Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Out of My Mind   Rewatch 
October 21, 2015 10:23 PM - Season 5, Episode 4 - Subscribe

Riley's Initiative conditioning continues to have adverse effects on his body and mind. Joyce falls ill. Spike endevours once again to have his chip removed, and begins to question the nature of his feelings regarding Buffy.
posted by yellowbinder (9 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
Welp, this episode features Riley at his most pathetic. As I mentioned, I think Season 4 Riley is mostly pretty likable, if not particularly full of personality. Season 5 Riley, however is just awful. We know from the previous episode that Riley thinks/knows Buffy doesn't love him, and this is driving some of his mania here, but I have very little sympathy for him. Riley just keeps on failing to talk about his problems, and put them into incredibly self destructive actions.

While I think we are meant to partially think that the cocktail Riley is on drive's his actions somewhat here, he just comes across as deeply unsympathetic.

The other big plot is Spike, who is developing his crush. He's a confused little vampire, and decides that the chip is what's causing his emotional problems. While he is correct, I suspect a Spike at this point without a chip would still love Buffy. Although, again, and this is important, Spike decides to try to kill Buffy here, and would have if not for the chip. So... why do they let him go again? And fricking Harmony too, who doesn't even have a chip! I really like Spike's arc in this season, but it does require you excusing a lot of behaviour that ultimately leads to more deaths.

-Graham returns, and he is just the best!
-Tara being disturbed by Willow's big light spell. First sign of her growing discomfort at Willow's power levels
-"Loving you is the scariest thing I've ever done" "I don't know why"

That exchange though. It's such a tv exchange! People in relationships talk, the idea that Riley would never call out Buffy on not saying that she loves him is, on reflection, quite damning of him. The only answer is cowardice: he can't bear to hear that she doesn't love him. And certainly his actions stink of cowardice throughout 5, but I think that's a betrayal of who the character was in 4.
posted by Cannon Fodder at 11:43 PM on October 21, 2015


There are problems with this show that seem like they could have been fixed with a line or two in a single episode, but instead they're never really addressed. Like, they really should have come up with some reason why Buffy kept letting Spike go for years, before they started banging and he went and got a soul. They could have had Buffy tell the Scoobies, "Look, Spike is useful because he almost always has a hand in all the shady supernatural activity that happens in this town. By letting him live and keeping track of him, we always know what's going on." (In other words, the excuse Odo gave for why he let Quark continue with his criminal operations on Deep Space Nine.) Or she could have said that now that he had the chip in his head she had to let him live, to see if vampires could be turned non-violent by the technology. They could have tossed out almost any explanation, and it would have been better than the hot nothin' we got.

I'd actually forgotten that Riley stuck around for two whole seasons. (I'd thought he was written out at the end of season 4.) I wonder if the show's creators thought his character was working, or if they found him kind of bland too. He was OK, but the poor dude just didn't pop. It always seemed like the people making the show felt like Buffy needed a boyfriend, like he was contrived in a way the other characters on the show weren't.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 3:50 AM on October 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


I suspect a Spike at this point without a chip would still love Buffy.

Spike always loved Buffy. His physical equal plus blonde? Fuhgeddaboutit.
posted by Etrigan at 6:16 AM on October 22, 2015


They could have had Buffy tell the Scoobies, "Look, Spike is useful because he almost always has a hand in all the shady supernatural activity that happens in this town. By letting him live and keeping track of him, we always know what's going on." (In other words, the excuse Odo gave for why he let Quark continue with his criminal operations on Deep Space Nine.)

Except Quark didn't have a centuries-long history of murdering people, so that rationale seems a lot more defensible with respect Quark than to Spike.

Or she could have said that now that he had the chip in his head she had to let him live, to see if vampires could be turned non-violent by the technology.


So she would say that she was giving him a free pass to possibly murder some innocents, in the name of science? Come on.

I've said this before, but the chip in my computer is warranted for only three years, and it's been thoroughly tested, and wasn't inserted into an evil demon by a mad scientist. The Buffyverse is not some magic place where technology doesn't fail. There are tons of malfunctions, and Spike finds ways around the chip.

They couldn't trust Spike to tell them, "Hey, I think the chip isn't working anymore, and I feel like eating people again, so you'd better stake me before I do any harm." It's utterly naive to assume that Buffy would be able to stop him before he hurt someone if the chip failed.

Spike doesn't get staked because he was an entertaining character and the writers wanted him around. In-universe justifications make the Scoobies seem callous to Spike's potential victims, or too stupid to live. I'd rather not have the show lampshade how indefensible it is.
posted by creepygirl at 9:43 AM on October 22, 2015 [2 favorites]


There are tons of malfunctions, and Spike finds ways around the chip.

Okay, I know we're gonna get to it next week, but this is Rewatch and I can't hold back even until "Family" anymore:

The fucking chip can detect demons better than actual demons can.

When Spike punches Tara and gets a jolt, it's not because he thinks she's human. He's actively testing whether the chip can detect whether she's a demon, and it works. I literally threw up my hands and wailed the first time I saw that episode, because it upends the entire damn Institute arc in retrospect. If you have a chip that's that good at detecting demons, why does Riley not have one? Take out the part that zaps him and put in a part that tingles a little bit so he knows "Oh, hey, that dude's a demon."
posted by Etrigan at 9:50 AM on October 22, 2015 [5 favorites]


I'm not saying that either of the excuses I came up with off the top of my head would be airtight, but I still think they (or almost any other excuse) would be better than nothing. In the case of the first excuse, the argument could be made that it's worth letting Spike live despite the damage he causes, because using him to keep tabs on the supernatural activity in Sunnydale prevents WORSE damage. Plus, with the chip in his head, he is relatively harmless. He's not killing humans anymore. And with the second excuse, the argument would be that he's NOT killing innocents anymore, that the chip is working so it's worth letting this play out to see what happens. I think the first excuse is admittedly stronger than the first, but either one beats the audience sitting there every week wondering why the heck Buffy is letting Spike go yet again.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 1:52 PM on October 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


In the case of the first excuse, the argument could be made that it's worth letting Spike live despite the damage he causes, because using him to keep tabs on the supernatural activity in Sunnydale prevents WORSE damage.

That kind of pragmatic trade-off is probably NOT where the writers wanted to go with Buffy this season, when the theme was that Buffy's a hero, dammit, and that means there are some trade-offs she will not make. (It sounds very similar to the argument to kill Dawn at the end, which Buffy was adamantly opposed to.)

Plus, with the chip in his head, he is relatively harmless. He's not killing humans anymore.

He gets around the chip and eats someone in Crush. The chip did not render him harmless to humans. He's not harmless, and the Scoobies had no reasonable basis to believe that he was.

If the writers wanted to make him harmless, they could have made the chip completely paralyze him when he tried to harm someone, or put up a force-field around him, or some other way of physically preventing him from hurting humans. Spike figures out in Family that he can inflict (mild) violence on a human as long as he is willing to accept the pain that follows, and he very nearly uses that knowledge to kill Buffy in Fool For Love.

Just about every show has something that makes no fricking sense to me, and I just kind of roll my eyes and decide either to bail (because the redeeming factors aren't worth it) or just engage willing suspension of disbelief (because I like other parts of it). With Buffy, NO explanation of Spike staying alive was ever going to make sense to me, so I prefer to make it one of the WSOD belief things about the show, and would consider a half-assed explanation a waste of time that could be spent on more enjoyable scenes / dialogue.
posted by creepygirl at 3:23 PM on October 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


My best guess at an in-universe reason for keeping Spike around during Season 5 is that he's one of the few people with the best chance at surviving an encounter with Glory (well, after she's introduced, at least).

I've been playing around with the hypothesis that the way Buffy interacts with people this season, especially during Joyce's illness, is based on what she thinks would be most useful for her to complete all of her duties. She now views Riley as someone she needs to protect, so she delegates some of her emotional labor to him (like asking him to take care of Dawn) instead of the dangerous tasks. Riley, on the other hand, doesn't recognize that the labor Buffy is asking him to do is important. At other points Buffy asks Xander&Anya and Willow&Tara to take on Dawn duty, and they clearly understand and focus on Dawn's needs. Not sure how well the idea holds up completely, but I thought it was an interesting lens to watch through this season.
posted by esker at 1:35 PM on October 23, 2015


Yeah, there's not a lot to like about this one. Harmony is occasionally amusing, but she's really not here - I think they brought her back one too many times. Buffy and the Scoobies' inability to kill Spike and get rid of him for good makes no sense, as has been discussed above. Riley is an ass. Graham is pretty cool, and go doctor for taking out the penny instead of the chip (although really, what did he think Spike was going to do? Of course he was planning to kill you, you dimwit). Buffy is also an ass, having lectured and rescued Riley only to basically leave him to find his own way back home after having been through quite the ordeal so that she can go see what's up with her mum. If we didn't already know she didn't love him (because Riley kindly told us) it would be pretty obvious from that. I mean, Riley is not my favourite person by a long shot, but Buffy behaves pretty shabbily. Mind you, Buffy's not my favourite person either, so really they deserve each other.
posted by Athanassiel at 5:31 AM on October 25, 2015


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