Buffy The Vampire Slayer The Rewatch: Week 6 Part 2
So remember back in the early days when I talked about how hard the middle of most of the seasons of Buffy are? For Season 4, it’s the beginning that’s hard. I buzzed straight through the middle Thursday and Friday, and should finish up and move on to 5 today.
One of the things that I’m trying to focus on with this rewatch is finding the theme of each season. And by theme I mean what you ask high school kids to write essays about. The theme of season 1, was “introductions,” the theme of season 2, “love,” the theme of season 3, “commencement,” and for season 4, I’ve settled on “identity.”
Season 4 is all about discovering that all important “who am I?” question that leads us down the path to fulfillment. This is an important theme of most of Buffy, but particularly in season 4.
Buffy spends the first few episodes trying to fit in to college. Then she tries to fit in to The Initiative. She doesn’t particularly succeed at either of these. Buffy’s identity search gets pushed a little bit more in to season 5, but she does understand that she is The Slayer and that is important, and there’s nothing she can do about it. In fact she yells at Riley about this fairly often.
And speaking of Mr. Iowa, let’s talk about his identity for a second, shall we? I don’t hate Riley, I also don’t like him much. He’s kind of beige, and this is where my feelings lie. Anyway, Riley gets a whole episode dedicated to his identity crisis (“Goodbye, Iowa”). Upon learning that The Initiative has been pumping him full of steroids, that magic is real and that The Initiative tried to kill Buffy, he loses it. He kind of gets it together, because Riley understands that he is a soldier. This is who he is.
You know who totally loses it in Season 4? Poor Oz. Seriously, he just cannot get it together. He loses control of his wolf self and cheats on Willow with Veruca, then kills Veruca. He leaves, thinks he gets control, finds out about Willow and Tara and then loses it again and almost kills Tara. This is impossibly hard. He then goes out to find himself. (And Seth Green goes to make Austin Powers movies, guest star on Entourage, and do that whole Robot Chicken thing.)
And speaking of Willow, she puts a big old punch in the identity card! She comes in to a good deal of her Wicca powers, loses her first love, comes to terms with her sexuality, falls in love again and generally finds her confidence. She feels the full extent of her powers in “Something Blue,” where her spell doesn’t work how she thought it would, but still effects her friends deeply. These are hints towards Willow’s control issues with magic that are going to go mega nuts.
Spike also has an identity shift when the initiative places his behavior modification chip in his brain. He can no longer bite and kill humans. He can however attack other demons, and since he’s still evil (technically) he craves violence so he starts to fight with the Scoobies, he doesn’t fully join the gang, until after Buffy’s death, but from here on in he’s on the fringes.
Anya and Xander are trying to find their way, Anya as a new human, Xander as an adult (while his friends are students), and together as a couple. This is hilarious. Although the fact that it takes the two of them to fill the Cordelia sized comic relief hole is proof of how great she is.
Giles’s season 4 journey is my favorite. (I’m really appreciating Giles this time around.) “A New Man,” is one of those brilliant character building episodes that makes Buffy very, very special. First of all, it features Ethan Rayne who is one of my favorite recurring minor villains. Ethan is an annoyance to The Scoobies, he lives to create chaos, and does about once a season. In 4, he turns Giles in to a demon, presumably to bug the hell out of him, and because they were drunk. Giles had spent the first half of this episode thinking about how he’d wasted away a good chunk of time. He’s no longer technically Buffy’s watcher and he doesn’t have a job. Then Maggie Walsh bitches him out, and he almost completely loses himself as demon, nearly killing Ethan. His search continues, but at least in 5 he gets to buy the Magic Box and becomes a Watcher again, officially.
Then there’s the big one, Faith. Faith wakes up from her coma in “This Year’s Girl,” she’s confused, angry, and feeling guilty, basically she’s Faith. But of course, Faith doesn’t know who she is. She lost her identity as A Slayer when she became a killer. Buffy, for all of her not knowing exactly what it means, at least has that. She also has a loving boyfriend in Riley, supportive friends and of course, Joyce. Faith wants all of this, so she uses a spell and device left to her by the Mayor to switch their bodies. Now she will get Buffy’s good life, and Buffy will get her punishment. (Also, while in Buffy’s body, she wears leather pants. Just saying, the pattern continues.)
Of course, Faith isn’t Buffy and this just serves to confuse her more. I know the details wind up getting sorted out over on Angel, but I haven’t had the time to watch those episodes yet and don’t exactly remember I how. But either way, discovering identity is the big overarching thing in Buffy season 4.