Buffy season 4: Moral of the series is… Sex is the worst

Why hellooooooo my fellow Buffy rewatchers (and maybe some first-time viewers too, like me? no? I’m the only one who hasn’t watched this show? okay, that’s what I thought). It’s been some time since I’ve made a Buffy Rewatch post/recap, which are more like my stream of consciousness thoughts and reactions to watching this beloved series for the first time. Over the summer, together, we watched three seasons of BTVS and I reviewed them week by week; then, I said “This is exhausting and I need to go at my own pace!” And it helped — honestly. However, that pace, in the end, matched up to the current pace of the rewatch. I ended season 4 the weekend before everyone else ended it.

Oh, and yes, I watched Angel at the same time as well. I’ll write some of my thoughts about that in this post too.

But it’s not like I should have just kept up with the Twitter rewatch just ’cause. First off, the Angel viewing would not have synched up correctly. And secondly, I didn’t watch a set of episodes every week. I think I took an entire three weeks off at one time and then binged a lot towards the end. Watching Buffy and Angel together was almost exhausting. At some points, I really wanted to stay in one show…and then at others, it was almost a chore to continue with one. more. episode. just so I can move on to the other show. I must qualify first and say that I didn’t watch one Buffy episode and then one Angel episode; I sort of clumped them up, and truly only switched when it got to be too many episodes of one series or when they truly crossed over, etc.

I know that usually these posts are longer than a few Earth days in Hell, but I don’t want to overwhelm either you or myself, so I’ll try to make this a bit simple and to the point by just reviewing the season as a whole. I’m sorry if you like Hell Posts.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 4 as a whole

Oh, season 4! Such a polarizing season, it seems.

Okay, well…actually not really; every time I hear about season 4 it’s either “It had its ups and downs” or “It was just godawful.” And here I am about to blurt something I think may shock everyone. Season 4 is probably the season I’ve enjoyed the most thus far.

Whaaaaaat!? How can it be!? What an idiot! Doesn’t he know how great season 3 was!? I’m done with this idiot, they yell. And you have every right to yell those things and more, sure, but I don’t know what else to say. It’s true. I kind of liked this season more than the others. It could be a variety of things: for one, and this is a shallow reason, the series began to air in widescreen — and I immediately like widescreen things more than fullscreen ones; it could be that I had such low expectations; it could be that I was able to watch on my own pace and therefore didn’t feel obligated to analyze everything; it could be that it’s just actually good. Who knows? But the truth is that I liked it. I knew I kind of would in the beginning when Buffy said two amazing lines: “Do they have an introduction to the modern blurb?” and “How do you get to be renowned? I mean, like, do you have to be nowned first?” (Also, I loved the Big Bad this episode and was kind of upset she didn’t stick around… ugh…)

Everyone sort of faults this season for being extremely different than the others. This happens a lot with shows that transition from high school to college, understandably, because the dynamics change so drastically. I can understand how that didn’t bode well when watching week after week, and I remember being a bit frustrated with the backseat Xander took and how little they gave him and Giles to do, but when you watch it all together, the way the season brings the emotion those characters bottled up, it all executes itself very well towards the end of their arcs. And I definitely liked that more than the previous seasons. (Let’s not get ridiculous here. Season 1 is awful. Season 2 had one good thing: Angelus. And Season 3 was all about “Doppelgangland.” Well, that’s how I view those seasons, anyway.) Mostly though, given my current age and situation, I very much could relate to the change from high school to college life and how you begin drifting away from people you’re not forced to see every, single day. Because that’s a real thing. And I don’t know how young some of the people that will read this post are, but college is when you begin to realize that you have to put in effort to maintain relationships. And it doesn’t matter whether you’re the Scoobies fighting off the forces of evil or just a normal human being, but friendships aren’t always effortless — and it certainly doesn’t mean they’re not worth hanging on to, it just means that sometimes they need a little work so that everyone’s satisfied. It may be that that is not a strong enough arc for some of the audience, but it was certainly relatable to me.

Of course this season had its looowww moments. Why was “Beer Bad” ever a thing? Oh, goodness. (Even then I kind of enjoyed it in a ridiculous way.) And Adam was still not a good Big Bad (they never are), but it is what it is. Spike still didn’t live up to any of the hype for me, though I liked him more. (Actually my like for Angel skyrocketed once he left, if you’re wondering. More on that later, I guess.) Riley was just okay, and so on.

And there were some high moments, including: some amazing episodes (next point); Willow and Tara’s storyline, there was so much sexual tension between them from the first scene (even my sister walked by during a random episode and said “are they girlfriends?” it was THAT palpable); Xander and Anya, who knew that Xander and Cordelia could be matched, guys!? WHO!??!!!; Giles’ personal life; and psycho Psych teacher dying AMAZINGLY. Plus, many more.

Season 4’s best episodes

Okay, so my favorite part about season 4 is the overall emotional arc, if we were to boil it down. But individually, here’s what I think are the better episodes of the season. In order of airdate:

“Fear, Itself”

I know everyone clamors about “Hush” like it’s the second coming, but my absolute favorite episodes of the season is actually this Halloween one. Yeah, I know, “‘Hush’ is the best thing since slicebread and yadda yadda yadda,” but I wasn’t really expecting this episode…and I certainly wasn’t expecting it to be this good, or even this brilliant. “Real size.” Bahaha! You are amazing Buffy, don’t ever change. What I love about this show is, and maybe some people think this is a bit lazy, how it showcases everyone’s insecurities quite perfectly through dream sequences or hallucinations, just like the season one episode and the finale of this season too. “Fear, Itself” was no exception.

In this episode, we get a peek into what everyone is fearing about this time in their respective lives, and it propels many of the emotional arcs leading into the season finale. Once again, I think this might be something audiences could better appreciate when you watch the season in a shorter span of time rather than over eight or so months, as is the norm. Maybe that’s just me.

Also, I just really loved its complete whackiness.

“Something Blue”

Yes, even another episode before “Hush” that I think is good. Can you blame me for loving one of the most hilarious episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer? Uh, no. I don’t think you can! Admit it, this episode is one of the best things that has ever happened. Also, I’m sure there are some Buffy/Spike shippers out there that got a field day out of this. If Tumblr were around during Buffy‘s heyday, it would have shutdown.

So, yes, this episode was hilarious which I’m a sucker for, but more importantly, it showcased just how strong Willow’s powers have evolved. And even more importantly, how Willow’s mostly innocent thoughts could have an impact on the physical world around her. The beginning of this season dealt with Willow flirting with that possible dark side of her own self, and as she grows even stronger with her magic it will be interesting to see where the show takes it.

“Hush”

Also known as the most overhyped episode of anything ever in the universe. But, you know, with good reason. Supposedly this episode was crafted out of a dream (or nightmare?) Joss Whedon had — what a regular Stephanie Meyer. Ah ha ha, how many people just cursed me out?

Anyway, there’s no reason to reiterate why this is an amazing episode. You all know those reasons. It was scary, it was daring, it was funny, and so on. It was also the episode in which it became excruciatingly clear how little Buffy had her mom (and her friends) in mind. Her excuse? The college campus is five miles away. NOT A WHOLE FIVE MILES THAT’S SO FAR. What? I guess that’s exceedingly far in the small town of Sunnydale. (Especially for a freshman college student who doesn’t drive. Don’t worry, Buffs, it took me until sophomore year too.)

To reiterate, that whole not-seeing-her-mom thing was a good way to ramp up towards the end of the season. But I think it was a bit farfetched that Buffy wouldn’t see if her mom was okay when everyone’s voices were taken away and some monster was ripping people’s hearts out. It’s almost like the writers forgot themselves.

“Who Are You?”

And once again, the second part of a two-parter is the best. Not to say that the first part wasn’t great, it kind of really was. And I had this newfound admiration for the Faith character that I didn’t really appreciate until “This Year’s It Girl.” Buffy has this way of doing that with storylines, where they wait a long time to bring something up and sort of restructure it as a huge shift in someone’s character. It’s a gimmick, but it’s one that really works with the series quite well.

There are plenty of reasons to love this episode. You can see the clear differences between two slayers and how their nurturing created two different entities. (For the most part, Buffy officially quitting her slayer duties was moot for this season…in that, it had no impact on the storyline; it was almost anticlimactic.) Coming from the summer where everyone was sort of squirming about Klaus maybe-raping Caroline on The Vampire Diaries, it was a bit disorienting to see the same thing happen on this series. Yet, it went off almost like an afterthought. Once again, a clear indication of the inequalities in how gender is represented in media. But whatever. Moving on, the real reason to love this episode is actually for…

Sarah. Michelle. Effing. Gellar. Holy crap, you are perfect. Emmy for you! You go Glen Coco! No, but seriously, the writers gave SMG a challenge and she took it head on. (Ms. Dushku on the other hand… but anyway…) And what execution. The good news for her, as an actress, is that she was able to stretch a range of emotion she probably won’t get to (since I’m watching for the first time) as her Buffy character.

“You’re disgusting! You’re disgusting!” Please don’t stop being perfect. Okay.

“Superstar”

SCREW ALL OF YOU JONATHAN IS AMAZING AND SO WAS THIS EPISODE.

“Restless”

You think you know what this show is about. You haven’t even begun.

As is always with the case with magic and stories, whenever you use an excessive magical force, there are usually grave repercussions. But this episode was a bit more than just that, though I’m sure there are going to be a few consequences for awakening the spirit of The First Slayer (TFS?). For one, TFS reminds Buffy that slaying isn’t just a pastime…and it’s certainly not something you do for recreation with your friends — an intriguingly important theme of this season (if not the series as a whole), where we’ve seen Buffy beat the odds in that department. She’s completely determined to socialize. Kendra was all by the books. And Faith was too detached to allow those connections to take over in any which way. (It even spooks her when she sleeps with Riley.)

More so, besides once again showcasing every characters’ insecurities perfectly (nice shout out to Willow’s all-the-world’s-a-stage fears) as I do love, it’s as if the series is letting you know to not get too comfortable. By now you think that this series is just Big Bad versus The Slayer year in and year out, but there’s something lying underneath…and it will be unleashed, whatever that is, and when it comes, it certainly isn’t about people against people. It’s about these characters fighting the demons within. It also just so happens to be that there are demons outwardly as well.

The mind boggles: did people think about the show in those terms back when it was originally airing? A lot of what I think makes Buffy kind of great is after you watch it, you begin to think back about the series. Though first-watching is great too, I imagine that going back to watch after having analyzed it is even better. Anyway, I await season five!

All the stupid, little things I notice

I actually forgot a few that I wanted to mention. But here goes:

The Riley/Maggie connection

HOW WAS PROFESSOR WALSH NEVER REVEALED AS RILEY’S ACTUAL MOTHER? What in the world? What a missed opportunity! They look exactly the same. Don’t even lie about this.

Seriously, seriously, at one point I was expecting them to be revealed as the exact same person. These ARE the same people. You can’t make me think otherwise. This is the same person playing two different parts.

Sex

What is WITH this show and sex? When Buffy and Angel first go at it: he turns extremely evil. Xander loses his virginity to someone who could not care less. Buffy dips her toes in again, and that guy is a douche. She tries with Riley but — oh, look — Maggie is recording her and then tries to kill her! WHAT? And then when you think all the “Sex Is Awful” stuff is over, Riley gets sexually assaulted by Faith. Phew! Done, right?

Nope. Then there’s a sex incubus of some kind that’s sucking their souls because of kids who were deprived years ago by some crazy abstinence nut. NOT EVEN ABSTINENCE CAN SAVE YOU.

More reasons why Buffy the Vampire Slayer is actually Mean Girls. We’ve already discussed this.

A few words about Angel

Going into this series, I didn’t really know what to expect… especially since I didn’t really think all that highly of the Angel character back on Buffy. However, I was actually pleasantly surprised by what I found. Both Angel and Buffy decidedly axed one of its series regulars pretty early on in the season and then replaced him with someone else. I don’t know if it was a creative decision in terms of chemistry within the cast or in terms of storyline, but it definitely worked out for the better on Angel. (Buffy‘s another story, in which I probably would have preferred Oz to Spike. Then again, the trade off is Tara, so who knows?)

The point being that I really enjoyed Angel. I found it easier to get into (whatever that means), more so than BTVS. In fact, at times I kind of dreaded going back to Buffy and wanted to stay in the realm of Angel a lot longer. Overall, I don’t think the arc of the season (especially including The Powers That Be) was as strong as it could be, but then again I think the same thing with every Buffy season. Those arcs always fall flat, and individual episodes make up for it. However, there’s no one Angel episode (at least in season 1) that I’ll ever remember per sé. It’s not like with BTVS where I can probably go “I love ‘The Wish’!” But there’s something with Angel that’s a lot more fluid while still retaining some of Buffy‘s charm. Some. Thank goodness to Cordelia for that.

I know that it’s going to transition from monster of the week into a more serialized show, and I’m all for that, but I’m a bit hesitant because that’s sort of both of these series’ weaker aspects.

Also, what is WITH that flashy transition thing? It’s not working on Scandal and it’s not working here. The only show this has ever worked on is Ghost Whisperer and it didn’t even work there.

Concluding thoughts

Well first, sorry it took so long and that I didn’t caption anything. And second, thanks for making me watch Buffy. I basically wanted to bang this one out because I want to watch season 5 and didn’t want to forget anything. I’m thinking maybe I won’t do season 5 as a whole and will review a couple at a time.

Buffy season 4 is one of those seasons that was very apparent in how much it was trying to slap together this huge shift. But I think, overall, that sort of worked in its favor as a happy accident. In my humble opinion, there’s nothing more important on this show than the connections all these characters share together. And sure Adam was literally killing people, but he’s boring. What was much more impactful was the fact that the relationship between these people was hanging by a thread. In the long run, that’s truly what redeemed this season for me. I can understand that week by week, there may have been plenty of duds which may have fatigued the audience, but in my mind that arc really made it worthwhile.

Plus, I just block out the bad stuff.

Until next time rewatchers! (Thanks for reading!)

Tags: | Categories: Television
About the author: Michael Collado
Michael Collado
Mike's a television junkie located in Miami, where he spends all of his time watching TV with his best friends couch and cable access.

Posts from around the web:
  • Lavender

    Thank god, I knew I wasn’t crazy about Riley and Maggie. They are like the same person ! :O

  • Kminei

    Love your reviews so much! Season fives big bad will finally live up to the hype. Glory is everything you could want and more! Also they axed Doyle in Angel because his alcoholism was effecting his ability to act and appear on screen. He sadly died not too many years after this. Any thoughts on the ep I will remember you? I still can’t watch it. Too many feels!

    Season five is my fav of btvs so I’m excited to see what you think of it!

    • http://nowhitenoise.com/ Michael Collado

      Oh, wow. Now I feel awful for saying that the show was better. That’s incredibly sad :c I had no idea.

      About “I Will Remember You,” can you believe that I DIDN’T hate Buffy and Angel here? You know how melodramatic they always are and how I despise that… but I kind of really like that episode for its big theatrics in that sense. However, something sort of rubs me the wrong way about it. It obviously didn’t do anything for Buffy (besides allowing her to be with Angel completely, but then again she never remembered) and I don’t feel like it affected Angel (the series) that much either, except for introducing us to TPTB. There are a couple of later episodes that also do the whole “Angel could beat the curse” thing and he frustratingly refuses.

      But I get that’s sort of the point, that Angel is willing to sacrifice his happiness for the greater good as it’s a recurring theme throughout the season… even if it’s that sulkiness that sort of bores me.

      Now I’m excited to watch season 5! A Big Bad that lives up to the hype!? WHOA! (And thank you!)

      • http://twitter.com/kassievondra Kassie Vondra

        Imagine if Cordelia was an evil bitch. That’s Glory.

        • http://nowhitenoise.com/ Michael Collado

          This is everything I have ever wanted.

      • InvestedInYourFuture

        IWRY is pretty much a look-back at Buffy/Angel showcasing on why it will never work : Its not because Angel’s a vampire and Buffy’s a slayer. Its because of who they are as people. Angel is a stubborn egoist hellbent on getting “redemption” as some sort of reward for all the messianic crap and even as human, he chooses the same path.

        I agree that it does not do anything new for both characters, but its a nice epilogue to their pairing.

  • http://twitter.com/emhig Emily Higgins

    You reminded me of my incredible love for Who Are You and Something Blue. So fun, so good. You’ve redeemed season 4 in my eyes quite a bit!

  • InvestedInYourFuture

    . Season 4 is probably the season I’ve enjoyed the most thus far.

    You are not alone in that.

    People who think that the s4 is awful, do so because they look at it separately from teh rest of the show, while its clearly not meant to be viewed as such its an Interlude of sorts that relies on already established events of first three seasons to revisit all of that and to drive home that that period of their lives is over. Its a chance to re-establish every character(especially Willow, bless Willow’s character development here) for the things to come.

    its also great to see that your favorite episodes of the season are exactly what I consider highpoints of S4.

    Fear Itself is brilliant exploration of character weaknesses(Buffy’s fear of abandonment, Willow’s fear of herself, Oz fear of his own dark side, Xander’s fear of his own worthlessness and so on). Also just as a trivia – the house used in Fear Itself is the same house that the first season of American Horror Story is set in. No wonder it seemed familiar to me.

    This Year’s Girl” The whole four(?) Parter is possibly the best thing ever for me, because it explores both characters of Buffy and Faith in very meta kind of way, exploring the similarities and differences between them, showcasing the lighter side of faith and her hope for redemption, as well as darker side of Buffy that might as well be her downfall. The Angel part of the four parter is also an interesting parallel between Faith and Angel, which also clearly establishes Buffy and Angel as separate characters as they came head to head for their ideals. Its also friggin nice that Buffy and Faith did not just “make up and be happy” like some other shows would do.

    Restless holy crap the most perfect episode. Frankly, the only thing that means NOTHING in the episode is the Cheese Man. Everything else has importance for both the past, present and future of the buffyverse. And its frankly episode that is recommended to be revisited after finishing the show. Except a lot of what happens in Restless to make A LOT of sense(even though quite bizarre sense) along the way.

    —————————————————

    Sarah. Michelle. Effing. Gellar. Holy crap, you are perfect. Emmy for you!

    welcome to the club of thousands of disgruntled people(including me) who think that SMG got majorly snubbed for her buffy work.

    The mind boggles: did people think about the show in those terms back when it was originally airing?
    At first nope. But it was quite clear that there’s something underneath the surface ever since the S3 finale – since it was the first implication of something hidden, with Faith, in buffy’s dream having this dialogue:
    Buffy: There’s something I must do.
    Faith: Yeah. Miles To Go. Little Miss Muffet counting down from 7 – 3 – 0
    (interestingly the 7 – 3 – 0 is also referenced in Restless, as Buffy’s dream starts with her waking up to clock showing 7:30)

    That was first in-your-face sign of something grander, preplanned, mapped out. However there are other bits in the show in all of the seasons that gain a new sense once it all unfolds. All I can say is that Whedon is a cruel, cruel, cruel man.

    • InvestedInYourFuture

      And I do agree with your final thoughts about S4 and how the “Season plot” sort of took the back-stage for the sake of characters. IMO, it was really needed as some shows like to lose themselves into plots and twists, forgetting the characters themselves and the road they walked.

      S4 re-establishing characters, their bonds, etc and developing them is something that is pretty much just-in-time, imo, especially considering the Actions-and-Consequences narrative of the latter three seasons.

  • InvestedInYourFuture

    As for Angel – Season Two is possibly my favorite season of that show. Its something VERY different from the first season and works great in parallel to the ongoing storyline of Buffy S5 as both shows that season essentially play around the similar themes.

    For me, in terms of greatness, its:
    BTVS S7 = S6 = S5 > S3 > S4 > S2 > S1
    ATS S2 > S3 = S5 > S1 > S4

  • http://twitter.com/jennyad Jen Dickson

    “…there’s something lying underneath…and it will be unleashed, whatever
    that is, and when it comes, it certainly isn’t about people against
    people. It’s about these characters fighting the demons within. It also
    just so happens to be that there are demons outwardly as well.” PROPHETIC.

    I love certain episodes of season 4, it is the general plot of the season that I find forgettable, so your comments actually fall in line with my view of the season as well. Also, SUPERSTAR IS ONE OF MY FAVORITES TOO AND JONATHAN IS AMAZING.

    Sometimes I feel bad that you hear so much hype before you watch episodes. Like, if you can imagine the reaction to watching Hush without expecting it to be anything special, yeah, you turn around and tell everyone OMG BEST EPISODE EVER because it’s different and the baddies are beyond creepy. Anyway, I hope you post about your re-watch more often, always fun to read. :D

  • Jamie

    So glad that someone else appreciates Something Blue, one of my favorite episodes. When Xander wants to be blind too… so funny.

    I also appreciate your analysis of season 4 as a whole. I think that the high school to college transition on TV can be a killer and instead of shying away from it, BTVS embraced it and made it the central theme of the season. While I love seasons 2 & 3… I actually think the show got better every year (and more intense, and more likely to make me cry), and season 7 is actually my favorite.

  • Blackwanwb

    I agree with everything but Beer Bad truly funny episode and one Buffy gets revenge on Parker

  • Monikos

    I actually enjoy season 4 more than 3. I think it was a lot funnier and I love Tara, she is the sweetest girl ever. but yeah Adam is the worst!

  • M

    I’m so happy to see this update! Stay the course, friend. I can’t guarantee anything about the series as a whole except FEELS. You will have them.

  • http://twitter.com/drewann drewann

    You and all of this are fantastic. Thank you. I stumbled across looking for a certain Buffy screencap and found your much better screencaps and fantastic commentary instead. I watched this show for the first time ever a few months ago, and am now planning to catch up with you to join in the rewatch fun.

  • Angel

    I totally agree about Season 4 being great, but you failed to mention one of my all-time favorite Buffy episodes, my all-time favorite Angel episode, and one of my all-time favorite lines.

    “A New Man”: Ethan Rayne returns, Giles turns into a Fyarl demon, Giles/Spike chemistry, Dramatic Irony… so good.

    “I Will Remember You”: I guess you have to be a Buffy/Angel shipper or at least have some appreciation for Angel as a character to enjoy this. Again, DRAMATIC IRONY. Angel is character that is incredibly burdened by his memories and this is never illustrated better than him having to tell Buffy to leave, having just been in her arms, while she has forgotten the whole thing. BROODING 4 LYFE

    And the best line, from “Who Are You”… “And you have a girlfriend named Olivia, and you haven’t had a job since we blew up the school, which is valid, lifestyle-wise. I mean, it’s not like you’re a slacker-type, but… Oh, oh! When I had psychic power, I heard my mom think that you were like a stevedore during sex. Do you want me to continue?” … “What’s a stevedore?”