Nov 5 2012 2:00pm

Buffy the Vampire Slayer Rewatch: Where the Giles Things Are

A rewatch of Buffy the Vampire Slayer season 4 episode: A New Man

Despite the almost overwhelming odds against her survival, Buffy has turned nineteen. Has it really been a year since Giles took her powers offline and helped the Watcher’s Council try to kill her? It seems like only yesterday.

This year, instead of suffering unimaginable horrors at the hands of a loved one, she’s celebrating by smacking lips with Riley. Things are getting pretty steamy when Willow turns up with tales of fire-breathing monsters, interrupting the smutty fun in service of luring the Slayer out to a surprise party.

And, really, given that Angel turned to Angelus after having the birthday sex, this may be for the best. Buffy was sure to make the connection at an inappropriate moment.

The party of far more than two is a convivial gathering for everyone except Giles. Maybe he’s finally working off the karma for the events of “Helpless,” but there are all these new young people about, and none of them owes him a tardy library book or the faintest morsel of respect. Anya is up front, as always, about being bored by one of his stories. And when Buffy introduces him to Riley—oops, Giles didn’t even know she was dating!—Iowa promptly asks if he’s retired.

We’re not meant to miss that Giles is feeling old, old, so very old. Also unloved, ill-informed, and disconnected from his raison d’etre, fighting ancient paranormal evils in the tradition-steeped magical fashion of his forebears. (Or, sometimes, with axes and other medieval weaponry). Buffy tactfully sends Riley in search of cake and then piles on some insensitivity of her own, telling Giles that Mad Scientist Maggie is the smartest person she knows and, unlike him, probably has friends her own age. Ouch.

A rewatch of Buffy the Vampire Slayer season 4 episode: A New Man

Speaking of venerable Englishmen, we learn next day that Spike is feeling well enough to get back into the wild. Now that he can beat up other demons, he sees no reason why he can’t leave Xander’s basement behind him. He’s looking for a nice crypt so he can set up on his own.

In the no-time between episodes, Riley has disabused Maggie of the notion that Slayers are mythical woodland creatures. He’s set up a meet between his two favorite women. “We can learn much from each other!” Maggie says. (This will turn out to be not very true at all.)

She goes on to brag about how Riley has killed eleven vampires and six demons. Against her will, Buffy is obliged to embarrass her beau in front of his boss by quoting some of her own kill stats. She makes up for it later, though, with some very gracious flirting.

As all this is happening, Giles realizes that some demon prince with the unfortunate name of Barvain is scheduled to rise and wreak some havoc, Hellmouth style. Heading out in search of Buffy, he instead finds Maggie. This is a little odd, but we’ll go with it. They have a little verbal duel, wherein she expresses her opinion that Buffy’s lacking a strong father figure and then scowls all over Giles having called her a girl rather than a woman.

A rewatch of Buffy the Vampire Slayer season 4 episode: A New Man

Giles, not surprisingly, takes offence. He’s in an extra-special mood by the time Barvain stands them all up at the crypt. Willow and Xander then tell him the Initiative probably took care of our friend Barv.

(Did they? Nobody ever gets back to this. Did Adam end up with Barvain bones?)

Buffy’s been distracted, see. The prospect of getting to maybe have sex soon, regularly, with someone who isn’t soulless or a weasel, made her forget to tell Giles that Riley is one of the commandos, and that Professor Walsh is in charge of the whole demon-splicing operation under campus.

On the upside, Ethan’s hanging out in Barvain’s tomb.

(Why? Are they friends? Was he going to help with the raising?)

I shouldn’t care, I know, and Giles so doesn’t either. He’s so happy about the prospect of beating on his obvious slash interest that he lets himself be lured out for drinkies and intel.

Robin Sachs has so much delightful, wicked, sleaze-oozing charm as Ethan Rayne. You have to love a villain, however minor, who revels in his evil. It’s enough to make one wish he’d been in even more episodes. By way of delaying the inevitable collision of his teeth and Giles’ knuckles, he divulges some lukewarm intel: something’s harming Sunnydale’s unique wildlife specimens and it’s not their fate-appointed game warden.

Giles, naturally, is all “Blah blah bladeeblah, I know this, can I hit you now?”

A rewatch of Buffy the Vampire Slayer season 4 episode: A New Man

Ethan counters with the mysterious mantra of demon fear: 314. They’re scared of a number! One that, but for a decimal point, could be pi! Eeek!

(Okay, and who told him this? Was it a psychic, like Dru? Or is Spike not the only Initiative escapee? Does Ethan have a fake login on a demon discussion forum?) 

Alcohol is the rocket fuel that launches any decent pity party, and Giles isn’t sure the Initiative is truly a bad thing. He’s feeling washed up and ineffective, a relic of times gone by. “I’m an unemployed librarian with a tendency to get knocked on the head,” he whinges. He boozes it up with Ethan while BuffRiley explores new horizons of intimacy by whaling on each other—Riley loses—and WillTara tries floating a rose so they can rip off its precious little petals—the rose comes off pretty badly too. Which date has the sexiest sexual overtones? You tell me.

A rewatch of Buffy the Vampire Slayer season 4 episode: A New Man

Morning comes. Giles has one demon of a hangover. I’d been waiting for this transformation since the episode started and this latest time around, it seems like we waited forever to see Tony Head break out in monsterflesh. But now, yay, it’s happened! He’s superstrong, super-hideous and smashing up his apartment. He flees to Xander, hoping for help, and not realizing he’s no longer speaking American.

So, naturally, Xander freaks out.

The Scoobies go racing to Casa Giles in search of desperately needed facts that will help them fight the evil. Instead they find signs of a struggle and a mashed telephone. Anya says what they’re all thinking: “I think it ate him up.”

Why don’t Willow and Xander suspect Barvain? I mean, the last they heard, everything’s all “Here comes Barvain, woe unto us all!” And then Giles, whom they left in a crypt to do what? Fight Barvain if he showed, right? Is missing. I’d draw that conclusion.

Okay, yes, Xander saw the demon, but he’s a soldier type. They go as far as theorizing that someone summoned or hired him.

Luckily—sort of—for Giles, Spike happens to speak Fiorl. He agrees to help track down Ethan for two hundred bucks. It’s a race: Team U.S.A., as represented by the Initiative, is helping Buffy track down clues at the magic shop (Hi, the Magic Shop! Looking forward to seeing more of you!) The British, meanwhile, are doing the gumshoe thing, checking with a waitress Ethan hit on the night before.

As FiorlGiles and Spike putter toward Ethan’s hotel in Giles’s sometimes-running and about-to-be-mashed car, Giles is battling his inner Fiorl, struggling against a mindless need to destroy. His rigid self-discipline works pretty well right up until the moment when he decides to chase Mad Scientist Maggie out of a coffee shop.

A rewatch of Buffy the Vampire Slayer season 4 episode: A New Man

Go Giles! We all laughed. Who wouldn’t watch that scene repeatedly? Did anyone out there like Maggie?

The chase morphs into a brawl at the Sunnydale Motor Inn, where Ethan’s plotting his escape—but not fast enough to actually get away. Punches are thrown, furniture smashed, and Buffy stabs FiorlGiles with an allegedly silver letter opener before realizing—from the look of “Oh, this is bloody perfect, isn’t it?” in his exasperated eyes—that it’s him.

Take that, Maggie! The woman knows a father figure when she stabs one.

A rewatch of Buffy the Vampire Slayer season 4 episode: A New Man

Ethan is made to restore Giles, cough up an allegedly unattractive shirt for him—I thought he looked quite spiffy, myself—and go with the Initiators. Riley makes a big point to Buffy that he’s all into alpha women and does not feel threatened by her immense strength and tendency to kill twenty times as many demons as he before breakfast. This is very terrific of him, and also pretty much necessary if they’re going to be in a relationship. It’s not Riley the Hostile Capturer, after all.

Buffy then takes her immense strength (of character, in this case) over to Casa Giles and apologizes most fervently to Giles for having kept him out of the loop. He takes the opportunity, while he’s got her attention, to offer some sage dad-figure counsel about the Initiative.

Speaking of whom, Maggie’s getting essentially the same warning, about Buffy, from a minion. She gives him the yes, yes, yawnorama, treatment before heading off into room 314 (OMG!) to work some more on her monster scrapbooking project.

“A New Man” is full of fun, laughs and lots of romp, plus perhaps some plot holes, but it carries a decent amount of infrastructure for the season four BtVS story arc. All of Team Buffy knows about the Initiative, by its end. And the government types have been told about Buffy, too. We see how all-encompassing their federally-funded reach is: Riley has keys to all the businesses in Sunnydale, for example, and the Initiative monitors local 911 calls. Old-timey magic and the warrior chosen by fate are suddenly contrasted with the few, the proud, the covered in camo. Should Slayage be modernized? This is the question posed by the Initiative. It’s a good one.

The tensions pushing the Scoobies in opposite directions land squarely on Giles in this episode, and they’re so believable: his role in the kids’ lives is strange and tenuous, not to mention hard to explain to outsiders. He’s been pushed to the periphery of their existence in some very real ways; it’s an awkward situation, and nobody’s at fault, but there’s no easy answer either.

Finally, we are also treated to a few careful reminders that Spike is chipped, not converted. He tells Xander he’s evil as he’s stealing a radio from the basement, and he sets that cash price on aiding Giles. Defanged he may be, but he’s nothing like a hero yet.

Next: Did anyone else think Maggie would last a little longer?

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

1. edgewalker81
MAybe you should put what episode you are writing about somewhere in the article. Or even what season. Might help.
2. Kirshy
Agree with @edgewalker81. You used to put the titles of the episodes in each post. Did you just forget this time?

I enjoy these recaps immensly but it would be nice if you did what the ST:TNG, and Farscape rewatches do by clearly putting the episode name, writer, directer, and airing date at the top.
Jack Flynn
3. JackofMidworld
A New Man” is full of fun, laughs and lots of romp, plus perhaps some plot holes, but it carries a decent amount of infrastructure for the season four BtVS story arc.

Ask and ye shall receive.
4. RobinM
This is one of my favorite episodes once Giles is transformed. It makes me laugh everytime I see it.
john mullen
5. johntheirishmongol
I don't think anyone liked Maggie. She was such a know it all bitch and I think she had a little thing for Riley too. At least I caught a hint of that a couple of times. I think she was jealous of what Buffy could do and the fact she didn't need years of study and gov't funding to do it.

Beating Ethan up is always a good idea.

I think it was this episode that Giles figures out he has to do something else and since the Magic Shop was for sale (estate sale? cheap!!) it worked out well. It also provided a great reason to keep Giles around and relevant. I suppose they could have made him a prof in the university but that would have been more restricting.
6. Gardner Dozois
This was the last of the really funny episodes of the season, and may even be one of the last of the real comic episodes of the whole series. After this point, the mood of the season, and, indeed of the whole remaining series, darkened considerably, and I sometimes wonder if there was a behind-the-scenes change in showrunners at some level that explains the change in mood. The first half of this season was remarkable for having some of the best comic episodes of the series, and this one deserves to be ranked among them, with some very funny stuff; Giles and Spike make great comic foils for each other.

Yes, Ethan was a great villain, and played especially well against Giles, and I'm sorry this was his last appearance. Kept hoping he'd come back, but he didn't.

Think it was a bit much that Buffy could recognize it was Giles by the look in his eyes--this is an important foreshadowing of Riley later not being able to recognize Faith in Buffy's body...although I think that's a lot unfair, especially as they were in the middle of fucking, and Riley had not reason not to think it was Buffy, or even that it COULD be someone else in Buffy's body. Nevertheless, fair or not, it was another nail in the coffin of the Buffy/Riley relationship.

Yes, there was definitely a bit of an Oedipal love-triangle going on with Professor Walsh, Riley, and Buffy, with her and Buffy both viaing for Riley's loyalty in many ways. As we'll see later, Professor Walsh abruptly vanishes, and I've always wondered if that's the way the season was originally written, or if the actress had to suddenly leave for some reason.
Keith DeCandido
7. krad
Gardner: there was no change in show-runner at this stage. Whedon was splitting time between Buffy and Angel as of the start of this TV season, but there was never any kind of mid-season change. In the sixth season, Marti Noxon took over more of the day-to-day of the show because Whedon was splitting time among three shows, Buffy, Angel, and Firefly. But Buffy was always ultimately Joss Whedon's baby, and he was always the show-runner.

---Keith R.A. DeCandido
8. Aeryl
Yes, Lindsay Crouse got offered a movie role I believe and had to jettison her stint on Buffy. She was supposed to hang in there til the end of the season, antagonizing Buffy and trying to sway Riley, then be killed and reanimated by Adam.

And as sad as it was Ethan never came back, could you buy the Initiative letting him go? Hell, in one thing the comics were consistent on, they still had custody of him a year and a half after Chosen. It would have strained credulity to have Ethan return after this incident.
Alyx Dellamonica
9. AMDellamonica
Edgewalker and Kirshy, I will do as you suggest. I have been having fun with the essay titles and forgetting my responsibility to clarity. Sorry. (Note, though, that it may be a few weeks before you see this change take effect. I'm up to "Superstar".)

And thank you for mentioning it.

I agree the Initiative never would have let Ethan go. That doesn't keep me from missing him . And the info on Lindsay Crouse is much appreciated, Aeryl.

Gardner, I agree that the 'recognition' thing was both important and a little clumsy in its execution.
10. Gardner Dozois
The Initiative didn't have to "let Ethan go." If Spike could escape, then certainly a magician of Ethan's ability could have too--if the scriptwriters had written it that way.

For that matter, during the chaos in the Initiative during the last episode of the season, who's to say that Ethan didn't have plenty of opportunities to slip away? They certainly could have brought him back if they'd wanted to; perhaps the actor was unavilable.

Keith, whether Whedon was ostensibly still in charge or not, I still say there was a change in mood after the middle of this season; the series darkened considerably after this, and although there would continue to be comic bits in episodes throughout the run of the series, there weren't too many episodes after this season that could really be said to be comic EPISODES.
11. NullNix
Gardner, I'd say the Great Darkening happened in late season 5, delimited by _The Body_. Before that, there were intervals of darkness (generally towards the end of seasons, e.g. late season 2 as well as late season 4) interspersed with more humorous episodes, but after _The Body_ I can't really think of any without a dark undercurrent. Early season 5 has some humorous episodes too: you can't have forgotten 'puny receptacle!'.

I suspect you are being misled by the fact that the Mayor's bouncy nature led to late season 3 having much more fun in it than is usual for the approach to a season finale (Faith stabbing and Angel poisoning notwithstanding).
12. Ide Cyan
I didn't particularly like Maggie, but I didn't find the scene of Giles chasing her funny, either, because it compounds the show's inability to have non-evil (or non-misguided) female authority figures (see also Faith's evil watcher, or the mothers in MOO) by making fun of her. Giles vs. Maggie shouldn't be a zero-sum game, and making the audience root against a woman as an authority figure and for the familiar patriarchal one really rankled.
William A.
13. General_Vagueness
KRAD, enlightening people about television wherever he goes. :)
Since he's "just" a human, I could see them considering putting Ethan Rayne in a prison instead of the Initiative itself, and given their tendency to underestimate things, I could see that happening. Heck, maybe they even deported him, with his reputation, there are probably a few things Scotland Yard would like to clear up with him, and the Watchers' Council might have a whole system for this kind of thing (as was implied when they tried to take Faith). On the other side of it, I wonder if he wound up in a program similar to the invisible girl from a few seasons ago.
Alyx Dellamonica
14. AMDellamonica
IDE! It's so good to see you here.

I would argue that while Joyce was sometimes ridiculed, there was some respect for her character. Until, you know, "The Body." But I see what you're saying, and will watch carefully to see if I can find any counter-examples. Not because I think you're wrong, so much, as that I'm hoping. Does that make sense?

Vagueness, I bet this group could come up with an awesome list of 101 things that should have but didn't befall Ethan Rayne.
Jack Flynn
15. JackofMidworld
101 things that should have but didn't befall Ethan Rayne, #1: Sent to Azkaban.
16. Ide Cyan
Alyx: hi!

I get your desire to be optimistic. However, Whedon has a problem with authority figures in general, and having established Giles as the paternal, caring exception (who loses his establishment backing because of his level of involvement -- the establishment being a greater evil), anybody else is out of luck, lest they undermine Giles's exceptionalism from the rule that authorities are bad. And that left no room for women, which worked to further emphasise *Buffy's* exceptionalism among Slayers. Joyce's positive traits were more as a nurturing figure than one of authority; either being kept in the dark about Buffy's slayerhood and misguidedly trying to control her, or knowing and having little to contribute there except support. One exception I can think of was Jenny Calendar, who briefly worked as a positive foil to Giles's authority and mentored Willow -- before being fridged specifically to hurt *Giles*.
17. Dianthus
Spike and Giles were a lot of fun together in this ep. In the commentary on s4 (IIRC), Tony Head mentioned reading scripts, hoping for interaction with James/Spike. Of course, Joss himself said something to the effect that Spike was what Giles had been, and Giles was what Spike refused to become.
Spike has barely started his journey so soon after the chipping, but the longest journey begins with a single step. I'm so glad we got to see it! I can't think of anything else like it on American broadcast television.
I also agree that Ethan could easily have slipped through The Initiative's grasp. Spike was certainly never meant to escape. The chip was only to make him easier to control.
It's a real shame science comes off so badly here. I'm used to the assault on reason (to borrow a phrase) coming from the Right, but from the Left? I guess it's more the anti-authority thing, but still.
18. Lipsha
This thread seems to be a good one, since it's the last time we see Ethan Rayne, to post about the sad passing of Robin Sachs, the delightful actor who brought this cheeky semi-villain to life.
Alyx Dellamonica
19. AMDellamonica
That is sad, Lipsha, and I didn't know. Thank you for posting the link.

Subscribe to this thread

Receive notification by email when a new comment is added. You must be a registered user to subscribe to threads.
Post a comment