Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Into the Woods   Rewatch 
November 11, 2015 10:19 PM - Season 5, Episode 10 - Subscribe

Spike shows Buffy Riley's new vampire activities, then commiserates with him over their shared feelings for the Slayer. Riley is offered a way out, and gives Buffy an ultimatum.
posted by yellowbinder (9 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
So here we have the conclusion of this arc. For all that I complain, this is an effective episode. Xander's speech to Buffy might seem dickish given all we know, but he's right. It doesn't matter if it's fair. Theres a choice to be made, and she needs to make it. The fact that Buffy runs after Riley indicates that she does think there's something worth salvaging from the relationship. And with him leaving, there's one piece of the puzzle holding Buffy in place that is taken away.

There's no doubt that Riley's motivations here paint him as a dick, a dick who gives Buffy a mean ultimatum. His behaviour towards her in the confrontation scene is unpleasant, but he is trying to get at something truthful, that he's been cut off from Buffy emotionally. Of course, the mature thing might have been to mention this, oh I don't know, before you started getting sucked on by vampires Riley!

This episode also highlights Spike's infatuation with Buffy, and his constant antagonism with Riley. He gets the upper hand here, but his motivations are purely selfish. Before this season is out, however, he will have done something worthwhile.

Finally, Xander's speech to Anya at the end is really, really good, and establishes them as the best couple on the show for the next little while at least.

-Buffy butchering the vamps is brutal
-Riley... brought a fake stake to stab Spike with. What?
-Willow not trusting Xander's watch in that opening scence
-"We have to see the chimp playing hockey! That's hilarious!"
posted by Cannon Fodder at 12:40 AM on November 12, 2015 [2 favorites]

"The ice is all slippery, and monkeys are so irrational... go monkey. Choose monkey."

My strongest memory of this episode is that just after it aired when I was in high school, my friend wrote a poem about how Marti Noxon made him cry.

Bye Riley! You were literally too dull for this world. Buffy needs a man who will cause her infinite doubt and pain!
posted by yellowbinder at 7:57 AM on November 12, 2015 [1 favorite]

Xander’s speech, like a lot of his speeches, reads to me as really more about Xander than anyone else.

Xander’s the kind of guy who believes in The Big Showy Gesture as a demonstration of love, friendship, whatever. Sometimes this works well—Cordelia seemed to appreciate him paying for her prom dress, Anya appreciated him throttling Spike in Hush. Other times it’s a terrible thing to do (asking Anya to marry him without thinking about whether he's anywhere near ready to get married would be #1 on that list.)

There’s a scene in The Wish where Willow tells Xander not to touch her hands, because she wants to make things right with Oz after the fluking. Xander seriously doesn’t get it, because it seems like no big deal to him. It’s not some Big Showy Gesture that Willow does in front of Oz to prove her love. It’s just quietly setting new boundaries for herself. Xander doesn’t get it, because that’s not how he rolls.

So of course, when Xander knows that Riley feels unloved, he thinks the solution is for Buffy to make a Big Showy Gesture, and that will fix it.

The problem with this is that Buffy and Riley’s relationship problems aren’t a great match for the Big Showy Gesture.

If the problem is that Buffy truly doesn’t love Riley, and never will, no Big Showy Gesture is going to fix that. (This is my theory. I think she cared for him, I think she wanted to love him, but there just wasn’t that spark. This is a pretty common situation that a lot of people Buffy’s age get into, and I don’t fault her for it at all).

If the problem is that Buffy loves Riley, but the relationship has suffered from 1) his lack of communication about his feelings, 2) his deep need to feel needed in a relationship, and 3) Buffy being closed off and refusing to be vulnerable around Riley, these are issues that realistically would be solved by months or years of emotional labor and hard work, not one Big Showy Gesture. Riley doesn’t pledge to work harder on the relationship if Buffy wants in. It’s not even clear that he thinks he needs to. And without Riley offering to shoulder his share of the emotional labor, the Big Showy Gesture is a stupid request from Riley, even if you ignore his crappy behavior with the vampire brothels and Buffy's situation with her mother.

Finally, Xander's speech to Anya at the end is really, really good, and establishes them as the best couple on the show for the next little while at least.

Not much competition in that category. Willow and Tara are a stew of dysfunction even before Willow starts messing with Lethe's Bramble, and the less said about Season 6 Spuffy, the better.
posted by creepygirl at 5:59 PM on November 12, 2015 [6 favorites]

Also, why on earth would the brothel vampires attack Buffy with weapons made out of wood? Seriously stupid.

And Buffy taking her aggression out on the vamp who was sucking on Riley (when her true grievance is with Riley, whom she can't stake), was not Buffy's finest moment IMO.
posted by creepygirl at 7:43 PM on November 12, 2015 [1 favorite]

And Buffy taking her aggression out on the vamp who was sucking on Riley (when her true grievance is with Riley, whom she can't stake), was not Buffy's finest moment IMO.

Oh totally, but it's clearly not meant to be.

You're absolutely on the money about Xander's general behaviours, and I think thats quite insightful. That said, his overarching point is that if Buffy does actually love Riley, this is literally her last opportunity to win him back. Which, again, is super unfair and bullshit but that's the ball game. I don't think Riley deserved Buffy running to stop him, but Buffy clearly felt she was missing out on something.

I don't know what to say about Buffy's relationship woes. I think the truth is that she's too committed and serious to her fight to actually emotionally commit to a relationship the way one needs to. She was able to do so with Angel only because of the passion of teenage love she felt, but as she became an adult she became more worried about the fight that she didn't really have time for that aspect of her life. And that's sort of fine. We'll see in 6 that she'll search for meaning in any kind of relationship, but won't find it there. To quote Frightened Rabbit, you won't find love in a hole (google the full lyrics of that 'cause they're super great and super relevant to Buffy's arc in Season 6.
posted by Cannon Fodder at 12:05 AM on November 13, 2015 [2 favorites]

That said, his overarching point is that if Buffy does actually love Riley, this is literally her last opportunity to win him back. Which, again, is super unfair and bullshit but that's the ball game. I don't think Riley deserved Buffy running to stop him, but Buffy clearly felt she was missing out on something.

I'm not particularly fussed about whether Riley deserves Buffy running after him. I just look at it and think, "What's the best possible outcome that could result from Buffy running after him?" and to me, the best result is what happened--she misses her chance, but can tell herself that at least she tried.

Theoretically, if Buffy were able to handle her relationships in completely cold-blooded manner, running after Riley is a no-brainer: she gains some more time, and if she still thinks he's a butthead a week later she can always dump his ass then.

But people in general and Buffy in particular are not super efficient at getting out of relationships that aren't healthy for them. So I look at Riley's lack of promise to work on his own shit, and it makes me think that Buffy and Riley are doomed, no matter what. Either she's stuck trying to force herself to love him when she just can't, and she blames herself, or she's stuck working on the relationship while Riley does nothing at all to repair it and complains about her, and Buffy blames herself. Just a recipe for a lot more misery for Buffy.

So to me, Xander's advice is effectively telling Buffy, "If you want to extend the life of an unhealthy and doomed relationship, you need to run after Riley, because those are the rules he set." And the best I can say about that is that it respects Buffy's agency to make awful decisions. As advice on the show goes, it's not one of the highlights for me.

(Obviously I don't think Xander thinks they are doomed. He thinks that Buffy and Riley can work things out because he places way too much emphasis on the Big Showy Gesture (Riley gave up everything for Buffy! That means Riley's the best ever! And now Buffy just needs to step up and prove her love, and everything will be great!) and far too little emphasis on the day-in-day-out work that actually would need to be done to fix it.)
posted by creepygirl at 9:17 PM on November 16, 2015 [3 favorites]

The thing is, Buffy and Riley just both seem too young to be in it for the long haul anyway. Buffy has been taking Riley for granted and pushing him away at the same time. He's right to say she doesn't love him. In a way, he is finally taking the stand he should have several episodes ago. Neither of them has been behaving particularly well. And it's time for Riley to move on - without the Initiative, there's really nothing keeping him in Sunnydale. He can't just hang about hoping Buffy will want him. As we have remarked before, the show is pretty bad at demonstrating that people have lives outside of the whole Scooby gang thing. Riley is a man going nowhere - no career, no structure, no life except this girl who keeps pushing him away. I'm not saying he's my favourite guy, and I definitely think becoming a blood doll was a stupid response to the situation, but it was definitely time for him to take some action. I'm glad Buffy didn't catch up with him.

Xander is an odd one. On the one hand, he seems to be embodying the role of the Heart a bit more (continuing on from last season and leading into the next) by being the one who is in the healthiest relationship (oh the irony) and also in taking on more of the burden of emotional labour, which Anya really doesn't seem to understand. On the other hand, as creepygirl comments, it's all about the Big Romantic Gesture.

And yeah, Buffy really is looking for love in a hole. Awesome song, Cannon Fodder, and am listening to Midnight Organ Fight now. Awesome band live, too!
posted by Athanassiel at 12:46 AM on December 6, 2015

I like both of Xander's speeches here (in particular his bit with Anya - they're not in trouble in this episode, but having encountered both Willow and Buffy recently dismissing their relationship, it's a nice touch that he's inspired to ensure Anya about how serious it is to him.

Anyway, bye bye Riley, see you never (except nope, unfortunately).

Now, can we focus on the moment in this episode where Buffy sets a building on fire and Willow, Xander and Giles all respond with a collective "welp"?
posted by Navelgazer at 10:01 PM on September 23, 2018

Hey it's three years later almost to the day, and on this rewatch lemme just say:

We're probably around Peak Good Xander around now. Like, if you'd just started watching the show at season 5, without all the baggage that came with the character from (particularly but not limited to) seasons 1 and 2, you'd probably just think highly of the character. He's comfortable and confident in who he is, he sees a lot of what's going on with his friends and he talks to them about it. He can still be snarky, but there was a moment a few episodes before this one where he says something kinda-shitty to Riley, the sort of thing that would have just been his go-to sniping in earlier seasons, and when Riley starts to react to it as such Xander immediately backs off from that tone and sincerely asks if Riley is doing ok. It's a small moment but it shows how much he's matured up to this point.

So I don't read his scene with Buffy as being about Grand Romantic Gestures, but about doing the work to make sure your partner doesn't feel taken for granted, and how if that's worth doing, Buffy's about to lose her chance to do it at all. It's not fair. It's (almost entirely) not her fault. But if she wants a chance to fix things she's gotta catch him before he leaves, because that is how it is at that moment.

(It's still probably for the best that she missed him there, though I guess we'll never see Buffy in a healthy romantic relationship again, which is kinda rough.)

Xander's scene with Anya is the better one, though, because when he says that she makes him feel "like a man," his reading (and the context of four and a half seasons leading up to that point) make it clear that she helped bring him to the point where he feels confident and comfortable in himself. If this is the best version of him, it's largely due to her influence, and it's just damn nice to see Xander tell Anya as much, especially when the rest of his friends don't see it.
posted by Navelgazer at 1:30 PM on September 28, 2021 [1 favorite]

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