It’s New To Me – BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER (“New Moon Rising” / “The Yoko Factor”)

In my years of TV watching, there have been tons of well-regarded shows that have eluded my gaze. Thanks to the magic of Netflix and other online streaming sites, I now have an opportunity to watch these shows and share my thoughts on them. It may be a classic to you, but It’s New To Me!

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Even though Season Four of Buffy has been wildly inconsistent in terms of quality in my opinion, I have enjoyed how it has contributed to the further evolution of most of the show’s main characters. While Xander hasn’t had much chance to transcend his usual comic relief persona, both Giles and Willow have changed dramatically from the types of characters they were in the previous season. These changes are even further explored in the two penultimate episodes of the season, one of which effectively ties up some loose ends from earlier episodes, while the other one focuses on how the changes among the four main characters is affecting the bond that formed among them four years prior.

The development of Willow is a focal point of “New Moon Rising,” the nineteenth overall episode of Season Four, which brings us the return of Willow’s former boyfriend, Daniel “Oz” Osbourne. After showing up unannounced at Giles’ apartment in front of the whole gang, Oz later catches up with Willow, telling her that he has found a way to stop himself from changing into a werewolf when the full moon appears by using several methods he picked up while traveling the world during his self-imposed exile. While talking about Oz and Willow’s turbulent relationship, Buffy accidentally reveals to Riley that Oz is a werewolf, which of course raises his suspicions about him. Oz tells Willow that, now that he has cured himself of his curse, he is ready to pick up where they left off, but Willow is reluctant, mostly due to her feelings toward Tara, with whom she has grown extremely close. She of course doesn’t mention that to Oz, who tells her that he will be patient. Later that night, Graham’s Initiative Squad is attacked by a four-legged creature that resembles a werewolf while on patrol, and Spike is confronted by Adam, who offers to remove the chip in Spike’s head in exchange for helping him bring down the Slayer and her friends.

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Willow shares the news about Oz’s newfound control with Buffy and also shares her confusion regarding her relationship with him and her relationship with Tara. Buffy is visibly surprised at the thought of Willow considering a lesbian relationship but tells her that whatever decision she makes is okay by her. Despite not revealing her feelings for Tara with Oz, his suspicions are nonetheless aroused when he smells Willow on Tara’s clothes. His jealousy and heartbreak at the idea of Willow loving someone else brings out the wolf in Oz once again, and he urges Tara to run before he is fully transformed. While chasing Tara while he is in wolf form, Oz is tranquilized and captured by the Initiative, who bring him to their lair to probe and study, despite Riley’s protests. Riley attempts to break Oz out of the Initiative base, but they are both caught and Riley is put in the stockade, awaiting a court martial. The Scooby Gang infiltrates the base dressed as scientists and soldiers, joined by Spike, whom they still trust somewhat, and are able to free Oz and Riley, who is forced to go into hiding now that he has officially betrayed the Initiative. Oz decides to leave town again now that the Initiative knows who he is stating that Willow ironically is the only thing that can still bring the wolf out of him. After Oz leaves, Willow visits Tara in her dorm room and tells her that she chooses to be with her.

“New Moon Rising” is one of the better and most well-rounded episodes of Season Four because it is a well-told self-contained story that also offers three important factors for the season and the series as a whole. The official end of Willow and Oz’s relationship is the main change to the status quo, and it is handled in an appropriately bittersweet tone. While I can see the point of effectively severing ties between the two cursed lovers, I will miss the sweet chemistry the two of them had together, and I will definitely miss Oz, who grew to be one of my favorite supporting characters during his two and a half year tenure. While I’m still not sure if Alyson Hannigan and Amber Benson have as much chemistry together as Hannigan and Seth Green did, I like how the show is developing their relationship as a slow, quiet romance that is not milked for titillation like other lesbian couplings on other TV shows. It seems odd to think that even as recently as the year 2000, when this episode first aired, such a mature and realistic depiction of lesbianism was still a rarity in mainstream pop culture. The other big plot points, such as Riley’s defection from the Initiative and Spike’s unholy alliance with Adam, are also fairly prominent but don’t detract from the central drama of the episode, which is Willow’s romantic dilemma. Despite a few noteworthy exceptions, this nice blend of character and plot elements has been absent from Season Four, which makes “New Moon Rising” such a pleasant and welcome addition. 4 out of 5 William Burroughs References.

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Nearing its conclusion, the season amps up the overarching plot in the following episode, “The Yoko Factor,” which features yet another return appearance from Angel, who can’t seem to stay away from his former lady love despite vowing to do just that at the end of Season Three. Other than that notable cameo, this episode focuses primarily on characters learning unpleasant bits of information secondhand from other characters. One such character who receives this kind of information is Riley, who hears from Xander about Buffy’s past relationship with Angel and how getting physical resulted in the reformed vampire losing his soul and causing a great deal of death and chaos. The other occurrences are caused by Spike, who spreads a great deal of lies and untruths among Buffy’s friends in order to stir up discord among the group. This is all part of Spike’s plan to break the Scoobies up, leaving Buffy alone against Adam and making her easy to kill. This plan is where the episode’s title comes from, as explained to Adam by the pop-culture savvy Spike.

While patrolling for Adam, Buffy runs into Forrest, Riley’s former friend and teammate, and the two of them bicker before finding Adam in a cave. During the resulting battle, Forrest is killed and Buffy is injured while trying to escape. She makes it back to Giles’ place, where Spike has claimed to bring over some data discs that contain important information about Adam’s plan. While Willow tries to decrypt the discs, Giles promptly gets drunk, upset at Spike’s earlier untrue admission to him that his former charge no longer respects him now that he is no longer a true authority figure. Spike also insinuates to Willow that Buffy does not approve of her new relationship with Tara. While the gang reacts to Spike’s plan, Riley stumbles upon Angel fighting off a group of Initiative soldiers. Angel insists on seeing Buffy, who had recently visited him in Los Angeles, but Riley refuses to let him go, resulting in a rather brutal fight between the two. Angel later shows up in Buffy’s dorm room, with Riley not far behind. They begin to tussle again, but Buffy breaks them up and leaves the room to talk with Angel in the hallway, where the two former lovers finally part on agreable terms. Buffy then returns to her dorm to reassure Riley but also to bring him the news of Forrest’s death.

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Buffy returns to Giles’ place to state her intention to go back to the cave where she and Forrest found Adam and is shocked to hear all of her friends chiding her for what Spike had told them she had said about them. The argument ends with Buffy angrily leaving, stating that she can’t count on any of them to support her and that at least she has Riley. The episode ends with Riley surprisingly showing up at Adam’s lair, acting as if he was compelled to come there.

While Season Four has the same number of episodes as the last two full seasons of Buffy, it seems so much longer, possibly because its overarching narrative has been a lot less developed and insular, and therefore way less interesting, than Seasons Two and Three. That said, though, I like how this crucial episode focused on the relationship between the four members of the core Scooby Gang as an important element to the plot. The discord that Spike causes within the group stems from issues that the characters have kept with them all season, from Xander’s growing insecurity over not attending college to Willow’s reluctance to be open about her feelings for Tara to Giles’ inability to adjust to post-Watcher life. In addition to their personal demons, all three of them have felt a growing disconnect with Buffy at some point in the season, and all of their feelings are brought out into the open in the climactic confrontation with her. I appreciated that this episode spent more time on the relationship between these four friends than on Adam’s master plan, which is still rather unclear. Hopefully when it is finally explained, it will make up for all of the pointless and boring scenes of him waxing faux-philosophically about the meaning of life and will finally make Adam an interesting character instead of the blank slate he has been since his introduction midway through the season. Despite the absence of a truly compelling main villain, “The Yoko Factor” stuck to the elements that made me a fan of the show in the first place and therefore earns 4 out of 5 Acoustic “Free Bird” Verses.

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Who ARE these people!?

Ben Gilbert is an avid comic and movie fan, father of two amazing kids, and husband to one awesome chick. He resides in the hills of East Tennessee and still doesn't quite know what he wants to be when he grows up.

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