Buffy the Vampire Slayer - The Initiative

Summary

Riley and his friends are in the cafe scoping out girls. His friend points out Buffy, who he thinks is hot. Riley says she's peculiar. We cut to Spike in a high tech cell dreaming about killing the slayer.

Xander and Giles are bemoaning the fact that Buffy really doesn't need their help, especially since Giles believes the commandos are human. Buffy shows up and says she is going to a party with Willow that night, to cheer her up over the whole Oz thing. So she wants Xander and Giles to patrol.

In Spike's cell, a blood packet drops from a panel in the ceiling. A prisoner in the adjacent cell warns him not to drink it, that the blood is drugged and when unconscious he'll be taken out for for experimentation. The other prisoner tells him he was running from the slayer when captured. Spike leaps to the conclusion Buffy is behind all this.

Buffy and Willow are in psychology class. Willow tells Riley that Oz hasn't dropped out but will be back. Walsh says she won't let him back in her class. Willow, upset, leaves. Buffy complains to Walsh about her lack of feeling. When Buffy leaves, Walsh tells Riley she likes her. He asks if she doesn't find Buffy peculiar.

Giles and Xander are at Xander's place getting ready for patrol. Xander has lots of military stuff from the Hallowe'en episode when he was changed into a military guy. But he's really forgotten how to use it. His mother calls down to say she has fruit punch for him and his friend. Giles asks if it's raspberry.

Riley is telling his friends about how Buffy told off Walsh. They see Parker and ask him about Buffy. He brags about his conquest and Riley decks him. Riley realizes he likes Buffy and his friends say they already knew. Meanwhile, Spike pretends to be knocked out by the drug. When he's removed from his cell for the experiment, he breaks free and escapes.

Riley goes to see Willow, hoping she can give him some information about Buffy that will make it easier for him to start a conversation. She isn't that keen on the idea, being down on relationships. She says she doesn't know why she should trust him. He says maybe he has an honest face. She says honest faces usually come attached to liars. But she decides to help him and tells him Buffy likes cheese, has a stuffed pig called Mr. Gordo, and they are going to the party at Lowell House. Riley lives at Lowell house, so he'll be able to interact with her there. He asks if Buffy has ever talked about him and Willow says no. He refers to Willow as his accomplice, but she says she's not.

Harmony is putting up a poster of a unicorn when Spike walks in. She's thrilled to see him and he pretends to be interested in her, but it is clear his major interest is revenge against Buffy. They start fooling around and it hurts when she pulls on his hair. Xander and Giles are on patrol and Xander is driving Giles nuts.

Buffy and Willow get to the party. Willow finds Riley and tells him he should dance with Buffy. He says he can't dance. She says make conversation, be funny not glib. She warns him not to break Buffy's heart. He goes over to Buffy but can't think of anything intelligent to say. He asks her if she did the readings for class and offers her cheese.

Xander finds Harmony in the woods. They have a ridiculous fight - neither seems capable of actually hurting anybody - and Harmony lets on that she is burning Spike's stuff because she's mad at him and his obsession with Buffy. Riley is sitting on the couch with Willow watching Buffy dance and realizing he choked. Willow says he needs to relax. A Dingoes song plays and she gets sad. Riley has the song changed. Willow tells him to tell Buffy she is going home. He walks over and starts another conversation with Buffy. But before he can get anywhere, Xander arrives and he and Buffy go off together. Riley's friends show up and tell him they need him downstairs anyway.

They go downstairs, enter a secret elevator, and are in the lab where the demon experiments are conducted. Riley asks what kind of girl would go out with a guy who is a demon hunter at night. Walsh is there and she tells them Spike has escaped and they have to recapture him. They change into the commando outfits and head out.

Giles and Xander tell Buffy about Spike and she's determined to stake him this time. She plans to use herself as bait. Xander gives her a flare gun to signal for help if she needs it. Spike breaks into one of the administration buildings and looks up Buffy's address on the computer. Riley and his pals spot Buffy playing bait. Riley wants to get her out of there, his friend suggests leaving her as bait but Riley refuses. He gets out of uniform and goes to talk to her. She won't leave and neither will he. But when they hear a scream both run off. He gets back to his friends who are tracking Spike, probably from some implanted device.

Spike shows up at the dorm and Willow foolishly says come in without seeing who it is. He says he's going to kill her. But he finds he can't bite her. He gets a terrible pain in his head when he tries. She tries to console him. Then she begins to wonder if it is her. If nobody, not even a vampire, wants her. Spike tries to console her, saying he has thought of her in the past. But he doesn't like to be obvious about it. Meanwhile, Riley and the others have found him by using a thermal device which spots his room temperature temperature.

Riley and his pals rush the dorm. They seem to be able to automatically lock all the doors and turn off the lights. They burst into the room and are able to catch Spike. Then they wonder if they should take Willow who might have been vampirized. Spike breaks free while they argue over that and the fight starts again. He grabs a fire extinguisher and a bullet hits it creating a big cloud of gas. Buffy arrives and fires the flare which pretty much blinds everyone. She fights with the commandos and Spike escapes. Riley seems to see Buffy through the haze and aborts the mission.

Riley reports to Walsh that Spike has escaped but that her implant worked and he cannot harm living creatures. He also claims they were stopped by a big, strong being who is possibly Spike's accomplice. He doesn't let on it is Buffy and Walsh is not happy with the report. Riley goes to see Buffy the next morning and we learn the story is that one of the frats was pulling a prank in the dorm. He asks Buffy if Willow told her he liked cheese. She says he's a little peculiar.

Analysis

My take on this is pretty simple: Spike = Good and Riley = Evil.

Admittedly, Spike is a demon who has killed and tortured people. That's like saying a rattler is a snake that bites. You can't exactly blame it. Hey, we all grew up loving Charlotte of Web fame and she did some pretty nasty things to flies. Instinctively, Spike is a blood sucking killer. But he does have some redeeming characteristics and when he actually takes the time to think, he's quite different.

A lot of Spike's bloodiest activities were undertaken to please Dru. Spike is hardly the first guy to do dumb, even bad, things to make his girlfriend happy. When Dru left him he got drunk and did a few more bad things (in Lover's Walk). In that episode, he kidnapped Willow and Xander. But while he could have killed them, he didn't. And he never really seemed intent on killing them or Joyce. In fact, when he goes to Buffy's house and talks to Joyce, he really seems interested in having a nice chat with someone who can empathize with his plight. He jokes around when Angel shows up, but if he'd really wanted Joyce dead he'd have killed her, or at least started torturing her, long before. His threat about leaving Willow and Xander for dead isn't terribly credible either. And, ultimately, he tells Buffy and Angel where to find them. And he demonstrates a real insight into their relationship, one which Buffy appreciates.

When he shows up again, in The Harsh Light of Day, he once again is on the rebound having been dumped by Dru. And he's hurting. And he still has great insight into Buffy's love life. And into Angel, which he demonstrates in the Angel episode In The Dark. In The Harsh Light of Day, Spike probably does the meanest thing he has ever done - he stakes Harmony. And you have to wonder what took him so long. Harmony is incredibly annoying and the fact that he puts up with her says a lot about how understanding Spike really is.

But in this episode, we get an even better look at the nice guy under the demon exterior (and you have to think of Cordelia's comments about another nice guy demon in this week's Angel episode The Bachelor Party). You can't blame Spike for being angry at being kidnapped and experimented upon. If he were a puppy (and Buffy referred to vampires as angry puppies in The Harsh Light of Day), there'd be a mob of protesters on campus trying to save him. But he's a demon and friendless. His assumption that Buffy is involved is logical. After all, who else is out there tracking down demons. So when he goes to her dorm room to get his revenge and decides to start with Willow, I don't think we can totally blame him.

But his heart is never really in hurting Willow. Yes, he tries to bite her. But his captors point out he's been starved in captivity and so biting someone is basically just a natural reaction. No worse than me having a steak. But when he fails, he doesn't try to do anything else. He could have broken her neck or tortured her in some way. But Spike really doesn't want to do that. When Willow (who seems to be paralleling Buffy's Parker induced sense of worthlessness) suggests she is to blame, Spike actually is nice to her. He admits to finding her attractive. I think at this point any danger Spike poses has pretty much vanished. He likes Willow, I think he even likes Buffy, and when he stops to think about it he really doesn't want to hurt them.

In the fight scene that follows, when Spike realizes Buffy is fighting on his side he takes off. He realizes the situation is more complicated than he thought and that Buffy may not be the person behind the commandos. I think Spike is going to do some heavy thinking and we might find him joining forces with Buffy to fight the commandos just as he joined forces with her to fight Angelus.

Riley seems to be a nice human whose job is hunting demons. But his whole life is a lie. He has never told Buffy who he really is or what he really does. And he doesn't even tell Walsh the truth, since he saw that he was fighting Buffy and keeps that fact from her. In fact, deceit seems intrinsic to his nature. Rather than simply ask Buffy out or tell her how he feels, he secretly goes to Willow to gather intelligence about Buffy and to enlist her as an ally in Buffy's seduction. Riley clearly doesn't believe in the straightforward honest approach and you have to wonder whether he is really any better than Parker.

Speaking of Parker, will he soon be leaving school because of all the concussions. He's been clobbered twice by Buffy (in Beer Bad) and was decked by Riley in this episode. Which certainly shows that Riley has a temper and easily gives in to violence. Buffy was reduced to caveslayer when she hit Parker, but Riley has no such excuse. Yes, Parker deserves what he gets. And Harmony deserved to get staked by Spike. Which makes Riley really no different from Spike.

Now Riley spends his nights capturing demons. So does Buffy. But Buffy kills demons that are trying to hurt people and lets other demons alone. Riley takes demons of all stripes in for experimentation. Walsh talks of an implant in Spike which makes it impossible for him to bite anyone. Stopping vampires from biting is laudable, but I'm not so sure if implanting chips is quite the most moral way of going about it. I'm reminding of A Clockwork Orange, where conditioning techniques were used to stop the protagonist from being violent.

When Buffy and Riley are in the woods looking for Spike, Riley pretty clearly says he doesn't think girls can look after themselves. Now, he is worried about vampires, but it's a pretty condescending thing to say. And it really annoys Buffy who says he's teutonic. When Spike is himself, he's kind and insightful. But when Riley is himself he's controlling.

Harmony is putting up a poster of a unicorn when Spike comes in. Unicorns are usually symbols of virginity. In The Harsh Light of Day, when Willow was talking to Buffy about Harmony, she suggested Harmony never really had a boyfriend before. Maybe Spike really is her first real boyfriend and her first lover. Which might explain why she is so very upset with him when he doesn't pay attention to her. And why she keeps taking him back. Also, I don't think we've seen her actually kill anyone - we've just seen her feed off captives Spike has taken. Maybe she's even a vampire virgin. Given how ineffective she was in fighting Xander, I have to wonder whether she really could kill anyone.

I guess things have really changed since I went to university. A fist fight between two guys over a girl would hardly have merited any serious trouble from the administration in my day. And professors certainly didn't bother to call roll. Spike's head hurts when he and Harmony are fooling around and she pulls on his hair. Is this an indication of where the implant is? Will Spike find and remove it - setting him free to be violent again? When Riley and Willow are on the couch and the song plays, Riley asks if it has associations for Willow. She says big, he says bad. Wolf remains unsaid. Why are Riley and his pals not wearing their masks when they first go looking for Spike? Why does Walsh wait so many hours before telling Riley and his group about Spike's escape? Finally, if you are rooming with a professional vampire slayer, you should never say come in when someone knocks on your door.

Lines of the week:

"The government? Nazis? A major cosmetics company?" - Spike listing the people likely to perform cruel and illegal experiments.

"A vague disclaimer is nobody's friend." - Willow explaining why she told Riley she would beat him to death with a shovel if he hurt Buffy.

"Daniel Osbourne." - Willow answering the question we have all been asking.

"A human being in pain has nothing to do with your job." - Buffy with an ironic put down of Walsh who teaches human psychology and tortures vampires in her spare time.

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