Thursday, September 12, 2013

Top 5 Episodes of Buffy Season 4

The return of the Internet also brings about the return of Anya to not-so-sunny Sunnydale and her hopefully unwavering commitment to watch the entirety of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. She finally finished the latter half of the topsy-turvy Season Four, and can now present our favorite episodes of from this bizarre BtVS season. Per usual, spoilers for this and any previous season throughout.

Season Four is a strange one. It carries a few truly spectacular individual episodes. “Hush” is generally considered one of the greatest episodes of the entire series and you’d be hard pressed to find a “Top X” list of Buffy episodes that did not include it in the top 3 slots. However, Season Four also features one of the weakest seasonal arcs. As such, none of our favorite episodes really touch on it, so we’ll try to flesh out our overall impressions here.

The show echoed its struggling characters, attempting to find a place in the world post-high school and post-Angel. The secret government agency schtick is chock full of issues and the audience isn’t introduced to the Big Bad until halfway through the season (who’s just a vanilla version of Frankenstein’s monster). The loss of previous regular cast members brings us full-time Spike and Anya, and introduces Riley (who Paul hates and Anya loves, mostly to spite Paul) and Tara (who Paul loves and Anya doesn’t, mostly to spite Paul), creating a very different group dynamic. To various degrees of success, the season looks at the ways that our relationships change as our roles change. Friendships that might have come naturally before due to shared location and activities require efforts that we’re not always prepared to put in.

Without further ado, our list:

5. “Pangs”

"Well, maybe we started a new tradition this year... Maybe not. But at least we all worked together. It was like old times."
"Yeah, especially with Angel being here and everything."

This episode made our list for many reasons, most of which are just personal hangups, so bear with us. First of all, the Buffy in the kitchen trying to recreate “real” Thanksgiving bit is both hilarious and painful to watch. Girl, you are not a homemaker. While she has a lot of moments where she strives to be more “normal” or wishes for an unexceptional lifestyle, it’s more in theory than in practice. We see her struggle with her identity frequently in the series, but this is that struggle at its most lighthearted.

Willow’s campaign against revisionist history cracks us up, especially when it sort of falls apart as the house comes under attack. Like many people who mean well, she is forced to confront the fact that her own ideas pretty fucking revisionist too, just not in the same direction as her high school textbook.

And of course, the perfect perfect perfect ending pictured above.

4. “Something Blue”

“Oh, Spike! Of course it’s a yes!”

Having seen a spoiler on the Buffy reddit a couple of months ago, Anya had been badgering Paul about a Buffy/Spike coupling for quite some time. Little did she know that this episode would surpass her wildest expectations of the relationship, and all because Willow was being a grumpus. Buffy and Spike’s impending nuptials are the light and fluffy frosting on a pretty ugly and fucked up cake made of all of the other issues.

We always like it when Joss can poke fun at his own plot points (see the Buffy/Angel conversation interrupted by Xander in "The Zeppo"), and the over the top nature of Buffy and Spike’s affection taking place right in Giles’ living room is great because it doesn’t look so terribly different from the turn her relationship with Riley takes shortly thereafter. Besides, we just can’t get enough of saying “Spoooike” in Dru’s voice, and any excuse for that is golden with us.

This episode also features a three-second cameo from Amy, who is turned into a woman and then poofed back into a rat again, something that Paul always points to as evidence for Buffy being a truly great television show.

3. “Who Are You”

“'Cause I could do anything I want and instead I just pout and whine and feel the burden of slayerness? I mean, I could be rich, I could be famous, I could have anything. Anyone. Even you, Spike. I could ride you at a gallop till your legs buckled and your eyes rolled up, I've got muscles you've never even dreamed of, I could squeeze you till you popped like warm champagne and you'd beg me to hurt you just a little bit more and you know why I don't?”

As someone who was completely sick of Faith’s poor little unloved slut waif arc, Anya was not that excited to see this episode. Yes, we get it, Faith is what Buffy COULD HAVE BEEN. A Slayer gone awry is so very tragic, etc. She left off on "This Year’s Girl" before the big move, and kept saying “oh yeah…” when Paul excitedly reminded her of what was to come. All of that aside, when she did finally watch the episode, she came around a little bit. Watching Faith in Buffy’s body (or rather, SMG impersonating Eliza’s “Harlot”-type) was, admittedly, mostly funny. Faith-as-Buffy gets some great lines, like every moment of the above speech to Spike or “Well, we certainly don't want to cut into THAT seven minutes,” but it’s the combination of her clothing, body language, and line delivery that really make the episode.

Watching Faith try on Buffy’s life for size, at first acting above it all, and as she tried to mimic Buffs more convincingly, falling into that role to the point that she goes back to the church and then beats the ever-loving shit out of her own body while shouting, “You’re nothing! You’re disgusting!”? Mostly sad.

2. “Hush”

“Well, I guess we have to talk.”
“I guess we do.”

Here’s the thing, Internet (and also Paul): you really built this episode up to the point that Anya couldn’t even sort out how she would have felt about it in a vacuum because everyone was all over its dick! So she’ll let Paul take over to explain what you all already know, this is a great episode (maybe the greatest!?) and it has such a message to it.

This episode gives us a lot of great material to discuss. This is the first episode to feature Tara. We meet her at her meekest, but we can still see the hints of what she’ll become, a grounding member of the Scooby Gang, who serves as a catalyst for a number of important changes in Willow. This is the only episode to ever showcase The Gentlemen (who unfortunately go out with a bang), some of the creepiest villains to ever be on the show. The gaunt and sallow skin? The sunken-in bloodshot eyes? The permanent hungry wolf smiles? The monkey-like cronies in straight jackets? The polite golf clapping and “Oh stop!” miming while commemorating their heartnapping? Come on!

The best part of the episode is, of course, what happens when The Gentlemen come to town. They steal all the Sunnydale residents’ voices, meaning that the majority of the episode has no spoken dialogue. We then get a poignant look at the necessity and limitations of language, the words that we attempt to use to convey our wants, needs, feelings, and intentions. As much as we rely upon them, sometimes words get in the way, either because of our inability to select the correct ones or because some things can only be said with our bodies. The end of the episode where Buffy and Riley, with returned voices, sit in silence? Genius.

1. “Restless”

“I was on time, so I got to be cowboy guy.”

If we hadn’t already told you that Paul hates Riley, you would have guessed based on the fact that of ALL the pictures he could have chosen from this insane episode, he chose the one of Riley in a fucking cowboy hat (To be fair, this episode makes the ONLY occasion Paul ever finds Riley likeable, where Willow dreams up this hilariously simplistic Riley, poking fun at both the character and the actor’s oafish “acting”). Feelings on Riley aside, this is an incredible episode, and Paul’s second favorite of the entire series.

The original core members of the show get together for a restful night of movie watching after a long day of stopping supreme evil. They all fall asleep and, as an effect from the spell they cast to defeat Adam, are visited by the spirit of the First Slayer as they are each forced to confront their individual fears. The dreams that Willow, Xander, Giles, and Buffy have are simultaneously frightening, surreal, depressing, humorous, prophetic, and nonsensical. The episode is so multifaceted and loaded with symbolism that it’s impossible to completely analyze here. So, as we are wont to do when encountered with things of this nature, we’re just going to make a list of some of our favorite “Restless” moments:

-BUFFY: Oh my god, the place is packed. Everybody's here. Your whole family is in the front row, and they look really angry!
-Sexy Joyce coming on to Xander and Forgotten Joyce living in the walls with mice.
-ANYA: I think I've figured out how to steer by gesturing emphatically.
-Black and White Spike posing for tourists
-GILES: Come on, put your back into it! A watcher scoffs at gravity.
-ANYA (to Xander): Do you know where you're going?
-SNYDER (to Xander): Where are you heading?
-The Cheese Man.
-TARA: We just think you’re really interesting.
-ANYA: Quiet! You’ll miss the humorous conclusion.
-Surgeon General Riley and Human Adam making a pillow fort to hide from demons.
-Giles figuring out what’s going on in song.
-BUFFY: What are you still doing in costume… Willow, everybody already knows. Take it off.
-GILES: Buffy, you have a sacred birthright to protect mankind. Don't stick out your elbow.


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