Retro Recap: Buffy the Vampire Slayer, S4.E21 — “Primeval”

[E] Slay BelleLadyGhosts of TV Past3 Comments

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This isn’t your business. It’s mine. You, the Initiative, the boys at the Pentagon… You’re in way over your heads. Messing with primeval forces you’ve got no comprehension of… I’m the Slayer. You’re playing on my turf.

A still from "Buffy the Vampire Slayer."

After the events of “The Yoko Factor,” Buffy is seemingly on her own. Her friends are at each other’s throats, her steadfast cornfed boyfriend has disappeared, and she spent a long night sitting on her dorm room floor staring at nothing. Because she is The Slayer, she does what she has to, packing a basket of weapons and heading off to the bad wolf’s lair. Adam has vacated his luxurious cave digs for the secret lab at the back of The Initiative. All Buffy finds is Spike. Oh, and Spike’s accidental tip that he’s been working for Adam, and purposefully played the Scoobies off each other to rob Buffy of her support system.

Buffy summons the gang together, bludgeons them over the head with the obvious, they all agree to move on, hands clean, pip pip, stuff to do and demons to slay. Which is great, narratively, because the episode is quickly able to get to its juicy meat — zombie mad scientists, demon-soldier hybrids, Riley pulling a control chip out of his central nervous system without any ill affects whatsoever, and the fucking awesomeness that is Uber Buffy, the Glowing Eyed Adam Slayer. Everything happens pretty fast in “Primeval” — we bob from scene to scene at a breakneck pace. This is hard to complain about. Frankly, considering that this is the resolution of a yearlong Big Bad Plot, the overall episode is a bit lackluster. There are a few fantastic scenes — Adam revealing Riley’s place in the final solution is actually chilling. Uber Buffy is the entire season 4 highlight. Spike gets the best lines of the episode (“Well then everything is all right and we all get to be not staked through the heart. Good work, team”).

A still from "Buffy the Vampire Slayer."

The problem with the Scoobies, like in a lot of families, is that they love each other, and so they don’t want to hurt each other by having the hard conversations that are often necessary for growth. So issues are never truly worked out and they bubble up at inconvenient times, to be spackled over with some hugs and promises to never let things get bad ever again. It happened in season 2, where Xander cruelly lashes out at Buffy for not killing Angelus, though his complaint is just as motivated by his jealousy that Buffy loves Angel and not him. We see it in season 3, where Buffy has to be tricked into revealing what happened at the mansion and the group has a throwdown at Buffy’s coming home party because they resent her running away to LA. There it is in season 6, where Buffy hides the torture she’s going through after her resurrection. And in season 7, when an angry Buffy quickly reveals that she’s been harboring a five year long resentment that Willow’s told her to “kick his [Angelus’s] ass” during the siege on the mansion — and never finds out that it was a lie Xander told her.

Buffy even acknowledges this is a problem for the gang, saying that Spike couldn’t have caused problems for the group if “there wasn’t something to stir up.” Yet, despite this, the gang is quick to label their fight a “piffle” and heal everything with a group hug at the bottom of an elevator shaft and vague promises to “never not talk” again. I find this recurring cycle of theirs both authentic — as a champion grudge holder, I can understand holding on to a slight from five years earlier, nursing it in the dark recesses of your mind, pulling it out to fondle every so often — and incredibly frustrating, because it means we seem the same story lines crop up over and over, with a seeming lack of development or progress.

A gif from "Buffy the Vampire Slayer."

Of course, thematically, the fight is deeply important as it’s symbolic of the issues the group has been having all year. Without it, the resolution of the Adam problem would be robbed of all its emotional resonance. Because in order to beat Adam, the gang needs to combine their best aspects — Willow’s mystical power (spirit), Giles’s intelligence (mind) and Xander’s bravery (heart) into a single package in the shape of one Buffy Summers (Manos, the hand).

I remember watching this scene for the first time and feeling chills when Uber Buffy stood up from behind the ruined computer console. Buffy’s advantage as a Slayer has always been her willingness to bend the rules, and even as the Chosen One, finding strength and resources in her friends, eschewing the isolation that being The One implies. She’ll do it again, later, changing the world with her actions, but right here, in this episode, Uber Buffy represents everything that is wonderful about the Scoobies. She is The Hand, but she needs a heart, mind, and soul to be a hero.

A gif from "Buffy the Vampire Slayer."

Once she’s Uber Buffy, the fight with Adam changes tone. His bullets don’t touch her. She turns his bombs into doves with a gesture. He strikes at her and she moves like water, flowing around him, until she is able to pull his power source from his chest, ending Maggie Walsh’s New World Order dreams and vaporizing the core so no one else can ever replicate it.

Afterwards, the Scoobies aren’t worn out by their effort but energized by it, rescuing most of the soldiers left in the Initiative. Not that the government is appreciative of their efforts — but at least the gang made enough of an impression that no one is going to try to bring them in for “studying.”

Next week: “Restless”

Extras:

Courtesy of BuffyGuide.com (and originally credited to the defunct site ‘MustReadTVScripts.com), the following is the translation of the spells Uber Buffy utters during the fight.

Sha me-en-den. Gesh-toog
me-en-den. Zee me-en-den.
Oo-khush-ta me-ool-lee-a
ba-ab-tum-mu-de-en.

We are heart. We are mind.
We are spirit. From the
raging storm, we bring the
power of the Primeval One

(When Adam shoots at her.)

Im-a-sheng-ab Boil the air

The photo that Buffy picks up in her dorm room shows up repeatedly throughout the series, starting back in season 2 with “Halloween” and is last seen in season 7.

The First Slayer is named during the incantation of the enjoining spell – her name is Sineya and she is addressed as “First of the Ones.” She makes her first on-screen appearance in next week’s episode, “Restless.”

Images courtesy of BuffyWorld and Goodbye Piccadilly Farewell Leicester Bloody Square and property of 21st Century Fox.

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[E] Slay BelleRetro Recap: Buffy the Vampire Slayer, S4.E21 — “Primeval”

3 Comments on “Retro Recap: Buffy the Vampire Slayer, S4.E21 — “Primeval””

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  1. Avatar of Sheena said she is ready for spring, not summer
    Sheena said she is ready for spring, not summer

    You’re right. The Gang has put aside the differences that Spike used to separate them and united in the Uber Buffy, but they didn’t deal with the issues that allowed Spike to do that. Giles still feels like Buffy doesn’t really respect or appreciate him, Willow still quietly resents Buffy and believes that everyone is judging her, Xander still feels like he’s the odd one out, Buffy still feels like she’s too special, as the Slayer, to deal with other people’s stuff when The World Is At Stake (and simultaneously feels isolated).

    And it does feel like the entire Adam storyline is tied up way too easily. Every other big bad so far — the Master, Angelus, the Mayor — has taken several episodes of build up and mini-battles before the ultimate defeat. Buffy only encounters Adam two or three times before the big battle. And, well, once they have a plan, the Scoobies defeat Adam pretty fast. There’s not as much trial-and-error involved as with other villains. In the context of season four being more about growing up, it kind of makes sense, but it’s still not particularly satisfying.

    But the aftermath of beating Adam, where the Scoobies are saving Initiative soldiers and scientists from various demons, is a little bit satisfying. It feels like a “yeah, you guys hunted us and saw us as a threat, but we’ll just forget that and deal with the Ick Demon in front of you”. Like Buffy et. al. care more about the human in front of them than that person’s affiliation. Would that more political and military leaders had that perspective.

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