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Retro Recap: Buffy the Vampire Slayer, S4.E14 –“Goodbye Iowa”

That was the idea. Riley was supposed to be Mr. Joe Guy. We were gonna do dumb things like hold hands through the daisies going “tra la la.”

Buffy undercover, wearing a lab coat

“Goodbye Iowa” picks up in the immediate aftermath of “The I in Team,” with Buffy giving the Scooby Gang (and Spike) the rundown on what happened with Maggie. I guess there’s nothing like a little attempted assassination to put Buffy back on her game. Sure, plenty of people (and Spike) have tried to kill her before, but the Slayer’s poorly thought out involvement with The Initiative throws a new wrench in the works.  Now the government knows who she is and where she lives, and without knocking on the door and asking Maggie what the hell is going on, the Gang doesn’t know if Maggie wants Buffy eliminated or the military does.

Into the powwow comes poor, simple Riley, as trusting as the day is long. What’s going on? What do you mean that Maggie tried to have you killed?  Despite the fact that I witnessed her lying to me and Maggie’s fear that she got found out, I totally don’t believe this thing that I saw with my own eyes! (“The good guys are always stalwart and true. The bad guys are easily distinguished by their pointy horns or black hats”¦ No one ever dies and… everybody lives happily ever after.”)

Oh, Riley. Iowa is so far away.

Spike gives two thumbs up

Riley seems to have been able to take the existence of monsters totally in stride because he believed in very simple things. The monsters were bad, and the Initiative’s goal to neutralize them kept people safe, so it was good. He served his country, he followed his orders, and everything was clear cut. The Scooby Gang has been doing this longer, getting their hands dirtier, living in this other world in way that the Initiative can’t possibly inhabit, with their scientific double speak and instance on measuring and quantifying demons and monsters. Even when Buffy or her friends have been betrayed – and they have, again and again – they already had a bleaker view of the world than Riley. They hurt. They feel pain, they cry, they’re disappointed, but their worlds aren’t inverted in the way that Riley’s is about to be. He’s having a hard time processing it and instead of allowing himself to believe that his life – that Maggie, codenamed Mother – was a lie, he lashes at the new variable in his belief system. Buffy.

Anyone who reads these recaps knows I love to rag on Riley. But I have to hand it to Marc Blucas – who, I maybe should take the pains to point out, I rather do like – for really selling the hell out of this episode. The writers gave him a juicy episode and he ran with it. I won’t say that I like Riley – I just know where this story is going, and I can’t forget it – but I have a lot more sympathy for the character by the end of “Goodbye Iowa” than I had when I started.

Riley aims a gun, captioned "I mean, who do you believe? First it sounds like lies, then it sounds like truth."

Riley goes from “this shit is hard to process” to worse in a handful of scenes, unable to go and talk to Maggie about what happened because she’s dead on the floor of room 314. He’s never going to get resolution to his “parent’s” betrayal. So he attempts to handle it by doing what he does best, playing commando. Despite an order from Dr. Angelman (who we find out, does not outrank Riley) to stay put, the soldier boys go out looking for the demon they think killed Maggie. Please note that at this point, The Initiative has just totally given up their stab at anonymity. They walk around with no masks on, broad daylight, driving military vehicles, carrying live ammo. Everyone in Willy’s bar knows they exist. Half of the town must know they exist. Riley shows up at a police crime scene totally kitted out and no one even looks twice.

Complicating this emotional tragedy is the very physical withdrawal symptoms Riley is going through. The Initiative has been slipping the guys meds through a regimented meal system.  The chaos after the murder throws the feeding schedule off – which must be some seriously addictive or short lived drugs if one missed lunch is so devastating – and the men are almost instantly affected. Riley’s sweating, scratching at himself, exploding at everyone around him. He threatens some (apparently) normal human beings, pulls a gun in a crowded (demon) bar, and throws Willow to the floor. He threatens Buffy and manages to pull himself together long enough to not kill a bunch of innocent civilians – which is good, because Buffy has already killed one boyfriend for the good of the world, and she’d probably take out another if she had to.

Buffy comforts Riley, who's curled up in a ball

While Riley is freaking out, Adam, this year’s Frankenstein’s monster, is out roaming around. He’s already killed Maggie, figured out how to escape the secure government facility unnoticed, and a caps his morning off with a pleasant stroll through the woods. Also, more murdering. Adam comes across a little boy playing in the woods behind his trailer home – his toy, notably, is a cybernetic action figure, just like Adam – and asks a few philosophical questions of the lad. The scene is a direct reference to the 1931 Frankenstein, where the monster comes across a little girl playing by a river, and drowns her in the waters. Adam’s young friend meets a similar, albeit more gruesome end.  Adam wants to know who he is and why he’s here. When he didn’t find the answer inside the body of a child, Adam returns back to The Initiative to see if there are some explanations there.

At the same time, Buffy and Army Xander infiltrate The Initiative, looking for answers of their own. No one has thought to revoke Buffy’s access to the base yet, even though some of the soldiers – mostly that dick, Forrest – are suggesting that maybe it wasn’t a monster who killed Maggie but Buffy. With more ease than one would hope, Xander and Buffy end up back in the secure area, overhearing top secret government research project plans, entering locked records rooms, and strong-arming Dr. Angelman. Then Riley shows up from a totally different entrance, and then Adam shows up, and we all realize that this is the worst military operation ever. Does no one even pretend to be on watch around here?

Adam, creepy as ever

Adam drops a dead soldier and some truth bombs on the collected parties. He and Riley were Maggie’s special pet projects. All the soldiers were being purposefully addicted to experimental super soldier serums. He’s made up of human parts and demon parts and robot parts, but he’s unsure of his place in the universe, and also why someone put a 3.5 inch floppy disk drive in his chest. Oh, ’90s. Remember floppy discs? Then he beats every single person in the room up. And then he kills Dr. Angelman. Adam’s been having a really busy day. So busy he doesn’t stay around long enough to meet the rest of the Initiative when they bust into the records room – he’s got a facial peel and manicure later, and god, he just really needs a nap.

Next week: Faith’s return

Images courtesy of Broken Innocence Screencaps and Goodbye Piccadilly Circus Farewell Leicester Bloody Square and property of 21st Century Fox.

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 powderroom.jezebel.com. You can follow her on Twitter, @SlayBelle or email her at slay@persephonemagazine.com.

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

3 replies on “Retro Recap: Buffy the Vampire Slayer, S4.E14 –“Goodbye Iowa””

This is the only episode where I found Stupid Riley remotely sympathetic or likable. Because Marc Blucas sold the angst and confusion and withdrawl like it was ice cream on a summer day. (Better than Xander ever sold ice cream from his truck, in fact.) Everything he’s believed, everything he’s trusted, has been shattered — except Buffy. And I think his resentment of her strength — physically, and from the support of Giles, Willow, Xander, and her mother — is starting to show. Before he realized that the Initiative was bad, he thought they were equal, or that his toys and resources made him equal to Buffy’s natural strength.

It’s kind of similar to the contrast between Buffy and Faith, though Faith realizes it. Buffy is the Slayer with family and friends, who can “pass” as a normal college student. Buffy grew up an only child, raised by parents who love her, and was the kind of person people wanted to be friends with. Even with her Slayer attributes, she had the Scoobies standing beside her and Giles backing them up. Joyce had some trouble adjusting to the information, but in the long run, chose to focus on maintaining normalcy.
Faith had an abusive mother, and kept falling in with losers and users. She focused on survival. Her first watcher, by Faith’s description, tried to take care of her and keep her out of trouble — but Kakistos murdered her in front of Faith. Then, she gets to Sunnydale, and sees everything Buffy has that she doesn’t — and that everyone’s reaction is to try and be nice, but they don’t really “get” her. And then Gwendolyn Post, and then Wesley, and then her accidental murder of the Deputy Mayor, and THEN the Mayor himself taking her in (and simultaneously parenting and weaponizing her).
I really like Faith as a character, and who she actually becomes. Joss Whedon did a very, very good job with her overall characterization. She’s not nice, but she’s awesome. And I really like both sets of paired episodes dealing with Faith (the Buffy set, and then the Angel set). And I really like how she and Angel interact. I’m looking forward to those recaps :)

I love the snark in this recap! I hated Riley, but the actor sold this like no other. And I’m kind of glad the writers didn’t make Buffy kill another boyfriend, even if she then has to deal with Adam and all of his issues instead.

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