So after a run of really fantastic episodes, “Doomed” comes – what’s the opposite of crashing? – slouching in. It’s not a terrible entry. It’s not a fantastic entry. It’s more of a workman’s episode – it does what it needs to do in the time that has been allotted to it. Perhaps if “Doomed” had followed a stinker like “Go Fish” my opinion of it would be more rosy, but after the trio of “Pangs,” “Something Blue,” and “Hush,” pretty much anything would pale by comparison.
We pick up precisely where “Hush” left off, with Buffy and Riley sitting in her room, not having their much needed talk. It’s not often Buffy runs into other superpowered demon fighters with secret identities to protect, but she’s not really capable of seeing the inherent bonuses in dating a guy who is in her line of work and has a pulse. Riley’s connection to the commandos is now just another complication in a complicated life. Plus he lied to her. And he had the gall to not know who she is! (I immediately flashed to Buffy in the season 5 finale dryly observing it had been a long time since she ran into someone who didn’t know who the Slayer was.)
While they’re arguing, an earthquake hits Sunnydale (which, for the record, I didn’t remember was going to happen when I made that joke last week about localized earthquakes). Stupid Riley is about as excited to have experienced an earthquake as he is to have found out Buffy fights monsters, and that in a nutshell is Buffy’s issue with him. He’s playing soldier. She’s been in the field for a long time. Buffy is the one who really understands the danger of the world he’s meddling in. Riley has no clue, no conceivable idea what it means to fight demons for a living, to not be able to take off your commando gear and go have a beer with your frat/soldier buddies. It’s all fun and games until you have to die (twice) to save the world.
Buffy is thrown out of sorts by the earthquake. The last time one hit the area, she died, which could make anyone understandably twitchy. It’s also, in its own way, an easier problem to focus on. Apocalypses she understands. Corn fed Midwestern boys, not so much. Everyone else – ok, mostly Giles – pooh-poohs her fears until the Cult of the Week shows up, collecting blood and bones and artifacts that Giles’s buys at rummage sales and just keeps in random boxes around his apartment. Random Cult of the Week plans on opening the Hellmouth, which as we all remember, is directly located under the library of Sunnydale High. Or what’s left of it.
It’s nice to see Sunnydale High again, sort of like when you go visit your old high school over your first winter break, it is familiar and strange at the same time, but with more burn marks and structural instability. Apparently no one actually cleaned up post-snake – there’s a pile of (mysteriously unrotted) Mayor in one of the hallways. Much like Willow running into Percy at a party earlier in the episode, the school scene is supposed to emphasize how far the gang has come. While the gang is taking the whole “world is going to end” thing seriously, they’re a hell of a lot calmer about the possibility these days. This is what they do, saving the world, and you either learn how to handle the stress or you come apart at the seams.
The Cult is gathered around the hole that marks the entrance to the Hellmouth, doing the whole mumbo-jumbo, world ending incantation, before they start hurling themselves into the void. This isn’t just your run of the mill cult! No, this is a suicidal cult! True believers are just the worst.
In full world-savior mode, Buffy takes on the cult and makes the Scoobies back out when the rumblings of the Hellmouth threaten to bring the school down around their ears. Riley shows up, because he’s just that kind of guy, and helps her in the fight. When the final demon leaps into the hole, it’s Riley who makes Buffy wait a split second and hooks a line to her, so he can anchor her as she throws herself after the demon. This, if you are into that whole symbolism thing, is pretty symbolic of their roles. It also happens to be a fantastic gender invert, with the female role as the active member of the pair and the male role as the supportive back up. Keep an eye on that, since Riley’s encroaching resentment of his secondary position is at the heart of their eventual meltdown.
The end of the world averted, Riley and Buffy rejoin the group, where Riley tries to come up with an excuse to cover why he was there, fighting demons, that doesn’t involve him admitting his connection to the campus commandos. He is distinctly unsuccessful at this. I mean, even at 15, Buffy was able to come up with more plausible cover stories. Everyone mildly mocks him, thus completing his hazing and entry to the Scooby Gang.
Later, there is Buffy and Riley kissing, and we just have to resign ourselves to this for the next season and a half.
But I leave with the light at the end of the tunnel: Over in the B Plot, Spike is growing increasingly depressed by his neutering. He’s stuck living with Xander. He shrinks his clothes and has to wear Xander’s. He relies on his old enemies for food and shelter and protection. He tries to end it all by self-staking and screws that up. But during the fight at the school, Spike discovers he can harm demons and monsters with no reaction from his chip. He can hurt things again! The chip loophole means we get a lot more Spike-and-Scooby-Gang team ups, which is the best thing that happens in this episode by a long shot.