Mon
Oct 29 2012 1:00pm

Buffy the Vampire Slayer Rewatch: You Say Potato, I Say Doomed

Buffy the Vampire Slayer Rewatch on Tor.com: Doomed

At first glance—at second glance, even—“Doomed” is largely about the BuffRiley relationship. The two start right there after the end of “Hush,” after all, picking up where they left off. It’s an exchange of truths: she’s a Slayer, he’s an Initiadude, and boy is Buffy bummed about having another beau with superpowers, not to mention super-responsibilities.

Her misgivings are only enhanced when there’s an earthquake and Riley’s response is all, “Yay, what a ride!”

The real meat of this episode, though, is less about romance and more about emotional security, optimism and faith. (Small “F” there, alas.)

Spike, for example, is having something of a crisis of the above. His accommodations have been downgraded from the classy Chez Giles couch to the basement of Casa Harris. I think we can agree it’s sad when you’re technically underground and yet a crypt would be more chic. 

So he’s a hundred years old or so, he’s grown accustomed to thinking of himself as a badass, and now Spike’s being told to do housework for what may be the first time in his entire existence. “Earn your keep or you don’t get kept,” Xander tells him.

It’s starting to sink in that he’s harmless, helpless, and dependent on others.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer Rewatch on Tor.com: Doomed

At the same time, the top-secret nature of the Riley gig puts Buffy in this weird position where the thing her whole team is investigating is suddenly something she feels obliged to hide from them. She’s therefore denied the opportunity to go get a bracing reality check from Willow on the subject of Riley. Without some good BFF-ly advice, she’s freaking out about how she totally has to call the whole relationship off.

To make matters worse, Giles is in hot pursuit of clues about Mad Scientist Maggie and the location of her secret lair. He has maps and pins and valid theories! Buffy tries to distract him with end of days predictions about recent events: “The last time we had an earthquake, I died!”

But thinking about Buffy dead is way less fun than thinking about secret underground army science lairs, so Giles poo-poos this. It’s cute and a little funny, but deep down Buffy’s not really joking. She’s in full glass-half-empty mode. Riley has powers? Riley fights monsters? Only world-ending awfulness can come of this.

Down in the not as hidden as they might prefer secret Initiative base—henceforth, secretish—Riley discovers that Forest is better informed than he on some things Slayer. (Does he do more homework? If so, why isn’t he the designated class helper in Psychology? How come Forest isn’t the boss of the team?) Forest believes Slayers are the demon equivalent of the bogeyman...the thing they’re all scared of, the thing they use to threaten bad or perhaps good little monsters.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer Rewatch on Tor.com: Doomed

This is rather shaky logic, if you ask me. In a world where the mythical nasties are real, what are the chances the Slayer wouldn’t be? Who’s to say there isn’t a real Great Pumpkin or Tooth Fairy or Santa Clause in the Whedonverse?

Basically, though, there are a lot of theories floating around this episode, and everyone’s right but poor Forest. Buffy’s wild assertion about the earthquake being a harbinger of Apocalypse Number ... um... Whatever We’re On? Turns out true. Sure, she only brings it up to to divert Giles.

And how about Giles, with his maps of the Initiative base? Also right on the money! Plus he does it using geographic profiling. Which both shows that he’s awesome brainy! And that the Initiative really sort of isn’t. Get off campus a little more, guys!

As for Buffy believing a relationship with Riley will all end in tears...okay, her sleigh’s a bit before the eight tiny reindeer at this point, but we get there eventually too, don’t we?

Finally, there’s Spike. In his secret heart of unbeating hearts, he’s left to wonder if he’s become something even less impressive than William the Bloody Awful Poet. And he might just be.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer Rewatch on Tor.com: Doomed

Spike’s been in free-fall for a long time now. The failed attempts to kill Buffy, the weeks as Angelus’s wheelchair-using whipping boy and his betrayal of Drusilla were all enough to make him a significantly less credible threat than he was when he initially crashed through the Welcome to Sunnydale sign, bent on mayhem. The broken Spike of “Lover’s Walk” rallied a bit under the healing influence of quality violence. But then there was Harmony, the failure to hang onto the Gem of Amara, and now, finally, capture and chipping. He’s been victimized by science geeks. It’s not good.

Spike’s initial coping strategy is pretty much his go-to: be a jerk to someone. This backfires when Xander agrees with his unvoiced fears by saying, basically, “Yes indeed, Spike, this is exactly how pathetic you’ve become!” After a brief interlude where he flings himself at a stake and we all get a jolly yuck out of casual attempts to off yourself (this is one of those TV moments you can’t think about too much or it stops being funny, at least if you’re me) he finds Willow, ever his champion, inviting him on the latest save-the-world mission. What’s a Faux-pocalypse without a suicide watch?

Still hoping to catch a stake from one or the other of our beloved Scoobs, Spike concludes that misery loves company and kicks them both right in the insecurities. You guys are the same big losers you were in tenth grade, he tells them. Buffy’s just too nice to blow you off.

You kinda have to wish this didn’t work. His strategy’s pretty transparent. But Xander, being as he’s a no-college basement boy struggling to hold onto pizza jobs, has no reason to think things will ever go his way. And Willow has just had her belief in her own cool profoundly undermined. Earlier in the episode, she was having big social failure at a party. Then Percy the Lout—who should by rights display respect and eternal gratitude to her, forever—dissed her to some girl he was trying to impress.

I’m once again amazed by the things the writers of this season of Buffy at college chose for real-life (as opposed to monster-based) challenges for our heroes. This is another of those things that happens to almost everyone. We think we’ve grown past some old and unlovable pattern, some habit or situation that makes us think badly of ourselves. Then we hit a pocket where we’re convinced we’re right back there in the old badness. And it’s horrible! It’s terrifying for Spike, even though the old inept William is more than a century in his past. It’s terrifying for Willow to have to question whether she was only not a nerd when she was dating a musician.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer Rewatch on Tor.com: Doomed

It’s not hard to take anyone who wasn’t Prom Royalty at high school and convince them, at least for one painful moment, that they’ve made no progress at all—that they’re friendless, immature, eternally dorky and ill-dressed to boot. Spike knows this better than either Xander or Willow might guess. He’s feeling like he lost the thing that made him amazing. He decides to share the pain. Soon they’re all questioning whether they are the people they thought they were.

Buffy, by way of contrast, has a slightly different issue: she thinks a boyfriend who can keep up with her in a brawl with seeping death, vampires, tentacle monsters, The Watcher’s Council goons, Amy the rat, steroid enhanced fish-men or whatever is a fundamentally bad thing. She tells Riley that dating him would be a “huge black pit of a mistake.”

In so doing, she’s trying to avoid going back to a bad pattern of her own: the whole Angel/Angelus dynamic. Understandable enough. But what is she actually thinking? That a non-powered guy whom she’d lie to... forever? Would make for a better and more sustainable relationship?

Riley counters the pit of blackness gambit with an “I’m humming for you,” monologue, which is sweet and earnest and reasonably convincing. When that doesn’t work out, he tells her she’s being a pessimistic stupidhead. Which, you know. Maybe true.

It’s not that Buffy doesn’t believe in herself so much: she just thinks the whole world is geared to break her heart when it isn’t actively trying to kill her so very dead. The seasons to come, I would argue, bear this out. Things get sadder and sadder for our Slaygirl. At this point, it could be argued, her worldview is actually pretty upbeat.

As it always does in Sunnydale, all of this important soul-searching happens while demons who’d really like to be the ones to finally open the Hellmouth are digging up the bones of dead children (Ewww!) They’re also bashing in Giles’s head because he bought the key ingredient for their sacrifice at a garage sale. Is it too much to ask that Giles be given a vault, an electric fence, and one of those robo machine guns from the extended cut of Aliens?

Buffy the Vampire Slayer Rewatch on Tor.com: Doomed

Clearly we’ve reached the point in the story where the real demons—as opposed to the various characters’ inner ones—can’t be ignored any longer. And then, since a bunch of the show’s key peeps are asking themselves if they’re exactly who they were at fifteen, they all get to go back to high school, where the demons are making ready to fling themselves into the Hellmouth.

The school itself is a blackened shell of a metaphor. No, it’s not the same place. It’s a crumbling relic of its former horrible glory. Also, there’s Mayor meat on the floor. Again: Ewwww!

Buffy the Vampire Slayer Rewatch on Tor.com: Doomed

Combat ensues. Instead of diving into a huge black pit of a mistake, Buffy just plain leaps into the Hellmouth, head first, chasing the final demon sacrifice and Giles’s ugly necklace. Riley offers her a safety line and shows admirable follow-through by using it to haul her out. She concludes, from this, that he’s kissable after all.

Willow and Xander then find their happy through Riley too, when he totally blows his secret identity coming out of the high school with Buffy. A big display of complete social ineptitude, from a demonstrably athletic blond with muscles—well, somehow it just makes them feel better.

And Spike bounces back from his big crisis when he realizes he can fight demons. As long as he can punch something, his self-image as a dangerous guy, while tattered, remains intact enough to afford him that necessary morsel of self-respect. So “Doomed” ends with him exhorting Xander and Willow to come on out and fight evil with him.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer Rewatch on Tor.com: Doomed

Giles, perhaps fortunately, missed out on most of this angst. He just has to recover from yet another concussion. Maybe next week he’ll catch a break. Or.... maybe not!

Next: A Very Unwatcher Birthday


A.M. Dellamonica has two 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.

In November, watch for her novelette, “Wild Things,” that ties into the world of her award winning novel Indigo Springs and its sequel, Blue Magic.

11 comments
john mullen
1. johntheirishmongol
The best part was when Spike got his mojo back. He was so excited it was rather cute.

Buffy/Riley was pretty cute at this stage, but it got very sad later.
pinenut
2. pinenut
There is a Santa Claus in the Whedonverse - Anya told the Scoobies about him (that it's a myth that he's a myth) in the Christmas dinner scene at the beginning of 'The body'.
pinenut
3. Gardner Dozois
The season arc really gets completely underway in this episode--unfortunately, most of the rest of the season is not as much fun as the first part had been. The monster thread in this episode is arbitrary and meaningless, really just an excuse to get Buffy past her objections to hooking up with Riley. You've done an excellent job with the psychological implications of the rest of the episode; I really think that Spike might have eventually staked himself if he hadn't discovered that he could still beat up demons, and his enthusiasm at the end, when he's begging the rest to go out and fight Evil with him so he'll have someone to beat up, was very funny. Otherwise, except for moving the arc forward, mostly a meh episode.

Yes, considering his former job as Watcher, that he knows he lives on the Hellmouth, and the fact that monsters keep attacking him, you'd think that Giles would have better security at his place--perhaps some sort of magic warding spell, or, at the very least, an iron grating or a heavily reinforced door. This comes into play in the next episode as well.
Jack Flynn
4. JackofMidworld
Why Forest isn't the leader of the team probably has something to do with it being a military-style op. Riley may have better combat training or tactical expertise. Plenty of lower-ranking troops with bigger brains and better schooling report to higher-ranking people who don't.

This ep even continues with the whole "growing up" theme since, with Giles out cold, the Scoobies have to deal with the Hellmouth without a parental safety net, just like real life eighteen- & nineteen-year-olds..
Emma Rosloff
5. emmarosloff
Solid analysis, Alyx. While the threat of Apocalypse might be lackluster in this episode, the theme is still expertly threaded throughout. And as always, Spike steals the show for me. A lesser actor would not have been able to pull off Spike's crisis of ego; it takes a certain kind of finesse to play such a lovable asshole. While I'm not a fan of making light of suicide, either, I have to admit his attempt via stake was comical, all the moreso because he's stuck wearing Xander's goofy clothes.

I honestly think Willow's too nice to him, though... that given their history she's fully justified in leaving him to his own devices. It felt a little too much "for the sake of the plot" that she's adamant he come with, although I guess it echoes the scene where he tries to bite her (post-chip) and they have that hilarious back-and-fourth about his failure to perform.

When Spike calls them out, though... that whole scene is just priceless. Whedon at his best -- making light of such dark circumstance.

Spike: I should think you would be glad to greet the end of days. I mean neither one of you is making much of a go at it. *points to Xander* You... kids your age are going off to university and you've made it as far as the basement. And Red here... you couldn't even keep dogboy happy. I mean, you can take the loser out of highschool, but...
Willow: I see what you're doing, you're trying to get us to dust you.
Spike: Am not. I just don't want pity from geeks more useless than I am.
Willow: We're not useless! We help people... we fight the forces of evil.
Spike: Buffy fights the forces of evil. You're her groupies. She'd do just as well without you. Better I'd wager, since she wouldn't have to go about saving your hides all the time.
Xander: That is so not true! We're part of the team! She needs us.
Spike: Or... you're just the same 10th grade losers you've always been and she's too much of a softie to cut you loose.

Man, I love it. There's enough truth there for his words to hit home. And he always cuts right through the bullshit. Even at his most pathetic, he's still as sharp as ever. And he's so self-absorbed that when he finally gets his groove back he doesn't even care that he can only hurt his own kind -- he's just stoked that he can hit things again. He has enough pride that he can't stand being toothless, but not so much pride that he's bothered by his role reversal. I like that he doesn't deal in absolutes -- he'll bat for the other team if it means he gets to strut his stuff a little longer.

On the Riley side of things, I never understood why Buffy wasn't immediately relieved to find out that he was a fellow demon hunter. She made it pretty clear that she was going crazy having to lie to him all the time. It's like secret agents who try to maintain regular home lives; I've never understood how they manage... it just seems self-defeating after awhile.

As much as she might think that having a "normal" oblivious boyfriend means one less person to worry about, I would think she'd rather have someone capable at her side than a potential hostage if her enemies were ever to take advantage of the situation. If anything, Riley is perfect for her -- he's one of the good guys, but he's also a good guy... a human one, to boot. He's the closest to normal she's ever going to get in a boyfriend, so the fact that she dismisses him initially just felt daft (and again, a little too "for the sake of the plot").

But... Buffy's far from perfect. And her relationship with Riley serves to illustrate just how imperfect she is when it comes to her tastes. I always loved that Whedon was willing to go there -- that her Calling inevitably taints every aspect of her life.

One has to wonder if the epidsode's title is foreshadowing her falling out with Riley. Their relationship really is doomed.
pinenut
6. Gardner Dozois
As Spike would later say, "The girl likes a little monster in her man," and, as usual, he's right. Perhaps it was imprinting on Angel as her First Love, but she's never going to be really satisfied with a normal, average-joe boyfriend; even Riley turns out to be really too whitebread to hold her interest, in spite of being a supersoldier and a member of a secret military organization. It's part of the rather sad longing that sometimes surfaces in her for a "normal life," so that she tries to organize the perfect just-like-we're-normal-people Thanksgiving dinner, or a "normal" Prom in spite of Hellhounds lurking in the wings, or deludes herself that she can be Homecoming Queen, just like the whole Slayer destiny thing hadn't fallen on her in the first place.

Plus, keeping her Secret Identity secret from a normal boyfriend would be difficult when monsters are attacking her every five minutes...and at least Riley can defend himself when they do attack, whereas Normal Boy is much more likely to get killed.

Buffy thinking that the whole world is geared to break her heart when it isn't trying to kill her is her having a dim subconscious realization that she's a character in a Josh Whedon show. She's right!
pinenut
7. Dianthus
Another fun thing about this ep (and a good peek into Spike's inner workings) is that he actually does try to do the laundry. Sure, he screws it up (strictly for comedic value), but he recognizes that he has an obligation to be of use.
This will come up again and again as he embarks on his journey. Spike actually resuming the mantel of responsibility William wriggled out of by becoming a vampire in the first place. He'll even speak of "a boatload of manly responsibility" in s5, when Buffy entrusts him(!) with Joyce and Dawn's safety.
pinenut
8. Dianthus
As for Spike being able to beat up demons, I should think that'd be even more fun. They're meaner and uglier, after all. Spike absolutely steals (nicks?) this ep. for me.
The really bad American accent...priceless. More so when you consider JM is an American doing a fantastic British accent.
Poor Buffy...so much time wasted on guys who just aren't worthy. Of course, it's Spike who understands her best of all.
pinenut
9. Jack Byrne
Hello all.
I just discovered this terrific thread and look forward to catching up on the earlier comments as time permits. It will be a treat catching up with old (fictional) friends/fiends/assorted-others and perhaps making a few new ones of the fan variety. Might even have a thought or two to contribute (I try to have thoughts with some regularity...a hobby of sorts).
Alyx Dellamonica
11. AMDellamonica
Gardner: Buffy thinking that the whole world is geared to break her heart when it isn't trying to kill her is her having a dim subconscious realization that she's a character in a Josh Whedon show.

Bwahahahah!!!

Pinenut: I forgot about Anya outing Santa. Thank you!

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