LadyGhosts of TV Past

Retro Recap: Buffy The Vampire Slayer S4.E7 — “The Initiative”

OK, she’s wearing the halter top with sensible shoes. That means mostly dancing, light contact, but don’t push your luck. Heavy conversation’s out of the question. If you hurt her, I will beat you to death with a shovel. A vague disclaimer is nobody’s friend. Have fun!

Buffy approaches Professor Walsh in the classroom
Images courtesy of 21st Century Fox.

It was a surprise to me on rewatching to see how long it takes to get the Initiative storyline up and running. They play such a huge role I thought the reveal of them ““ operating out of a cavernous underground bunker ““ came a bit earlier. We see glimpses of them stalking across campus, but its episode seven and we’re just really starting to pay attention to them. Which means we also have to spend more time with ““ is there some sort of emoticon that indicates a heavy sigh? ““ Riley.

In the interest of total honesty, I don’t care for Riley. I like him in concept ““ a nice, solid guy with a past that is a contrast to the kind of guys Buffy usually goes for, if in only that he’s got a heartbeat. He has his moments in season 4. But given that I’ve seen the entire series roughly a bajillionty times, fourth season kind-of-nice-guy Riley is overshadowed by resentful-jerky-cheating Riley. In fact, in this episode, when Riley and Buffy encounter each other on their respective stakeouts and Riley tries to get Buffy to go home, he says he believes that women need to be protected, and I shouted, “˜See?!’ in a super indignant voice to everyone in the room.

Riley and Professor Walsh
Images courtesy of 21st Century Fox.

My mother was watching “The Initiative” with me and she says that I’m too hard on Riley. Riley, of course, is the kind of guy moms like ““ safe, good looking, all American. Joyce loved Riley. My mom loves Riley. Though I am a mother, and I don’t like Riley, so maybe when I’m done writing this recap I should go do some deep introspection.

I was talking about something, right? Oh, yeah. “The Initiative.”

At the tail end of “Wild at Heart,” Spike makes a reappearance, slinking back to Sunnydale after getting his ass roundly thrashed over on Angel. In the midst of his Big Bad speech, he’s incapacitated and drug off by the campus commandos. We pick up this week in the holding cells of the Initiative, the military monster hunters collecting and experimenting on the plentiful monster population of Sunnydale. Spike, who is smarter than your average bear, quickly engineers a breakout of the facility, though not before they’ve already installed The Chip in his bleached blonde head.

Meanwhile, the gang has just started to deal with the repercussions of Willow’s heartbreak. Will is still holding out hope that Oz will return ““ something that Maggie Walsh, Professor of Doom, quickly puts the kibosh on. We haven’t hit mourning rock bottom yet ““ that happens in “Something Blue” ““ so Buffy attempts to distract Will by taking her to some on campus parties. But wait! At the same time, Riley figures out that he’s really into Buffy when he lays Parker out for comparing the Slayer to a toilet seat. See? Season 4 Riley has a some good moments. Punching Parker is always satisfying. Riley approaches Willow for help in courting Buffy, so Willow sub-orchestrates using the party Buffy is dragging her to as a potential hookup for Riley-Buffy.

Spike and Harmony reconcile
Images courtesy of 21st Century Fox.

Over in the B-storyline, Xander and Giles are feeling like the odd men out, left behind in Buffy’s new college life. Giles isn’t working ““ I’ve always wondered if he got unemployment on account of his last work place being blown up ““ and Xander is a randomly employed townie, so the guys have a lot of time on their hands. While Willow and Buffy attend frat parties, the two of them decide to go on a paramilitary stake out of the actual military, using equipment Xander stole from a different military that has heretofore not been mentioned, though one might assume this would have come up at some point previously. You know. Since the gang fights monsters and all.

And there’s more! After Spike breaks out of underground, he goes slinking back to Harmony, uttering the world’s most insincere apology. Harmony, who is not the brightest bulb in the box, buys it long enough to enjoy some make up sexing, and then kicks Spike out for still being obsessed with Buffy. Which leads to her burning his Sex Pistols CDs in a clearing. Which leads to her running into Giles and Xander on their stake out. Which leads, in turn, to the greatest fight scene choreographed on the show, ever. EVER. Feel free to make alternate suggestions in the comments, but you’re going to be wrong.

Harmony and Xander slap-fight in a ridiculous fashion
Image courtesy of 21st Century Fox.

While Buffy and The Initiative are independently out looking for Spike, Spike is looking for Buffy. Instead, he finds Willow, moping alone in her room and, in short order, attacks her. We get the first glimpse of the chip in action ““ as soon as Spike makes to hurt Willow, he’s crippled by intense neurological pain. The chip is frequently played as a “˜neutering’ device, but never as overtly as in this first scene, where Willow and Spike both discuss his inability to bit her in terms of erectile dysfunction, complete with Willow wondering why she’s “not the kind of girl” vampires are turned on by. Until she remembers that turning a vampire on could get her killed, and Willow smashes a lamp over Spike’s head to make a run for it.

Spike in pain after trying to attack Willow
Images courtesy of 21st Century Fox.

All storylines collide ““ well, except for Giles and Xander ““ in the hallway outside of Buffy’s dorm room when the Initiative rushes in to re-capture Spike and tries to take Willow in case she “˜turns’ (which only illustrates how little they know about the forces they’re fighting), and Buffy shows up in time to kick a squad of commando’s asses up and down the dorm floor. Spike gets away, the Initiative is unable to identify Buffy thanks to the flare gun set off on the floor, and Willow remains un-vamped. We’ve been given all of the major threads for the rest of the season ““ Maggie and the Initiative, Spike and his Chip, Willow’s new singlehood, and Buffy vs the military. “The Initiative” isn’t a philosophically deep episode, but it’s a solid, enjoyable entry in the canon and it serves as a thematic bridge between the first part of the season (small, personal tragedies) and the Big Bad of the second.

By [E] Slay Belle

Slay Belle is an editor and the new writer mentor here at Persephone Magazine, where she writes about pop culture, Buffy, and her extreme love of Lifetime movies. She is also the editor of You can follow her on Twitter, @SlayBelle or email her at

She is awfully fond of unicorns and zombies, and will usually respond to any conversational volley that includes those topics.

12 replies on “Retro Recap: Buffy The Vampire Slayer S4.E7 — “The Initiative””

Love love LOVE this episode. Yes, the punching of Parker gives Riley SOME redeeming qualities, but him being an absolute dick in Season 5. Willow’s talk with Spike was awesome.

Hey guys, why is it the mass murderer is capable of being hilarious and sometimes lovable yet golden boy earns nothing but my loathsome side eye?

I know. Every time I say that I prefer Spike over basically everyone else on the show, I realize I am voting for a mass murderer (or maybe, technically, a spree killer). Sure he reforms, but man. Its kinda sad that its easier to sell him as a suitor for Buffy than Riley.

I will grudgingly admit that Riley punching Parker was a good moment. But my dislike of Stupid Parker is just a notch below that of Stupid Riley, just because WE DON’T GET AN ENTIRE SEASON AND A HALF OF STUPID PARKER.

The Harmony-Xander slapfight is brilliant and absolute comedic gold. And the failed Willow-biting (and the conversation involved). And Willow’s very, very specific warning to Riley (though she never followed through, and it’s probably just as well that he wasn’t around for her spiral into homicidal man-flaying Dark Willow).

I had completely and totally forgotten about the slap fight until I rewatched the episode. And then I howled through it. There is a different gif out there that includes glittery stars and rainbows in the background, though I didn’t use it for copyright issues.

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