“The Yoko Factor”
Written by Doug Petrie
Directed by David Grossman
The colonel at the Initiative is reporting back to the brass, or something. They still don’t want to give up on Riley. Encouragingly, they don’t know much about Buffy. It’s nice to know the Buffyverse isn’t a secret surveillance state.
Spike is trying to explain to Adam how dangerous Buffy is. He thinks it’s kind of dumb of Adam to feel like he can actually count on Buffy to be part of his plans, instead of the thing that ruins his plans. When we come back from the credits, Spike has finished regaling Adam with the stories of his two Slayer kills. Adam isn’t very impressed. Two dead past Slayers aren’t much use to him, and it seems more telling that Spike hasn’t managed to kill Buffy in the nearly three years since first arriving in Sunnydale. Adam gives a remarkably good (and poetic) explanation of how he thinks Spike’s feeling about his chip situation. Spike is starting to think this is a guy who can make good on his campaign promises. But what Adam wants first is to get Buffy in position, minus her friends. Spike’s assignment is to split up the gang.
Buffy comes back from L.A. and curls up on her bed, looking miserable. Willow isn’t there. Over at the ruined high school, Riley is still where Buffy left him last time, and Xander is visiting to bring supplies and a change of clothes. A horrible, horrible change of clothes. Then they start talking about Angel. Ugh, no! This is probably going to make Xander lose a lot of the points he’s earned this season in Angel’s absence. Huh. Riley’s actually being pretty level-headed about it. He doesn’t like the idea of Angel, but he also accepts that Angel is a good guy when his curse is in effect. Xander seems less than satisfied with that assessment. What Buffy did not tell Riley is how, specifically, Angel’s curse broke. Not realizing that, Xander lets slip enough for Riley to fill in the gaps, and then he’s all upset and jealous, especially since Buffy just ran off to L.A.
GILES IS SINGING AND PLAYING THE GUITAR AGAIN. THIS IS AMAZING. He’s singing about moving on and not staying. Nooo, pick a different topic. Then this happens:
You can’t see it in the gif, but Giles makes this little high-pitched yelp sound when he first notices Spike. It’s amazing. But hilarity aside, boo Spike, interrupting Giles’s musical awesomeness. Then he raids Giles’s fridge for a blood bag he left in there. Wait, how are Spike and Angel getting a hold of blood in transfusion bags? That’s not how it comes at the butcher shops. Do they buy and/or steal from the Red Cross or something? And WHY IS SPIKE MICROWAVING IT?! Blood is not hot chocolate! It’s full of living cells that will explode if heated too quickly! (Anyone who knows me well has probably heard this rant before, but dang it if it doesn’t just drive me nuts every time!) Surely if vampires enjoy blood best when it’s straight from the vein, then there’s something about the cells being alive that contributes to blood’s nutritional value. Spike just destroyed his dinner. And are blood transfusion bags even microwave-safe? Because there’s no reason they should be. But hey, I don’t really like Spike, so if he’s going to insist on making himself malnourished by drinking blood that’s had all its nutrients cooked out of it, then that’s fine with me.
Rant over. Spike acts like he knows how to get his hands on big, crucial information for them, but that Giles is too far down the totem pole to actually make the deal for it. He pokes at Giles’s sense of being obsolete.
Willow and Tara did indeed get that kitten, and her name is Miss Kitty Fantastico. They’re looking at classes for the fall semester. And housing. Willow isn’t sure she and Buffy will be roommates again, not that she wouldn’t want to be. They just spend so much time apart, with their respective significant others.
Riley, wearing Xander’s hideous clothes, comes to see Buffy in her dorm. So first Spike, now Riley. Why is it that Xander’s wardrobe symbolizes hitting bottom for guys who are in some way cool, but for Xander it’s just normal?
Riley’s been evading the Initiative pretty well. He wants to know how things went in L.A. Buffy’s still upset form Angel and doesn’t want to talk about it. She’d rather deal with Adam now and talk later. Riley leaves, trying to play down how upset he is.
Riley and Anya bring Spike some stuff for his impending infiltration of the Initiative. That stuff includes a gun, which he tries to point at them, thereby triggering his chip. And it’s not even a real gun! Huh. So does that mean the chip only activates if Spike believes he’s about to harm (or in the process of harming) a human? Is there a specific neurotransmitter associated with a vampire’s sadistic enjoyment of pain that only gets released when the victims are humans? (Basically what I’m getting at is that the chip is absurd.) Then Spike starts talking like he’s heard the rest of the gang talking like they expect Xander to join the military. This is an effective way to poke at Xander’s recurring fear of being dead weight in the group. He starts off on a rant, which includes an answer to my questions a few episodes ago. It turns out that the reason he cycles through jobs so quickly is that he gets fired a lot. How? What does he do? Is he not good at his jobs despite trying to be? Is he a crappy employee? And why would he apply to work for a phone sex line?
Buffy is out on patrol with a taser when she runs into Forrest. They have an unpleasant standoff, and then Buffy continues on to check out a cave. Forrest seems to blame her for much of the upheaval at the Initiative. He specifically blames her for Riley’s defection. Buffy doesn’t feel bad for getting Riley to leave them, since their methods are hella shady. Their argument gets broken up by Adam. Buffy fights him and gets another beating. Forrest shoots him with his taser gun, but that seems to have the same effect on him as Thor’s lightning does on the Iron Man suit. Buffy tries to convince Forrest to leave. He doesn’t, and then Adam guts him with his arm spike. She runs away, but trips in the woods and goes tumbling down the hill, hitting her head on a rock at the bottom.
Spike shows up at Giles’s flat, still wearing the army outfit from his “mission.” He pauses a moment to act like he’s breathing hard from a long run. Ugh, seriously? First he microwaves his blood, now he’s acting like running affects the way he breathes? He doesn’t breathe because he needs oxygen, it’s just so he can use the air for smoking, using his sense of smell, and snarking off at people. He gives Willow the disk he “retrieved.” Giles seems to be well on his way to getting hammered. Spike notices Tara playing with Willow’s hair, and he has another go at Giles’s ego. Then he starts on Willow, implying that everyone thinks Willow’s going through a phase with her new wicca stuff (read: lesbian relationship with Tara), which is why she isn’t as great at the computer hacking as she used to be. Despite Buffy assuring her that she wasn’t freaked out by Willow’s relationship with Tara, she’s still insecure enough about it to assume the worst.
In the Initiative, all the containment cells are full of demons. In the uh...tactical room? Communications room? Whatever. The room where people keep track of the guys out on missions. In there, a distress call is coming in. Over at the high school, Riley hears it too, thanks to his patched-in walkie-talkie. He gears up and goes running to help the squad under attack.
Turns out they’re under attack from Angel! Riley arrives just as the last one goes down. Hahaha, this is going to be awesome. Angel remembers him from the Espresso Pump at Thanksgiving, but Riley’s never seen him before. He figures it out quickly, though. All the unconscious soldiers have Riley thinking Angel must be soulless again. (Pfft. They would be dead soldiers if that were the case.) Angel doesn’t exactly correct the impression, so now Riley’s super angry because he thinks Buffy and Angel slept together. Angel wants to go visit Buffy, but Riley’s thinking he can do that over his dead body. They fight. Even though Riley really hasn’t done anything to deserve it, it’s still really fun to watch Angel beat him up. For a human, Riley actually does pretty well. Angel leaves him dazed on the alley floor, then scales one of the buildings to get away before a humvee of reinforcements can pull into the alley. Riley hobbles away too, getting out of sight just in time.
Buffy returns to her dorm, wincing as she takes off her jacket and checks out the cut on her forehead. Then Angel knocks on her door. She invites him in, tone and expression resigned. They’re both more banged up than they were the last time they saw each other, but neither is keen to explain how that happened. Buffy thinks he came to get in a few more good digs at her. What? She’s the one who was firing off the low blows! Angel might not have handled the situation perfectly, but of the two of them, he is definitely not the one who should be feeling most apologetic right now.
Enter Riley, aiming a gun straight at Angel. Buffy realizes what must have happened between her two love interests and is immediately both angry and exasperated. She would like Angel to give Riley some indication that he’s not evil so that he’ll stand down, but Angel doesn’t particularly want to play nice with Riley. Then they start punching each other, and Buffy shoves them apart so hard that they crash into opposite sides of the room. Her anger is enough to make them knock it off, in the same grudging way that squabbling toddlers will knock it off in the face of stern adults. She asks Riley to give her a minute to talk to Angel. He very much does not want to do that, and he stands there with his arms folded. So she and Angel just go into the hall instead. Angel does this hilarious little smirk at Riley on the way past him.
Buffy has had enough of Angel’s crap (which is hilarious, because beating up Riley was the only thing she could actually justify being angry about, and even that isn’t a straight-up case of Angel being a jerk). Angel says he came to Sunnydale to try to fix things. The statement is so earnest, but so incongruous that Buffy starts laughing—not angry-laughing, just “wow I can’t believe we’re here” laughing. So does Angel. He apologizes, then explains what happened with Riley and the other soldiers. She’s not mad anymore, and she admits that he had some good points in L.A. GOOD. He’s willing to stick around and help her out, but she doesn’t think his presence will be a positive thing right now. She appreciates the offer. And his visit. He lets her know he doesn't like Riley, which seems to amuse them both, and then he leaves. She heads back in to deal with Riley.
Spike returns to Adam’s lair, feeling all smug at having sown the seeds of discord amongst the Scoobies. He’d very much like Adam to hold up his end of the bargain now, but Adam’s not ready for that yet.
Buffy has some bad news for Riley. He wants to go first. He thinks she’s about to dump him for Angel. She is very confused. He’s pretty convinced that she and Angel slept together in L.A. Buffy goes from confused to offended that he would think she’d just cheat on him like that, particularly in a way that would unleash a sadistic monster on the world. She also lets him know that he didn’t just take a beating from Angelus. That was a very soul-having Angel. She sits him down and asks why he’d get so worked up about this, and he admits he loves her so much it makes him a little crazy sometimes. Good choice of words.
And now for her bad news. Forrest is dead. Riley sits there with his head in his hands for a minute while she tries to be reassuring, and then he leaves, a bit abruptly. Buffy goes to Giles’s flat, where Willow is still struggling to decrypt the disk. Giles is very drunk now. Buffy inadvertently pushes all the buttons Spike has been pushing in everyone when she urges them to step up their games a little more. They start pushing back, and it quickly devolves into a big, chaotic argument, which Buffy doesn’t understand at all. Anya and Tara have retreated to the bathroom so as not to get caught in the crossfire. Giles stumbles up to his bedroom, but the main three keep at it. All the crap they’ve been not airing out all season is erupting like a volcano. Buffy feels that they’ve all made her point for her: they’re in no fit state to help her fight Adam right now, so she may as well go face him alone like she planned. She leaves.
In Adam’s lair, Riley shows up. Adam doesn’t seem surprised. The episode ends on a dramatic chord, but it’s still not entirely clear whether Riley is there to be on Adam’s side or to fight him.
I’m trying to form an opinion of “The Yoko Factor,” but I’m having some trouble. It’s the episode that draws all of the Scoobies issues that have building over the season to a head. Angel’s in it, and he beats up Riley. Giles plays the guitar again. All these things are great, but for some reason, all I’m getting is “meh.” Maybe because Adam’s plan to sic Spike on the Scoobies until they break up the band just seems stupid. I do believe that the Scoobies had enough problems coming to a boil that it could have resulted in a big blow-out fight, but the idea that they put enough stock in Spike’s input to let him get to them like that makes them all seem kind of moronic. And if Adam has so many demons under his control, then why doesn’t he just have them attack the Scoobies separately? Couldn’t Spike just go to Giles, Willow, and Xander individually and tell them he’s found things that are worthy of their attention—but not dangerous enough to be worthy of Buffy’s? Before that, Buffy could’ve had arguments with each of them—arguments that developed naturally from the aforementioned simmering problems. And then Anya and Tara could’ve been the ones who helped Buffy figure out what happened to them so they could rescue them in time for the events of “Primeval,” and at the point of rescuing, they all could have made up.
Thankfully, Buffy isn’t quite as unreasonable this episode as she was in the Angel crossover, but I still find it very galling that Angel was the one doing most of the apologizing. I like that she wouldn’t take crap from her friends, though. It seems one good thing about her getting some distance from them this season is that she’s not desperate enough for their approval to let them use her as a punching bag anymore. I think the argument at the end played out well. Buffy didn’t want Xander and Willow to come with her, so when they start acting all belligerent and childish, it just proves her point. If her point had been something else, she probably would’ve tried a little harder to get to the bottom of Xander’s weird idea about enlisting in the army and Willow’s accusations about her being judgmental.
I really want to know more about why Xander apparently gets fired from his jobs on a regular basis. And also how he keeps getting hired by other jobs if his employment record is so bad. Why did Spike think the best way to prod him about failing at being an adult was by insinuating that the rest of the gang wanted him to enlist? That’s so random and not nearly as offensive as they all make it seem, not to mention that it’s the kind of lie that will fall apart with the slightest investigation. He should’ve gone after his feelings of inadequacy about not being smart enough to be in college with his friends and not being independent enough to get out of his parents’ basement. (Although, frankly, as long as he’s paying rent, it’s really not that pathetic at this point; he isn’t even in his 20s yet.)
I don’t get why Willow is still against Xander/Anya at this point. It made sense in a petty kind of way back when she was freshly Ozless, but she’s with Tara now and described herself as happy just the previous episode. And it’s not like she’s been trying repeatedly to spend time with Xander, only to be spurned in favor of Anya. And Anya may be blunt and strange, but she’s not mean like Cordelia was. It’s so strange. She seems to dislike any girl Xander dates, but she’ll push Buffy towards any guy who’s interested in her (except Xander). Is she still subconsciously possessive of Xander or something? Or does she just still dislike Anya because of what happened in “Doppelgängland” and not understand why Xander would want to date a former villain?
Do I finally have a legitimate red flag I can wave over Buffy and Riley’s relationship? I think I do. He’s known about Angel for one day and he already assumes Buffy would cheat on him with the guy, as if he suddenly thinks she has no concept of fidelity or the consequences that would come from unleashing Angelus again. It seems like Xander didn’t even have to do much to poison that well. Is this a manifestation of an inferiority complex Riley is developing about Buffy, since she’s the Chosen One and he’s just some normal guy who got recruited into the military? He thinks he’s not awesome enough to hold her interest? Considering what happens in S5, I think I might be onto something with this theory.
I don’t think Spike knows the Scoobies as well as he thinks he knows them, but that could be a function of his being soulless. He can understand insecurities, grudges, doubts, and resentment just fine. What’s harder for him to grasp is the idea that someone might be able to overcome those things, particularly once it’s out in the open. He might think he just took the group apart, but all he really did was force them to start dealing with the issues they’ve been burying for months. It looks bad now, but they’ll be back better than ever once they complete the process.
If Giles really isn’t going to wear tweed ever again, then can he at least keep playing his guitar? Also, I think that song was foreshadowing to his absurd idea in S5 and S6 that he needs to leave so Buffy can get on with her adult life. People don’t go from being 100% dependent on others to being 100% independent adults all at once. That’s madness. And many adults have parents they turn to for advice and help on a regular basis well beyond their early twenties. The reason Giles hasn’t actually been as crucial this season as he was in the first three is that the Initiative isn’t an organization he can learn about through his traditional research methods. Giles was the one who was the most learned on supernatural, but Riley is the inside man this time. Also, part of why he gets drunk is that he still doesn’t have a job, but I ask again, has he even been looking? I’ve seen no evidence of a job search.
“You’re a lot like Tony Robbins, if he was a big, scary, Frankenstein-looking.... You’re exactly like Tony Robbins!”
“Crack a government encryption code on my laptop? Easy as really difficult pie.”
“Oh, okay, you and Willow go do the superpower thing; I’ll stay behind and putter around the Bat Cave with crusty old Alfred.”
“Ah, I am no Alfred, sir. You forget: Alfred had a job.”
“Are you drunk?”
“Yes, quite a bit, actually.”
“Well, stop it!”
The Watcher's Diary
In this blog, I'll be reviewing, analyzing, and generally fangirling over excellent television. Exhibit A: the Whedonverse.