Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The Buffy Rewatch (Season 4b)

<--Season 4a  Season 5a-->

Even with a couple brilliant episodes in the first half of the season (and a couple more in this second half) season four manages to be the second worst season of Buffy ever aired. (That’s right, there is worse than this awaiting us.) However, even bad Buffy manages to present more food for thought than most TV out there.

This half of the season starts out confirming what we have known all along: the initiative is bad in episodes 13. The I in Team and 14. Goodbye Iowa. Professor Walsh decides Buffy is a threat and tries to get her killed, and we see that the program has not only been trying to control evil power, but has also been artificially augmenting and controlling the soldiers it employs.

15. This Year’s Girl and 16. Who Are You? Do a great job of bringing Faith back in a body-switching plot. It is fun to see both actresses do a good job playing each others’ characters, and a lot of development and revelations are exposed in the process.

With episode 17. Superstar, the show embarks on a level of storytelling that is surprising for television up to this point, trusting the audience to be smart enough to follow the huge changes made to the entire concept of the show—all made off air. This is not the last time Buffy will do something of this nature, as those who go onto season five will discover.

Episode 18. Where the Wild Things Are, could have been a fun poltergeist show, but many rank it among the worst episodes of the entire series. This may be due to the fact that Buffy and Riley are reduced to cartoonish versions of college-age lovers who can’t get enough of each other. They spend most of the episode trapped in a possessed-like state where they can’t stop having sex or they will die! Yeah, it is that cheesy. However, the show is not preaching against sex the way Beer Bad did against beer. It is more about the religious approach to sex and the way it takes something that, while in the right context is a great thing, and makes it a dirty, always evil thing. Interesting points, if not perfectly executed.

One of the big themes that this season tries to tackle, which comes to a head in episode 19. New Moon Rising, is Willow’s exploration of homosexuality. This was a ground breaking series on this front, but it was really poorly done. Of course, the times must be taken into account, and they were probably not allowed to address the issue too directly. The result is a transformation that happens almost entirely off screen. The fact that it is a transformation may be a big part of the problem. In the Hollywood version of American sexuality we have come to know these days, sexual orientation is not a choice. Those who are gay are supposed to always be that way from the time they become sexually aware. Willow does not fit this mode at all. She has been attracted to specific men all her life, and the great love of her life up until early this season was a man. This issue will be dealt with more in coming seasons, but for now it is unconvincing at best.

In 20. The Yoko Factor & 21. Primeval we get the somewhat rushed end to the series arc, where our scientifically assembled enemy is defeated with a spell that combines our heroes’ best qualities into Buffy so she can defeat the otherwise invincible foe. It tries to make the recurring point in Buffy—that she is strong due to her relationships—but ends up being a bit too rushed. That is unfortunate because it is a good theme. This season had become too much of a mess at this point. Perhaps it was due to production and behind the scenes efforts being split between this show and its spin-off, Angel. In fact, there are moments in this season where, if you are not watching both shows, you might get a little lost.

22. Restless: The reward for watching season four of Buffy (aside from the greatness of Hush, Superstar, and perhaps Fear Itself) is the final episode. After the big battle where our heroes combined their essences, they gather at Buffy’s house to watch movies and unwind. Falling instantly asleep, we get to witness the four dreams they have as an unstructured, four act, surreal experience that is unlike anything television has seen before. The exploration of the four main characters we have come to know so well is insightful, funny and scary all at once. This show is one of Whedon’s masterpieces. And the music is amazing.

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