Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Season 4, Episode “Coda”
Broadcast May 23, 2000
Buffy: Sarah Michelle Gellar
Willow: Alyson Hannigan
Xander: Nicholas Brendan
Giles: Anthony Stewart Head
Riley: Marc Blucas
Spike: James Marsters
Anya: Emma Caulfield
Tara: Amber Benson
Adam: George Hertzberg
The setup: in the aftermath of the Initiative’s debacle, Buffy’s ex-agent boyfriend Riley heads off to Washington to debrief and negotiate his discharge. The original, nuclear Scooby Gang-- Buffy, Willow, Xander and Giles-- gathers at Buffy’s mom’s place to watch a marathon of videos provided by Xander. Xander puts in the first video and they all promptly fall asleep.
Willow’s dream. Willow paints runes on Tara’s back as Tara wonders if her friends will learn her secret. Willow goes to “drama class” and finds herself in an absurd High School play directed by Giles. “Go out there, lie like dogs, and have a wonderful time.” Tara warns: “Everybody’s starting to wonder about you-- the real you. If they find out, they’ll punish you.” Buffy saves her from a demon backstage and tells her to remove her “costume,” and when she does, she’s the pasty, white-stockinged Season 1 Willow. Stalking the background is a strange, bestial figure she can’t make out. It attacks her as she gives a book report, and no one lifts a finger.
Oh, and there’s a guy laying out slices of cheese.
He thinks he wakes up, and goes upstairs to use the bathroom, only to be hit on by Joyce, Buffy’s mom. “I’m a conquistador,” he says, but on reflection he comforts: “I’m a comfortador, also.” He heads into the bathroom before his rendezvous with Joyce and begins a series of scenery changes: the Initiative, then his own basement, where something tries to open the door upstairs. “That's not the way out.”
At a playground, Spike wants to be a Watcher. Xander was "into that" for a while, but he has other stuff going on. Buffy in the sandbox is in danger, but not yet. She calls Xander “brother.”
Xander drives his ice cream truck with Anya. They don’t know where they’re going. He follows Tara and Willow into the back of the truck to join them in a menage-a-trois, but he loses them when he emerges once more in his basement. There’s a pounding at the top of the stairs, and the man with the cheese slices has no help for him.
Xander finds Giles in the high school, and Giles says he has some idea what’s going on. But he slips into French, and Xander can’t understand what he says. “This isn’t the time for your idiot games,” Giles taunts.
Suddenly Xander is in Apocalypse Now, with Principal Snyder as Colonel Kurtz. “Your time is running out,” Snyder says. “Are you a soldier?” “I’m a comfortador.” Kurtz says he’s a whipping boy, raised by mongrels to be sacrificed.
The man at the top of the stairs is his father, who accuses Xander of being ashamed of his family. His father rips his heart out.
Training Buffy is like raising a child. He takes her, pig-tailed, to the carnival, where she plays vampire-killing games. When Buffy gets cotton candy all over her face, forming a mask of mud, realization strikes: I know you. I know you.
“I have a great deal to do,” Giles says as he finds Spike in a photo shoot. “What am I supposed to do with all this?”
The cheese man has slices on his head.
Giles rushes into the Bronze, where Willow and Xander wait with books. Xander’s wounded. Anya is on stage telling jokes, while Willow tells him, “this is your fault. Something’s after us-- some primal, animal fore.” “That used to be us,” Giles says.
Giles breaks into a David Bowie-esque song. The spell they cast to stop Adam must have awakened some primal force that’s coming after them. He tells Willow and Xander to look up a “warrior beast” legend. He has to warn Buffy, but wait--
He’s backstage in a theatre. An early human stalks him, dreadlocked and female and wearing bones and face paint. “You underestimate me,” Giles says, “You never had a watcher.” But she’s already scalping him.
Anya: “Buffy, you have to wake up right away.”
She’s sleeping on the dream bed Faith lay on when she was in a coma. Tara is her guide through this journey. Her friends need her to fin them before dawn.
“You think you know what’s to come-- what you are. You haven’t even begun.”
She looks for the gang at the high school, where her mom is happily trapped in a wall. But rather than free her mom she follows Xander upstairs, where she finds Riley and Adam (as a human) at a table where they draw up a plan for world domination.
But Adam is talking for someone else when he says, “Aggression is a natural human tendency. Though you and me come by it another way.” His name? “Before Adam? Not a man among us can remember.”
Buffy has no weapons, only gray mud. She paints her face and meets Tara in the desert where, if I’m not mistaken, Captain Kirk fought a Gorn.
Tara speaks for the First Slayer, an aboriginal woman who has no language. No name. She lives for destruction and the hunt.
“There’s trees in the desert since you moved out, and I don’t sleep on a bed of bones.” Buffy says. The first slayer says Buffy’s supposed to be alone as the cheese man wanders by. Buffy’s tired of this dream. She fights the First, but the dream no longer has power. She wakes up.
They all wake up. “Somehow our joining with Buffy and involving the essence of the Slayer’s power was an affront to the source of that power,” Giles says.
All Buffy can think about is Tara’s quiet taunt: “You think you know what’s to come-- what you are. You haven’t even begun.”
This episode, "Coda," marks the actual Season 4 finale of Buffy, but as its name indicates, it's really a strange little denouement after the raucous battle with super-cyborg Adam last episode. According to this story, the spell the gang cast with Buffy last episode called on the ancient powers of the Slayer, from first to last, a detail that escaped me.
Here we learn that Buffy was right when she told her friends, "there's no prophecy about a Slayer and her friends." The powers at the heart of the Slayer continuum, as it were, don't like her getting other beings involved. But Buffy's never really been one to follow al the rules, anyway-- she dumped her watcher, for instance-- and calling on her social resources has made her s strong Slayer, one assumes a stronger one than many.
Creator Joss Whedon wrote and directed this episode, and he's the only one who could hint so much at the larger story of the Slayers. Here, he suggests that there has always been a Slayer, and that the Slayer might be something akin to the Angels and Devils of the dawn of time. Further, he hints that Buffy's power may run deeper than we suspected.
The story plays out in four dreams the First Slayer invades. In each dream, the dreamer's images are personal and comment on his or her own situation, while being manipulated by the invader.
Willow’s dream, for instance, swirls around Willow's desire for identity, and also her fear of being exposed. As what? Homosexual? “We should only be Greeks,” Anya observes, perhaps a reference to ancient acceptance of homosexuality. As a Witch? Neither of these seems like the best choice, since most of Willow's friends are already in on those secrets. But Tara says she'll be punished if they learn the truth. And Willow suspects Tara has secrets, too-- which we know to be true, but now's not the time to reveal them. The music in these scenes is Popol Vuh-like and brooding, as Whedon employs every strange light and editing trick he can think of to keep us off-balance.
Xander’s dream is the funniest, especially in its brilliant riff on Apocalypse Now. Armin Zimmerman returns to do a wonderful impression of Principal Snyder as Marlon Brando, and the camera work here is just wonderful, tracking Coppola shot for shot. But we also get a reminder of the sadness on Xander's life, and his horrible fear of being the failure he thinks he is.
Giles’ dream moves the story forward, because Giles almost immediately starts to deal in symbols. He knows he’s in a dream. “What am I supposed to do with all this?” he asks, exasperated. This is also the dream where the dreamers reach out to one another, aware that they're trapped in a dream. They struggle to talk sense to one another, as Giles drags analysis out of himself in song form.
Buffy's dream is almost anti-climactic, because by this time Buffy is in on the fact that she's dreaming (perhaps she's heard Giles, and now she's looking for the gang.) She does away with the threat by refusing to listen to it. In the end, the only thing she learns is that there's more to her power than she thought. We’re left with a general question of why all this is happening, considering it’s so easy to get over. Perhaps it will lead to some new spiritual side of Buffy. More likely, though, this is all just a reverberation after the death of Adam.
Final note: nice to see George Hertzberg return as himself!
Xander: “I’ll probably be pushing up daisies in the sense of being under the ground underneath them and fertilizing the soil with my decomposition.”
Riley: “This could be trouble. We’d better make a fort.”
Adam: “I’ll get some pillows.”