Sunday, July 22, 2012

Buffy Blog: "The Yoko Factor" and "Primeval"

Last week in “New Moon Rising” we were given hints as to what Adam’s master plan might be—to provoke a demon versus human war that would leave both sides depleted and Adam, presumably, in charge. Last week Adam enticed Spike to aid him in his plan by promising to remove that pesky chip from our caged wild at heart animal’s head. Spike’s role in Adam’s chess game was to manipulate the Scoobies and the Slayer in to playing their role as pawns in the demon/human war on Adam’s chessboard. In “The Yoko Factor”, written by Doug Petrie and directed by David Grossman, and “Primeval”, written by David Fury and directed by James Contner, Adams’ plan comes to fruition but doesn’t quite end, as we will see, in the way he quite intended.

There are, as is always the case in Buffy, several things going on in “The Yoko Factor” and Primeval” at once. In the teaser of the episode Buffy has just gotten back from LA where she and Angel have gotten into a fight over Faith. Faith, as I mentioned in the blog to “Who Are You” went to LALALand to get her revenge on a Wesley who turned her over to the Watcher’s Council in “Consequences” (3:15) and an Angel who spurned her for Buffy in “Enemies” (3:17). In the two-part episode “Five by Five” and “Sanctuary” (1:18 and 1:19, 25 April 2000 and 2 May 2000) Faith, after terrorizing Angel and torturing Wes, thanks to Angel, sees the error of her ways and, like Angel, begins the difficult path toward redemption.

Buffy is hardly in a forgiving mood when she arrives at Angel’s LA apartment in search of Faith and finds the two hugging. Shades of “Enemies”. Buffy wants to turn Faith over to the police but Angel wants to give Faith the opportunity to turn herself in and take her first baby steps toward redemption. At the police station where an arrested Angel has been taken for harbouring fugitive Faith, he and Buffy have an intense verbal fight that ends with Buffy telling Angel that she has a new life and a new boyfriend and Angel telling Buffy that his loyalty to Faith has nothing to do with her and that LA is his town and that she should go back to Sunnydale. She does.

As Buffy returns from LA Xander brings Riley, who is still hiding from the Initiative at the old Sunnydale High School, some clean clothes and take his dirty ones to launder. Thanks to Buffy heading to LA Angel is on Riley’s mind and he asks Xander about Angel. Riley fills in the blanks as to what Buffy told him about Angel between “New Moon Rising” and “The Yoko Factor”/“Primeval” but, as Riley learns, while talking to Xander about Angel, the Xander who still hates Angel’s guts, Buffy left out one important point in their conversation, that it was Buffy and Angel sex that turned Angel into Angelus (season two). As a result Riley goes into jealous boyfriend mode.

The Buffy-Angel-Riley triangle reaches a crescendo when Riley, who has patched into the secret Initiative radio frequency, hears a report that an Initiative team is being torn apart by something and goes to help. That something, as Riley soon finds out, is Angel. Since jealous testosteroned poisoned boys will be boys the two fight--Angel is the stronger--until an Initiative patrol shows up sending both fleeing furtively to Buffy’s dorm room. In her dorm room Buffy forcibly calms them both down and then talks to each of them separately. Angel apologises to Buffy and Buffy apologises to Angel telling him that he was right, they now live in separate worlds and that she has no right to come into his world and make judgements about his decisions. Heading back to LA Angel tells her that in the future he’ll apologise, if necessary, by phone. Buffy then talks to Riley who jealously wonders aloud whether the Buffster has had sex with Angel turning him evil once again. Riley is surprised to learn that the Angel, the Mr. Billow Coat King of Pain guy the girls really go for, the Angel he has just had a run in with, is experiencing one of his “good” days. Buffy asks Riley how he could even think such a think and asks him if she has ever given him cause to be jealous. Realising that he has gone “nuts” because of his jealously Riley says no she hasn’t. Buffy and Riley crisis over for the moment. Question marks still remain, however. Where is the Buffy and Riley relationship going? How does Angel fit into it? Hopefully season five will tell.

While the Buffy-Angel-Riley arc is an important thread running through “The Yoko Factor” and “Primeval” it is not at the centre of the episode. That place is reserved for several arcs and the interrelationship between them, several arcs that have wound their way throughout season four and which now come to a kind of conclusion, the Scoobies disassemble arc, an arc grounded in the Scoobs leaving high school, the Scoobies versus the Initiative arc, an arc grounded in the different knowledges about and different ways of dealing with the demon world the Scoobies and the Initiative have and act upon, and the Adam arc, an arc intimately related to and tied to the Initiative arc and grounded in the Initiative’s attempt at, as we will see, world domination.

As “The Yoko Factor” and “Primeval” begins Adam is still moving his pieces around his chessboard and Spike is continues to help him. Adam is still counting on the Slayer being in the think of his demons and humans war but, at Spike’s suggestion, he decides to have Spike break up the Slayettes so they can’t come after Adam and muck up his plan before the great demon and human war.

Spike uses his old tricks to break up the Scoobies. He plays on Giles’s fear that we have seen throughout season four (and even before) that he is no longer really a central part of Buffy’s life. He plays on Xander’s fear that that he is useless and really doesn’t play a role whatsoever in the Scooby battles against evil. Remember “The Zeppo”!. He plays on Willow’s fear that she is Buffy’s sidekick and that Buffy, Xander, and Giles think that Willow’s Wicca thing with Tara is nothing more than a college phase she is going through. He plays on Willow’s and Xander’s fears that Buffy, with her sense of superiority, looks down on them even though she is, as Xander says, superior. By the end of the first part of the episode, “The Yoko Factor” the question marks Spike puts into the minds of each of the Scoobies about each other does its intended work and after an intense shout and blame match the Scoobies go their own ways not because, as Spike tells Adam, he broke them up any more than Yoko Ono broke up the Beatles, but because, just like the Beatles, the Scoobies were already spitting apart on their own. And he’s right. As Willow says, it is hard to keep the old high school gang together after high school.

The Scoobies are not the only ones who are being torn apart. While Buffy is out hunting Adam she runs into Forrest who tells her that his family is being torn apart, the Corleone Family (reference to Mario Puzo’s 1969 book The Godfather and Francis Ford Coppola’s 1972 film adaptation of the book) Buffy sarcastically replies. Though Buffy and Forrest say they are going their own ways they go their own ways into a cave in front of them looking for Adam. And Adam they find. After a fight in which Buffy tries to save Forrest by pushing him out of the way and in which Adam once again tosses around Buffy like a plastic toy, Adam kills Forrest.

Now Buffy has to tell Riley the bad news. After the big Riley versus Angel testosterone match in her dorm room Buffy tells Riley that Forrest is dead, killed by Adam. Riley in blank stare mode tells the Buffster he has to leave. I initially thought that Riley wanted to be alone it with the pain of the death of someone he was very close to or perhaps that he was going to pull a Giles (“Passion”, 2:17) and hunt down and try to kill the hybrid beast who killed his best friend. In the final scene of “The Yoko Factor” we see Riley walk into Adam’s lair. Adam says, “I have been waiting for you”. Riley responds “And now I’m here”.

The second part of the episode, “Primeval”, begins where “The Yoko Factor” left off. Buffy and the Scoobies have been split apart and Buffy is no longer wondering why there isn’t a prophecy about the Chosen One and her Friends. A Slayer with friends or without, of course, has been a major theme in Buffy the Vampire Slayer up to this point. Buffy goes in search of the one person who she is sure she can trust, Riley, but Riley has deserted and is missing in action from Buffy’s point of view, anyway. We viewers, however, know where Riley is. Riley is, for some reason, in Adam’s lair.

Now we viewers learn why Riley is with Adam. Adam tells “brother” Riley the real nature of Mother’s, of Maggie Walsh’s, plan for them both. They are part of an experiment that will provide the US government and its military the opportunity for world domination. Riley, like Adam, has been modified by Mother thanks to a behaviour modification chip in his chest and is forced against his will to obey every command Adam utters, though his will fights against Adam’s control over him. Riley struggles, in other words, against his Initiative conditioning. The betwixt and between Riley, the Riley betwixt and between the Initiative and the Scoobies and not quite a part of either, it turns out, thinks too much as Colonel McNamara tells the government agency types in suits at the beginning of the episode.

Though it appears that every chess piece is in its correct place on Adam’s chessboard there is a flaw in Adam’s plan as Adam and Spike soon realise. Adam has filled the Initiative’s holding cells with demons convinced by his demagogic rhetoric that he is on their side and that he is going to set them loose on their Initiative enemy, his version, as Xander says, of the Trojan Horse. If the Slayer presence in the Initiative is essential if the kill ratio of demons and humans is to be evened out after he releases these demons into the Initiative so that he can build an army of hybrid demon/human/technological beings like himself, how is she going to be enticed into the underground Initiative lair when the Scoobies have broken up and Buffy needs Willow’s help to decrypt the computer discs Adam has had Spike give Giles in order to entice Buffy into the Initiative’s lair?

Spike, with the promise of a “chipperectomy” is off to rectify the damage he has done. Buffy, checking out the cave she earlier found Adam in, runs into Spike near Adam’s now deserted lair. She tells Spike of the Adam danger. When Spike mentions to her that she should get on the computer discs he has given Giles and Willow, Spike goes on to make one of those proverbial slips of the tongue when he tells Buffy that her falling out with Willow can’t get in the way of finding out about the valuable information on those discs. How did Spike, Buffy wonders suspiciously, know that she and Willow, the two birds, have had a falling out?

Buffy reunites the Scoobies sans Anya and Tara on the UC, Sunnydale campus and tells the Scoobs that it was once again Spike who set them up and knocked them down. The Scoobies reunited head off to Giles’s place to do some research in order to figure out how they can fight an Adam who, they learn, thanks to the automatic decryption of the computer discs in Willow’s possession, wants the Slayer in the Initiative but is not really worried whatsoever that the Slayer might kill him.

Meanwhile Adam has his gang together again as well in a secret lab behind room 314 in the Initiative. Walsh and Angleman, artificially reanimated and now walking corpses, are there to help him with the medical procedures necessary to turn war dead into hybrid army. Adam has already turned Forrest into something nearly as “bad” as he is, a preview of Adam’s coming attractions, and as Riley is to become.

Things are looking dire for our Slayer. Just when all seems lost it is Xander once again to the rescue. “All we need”, he says, “is a combo Buffy with slayer strength, Giles' multi-lingual know-how and Willow's witchy power”. And that is what they get. Making their way into the Initiative by repeling down the lift/elevator shaft the Scoobies escape the Initiative, an Initiative that is clueless as to what is about to happen, who have captured them, after Adam unleashes the demons in his Trojan Horse on the Initiative, and head to the room near Adam’s secret lab. There Willow, Xander, and Giles do a spell—so that is what the magic gourd was for—while Buffy heads off into the secret lab to find and fight Adam.

Buffy finds Adam and Walsh and Angleman and Riley in Adam’s secret lab. Riley? Adam leaves for his command headquarters to continue to push the buttons on his chessboard and leaves Buffy to a now superstrong Forrest who has been yearning to take on the Slayer and kill her for some time. Buffy, with Riley’s help, a Riley who through force of will manages to cut into his chest with the glass from a beaker that has been broken while Buffy and hybrid Forrest fight, manages to remove the chip in his chest and escape the experimental ties that bind. Riley thinks too much. He takes Buffy’s place in what has become their tag team match against Forrest. Buffy is now free to follow Adam into his surveillance centre where the experiment has gone to watch the battle taking place in the Initiative.

Meanwhile Willow, Xander, and Giles put Willow’s spiritus, spirit, Xander’s animus, heart, Giles’s sophus, mind, and the power of the Slayer, the first Slayer, the first of the one’s, manus, hand, into the daughter of Sineya, Buffy. In a remarkable scene, the camera, as the Scoobies perform the spell, begins to circle around the Scoobs. As the spell proceeds and begins to work the camera, circling the Scoobies faster and faster, travels, once the spell has kicked in, from the Scoobies to Buffy in a spectacular piece of montage, transforming the Buffster into super combo Slayer in the middle of her fight with Adam. It is this Slayer of the spell, this combo Slayer, the Slayer who combines aspects of Buffy, the Slayer, Willow, Xander, and Giles, who defeats Adam by pulling the power core out of his body. Thank you Jonathan. Too bad Buffy doesn’t know it was you who gave this information to Riley.

Cavities Defeat Science. One of the narrative themes of season four has been the stark contrast between the military follow the orders of the leaders Initiative and the ever questioning primeval Scoobies. It is the “she’s just a girl” Buffy and her band of freaks with their “backward”, actually primeval, knowledges, who win the day putting an end, if for the moment, to an American governmental and military attempt to harness demons in hybrid form for use for the use of the American military in, presumably, service to American imperialism.

With the Scoobies victorious the American government decides to shut the Initiative down, to fill it in with concrete, to burn it down and salt the earth, a la what ancient Rome did to ancient Carthage, as one governmental official says. And, this being a government with a security state mentality, it decides to monitor the civilians, the Scoobies, the “civilian insurrectionists” who saved the Initiative from casualties greater than the forty percent they suffered. Should the Scoobies decide to go public with what they know the US government has prepared the usual measures to counter such "fabrications". So is the real big bad of season four the governmental-military-industrial complex the Initiative represents?

“Opted Not to Join Us Despite the Fun We Had at Our Last Meeting”. While Buffy, Xander, Willow, and a drunken Giles the semi-Scoobies Anya and Tara head to Giles’s bathroom to wait while the storm blows over. Nor do Anya and Tara come to the Scooby meeting Buffy has called at UC, Sunnydale after the big blowup the day before. Anya and Tara still aren’t full-fledged members of the Scooby Gang.

The Continuing Saga of Giles’s Front Door. It is Spike once again who comes unnoticed into Giles’s apartment while the Watcher is performing—in preparation for a return concert at the Espresso Pump?—a spectacular version of the Lynyrd Skynyrd tune “Free Bird”. Spike snarkilly says something to Giles that probably some of us in the viewing audience have wanted to say to him for awhile, “You know, for someone who's got "Watcher" on his resume, you might want to cast an eye to the front door every now and again”. Perhaps Giles’s seemingly ever open door to anyone who wished to walk in is a metaphor for the Watchers very un-Watcher-like behaviour in season four and his sense of not knowing exactly what to do with his season four life.

A Little Guy on Guy Action? I suppose some academics would see homoeroticism in Riley’s and Forrest’s relationship, but is there, really? Or, if we viewed academic analyis as simply a form of reading just like any other reading, would we have to ask why academics see homoeroticism in so many books, films, and television shows these days? Does this reading say something about the social and cultural contexts of contemporary Western academia?

Next Season on Buffy. So the Initiative is defeated and it’s on to season five. But hey aren’t I jumping the gun? Isn’t there still one more episode yet to come in season four?

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