FEATURE: Buffy the Vampire Slayer - The Yoko Factor
Previously on Buffy the Vampire Slayer (and also on Angel): Faith caused havoc and fled to LA, leading to an almighty clash between Angel and Buffy. Riley's aware of their relationship now and is also on the run from the Initiative. Adam is on the loose and working with Spike whilst the Scoobies have been having issues in their friendship.
And so we continue with the Initiative plotline as things begin to descend towards the season finale. Spike revels in his new role as agitator, something bequeathed to him by Adam in order to weaken the Slayer before the monster's big move, Spike wisely pointing out she's nothing without her friends. As he proceeds, the faultlines that have been appearing throughout the season turn into wide, gaping cracks that turn them against each other at a time when a united front is necessary. Meanwhile, Riley learns from Xander the trigger for Angel's curse and when the vamp shows up in Sunnydale to apologise to Buffy after he beats the crap out of some commandos, Riley assumes the worst.
The Yoko Factor is a very mixed bag of an episode (a lot like the season as a whole), but it manages to be one of the marginally better offerings in the Initiative arc by the simple virtue of placing the Scoobies at the heart of it. Its big problem is that it doesn't do it enough. We've been seeing the issues in their friendship arise since Buffy and Willow first started at UC Sunnydale, but it's only really been Spike who noticed anything was amiss amongst the characters, a fact he exploits mercilessly. It's a great, little divide and conquer plan that builds to the episode's best scene that doesn't involve watching Riley get thrown across an alleyway; the Scoobies falling apart.
We've seen them fight before (third season, post-Angel reveal is the most memorable), but it still hurts to see them going out to deliberately hurt each other. The gloves are off, metaphorically speaking (though Buffy looks like she wants to throw down), and every tension that's been niggling away is brought to the fore. Giles' drunk commentary stops it from getting too vicious, but even then, his little barbs about his unemployment demonstrate an underlying anger: "No, I am no Alfred, sir. You forget, Alfred has a job." When Buffy storms out at the end, that's the cliffhanger the episode should've ended with. Despite being more tolerant of fourth season Riley than most, I simply don't give a fig about him going to Adam.
In fact, the only thing involving Riley that I do like in this episode is Buffy putting a stop to the fight between him and Angel by throwing them both across the room. Nothing like showing men who's the real boss. Angel showing up doesn't really do anything in the episode, other than to further Riley's toxic masculinity complex and apologising to Buffy for his actions in Sanctuary. It's nice that he does come back and I'm all for Angel and Buffy having slightly longing conversations about their doomed relationship, but it smacks of attempting to make the episode a bit more interesting.
One of the fun things about this episode (other than Drunk Giles) is spotting what things start to crop up in Restless (ie. one of the best episodes in the history of Buffy and possibly television). There's Willow on about taking a drama class, Xander thinking his friends want him to enlist in the army, Buffy's fear of being left alone and Giles' singing. I've still not worked out if there's a nod to the cheese man anywhere other than in The Initiative when Riley finds out Buffy's likes and dislikes though. The only trouble is, this aspect of the episode only works if you've already seen Restless. First time watchers need not apply just yet.
The final good thing about The Yoko Factor? It sets up for a cracking pair of conceptual finales in both Primeval and Restless respectively. Each deal with the isolation of the Scoobies and the power they yield when they work together. The Initiative arc might be a load of cobblers, but it does bring about some beautiful examinations of the Slayer and her gang.
Quote of the Week:
Buffy: Okay, that's enough! I see one more display of testosterone poisoning and I will personally put you both in the hospital.
(Un)Inventive Kill: Goodbye Forrest, your death (skewered by Adam) was as lame and as unmemorable as you were as a character.
The LA Connection: This episode follows pretty much directly on from the end of Angel episode Sanctuary. Wesley even asks Angel there and then if he wants to go after Buffy.
You can read Becky's look at previous episode, New Moon Rising, here.