Buffy the Vampire Slayer
“A New Man”
Buffy: Sarah Michelle Gellar
Willow: Alyson Hannigan
Xander: Nicholas Brendan
Giles: Anthony Stewart Head
Riley: Marc Blucas
Spike: James Marsters
Maggie Walsh: Lindsay Crouse
Ethan: Robin Sachs
The gang throws a surprise 19th Birthday party for Buffy.
The party’s going well but Giles is feeling old and unconnected. He’s shocked to learn that Buffy has a boyfriend and jealous that Buffy so admires her brilliant philosophy professor, Professor Walsh. (“Like, the smartest person I know!”)
While Spike finally vacates Xander’s apartment, Buffy has her first official meeting with Professor Walsh in Walsh’s Initiative Leader capacity. Walsh thought the Slayer was a myth. Walsh wants to recruit Buffy (Riley’s killed 17 whole hostiles, she boasts.)
At home, Giles realizes that this is the night of the “Demon Prince Barvain’s” rise. But Buffy’s out letting Riley down easy with her revelation that she’s been slayer active since she was fifteen and has slain countless demons.
Giles goes to see Walsh and blows everything, coming off as a creep former high school librarian who’s a little fixated on Buffy, but luckily Walsh isn’t interested enough to be alarmed. She does, however, say Buffy’s “lacking s father figure,” which hurts.
Then, when Giles leads Xander & Willow to the crypt in search of the Demon Prince, there’s nothing to accomplish because apparently the Initiative’s already taken care of it. Even worse, Willow realizes no one has caught Giles up to the Initiative’s existence.
Once Willow and Xander leave, Giles encounters his old warlock friend Ethan Rayne.
“Ripper” Giles and Rayne forgo fighting for drinking because something’s up-- a mystery called “314” is frightening the demons. Rayne, chaos-lover that he is, is alarmed by the way the new Initiative is altering the power scheme.
Meanwhile, Buffy and Riley spar, proceeding from pulling their punches to Buffy kicking Riley across the room.
Giles and Rayne drink into the night as Giles bemoans that the world has passed them by.
At the University, Willow gets together with her new magic partner Tara at the chem. lab. “We’re going to float a rose, then use the magic to pluck the petals off,” she says, in a sentence that would thrill Georgia O'Keefe. But something evil out there is interfering with the success of the spells they cast.
Giles oversleeps the following morning and wakes up a demon. (“Damn. Ethan.”) He can’t use the phone, can’t get a jacket on, and trundles out into the streets.
At breakfast, Buffy’s in a great mood and Willow’s lying about who she’s been hanging out with.
Giles sneaks into Xander’s basement to ask for help, but we learn that the only words coming from Giles’ mouth are demon gibberish. Xander throws pots at Giles until the demon librarian runs away.
The Scooby Gang mourn the loss of Giles when they arrive at his house and find it wrecked. Giles retreats to the graveyard and runs into Spike, who can kill demons but recognizes Giles. (Giles is speaking Fyarl Demonspeak, which Spike knows.) Giles agrees to pay Spike $200 to help him work things out with Rayne. He’s slowly losing his humanity, but he still wants to keep everything a secret until he finds Rayne. (Hilariously, as they drive around, he stops briefly to frighten Professor Walsh.)
Meanwhile, Buffy et al discover silver can kill the Fyarl, and theorize that Ethan Rayne has returned. Buffy learns that the Initiative has some neat tricks, like master keys to the city and electronic hotel registry searches. Cool.
The Initiative humvees chase Giles and Spike, so Giles rolls out of his car and attacks Rayne at his hotel room. But Buffy and Riley show up, and Buffy beats Giles senseless. She tries to stake him with a silver letter-opener, but recognize his eyes after stabbing him. Luckily, it’s not real silver. After Rayne is forced to change Giles back, Rayne doesn’t get away this time-- the Initiative arrests him.
Afterwards, Giles tells Buffy to beware the Initiative. Meanwhile, Maggie Walsh really does have something cooking in a testing lab called 314.
After all this time, Buffy has returned to a theme the show seemed to have dropped, that of Giles as Buffy's surrogate father. Here the element comes roaring back in a story in which Giles suffers a father's fate, losing touch with the big news of his "daughter's" life and even becoming inaccessible or unrecognizable to her, whereas before he was the major source of support.
Lindsay Crouse, meanwhile, comes across about ten times warmer in this episode than she has in the past as Prof. Maggie Walsh, Head of the military Initiative. She's genuine towards Buffy; it helps the Buffy has begun to idolize the woman, which of course only heightens Giles' angst.
The key scene is the one in which Giles chooses to go visit Professor Walsh. In any given episode the character of Giles comes off as creepy unless he’s a father figure, and unfortunately with Walsh he comes off as a high school librarian, now unemployed, who seems to be stalking Buffy. It's actually a little unusual that Walsh doesn't sense anything of the sort; she talks to Giles as if he's an inadequate but concerned teacher. Moreover, Giles is too nervous and off balance, so Walsh is able to steamroll him: Giles says she needs guidance to find her footing, and Walsh responds that what is true for hiking is not necessarily true for humans. It's a neat trick to remember that a good metaphor does not a truth make. She's a perfect foil.
Perhaps, despite those who would prefer Crouse's extraordinarily butch character to come out, Walsh will make a romantic foil for Giles. (You can see the signpost already in as much as they hate one another. There's only so much time in a show to waste on something like that unless you have a plan for it.)
Speaking of coming out, I'm curious about the handholding, flower-concentrating Tara and Willow, especially because Willow saw fit to lie about who she's spending her evening with.
Side note: there's a moment when Giles remembers that tonight is a big demon night. This impressed me-- it occurs to me that Giles has seemingly thousands of periodic demon risings that he keeps in his head, like Saint's days. Especially cool is the fact that that demon is never seen; the Initiative takes care of him without fuss.
Anyone notice that Ethan Rayne's whole attack this time had no purpose whatsoever? He just sort of comes to town, turns Giles into a demon, and gets caught before he leaves. Does Rayne want revenge for the countless times he's thwarted Giles? Does it matter? In the script, Rayne's spell might as well have been a wayward demon plague Giles contracted. Rayne's only purpose in the script is to be a drinking pal in a scene that plays out very well, as Giles bemoans that he's been hunting demons for twenty years and never got the attention the demons are giving the Initiative.
Another thread running through is the continued business of the Initiative and the Slayer Gang sniffing one another out. Here, we find that Riley can call on any number of tricks that Bruce Wayne would kill for, whereas Buffy is inhumanly strong, "like Spider-Man."
And that's all.
Rayne: “Brilliant. Now isn't this more fun than kicking my ass?”
“What am I? I’m an unemployed librarian with a tendency to get knocked on the head.”
Giles: “Don’t like this feeling. This pressing need to destroy. This anger. Rage.”
Spike: “Good times. Go with it.”
Riley: “You’re really strong. Like... spider-man strong.”
Buffy: "Yeah. I don’t like, stick to stuff, but yeah.”