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Recap / Buffy the Vampire Slayer S4 E7 "The Initiative"

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"The problem is, what kind of girl's gonna go out with a guy who's acting all Joe Regular by day, and turns Demon Hunter by night?"

"No studying? Damn. Next thing you'll tell me is I'll have to eat jelly doughnuts or sleep with a supermodel to get things done around here. I ask you, how much can one man give?"
Xander Harris

Directed by James A Contner

Written by Douglas Petrie

Riley, Forrest, and Graham watch as Buffy makes a mess of the soda and yogurt machines in the cafeteria. Forrest and Graham comment on how attractive she is and how interested in her they are, but Riley is reluctant to make fun.

Giles and Xander discover the commando guys are human and that their help will not be needed, again. Buffy arrives and while Giles tells her to patrol, she says she's going to party with Willow and hopefully cheer her up.

Spike, having previously been knocked out by a taser, wakes up in a facility where various types of demons are held captive behind electrically charged barriers. A packet of blood drops from the ceiling into Spike's cell but before he drinks it, a vampire in the next cell - Tom (captured in "The Freshman") - warns him that doctors starve the vampires and then feed them drugged blood before doing experiments on them.

In class Willow asks about Oz, but Riley tells her that he's dropped out of college. After Willow tries to tell him that Oz will return, Professor Walsh informs her that he won't be welcome in her class, which upsets Willow and she quickly leaves. Buffy approaches the professor, and tells her off, prompting Walsh to comment to Riley that she likes her.

Forrest asks Parker about Buffy, and when Parker vulgarly brags about having sex with her, Riley punches him. Riley then realizes he likes Buffy.

Spike lies on the floor of his cell, pretending to have drunk the drugged blood, and when the doctors come to get him he attacks. Riley visits Willow and asks her advice in wooing Buffy. Willow, still emotionally distressed, questions his motives but eventually relents, listing some of Buffy's likes and interests. After escaping from the Initiative, Spike returns to Harmony's lair, telling her he's "back for good" - then immediately leaves to kill the Slayer.

At the party, Willow tries to help Riley flirt with Buffy with little success but is upset when a Dingoes Ate My Baby song starts playing and decides to leave. Xander discovers Harmony crying, burning some of Spike's things. The two get into an inept slap-fight, and then mutually agree to stop. Harmony lets Xander know that Spike is back. Xander interrupts Riley's renewed attempt to chat Buffy up to inform Buffy that Spike has returned. Riley is also called away; he and Forrest break away from the party and, after passing through several electronic checkpoints, go down a hidden elevator to the underground facility where Spike had been held. The operation's head, Professor Walsh, informs them that "Hostile 17" (Spike) has escaped, and the guys suit up. Riley gives orders to three teams that he sends out all over Sunnydale to find Spike.

Riley's team spot Buffy sitting on a bench. Riley says she won't be their bait and goes out to get rid of her. Each unaware of the other's secret identity, Riley and Buffy try to send each other out of harm's way.

Meanwhile, Spike has found Buffy's dorm through the school computer system. Inside, Willow is feeling miserable and when the door knocks she calls out to come in without thinking, only for Spike to swagger through the door. Willow tries to get away, but Spike throws her against the bed and attempts to bite her, only to be stopped by an intense pain in his head. Willow hits him with a lamp and runs out just as Riley and friends cut the power and then work their way up to the dorm room. They capture Spike but, while they consider whether to take Willow or not, Spike breaks free and uses a fire extinguisher as a shield, filling the corridor with smoke. Buffy arrives and fights Riley and his friends while Spike manages to escape through a window. Buffy and Riley continue to trade blows, each unable to identify the other. Seeing that Spike has escaped, Riley orders them to retreat.

Professor Walsh is not happy with what happened or with Riley's report on the event but he confirms that Walsh's inhibitor chip works, and Spike cannot kill or even harm a human without feeling pain thanks to an implant they placed in his head. Riley catches up with Buffy and they talk. Buffy tells him he's a little peculiar, which he says he can live with.

Tropes used in this episode include:

  • Aren't You Going to Ravish Me?: Spike attempts to eat Willow, but unbeknownst to him he's been newly outfitted with a Restraining Bolt and can't bite her. As she's having self-esteem issues after her boyfriend Oz left, Willow is very upset and thinks there must be something wrong with her. She does come to her senses eventually, whacks him with a lamp and legs it.
  • Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: Spike speculates who could have captured him - the government, Nazis or a cosmetics company.
  • Attack Hello: Buffy has to quickly hide her stake after Riley walks up on her instead of Spike.
  • Attack Pattern Alpha: Lots of Military Speak from Riley once he drops the adorkable TA act.
    Riley: Call in a standard triangle flanking maneuver. We're going in. I need a lockdown on Grid 6.
  • Badass Decay:
  • Bag of Kidnapping: Spike is bagged and tagged before Buffy inadvertently rescues him.
  • The Bait: The commandos see Buffy sitting on a park bench and suggest using her to draw out Spike. Riley isn't impressed and tries to persuade Buffy to go home. As Buffy is hoping to draw out Spike herself, Hilarity Ensues.
  • Battering Ram: Having locked Willow's room remotely, the Initiative soldiers use a hand-held extendable battering ram to break down the door.
  • Berserk Button: What finally makes Riley realize he has a crush on Buffy is that he smacked Parker to the ground hearing him be a complete pig about having slept with Buffy.
    Parker: You know the difference between a freshman and a toilet seat, right? A toilet seat doesn't follow you around after you use it. [unconsciousness ensues]
  • Best Friend Manual: The only thing that Riley knows that Buffy likes is Willow, so he asks Willow's advice on how to court Buffy.
  • Beware the Nice Ones: Willow makes it clear that Riley must be careful with Buffy.
    Willow: If you hurt her, I will beat you to death with a shovel. [Beat] A vague disclaimer is nobody's friend. Have fun!
  • Big "SHUT UP!": Xander and Giles are out in the woods looking for vampires.
    Xander: Every man faces this moment. Here. Now. Watching. Waiting. For an unseen enemy that has no face. Nerve endings screaming in silence. Never knowing which thought might be your last.
    Giles: Oh, shut up!
  • Blinded by the Light: Buffy just happens to be armed with a flare pistol when up against Initiative commandos wearing Night-Vision Goggles in a dark corridor.
  • Breakup Bonfire: Xander comes across Harmony as she's building a bonfire of Spike's stuff.
  • Buffy Speak: Spoofed
    Forrest: Oh... Check her out. Is she hot, or is she hot?
    Riley: [looks up] She's Buffy.
    Forrest: Buffy? I like that. That girl's so hot, she's buffy.
    Riley: It's her name, Forrest.
  • Cacophony Cover Up: Spike turns up the CD player in Willow's room before attacking her.
  • Call-Back:
    • To "Lovers Walk", in which Willow offered a sympathetic ear to Spike while his prisoner.
    • To "Anne", in which someone is set up as bait for a vampire, only for that vampire to attack Willow instead.
  • Casual Kink:
    Harmony: Let's leave the Slayer alone. She's just going to slap you around. I can do that!
  • Cat Fight: Parodied with possibly the only cat fight in the series, between Vampire Harmony and Xander — at the time the only male member of the group (other than Giles). The fight, in classic cat fight fashion, begins with a bitchslap and continues into shin-kicking, name-calling, and hair-pulling. It finally ends in a stalemate and an agreement never to mention it to anyone.
    Xander: Harmony, it's been great catching up. Really, I'm just gonna pick up the tattered shreds of my dignity and go home.
    • Made even more awesome by the comedic use of slow motion and epic fight music.
    • The reason that Harmony vs. Xander is the only cat fight in the series is because girl-on-girl throwdowns in the series in general (and there are quite a few of them) are deadly serious affairs that feature little in the way of typical cat fight tactics.
  • Chekhov's Flare Gun: Xander gives Buffy a flare pistol to signal them if she runs into trouble fighting Spike. It comes in useful blinding the Initiative commandos who are wearing Night-Vision Goggles.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: We discover the fate of the vampire Tom, who was captured in "The Freshman".
  • Chronic Backstabbing Disorder: Tom and Spike are escaping the lab when they're suddenly confronted by Gas Mask Mooks; Spike pushes Tom into them saying, "New plan; we split up" and makes his escape while Tom is being staked.
  • Contrived Coincidence: Buffy has never sent up a flare before or since, and if Spike got the better of her, she'd hardly be in a position (or condition) to do so anyway. Yet she accepts a Flare Pistol on the one occasion she's up against humans in night-vision goggles.
  • A Day in the Limelight: Riley and his friends.
  • Damned by Faint Praise: Riley is bemoaning his failure to chat up Buffy. Willow suggests he "failed extremely well."
  • Description Cut:
    Spike: I don't care how brilliant [Buffy] is!
    Buffy: [struggling with a ballpoint] Stupid pen.
  • Despair Speech: Riley asks Willow for her help in courting Buffy, but Willow is still depressed over Oz leaving her.
    Willow: OK, say that I help [sweet music plays] and you start a conversation. It goes great. You like Buffy, she likes you. You spend time together, feelings grow deeper, and one day, without even realizing it, you find you're in love. Time stops, and it feels like the whole world's made for you two, and you two alone [Musicalis Interruptus] until the day one of you leaves and rips the still-beating heart from the other, who's now a broken, hollow, mockery of the human condition.
    Riley: [Beat] Yep, that's the plan.
  • Does Not Know Her Own Strength: Buffy accidentally tears the handle off a yogurt machine in the college cafeteria and makes a mess.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: After Spike finds himself incapable of biting Willow due to the recently implanted chip in his head, there follows a very funny conversation between the two which could almost word-for-word be about impotence. Until right at the end, when Willow mentions that they could "wait half an hour and try again," does a take that needs no words to express, "What the hell did I just say?", and brains him with a lamp.
    • Right before that, Spike preparing to bite Willow is played very much like a rape scene, with her threatening to scream (and then actually doing it) and him turning on the radio to drown out the noise while he pins her down on the bed.
  • Elaborate Underground Base: With the standard hidden elevator and filmed in the real-life former secret govt location, Skunk Works.
  • Everyone Can See It: Forrest keeps bugging Riley about Buffy because everyone can see that Riley is nuts for her.
  • Failed a Spot Check: After Riley comes to visit, Willow realises that Buffy has left an open bag of weapons in the dorm. She tries to surreptitiously nudge it back under the bed. Riley sees what she's doing and helps her without looking inside the bag.
  • Fake Kill Scare: The scene where Spike attacks Willow in her dorm room was deliberately set up to make it appear Willow had been killed, in response to internet rumors that this would happen. Instead it leads to The Reveal (after the Commercial Break Cliffhanger) that Spike has been fitted with a Restraining Bolt.
  • Flare Gun: Xander gives Buffy a flare pistol to signal for help if she needs it when she goes to fight Spike. It turns out to be just what she needs when a team of Initiative soldiers attack Willow in a dorm corridor; Buffy fires the flare, overloading their night vision goggles.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • Giles draws a sketch of the Initiative soldier Buffy saw in "Wild at Heart".
      Buffy: That's your man.
      Giles: Your man, actually.
    • Spike says re Buffy, "I always worried what would happen when that bitch got some funding." To find out, see the BtVS comic series.
    • Spike's comment about Nazis isn't a casual quip. The Angel episode "Why We Fight" shows he was kidnapped by Nazis during World War 2 for their own experiments. That episode also mentions the "Demon Research Initiative", implied to be a precursor of the current organization.
    • Spike assumes Buffy is in cahoots with the Initiative, but then sees Buffy fighting the soldiers. In the next episode, having run out of options, Spike will go to Buffy for protection, offering information on the Initiative in exchange.
    • Willow says "Come in" without checking who's at the door. The next time this happens, it's a vampire.
  • Gas Leak Cover-Up: A 'fraternity prank' is used to explain the battle between Buffy and the Initiative.
  • Genre Blindness: It takes Willow quite a long time to realize that if Spike gets over his "performance problem," she is either dead or vamped. Then she hits him with a lamp and make a run for it.
  • Gilligan Cut: Spike vows to get the Slayer.
    Spike I don't care how brilliant she is.
    [cut to Buffy in a lecture with ink all over her hands]
    Buffy: Stupid pen.
  • Given Name Reveal: Willow asks Riley whether Oz is still signed up for Professor Walsh's class. This is the first time his real full name (Daniel Osbourne) is mentioned on the show.
  • Government Conspiracy: The Initiative.
  • Grievous Harm with a Body/Hoist by His Own Petard: Spike swings one Initiative scientist into the other, who accidentally jabs his colleague with a knockout hypo.
  • He Knows Too Much: Walsh orders that Hostile 17 be recaptured because he knows about the Initiative.
  • I Can't Dance: Willow Sherlock Scans Buffy's dress and sensible shoes as saying that she's in the mood for dancing and light conversation only; Riley unfortunately isn't a dancer.
  • If You Ever Do Anything to Hurt Her...: Willow re: Riley putting the moves on Buffy.
    Willow: Have fun! And remember, if you hurt her, I'll beat you to death with a shovel.
    Riley: [pulls questioning face]
    Willow: [matter-of-fact-ly] A vague disclaimer is nobody's friend.
  • Impairment Shot: Riley has a blurred view of the woman he's fighting, as his eyesight is still affected by the flare. Riley is wearing a balaclava so his Secret Identity isn't revealed to Buffy either.
  • Indy Hat Roll: Spike escaping from the Initiative.
  • Indy Ploy: Giles asks what plan Buffy has for dealing with Spike. She replies, "I am the plan."
  • Infrared Xray Camera: The commandos' thermal camera enables them to see where Spike is in the dorm due to his low body temperature. Of course, real thermal cameras can't see through glass.
    • Doubly implausible in that his "room temperature" signature actually showed up as a blue spot, against the background heat of the room.
  • Ironic Echo: Both Riley and Spike gotta "go see a girl."
  • Ironic Echo Cut: Riley and Forrest are checking out Buffy.
    Forrest: I bet a lot of guys would like to get their hands on her.
    [Cut to Spike lying in his cell, half-conscious.]
    Spike: Slayer... I'll kill you. Not so tough. I... Kill Slayer.
  • It's Not You, It's Me: Spike assures Willow she's still biteable.
  • Let's You and Him Fight: True to the show's inspiration from Marvel Comics, Buffy and Riley cross paths (though they don't recognize each other) and get into a no-holds-barred beatdown.
  • Let Us Never Speak of This Again: A vampirized Harmony meets Xander and decides to feed. They apparently regress to their grade school enemy stage (since both of them can fight better), and they're so ineffectual that they eventually just give up. They agree it never happened, and both leave.
  • Lock Down: After clocking Spike, Willow tries to run out of her dorm only to find the door is locked, the Initiative having locked down the entire dorm remotely.
  • Love Epiphany: Riley doesn't realise he fancies Buffy until he punches Parker for making a crude remark about her. His friends tell him that they've always known.
  • Loves the Sound of Screaming:
    Willow: I-I'll scream.
    Spike: Bonus.
  • The Masquerade Will Kill Your Dating Life: Lampshaded by Riley; see page quote.
  • Meaningful Echo: Riley's friends kid him that his referring to Buffy as "peculiar" was a dead giveaway that he's into her. At the end of the episode after Riley's bumbling attempts to ask her out, Buffy comments that he's peculiar. Riley takes this as a good sign.
  • Mood Whiplash: Done in reverse. Spike attacks Willow (serious rape undertones) then we find out he has "performance anxiety".
  • Mundane Made Awesome: Xander gets in a fight with Harmony. After threatening each other with their new and improved skills, they ... get in a slap fight, with hair-pulling and shin-kicking. In slow motion. With dramatic music. It ends in a dual headlock truce. "Okay... on three." Done to explicitly mock the show's often unrealistic fight scenes.
  • Must Be Invited: Willow learns the price of carelessness while at her college dorm. Spike knocks on the door and, without thinking, Willow replies, "Come in." Fortunately for her, Spike had just had his Restraining Bolt installed.
  • Not Big Enough for the Two of Us: Buffy discovers that Spike has returned to Sunnydale and fumes, "Doesn't he know this is my town?"
  • Not Good with Rejection: Now that Oz has left her, being spurned as Spike's victim doesn't make Willow feel any better.
  • Obscured Special Effects: The sliding door drops a moment before an Initiative mook stakes Tom, saving on a dusting sfx shot.
  • Old-School Chivalry
    Riley: I'm taking you home. Come on.
    Buffy: Oh, did you ever think maybe I'm gonna take you home, huh? What? You think that boys can take care of themselves and girls need help?
    Riley: Yeah.
    Buffy: That is so Teutonic.
  • On Second Thought: Willow gets a little too caught up in her understanding attitude towards Spike's "performance issues".
    Willow: Why don't we wait a half an hour and try again? [Beat] Or... [grabs a lamp and whacks him]
  • Open Sesame/To the Batpole!: The lift to the Initiative headquarters.
  • Overcrank: The middle of the slap fight between Xander and Harmony.
  • Playing Cyrano: Riley gets Willow's help in courting Buffy.
  • Plot Hole: Spike gets knocked out and captured by the titular government agency. He escapes, beating up several Initiative personnel on the way out, but when he tries to kill Willow, he learns the hard way that they implanted a chip in his brain that causes him excruitating pain whenever he tries to hurt humans. But again, he beat up the human scientists earlier in the episode, after the chip was installed, without any problem. Joss Whedon also acknowledged this as an oversight.
  • Power Perversion Potential: Parker is crudely appreciative of Buffy's stamina. He's not the only one (see S4 "Who Are You?" and S6 "As You Were") to imply that her Slayer powers result in exceptional bedroom prowess.
  • Power Trio: Riley, Forrest and Graham.
  • Promotion to Opening Titles: James Marsters (Spike) replaces Seth Green (Oz) in the opening credits.
  • Red Shirt: Tom, the vampire captured by the Initiative in the season premiere, gets dusted during Spike's escape attempt.
  • Restraining Bolt: Spike has a chip in his head that causes him pain if he attacks any living creature.
  • The Reveal: Riley Finn and Professor Walsh both work for the Initiative.
  • Rule of Drama: Spike slugs his way out of the Initiative, and only feels pain when he goes to bite someone. After this, Spike will feel pain even when Dope Slapping a human. There's a suggestion though that the inhibitor chip takes a while to be properly calibrated.
  • Sex Is Violence: Spike attacking Willow is played like a rape metaphor.
  • Sexy Backless Outfit: Buffy changes into "something slutty" to wear at the party.
  • Shadow Archetype: Parallels are drawn between Spike and Riley foreshadowing their alliance with Buffy, their rivalry for her affection, and the fact that Riley like Spike is also one of the Initiative's experimental subjects.
  • Shout-Out: To The Prisoner, including a large white ball in the huge hanger.
  • Shipper on Deck: At the end of the episode Buffy looks rather amused when Riley tries hitting on her again, implying that Willow has tipped Buffy off about his interest.
  • Smoke Out: An accidental version when a projectile hits a fire extinguisher wielded by Spike as an Improvised Weapon, filling the corridor with CO2 gas and enabling him to escape.
  • Some Kind Of Forcefield: The transparent wall of Spike's cell is electrified.
  • Songs of Solace: Lampshaded by Riley when he enters Willow's dorm. "Geez, I hope I'm not interrupting anything really depressing."
  • Stealth Hi/Bye: When Harmony tells Xander that Spike disappeared after mentioning Buffy, she turns to set a pile of Spike's stuff on fire. She turns back and Xander has disappeared.
  • Super Window Jump: Spike escaping Stevenson dorm.
  • Tampering with Food and Drink: Tom warns Spike against drinking from the bloodbag that gets dropped into his cell, as it's drugged to keep them docile.
  • Talk About That Thing: Xander getting Buffy away from Riley with the news that Spike is back in town. Seeing Xander Holding Hands with Buffy as he pulls her out of the crowd doesn't help Riley feel better.
  • Titled After the Song / Spoiler Title: Averted; the original title of this episode was "Secret Agent Man" (from the song by Johnny Rivers), but that would have given away The Reveal about Riley Finn.
  • The Triple:
    • Spike's terms of endearment for Harmony. She's his little foam latte, his mon petite creme bruleenote , his... pack of mentholated cigarettes?
    • Spike wants to know who's kidnapped him. "The government? Nazis? A major cosmetics company?"
  • Tuckerization: Several of the names in the student directory Spike examines are actually behind-the-scenes production people, such as assistant chief lighting technician Eric Parker, Marti Noxon's assistant JD Peralta, stunt coordinator Jeff Pruitt, hair stylist Lisa Rosenberg, costume supervisor Cindy Rosenthal, set designer Victoria Ruskin, special effects technician Leo Solis, lighting console operator Tim Speed, and co-producer David Solomon.
  • [Verb] This!: "Contain this!"
  • Villainous Valour: There was some debate among the writers as to how heroic to make Spike in his escape from the Initiative. To avoid making him too heroic, Spike is given a Kick the Dog moment by sacrificing a fellow vampire (the vampire who'd helped him, no less) to save himself.
  • Wimp Fight: Xander comes across Vampire Harmony and, after initial boastful threats start fighting... with a bitchslap and continuing into shin-kicking, name-calling, and hair-pulling. It finally ends in a stalemate and an agreement never to mention it to anyone.
    Xander: Harmony, it's been great catching up, really. I'm just gonna pick up the tattered shreds of my dignity and go home.
  • Wounded Gazelle Gambit: Spike pretends to have been doped out, so he can jump the Initiative scientists while he's being Strapped to an Operating Table.
  • Would Not Hit a Girl: Riley orders his team to withdraw when he sees he's fighting a small woman.
  • You Are Number 6: Spike is Hostile 17.
  • Your Mom: Riley's friends get up him for punching Parker, which as a TA could get him fired.
    Riley: He—he was just being so crude.
    Forrest: Please. You've heard me say much grosser things than that.
    Riley: And most of those are about your own mother. [Forrest Dope Slaps him]