Plot plot plotty plotty plot! Get your plot here. We got your fresh steaming season four plot! That’s the name of the game in “Goodbye, Iowa,” which picks up right where “The I in Team” left off, with the Scoobies debriefing after the assassination attempt on Buffy.
The gang is, quite sensibly, unnerved. Operation Slay has never really taken on serious government folks before, the type with limousines and power to detain and their own account at Rocket Launchers R Us, and I think it’s fair to say even Buffy’s encounters with your ordinary, Hellmouth-variety police have never been occasions of joy. How much trouble are they in? Probably lots.
(It turns out Buffy’s giving the government a bit too much credit on that score, but that’s beside the point.)
The Scoobies debate whether Riley was in on the failed murder—Spike kicks off the speculation by gleefully taunting Buffy about her taste in men, and as usual there’s a lot of right mixed in with the bile. Then everyone starts wondering if they need to to retreat to Xander’s Subterranean Hideaway, for safety. Giles is just bombasting about how they’ll never track down his hidden lair when we reach that awkward moment where Mister Teen Iowa himself shows up...
...and discovers they’re harboring Hostile Seventeen.
Recriminations fly, everyone’s twitterpated and in time Riley goes off in search of a pout, or at the very least a cry on the cold hard shoulder of his not-so-supportive BFF, Forrest.
All of this seems pretty bad until Adam wanders up to a little boy and treats us all to the true meaning of upsetting, the bracing perspective that can only arise from the horrifying collision of a sweet looking child and a transplanted Polgara demon spike.
And while we’re talking about Adam, I thought it would be fun to take a look at George Hertzberg’s face, without all that Frankenmakeup:
The Initiative, in the person of Doctor Francis Angleman (bet you didn’t know his name, right? I thought it was Dour Minion One) is only just discovering that the Initiative’s kazillion dollar science project has gone AWOL. He falls into a gaping plot hole in room 314’s floor, you see, and there he finds a pile of Shredded Scientist Maggie and zero Adam.
This is one of those things that strains credulity if you think about it too much. Or at all. No cameras in Room 314? No tracker injected into a difficult-to-reach corner of Adam’s presumably well-toned hiney? How many hours elapsed between when he skewered Maggie, donned a pair of spectacles to disguise himself and sauntered off-base and when he commenced dissection on a lamentably adorable California youngster?
Okay, you might say, they didn’t miss Maggie because they thought she was on her food lady rounds upstairs, secretly mixing super-soldier formula into the Initiatrio’s early morning servings of Weetabix, beer, and apple pie. And Adam was supposed to still be charging up. Fair enough.
(This episode may be best enjoyed with your all critical faculties disengaged, is all I’m saying. I recommend single malt for this. Maybe tequila.)
Since Riley used his crack detective skills to locate them all in five minutes flat—the clue was he’d been to your house, Giles!—the Scoobies put up some curtains in Xander’s basement and bunk down for the night. I found the gender segregation strangely adorable. Scoobies go to camp! The Scoobies really should have gone to camp. This gets us some cute in-the-morning interaction: Buffy ends up telling Anya and Giles to stop re-enacting her parents’ marriage. I laughed.
Then she and Willow settle down on the pink side of the privacy curtain for romance-themed girl talk, whose content on this occasion boils down to:
“OMG, Riley! Wow, what a mess this is turning into!”
“Worse than Angel?”
“Not quite. Not yet.”
All with Anya heckling from the sidelines, reminding Buffy, just in case, that Xander’s unavailable.
Everything grinds to a halt, as it should, when the horrifying child death hits the news. Buffy channels the spirit of Henry the Fifth, rallying the troops, declaring they will fight to the last man, and then realizes she’s wearing yummy sushi pyjamas. This too is very cute. I am all over the gang moving into a shared house together after they reduce Sunnydale to a smoking hole. They could have wacky spinoff sitcom hijinx. Sort of a Friends meets The Office thing, but with demons? I confess I’m not up on my sitcoms, so feel free to improve on my mashup....
Forrest, meanwhile, has been taking lessons from Spike on being a tuff love confidante. Does he sympathize with Riley’s woes? Oh, no. He’s all “Maybe Buffy needed killing,” and “That girl Graham and I encouraged you to date is a big pain, dude.”
This is just beginning to get sticky, in bromance terms, when Graham shows up to tell them Maggie’s dead.
“Staked?” Forrest breaks out the roving finger of blame indecently fast. Some people will do anything to win an argument.
“Obviously Maggie got herself demon-spiked!” Riley ripostes. “That Polgara guy’s to blame! Let’s fight!”
Doctor Angleman isn’t about to tell them about Adam. He agrees, it’s the Polgara—which, I’m thinking, is ancient Sumerian for falsely accused—and tells all the Initiative guys they’re supposed to hang around until various Washington pencil pushers can show up to look at the crime scene, wave their badges, and say “Hmmmm.” He doesn’t tell them to go upstairs, take their vitamins and have a complete nutritious breakfast spiked with weird Maggie love and super-soldier-serum. There’s an oversight for you.
And then he just roams off, as if he expects them to listen and obey. Seriously, it’s like he wants them all sweaty, irrational, and bombing around town with their brains fried and their guns drawn.
So instead of going off to class or the gym or a nice bistro, the Initiative guys break out the weapons and go a-hunting. Graham and Forrest raid the Tomb of Spike, but fail to find him.
Our heroes are looking for the kid-killing-culprit, too, of course. Willow heads off to Chez Tara so they can try a spell that will display all the demons in Sunnydale on a screen-sized square of carpet. (What? All? I can’t help thinking—that will tell you what? The town’s infested, remember? I don’t care if the goddess Thespia tags them, it’s still like looking for one spider in a house full of cockroaches and silverfish.)
But it doesn’t really matter, because Tara doesn’t want to. She tries to just say we’re not ready, but Willow replies that the spell is beneath them. Adorable little Tara qualm there—she’s too moony over Willow to stand up to her, yet, but already she’s not loving the arrogance.
Buffy is going the private investigator route, by grilling Willy the snitch. Alas, Riley shows up mid-interrogation and freaks out. Not only is she saving Spike from the government, she’s also hanging out in the local demon bar? Wow, maybe Forrest was right. Or maybe he’s just in superserum withdrawal. Why isn’t Adam in superserum withdrawal? Either way, Riley almost shoots a scared looking woman-type who may or may not be a demon.
“Maybe I’m the bad guy,” he says. Those are always really sucky days, even when your mentor hasn’t gotten eviscerated. Poor Riley.
Buffy takes him to the basement—thus screwing up another hide-out—tucks him in, wraps her head-scarf around his massive, scratched up paw and says she’s taking Xander to the Initiative to hunt up data on what’s wrong with her honey. Anya is deeply unimpressed and attempts to expand the original parameters of her earlier “You can’t have Xander!” declaration, but of course Xander’s going on the mission. He will always go on the mission, Anya.
And speaking of Scooby girlfriends working at cross-purposes to the goal, Tara tosses the magic potion when Willow’s got her eyes closed. Gosh! What could that be about?
Also this: when a girl shows up and says she just kinda wants you to help her find all the demons in the city, don’t you at least say, “How come?”
Buffy and Xander don ingenious disguises and zip down to the Initiative in the Elevator of Death. She’s rocking the Clark Kent look, bigtime, barely recognizable under those glasses. After some inept sneaking about, they manage to overhear some stuff about the Initiadudes and how they go into withdrawal when they’re off their meds. (After less than a day? Bad design, I say.)
Riley has by now awakened in the basement, given Willow a healthy but ultimately non-injurious shove, and made his way back to the base. And Adam is sick of playing hide and seek with people who simply can’t find him, so he comes too, bringing with him a massive amount of exposition.
The scene that follows is just plain weird. Adam eats lumpy, so-very-dated 3.5 inch floppy disks and spits out top secret explanations about what’s up. He calls Riley brother and says Maggie was Mommy to them both. Riley is not so very happy about this. (It does double his exposure on Mother’s Day, maternal birthdays, and Christmas.)
All of this explaining gets very long-winded. Violence breaks out just in the nick. Xander bravely jumps on Adam and does not die! Angleman runs away and does get skewered. Lesson there? Don’t be the guest star. Riley gets a Polgara spike in the gut and Buffy’s obliged to let the Initiative take him for patching and light reindoctrination.
Back at Willy’s, far away from the main storyline, Spike has gone to drown his sorrows about having his crypt trashed again, only to discover he’s not welcome among demonkind anymore. It’s a sad day in the unlife of William. He really ought to be able to thrash a couple of barcrawling monsters. But he’s still a little bummed about having been chipped, I guess, and everyone has an off day.
Buffy is sad, too, because Riley is now incarcerated in a secret government hospital with every good reason to have a massive identity crisis on the go. But he’s got her head scarf, and that seems to be easing the pain.
Next: You Gotta Have Faith
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, and her latest novelette, “Wild Things,” that ties into the world of her award winning novel Indigo Springs and its sequel, Blue Magic.