In S2 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Buffy starts getting glimpses of a life where she’s not completely isolated in her role as a slayer. It begins when Kendra shows up. It’s the peculiar bonus that comes with death by drowning and resurrection at the lips of Xander. Suddenly Buffy’s not alone...
...but, as you all remember, that doesn’t last long.
The gift keeps on giving when Faith comes around. But Faith’s in a coma, now, here in S4. Upside: Faith death would be so sad! Downside: no peppy new variation on the Slayer line.
This is so crucial to the entire seven season arc. It’s Buffy’s tendency to reach out, to resist the lone wolf paradigm, that saves her life in S1. As a result, Xander puts a major crack in the rules of the Slayerverse when he brings her back from the dead. These are important steps on the path to the events of “Chosen.”
Buffy’s latest foray into monster-killing peership walks softly—sometimes. It carries a big zap-ray and a net, and comes in a promising number of hypothetically replaceable units, all dressed in tasteful matching fatigues. And, as usual, the getting-to-know-you process involves their all going out at night in search of dark scary things.
There was a brief stretch, last year, when Faith crowded out the Scoobies, especially Willow. Now the Initiative is doing the same, devouring Buffy time and energy that might otherwise go to her best buds. So “The I in Team” opens with Willow, Xander and Anya futzing at poker without her, feeling the lack and worrying about all the things they don’t know about Buffy’s new play group.
These are reasonable concerns, in their way, but Buffy isn’t as reckless as they all fear. She’s learning about the big government operation, bit by bit. For starters, she’s learning that a bunch of them are no match for her. She’s out playing hide and seek with the Initiatrio and assorted extras, kicking their hineys bigtime. Riley thinks this is the sexiest thing he’s ever seen. Forest kind of thinks it sucks, but nobody’s paying attention to Forest. (He should really be off moping and playing poker with WillXanAnya.)
And Mad Scientist Maggie fails to take the results of this initial field test and plug them into some kind of realistic math on how difficult Buffy might be to kill.
(Hint, Maggie: way hard!)
But I’m getting ahead of myself. The credits roll and a new day dawns, and we get Willow and Buffy at the Rocket Cafe, breakfasting. There are amusing jokes about spanking and Willow nudges Buffy about her obligations to the Scoobies. They have Bronze plans, despite the lack of Oz to lure them there with Dingo concerts. Buffy’s in agreement. She says she misses her friends.
And what about her librarian shaped friend? Giles is checking out the new tomb of Spike. It’s not a housewarming: he’s come to thank him for the assist, back when he was all transformed, by Ethan, into a Fiorl demon. Spike’s less interested in the debt of gratitude than the $300 U.S. he was promised in exchange for his pseudo-altruism. (If I were Giles, I’d have taken car repairs out of the total.)
This Brit versus Brit interaction is mostly in service of establishing that Spike thinks he’s done with the gang. “Don’t come running back to me,” he says. “The honeymoon is over!” Hmm. Is that foreshadowing we hear? Or just an empty boast?
It turns out that while Buffy has been playing tackle tag with the boys in green, she’s also been waiting to get cleared to see the Initiative’s increasingly unsekrit base. She’s suitably impressed with its hugeness. “Do you have jet packs?” she asks. Riley is gratified.
(Imagine a Slayer with a jetpack. Imagine non-comatose Faith with a jetpack! Oh, the places she’d go!)
Okay, back to what actually happened: Tara has gotten up the courage to offer Willow a gift, a very pretty and kinda sexy doll’s eye crystal. Willow turns it down—it’s heirloomy—and then has to blow her off when Tara gets up even more nerve and asks her over. I hate seeing Tara so much as stung, but what’s cool about this scene is that Willow knows full well what she’s doing, and feels bad about it, and even tries to be as gentle as possible. She totally wants to play with Tara’s crystal, if you get my drift, but not if it’s going to cost her precious Buffy time.
Sadly, it isn’t. Buffy’s late getting to the Bronze, and she’s got the whole burly boy team with her when she arrives. There’s barely enough time for Willow to hint that she could have brought Tara if she’d known it was going to be a free for all... and then to back down and lie about having someone specific to invite. She asks Buffy if she shouldn’t be taking things slower with the heavily armed back-up squad. . . and then that’s it, fun’s over. All the monster-hunters get paged. Buffy is bailing and Willow is miffed.
But Xander’s wearing a Captain America t-shirt, and has some awfully cute interactions with Anya about his new protein-bar hawking job, so the evening isn’t a dead loss. And Willow makes the best of being ditched by the cool kids (as she sees it) by heading back to Tara. She apologizes both thoroughly and graciously.
Speaking of Faith again, Buffy is basically channeling her at the Initiative briefing: asking questions, challenging authority, annoying the bosses, being the sexiest, and not quite fitting in with the group. Mad Maggie wants some Polgara bone skewers for her collage monster. Who wouldn’t? But why? Buffy wants to know. The unspoken answer seems to be Jeez, noisy girl, just shut up and obey.
Suited up, divvied into teams and marginally underbriefed, they all head off in search of creatures. Forest, who’s still feeling pretty Willowy, is bitter about being paired with Graham, right up until the minute they spot Spike. They shoot him up with a tracker and the chase is on.
At the exact same time, Buffy and Riley find the Polgara demon. There’s a big fight, artfully intercut with scenes of the what happens after. And what does happens after? The two of them, at last, have sex. Remember how Faith said slaying made her horny? Looks like Buffy’s not nearly as squicked by that idea as she used to claim to be.
But there is squick to be had! Maggie’s watching the action on her personal 24-hour Rileycam. We already knew we probably shouldn’t like Maggie Walsh: this, pretty much, is the clincher. Lindsay Crouse played this character beautifully. She starts out the crusty and challenging professor, gives us just a little bit of warmth in the middle—to draw us and Buffy in—and now it’s all ick, yuck, world of no, are you crazy, woman, what are you doing? Plus she obviously has inappropriate, maternal, possessive feelings about Riley. Maggie, you are dead to me.
Spike finds he’s unable to elude the soldier boys. He flees to Casa Giles and what follows is high on the list of great Giles scenes. “Why should I help you?” He drags it out, enjoys every minute, and gets his cash back. Go Giles!
And things are coming up roses for Buffy, because she finally, finally, finally OMG gets to wakes up next to the guy she boinked. Things are all snuggly and nice, except for a quick super-vitamin break on Riley’s part. This leads to discussion about the wisdom of blindly following orders. Up to now, he’s basically figured he’s “removing the subterrestrial threat” and “Protecting the public!” so the details are no big deal.
I’m not sure this is a bad argument, really. If nothing else, it beats Faith’s “We were made to kill, B, damn the collateral damage!” perspective.
Okay, shutting up about Faith now. Buffy then asks about Ethan’s mysterious 314.
It’s a throwaway bit, but I’m a little impressed by this. She could be all starry-eyed and let Riley off the hook. She could decide to bask in the “Yay, sex!” for a few days before dealing with any of their thorny work issues. Instead, her asking this, now, seems like a bit of a test. Buffy’s all for Riley, but she’s also determined to find out if she can trust him. To that end, she’s already gathering data.
Maggie doesn’t love that Buffy’s on to her secret project. (Even secreter project? Secret sub-project?) And what with the sex and the fact that her favorite Initiator is suddenly taking a look around the base, peering through transparent windows, if you can believe it, and possibly having thoughts of his own, she decides it’s time to kill herself a Slayer. She sends Riley off on the Spike hunt and sets up an ambush for Buffy.
Once again, though, the Initiative is out of their league. Xander’s pseudo-soldier memories reveal that Spike’s got a tracker in him. Willow does a spell to delay the posse until Giles can extract the thing. And though Maggie has promised to clear the air with Buffy any second now, she is instead hoping to autopsy her later and maybe add her spleen or earlobes to her 314 project.
Silly, silly Maggie.
The tracker gets the flush, Spike remains free, Buffy prevails against the demons and Maggie, foolishly, tells Riley that his girlfriend’s dead. He gets to be shocked and sad for about a second before Buffy turns up on InitiaTV with an important message for his sponsor, one that boils down to “Nyah Nyah, I’m not toast but you may be soon, and, thanks for showing your cards early, Mags!”
Riley, whiplashed, walks away to ponder.
Back at Casa Britannia, Giles makes a serious attempt to convince Spike he should leave Sunnydale. “As long as the Initiative is here, it’s not safe for you.”
And Buffy walks in on that with: “It’s not safe for any of us.”
It’s a heartwarming Scooby togetherness moment. And we wrap it up with an echo of the scene where Spike was captured: Maggie is having a chitchat with still-unconscious Adam, talking up her expectations for the future. Then she gets staked, by him, more or less through the heart.
“Mommy,” Adam says. Alas, Maggie, now you are dead to us all.
And I say: Hi, real villain of the year! You may not be the darling of Buffy fandom, but you’ve got a working Polgara arm and an impressively deep voice.
Next: Trouble in the land of the cornfed
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.