Tuesday, 29 November 2011
BUFFY: 4.07 ‘THE INITIATIVE’
Xander and Harmony’s pathetic fight. Heh.
WRITER: Doug Petrie
DIRECTOR: James A Contner
WHAT’S THE SITCH?
Spike, zapped unconscious at the start of the previous episode, wakes up in a white, sterile cell. He soon discovers he’s a prisoner, along with other supernatural types, in a secret government facility beneath Sunnydale and is destined for study and eventual vivisection. Naturally Big Bad wants out. And being a cunning badass he soon escapes. Meanwhile Buffy is helping Willow deal with Oz’s leaving, while Riley discovers to his surprise that he has feelings for Buffy and decides to try and “court” her. Buffy and Willow attend a party at Riley’s frat house where Riley attempts awkward conversation with Buffy before being urgently called away by his pals. Buffy is also called away urgently by Xander, who tells her that Spike is back in town and gunning for her. Back to the frat house and we soon discover that Riley is actually Agent Finn and he and his frat buddies are in fact the masked commandos seen sneaking around town this season. Riley and co. work for the secret government organisation that captured Spike. And Professor Walsh is the one in charge. We follow the boys down underground beneath their frat house where the huge hi tech headquarters of ‘The Initiative’ is revealed with its cells and its labs and its soldiers with laser guns. Professor Walsh tells Riley, who is the head soldier, that Hostile 17 (Spike) has escaped and needs to be tracked down and recaptured. Riley and his men suit up and head out on a Spike hunt. Meanwhile Spike has found out where Buffy now lives. He goes to her dorm surprising a morose Willow. Annoyed to find Buffy not there, Spike comforts himself by attacking poor defenceless Willow instead.
WHAT’S THE SITCH BENEATH THE SITCH?
This is the episode that kicks the season’s main plot and theme in to gear. The plot is The Initiative and its plans to capture, study and use demons (or ‘subterrestrials’) for possible government applications. The theme is the clash of science and magic and how the two don’t play well together. The underlying theme I guess is about nature and primal forces (represented here by magic) and its continual clash with the ever increasing power of science and human invention and development. There is also the theme of human arrogance, thinking we know everything and then bumbling our way in to places and situations we find we can’t properly handle. Perhaps a bit of a comment on western foreign policy too? Though this was made pre the Iraq and Afghanistan invasions.
WHO’S GIVING US THE WIGGINS THIS WEEK?
Spike and The Initiative
WHY IT ROCKS
The script. Regular writer Doug Petrie delivers a mighty fine smorgasbord of a tale crammed full of drama, action, comedy, pathos, action, comedy, more action, more comedy, and plot twists. And he juggles it all perfectly. He also delivers one of THE best scenes of the entire season with the Spike and Willow dorm room scene. Pure genius. Only on Buffy.
The direction. James A Contner is, according to Doug Petrie in his episode commentary, the go to guy on Buffy for action. And he does a great job here. Spike’s escape from The Initiative is visually cool and pretty darn exciting. And the end corridor fight in the dorm is simply brilliant! But Contner also delivers big time with the comedy. This episode juggles multiple styles and tones often in the same scene. Great stuff!
Spike. James Marsters gets added to the main title credits and delivers a fangtastic performance. He’s the bad guy of the episode but he is also heroic in his cool James Bondian escape from The Initiative. He just radiates uber-cool badass before turning horrifically evil when attacking poor Willow in her room, which then, after the scary cliffhanger act break, leads directly in to one of the best and funniest scenes of the entire season.
The Spike can’t perform scene. Spike attacks Willow in a horrifically savage way, all frenzied hand held camera style. But when we come back to the scene we find a dejected Spike sat on the end of Willow’s bed, Willow unharmed and consoling him because he can’t bite her. Due to her post-Oz state she even takes it personally thinking Spike’s inability to perform is because he didn’t really want her anyway, to which Spike then consoles her by saying he’s always liked her and would bite her in a second if he could. It’s a wonderfully written scene performed with such bizarre warmth and humour by James Marsters and Alyson Hannigan. Moving from pure frenzied horror one moment to warmly hilarious the next is no mean feat. But this is partly why Buffy the Vampire Slayer works so well as a show. It isn’t just one thing. It straddles multiple genres and styles. It’s horror, comedy, romance, action, drama, teen angst, scifi etc. sometimes all in the one scene. And it works.
Nasty Parker gets knocked the f*%k out! Riley, hearing Parker Abrams make an especially crude and unkind joke at Buffy’s expense, punches the guy, knocking him out cold. The punch is as much a shock to Riley as it is to everyone else. It is then that he realises he has feelings for this rather “peculiar” girl. Nice one Agent Finn.
The Initiative HQ. We get the big reveal of the huge underground HQ in this episode. And it’s quite something. We get the gleaming white cells plus the central command and experimentation area. It’s huge and full of scientists and soldiers and high tech equipment. It looks fab. Very James Bond.
The Xander vs. Harmony fight. Xander, coming across Harmony in the woods, faces off with the upset (dumped again by Spike) vamp. The pair then engages in what is the saddest most pathetic fight ever. And it is hilarious. The director shoots it as if it is an epic fight between titans, using wide shots, close ups and even dramatic slow mo with a soaring score underneath. The truth is it is two people wrestling badly, slapping, kicking, hair pulling, and generally making a hash up of a fight. It ends with the pair agreeing to separate and go their own ways both highly embarrassed. Genius!
The end fight. The big showdown in Buffy’s dorm is great. It’s a threeway battle between Buffy, a bunch of Initiative commandos (including Riley) and Spike…all done in the dark and with gas from an exploded fire extinguisher and smoke from a flare gun. Thus Buffy can’t see Riley properly (he’s masked anyway) and Riley can’t see Buffy due to the darkness and the smoke. But the fight is big and wonderfully staged and directed and edited, taking place down a long dorm hallway. There’s even a cool Matrix homage with Buffy and the flare gun. “Dodge THIS!” Heh.
WHY IT SUCKS
Spike and his implanted chip. Nothing against the chip itself, it’s a great plot device used to neuter the poor lad and stop him from hurting people. Only problem is, in this episode he is clearly hitting people and fighting after he gets chipped while also not being able to bite Willow. It is clearly stated that the chip is working and stops him from hurting any human. Joss admitted right after the episode aired that they dropped the ball here. It simply shouldn’t have happened. Spike should NOT have been filmed fighting and hurting any humans. It was an error, something that was missed.
The Spike and Willow ‘bedroom’ scene. Poor Spike.
DIALOGUE TO DIE FOR
Spike (about Buffy): "I always worried what would happen when that bitch got some funding."
Buffy (coming to Willow’s defence after Prof. Walsh lays in to her): "You know for someone who teaches human behaviour, you might try showing some."
Prof. Walsh: "It's not my job to coddle my students."
Buffy: "You're right. A human being in pain has nothing to do with your job." (walks away)
Forrest: “Check her out. Is she hot, or is she hot?”
Riley: “She's Buffy.”
Buffy: “Now if you'll excuse me, I need go find something slutty to wear tonight.”
Spike: “I don't understand. This sort of thing's never happened to me before.”
Willow: “Maybe you were nervous.”
Spike: “I felt all right when I started. Let's try again.”
(He tries to bite her, but he can't do it.)
Spike: “Damn it!”
Willow: “Maybe you're trying too hard. Doesn't this happen to every vampire?”
Spike: “Not to me, it doesn't!”
Willow: “It's me, isn't it?”
Spike: “What are you talking about?”
Willow: “Well, you came looking for Buffy, then settled. You didn't want to bite me, I just happened to be around.”
Willow: “I know I'm not the kind of girl vamps like to sink their teeth into. It's always like, 'Oh, you're like a sister to me,' or, 'Oh, you're such a good friend.'”
Spike: “Don't be ridiculous. I'd bite you in a heartbeat.”
Spike: “Thought about it.”
Spike: “Remember last year? You had on that fuzzy pink number with the lilac underneath.” (Gives her a sexy look.)
Willow: “I never would have guessed. You played the bloodlust kinda cool.”
Spike: “Mmmm. I hate being obvious. Being all fangy and 'Rrrr.' Takes the mystery out.”
Willow: “But if you could...”
Spike: “If I could, yeah.”
Willow: “You know, this doesn't make you any less terrifying.”
Spike: “Don't patronise me! (Paces around the room.) I'm only a hundred and twenty-six!”
Willow: “You're being too hard on yourself. Why don't we wait a half an hour and try again? (Makes a funny face, coming to her senses.) Or... (She grabs a lamp and whacks him over the head.)
AND ANOTHER THING
The Initiative HQ was actually filmed at Skunkworks in California where the US Airforce Stealth Bombers were built. Hence it looks huge and suitably high tech.
Doug Petrie in his commentary states that the main touchstones for this episode were James Bond movies, the classic British TV show The Prisoner (of which he and Joss are huge fans – see the big white balls hanging around The Initiative HQ as a homage) and The Matrix. Plus a bunch of classic rom com movies.
James Marsters has been added to the opening credits.
Seth Green's name has been taken out of the opening credits.
It is in this episode that we finally discover that Oz's real name is Daniel Osbourne.
HOW MANY STAKES?
Take the Initiative. 4.5 (out of 5)