and shocking cliffhanger. So far, season four is shaping up to be one of the strongest yet and from the looks of this episode, it’s only going to get even better.
VERDICT: 8/10

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