Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Buffy Blog: "The Initiative"

Monster of the Week. There really doesn’t seem to be a monster of the week in the Doug Petrie penned and James Contner directed “The Initiative” this week unless you count Spike and Harmony who are back to, at least in the case of Spike, put an end to the Slayer once and for all.

Initiatives. “The Initiative” seems to be, at least in part, about initiatives. Xander and Giles take the initiative and try to give meaning to their not sure where we are going lives by getting their weapons ready to battle evil. Buffy takes the initiative by going to a party at Lowell House, Riley’s place of residence which we see for the first time in this episode, to try to help Willow break out of her black hole of Oz despair. Riley, with a little help from Forest (Leonard Roberts), Graham (Bailey Chase)—both of whom we meet for the first time—Parker—who Riley hits after he compares freshman Buffy to a toilet seat—and Willow, finally realizes what others have apparently known before him, that he likes Buffy and takes the initiative to go and see the girl he now realizes he likes. Willow, despite the pain from her breakup with an Oz who has now dropped out of psychology class, decides, after some hesitation, to take the initiative and help Riley get to know Buffy better. If he hurts her, she very unvaguely doesn’t disclaim, she will, she tells Riley, kill him with a shovel. Spike, obsessed as ever with the Slayer, takes the initiative, once he escapes from the Initiative, to kill the Slayer once and for all. Harmony takes the initiative to burn Spike’s stuff, including his Sex Pistols CD, after he leaves her once again to go after the Slayer. Xander takes the initiative to fight a Harmony he comes across while she is burning Spike’s possessions while Harmony takes the initiative to fight Xander. The result is one of the most epically hilarious battles of all time, an epic battle that is a kind of companion piece to the epically horrible Cordela-Wesley kiss in “Graduation Day” (3:21 and 3:22). Buffy takes the initiative to leave the party at Lowell House and, after consulting Giles and Xander, go in search of Spike in order to stake him, killing him once and for all. And the Initiative takes the initiative to change the behaviour of demons and to go after an escaped “Hostile 17”, Spike.

Revelations. There have been a lot of revelations so far in season four from revelations that Spike and Harmony are back to revelations that Veruca is a werewolf and that Oz, realizing that he always has to live with the wolf within, needs to leave Sunnydale and find out who he really is. Growing up. Perhaps the biggest revelation of season four, however, occurs in “The Initiative" as we viewers are introduced for the first time to the Initiative.

The Initiative appears to be a military, government, university demon hunting, demon research, and change demon behaviour operation that is housed underneath the University of California, Sunnydale campus in a state of the scientific and technological art military command, research centre, and demon prison or rat cage. Hooray for the military-industrial-governmental-university complex. It is headed, at least at UC Sunnydale, by psychology professor Maggie Walsh (Lindsay Crouch) and Riley, Forrest, and Graham are all members of the military demon hunting team.

The Initiative is the highest of high tech operations with their night goggles, tracking devices, and heat measuring instruments as we learn. Science in the name of demon hunting, demon research, and demon behaviouralism. It is the Initiative who has captured Spike who, at the beginning of the episode, wakes up in one of the very clinically clean Initiative cells underground. Next to him, by the way, is vampire Tom who we last saw running away from Buffy before he is captured by Initiative Taser Guys at the end of “The Freshman”.

So now we know who those “NATO” guys are that we saw in “The Freshman”, “Fear Itself”, and “Wild at Heart”. But the question still remains what are they up to and are they good guys or bad guys? Our Scoobies aren’t sure whether they are good or bad yet. Xander refers to them as garbed in the latest in “fall fascism” after he sees the drawing Giles has made of them. Buffy refers to the man in the drawing as her “storm trooper” pal. Xander refers to Riley, who he doesn’t yet know is a member of the Initiative, as “Teutonic Boy” as does Buffy when his protective male paternalism comes out when he tries to get Buffy to move from a campus bench on which she sits while waiting for Spike to come so she can kill him. Spike thinks that Buffy, thanks to funding from some source, “the government, nazis, or the major pharmaceutical companies”, is behind the Initiative.

Whoever and whatever the Initiative is they seem, at least for the moment, to be on the same page as the Scooby gang, well almost. The Initiative seems to be doing research to find out whether it is possible to change a demon’s behaviour. They have done something to Spike, for instance, which makes it impossible for him to seriously injure and kill others. He tries, in a scene that is scary at one moment and hilarious the next, to find Buffy. He finds out where she lives, comes to her door room, but, finding only Willow at home, decides to kill her. But he can’t. Spike’s inability to kill Willow is played, hilariously, as a metaphor for his inability to perform sexually. Has Spike been, like Oz before him though in a somewhat different way, neutered? Only season four will tell.

Though the Initiative seems to be on the same page, by and large, as the Buffster and the Scoobies there are some disturbing aspects to the Initiative. When the Initiative find Spike in Willow’s dorm they lock down the place and go after “Hostile 17”. They also threaten to take Willow along with the bag and tagged Spike back to their lab because she might have been turned by Spike. And then there’s the fact that Forrest wants to use Buffy as bait to capture "Hostile 17". Perhaps they are Nazis after all. Only time will tell, I guess.

I Am Always Mistaken for An Actor Who Only Plays Psychologists: Lindsay Crouch played a psychologist in her then husband David Mamet’s fascinating film House of Games (1987).

Awesome: Buffy’s response to Professor Walsh unfeelingly telling Willow that an absent without leave Oz will not be allowed back into her class:
BUFFY
You know, for someone who teaches human
behavior? You might try showing some.
Maggie can't quite believe that one.
PROF WALSH
It's not my job to coddle my students.
BUFFY
That's right. A human being in pain has
nothing to do with your job.
You go girl! Even Walsh admits she likes Buffy after this exchange.

Awesome Squared: The epic battle amidst fire extinguisher haze and ricocheting flares Buffy fires from her flare gun between Buffy and several members of the Initiative outside her and Willow’s dorm room in Stevenson Hall and during which the Buffster kicks some Initiative arse.

Joe Regular, Demon Hunter: Both Riley and Buffy are maintaining secret identities. Riley wonders whether this might affect his ability to have a normal relationship with anyone including the Buffster. Shades of Buffy season one.

Communication Disorders: Buffy had trouble communicating with Riley in “The Freshman” now it's Riley who is having trouble communicating with Buffy.

The Chorus: Reading Buffy really requires a rather Weberian sensitivity. Speaking in ideal type terms there are stand alone episodes of Buffy, arc driven episodes of Buffy, mythologically centred episodes of Buffy, and so on. But even seemingly stand alone episodes such as “Beer Bad” move the character, narrative, seasonal, and series arcs along, something that is typical in virtually every episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer since the second season. “The Initiative” moves the series four arc along and sets the stage, as well, as we will see, for the mythological arcs of season four and for the series as well. It does this all very well.

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