Oct 1 2012 1:00pm

Buffy the Vampire Slayer Rewatch: Spike Vs. Spy

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The Initiative

Hallowe'en's over, Giles and Xander are feeling as though the Slayer doesn't need them and Willow has discovered an endless black hole of heartbreak and despair as “The Initiative” begins. How fun! But all is not lost, because not only is Buffy done being obsessed with Parker, all praise to the Hellmouth and its belchings, but suddenly we find out that Riley has friends! Friends who have figured out that our boy from Iowa feels major love-interest type emotions for a certain special chosen one. In the spirit of bro-hood, they have decided to help him along with his raging case of denial on that subject.

Forest and Graham are on the scene, in other words. The former is an especially welcome sight, because he's the Initiative... Initiator?... who brings the funny. And I suspect we can all agree that the funny is often S4's big saving grace.

After Buffy destroys the campus yogurt dispenser and Riley tells the guys that really, he just kinda finds her peculiar, Spike awakens in a secret underground lair. You would think this would be a good thing from his point of view, but alas, it's not his underground lair. It's clean, for one thing and booze-deficient. It's the government's, for another. They've got white-walled cells, nifty electrical zap doors, ceiling-enabled blood deliveries and wicked science-y plans aplenty. His next door neighbor tells him the blood is drugged, and the humans do experiments on them.

Spike thinks this over and, except for incorrectly deducing that Buffy is the one behind his incarceration, comes up with the answer anyone would: this seriously bites.

Over in psych class, Willow is continuing her meltdown as she discovers that Oz has actually dropped out of school. Maggie Walsh doesn't care—she's got vampires to vivisect, after all, and homework to assign. Buffy calls her on being mean and Riley puts all this charming spunkiness down to her being one peculiar freshman.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The Initiative

And he may be right, because she's also a freshman who has decided that dragging Willow to a party is a good idea. (As Willow's done this to her at least once, it's fair on paper. But, really, does this ever work on heartbroken introverted nerds?) Since she's on cheer-up duty, Buffy assigns patrol to Xander and Giles. See, guys, you're needed! It's all cool! We see them prepping. We also see Xander has lost some of his two-years-ago soldier skills. Apparently if you don't practice, you forget how to assemble an assault rifle.

Graham and Forest, being masters of manipulation, take on the incredibly tough task of getting Parker to say something insensitive about Buffy in Riley's presence. Despite having recently apologized to the woman herself—because she saved his darned skin!—Parker gleefully obliges with an extremely crass remark. Riley punches him so hard he knocks loose an epiphany. Gosh! Could it be that... is it possible... could he maybe like her?

(Had this occurred today, one can only imagine the OMG Finally! #mybestbudissuchatool Tweets from Forest. Feel free to do better than this.)

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The Initiative

In other words, I'm not feeling as though Riley is having one of those days where, were he the vamp in the clean underground lair, he'd be up to enacting a clever and successful escape plan. Fortunately for Spike, he's got more going on above his shoulders than hair gel. He's smarter than your average caged vampire, and the government security measures. He gets loose, and flees.

It's saying something that even though she's been steamrollered by love, the best scenes in “The Initiative” are all Willow. There's the one where Riley comes to her for dating-Buffy advice, and she asks if they're going to leave each other a “broken, hollow mockery of the human condition.” Doug Petrie's dialog is incredible in this episode, and the scene manages to be sad and funny at the same time. Willow relents, gives Riley a few tips, denies being his accomplice, and then completely buys into the scheme. The woman just can't help matchmaking.

Spike, having escaped from the clean underground lair, makes for the cobwebby, Harmony-infested one. She's happy for about as long as it takes her to work out that he's still obsessed with Buffy. Then she sends him packing, which is admirable. She didn't survive high school, but she managed a bit of personal growth after death. Is that a good thing?

At the same time, partying is in progress. Riley has apparently gotten into his house's impounded supply of So You Wanna Be A Caveman beer. He is nervous. He can't dance. He says wacky barely-coherent things and entirely fails to make an impression on Buffy.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The Initiative

By now Xander and Harmony have had an epic, silly slap fight, and fought each other to a draw. Once again she retreats and proves to be of some bizarre worth to the Scoobies, inadvertently, by revealing that Spike's looking for Buffy. Xander comes running with the newsflash, interrupting the party and possibly saving Riley from further embarassment.

This is convenient, because Spike's escape means Riley has to bail on the party, too. And so we get the big reveal: Riley, Forest and Graham have the keys to the ominous white elevator of death! They are, in fact, brawny Initiative underlings to Mad Scientist Maggie's coat-wearing, monster-making, misguided Boss Lady of Death. They've got a huge hide-out, and a very mighty and intrusive orchestral soundtrack.

As the next scenes unfold, the dialog continues to rock: Xander fits in a little jealousy about his friend's new Teutonic boytoy, and the Initiatrio stumbles upon Buffy, hunting, and gets into an argument about using, as Riley puts it, “... the girl I have a crush on as bait?”

(And right there, we get the first glimmer of Buffy-resentment from Forest, when Riley pulls rank and says no to that plan.)

The soon to be lovebirds end up trying to divert each other from their chosen hunting spot on campus. Spike who has better things to do than hang out in the open waiting to get staked or tasered, looks up the Slayer's room number in the campus address book and goes after Willow. Ouch! Try again. Ouch!

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The Initiative

This leads to the second awesome Willow scene of the night, when she consoles Spike about his sudden inability to suck the blood of the living. (It's awesome squared, really, because this is the second time Willow's consoled Mister The Bloody after he's assaulted and scared the crap out of her in a scene with sexual overtones. And a bed.)

After that, it's all melee and wrap-up. The Initiatrio and assorted armed minions come after Spike. Buffy and a badly-deployed smoke grenade save his bacon. Everyone runs in opposite directions, and Mad Scientist Maggie is deeply unimpressed.

There is an upside though, at least from the government's perspective: Spike can't eat people anymore.

And, speaking of eating, it's almost time for turkey.


A.M. Dellamonica has two novelettes up here on 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 October, watch for her novelette, “Wild Things,” that ties into the world of her award winning novel Indigo Springs and its sequel, Blue Magic.

john mullen
1. johntheirishmongol
A couple of things I loved about this episode was the whole Riley being all tongue-tied and silly about Buffy, and the Spike performance issues. Willow was all 'it's me, isn't it' and Spike was being reassuring. And with this, it pretty much sets up Spike for most of the rest of the series, so that he can be a regular and not be all about killing Buffy all the time. It was pretty brilliant solution to getting him on the series, without having to stretch any more as to why someone wasn't killed.
Emma Rosloff
2. emmarosloff
The scene between Spike and Willow is one of my favorites in this entire season. I love how she's so disconsolate that she even manages to make Spike's "failure to perform" her fault, and he has to reassure her that she's "totally biteable", by going onto describe this fuzzy pink sweater she once wore that he particularly liked.

The fact she seems delighted that he even noticed -- priceless! Only in Buffy could I believe that this kind of conversation could happen, and that Willow, in her dampened state, could even go out on a limb and suggest that they "wait a little awhile, and then maybe try again" (sexual inuendo abound), before coming to her senses and knocking him over the head with a lamp.

I was just continuously impressed with how much I believed James Marsters, every step of the way. It's tough to be kooky, terrifying and pathetic all in the same moment. And he seems to carry that strange, multi-tiered dichotomy throughout, constantly revealing new layers of himself that would emerge and then peel away at the drop of a hat. He was just captivating.

As clunky as the Initiative storyline could feel at times (although it was fun to discover that the government had some knowledge of the supernatural -- that made sense), the chip was a stroke of genius, in my mind. It forces Spike to start relying on the people around him, something he's never, ever had to do, and I really liked that Buffy felt like she couldn't kill him because it wouldn't be a fair fight. It was her sense of honor, and ultimately her belief that even a vampire could change for the better that brought Spike through the series to the point where he would play a crucial role in destroying the Hellmouth.

As far as Riley goes, I was kind of bored with him at first, and in retrospect think it's kind of hilarious that I dismissed him as a potential love interest because he was so "vanilla", but I suppose my gut instinct was right, in the end. However, he scored huge points when he punched Parker in the face. Just a classy move, all around. And I love that him and Buffy play the same role in this episode -- Protector -- as hard as he tries to do the old-fashioned thing and "keep her safe".

There was some really good conflict underneath the surface as their relationship progressed, though. The fact that Riley had a hard time with her being stronger than him spoke to his inbred masculinity, and the fact that Buffy just wasn't content with a man so simple and pure spoke to her inherent infatuation for men who were also monsters. I thought, if nothing else, that their relationship really solidified who they both were as people, even as it came apart.

But I'm totally getting ahead of myself! This episode was a nice big reveal. Finally, we get some solid plot. And with Spike back in the mix for good, it just gets better from here.
3. Cybersnark
I remember hoping at the time that "Parker gets hit in the head" would become a running joke. Alas, he escaped without further cranial trauma.
4. Gardner Dozois
At last, an episode that isn't a wheel-spinner, in terms of the overall season arc. The Initiative storyline really gets fully underway here, and although I suspected for several episodes that Riley was going to turn out to be Buffy's Love Interest for the season, it was good to see that there was going to be more to the character than just that, and that he had a Secret Life of his own--it also sets up, for awhile, an interesting Love Triange of sorts between Buffy, Riley, and Professor Walsh, with both of them competing for Riley's loyalty, and which will end with Riley having to choose between them. The Initiative wasn't my favorite Big Bad, but the season had been floundering around a bit, trying to find something to pull everything together now that they didn't have high school as a focus anymore, and the Initiative served that purpose well enough.

The episode also features the first steps into integrating Spike into the show as an eventual good guy rather than a Big Bad, an audacious twist that to a large degree depended on James Marster's ability to make it convincing every step of the way. Putting the chip in Spike's head was a stroke of genius, that enabled them to have Spike interacting closely with the Scoobies without having to explain why he wasn't trying to kill them.

And of course, although it wasn't as funny overall as a few of the earlier episodes had been, there are the two brilliant comic scenes between Willow and Spike, particularly the "performance anxiety" scene where they take turns reassuring each other and which leads to the wonderfully absurd and twistedly funny line of Willow urging him to wait a little while and try again (to kill her!)
Michael Ikeda
5. mikeda
From what I recall of the DVD commentary this was the episode where Alyson assumed that Joss had written a certain sequence (from context, some portion of the Willow/Spike scene), so she told Joss how great it was.

Except that the sequence in question really HAD been written by the writer of record (Doug Petrie).
Alyx Dellamonica
6. AMDellamonica
It's hard to imagine any other actor pulling off Spike--the range required is enormous, as you're all pointing out. JM did an incredible job with it.

The chip was as good a way as any to defang Spike and better than giving him a soul at this early point in his change.
7. Barb27
"It's tough to be kooky, terrifying and pathetic all in the same moment." Props to emmarosloff for summing up James' Marster's strenghths in portraying Spike. This is the character work that made me buy Season Six as my first "Buffyverse" purchase.
Elizabeth Barnett
8. denelian
and where has he gone? i haven't seen Marsters in much anymore...

the Inititive was one of my most favorite things in the Buffyverse - all these LOCAL problems, in this day and age, would not go unnoticed... even if it *seemed* like no one cared, they *would* be noticed. it was damned nice to see SOMETHING, even if it was a Bad Guy, that showed the world outside.
and to lots of us, the government often seems to be as much of a Bad Guy as High School, so it made sense, and gave the idea, over the seasons, of government working against itself sort of a retro-y cold war vibe, and so awesome for background setup of stuff... it was REALLY useful for the season 8 comics...

and it all started here. heh.
john mullen
9. johntheirishmongol
@8 denelian

Marsters has stayed quite busy, with recurring roles in Smallville and Hawaii 5-0. You can always check IMDb but he has worked regularly ever since Buffy.
10. Gardner Dozois
He also did at least one guest shot on TORCHWOOD, but mostly he's done recurring roles as a villain, although he was killed off after his second or third appearance on HAWAII 5-O. As far as I know, he's yet to gain a steady continuous role on anything, like the actor who played Angel did on BONES and the actor who played Willow did on HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER. He's worked steadily, but considering his ability as an actor, it's not unfair to say he's been somewhat underused.
Emma Rosloff
11. emmarosloff
I checked his IMDB profile out of curiosity, too, and saw that he'd had bit roles on Syfy's WAREHOUSE 13 and CAPRICA.

I completely agree though, that given his talent, it's a shame he hasn't landed another reoccuring role in something. I saw that he had some kind of supporting role in the movie "PS, I Love You", but it didn't seem that monumental. His profile did mention that he's a musician though, and that he's gone on several tours, and that's been his life in more recent years. So that's pretty cool.
Alyx Dellamonica
12. AMDellamonica
Yeah, it'd be nice to see him as a regular in a very different role!
Elizabeth Barnett
13. denelian
it was mostly me whining - i don't watch TV anymore.

i know, i know - the horror! but... Buffy and Angel were both excellent, and after that... it seems like everytime i'd get into a show, it would either get canceled or go way WAY downhill [i'm looking at you, Heros! and BSG, what HAPPENED?! sheesh]

i'm at Tor for the books, in general - but Buffy holds my heart in a way that most TV never managed. *shrug*
Emma Rosloff
14. emmarosloff
denelian -- I totally feel you, even though I only watched through Buffy just recently. I don't watch a lot of TV these days, and I always have to get into a new show with a guarded heart, because most of my favorites have been cancelled long before their time. It was so wonderful to get 7 seasons of Buffy. Although watching Buffy only made the fact of Firefly's cancellation all the more heartbreaking to me (If I had seen Buffy first, sat back and thought to myself: "What else would I like to see this writer do?" Firefly would've been it. Exactly. Space Opera is my favorite genre).

I have this fantasy where I get rich and start a network for the revival of all beloved shows. I also have this fantasy where the third book in my trilogy (not yet written) becomes a movie, and James Marsters plays the villain. He could well be rounding 60 by then, but my villain's an older man at the end there, anyway.

A girl can most certainly dream.
15. Gardner Dozois
Actually, much as I like BUFFY (most of it--the last season sucks), the Golden Age of Television is probably NOW--although a lot of it isn't SF or fantasy, and for most of it you have to have cable, particularly HBO, there are some terrific shows on now: GAME OF THRONES, BOARDWALK EMPIRE, TRUE BLOOD, JUSTIFIED, THE NEWSROOM...
Jack Flynn
16. JackofMidworld
I saw James Marsters at a comic convention in Philly a few years ago and he's brilliant IRL, too, funny, friendly, and very, very charismatic. When he opened the floor for audience questions, I had expected that the first one would be about BtVS but nope - first question was which kiss was better - Buffy or Captain Jack Harkness. Crowd went a little nuts at the question and it only got better when he picked Captain Jack!!
17. Dr. Thanatos
Just finished my 1.5 year rewatch of the entire run of Buffy.

Gardner, I have to respectfully disagree; I liked season 7 although my personal favorite, I think, is 5: The Year of the Imaginary Sister. 4 was perhaps the dullest for me but I really liked this episode because of the interplay between Willow and Spike. I would also like to see more of James Marsters especially if someone would give him free rein to have as much fun with the character as he obviously did with Spike. Or Spoyke, as Dru would say...
Elizabeth Barnett
18. denelian
emmarosloff, you're sitting in my head, aren't? or my heart...

if you say so... i couldn't enjoy Game of Thrones as a book series, TOO dark for me, there's a line. as for Trueblood - the books are ok, i admit the show seemed to be better, but the woman playing Sookie just wasn't right and the guy playing Bill was actually painful for me to watch. everyone ELSE was freaking AWESOME, but those 2... *shudder*. i don't know anything about those other shows - but i was reading about new shows, and all i could see was a BADBADOMGKILLITWITHFIRENOW!!! version of S.M. Stirling's Dies The Fire series , an okay looking version of Green Arrow but i'm a Marvel Girl, and the one about the nuclear sub... the last being the only one i'd watch, and i can't see how they'd get a full SEASON, let alone a longer series...
books. i LIKE books. no commercials. no waiting every week for 30 pages of plot. i can take it as fast or as slow as i want, and everyone looks exactly how i want them to, and NO COMMERCIALS lol
i do watch stuff on netflix and/or Hulu, but... meh. most of it just doesn't really work for me, and the stuff i DO like tends to go away

Marsters - i saw him at GenCon right before season 7, and he was hilarious; he said "look, i'm going to tell you everything i did last week, and you STILL won't be able to guess ANY of the plot! keep up, now" and went off on a 5 minute rant/spoken word that was just breathtaking, had the entire 2000 person audience in stitches, and was SO FAST! he's a native of Northern CA, like me, and i think i was one of the only people to understand everything.
he really should be a big big huge movie star... le sigh
Alyx Dellamonica
19. AMDellamonica
The evolution of dramatic TV is a convo in and of itself, Gardner, and I'm with you on loving some of the things the cable networks are producing. (I have a recurring feature on my own blog called Telewitterings wherein I bibble about whatever I'm watching.)

We'll have to hope someone gives Marsters another plum role one day. It's sort of interesting that he isn't in any other Joss stuff, isn't it? Anyone know why?
Elizabeth Barnett
20. denelian
well, what else was there, after Angel?
IIRC, he was busy for Firefly. i don't know why not for Doll House - unless his music is going that well? i confess, i sort of quit paying attention to music when i stop being a KJ, so...?

he would have been awesome as someone funny in Avengers - not a main role, those were taken, but... ah, well.
Constance Sublette
21. Zorra
I hope you all don't mind me coming in so late: Monday was spent traveling to and back from Liverpool's International Slavery Museum, and Tuesday traveling from Heathrow to JFK, and Wednesday being a zombie, and yesterdy trying to get back regular life.

I too wish Marsters had a terrific role in something television. His timing is so exact -- so he may well be an excellent musician as well. Anthony Head works all the time in UK television things, and it's enjoyable watching him -- he manages to erase Giles almost all the time, even when on occasion employing a classic Giles gesture, as in that comedy series featuring four hapless male friends looking or not looking for love, and he stands in front a mirror, preening his hair. He's made a good Uther in Adventures of Young Merlin too.

I don 't get that same pleasure though watching SMG reprising Buffy in Ringer, which is streaming currently from netflix. She's aged out of Buffy, and what was a charming pout that managed to be played with a suggestion of irony on Buffy, just doesn't work for a woman who is now 35. Among the many problems with that show is that nobody, including herself, seemed to be sure what age she's supposed to be playing. Nobody seems to be quite the age they should be, except, maybe, the stepdaughter -- while her father doesn't seem old enough to have a 17-year-old daughter.

Love, C.
22. Gardner Dozois
Although they can't, of course, match the kind of Big Special Effects they can afford in the movies, I really do think that in terms of intelligent, well-written drama, the cable shows are actually BEATING most of the movies out these days. Some of the shows, like GAME OF THRONES and BOARDWALK EMPIRE, do a wonderful job with set-dressing and costuming too, especially when you consider that they're working with immensely less money. BOARDWALK EMPIRE does some amazing green screen work with recreating the look of Atlantic City in the 20s with virtual sets, making it almost impossible to tell where the real leaves off and the virtual begins.

As for Whedon not hiring Marsters for any other projects, maybe there's bad blood between them. You'll notice that you haven't seen Sarah Michelle Geller in any other Whedon projects either, and I knowt that there was bad blood between them at the end.
Alyx Dellamonica
23. AMDellamonica
I tried to like Ringer: I like the look of Ioan Gruffyd, though I'm starting to wonder if maybe he can't actually act very well.

You may be right about the bad blood, Gardner. It certainly stands out when JW doesn't reuse an actor.

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