OK, let me just get this out of the way; what the hell happened? Season one was good but not amazing, season two was fantastic, and season three was some of the best TV on DVD. Now we get to season four and the whole thing is a big mess. You know, I really don’t have to ask that question because I know the answer. The creators of Buffy: The Vampire Slayer were spread thin this season and they had some growing pains. As season four starts so does season one of the spin-off series Angel. Don’t get me wrong, there are some great episodes and the writers do some good character things here, but overall this season just feels like a big mess.
Season three ended with Buffy really knowing her place within her environment. She had been given this award at the prom by her classmates as the school protector. She had been acknowledged for what she does by those that had shunned her. Now in season four she is small and insignificant in her new college and she is again looking for her place. Her comfort zones were all turned upside down and she even had to deal with a new roommate on campus. Buffy was used to falling back into her home and friends to save her from the pressures of being a slayer. While she still has all of her friends and her mother, they are all going through their own adjustments so they aren’t just waiting for her anymore. Seeing her deal with this new situation was a great idea but it unfortunately only lasted a few episodes. Within those few episodes I was taken back to my own college days and the problems I had with my roommate. The roommate storyline was great fun. Another great episode in this season was Hush, an episode that featured no dialogue after the opening credits. Wow this was a risky move and it really paid off. The demons in that episode were some of the creepiest of the entire first four seasons.
Now, let’s get to the stuff I hate about this season, and unfortunately their’s plenty. Up to season four the series was a gothic horror comedy, but now with the “Initiative” season long story arc the series was injected with an unhealthy dose of science fiction. All of a sudden we get a bunch of super soldiers, a Frankenstein-like cyborg, oh and laser guns or blasters if you will. I can’t begin to tell you how badly I hated this whole storyline, so much of it was poorly written and ill fitting of the series as a whole. This storyline also introduced Buffy’s new love interest Riley, a soldier working for the Initiative experimenting on vampires and demons. He has so little on screen charisma; he’s just a pretty boy piece of wood. Compared to any other character on screen he is little more than an extra. Also, the series best bad guy, Spike, gets basically neutered in this season. The Initiative installs a chip in his head that causes him pain if he tries to bite, or even hit, someone who isn’t a demon. This does lead to a great scene where Spike wants to bite Willow but can’t. Her feeling of rejection and attempts to tell him it’s alright it probably happens to every vampire at some point is hilarious.
In season two and season three Buffy had to deal with the lose of love, first killing Angel and then having to realize that they could never be together. This season finds Willow losing the love of her life, Oz. Buffy had a deep and dramatic character arc with her lose and even in episodes where it wasn’t discussed her lose and her overwhelming depression played a part in her character’s decisions within the episodes. The drama was powerful and moving. Willow’s lose was handled so ham fisted it depressed me. She would have an episode where she got to be upset about it, and then it seemed to be gone, then in another episode it was back again. Her lose never had the weight it deserved. Now I will say that when she did get to be upset it was heart wrenching. Alyson Hannigan is a highly underrated actress and it shows in these few and far between scenes. I know Buffy is the star of the show but Willow deserved better than this. Now that said, Willow got quite a character change in this season’s later half. She becomes a lesbian! I was so afraid that this was just gonna be a bunch of fan service but it was actually handled very sweetly. The girl she met was another witch and it all started with the two of them learning spells together. Willow and Tara commit to each other way before they tell anyone and their scenes together are cute and sweet and don’t come off as fan service at all.
One thing this season did is that it was able to turn me around on a few characters I hated when they first became integral to the series. The first is the character of Anya, the ex-demon now dating Xander. I hated her early on but by the end of the season she was cracking me up. The other was Tara, I felt like she was just fan service and she was a bit to much like Willow. By the end of the season I loved her with Willow and I loved how the two characters complimented each other and as I said earlier they had some really sweet scenes together. Unfortunately as hard as they tried the writers could never make me like Riley or any of his cohorts.
Probably the biggest misstep of the season is its lack of cohesion. There are some great individual episodes but the episodes don’t have an emotional connection and the season long character arcs are weak and they lack the depth of those found in season two and season three. Those two seasons defined the series and set a standard for it that just wasn’t held up in season four.