THE CHALLENGE: Binge-watch and review every season of Buffy to celebrate Dark Horse Comics' release of Buffy Season 10 on March 19 and "Angel and Faith Season 10" on April 2. So far we've done an overview of why we love Buffy and Season 1, Season 2, and Season 3.
And now on to college and Season 4.
Highlights: "Hush" may be the best episode of Buffy ever. Giles sings "Behind Blue Eyes" in a coffee shop and "Freebird" in his apartment and gets drunk in "The Yoko Factor." Drunk Giles. Spike gets a chip in his head thanks to the Initiative. In fact, defanged Spike who watches "Passions" and schemes to hurt the Scoobies instead of just vamping on them is better than the scheming bloodlust Spike from Season 2. Vampire Harmony. Vampire Harmony's epic slap fight with Xander, done with ironic slow motion and dramatic music cues.
The relationships: Anya and Xander. Willow and Tara. And Buffy and Riley have so much sex they awaken malevolent spirits.
The return of Faith. Multiple crossovers with Angel. And the episode where Jonathan is the awesomest person in Sunnydale.
Lowlights: Buffy's bad roommate Kathy (glad that only lasted one episode!). The weird, dreamy, completely anti-climactic season finale. (Cheese?) The curse of Thanksgiving episode. Oz's exit. A really unnecessary fight between Riley and Angel in one of the obligatory-feeling crossovers (as opposed to the completely organic crossovers, driven by character and plot which generally worked-- but just because one of you shows up on the other show doesn't mean the other one has to show up on the other.) Other than that, this season was pretty great.
"Hush" Episode 4.10. Guest review by KMC1138:
In 1999, I never dreamed any sci-fi could come along that would challenge my X-Files love, but along came “Hush.” This is the first episode you show to friends who have never seen Buffy. This is the episode that you force friends who had seen the show but didn’t like it to watch. This is the episode that changes their minds.
“The X-Files” was a kind of sci-fi comeback. It crossed viewer populations, was loved and respected, won Emmys, and paved the way for shows like Buffy. But Buffy blazed its own trail by adding humor and a pinch of kitsch, but with “Hush” the showed proved how very intelligent genre TV can be: It maintained characters we had grown to love, introduced terrifying original monsters, played out a compelling mystery with plenty of laughs, and won an Emmy. And it did this in an episode almost completely free of spoken dialogue.
“Hush” fun facts: This is the first appearance of Tara, and Doug Jones (as one of The Gentlemen) maintained his obscene smile while working without the use of any prosthetics. Which is terrifying.
11 out of 10 (yes, eleven. Because this one goes to 11)
"Who Are You?," Episode 4.16. After switching bodies with Buffy, the newly-awakened and out for vengeance Faith goes about trying to sabotage Buffy's life. Not only do we get some amazing acting out of Sarah Michelle Gellar, who brings so many of Faith's mannerisms into play, but she also brings the first bit of vulnerability to Faith as we see her start to question her life choices. A hugely subtle episode, like when Riley admits he got to the church being held hostage by vampires so quickly because "I was just late for church," and in the final battle when we realize Faith is not beating up Buffy-- she's punching herself. She's hitting her own face. And the rage and hatred is literal self-loathing. . . and we'll have to wait until the next episode of Angel to find out where it goes from there (curse you, excellent use of crossovers!).
There's also a great bit where Faith is trying to get used to being in Buffy's skin, looking at herself in the mirror, saying "You can't do that! Because it's wrong!!"
This comes back into play later with of my favorite quotes ever, with Faith as Buffy:
Spike: You know why I really hate you, Summers?
Buffy: [as Faith] 'Cause I'm a stuck-up tight-ass with no sense of fun?
Spike: Well... yeah, that covers a lot of it.
Buffy: 'Cause I could do anything I want, and instead I choose to 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 until your legs buckled and your eyes rolled up. I've got muscles you've never even dreamed of. I could squeeze you until 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?
Because it's "wrong."
9 out of 10
Overall rating for Season Four: 7 out of 10. This is a great season, but lacks some of the oomph of the previous seasons. Maybe it's just that the life lessons of your first year in college don't have the same resonance as of first love, graduating from high school, and so on. Not being at Sunnydale High seems awkward, and the same way Buffy went from being a big fish in her small pond, she's not quite so big a fish in the big pond of Season 4. I also blame the fact that Whedon now had his attention split between two shows, so it didn't all have that same touch.
Watching it week to week as it first aired, (remember when that was a thing? Pre DVR? Pre Netflix and binge watching?) it seemed apparent from show to show, story arc to story arc, which episode had that Whedon magic. Invariably, when Angel was off, Buffy was on and vice-versa. This continues for the rest of the run of Buffy, and gets really bad when Whedon was also doing "Firefly."
The season also lacked a strong Big Bad for the whole season. Adam doesn't show up until episode 14, "Goodbye Iowa," and then doesn't really do anything until Episode 20, then the Scoobies go all Captain Planet (Your powers combined!) and kill him in Episode 21. "Does anyone else miss the Mayor-- 'I just want to be a big snake'?-- Xander, Ep 4.21 'Primeval'
The two episodes with Faith were far better than anything with Adam, and Spike was a better nemesis/foil. The Gentlemen are among the creepiest demons ever. So that counts for something. Which is why this is one of the better seasons, but, having just watched Season 3, it's hard to compare.
So let us binge on! Tomorrow we're starting with Season 1 of "Angel," which ran concurrently with Season 4. More Faith. More Wesley. More Cordelia. More crossover.