Start of Season 4 (4.1-4.11)
4.1 The Freshman
Willow has a super-cute new haircut and the first 10 minutes are about how much more at home she is at university than Buffy is. They visit the library, teasing us with whether it's going to be as vital a part of life as it was for the last 3 years (it's not).
KATHY: I just know that this whole year is going to be super-fun!
Oh, and we learn that UC Sunnydale is 5 miles from Sunnydale.
VAMPIRE LACKEY: Monet, still well in the lead, but Team Klimt, coming up from behind!
Even more disorienting, Giles has a beautiful girlfriend called Olivia and they're not dressed yet in the middle of the day.
Buffy visits her mom and the phone rings but nobody speaks - I seem to remember this connects the episode with episode 1 of Angel, which aired back-to-back with Buffy season 4.
XANDER: And you're sitting alone at the Bronze, looking like you were just diagnosed with cancer of the puppy.
Buffy's wigging, and as usual it's Xander who's there to pick her up.
XANDER: when it's dark and I'm all alone and I'm scared or freaked out or whatever, I always think, what would Buffy do? You're my hero. OK, sometimes when it's dark and I'm all alone I think, what is Buffy wearing...?
They do research, find the vamps, Buffy slays, Giles brings weapons (not quite at the right moment) and things are back on track. All except for the masked men tasering an escaped vampire. Oh well.
4.2 Living Conditions
A slow start, but there's a whole scene in the nice courtyard outside Giles' apartment. The episode really spends a lot of time dwelling on how irritating Buffy finds her roommate, which her friends find worrying to a not entirely plausible degree.
WILLOW: She was definitely bordering on the Cordelia-esque.
It turns out this is because Kathy is stealing her soul.
KATHY: So I'm borrowing yours.
BUFFY: Without even asking!
4.3 The Harsh Light of Day
PARKER: Don't you just hate guys that are all "I'm dark and brooding... so give me love?"
BUFFY: I don't think I've ever met that type.
Between that and writing off the scar where Angel fed from her as "angry puppy", we can see that this is doomed. Once you start lying you can't stop. Even if they go to a party where Bif Naked are actually playing We Are The Lucky Ones.
ANYA: Please remove your clothing now.
XANDER: And the amazing thing... still more romantic than Faith.
Parker says things about history that make sense at the time, but as hindsight quickly sets in, it becomes clear that people who talk like this are often manipulative.
PARKER: When you look back at it seems like people were swept up in events they couldn't control. But I don't believe that. I believe you have a choice in everything you do.
There's a whole theme about who's using who (Parker/Buffy, Anya/Xander, Spike/Harmony), almost not laboured until they blew it in the last scene and laboured the hell out of it.
BUFFY: You had fun? Was that all it was?
PARKER: What else was it supposed to be?
4.4 Fear Itself
WILLOW: I feel like I've plateau-d, wicca-wise.
And yet Willow's powers are steadily advancing, bit by bit.
WILLOW: What is college for, if not experimenting?
Halloween episodes are fun. Anya's idea of scary is a bunny costume.
GILES: We're going to have to create a door.
ANYA: Create a door? You can do that?
GILES: I can.
Odd that Giles doesn't bring his chainsaw to the party more often, actually.
GILES: Don't taunt the demon.
XANDER: Why, can it hurt me?
GILES: No, it's just tacky.
4.5 Beer Bad
If they made a list of high school clichés and worked through them in the first three seasons, I didn't notice. But I'm noticing how they're doing it this season, this week: beer.
GUY: You're a very beautiful girl who should be covered with men. And could we be those men?
Willow consistently has cuter hair than Buffy this season.
BUFFY: I'm suffering the afterness of a bad night of badness
I know that feeling. Not so many good quotes in this episode, but cave-slayer Buffy is fun to watch.
4.6 Wild at Heart
WILLOW: Well, I knew you had a lot in common, but...
Willow nearly turns to dark magics but can't go through with it. Veruca comes to kill her. Oz comes to stop Veruca.
VERUCA: You're an animal. Animals kill.
OZ: You're right.
Willow's deeply upset about Oz leaving, and he is too, which makes their love affair seem much more real, in many ways, than Buffy's with Angel.
4.7 The Initiative
XANDER: How's Will dealing...
BUFFY: ...with the black hole of despair she's been living in since Oz left? She's dealing. I'm helping. It's hard. Ergo, party. You two can take patrol. Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to go find something slutty to wear tonight.
She chooses a backless dress which fits the bill. We discover that Oz's name is Daniel Osborne - who knew? And that the reappearance of the army types and Spike in Wild at Heart was no coincidence. And also that Spike, despite being 126 years old, likes the Sex Pistols. Bit obvious.
WILLOW: Time stops, and it feels like the whole world's made for you two, and you two alone, until the day one of you leaves and rips the still-beating heart from the other, who's now a broken, hollow, mockery of the human condition.
RILEY: Er... yep, that's the plan.
Riley develops as a love interest and we see him commanding troops in the Initiative - interesting to do both in the same episode.
BUFFY: What? You think that boys can take care of themselves and girls need help?
RILEY: Well, yeah.
BUFFY: That is so teutonic!
There's an excellently scary moment when Spike puts on loud music and bites Willow - then the excellently funny scene that follows:
SPIKE: I don't understand. This sort of thing's never happened to me before.
WILLOW: Maybe you were nervous?
SPIKE: I felt all right when I started. Let's try again.
WILLOW: Maybe you're trying too hard. Doesn't this happen to every vampire?
SPIKE: Not to me, it doesn't!
WILLOW: It's me, isn't it?
SPIKE: What are you talking about?
WILLOW: Well, you came looking for Buffy, then settled. I... You didn't want to bite me. I just happened to be around.
This is a cleverly structured episode that fits a lot in. And only after seeing what the Initiative has done to Spike is it confirmed.
Very very implausibly, the official ground-breaking for a new building involves workmen digging over the ground with hand shovels, rather than surveyors checking that the ground doesn't have a well-concealed Spanish mission inches below the surface. Willow sets the theme for the episode:
WILLOW: Thanksgiving isn't about the blending of two cultures, it's about one culture wiping out another.
Angel shows up looking cooler than ever.
WILLOW: mumphle mumble evil again!
ANGEL: I'm not evil! I'm here to help Buffy.
Willow doesn't want to kill the "native american" spirit, and Buffy wants to agree and also get rid of the spirits and also have the perfect thanksgiving dinner. There's lots of great dialogue in this episode, often about two or three things at once.
WILLOW: You mean... Angel? I saw him, too.
GILES: That's not terribly stealthy of him.
WILLOW: I think he's lost his edge.
Spike turns to them for help and is there to cut through the group's guilt-driven paralysis.
WILLOW: If we could talk to him...
SPIKE: You exterminated his race. What could you possibly say that would make him feel better? It's kill or be killed here. Take your bloody pick.
Ultimately, of course, like any Americans, they pick victory and guilt is forgotten in the feasting that follows.
4.9 Something Blue
We are learning a surprising amount about Giles this season - like, he has a mug which says "Kiss the librarian". In previous seasons we only got hints at him having a life - he was mostly there for the exposition. This is the point where he starts to become a fully rounded character, if never completely understood by his young associates.
GILES: A truth spell, of course. Why didn't I think of that?
WILLOW: Cause you had your hands full with the undead English Patient?
Willow does a big solo spell which goes awry "with hilarious consequences" as the Radio Times used to say constantly.
RILEY: Wow. Who is this guy? Does he go here?
BUFFY: Spike? Oh, no... he's totally old.
BUFFY: Well, not as old as my last boyfriend was.
RILEY: OK... it's late and I'm very tired now. So, I'm just gonna go far away and be... away.
Willow shows her self-doubt (in the scene where she momentarily turns Amy back into "a perfectly normal girl - then poof, she's a rat"). But D'Hoffryn confirms that "your magic is strong", while the rest of the gang are playing catch-up.
SPIKE: This is the crack team that foils my every plan? I am deeply shamed.
For no clear reason, Anya takes them to a crypt where they nearly all get killed before Willow saves them.
WILLOW: Well, baking lifts about 30% of my guilt, but only 7% of my inner turmoil. I guess that'll just take a while.
Buffy has one of her dreams - always interesting - in Psych class.
RILEY: If I kiss you, it'll make the sun go down.
They nearly kiss, but end up "babbling" instead - Buffy complains to Willow that this always happens. We see one of Giles' neighbours picking up the mail but never see her again. Willow is going to a wicca group, where a delectably shy student called Tara fails to say a word.
WILLOW: talk, all talk. Blah blah Gaia, blah blah moon, menstrual life-force power thingy.
There's lots of good dialogue in the first act - for some reason, one of my favourite lines in the whole of Buffy is:
WILLOW: Get with it! I need my vicarious smoochies.
Of course, after the first break there's no more dialogue.
OLIVIA: The flight was a horror.
GILES: Oh no, bad weather?
OLIVIA: Baseball movie!
GILES: I'm so sorry.
OLIVIA: That's enough small-talk, don't you think?
Of course without dialogue, there are a lot of good scenes, probably the best being the one where Willow fails to move a coke machine, until she holds Tara's hand and it suddenly scoots into place. Tara has her own very individual, awkward way of speaking, from the start.
WILLOW: I'm definitely nothing special.
TARA: No, you are!
Every other new character this season has been straightforward, uncomplex and un-nuanced, including Riley. So it's especially refreshing to meet Tara, who's mysterious, beautiful and interestingly written.
Willow discovers a demon victim while wearing a teeshirt that says "Bunny's Dog Walking Service".
BUFFY: I can't do doomed again right now.
There's a passing mention of someone who's in a coma, followed immediately by a phrase the mayor used, "turn my frown upside-down" - they're clearly trying to drop a hint here without hitting us over the head with it. We learn that Sunnydale has a big, modern-looking Historical Museum.
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 tenth-grade losers you've always been, and she's too much of a softy to cut you loose.
Preventing the end of the world requires a trip back to High School to stop the demons opening the hellmouth (for the third time, after Prophecy Girl and The Zeppo). Buffy somehow catches up with a demon in free-fall, then Riley somehow hauls them both back up using an extremely thin line without gloves.
XANDER: It's kinda weird being back, isn’t it?
WILLOW: Yeah. Everything seems so small – and more charred and ruiny.
Having saved the world with Riley, Buffy decides she can do doomed again after all.