FEATURE: Buffy the Vampire Slayer - The I in Team
Previously on Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Buffy's big secret is out and she's now working with the Initiative of which Riley is a part, as is Psychology professor Maggie Walsh. She's involved in something called 314 which has got the demon world a'rumbling. Elsewhere, Spike has discovered he can hit demons whilst Willow is embarking on a new friendship with fellow witch, Tara.
Right. Deep breath.
Buffy has been spending a lot of time with the Initiative, training and basically beating them to a pulp within 28 seconds. Maggie Walsh is impressed, Riley's in love and the Scoobies are disappointed, especially Willow who feels disconnected from her best friend. Behind the door of 314, we find that Walsh is working on an impressive Frankendemon's monster, composed of tech and demon body parts. When Buffy starts asking a few too many questions about what's going on in the tin foil set below the ground, Walsh concludes she's a bit too dangerous and decides to have her killed off. There's also this weird bit where she watches Riley and Buffy have sex, thus sparking all kinds of odd Oedipal associations that the episode doesn't really need.
But wait, I'm not done with this plot summary - it continues! During one of their patrols, an Initiative team, led by Riley pals Graham and Forest, run across Spike. They fail to capture him, but do manage to shoot him with a tracer. Having recently spurned Giles' friendship following the demon incident, Spike is forced to return to the Scoobies for help and they flush the tracer down the loo. As part of Walsh's cunning plan to rid herself of the Buffster, she sends her down to the sewers, chasing two escaped demons, falsely described as pushovers and has her take a prototype combat camera. Rookie mistake!
I'm still not done. Riley returns to the Initiative tin foil base under the ground to report a lack of Hostile 17 only to be confronted with a falsely tearful Maggie Walsh saying that Buffy has been killed. But what's this? Buffy's alive! And she's the conveniently placed combat cam to relay a message to Walsh stating that now you've pissed off a Slayer and that's a bad thing yada yada yada. Riley's angry and walks away to go be nice to Buffy. Walsh is all upset with that Oedipal thing, yelling after Riley and generally losing her cool a bit. Then she goes into 314 and gets skewered by the now awakened Frankendemon's monster, Adam.
The big problem with this episode is, if you hadn't guessed from the above plot summary and my textual hypventilation, is that there is way too much going on. The season has mostly focused on individual episodes with a little ongoing arc thrown in, but The I in Team is all arc, all the time to get the season to the point where it needed to be and the Initiative acting as the enemies once again. As a consequence, everything is too rushed for the impact these things should have had to land properly and by the time Riley's dramatically storming away, we still don't really care that he is.
It does form a quasi-two parter with the next episode, Goodbye Iowa, but we needed even more threaded in. Buffy working with the Initiative, much like her relationship with Parker, is over in about five minutes, but the show wants it to have more of a consequence than the allotted screentime deserves. For it to truly work, we'd need Buffy working well within the Initiative as a reworked status quo, further fracturing her away from her gang and for a more permanent damage to be done.
However, there are some positives to take away from it, mainly in the clever way the title is used to explore the ongoing fracturing working throughout the series. Mostly, it has been on the Scoobies' inability to adapt to having more separate lives since the end of high school. Willow's feeling it particularly keenly, but Giles, Buffy and Xander have all had their own time in the isolation spotlight too. They're all working as that "I" in the team, operating individually unless forced by circumstances beyond their control to work together, but even then, it's often been as a split force.
The Scooby Gang aren't the only team fracturing under the pressure of Buffy and the Initiative. We've had grumblings from Forest before about the importance that Buffy has in Riley's life over his own as a best friend, but that's crossing into the professional line too when Riley picks his girlfriend as his number two and not Forest. Likewise, Walsh's individual ambitions are responsible for Riley breaking off from his work and disobeying a direct order for what appears to be the first time in his life.
So, much like Hush, it's a big episode, both on an individual basis and for the longer, ongoing arcs but, unlike Hush, it's not very good at doing it. The earlier episode also had the great narrative hook of taking place mostly in silence, but even had you replaced all the dialogue, the episode is excellent at spinning the complex plates that the writers have in the air at that point in the season. In The I in Team, it feels like they suddenly realised they needed to start wrapping the season up, but a bunch of stuff needed to happen in order for them to do that.
As a consequence, those plates spin off all over the place, whirling way too fast for us to really catch them as an audience (I started well with that allegory and promptly lost it by the end - I'm sure you all know me well enough by now to know what I mean).
Quote of the Week:
Buffy: You said it was big. You told me... but you never said it was huge!
Riley: I don't like to brag.
[They're talking about the Initiative tin foil base underground. Minds out of the gutter, guys.]
Inventive Kill: Adam uses the arm skewers, recently taken from the Polgara demons that Buffy helped to capture, to mercilessly murder Maggie Walsh.
Demonology 101: The episode marks the first appearance of Adam, who goes on to be the season's Big Bad. And we all thought it was gonna be our Maggie.
You can read Becky's look at previous episode, A New Man, here.