‘Buffy The Vampire Slayer’: Season 4 Review

This is such an amazing promo cast picture that perfectly encapsulates 1999/2000.

This is such an amazing promo cast picture that perfectly encapsulates 1999/2000.

One of my favourite TV show things is when high school based shows reach the point, usually indeed around season 4, where they realize they can’t really just keep them in high school forever. High school shows are perfect fodder for shows because they’re easy situatio-wise in a place where all these people congregate for the majority of the day, there’s endless stories to mine and it’s really just a simple framework all the way around. But, enter college where someone can go theoretically wherever the hell they want, as opposed to be the junior/high school of the city they were born into. So, thus begins the TV show’s job of pushing characters into college, but somehow making them not separate into the furthest reaches of the world, because, you know, we still got a show to run here and character dynamics and all that. And this all leads to the anti-climactic thing that always happens where they just go “ehhh, screw it let’s just pretend their dream has always been to go to the closest school from where they are now.”

So, thus Buffy and Willow are now college students! And Xander, well, he supposedly goes off to travel and is unsuccessful in mining anything from that as Xander of course was, just prolonging his classic “I have no clue what I want to do with my life/have no clue what to do for college, so let’s just pretend I’ve always wanted to travel and that’ll fulfill me with meaning!” Anyways, Xander comes back and literally just hangs out the whole season with no explanation given to what he’s does with his day-to-day life. Well, I guess, he does begin to date a demon, because that’s literally all he seems to care about, and good for him I guess!

Anyways, this season! I was looking forward to Buffy and Willow tackling the new and exciting and cliche challenges of college, but that didn’t really happen. It was basically just like the seasons before, with a new backdrop that they didn’t really utilize all that often or separate from their high school experience. I love when these shows make the move to college, because it usually frees up the characters, makes things a bit looser and allows just a general freedom that usually cuts out the extraneous bits from the earlier season. I know this show’s about slaying vampires and such, but I kinda expected some “damn, keeping up with college-level school work while killing vampires is so hard” or “man, isn’t all these new things like partying, alcohol, drugs, sex free from the shadow of parents so cool!” storylines, but instead it never really was a major referential part of the season. There is some early stuff in the beginning, like Willow’s weird roommate, and stuff with a professor between Buffy that didn’t really go anywhere and was wrapped up pretty early.

The main crux of the season flows through Buffy’s newest dude crush, because of course Buffy can’t go a few feet without falling for some guy, even though she always claims it’s not really the life for her hence her occupation. But, anyway, the prototypical college dude Riley, a somehow worse name than Angel, enters the mix who is eventually discovered to be part of a secret group called The Initiative, a group with a hidden base under the college campus who kills and studies demons. Yes, it’s an amazing revelation when they reveal this big government organization operating under the college run by this normal looking professor who looks like everybody’s mom with her Abercrombie model doing these military-esque demon hits for her. Amazing. Of course, stuff goes up in smoke, and their big test subject demon/cyborg thing turns on everybody and destroys everything until Buffy and crew are there to make the save.

One of the organizations doings is taking in Spike, implementing him with a microchip preventing him from killing humans, and essentially neutering him. Now I was psyched to get to see more Spike at first, he’s a great villain who is a nice foil for Buffy and the gang, has a great look, and is genuinely funny and has a well-developed character. But, nope, he just hangs out on the fringe of the season and lounges around like a college kid and cracks jokes about whatever and wallows in his inability to harm Buffy and co. He gets to do a bit more as the season progresses with helping out Buffy’s side, but he seemed grossly misused and I realize he wasn’t the focal point of the season, but I hope he gets some more meatier stuff to do in the future seasons.

Also, Willow’s not going to end up with Xander! Thank god for her. I had read accidentally somewhere that Willow would become/realize she was a lesbian, and I wasn’t sure if I misread things, but I’m glad I didn’t, as this seems something perfectly in-line with her and her character. Also, yeah, her ending up with Xander would be horrible in retrospective given how awful he treats her/shuns her when you really break things down. Anyways, Willow meets Tara, another witch, and they bond adorably over their spell-castings and slowly realize what their feelings toward each other means and it’s a really organic and mature way things just unfold. I also can’t imagine these types of storyline were all that prominent or done around 2000, where nowadays there’s gay relationships and storylines on every show it seems. I just hope they don’t exploit it or anything, but I highly doubt they would given how they treated it here.

Ultimately this season was pretty fine all the way around, definitely a step down from the last few seasons, but not by any huge margin. This season just seemed kind of fruitless and didn’t really advance, change or develop things all that much in any overall sense. Almost like it was a stop gap of things, rerooting the tenants of the show with Angel leaving and moving to a new location, even if it was treated like any other season, really. Riley basically just becomes the Angel of the season, Buffy’s new addiction and dude who always drives her into deeper troubles in both her emotional sense and killing demon sense. I’ve always loved Buffy’s internal conflict of having to be a vampire killer contesting with her own personal life as an eigtheen-year-old girl having to deal with what normally life throws at a maturing woman at that age, and add in the multiplier of college, I thought it’d be ripe for that examination, but nothing happened on that end, to its detriment, I think. I’m hoping this was just a treading of the water of a season, and things pick up with an overall driving force that doesn’t feel so contained as this season did as the show pushes on to the latter half of its run.

As you can probably tell I decided to not alternate back-and-forth with Angel and what a glorious decision that was. I don’t think I could’ve kept up with that, as it’s taking me longer and longer to get through these seasons (not the show’s fault, just me) and I really don’t care about the minuscule crossovers, although I do hear Cordelia is on Angel and damn I miss her so much.

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