You get Fang, I’ll get Horny. That pretty much sums up “Where the Wild Things Are,” though in fact this line is something Buffy says to Riley when they are fighting a vampire and a demon who are (gasp!) working together. This is something of a marvel, and they agree Giles should know about it, but first they have to take a little detour to the Riley rack for some romantic rompage.
This is what happens when Super-Jonathan takes it into his Super-Head to Super-glue a slightly fractured relationship. Imagine if he’d spent a day on world peace.
Spooky footage of the Eye Nisha Tivva fraternity house comes on the heels of the intimacy, and I’m suddenly but dimly reminded, in advance, of some frat house where Anya will kill a whole bunch of guys, after she redemonizes herself in the wake of a certain social disaster with you know who. This almost passes for foreshadowing, because speaking of XandAnya, guess who’s arguing within the close confines of the ice cream truck that is Xander’s latest McWorkplace? He is losing the exchange—which is about her perception that he’s become disinterested in her, or possibly impotent—by sticking his foot in his mouth.
Anya is having one of her periodic major attacks of insecurities, in other words. It all concludes with Xander shouting “hot sweaty big sex!” and tearing at his uniform… in front of a bunch of kids and their parents. I hate when that happens, don’t you?
When the gang finally gets around to investigating the whole demon-vampire alliance, Riley blames Adam for bringing the evil races together. This would be sweet, they all agree, if it wasn’t so lethal. Riley also mentions that he’s decided to have a party for his fellow Initiative-Americans, all in the spirit of building morale. He invites Giles. Giles no doubt remembers that the last time they partied together, Riley made him feel super-incredibly-ancient… just before Ethan turned him into a Fiorl demon. Thanks but no thanks, Giles says. Then he accidentally lets slip that he has plans and mentions where. He will, alas, regret this.
Next, BuffRiley remembers that they want to have some more sex. What an awesome plan! Forrest and Graham catch a bit of the moaning from the fraternity’s unnaturally cold hallway. As things heat up in the bedroom, their fireplace flares and one of the disposable Initiaguys gets nearly immolated. But actual rugburns and an absent commander are no reason not to throw a party. Darn it, the morale must go on!
Anya would rather not. She is dragging her sorrows to the Bronze, where Spike tries to give her a scare. Actually, he tries to mug her. The two begin to bond, hilariously, over their good old heydays as homicidal monsters. Anya says of Xander: “Now I can barely hurt his feelings.”
This is pretty much the basis of their relationship, in my opinion. Anya is simply too unfiltered to be with a shrinking violet.
Over at the frat party, Xander’s confiding to the group about Anya being upset. Buffy’s busy eye-boinking Riley and is so distracted that Willow confesses to having destroyed one of her sweaters. Tara helps cover for her: it’s cute beyond belief. Move in together already, you two!
Then the best thing ever happens! Because then some of the party guests find a . . . well, this is not the term we use at home, but here in this venue I’ll call it a Happy Wall. Touch it and good things happen. In your pants! Through the next series of scenes, as our heroes run back and forth, seeking apparitions, fighting momentary possession and hacking off their hair, and suffering the pangs of sinful remorse, they pass the growing crowd playing with the Happy Wall. Oh, if only the local grocery could install something like this. Or Vegas. It’d be a big hit at a casino. You’d be so relaxed when you sat down at the roulette table to lose all your worldly possessions.
Xander, having been dumped for the evening, discovers that somewhere between Cordelia and Anya he’s picked up some improved flirting chops. There’s a girl named Julie, see, who is totally picking up what he’s putting down. In fact, she out and out finds him funny. (Which leads to Xander coming perilously close to quoting Les Nessman’s immortal line: “Funny peculiar or funny ha ha?” Yes, I have a head full of similarly useful knowledge. No, I can’t change a tire or decode a DNA molecule. Do your own homework!)
Having discharged their social obligations, Buffy and Riley are catching a stairway to. . . well, to his room. To discharge other things. This, I’m sure, takes them past Happy Wall. I am almost as enchanted with the Happy Wall as I was with alternate-universe Jonathan!
Now Willow and Tara are talking horses. Nothing sexual there! Willow confesses to having had a bad birthday party pony experience. Hey, didn’t Xander once flash back to a bad clown experience from a different birthday? Were they always fated to be Scoobs, or is that just life on the Hellmouth?
Willow makes a subtle but nevertheless recognizable girl on girl romance move™ on Tara, who freaks out when they touch. Here we go again. Someone has to be possessed? Pick the shy girl! Tara is Sunnydale’s punching bag. We call that a misfire, Will. It’s not your fault, but sorry anyway.
By now, Anya and Spike have laced on their boogie shoes and turned up at the party, and Xander discovers he’s a little jealous. “Hi, Hostile Seventeen!” he chirps, when Spike makes the mistake of taunting him. Actually, it’s not that much of a mistake. The military men show their usual level of initiative under controlled party circumstances by ignoring them completely.
XandAnya ends up yelling at each other, across the dance floor, about having broken up. Xander joins a game of spin the bottle, finds himself reluctant to rebound right that second, and gets himself seriously lip-snockered by Julie. She’s so into him. Two seconds later, she’s bolting for the bathroom—past the Happy Wall!—and cutting off her hair.
Willow’s search for Tara, meanwhile, turns up a spectral preadolescent drowning in the tub. She gets a good scare, and shrieks, and Buffy and Riley almost hear her. They don’t stop what they’re doing, though. (Each other, remember? Safely, passionately, repeatedly, and with echoey voices.) Xander can’t get anyone to agree to help Julie, and Tara turns up to confirm that bad things are afoot and they should leave.
Before they can make a plan or rescue BuffRiley, there’s a sudden outbreak of jungle vegetation, followed by an earthquake. The party-goers flee the house screaming. Campus security does not show up. Spike is all too happy to see evil developing, right up until the moment when something ties him into a chair just for being sexy. Graham is the next to get possessed. Forrest drags him into the unsecret Initiative base. Forrest, you’re not supposed to use the elevator during an earthquake. Did you learn nothing from “Hush?”
After the evacuation, Xander and Anya have an argument about going in to rescue BuffRiley. (He will always go in to rescue Buffy, Anya.) There is an awesome Spike monologue where he pretends he is going to help. But no. We all howl with laughter. It is James Marsters’ latest finest moment.
So Xander attempts a rescue, the house tosses him out a second time, and they all head out to find Giles singing in a sort of boho coffee bar-type place. The girls are taken with the Rupert and his miraculous voice. Xander is creeped out both by the fact that he is singing at all and that his female friends find their mentor attractive. Giles is patently displeased to have been outed as a musician.
All of this eventually leads the Scoobies to an evil old lady who used to care for orphans in the frat house, “care for” in this case being a euphemism for abuse the heck out of the disadvantaged little sinners. Giles realizes that Buffy and Riley are powering the apparitions. From now on, whenever somebody has sex on the show, they should say “We’re just gonna go power some apparitions; catch up with you guys later.” The word poltergasm is also deployed in this scene, and that works too. “We’re headed home to feed the poltergasm. Don’t wait up.”
Or: “Hey, lover, wanna go make some vines grow in the foyer?”
Or: “Wanna make the walls shake, baby?” Oh, wait. People actually say that one.
The point I should be making is everyone is deeply unimpressed with the sweet-looking elderly decorated humanitarian, who presumably got her award from the Mayor, which should have been a tip-off right there. The Scoobies could, I feel, fruitfully investigate other Wilkins awardees. They would probably find ’hero’ firefighters who tossed babies to flame demons and hero ditchdiggers who left microorganisms in the city’s allegedly clean tapwater and Citizens of the Year with a thing for raising the dead.
With the truth revealed, WillTara and Giles do a spell to lure the not-actually-dead kids away from the house. XandAnya return to the frat to battle the vines on the staircase. Me, I’d call the Initiative and say: “Hey, we’re trying something. Head up in force with the hedge-clippers at Oh Something Hundred.”
But no, instead, there’s an epic battle between Xandanya and the house. It has a Tarzan and Jane look to it, to my eye, because of the foliage and the way the two of them are clinging to each other. Anya saves Xander and gets her hand seriously punctured. Xander almost loses an eye. (Is that foreshadowing?) They are very heroic, these two, and I love them for it, and in time they battle their way through all the evil everything and burst in on BuffRiley. Who are all, “Don’t you knock? We’re stoking the mystic forces here!”
Along the way, Xander and Anya also rekindle their own feelings of sweet, sweet love.
It’s not really the point of “Where the Wild Things Are,” but the events of this episode nail down the most important thing about Buffy’s relationship with Riley. It’s vanilla, yes, but it goes on awhile, and they have sex on a regular basis. This episode represents the very beginning of the one period where the Slayer gets to go home regularly to a certain spesh Someone and cuddle up for what’s left of the night.
A lot of things in the Sunnydale period of Buffy’s life are pretty damned tragic. But despite the ultimate failure of her relationship with Riley, it’s important and a wholly positive thing that she gets to have a sustained period of together with anyone. Angel was a one-night disaster. Parker creeped and fizzled. Faith’s interference threatened to make this Strike Three, sexually, and we all know what’s coming in Buffy’s next relationship. Without Riley—without months on end of Riley, without still together in S5 of BtVS Riley, she would never have had that taste of extended couplehood.
The part of becoming a grown-up that’s tied—for many of us, anyway—in having a steady, intimate relationship comes, for Buffy, from this romance. To that, I can only say Go Riley Go! Just, you know, have your house exorcised first.
Next: Return to Oz
A.M. Dellamonica has three novelettes up here on Tor.com. Her ‘baby werewolf has two mommies,’ story, “The Cage,” made the Locus Recommended Reading List for 2010. There’s also “Among the Silvering Herd,” the first of a series of stories called The Gales.