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Buffy the Vampire Slayer - The Complete Fourth Season Print E-mail
Tuesday, 10 June 2003

Buffy The Vampire Slayer: The Complete Fourth Season

20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
MPAA rating: NR
starring: Sarah Michelle Gellar, Nicholas Brendon, Alyson Hannigan, Seth Green, Marc Blucas, James Marsters, Emma Caulfield, Amber Benson, Anthony Stewart Head
release year: 1999-2000
film rating: Three-and-a-Half Stars
sound/picture: Three Stars
reviewed by: Mel Odom

After three years of high school that included ruthless principals and a mayor of Sunnydale that turned into a giant snake, Buffy Summers (Sarah Michelle Gellar) heads into college not knowing what to expect. As it happens, the brilliant writing team behind the Buffy scripts seems cursed with the same pensive curiosity. What does a high school graduate do after those days are over? And what if that graduate is the Slayer, the Chosen One, the girl who was picked by fate to fight the monsters the rest of the world seldom admits exists?

Many fans of the seven-year run of the fascinating series “Buffy The Vampire Slayer” agree that Season Four represents a foundering time for Buffy and her friends, sometimes known as “the Scoobies,” as well as their real-life counterparts. After finishing the high school years, the college years could have turned out as a rehash of everything that had gone on before. College life, fraught with learning independence, learning to live with roommates, handling alcohol and sex, and (in the case of Nicholas Brendon’s Xander) living in his parents’ basement and finding slacker jobs, promised a lot of material. However, that material could have turned out a lot like the three previous years. Instead, the writers chose to strike out in a bold new direction. The Initiative, a government-sponsored ultra high-tech commando center specializing in capturing and studying demons, vampires, and other things that go slay in the night, turns out to be located beneath the college campus. The fact that Buffy had never before bumped into those people is surprising enough, but the idea of the Slayer working with the government is even more twisted. It also begs the question of why past Slayers hadn’t done so.

Although the framework for the first year of college leaves something to be desired, there are a number of great episodes, including “Hush”, the episode written and directed by series creator Joss Whedon wrote that was nominated for a writing Emmy. The collection opens with “The Freshman” on Disc 1, and, as in a number of Buffy episodes, starts in a cemetery. Willow (Alyson Hannigan) and Buffy are talking about the college catalogue, discussing which classes Buffy should enroll in. Willow already has her schedule together, but Buffy managed to put off dealing with choosing classes until now. Chapter 2 rolls out a nice music intro to the whole college scene that carries through the whole six-disc set. The stage is set quickly and the audience understands that Buffy Summers, freshman college student who has saved the world at least a handful of times, is still more than a little overwhelmed by the college life. Nothing seems familiar, though Willow and her boyfriend Oz (Seth Green) have managed to fit right in. Later, in

Chapter 5, Buffy is embarrassed by a professor with whom she was hoping to take a class. Chapter 6 emphasizes clicking heels against the sidewalk as the episode turns creepy. Gradually, Buffy turns up in the sights of a female vampire who has set up a sweet little feeding circle of victims on campus. The female vamp makes fun of Buffy, picking apart the same vulnerabilities that campus life has brought out. Eventually, though, as every heroine must, Buffy pulls herself together and hands out a major thrashing.

Episode 2, “Living Conditions,” focuses on living with a roommate. After only a few days of sharing a room with her, Buffy is convinced that her roommate is a demonic monster. A recurring nightmare plagues Buffy and her roommate. Willow, Oz and Xander believe Buffy is losing it and may well be under the power of a spell to become a homicidal maniac. Chapter 10 emphasizes the toenail clipping and pencil-tapping Buffy and her roommate do to get on each other’s nerves. The sucking sound of a face getting pulled off in Chapter 13 echoes through the surround sound system, and the explosion in Chapter 14 rumbles through the subwoofer with authority. The episode also sets the stage for Willow and Buffy to become roommates, promising a few problems there as well.

Dealing with relationships, the responsibilities of sex as well as the various expectations that come into play afterwards becomes the theme for “The Harsh Light of Day”. Chapter 1 opens with party music slamming through the surround sound system and Buffy’s interest in Parker, the guy she met her first day on campus. Tying back to the high school days, Harmony (Mercedes McNab), one of the students from Sunnydale High, shows up hunting on campus in Chapter 2. During the intervening time, she’s become a vampire. Chapter 4 brings ex-demon Anya (Emma Caulfield) to Xander. After their date at the Prom, she’s wondering where their relationship is going, which totally takes Xander by surprise. Chapter 5 blasts with the sound of the jackhammer vampire Spike (James Marsters) uses to cut into a structure buried beneath the campus that’s supposed to contain the fabled Gem of Amarra, which reportedly can make an individual vampire indestructible. Chapter 12 riffs the jackhammer noise again and mixes in rock music that masks much of the destructive thunder.

“Fear Itself” comes as a welcome throwback to the early days of the Buffyverse. A Halloween show, this episode is pure fun and fear, with emotions pinballing off the Scoobies themselves instead of the larger cast provided by college. Trapped in a haunted house, the Scoobies battle their own fears and each other, which also becomes something of a theme for them throughout this fourth season. Chapter 6 fires up the surround sound system with scary noises that scream into the scene. Chapter 8 features more party music and screams. When the bats are disturbed in Chapter 9, their flapping wings explode all around Buffy and her friends. The final line of the episode is an absolute kicker, making this one of the not-to-be-missed episodes of the

“Beer Bad” comes across as one of the college-responsibility themes. Chapter 1 opens with an explosive fight in the cemetery that turns out to be a wish-fulfillment fantasy on Buffy’s part regarding the problem of Parker, the guy she went to bed with who seems not to care for her at all. Seeking to drown her sorrows over Parker and to better fit into the college life, Buffy ends up at the Pub, the bar where Xander is working his latest job. The music in Chapter 3 crashes through the system, but pales significantly with the extreme vocals offered in Chapter 4 where Willow and Oz are attending a new band’s set. The female vocalist draws the attention of every male in the room, ensnaring even the usually faithful Oz. The drums throb through the subwoofer. The bartender in the Pub has laced his beer with a magical potion which turns Buffy and her drinking buddies into cavemen. Xander has to alert the Scoobies to the danger and they go into action, but one of the highlights of the show is definitely Willow’s busting of Parker’s come-on spiel. That couple of minutes where Willow stands up for Buffy and females everywhere alone is worth the time to watch the episode.

Spike returns briefly in “Wild At Heart,” only to be zapped by the mysterious black-suited commandos in Chapter 1. The singer who captured Oz’s attention last episode returns in Chapter 2 with more haunting lyrics and rock ‘n’ roll that push the surround sound system, making viewers who have it glad of the purchase. As it turns out, the singer has a secret of her own: she’s as much of an animal as Oz is. This episode marks the last of Green’s regular presentation of Oz, though he does return twice more during this season, once in the flesh and once in a dream. Whedon, writer/co-executive producer Marti Noxon and Green get together to discuss this episode and their chemistry and the fun they have together is immediately obvious.

“The Initiative” rips away the secrecy that has surrounded the commando unit watching over the college. Riley Finn (Marc Blucas), who has captured Buffy’s interest and is likewise interested in her, turns out to be one of the unit’s top operatives. Marsters also shows up in the opening credits. Chapter 1 opens with the Scoobies talking about Buffy and her problems, then shoves on into Spike’s recovery in a sterile lab/cell. In Chapter 2, Giles (Anthony Stewart Head), who was formally removed as Buffy’s Watcher in Season Three and no longer has official standing, and Xander fuss at each other because they both feel unnecessary in Buffy’s freshman year, but Buffy recruits them into action while she takes Willow to a party. Spike is fed through an automated system in his cell, and the splat of the blood pack against the floor in Chapter 3 is stone-cold solid, echoing the trapped feeling he’s experiencing. Buffy also stands up for Willow against Professor Walsh (Lindsay Crouse), who gets a well-deserved dressing down after a callous disregard of Willow’s feelings. But it’s Chapter 4 that really sits well with Buffy fans, because Parker gets what’s coming to him when Riley unloads on him and knocks him flat after Parker talks disparagingly about Buffy. Spike makes his escape and returns to Harmony in Chapter 9, delivering a melodramatic monologue that grabs the viewer’s attention. The chapter also offers some more thumping bar music that shakes the surround sound system and thumps the subwoofer. A fight between Harmony and Xander is hilarious, but Xander manages to learn that Spike is back and is after Buffy. But the real capper offered is this episode is Spike’s attempt to bite Willow in Chapter 13 and her own feelings of inadequacy when faced with the fact that she believes not even a vampire wants her. Writer Doug Petrie offers a great dissection of the episode, talking about how the scenes work and the emotions that go with them.

“Pangs” offers up a Thanksgiving feast that is a buffet of the Scoobies in action, offering everything that the fans most love about the characters. Chapter 1 offers the sound of rustling bushes and the appearance of Buffy’s old love, soulful vampire Angel (David Boreanaz), back in Sunnydale. In Chapter 2, Buffy wears a cowboy hat that becomes memorable just for that, and Anya has returned to try once again to figure out why Xander is so interesting to her. Unfortunately, Xander’s new job in construction awakens an ancient Native American curse that descends upon Sunnydale and quickly targets the Slayer during the midst of her unflagging determination to have a Thanksgiving dinner and make life just the way she remembered it before college rudely interrupted everything. Chapter 7’s scene with Harmony kicking Spike out is great, drawing the best from both those characters. When confronted later in the chapter, the Native American shaman who has returned to fulfill the curse turns into a flock of crows with a loud whoosh that wakes up the subwoofer and echoes through the surround sound system. In Chapter 10, the shaman raises up an undead army to the accompaniment of throbbing drums rolling from the subwoofer. Seeing Spike transfixed by arrows while tied to a chair during the Thanksgiving dinner will leave most fans rolling.

Willow tries to use magic to come to terms with her grief over Oz in “Something Blue,” casting a spell to make her wishes come true, and the spell backfires with tragic and comedic results as Giles goes blind, Buffy and Spike get engaged to be married and Xander becomes a demon magnet. Chapter 1 offers a scene of Buffy interrogating Spike while he’s tied up in Giles’ bathtub. Giles’ reaction to the taunting is priceless.

“Hush,” for all its silence, ends up as one of the season’s most talked-about episodes. A group of nasties called The Gentlemen arrive in Sunnydale in the dead of night to steal the voices of all those living in town. They have to collect seven hearts as a sacrifice. The episode “talks” about communication between people. Chapter 2 offers an entertaining look at Giles and Spike as roommates, then shifts to the problems Xander and Anya have at understanding each other. Tara (Amber Benson) is introduced as part of Willow’s Wicca group in Chapter 3. In Chapter 5, The Gentlemen’s hideout in the clock tower is revealed, and the quiet of the surroundings emphasizes the creepiness of The Gentlemen. With no human voices spoken in Chapter 8, the breaking glass in the hallway sounds strident and ominous, offering an effective use of an isolated sound. Buffy and Riley meet and help each other fight in Chapter 9. The image of the victim crying out soundlessly in Chapter 10 will probably stay with most viewers for some time because a number of them have probably had dreams where they couldn’t call out for help. The overhead projector display in Chapter 11 is priceless. The wet “splopping” sounds made by the implosion of The Gentlemen’s heads in Chapter 14 punctuates the resolution of the menace. Whedon provides audio commentary for this episode, discussing the message he wanted to convey, as well as anecdotes about the actors and the scenes. Viewers get a real idea of how enjoyable working with him must be, and how broad and imaginative his vision is.

Buffy deals with her own confused feelings over a potential relationship with Riley in “Doomed.” Neither she nor Riley have exactly been upfront about their other lives as heroes, and the earthquake in Chapter 1 rumbling through the subwoofer seems to underscore the reasons they shouldn’t pursue a romantic relationship. Chapter 2 shows Spike and Xander as roommates down in Xander’s parents’ basement. Spike is lethargic and totally down about his current state of affairs while Xander is put upon because he feels invaded and Spike’s presence interferes with his love life. The bar music in Chapter 4 vibrates through the surround sound system, placing the viewer with the gang in the Bronze nightclub. Chapter 6 offers a laugh-out-loud moment as Spike is forced to wear Xander’s clothing instead of his usual black attire. In Chapter 7, Giles informs the Scoobies that the end of the world is at hand. “Again!?” they explode together. Three demons attempt to offer sacrifices at the Hellmouth to bring about an apocalypse. Spike’s attempts at suicide in Chapter 10 will have most viewers rolling in the living room, but Chapter 13 with its tour of the burnt-out husk that is Sunnydale High brings a moment of poignancy.

“A New Man” offers a birthday episode for Buffy, and those always have an interesting quirk. The opening credits also start listing Blucas. The birthday surprise introduced in Chapter 1 startles most viewers as much as it does Buffy. By Chapter 2, though, Giles suffers a serious setback because he’s left out of the festivities. In Chapter 3, Spike moves out of Xander’s basement and steals property, which he says Xander shouldn’t be terribly surprised about. Chapter 5 offers a brief contest of wills as Giles takes on Professor Walsh, who states that Buffy suffers from having a lack of a solid father figure, something that Giles takes personally. Ethan Rayne (Robin Sachs), a villainous sorcerer and old acquaintance of Giles first introduced in Season Two, also shows up and slips Giles a potion that creates total havoc as it changes the Watcher into a demon. During his conversation with Ethan, Giles also learns that the demons all live in fear of the Initiative and something called “314.” The ending is swift and vibrant, offering definite doom potential, but turns out as one of the more tender moments in the season shared between Buffy and Giles.

Buffy enlists with the Initiative in “The I In Team”. Chapter 1 opens with training exercises that explode through the surround sound system. Riley is proud of her and glad they’ll be working together. Buffy isn’t certain about the whole government-sponsorship issue, but goes along because of Riley. In Chapter 4, Buffy is shown the underground complex, which blows her away. Chapter 5 displays the budding relationship between Tara and Willow that sent many fans in different directions over issues of sexual orientation. The second half of that chapter also reveals Professor Walsh’s pet project: Adam (George Hertzberg) in Room 314. Adam is a construct, a patchwork being made of human, demon and cybernetic parts. Chapter 9 shows Buffy in bed with Riley as Professor Walsh watches through a security camera, and for the next few episodes sex seems to be high on the season’s list of priorities, pushing the boundaries definitely into more adult fare. In Chapter 12, fearing Buffy’s influence over Riley, Walsh sets Buffy up to be killed, resulting in Riley’s split from the Initiative.

In “Goodbye Iowa,” the Initiative takes on the definite role of the villain, especially since Adam has killed Professor Walsh at the end of the last episode. Chapter 1 offers a quick recap, then shows Adam alive and kicking. Chapter 3 shows an insightful bit of dialogue between Adam and a small child. The boy knows Adam is a monster but is unafraid of him, and the scene seems to be offered as a review of today’s kids recognizing the monsters around them but knowing they can’t do anything about them. Tara and Willow get closer in Chapter 8, and the fact that the Initiative kept Riley drugged on a regular basis is revealed in Chapter 9. Chapter 10 offers a mystery and a prelude to a fifth-season episode when Tara surreptitiously refuses to take part in Willow’s spell to identify every demon in the nearby area. While pursuing Adam, the Scoobies learn that Riley is also part of Professor Walsh’s project. In Chapter 14, demons beat Spike up, further distancing him from the evil that he once was and setting him up for a comeback role as a hero with Buffy and the others in later seasons.

“This Year’s Girl” and “Who Are You?” are two episodes featuring the return of rogue Slayer Faith (Eliza Dushku) to the Buffyverse. After escaping the hospital where she’s been lying in a coma since last season, Faith uses a bit of magic her former boss the Mayor has left for her to switch bodies with Buffy. The writing and the action is quick and terse, moving the story along nicely and showing the different path Buffy could have walked while at the same time revealing the potential redemption of Faith. Petrie relays the audio commentary with panache and wit, but also bringing a terrific amount of insight about the characters and story.

“Superstar” opens as another just-for-fun-but-bearing-a-message episodes. Jonathan (Danny Strong), also of Sunnydale High School, returns with a spell that remakes the world over in his image, which is a nice thing except for the price that comes due. Jonathan’s successes are balanced by the appearance of a deadly demon that is linked to him. Chapter 2 offers spy guy music as Buffy and the others swing into action alongside Jonathan. The music at the Bronze in Chapter 6 crashes through the surround sound system. In a strange twist, Chapter 8 reveals that Adam is unaffected by Jonathan’s spell and also serves to remind the season’s dedicated viewers that he still lurks out there in the wings waiting to pounce. Even though the show deviates and provides a side trip through the Buffy reality, opportunities arise to take care of ongoing business between Buffy and Riley. One of the choice bits, though, has got to be Giles’ possession of the Jonathan swimsuit calendar and his denial of having purchased it himself. The writer of this episode, Jane Espenson, provides commentary that deepens the viewers understanding of her vision of the Buffyverse, as well as being charming and witty.

Another ghost-haunted house takes center stage in “Where The Wild Things Are.” While attending a frat party at Riley’s dorm, Riley and Buffy are ensnared in a spell that keeps them in bed throughout the whole menace as ghosts of children feed on their energy to throw everyone else in the house out. Chapter 1 shows Buffy and Riley fighting together against a vampire and demon pair, which normally doesn’t happen and tips them off that Adam is definitely at work. Chapter 2 shows Anya and Xander on the edge of a breakup, and Xander’s eyes go wandering. The party music in Chapter 6 slams the surround sound system while Buffy and Riley get together for more sex. Anya and Spike get together for some commiserating that finds them lamenting the days when they had powers to do evil things that is a gem of a moment. The music in Chapter 8 throbs through the surround sound system, but it’s Giles’ vocals in Chapter 11 on an acoustic cover of the Who’s “Behind Blue Eyes” that really catches everyone by surprise. The Scoobies work together and patch things up to figure out how to shut down the haunted house.

“New Moon Rising” brings Oz back to Sunnydale. In Chapter 1, Willow takes Tara to a meeting of the Scoobies, then does translations for her for everything that’s going on. Someone knocks on the door, and when it’s opened, Oz is standing there, looking for Willow. Buffy and Riley fight over Oz’s werewolfism, with Buffy feeling that the suspicious Riley is a bigot. However, when Willow talks about her romantic relationship with Tara, Buffy goes through the same struggle with handling the unexpected information that Riley is grappling with about Oz (albeit Tara isn’t posing a wolfy risk to society). Chapter 7 echoes with Adam’s ponderous footsteps in Spike’s lair.

Another two-parter, “The Yoko Factor” and “Primeval,” wraps up the twin threats of the Initiative and Adam. Working with Adam in the hopes of getting the chip out of his head that prevents him from attacking and feeding on humans, Spike uses his gift of guile and his knowledge of the Scoobies’ vulnerable points to set them at odds with each other so that Buffy will be totally alone in her fight against Adam. Spike tells Adam that the thing that has set Buffy apart from past Slayers is her friendships and all the people that rally to her banner to fight the good fight with her. Adam’s evil plan of flooding the Initiative’s cells with demons and vampires so he can later release them and kill everyone in the complex is also revealed. Adam turns out to be more than a match for Buffy by herself. Her encounter with him leaves her nearly dead and kills Forrest (Leonard Roberts, who went on to costar in “Drumline”), one of Riley’s close commando friends. Later, when Riley is taken by Adam and turns out to be an integral part of Professor Walsh’s plans, Buffy figures out Spike was at the bottom of all their problems, reunites the gang, and leads them all once more into the breech. Willow employs a mystical spell that has the inadvertent side effect of stressing the fabric of the whole Slayer magic and causes severe repercussions. As a bonus, “Primeval” features an audio commentary track by writer David Fury and director James A. Contner.

“Restless,” written and directed by Whedon, appears to be a set piece, but actually advances the Slayer mythos. Chapter 1 starts with Riley leaving to muster out of the Army. Taking a night of leisure in the familiar comforts of Buffy’s mother Joyce’s (Kristine Sutherland) home, Buffy, Willow, Xander, and Giles all experience dreams that confront them with their fears and a primitive woman dressed in furs who claims to be the First Slayer, the one who initially stood alone against the forces of darkness. These encounters also feature the Cheese Man, whose true purpose remains to be seen. Whedon offers a commentary on the episode that adds layers to understanding everything the characters go through while dreaming, delivering insight and a lot of humor, as well as the reasons behind ending the season with an episode that is not world-threatening. Whedon sets out to pay homage to a lot of filmmakers and movies throughout the piece and takes care to point out who and what those were.

Besides the commentaries, the discs include featurettes on the largely-dialogue-free episode “Hush,” the series’ sets, music used on the series (including mention of the excellent band Four Star Mary, which provides the sound of Oz’s band – the band members also show up as Giles’ onscreen backup group in the “Restless” dream), and one featurette each on the two other-than-human regular characters, werewolf Oz and vampire Spike, with observant comments from, respectively, actors Green and Marsters.

Collectors of all things Buffy will definitely want to pick up this DVD ensemble of Season Four. Although there is no Big Bad and a general loss of exactly where to take the show remains constant, the series’ writers still deliver great scripts, witty dialogue, and action that whets the appetite for the years to come.

more details
sound format:
English Dolby Surround; Spanish Dolby Surround; French Dolby Surround
aspect ratio(s):
Full-Screen 1.33:1
special features: Season Four Overview; Selected Episode Commentaries; Five Featurettes; Selected Episode Scripts; Stillz Gallery; English Closed-Captioning
comments: email us here...
reference system
DVD player: Pioneer DV-C302D
receiver: RCA RT2280
main speakers: RCA RT2280
center speaker: RCA RT2280
rear speakers: RCA RT2280
subwoofer: RCA RT2280
monitor: 42-inch Toshiba

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