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August 18, 2004
The Freshman
by Daniel Erenberg

I’ve been away for quite a while, apart from the world of Buffy. From the fandom. The internet community. My DVD's. I’ve been gone, playing with my band The Doldrums (yes, I have pipe dreams just like all of you). That’s when I got an advanced copy of Keith Topping’s new Trivia book with my name in the acknowledgments. And that’s when I remembered: I’m a Buffy writer. I write about Buffy. I like doing it. I’m good at it (Shut it!). So I believe I left off at season four of Buffy. So here it goes:

Buffy The Vampire Slayer: Season Four

Buffy 4.1: "The Freshman", written and directed by Joss Whedon

A classy opening to the season, this episode sets up the status quo for the third set of twenty-two. It's got a wonderful one-off villain called Sunday, the introduction of the immediately engaging Riley, and the re-introduction of our main cast of five who are brought back without missing a beat. This is particularly seen in Giles as gentleman of leisure, Xander's "Star Wars" speech to Buffy, and Willow's fascination at the size of Sunnydale U's equipped library.

Buffy 4.2: "Living Conditions", written by Marti Noxon and directed by David Grossman

This episode is particularly notable for the amazing directing job done by David Grossman. He really brings energy and polish to the otherwise fruitless demon story by utilizing close-ups, slow-motion, and other quirky directorial touches. The episode isn't typical Buffy fare and, despite the story being a bit short on plot, Noxon writes some really good dialogue.

Buffy 4.3: "The Harsh Light Of Day", written by Jane Espenson and directed by James A. Contner

A third excellent episode for season four. We're re-introduced to James Marsters as Spike, which is always a good thing. We also get to catch up with the newly-vamped Harmony, who brings a light touch to the proceedings making Spike seem completely unthreatening in parts for the first time ever, setting up the character development to follow. Emma Caulfield also returns (looking hot!) as Anya and has a couple of really good scenes with Nick Brendon. The last shot of this episode is particularly haunting, staying with you long after the grr argh.

Buffy 4.4: "Fear, Itself", written by David Fury and directed by Tucker Gates

The first lame episode of the year really. The main monster plot is mostly a rehash of season one's clever "Nightmares" and we don't even get as much insight into the characters here as we once did. That is all but the exception of Oz, the only character that didn't appear in "Nightmares", and his werewolf fears set up his departure two episodes later. The end of this episode, while mildly amusing, is mostly an insult to the audience that embarked on the hour-long sojourn to get there.

Buffy 4.5: "Beer Bad", written by Tracey Forbes and directed by David Solomon

The worst episode of Buffy yet. And, in hindsight, for the entire run of the show. The only upshot is Sarah Michelle Gellar's wonderful performance, one of her best of the season. We also get Alyson Hannigan's overwhelming cuteness in her confrontation with Parker (whose storyline, by the way, is ended a bit too cut and dry for me). But, the metaphors are so obvious, the message so demeaning, it's almost cringe-worthy. We also get a new writer who hasn't quite mastered the speech-patterns of the main cast yet.

Buffy 4.6: "Wild At Heart", written by Marti Noxon and directed by David Grossman

This episode really satisfied me, and that was no modest feat, as I was a massive fan of Oz. This was Seth Green’s last episode as a regular on this series, and he went out with a bang. An explosion. And tears. This episode really hurts to watch these days, but we’re blessed with the incredible character development of Oz and Willow. Even Buffy herself has some choice moments in this one. We also get the well-developed one-off (really two-off) character Veruca. A classic.

Buffy 4.7: “The Initiative”, written by Douglas Petrie and directed by James A. Contner

One of the wonderful Petrie‚s best episodes. We get great metaphor, the big funny, and the return of Spike and the change in his status quo. It’s well-written, well-performed, and that fight between Harmony and Xander? Genius. This was a gem.

Buffy 4.8: “Pangs”, written by Jane Espenson and directed by Michael Lange

Angel is inexplicably brought back for this, well, inexplicable crossover. This episode was needless. As was the Angel episode “I Will Remember You” that followed. There are some good conversations penned by Espenson, but the Big Bad is weak and Angel’s presence is a real distraction. Best bit: Spike’s fascination over the appearance of the bear.

Buffy 4.9: “Something Blue”, written by Tracey Forbes and directed by Nick Marck

Meh. This one’s decent. It’s certainly funny. And it offers a good insight into Willow. Somehow, however, it leaves me cold emotionally. Most of Buffy’s best comedic stuff, including “Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered”, “The Zeppo”, and “Storyteller” have an emotional core to them, while this one feels hollow and dead. I laughed. Hey, I laughed quite a bit. And, not to sound pretentious, but so what? Tracey Forbes, you could tell, is a talented writer, but more and more it seems as though Buffy was not the show for her.

Buffy 4.10: “Hush”, written and directed by Joss Whedon

I don’t have a whole lot to say about this one. It’s obviously brilliant in concept and execution, writing and direction. It’s creepy, it’s well-drawn, it’s metaphors are quiet, fittingly, and apparent. The performances are wonderful. And it even takes a time out here and there to be funny as hell. We’re also blessed with Christophe Beck’s brilliant score, which reaches its creative peak here with the emergence of the Buffy/Riley Love Theme.

Buffy 4.11: “Doomed”, written by David Fury, Jane Espenson, and Marti Noxon and directed by James A. Contner

It’s interesting, though it doesn’t add up to much. This is the one, I believe, where I finally wrapped my head around Riley and started to like him a whole lot. It took a lot of guts for the writers to pick up where “Hush” left off, and they did an admirable job. Buffy and Riley’s conversation is interesting and well-played. However, the episode itself is pretty much just escapist action, which can be good, but I don’t expect that to come from a show as complex as Buffy. Also, the old “worst thing we’ve ever faced line” just doesn’t hold as much weight here as it has in the past. The episode almost reminds me of what we would have seen in “The Zeppo” had we not followed Xander. And, as it turns out, it’s not that interesting.

Buffy 4.12: “A New Man”, written by Jane Espenson and directed by Michael Gersham

It was about time we got a Giles-focused episode. And this one did not disappoint. Actually, watching this now, it’s even better in hindsight than it was on first airing. Anthony Stewart Head is fabulous in this one, as is, come to think of it, mostly everyone. Even Ethan Rayne, who returns for the last time and delivers his final bit of mischief and quite a few laughs as well. As Giles would say, good show.

Buffy 4.13: “The I In Team”, written by David Fury and directed by James A. Contner

This was a disappointment when it first aired. This was the major start of the Evil Initiative/Adam storyline. It would have been great, but we’d already been blessed with the Spike/Dru/Angelus storyline and the Evil Mayor/Evil Slayer storyline. Sarah Michelle Gellar and Marc Blucas are both really good, and Fury has some spiky bits of dialogue, but it’s mostly mediocre.

Buffy 4.14: “Goodbye Iowa”, written by Marti Noxon and directed by David Solomon

How Buffy fans remained stand-offish from Riley after this episode, I’ll never know. The stuff I mentioned for the previous episode applies to this one as well, but it’s a bit better. And we get a better look at Adam, who, it turns out, is a pretty interesting villain.

Buffy 4.15: “This Year’s Girl”, written by Douglas Petrie and directed by Michael Gersham

This one is great! Eliza Dushku’s return was a blessing for both Buffy and Angel in Buffy’s fourth season. She delivered two wonderful episodes for each show. Eliza’s performance feels like she never left the character and the reactions of the other characters, particularly Willow and Spike, are pitch-perfect. The end is chilling too.

Buffy 4.16: “Who Are You”, written and directed by Joss Whedon

I’ve already praised Eliza Dushku and James Marsters in the previous episode, and Joss back in “Hush” and “The Freshman”. To me, the real standout in this one was Tara. I finally got on board with Tara during this episode. When she realizes that the Buffy she’s meeting isn’t actually Buffy per se, it’s bone-chilling. It really made me fall in love with Tara and with Amber Benson as well. We’re also treated to Sarah Michelle Gellar’s finest hour in this one, giving the performance of a lifetime, cutting loose and never coming back until the brilliant closing emotional catharsis.

Buffy 4.17: “Superstar”, written by Jane Espenson and directed by David Grossman

Funny stuff. I’ve always like Danny Strong and his character Jonathan Levinson, and this was a good showcase for both. That’s all it really was though. It has very similar values at heart as the ones put forth in Espenson‚s “Earshot” the year before. Unfortunately it doesn’t add anything to them, and doesn’t make the viewer think. But, it’s really funny!

Buffy 4.18: “Where The Wild Things Are”, written by Tracey Forbes and directed by David Solomon

This is better than most people give it credit for. We get really good stuff from Emma Caulfield and James Marsters, Anthony Stewart Head grabs an acoustic guitar for the first time, and it’s a step up from the previous haunted frat-party episode “Fear, Itself”. Forbes, in her last episode, finally gets a handle on the way these characters speak. It’s really not that bad.

Buffy 4.19: “New Moon Rising”, written by Marti Noxon and directed by James A. Contner

Seth Green returns for Oz’s final in-continuity episode and does not disappoint. His conversations with Willow are perfect and never miss a beat, and his confrontation with Tara is intense and, ultimately, beautiful. However, the interesting thing is that Marc Blucas is once again a standout as Riley Finn, infiltrating The Initiative to bust out Oz. It might not be “Wild At Heart”-good, but it’s really good all the same.

Buffy 4.20: “The Yoko Factor”, written by Douglas Petrie and directed by David Grossman

This is an awesome episode. Season four was rich on character development and it all came to a head here, thanks to Spike. There is not a single character that isn’t brilliant in this episode. I think the standout for me, though, if I had to pick one was Giles. His drunken “Bloody Hell” makes me die laughing every time. I mean, not literally, because you could really only die once. Unless you’re a vampire. Or Buffy.

Buffy 4.21: “Primeval”, written by David Fury and directed by James A. Contner

It’s action-packed, I’ll tell you that. This finale to the seasonal arc disappointed a lot of people. It didn’t have the emotional core of “Prophecy Girl”, or “Becoming”, or “Graduation Day”. But, you know what? Wait til the next one. This succeeds in making incredible escapist action where “Doomed” failed. I like this one a lot. Adam’s demise is satisfying and creative, and the final fight worked insanely well, despite the apparent Matrix-ripping-off.

Buffy 4.22: “Restless”, written and directed by Joss Whedon

Genius. It would be in my desert-island top ten episodes of Buffy list any day of the week. Hell, it would be in my top three. I love it. It hits me on a personal level, and it’s compulsively watchable on a character level and also a visual level. I find something new every time I watch it. It works as an end to season four and also as a pilot for season five. Which is coming soon.

Daniel Erenberg lives in a gothic-looking house in a suburb of Long Island shrouded by trees and darkness. His backyard is so overrun with shrubbery that he can't plant flowers in the soil. He's penned articles for numerous magazines (and a couple of websites for free). Currently, he's writing his first novel, entitled People That I've Long Since Forgotten. He's also written two plays, Little Room and Dystopia and a screenplay called Youth Or Consequence. He lives a fairly happy life alone except for the mind-numbing loneliness he feels on occasion. If you’re a beautiful woman that’s fallen in love with Daniel, or you just want to talk Buffy with him, you can contact Daniel at
Latest Comments

Oh, okay. I think that the two shows don't run synchroniously.

Posted by: Jenny on December 16, 2004 06:53 PM

Exactly. She was absolutely terrified to do any kind of spell in Sunnydale. It didn't matter how difficult the magic was. I get what you're saying Johanne but I just thought for the magic she was doing she switched gears way too much in LA considering how damaged her confidence was. Destiny, did it seem to you the guest appearance on Ats was out of sequence with BTVS? I don't think Daniel's latest opinion sight is specifically season five. I think it's just a general overview but I'll check it out again in case I'm mistaken.

Posted by: jp on December 16, 2004 05:50 PM

i agree JP wiloow was afraid to do a single spell in SunnyDale but in LA she was working lots of power

Posted by: Destiny on December 16, 2004 04:44 PM

when is everyone gonna come over to the new opionion site the s5 one?

Posted by: Destiny on December 16, 2004 04:42 PM

Jenny. I hear you but isn't the sequence of events still wrong between the 2 shows? If she left in LMPTM and came back the next day then how could she have already been in LA the week BEFORE? See what I mean. If I'm understanding this correctly the time in LA falls in between the BTVS episodes so it's still off. Johanne, good theory with Willow but it still isn't making sense to me either. She was doing some heavy duty magic in LA. She had a severe lack of confidence. She was terrified of doing ANY magic. So severe that I can't say a change in scenery would have made that much of a difference. It hadn't been a year since Dark Willow. I don't think she was fully recovered yet.

Posted by: jp on December 15, 2004 09:12 PM
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