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“You feel smothered. Trapped like an animal. Pure in its ferocity. Unable to actualize the feelings within. Clinging to one truth, like a flame, struggling to burn within an enclosed glass: that a beast this powerful cannot be contained. Inevitably, it will break free and savage the land again. I will make you whole again, make you savage.”

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Welcome back, Buffy fans and friends. The last couple of weeks has put the pause in our rewatch of season 4. But now we’re comfortably settled in our new digs — Persephone virtually and me in real life — and we’re back to close out the season. There’s really not a lot left for us in season 4 — this week’s ‘The Yoko Factor” is the lead up to the Big Bad Off and then we close out with the funland symbolic dream journey with The First Slayer. Not that there is plenty of stuff to talk about in these three episodes. There sure is, so let’s get to it.

Timeline note: If you tune into “The Yoko Factor” immediately after watching “New Moon Rising” and find yourself confused by the off handed comments about Buffy being in LA, or Buffy having her head worked over by Angel, don’t be alarmed. You haven’t missed anything. Ok, well, you did, but not on Buffy. In between our two episodes is part of the Faith/LA crossover arc. We covered “Sanctuary” earlier this year when rewatching all 4 Faith episodes. You can find the recap for it here.

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The overarching storyline for season 4 is The Initiative/Adam, which will come to a head next week, but the main theme that’s been running through show is the awfulness of adjusting to adulthood. It’s been about growing pains and the fractures they cause — look back to the early part of the season, with Buffy feeling out of sorts as she moves from being The Slayer to “another coed.” Or Willow and Oz’s devastating break-up. Giles and Xander’s floundering as they bounce from job to job (or maintain an uninterrupted line of unemployment), their structure and purpose in the group seemingly evaporated. Willow’s discomfort and then acceptance of her homosexuality, and then the discomfort and worry of how her friends will react to Tara.  The introduction of new romantic partners and the resentment it causes among the friends. Season 4 and season 6 are often looked down upon as the “worst” of the Buffyverse and that’s no real surprise. As I’ve mentioned several times, these are parallel seasons, dealing with the same themes of transition and maturation, and as a consequence, have some of the darkest stories of the show, and the most instances of discord between the formerly tight knit Scoobies.

All these disparate storylines — some seemingly dropped, some right in our faces — are masterfully manipulated by Spike. Spike, our Big Bad defanged, has been having his own identity crisis this year thanks to the chip The Initiative stuck in his noggin. He starved until he was desperate enough to team up with the Scoobies, tried on demon fighting to get his violence kick, and settled into a life as a low influence information broker, trading gossip for a couple of bucks and some butcher’s blood. Adam preys on Spike’s own vulnerabilities, promising to get the chip out of his skull if Spike can help keep the Slayer too busy to interfere with Adam’s master plan. Spike, excited by the offer and blinded by the promise of being a better monster (see Adam’s sales speech above), eagerly agrees to injecting some quality chaos into the Scooby Gang. He doesn’t quite remember to ask what Adam’s actual plan is. If he had, he might have realized that chip wasn’t going anywhere.

The fight might have gone out of Spike but he still has a formidable weapon — invaluable insight into the workings of the gang, and the lack of compunction to use it. He’s always been insightful (see “Lover’s Walk”), which is the real reason he’s such a threat. Unfortunately, the Scoobies have forgotten that and it’s gonna bite them in the tukus.

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While Buffy is dealing with the aftermath of her meeting with Angel, which involves Angel actually showing up in Sunnydale to butt heads and other body parts with Riley, Spike systematically visits each member of the gang.

With Giles, he casually mentions that Giles hasn’t really been Buffy’s Watcher for a long time, and that he would prefer to deal with someone with actual authority, preying on Giles’s feelings of insecurity.

To Xander, he claims he overheard Buffy and Willow suggesting that Xander might as well join the army, since there’s nothing he can do for them anyway. Not only does this reinforce the impression that he’s being left behind while the girls are in college, but it ticks Anya off as well.

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And Willow, who gets a casual remark that she’s not so helpful anymore now that she’s going through her “Wicca phase.” Tellingly, Tara seems onto to Spike’s manipulation, trying to defuse the defensiveness that Willow throws up, and Spike immediately changes tactics, but not before the seed is planted.

“The point is, they were once a real powerful group. It’s not a stretch to say they ruled the world. And when they broke up everyone blamed Yoko, but the fact is the group split itself apart; she just happened to be there. And you know how it is with kids. They go off to college, they grow apart. Way of the world.”

And then he leaves them to implode. It just took a handful of well-chosen words to have the gang at each other’s throats. He didn’t even have to talk to Buffy. She’s already pissed off after finding out that Xander told Riley about the sex-with-Angel-leading-to-Apocalypse thing and worn down by having to soothe overly masculine egos of her current and ex-boyfriends.  She watched Forrest get gutted by Adam, was electrocuted and then suffered a concussion, and she just came from LA, where her worst enemy was being tenderly cared for by Angel. Our girl was worn out.

The end of the episode leaves us with the gang in tatters, angry, drunk or outraged. Buffy is storming off to take on Adam on her own, and the rest of the group won’t even look at each other.

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Images courtesy of BuffyWorld and Goodbye Piccadilly Farewell Leicester Bloody Square  and property of 21st Century Fox.

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