Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Season 4, Episode “Primeval”
Broadcast Tuesday, May 16, 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
Riley has come to super-cyborg Adam because, it turns out, Professor Maggie Walsh implanted a behavior modification chip in Riley’s chest. Now Adam has learned to manipulate the chip such that Riley retains his consciousness but must obey his every order (sit, walk, talk, don’t talk, etc.) But sooner or later, he says, Riley will come around to Adam’s side.
As Adam tells it, “Mother” (Maggie Walsh) meant for Adam and Riley to rule together in a new empire of demons and humans, sort of a Romulus and Remus of the Hellmouth. Spike, meanwhile, wants Adam to come through and take the chip out of his head, but Adam won’t give yet: Spike was supposed to deliver the Slayer by feeding her fake computer date through Willow and then isolating her from her friends so she came alone. Unfortunately, Spike succeeded in isolating Buffy (he sewed viciousness between the Scooby Gang) but before Willow gave her the data. So there’s a flaw. But once they get her here, they hope she will exacerbate a war Adam intends to set off between the humans and the demons so there will be effective losses on both sides.
But Willow’s still working on the computer data, and Xander is moping around after he found out his friends think he’s a loser.
When Buffy comes looking for Adam at his underground cave, Adam has taken Riley to the control center of the cyborg’s plan: a Secret Lab underneath the Initiative. There, Riley gets a shock: Adam’s helpers in the labs are the re-animated corpses of Maggie Walsh and Initiative Agent Forrest. Walsh is a pure zombie, merely a worker. Forrest is more, conscious, even ironic.
Buffy runs into Spike and realizes knows more about her falling out with Willow than he should. Meanwhile, the disk Willow has been trying to crack suddenly decrypts itself, as if it were set to unravel after Willow struggled with it for a while.
The whole Scooby Gang meets up and Buffy reveals that they’ve been duped by Spike, who must be working for Adam. They sort of fumble past all the mean things they were “led to” say.
According to Willow’s information, Adam is going to build an army of evil cyborgs like himself. Buffy knows she’s being lured into the Initiative for the war that’s bound to break out when all the demons in the Initiative cells are undoubtedly loosed. Adam will have his pick of the corpses left. The Gang needs to warn the Initiative.
Adam’s power source is a uranium core near his spine. That’ll be hard to get. The best bet would be Sumerian paralysis spell, but a witch must cast the spell, and while Willow’s a witch, only Giles speaks Sumerian. Xander says, heck, too bad you can’t be a “combo Buffy.” The make some plans, unseen by us.
Having formulated their plan, the gang rappels down an elevator shaft into the Initiative, where an armed unit waits for and immediately captures them all.
Adam has decided Spike is a complete disappointment, having failed to deliver the Slayer alone. He orders Zombie Forrest to kill Spike, but the vampire manages to escape.
Buffy pleads with Colonel MacNamara, who refuses to believe that Adam has a secret laboratory underneath the Initiative.
Buffy is tired of being treated like an amateur by the military. “This is not your business, it’s mine... you’re all in way over your heads, messing with primeval forces you have no comprehension of. I’m the Slayer. You’re playing on my turf.” The Colonel’s not buying.
Just then Adam sets al the demons free, blowing the electricity in the whole station. The slaughter begins, and Buffy and the Gang escape their guard to look for a place to do their planned spell.
Spike makes his way through the carnage as demon and human armies destroy one another. Buffy and the Scooby Gang choose their target and head for Maggie Walsh’s 314 section, ducking, dodging and fighting their way through the firefight.
Buffy leaves Giles, Buffy and Xander to head for Adam’s central lab while the three set up their spell.
Almost immediately, Buffy finds the captured Riley and is grabbed by Forrest. Adam stops in to order Forrest and zombie Professor Walsh to “Kill her.” Zombie Walsh closes on Buffy with a whizzing bonecutter.
While Buffy fi9ghts Forrest and Walsh, Riley escapes Adam’s yoke by (and here’s something I never thought I’d see on television) slicing the controller chip off his own ribcage with a shard if broken glass.
That done, somehow blowing up Forrest with sparks and a pressurized oxygen tank is almost anticlimactic, although Forrest’s head flies off nicely.
But still-- there’s a showdown left.
Willow, Xander and Giles chant their spell, each sending their own unique facets to their “avatar,” Buffy.
When Buffy breaks Adam’s spiky arm, he responds by revealing that he can transform his right arm into a chain gun. But by now the gang’s spell has kicked in: the spirits of all three-- Xander’s fighting skill (not as great as Buffy’s, but substantial), Giles’ language and Willow’s magic-- take over Buffy’s body. Their power is magnified to the Nth degree, allowing Buffy to transform missiles into doves, to float in midair, to speed up her body such that she can avoid any blow. All this and Linda Blair eyes. As a female choir harmonizes, Combo Buffy (“You can never hope to grasp the source of our power,”) handily bats Adam, driving him back and then wrenching his nuclear battery out of his torso. And just like that, Adam dies.
Spike, meanwhile, avoids getting killed by saving the Scooby Gang from a demon that tries to bust in and kill them while they awaken from their casting trance.
We’re left with an epilogue, of sorts. Colonel MacNamara meets with a secret government organization to debrief as they watch the final stages of the human/demon battle. A government official says, “Once the prototype took control of the complex, our soldiers suffered a 40% casualty rate,” and would have lost more if not for “a deserter and some civilian insurrectionists... I trust the irony of that is not lost on any of us.” The plan of the Initiative-- to study demons for the military uses, is hereby abandoned. The demons cannot be controlled.
With "Primeval", Season 4 comes to an end an episode early in a thoroughly satisfying way. (Next episode, the last of the season, is "Coda," a denouement of sorts.) What we have in this episode is a surprising cap on a shaky season. We've seen the Scooby Gang stretched in their own directions as the creators dealt with what to do with a bunch of high school friends now graduated. They end with a re-affirmation of the power of friendship, as good a theme as any with which to defeat a demonic cyborg.
And what a way to eliminate the main villain of the whole season in one fell swoop! "Primeval " is a complete reversal from last year’s season windup, with its funereal march towards the Mayor’s Ascension. When Buffy and her friends decide they must hang together rather than hang separately, Adam is dispatched fairly easily.
There are a lot of very cool moments in this script, by which I mean, literally, cool moments-- Adam’s arm-mounted chain gun, for instance, is just a bizarre element and fits with Adam as a curious mesh of sci-fi and magic. This comes in the same episode as the delightfully creepy worker-zombies, the scariest of which is Lindsay Crouse, somehow convinced to return as a lobotomized, shambling corpses animated via a bunch of tubes that pump fluid in and out of her pasty flesh.
I do wonder, though, is really what Maggie Walsh had planned? (Adam says it is, "Except she expected to be alive for it.") Her "veddy clever plan" was to use Adam to draw humans and demons into a big enough war that she'd have enough parts to make an army of cyborgs? That sounds like Adam's plan to me, but I've never been all that sure just how crazy Adam was.
Spike continues to amuse. Unlike Angel, Spike has no soul, so he's bent towards evil, we know that. But as viewers, we can't help being fond of the guy with all the best lines, and somehow we hope he'll escape death. While together, Adam and Spike are actually pretty funny-- I love Adam turning with irritation at Spike when the vampire says, “So, um, we’ll do this chip thing when I get back.” George Hertzberg, the actor inside all the Adam makeup, has a great challenge in drawing humor from his monotone character, and somehow he manages to register annoyance without breaking character.
Buffy's transformation is a shocking trick, and it's especially interesting that Buffy, who last episode reminded us "there's no ancient prophesy of the Slayer and her friends" here disappears completely under a combined possession by Xander, Willow and Giles. She gives her body to them, as she has always served mankind, and they use it remarkably well.
I love the carnage of the battle, too, the nice use of slow motion as vampires, soldiers and demons pitch one another through the air and blow one another up. Wisely, we see the rest of the battle play out in flashback, or its video equivalent, while the government winds up the story.
What strikes me as odd is the curious cheapness of the room in which the “government meeting” takes place at the end. This is one of those rooms I haven’t seen except in remarkably cheap porn; a bunch of actors sit at a table in a room in the middle of nothing-- nothing, no walls, no windows, just the black curtains of a soundstage. I understand that the point was to save the money it would take to build or hire a board room set, but the effect is jarring given the believability of the Initiative set, as men and vehicles explode across a vast space.
So we're left with no Initiative and no Adam, and the Scooby Gang repaired. Nice. Not as operatic as last season's finale, but satisfying and effective nonetheless, and almost refreshing.
Xander: “Does anyone else miss the Mayor; ‘I just wanta be a big snake?’”