Buffy the Vampire Slayer - The I in Team

Summary

Xander, Willow, and Anya are at his place playing poker. Xander reveals his new business venture, selling Boost bars, the healthy snack. Buffy isn't there because she's with Riley. Xander feels they don't know enough about the Initiative to feel good about it. And exdemon Anya definitely feels threatened by their actions. Meanwhile, Buffy is engaging in an exercise with the commandos, as they try to find and capture her. It takes them a long time to track her down and she easily overcomes them. Walsh is impressed.

Buffy and Willow are in the cafeteria chatting. Buffy is very excited about the Initiative and her adventure of the night before. Willow is depressed at her lack of action. She reminds Buffy they are going to the Bronze that night and Buffy says she is eager to see the gang again. Then Riley walks in and he's all Buffy can think about. She's angry at him for just getting a Twinkie to eat.

Giles visits Spike in his crypt. He has come to thank him for helping him when he was changed into a demon in A New Man. But Spike just wants the money he was promised. Giles tries to talk to Spike about a higher purpose in his life, but Spike just wants him to leave and he makes it clear he doesn't want any further involvement with the gang.

Buffy enters the Initiative. Riley takes her through the secret entrance and she sees the underground lab for the first time. Walsh gives her a pass and some reading material. She sees the pit, where some particularly ferocious demons are being worked on by Dr. Angleman, who's in charge of the medical side of things. Buffy also sees a miniature camera and telemetry device they are testing. And when she asks about the area where room 314 is, she's told it is a high security area. She gets a security badge and a pager which only the Initiative is allowed to have the number of.

Tara has brought Willow a gift, a doll's eye crystal, which belonged to her grandmother. She hopes she and Willow could try some spells with it. Willow won't accept the gift because it is a family heirloom, but she does say she'd like to try some spells. Tara invites her over that evening. But Willow is going out that night and in an awkward moment doesn't invite Tara.

Walsh enters the restricted area and room 314. Angleman is there and he questions the wisdom of allowing Buffy in the Initiative. They talk about their work and we see that there is some monster being created there by them which they call Adam.

At the Bronze, Buffy is an hour late. Xander is trying to peddle his Boost bars. Anya approves of this when she realizes they will make him money to take her nice places and buy her pretty things. Xander wants to go, but Willow insists they wait and that Buffy was looking forward to spending the evening just with them. Buffy arrives with Riley and some of the others. Anya makes Xander take her to the other side of the room to dance. Willow tells Buffy Anya has exdemon issues with the commandos. Buffy says Riley and the others had thrown her a party, so she invited them to the Bronze. She tells Willow she joined and Willow cautions her, noting they really don't know much about the Initiative and there are many questions to ask. Buffy's pager goes off, as do the pagers for all the guys. Riley comes to get her, he says 'mother wants us'.

At the briefing, they are shown a picture of a demon and sent to get it. Buffy asks questions. Why have they been told not to damage the creature's arms - which jut out bone spurs when it attacks? What does it want? The answers: they want to study its defenses and it isn't sentient aren't particularly helpful. And they obviously don't like her asking questions. She also doesn't want to wear the commando outfit. Meanwhile, Willow goes to see Tara.

On patrol, Buffy keeps talking to Riley, asking if Walsh is mad at her. He needs to concentrate and really wants her to be quiet. His friend, who is now leader of another squad so Buffy can be second in command of Riley's squad, is upset. As he talks to his second in command, they spot Spike. They try to capture him, but he escapes. But they do shoot him with a tracer bullet and track him. They contact Riley to tell him what has happened, but reception is poor and while he tries to listen the demon they are chasing attacks. Buffy fights the demon and the fight scene is interspersed with scenes of her and Riley making love in his room. When she finally subdues the demon, she asks Riley what he wants to do next. This leads right to the scene we've been seeing clips of. And we see that Walsh is watching them on a monitor, she has all the agents' bedrooms bugged.

Xander and Anya are trying to sell Boost bars to Giles. He buys one and it is terrible, he searches desperately for a place to spit it out. Spike bursts in. He asks for help and shows them where he was shot. He says he can't shake the commandos. Giles insists on being paid first and Spike gives him back what he has left of the money. Meanwhile, Buffy wakes and Riley is still in bed with her - a change from her previous partners. His alarm goes off reminding him to take his vitamins. He tells Buffy he was pulled from special ops for this assignment, but he doesn't know anything about it or what it's really about. She asks about 314, but the phone rings immediately and it is Walsh saying they have a situation and need him.

In the lab, Riley peers into the secured area and sees the door marked 314. Walsh tells him she wants him to lead the recapture of Spike. She tells him to make her proud. She goes into the secured area and tells Angleman Buffy is a liability. They agree they will have to deal with her. Angleman is removing an arm from the bone spur demon and the body of Adam is laying next to it.

Giles is examining Spike and Xander, with a vague memory of his Hallowe'en adventures in the military, recognizes it as a tracing device and they realize how the commandos are tracking Spike. Buffy arrives home and Willow does shortly after. They realize each has been out all night. Buffy gets paged and goes off. Giles calls and tells Willow he needs her help. Walsh tells Buffy there is a minor demon in the sewers, in fact it might just be a raccoon. Walsh says when Buffy returns they can talk and she'll answer her questions. She gives Buffy a comcam so she can monitor her.

Spike is drunk (in place of anaesthesia) and Willow is casting a spell to interfere with the tracking device. The spell works and Riley and his people can't home in on the signal. Meanwhile, Buffy is in the sewer and encounters two demons. And she realizes they are the ones she saw in the lab the other day, ones considered highly dangerous. She fires her gun, but it doesn't work. And a grating behind her comes down, trapping her there. She starts fighting with them. We see Walsh watching this on a monitor through the comcam. Suddenly, the pictures goes still and the telemetry reading disappears, indicating Buffy is dead.

Riley and his squad are closing in. Giles gets the tracer out and gives it to Xander. The spell is failing and they now have a reading. Only the reading is coming straight at them but no one is there. They realize the tracer was flushed and has been moving through the sewers. In the sewer, Buffy is still alive, she just lost the comcam headset. She defeats the demons.

Riley returns and Walsh tells him Buffy is dead. She says two hostiles escaped and Buffy pursued them into the tunnels against her orders. She pretends to be sorry. But in the background we see Buffy on the monitor. She's speaking into the comcam. She reveals what Walsh has done and tells her she underestimated what a slayer is. But she promises Walsh will soon find out. Riley, angry at Walsh, walks out with her screaming at him to stop.

Giles thinks Spike should leave Sunnydale. He says with the Initiative in operation it isn't safe for Spike. Buffy walks in and says it isn't safe for any of them. Walsh is in the room with Adam. She's talking about how she will defeat Buffy, using him. And then Riley will come around. Only Adam gets up and stabs her with one of those bone spurs. He calls her mommy.

Analysis

What is there not to love? You've got Spike/Giles and Anya/Xander for fun. You've got 314/Adam and the nasty side of Walsh for terror and excitement. You've got Buffy/Riley for the steam factor. And you've got whatever you feel like imagining with Willow/Tara. It all adds up to one superb episode.

I like the friendship that has grown between Spike and Giles. Yes, they are unwilling to call it that and they used the money they paid each other as a way of avoiding the term, but it is a friendship. Spike likely would have helped Giles anyway and Giles would certainly have helped him. Spike knows this, Giles is the one he immediately went to for help. There's a lot of verbal sparring between these two, as there was between Ethan and Giles, but it's of a different nature. In Spike's crypt, Giles clearly was going to suggest that Spike join the good guys. He'd hardly make such a suggestion if he didn't see something of value in Spike.

Spike's harshness, his mockery of Giles (the woman's touch) and his comments about Willow (teen witch whose magic goes wonky) and Xander (little Xander cutting a new tooth) all suggest an attempt to drive the gang, and especially Giles, away from him. Spike has had two strong relationships since becoming a vampire - at least that we know of. One to Angel (who betrayed him by becoming good and even turned on him again when he became evil) and the other to Dru, who deserted him. He clearly fears any new relationship. Hence his taking up with Harmony - clearly not someone he is serious about. And his distancing himself from the gang, whom he clearly likes. I find it particularly interesting that he first mentions Willow, whom he practically admitted to fancying in The Initiative. While this is a fun scene, there is some pretty serious stuff going on here.

When Spike runs to Giles for help, and obviously expects it, he's admitting tacitly to what he can't say explicitly. He knows these people are his friends and will help him. I think Giles recognizes Spike's problem with relationships, and when he insists on getting paid he does so not merely to get the money (and I'm sure he did enjoy getting his money back) but also to alter the nature of the relationship so that Spike could see it as economic (something he can deal with) and not friendship (something he has a problem with).

Anya and Xander seem to have settled into a comfortable coupledom and Willow stills seems upset about it. Along with the humour that we always get with Anya and Xander's response to her openness, there were also a couple of interesting points raised in their scenes this week. First, while playing poker Xander says none of them have money. Now, we know Xander is broke and moving from job to job. And Willow is in school and probably living off scholarships and her parents. But what is Anya living off. She doesn't seem to be actually living with Xander, so she must have a home somewhere. And she has clothes and obviously spends a lot on getting her hair done. So where does this money come from and why does Xander say none of them have any. More importantly, why doesn't Anya help Xander out a bit. At least they could rent a place and move in together. I don't think either of them likes the basement.

The second point is Anya's issues with the commandos. She expresses the same thoughts Spike must be keeping to himself. While Willow at least hears her and has some concerns herself, Buffy is strangely uncaring. The two good or neutered demons we know of in Sunnydale are very concerned about the Initiative. But when Willow reminds Buffy of Ethan's warning (from A New Man), she ignores it discounting the source. But his concerns are mirrored by those of Spike and Anya and shouldn't be ignored.

I've speculated that Walsh might be Riley's mother. Whether she is or isn't, there is something definitely Oedipal in their relationship. Her problems with Buffy (which I think are basically problems with Riley having a girlfriend) and her voyeuristic bugging of Riley's bedroom certainly make that point. In fact, if there was nothing else to say against Walsh, her spying on Riley and Buffy in bed would be enough to qualify her as evil. Or at least, not good. Her son (real or metaphorical) Riley is letting her down. When she sends him after Spike, she tells him to make her proud. She tells Angleman she wants to get rid of Buffy quickly to make it easier for Riley. But Riley fails to capture Spike and he returns to side with Buffy against Walsh. He has replaced her in his affections with Buffy. So Walsh turns to another child, Adam. When Riley walks out on her, it is to Adam that she turns. She will use Adam to rid herself of Buffy and then will deal with Riley. And it's clear that if Riley doesn't return to her, she is not above using Adam against him. But, like Riley, Adam turns against his mother. And in case you think I am stretching for this mother thing, remember Riley refers to Walsh as mother in this episode when she pages them and Adam calls her mommy.

Adam, the terror of 314, is an artificial demon, a monster's monster. Walsh is the Frankenstein of this story, only Frankenstein's goal was to bring the dead to life. A goal with some virtue. Walsh's goal is to create a monster, cobbled together out of the most destructive parts of demons. And there's no virtue in that.

The plan Walsh has to get rid of Buffy is really pretty elaborate. First, she orders the squad going after Spike to wait. Then she gets Riley down and sends him out with the squad. This allows her to tell Buffy that the others are out on a mission, even though it's a mission she has artificially slowed to guarantee their absence. Then she gives Buffy the nonworking gun and the comcam, so she can be sure that she is dead. And, of course, she either released the demons into the sewers or knew of them and she likely rigged the grating to trap Buffy. When Riley returns, she has a story set to tell him, about Buffy insisting on going alone. Of course, all her decisions actually backfire. By delaying the squad, she gives Giles the time to contact Willow and complete the operation on Spike, thus rescuing him. By giving Buffy the comcam she is both deceived into thinking she is dead and then revealed to be a liar to Riley.

The Riley/Buffy scene was really steamy. And some interesting scripting and directorial decisions made it work. First, we get it split between two scenes. The scenes we see in parallel with the capturing of the demon, drawing a clear parallel between the fight and the sex that follows. Then the actual scene in Riley's room itself. But then the camera pulls back to show us Walsh voyeuristically watching this, just as we were. Her spying adds a level of kinkiness that heats up the scene and also reminds us that we, although an intended audience, are just as interested in the scene and in watching as Walsh.

So Whedon says there is a lesbian thing going on with Tara and Willow. Certainly, Willow seems strangely reluctant to introduce Tara to her other friends or to mention Tara to them. She won't invite Tara to the Bronze and when Buffy asks who she might have invited, she denies she had anyone in mind. Even if Willow isn't interested, I suspect she does believe there is something to Tara's friendship that goes deeper than just friendship.

Willow, when talking with Buffy at the Bronze, tells her she thinks there are certain questions she should ask before joining the Initiative. But when Buffy does ask questions, at the briefing later that night, it's made clear questions are frowned upon. During her conversation with Willow, Buffy confuses comments about the Initiative with a comment about Riley. And I think she was confused in her own mind about the two. Because she knew and trusted Riley, she felt the Initiative was also something she could trust and so entered into it without any real investigation or thought. But Riley is not the Initiative and it has a far darker agenda than he.

Some quick final thoughts. I just don't see Riley as a Twinkie guy. He's more a fresh fruit and yogourt type guy. In The Initiative, I suggested Spike = Good and Riley = Evil. Now, I might argue that whether of their own will or against it, Spike has allied himself with the forces of good and Riley with the forces of evil. Both may try to break away (Spike tries to separate himself from the gang and Riley walks out on Walsh), but I don't think they will succeed. Are those really vitamins Riley is taking or something else, maybe something he doesn't know about. A fair bit of screen time and explanation was spent on this, so I suspect it is more than it seems. The phone rings almost immediately as Buffy asks Riley about 314, you have to assume Walsh was still spying and called to stop him from giving any kind of answer.

Lines of the week:

"Yes. We've enjoyed spanking." - Anya still having trouble understanding the concept of privacy.

"Everyone's getting a spank but me." - Willow on the sad state of her personal life.

"Needs a woman's touch. Care to have a crack at it." - Spike making sure Giles knows he hasn't softened.

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