FEATURE: Buffy the Vampire Slayer - Goodbye Iowa
Previously on Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Buffy joined the Initiative, asked too many questions and then Maggie Walsh tried to have her killed. It didn't work. Instead, the creature that Walsh has been working on kills Walsh in a nicely Oedipal penetrative way. Riley takes the news that his surrogate mom has tried to kill his girlfriend badly and leaves the Initiative. Sort of. He's back this week. Oh, and Spike's still bechipped and in hiding from the Initiative.
Last episode, The I in Team, rattled through the big Initiative break-up build-up at quite the speed, leaving poor Goodbye Iowa to pick up the pieces. Reeling from Maggie trying to kill her, Buffy realises the Scoobies probably aren't so safe now and decides to take them into hiding in Xander's basement. Riley's not coping very well with the idea that his world is falling apart somewhat and looks to blame it on just about everyone else, including Buffy. When he goes a bit mad in Willy's Place (it's upmarket now, you see), she drags him back to Xander's and realises that the Initiative have been doing a little more to him than any of them realise. They confront Walsh's colleague, Angleman about the 314 project, dubbed Adam, who conveniently shows up and reveals himself to the world, explaining that he's not the only experiment in the Initiative, but that Riley is too.
As with last week's mythology-full, but truncated episode, Goodbye Iowa has a huge amount going on in it (to the point where I even considered running the lengthy plot summary gag from last week again - there is that much). And like its immediate predecessor, it's trying to do too much from the word go. The two main thematic threads, Riley's world falling apart and Adam's Frankenstein's monster-like discovery of the world, that they could have easily had an episode each, but the parallels between the two were clearly too juicy to not place together. Riley, so certain in his black and white cornfed view of the world is forced to learn things anew, just as Adam is doing with his newfound life.
The Frankenstein connections have been obvious since Adam was revealed and boy does this episode run with them. Playing out like a loving reference to the original tale and Whale's adaptation, Adam wanders around Sunnydale, killing children and generally causing a bit of damage whilst he tries to learn more about the world. The creator/creation relationship that should be explored here, as with Shelley's novel, ended with Maggie on the end of a skewer so there's not much depth to Adam as a villain other than he's seemingly invincinble, but hey, Buffy blew up a giant snake at the end of last season so I'm sure they'll find a way, guys.
Similarly, Riley finds out that Maggie has been doctoring him, turning him into another of her maternal creations. But Maggie's gone and thus, no real catharsis for Riley's character can be reached by having him confront her. Not to mention that emotional fallout of that doesn't really land, mostly because the series hasn't really given us any reason to root for Riley other than him being Buffy's beau (how refreshing for this to happen to a male character though, am I right?!).
The thing is though, despite the episode packing so much into its runtime, I run out of things to say about it pretty quickly. Long-time readers of this rewatch will know this is rarely a case with a Buffy episode, but everything is operating on a really surface level interpretation of the themes its examining. Even Willow's burgeoning relationship is little more than euphemism at this stage, though it is fun to spot all of those nods to their romance that my little 12 year old mind innocently skipped over before.
I always maintain that the Initiative was probably a better idea on paper than what happened when it was translated to the screen. There's all sorts of potentially interesting things going on here thematically (primal vs technology, Slayer vs humans, birth vs artificial creation) that never really go anywhere, even in the final stages of the season. With the potential of those ideas and the soaring high points of the season so far (and to come), the show has never felt more frustrating. Thankfully though, Whedon returns to a lot of these themes in The Cabin in the Woods which we can all agree is awesome.
I might just go and watch that instead.
Quote of the Week:
Buffy: I'm going to the crime scene to see what I can find out. You guys research the Polgara demon. I want to know where it is. When I find it, I'm going to make it pay for taking that kid's life. I'll make him die in ways he can't even imagine... That probably would've sounded more commanding if I wasn't wearing my Yummy Sushi pyjamas...
Inventive Kill: Adam meets an innocent little boy. And kills him. Adam sucks.
Sunnydale Who's Who: This is the last episode in which we see Buffy's weaselly informant, Willy the Snitch. He's mentioned later on in the series so we know he lives to weasel another day.
You can find Becky's look at previous episode, The I in Team, here.