'Buffy the Vampire Slayer': Season Four

Though I call myself a Buffy fan, I admit that my viewing habits of the show were spotty. I missed watching seasons one and two on their first TV run. I watched reruns and a friend’s taped episodes of season two before season three, which I did watch regularly. Season three, which in my opinion is the best season of the show, caused me to anticipate season four. I remember watching the season four premiere and thinking, “Well, that was weird.” The show gained some momentum, but after Oz left to find his inner wolf or whatever I remember that my interest slowly began to wane. Re-watching season four for the first time since I viewed the episodes seven years ago has clarified aspects of the season that did not gel for me and has revealed some bits that I really like.

Aspects of the Season That Did Not Gel

  • Pacing – I realized what felt so weird when I first viewed the season four premiere was the pacing, in that it slowed dramatically. In comparison, season four feels as though the cast and crew suddenly started drinking tea after three years of nothing but coffee. While the first three seasons absolutely have poignant, dramatic moments, on the whole the show is quick and quippy. Habitually, the show’s tender or heavier moments are undercut with humor so that it addresses serious matters but does not become encumbered by weightiness or sentimentality. I think that Joss Whedon and the writers wanted to mature the show a bit when Buffy went to college, but mature does not mean boring. The writing definitely weakened with several episodes featuring long, rather unfocused scenes during the third and fourth acts when the episode should speed up. Perhaps editing is to blame as well as the writing.
  • Riley – Oh my god. Oh. My. God. Speaking of boring, could they have found a love interest for Buffy who was more bland? And could Marc Blucas have any less chemistry with Sarah Michelle Gellar? I mean, Angel isn’t exactly as deep as the Grand Canyon and the chemistry between Sarah and Boreanaz isn’t astounding, but compared to Riley the Buffy/Angel relationship sets rooms on fire. The lack of chemistry is made so painfully apparent when Spike and Buffy smoulder in "Something Blue" and "Who Are You?"
  • Continuity with Characters – The male characters specifically have rocky character arcs. Giles begins the season as a sexy gentleman of leisure, but soon becomes this comical (though still sexy) middle-aged guy going through a mid-life crisis, which involves his becoming a demon for one episode. (Um, why?) While Giles began as something of a pratfall-inclined, laughable character, the writers created Wesley in season three to make Giles seem edgier, sexier, cooler, and I really liked that more confident Giles. His character backslid a bit in season four and not in an interesting way. At the end of both Buffy and Angel, I was ready to smack Spike, but I initially really liked him. I rank him as the second best Big Bad of the series, after, of course, The Mayor. I like Spike for his honesty, his willingness to say how things are and not sugarcoat them, and for his sense of humor. During season four, the writers started on the slippery slope of making Spike laughable instead of witty. Xander seems simply without direction throughout the season, going from job to job. The writers seem to have kept Xander on the show out of obligation rather than necessity. They liked him enough to keep him around but not enough to give him anything to do?
  • Heavy-Handed Storytelling – The episodes “Beer Bad” and “Pangs” come to mind when discussing this topic. Whedon & Co. obviously wanted to address issues that college freshmen might face like casual sex and drinking, but come on. Drink a beer, become a Neanderthal? Why must television constantly demonize alcohol and sex? TV shows always seem to portray those behaviors as all or nothing situations – you’re sober or drunk, you’re kissing or you’re having sex. “Pangs” is just confusing. White people should feel very, very badly about what their culture did to Indians, but look how violent and vengeful they are. So don’t feel too badly because violence just makes you kill people. No one’s fault!
  • Moping – I hate to mention this matter, but placing Buffy’s ordeal with Parker so close to Oz leaving Willow caused season four to feature a lot of Moping About a Guy. I do not want to dismiss either Buffy or Willow’s feelings, but after a few weeks the moping became tiresome. And poor Willow had the tail end of the moping, so everyone was giving her crap about grieving over Oz and, hello, Parker was a one-night stand while Oz was two years of Most Perfect Guy Ever. I think that Willow had the right to some crankiness.

Bits That I Really Like

  • Willow – Willow was always my favorite female character when I watched the show as a teenager, but during recent viewings of early episodes I have found her to be a little grating at times. Everything was always all about Buffy or Xander. While she definitely came into her own over the course of season three, during season four she became her own distinct entity. She becomes a bit more world-weary, but maintains her role as mother/mediator of the Scooby gang. Willow really benefited from that switch from coffee to tea. Oh, and Alyson Hannigan has great chemistry with everyone it seems like. I would have believed a relationship between Willow and Riley more than his relationship with Buffy. Hannigan really seemed to carry the emotional core of the show during season four.
  • Reappearance/Resurrection of Faith – Faith! OK, yes, I always enjoy watching Eliza Dushku run in leather pants, but that dynamic between her and Buffy is always fascinating and engaging.
  • “Hush,” “Fear Itself,” "Who Are You," “Superstar,” “Reckless” – Season four managed to churn out some kick-ass episodes.