Buffy the Vampire Slayer
“Into the Woods”
Broadcast December 19, 2000
Sarah Michelle Gellar .... Buffy Summers
Nicholas Brendon .... Alexander 'Xander' Harris
Alyson Hannigan .... Willow Rosenberg
Marc Blucas .... Riley Finn
Michelle Trachtenberg .... Dawn Summers
Amber Benson .... Tara
Anthony Head .... Rupert Giles
James Marsters .... Spike/William the Bloody
Kristine Sutherland .... Joyce Summers
Mercedes McNab .... Harmony Kendall
Emma Caulfield .... Anya Emerson
The gang waits restlessly at the hospital for Buffy’s mom, Joyce to emerge from her cancer-related brain surgery.
Joyce’s surgery was a success-- the doctor says he was able to remove the tumor completely, although they’ll have to observe Joyce’s progress for awhile at the hospital.
While Anya and Xander baby-sit Dawn, Riley and Buffy celebrate with a romantic night at home. But after Buffy falls asleep, Riley sneaks out of the house.
A spying Spike (the vampire is now fixated on Buffy) curiously follows Riley as the former super-agent heads in silence to a warehouse district.
The next day, while the Special Ops group that has replaced the Initiative plans to ask Riley to join them in an operation in Belize, Spike comes to Buffy in the middle of the night. He guides her out to the warehouse where Riley is hanging out with a sort of vampire orgy house. In an upper floor they find Riley, sitting calmly as a female vampire feeds on his army.
“We only came here because we care about you, friend,” Spike snidely says to Riley as Buffy storms out. Riley drags himself back to his apartment to find a couple of Special Ops guys in his apartment asking him to join them for the Central American job. He doesn’t give them an answer yet.
Giles tells Buffy has hasn’t seen the sort of risky behavior she saw at the vampire den “since his Ripper days.” He explains that People hire vampires to feed off them and get off on the rush; it’s sleazy, addictive, even a little dangerous, but consenting and ultimately not all that worth troubling over when there are greater evils around. Buffy doesn’t reveal Riley is into the scene but does insist that thy go torch the den. She does, but it’s empty.
Riley, furious with Spike, visits the vampire’s crypt and impales him with a stake.
But it’s a plastic stake, and Riley says next time it’ll be real if he doesn’t get out of his and Buffy’s life. Spike, in turn, says Riley isn’t likely to be the long-term love for Buffy, who wants a more corrupt man-- whereas despite current developments, Riley ultimately is good. Spike admits he isn’t likely to win Buffy either, and they drink together.
Riley goes to see Buffy, and she’s not much interested in talking. He explains that his dalliances with vampires started after her incident with Dracula. But it’s not her fault; he soon moved from ill-conceived jealousy to addiction for being needed in a passionate way. He thinks Buffy has never needed him, and his evidence is that Buffy didn’t turn to him when Joyce was sick.
Buffy sees that the real issue is that Riley hates the fact that Buffy is stronger than he is. She isn’t going to change the way she relates to him. Riley drops another bombshell: he’s rejoining the military and headed for Belize later tonight unless she gives him a reason to stay.
Buffy storms out to the streets, where she’s surrounded by vampires of the feeding den, who are still mad that she burned down their place.
Buffy tells the vampire horde to get lost, but when they give her attitude, she actually kills all of them. Xander observes this and demands that she open up to him. “You’re acting like a crazy person. He also has figured out that Riley is the problem, largely because Riley can’t handle being merely a convenience anymore.
Xander tells Buffy, “You’ve been treating Riley like the rebound guy, when he’s the one who comes once in a lifetime.” He tells her to either let Riley go in a clean break if she doesn’t love him, or fight to keep him if he matters.
Buffy realizes Riley is worth fighting for and runs to meet him, but she’s too late to stop him from getting into the military helicopter, and as Riley is carried away on his mission, he doesn’t hear her calling.
Back at his place, Xander tells Anya he’s in love with her-- just because he wanted to make it clear.
It's a shame that this is the exit of Riley, considering he's only become an interesting character once the creators decided they'd be writing him off. Someday the histories of Buffy will tell it more or less this way: Once upon a time, there was the new boyfriend Riley, attractive in a corn-fed, hunky sort of way, a confident government agent superhero and psychology teaching assistant. Soon enough Riley was the super-powered beau, and the fans were less than enthused. Slowly this lack of enthusiasm worked its magic on the reality of the show, and Buffy cooled towards Riley about the same time he lost his super-powers. Gradually he became more and more pathetic and uninteresting-- until he suddenly developed a taste for vampire kisses.
Now this is interesting; I love how delightfully sleazy Riley’s nocturnal escapes are. It's such a shameful, torrid practice born of all sorts of mixed emotions that it creates some interesting drama. Giles and Anya know about the vampire brothels, and both regard it as not really worth dealing with in a world of much greater evils. I doubt Buffy would care either, if not for her random rage. These are about the least evil that vampires can get-- they only bite people who pay them.
But Buffy is right to feel betrayed, and right when she says Riley is making a common mistake of men who frequent brothels, believing the hookers care. And one can't expect her to react any differently than she does, with revulsion and a sense of betrayal. But Riley explains himself exactly as best he can-- he did what he did out of rage, loneliness, and jealousy. And he's exactly right when he tells Buffy he doesn't really matter to her, just as Xander is when he tells her Riley has always been less a partner than a convenience.
What I appreciate here is that the show has always treated Buffy's ego consistently. Buffy is like most TV heroes; she's basically a self-centered person lucky enough to exist in a world that really does revolve around her. She's a hero, but she's so impressed with the awesome responsibility of being a slayer that she can be an insufferable martyr. In the cases where she has deviated from her own selfishness, it's an act of heroism, such as when she declined to crush Tara's hope of acceptance. She's really not a very nice woman, except to the people she needs at the time, but she's our hero, and that's good enough.
In fact, despite Buffy's apparent sudden conversion and race for the helicopter pad, I doubt her newfound appreciation would have lasted. But off he goes, and I was almost surprised that the episode didn't end with the radioed news that Riley was shot down over Belize, but you just wait.
In other news, it was nice to see Riley and Spike being lovable losers together, drinking and sullenly insulting one another. Spike has some nerve, doubting Riley's darkness even after the super-agent has driven a plastic stake through his heart. Why exactly didn't Riley kill Spike?
I also found the closing scenes with Xander quite satisfying and believable-- Buffy challenges Xander by accusing him of using Anya because the girl is there, and Xander goes straight home to tell the ex-demon that he really has fallen for her. It's a good thing to do and the best thing to come out of his argument with Buffy; besides, Anya has become a truly interesting character.
Spike: “Hey, let’s be reasonable about this.”
Riley: “You may have noticed, I left reasonable about three exits back.”