The Harsh Light Of Day
Wild At Heart
A New Man
The I In Team
This Year’s Girl
Who Are You
Where The Wild Things Are
New Moon Rising
The Yoko Factor
After barely surviving high school, Season 4 begins with Buffy starting a new adventure – university. With Angel gone and Faith out of the picture for now, Season 4 feels like a new, fresh chapter in the vampire slayer’s life. The new threat from the shady group The Initiative and new love interest Riley do help to shake things up this year in a largely transitional, experimental season full of interesting new ideas that really push the boundaries of storytelling in the show. Willow’s same sex relationship and Spike’s transformation into more of an antihero figure are the two stand outs here but season 4 will largely be remembered for the incredible episode, Hush.
Whilst the overarching plot still focuses on Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar) and her duties as a vampire slayer, the decent writing and sub plots for the supporting cast continues to be a key part of the series’ success, even if the first couple of episodes take a while to get going with a slower than usual. Some of this is done deliberately, with a much more methodical pace used to illustrate Buffy’s alien surroundings in the university, but its not long before Buffy is reunited with the largely unchanged gang from last year.
The first half of the season does a good job of setting up for the second half, with a lot of monster-of-the-weeks dotted with bursts of character development to keep the interest high for the evolving plot line. Riley (Marc Blucas) does lack the charisma of Angel though and his presence is the one black cloud in a largely decent season of entertainment. When Spike (James Marsters) finds himself captured by The Initiative early on in the season, the antihero vampire is used as a crux to slowly tease the emerging threat hidden in the underground army testing lab. Although the climax to this season is a little disappointing, especially given what’s come before in the illustrious history of the show, Adam (George Hertzberg) plays the Frankenstein monster archetype perfectly, garnering tiny shreds of sympathy between his monstrous outbursts.
This season sees a pretty big shift for many of the characters too. With Oz (Seth Green) leaving Willow (Alyson Hannigan) heartbroken, she finds solace in fellow witch Tara (Amber Benson) in a group session together and their on-screen blossoming romance is the light in an otherwise dark and moody season. Xander (Nicholas Brendan) continues to be used as comic relief alongside demon Anya (Emma Caulfield) and Giles (Anthony Head) has some interesting inner conflicts too, questioning his role as Buffy’s watcher as she continues to grow older and more independent. The evolving roles for each character further reinforces the shifting feeling in the show too, as it continues to grow bolder and more experimental in what’s shown.
Whilst most of the episodes are endearing and feature some great monsters for Buffy and the gang to fight, none are as well written or imaginative as The Gentlemen in the frightening episode Hush. Shot completely in silence, this episode will forever be etched in fans’ minds as the definitive episode of Buffy The Vampire Slayer. Shot completely in silence with nothing but a haunting, ambient score for company, the episode sees Buffy and the group without their voices, tasked with fighting three floating, frightening demons who harvest organs. Its easily the stand out this season and deserves to be recognised for the innovative way its script maintains the charming, quirky wit inherent in the show whilst balancing it with outright horror.
Although Season 4 of Buffy is largely a transitional season, the humour and charm of the series remains very much intact. Buffy’s journey into university is certainly an eventful one and the threat of The Initiative is a far cry from the demons and vampires in seasons past. Whilst Adam lacks the charisma to compete with some of the more memorable villains in the show’s history, there’s enough here to enjoy. The supporting cast continue to grow and their storylines are arguably as good as Buffy’s this year. Although the ending is a little lacklustre compared to the what’s come before, fans of the show won’t mind with another solid season of entertainment.
Verdict - 8/10