Truth is revealed in Doomed (episode 11) when Buffy and Riley tell each other about their calling and secret professions. Buffy backs away from Riley as a sudden earthquake heralds a reopening of the hellmouth at Sunnydale High. Buffy, Xander and Willow visit their old high school ruins and Riley shows Buffy how he can be a stabilizing force, an anchor, in her life – if she lets him. A return to high school, escaping old labels, saving the world (again) and taking the risk of trusting someone become themes that are examined in this episode.
Everyone’s favourite British frenemy returns to antagonize Giles. Ethan Rayne, “professional bad guy” arrives to play a prank on Giles. Waking up the next morning after some heavy drinking, Giles finds himself A New Man (episode 12). Turned into a demon, Giles rushes to the gang for help but is instead pummeled by Buffy and is forced to seek help from another monster: Spike. Funny and interesting, this episode explores Giles’ feeling of neglect and his father-figure relationship with Buffy as he warns her, “Riley is part of something we don’t understand. Make sure you know what you’re getting into.” Ethan Rayne does provide some important information before he’s carted off to prison: demons in the underground are discussing the threat of something called 314. Something The Initiative – and Professor Walsh – may know something about.
The top secret 314 is revealed in The I in Team (episode 13) when The Initiative reveals its dark underbelly by targeting Buffy. Adam (George Hertzberg, Friday Night Lights), a dangerous genius creation from the mind of Professor Walsh is introduced in a terrifyingly Frankensteinian scene. As Buffy and Riley get closer together, he’s forced to question The Initiative as Buffy warns the organization, “if you think that’s enough to kill me, you really don’t know what a slayer is. Trust me when I say you’re going to find out.” The theme of mothers and sons, betrayal, birth, faith and science encapsulate this terrifying episode. Goodbye Iowa (episode 14) sees Riley unravel as secrets about The Initiative are revealed. Tara and Willow grow closer as they cast spells and Riley and Buffy are torn apart by his job. Adam grows in power as human vs. machine; betrayal and family are examined in this episode.
The other slayer wakes up from a violent coma in This Year’s Girl (episode 15) and she’s hungry for revenge. In a beautiful dream sequence where Faith recalls her near-death and loss of her only parental figure, her anger is reignited when she stalks Buffy, her friends and her mother to exact the hell that was unleashed on her. Buffy has her work cut for her as Adam begins hurting humans “to see how they work,” and Faith receives a posthumous gift from the dead mayor that she uses to get under Buffy’s skin. Continued in Who Are You? (episode 16) Faith inserts herself into Buffy’s life, exploring and unsettling her relationships and experiencing what true friendship and love might feel like. In a violently emotional scene, Faith and Buffy battle it out and Faith, broken and damaged, flees Sunnydale. Splitting of self, feeling unworthy, and loneliness are all examined in this dark two-episode arc.
After years of being the hostage, observer and nerdy kid, Jonathan (Danny Strong, Gilmore Girls, Mad Men) returns in this episode that takes a lighter beat. Sunnydale worships the hero that is Jonathan Levinson. He’s suave, famous and slick. A real Superstar (episode 17). The continuing storyline of the season keeps pace but Jonathan is now seamlessly an integral part of, well, everything. Funny, disconcerting and bizarre, this episode explored insecurity and selling one’s soul for fame, recognition and acceptance. Where The Wild Things Are (episode 18), amps up Buffy and Riley’s relationship as they their sexual chemistry rises. As Buffy and Riley heat up, Xander and Anya are cooling off – and Anya isn’t happy about it. When strange, ghostly things start to take over and harm people at the Frat house that Riley lives in, Anya is forced to battle terrifying apparitions and deadly vines to save her boyfriend. “Sometimes I just don’t get the sophisticated college lifestyle,” Xander deadpans, as losing yourself in someone and fighting for a relationship become the theme of this episode.
Old love,,new love and the grey that everyone is made of become the theme of New Moon Rising (episode 19) when Oz returns. Having conquered the wolf in him, he’s back for Willow, but she has moved on. In a funny and emotional coming out, Willow explains her connection to Tara and tells Buffy, “he left and everything changed. I changed.” Riley finally makes a decision about his involvement with The Initiative and tells Buffy, “I was in a total black and white space. People vs. Monsters. And it’s not like that. Not when it comes to love.” And then Buffy tells him about a tall, dark vampire from her past.
[Buffy goes to L.A and appears on spin-off Angel. Sanctuary (episode 19)]
Exes take center stage as Angel visits Buffy to have a heated conversation. “Even when he’s good he’s all billowy coat, King of Pain!” Riley laments about Angel. In The Yoko Factor (episode 20), Angel and Riley circle each other like boxers in a ring as Buffy rolls her eyes. “Riley? I don’t like him,” Angel tells Buffy as they have a bittersweet conversation. Respectful of her space, he leaves Sunnydale but not before letting her know they will always have a bond. Adam recruits Spike as an ally, promising him to undo the experiment The Initiative conducted on Spike if he helps him. Spike sets off to accomplish a fracturing of Buffy’s greatest asset: her friends.
Adam becomes a powerful machine as he initiates a device that summons Riley to him in Primeval (episode 21). Calling Professor Walsh their mother, he uncovers his grand plan to a helpless Riley. As the Scooby gang is split up and not talking, Buffy realizes “I’ve been so wrapped up in my stuff that I’ve been a bad friend.” Indicating a desire to be a team again, Buffy, Willow, Xander and Giles come together to create a powerful spell that “makes us heart and mind and spirit joined.” Infusing Buffy with superhuman power, she battles Adam in a climatic scene as The Initiative crumbles around them in a cinematic episode. As Buffy explores her power, the theme of teamwork and tapping into spiritual sources make this episode incredibly exciting. The Scooby gang creates their hybrid spiritual machine to defeat Adam, a mechanical machine, in an episode that is both exciting and inspiring.
Restless (episode 22), written and directed by Whedon, finds Buffy, Giles, Willow and Xander decompressing after their epic battle with Adam. As they all fall asleep, they are visited by a dark force, which they are forced to confront in their dreams. Beautifully shot, sometimes dark and sometimes oversaturated, this episode explores each character’s weakness, fear and desire with humour, depth and a creepy foreshadowing. “You think you know what’s to come. What you are. You haven’t even begun,” the spirit informs Buffy. Hidden fears, hopes and exploring the nature of self are all themes of this season finale.
The fourth season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer took high school kids and forced them into the world of adulthood with hilarious and sometimes harsh outcomes. As Buffy becomes preoccupied with her social life, she’s forced into remembering the things that make her strong: her friends, her confidence and her power. All 22 serialized episodes of the fourth season worked to break down and redefine relationships and explore new ways of discovering (and saving) the world. And as the season came to a close, Buffy was reminded again that “you haven’t even begun,” as it heralded a new season of dark, twisty fun.