1990's, 2000's, Alyson Hannigan, Amber Benson, Anthony Stewart Head, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 4, Emma Caulfield, James Marsters, Marc Blucas, Nicholas Brendon, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Seth Green
After the mesmerizing Season 3, Buffy Season 4 carries on the greatness as the characters mature and the threats against them become more dangerous. There may be some weaknesses in comparison with other seasons, but believe me, Season 4 boasts some classic episodes of Buffy that you don’t want to miss. Be warned, spoilers will follow in this overview.
After an eventful three years in high school, Buffy(Sarah Michelle Gellar) is now in college with best friend Willow(Alyson Hannigan). At first the experience is overwhelming for her and she feels left out as Willow and Oz(Seth Green) are happy together, Xander(Nicholas Brendon) is doing his own thing with Anya(Emma Caulfield) and Giles(Anthony Stewart Head) wants Buffy to act on her own. Matters are complicated by her pining for Angel, who has departed for Los Angeles. But gradually, she begins to blossom in college. Whilst juggling homework, she must also fight the demons that populate Sunnydale. There is also the matter of commandos that keep appearing on campus. It turns out that they belong to a program known as The Initiative. They capture demons, including vampire Spike(James Marsters) for research and experiments, yet there are more sinister motives brewing beneath this in the form of half human half machine Adam. It transpires that one of the agents is nice guy Riley Finn(Marc Blucas), who Buffy begins to date as he seems like an average guy. As they pursue a relationship, they struggle to keep their identities as Slayer and Agent secret. Elsewhere, the relationship between Willow and Oz deteriorates as Oz fears he can’t control his power when he transforms into a werewolf. His exit to find an answer prompts Willow to sink into melancholy and start practicing magic, this time with unexpected results. Buffy manages to get through to Willow and make her face her problems. Another key component in Willow’s life is the introduction of Tara(Amber Benson), a shy witch who notices Willow’s power. It is Tara who brings Willow out of her confined shell as the two begin a relationship. As the gang starts to grow apart due to various things in their lives, they realise that in order to fight demons they must band together again.
Firstly, I want to get the flaws of the season out-of-the-way. At first, the idea of the nefarious Initiative is a very interesting concept. But I feel like it could have been expanded upon to give the story more of a jolt. To be fair, the Initiative does give us Spike with a chip in his head that prevents him from harming humans and therefore makes him align himself with the Scooby Gang. I also feel that the Big Bad of Season 4 in the form of Adam, wasn’t as impressive as other villains such as The Master and The Mayor. Sure the Frankenstein like qualities to him add some form of interest, but he just doesn’t quite measure up to former villains on Buffy.
Now that I’ve got those flaws of Season 4, I will go onto the positives, of which there are numerous. As always, the writing is loaded with one-liners and pop culture references that contribute to the humour. The themes of alienation and isolation are expertly handled, mostly in the case of Buffy who becomes distant from her friends but realises the importance of them in her life and her destiny to fight the forces of evil. High school may have been hell, but college presents a whole new bunch of challenges for Buffy as she begins to find herself again. We have the welcome return of Spike, who provides a lot of the dry humour in the show. After receiving the chip that renders him unable to harm humans, he reluctantly joins the gang and proves to be a very useful ally when fighting the demons and monsters of Sunnydale. James Marsters impresses once again as Spike, capturing his bad ass, growling and violent demeanor to great effect. Season 4 also provides the introduction of Tara, who will become an important factor in Willow’s life. Played with virtue, nervousness and sweet-faced charm, Amber Benson excels as the shy witch who begins a tender relationship with Willow. It should be noted the importance of the relationship in terms of the way lesbians are portrayed on-screen. Before Willow and Tara, lesbianism had been used and exploited for male fantasies in many a TV show. In Buffy, it portrays their burgeoning relationship like any other on the show, with respect and warmth.
No discussion on Season 4 of Buffy would be complete without mentioning one of the best episodes, ‘Hush’. In this episode, creepy demons known as The Gentlemen steal the voices of everyone in Sunnydale in order to extract seven hearts from victims. Everytime they appear, The Gentlemen are bound to scare viewers. Floating through town with metallic smiles and strange, courteous gestures, whilst being flanked by henchman dressed is straight jackets, they will forever be in people’s nightmares. I love how the episode examines what happens when communication is taken away from us and we have to find another way to get our point across. Featuring only 15 minutes of dialogue and a haunting musical score of Gothic choral voices, Hush is classic Buffy that is not to be missed.
Our cast of Buffy is again on super form delivering exceptional work. As the eponymous slayer, Sarah Michelle Gellar combines humour, steel and compassion as she adjusts to college whilst facing her destiny to kill whatever demon stands in her way. Gellar has grown into the role so much that I can’t imagine anyone else ever playing the character of Buffy. Nicholas Brendon excels at showing Xander feeling like the one who doesn’t contribute much to the group, but who in actual fact is a core member. Alyson Hannigan is exceptional as growing witch Willow, who has her heart-broken by Oz but begins to discover herself with the introduction of Tara. Seth Green is stoic and deadpan as werewolf Oz, who bows out of the series as he attempts to control his powers. Emma Caulfield is hysterically funny as former vengeance demon Anya, whose misunderstandings of human communication often lead to her awkwardness. Marc Blucas plays Riley as a good guy who comes to see the corruption in the work around him. Riley as a character may be a little bland and ordinary, but I believe this is the point. When he dates Buffy, he is the opposite of Angel and it shows how Buffy finally dates an average guy rather than a demon. Anthony Stewart Head provides wisdom as Giles, whose genuinely cares for Buffy in a fatherly way and is an important ally in her battles against evil. He also gets some really funny moments, including him embracing the Halloween spirit by answering the door to an embarrassed Buffy whilst wearing a Sombrero and upon being discovered with a scantily clad woman being compared to Hugh Hefner by Buffy .
Flaws aside, Season 4 of Buffy is still sexy, mature and addictive television of the highest order.