Thursday, July 12, 2012

Buffy Blog: "The I in Team" and "Goodbye Iowa"

In this blog post I am going to treat “The I in Team” and Goodbye Iowa” as a single episode because structurally, narratively, thematically, and in terms of their mise-en-scene they are a single episode.

At the end of “A New Man”, if you remember, Maggie Walsh told Riley Finn that although the methods of the Initiative and Buffy and her gang were different she thought that because their ends were the same they might be able to fight evil together. In “The I in Team” and “Goodbye Iowa”, however, the differences between the disciplined, scientific, military, unquestioning, demons are animals Initiative and the research grounded in ancient knowledges, magic using, demons sometimes have motivations, and questioning Scoobies, differences that we have seen between the two since “The Harsh Light of Day”, come into sharp relief.

In the first part of the episode, “The I in Team”, our Scooby anti-hero hero Buffy Summers has finally joined her military boyfriend Riley and the military unit he fights for, the Initiative, in order to fight demony evil together. There’s nothing like having heavy commando guy military team back up when you are patrolling, Buffy tells Willow.

In past episodes we viewers have been made to feel somewhat uneasy about the Initiative and its methods, its treatment of Spike, and hints that they may have something to do with 314, whatever that is, something that is threatening the balance of the worlds and is, as Ethan tells Giles, beyond chaos. Several of the Scoobies are uneasy about the Initiative as well as the episode begins. Xander thinks that there are heaps the Scoobies still don’t know about the commandos. After Buffy tells Willow that she has been initiated into the Initiative (sorry again for the bad pun) Willow, who earlier says the Initiative seems to fall in the good guy camp, asks Buffy whether she is rushing into working hand in hand with a group who she and the Scoobies still don’t know much stuff about. Anya fears the Initiative but then she is an ex-vengeance demon and the Initiative hunts demons. Spike hates them because they have neutered him though he still hopes that he can get them to reverse the process.

Buffy shares these feelings of unease about the Initiative with the other Scoobies. When she is down in the Initiative’s underground lair learning about the Initiative from Maggie and Riley she takes the opportunity to learn a bit about the Initiative’s weaponry and to peer through the window of an inaccessible door to see if she can see what is behind it. She can’t. For the moment, however, Buffy, seems willing to put her doubts aside because of the excitement she feels at being able to work with the professional demon killers of the Initiative with all their high tech gear and to be close to boyfriend Riley.

Things don’t work out as planned between Buffy and the Initiative. The first inkling that Buffy is not fitting in to the disciplined and unquestioning Initiative world occurs—unless Buffy keeping the Initiative at bay for 42 minutes and then neutralizing them after they track her down in 28 seconds is a foreshadowing of things to come—in a brilliant scene in which a Buffy, standing amidst yes sir no sir male commando types in a blouse, a blouse she tells Walsh she has fought in many times before, in the underground lair of the Initiative asks a number of questions about a bag and tag mission she and Initiative grunts are ordered to go on in order to capture a Polgara Demon, questions that make Professor Walsh and her lab-coated scientist colleague Dr. Angleman, uncomfortable. They are, as a conversation just after the q&a reveals, worried about how much Buffy knows about “the project”. What project? They agree that Buffy knows too much—it has to be 314—and that they must implement the contingency plan they apparently already have in place to deal with a Buffy who, they say, could have been such a powerful ally. What are they going to do to her?

Buffy’s questioning of authority doesn’t seem to make Riley uncomfortable. Riley tells Buffy, when she says that she imagines that Professor Walsh hates her for asking so many questions, that questions are, yes, a little unusual at the Initiative but that Walsh liked Buffy even before he did. Unlike Buffy Riley isn’t “really… one for asking questions…” When Buffy teases him about his obedience to proper authority, including taking his vitamins, Riley tells that he was plucked from special ops and transferred to the Initiative, and that as a military man he has been trained to follow orders.

Before Walsh can set the contingency plan to deal with the Slayer in motion she has to get rid of Riley first. Walsh orders Riley on a mission to capture Hostile 17 and make her proud. With Riley out of the way Walsh sets the contingency plan to deal with the Slayer in motion. Walsh sends Buffy on a reconnaissance mission to see what low level, minimal aggression, meager defenses threat, perhaps even a raccoon, Initiative sensors are picking up in the sewers. As Buffy walks through the sewer tunnels she spies two demons, flashback, the two Warrior Demons see saw earlier in the Initiative’s research pit. Behind her a metal door closes trapping her in the tunnels with them. Buffy raises her blaster to fire, but it “sputters and sparks in her hand”. She has, she recognizes, been set up. The demons attack. The Con Cam headset Maggie has given her so she can monitor the fight is knocked off her head. With the headset registering no heartbeat Walsh assumes that it is mission accomplished and Slayer dead. Buffy, however, manages to kill the Two Warrior Demons and uses the Con Cam to tell Maggie, as Riley watches the monitor over her shoulders, that it is not that easy to kill a Slayer as she is about to find out.

“The I in Team” ends with what is probably the major reveal of season four thus far, Adam. Adam is a cyborg, a frakensteinian mix of demon, machine, and human. In one of the final scenes of “The I in Team” Walsh’s first created hybrid, the scientist as creator god as in Frankenstein, becomes fully operational and kills his “mommy” with the Polgara bone skewer that Angleman has grafted on to him. Now we know why they wanted the Polgara intact. Can you say coming back to bite?

In the next part of the episode, “Goodbye Iowa”, we viewers, the Scooby Gang, Buffy, and even Riley begin to understand the real darkness that lies at the heart of the Initiative. The Initiative’s Adam, in a scene right out the Frankenstein film, comes across a young boy playing in the woods. Asking the boy who he is, a monster the boy responds, Adam kills and mutilates the boy by cutting him open to, as he says later, see how he works.

“Goodbye Iowa” begins where “The I in Team” left off. Free of Walsh’s Slayer trap Buffy returns to Giles’s apartment to tell the assembled Slayerettes that none of them are safe now that the Initiative is out to kill them, or at least those of Buffy’s gang they know about, and that they need to find a safe house as quickly as possible. Just as Giles says there is no need for them to go to Xander’s dark and dank basement because he can’t imagine that the Initiative boys would come looking for them at his place Initiative boy Riley does just that storming in through Giles’s apparently still unlocked door in what has become a running gag in season four.

Riley asks Buffy what happened. Buffy tells him that Walsh tried to kill her. Initially it is hard for Riley to believe that Walsh tried to kill the Buffster despite the evidence to the contrary of his own monitor watching eyes. Seeing Hostile 17 Riley’s head begins to spin even more than it already is thanks to Maggie’s attempt to kill Buffy and thanks to the fact that the “Hostile 17” he and his Initiative soldier boys have been hunting for months, he now learns, has been right under his eyes and protected from him and them by his girlfriend and the Scoobies because, as Buffy tells him, he is “not bad anymore”.

For most of “Goodbye Iowa” Riley looses his bearings and has to try to resolve the contradiction, the contradiction of his devotion to the Initiative and its military codes of honour and his love for a Buffy who questions some of the rules he was brought up to believe. He is also suffering from something, something that makes him scratch his hand, sweat, and shake. After a confrontation between him and Buffy at Willy’s Place, Buffy takes a scratching, sweating, shaking, and psychologically disoriented Riley to Xander’s to sleep while she and Pseudo Soldier Xander (there are two references to the Soldier Guy Xander of “Halloween”) go off to the Initiative lair to try to figure out what is going on with Riley.

At the Initiative Buffy and Riley, who follows the Buffster to the underground lair after manhandling Willow at Xander’s hideout, learn from Angleman that that Maggie has died and that “mother” and the Initiative have been pumping the commandos including Riley, full of drugs through their food to make them stronger. And then they learn about what or who was in 314. “Me”, says Adam after jumping down to where Buffy and Riley are from the catwalk above.

Adam tells Buffy, Riley, Xander, and Angleman that he has been learning about how the world works, something about himself, including that he has a design flaw which is why he won’t stand down despite, despite, as Angleman says, that's what his “mother” Maggie would want. Adam then kills Angleman and knocks Buffy and Riley around rather like playthings. Thanking a Buffy and Riley who he has just pummeled for the learning experience Adam flees to set in motion the plan Maggie has for him and Riley. What plan? He is trailed by a few Initiative solder boys after the soldiers have finally broken into the locked document vault room where Buffy, Riley, Xander, and the dead Angleman are.

“Goodbye Iowa” ends with Riley taken to the military hospital—we take care of our own Forrest tells Buffy—and Buffy and Xander escorted out of the Initiative. In the final scene Buffy worries about Riley being alone with nothing to remember her by. But he does have something to remember her by. In the last image of the episode we see Riley holding on to the scarf that Buffy gave him earlier in the episode to wrap around the hand he was scratching for, as the script says, dear life.

Scoobies Dissassemble/Scoobies Assemble: One of the themes of season four thus far has been the implosion of the Scoobies as I have noted before in these season four blog posts. Early on in “The I in Team” it looks like the I’s in the Buffy team are going their own way, Buffy into the Initiative with Riley, Willow with Tara, Xander with Anya, sometime Scooby Anya with Xander, and sometime Scooby Spike with his I don’t ever want to see you Slayerettes again ever loving self. By “Goodbye Iowa” the gang is back working together to track down Adam.

“But Now I See You're Not Hunting Demons - You're Socializing With Them”: Riley, rather like Kendra and Faith, has been guided by a belief that humans are good while demons are bad. In “The I in Team” and “Goodbye Iowa”, the manichean mentality that has guided him at least since he joined the military begins to come under attack. When he runs into the Buffster at Willy’s while both of them are searching for Adam, he is not only suffering withdrawal symptoms from, what we learn is the medicines the Initiative has been given him and is exhibiting ideological withdrawal symptoms as well. Riley threatens to kill someone who looks like a human but who may be a monster because those are the rules he has been living by. When Willy tells Riley that killing is against the rules at Willy’s Riley responds that the rules don’t seem to apply in these days of Slayers protecting demons. Buffy horrified, pleads with Riley not to kill the human?, the demon?, and he doesn’t. Instead he turns toward her with a look of desperation on his face.

The difference in Buffy’s and Riley’s interaction with demons brings out very clearly the difference between the manichean demons are animals to be killed or neutered (and reintegrated back into society as Willow asks at one point?) offensive military strategy of the Initiative versus the Scoobies reactive to violence strategy, a reactive strategy that requires that the motivations of demons be ascertained—do they fall into the harmful to humanity category?—first so they can go after the demons which matter.

“Honeymoon is Over”: Spike the contradictory is back. A couple of weeks ago Spike wanted, or apparently wanted, to fight with the Scoobies though he did also try to manipulate Willow and Xander by playing on their psychological fears. Spike continues to manipulate the inner turmoil of the Scoobies this week just as he did in “Doomed”. He tells Giles that the honeymoon is over and that he has no intention of helping the Scoobies when Willow’s magicks go all wonky, as they most certainly must, when Xander cuts yet another new tooth (a reference to the fact that he having trouble growing up after high school), as he certainly must again, or when Giles crawls back to his new crypt digs asking for help, as he certainly will again. Spike tells, Goldilocks, Buffy, that she has bleedin’ tragic taste in men and that Riley, like Angel, is plotting to kill her. That is one smart “animal”.

This week Spike doesn’t want to have anything to do with the Scoobies. When Giles comes to his crypt to pay him the money he owes Spike for helping him last week in “A New Man”, he mentions to Spike that there may be a higher purpose to what has happened to him thanks to the Initiative. Higher purpose? Shapes of things to come? Spike in I never want to see you Slayerettes again tells Giles to piss off and Giles does. Soon, however, Spike is in trouble again. He has been tagged with a tracer by the Initiative as he walks back to his crypt home with “blood and smokes” and he, of course, goes running to Giles’s place yet again for Scooby for help because, as he tells them, they help people.

“Welcome to Carbo-load Country”: Just a Measly Buck-Fifty”: Xander has now moved on to selling Boost Bars in his post high school career so can pay the rent on his parents basement apartment and get Anya the better things in life. Xander remembers enough from his “pseudo-soldier memory bank” to realise that Spike has been tagged with a tracer and that they need to get it out of him quickly. He flushes it down the lou which, at least for a few seconds, confuses the Initiative, including Riley, who are trying to track Hostile 17 down by monitoring the tracer.

A Guy on Guy Moment: When Xander sees the Initiative in all its huge glory after he and Buffy break into the Initiative’s lair he asks Buffy if he can make love to Riley too.

“Sell Bars, Make Money”: Anya seems to have a thing for money and things, consumer goods. Playing poker and Xander selling Boost Bars make sense to her only after Xander tells her that if he makes money he can take her out and buy her pretty things.

Patriarchy Thy Name is the Initiative: The Initiative, save for Professor Walsh, “mother”, “mommy”, is very very male. Are Buffy’s writers counterpointing the maleness of the Initiative with the women power of the Scoobies? We learn that the Initiative is a US government military unit. Washington, it appears, knows something about the demon underground in Sunnydale.

“So... what do you want to do now?”: “The I in Team” and “Goodbye Iowa” is a relationship heavy episode. Xander and Anya are tighter and have apparently had spanking fun. Anya seems more and more a part of the Scoobies. Willow and Tara are becoming tighter and perform yet another spell to try to track down Demon Adam. Why does Tara sabotage the spell? Is she a demon? And why is Willow keeping Tara a secret from the Scoobies. I guess Tara is one secret that will not will out in this episode. Buffy’s and Riley’s relationship is becoming stronger and Buffy seems to, at least in the first half of the episode, become ever more a part of the Initiative. Buffy and Riley have sex—first time?—and Buffy wakes up yet again in red sheets just as she did in “Surprise”/“Innocence” and the “Harsh Light of Day”. This time, however, her lover, good old boring and solid Riley, is next to her. Buffy and Riley, by the way, have sex after they battle the Polgrara Demon. So it seems that slaying really does make a Slayer hungry and horny. Is fighting by the side of his girlfriend who is as much of a good guy demon hunter as he is a turn on for Riley? Did you notice that Buffy and Willow return to their dorm room after being away all night. Is this a coy indication that like Buffy Willow has slept with her lover as Buffy has with hers during the night?

“Who Am I”: Adam is a kinematically redundant, bio-mechanical demonoid. He is made up of parts of various demons and is also parly human. He is equipped with GP2D11 infrared detectors, 140 MWS, microspec 4000 sensors, a harmonic decelerator plus DC servo. Adam is smart, strong—he tosses both Buffy and Riley around fairly easily making Buffy wonder how she is ever going to defeat him—and is obsessed with knowing how the world and how he works.

Big Mother: Walsh watches Buffy and Riley have post demon fight sex on a surveillance device that has been installed in his room in Lowell House. Is there a hint of jealousy or or some sort of mother and son complex in that icy stare? Walsh and the Initiative are feeding the commandos drugs that make them stronger through their food. Walsh watches Buffy fight and appear to be killed, thanks to a Com Cam she gives Buffy so she can get a visual on whatever the Initiative sensors are picking up in the sewers during her recon mission, a mission, of course, Walsh has arranged, with Angleman’s knowledge, so Buffy can die. Adam claims that he and Riley are “mothers” favourite creations, that they are brothers, and that mother Maggie has a plan for them. Brothers? What plan?

Hilarious: Buffy commenting that the Roadrunner cartoon she, Willow, and Anya are watching in their Xander basement hideout is unrealistic. Like Buffy? Break the fourth wall much? Buffy doing her Henry V’ish prepare for battle speech in her yummy sushi pajamas, something she remarks on after the speech. Break the fourth wall much? Willow doing a spell to ionize the atmosphere so the Initiative can’t find a Spike who has been tagged with a tracer that leads to Bride of Frankenstein hair for Willow, Anya, Xander, and Giles. Reference popular culture much? Xander wanting to kiss Buffy like the guy and the girl in the movies who need to hide as two guys come up the stairs toward them after they have broken into the Initiative to find out what is wrong with Riley. As Buffy says, what could be more conspicuous? Reference films and break the fourth wall much?

What's in a Name: the Iowa in “Goodbye Iowa” refers to the fact that Riley, as we learned in "Pangs", is from Iowa, one of those states somewhere in the middle according to Buffy that seems like it jumped out of a Grant Wood painting according to Riley. Wood was born in Iowa and is best known for his famous “American Gothic” painting that was parodied in the US TV programme Green Acres. Riley’s Iowa Grant Wood illusions are, of course, slipping away. Goodbye, Iowa?

“So long, farewell, Auf wiedersehen, good night”: This is the last time we will see Willy and Willy’s Place. Boo.

The Chorus. “The I in Team” written by David Fury and directed by James Contner and “Goodbye Iowa” written by Marti Noxon and directed by David Solomon is, as I mentioned earlier, the game changer episode so far in season four. The Initiative has been outed. Maggie and Dr. Angleman are dead. Buffy’s and Riley’s relationship is in a kind of holding state. Willow and Tara seem to be moving closer and closer toward some sort of relationship. Romance? Xander and Anya seem to be getting tighter and tighter. Anya is jealous of Buffy who, she fears, may take Xander, boring boyfriend Xander, away from her. Given Xander’s past obsession with Buffy, and he has told Anya of his past as we learn when Anya tells him it was not like he was in “the Nam”, this may not be an unreasonable fear on Anya’s part. Add another fear to bunnies for Anya. Xander reassures her that he will be careful out there in the break into the Initiative world. Riley now has a more tentative relationship with the Initiative and his worldview and his physical body, thanks to withdrawal from the medicines that Maggie
has been feeding to them, and his ideological world seems to be collapsing around him. We will have to see what hospitalization will do for his physical ailments, what time will mean for his manichean worldview, and what time will do for his relationship with Buffy. And then there’s Adam. At least for the moment Adam appears to be the Big Bad of season four. Is the Initiative the other Big Bad of season four?

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