From many of your comments on my thoughts on Buffy Season 3, I knew I was in for a bit of a letdown when it came to Season 4. And yes, overall, Season 4 was a letdown, especially considering how incredible I thought Seasons 2 and 3 were. Don’t get me wrong – I still enjoyed most of Season4, but the overarching story was not nearly as interesting or intense as the stories presented in past seasons. Yes, Season 4 has been the worst episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer that I’ve seen to this point, but that doesn’t mean it was all a waste. After all, Season 4 did contain the best Buffy episode I’ve ever seen, and that’s got to count for something.
For the first time since Buffy began, the group dynamic has changed drastically. No longer are Buffy and the rest of the Scooby Gang enrolled at Sunnydale High; they’ve all graduated and besides, after the giant battle with the mayor, Sunnydale High no longer exists. Instead, Buffy and Willow are freshman at the college, conveniently, Sunnydale UC. Xander couldn’t get into college, so he’s stuck living in his parents’ basement and doing odd jobs, but still has time to hang with Buffy and Willow. Oz is always a Sunnydale fixture regardless of his scholastic endeavors, which is why I found his exit particularly abrupt. Giles is still around, like Xander, but is now the far less prestigious unemployed librarian. Finally, Cordelia’s absence is impossible to ignore, but unless I missed it earlier on, I found it strange that I had to wait until halfway through the season to find out that she went off to Los Angeles.
Cordelia wasn’t one of my favorite characters, but her penchant for being forthcoming coupled with her bitchiness really helped the group dynamic quite a bit. This season, she was replaced by Anya, a secondary cast member whose relationship with Xander earned her a spot in the Scooby Gang. I don’t hate Anya, but she simply doesn’t compare to Cordelia in terms of what she brings to the table. For one, I prefer Xander butting heads with Cordelia and always being on the defensive as opposed to relationship Xander, who, when he isn’t down on his lack of job quality, is explaining to Anya how to conduct oneself in social situations. The rest of the crew has virtually no interaction with Anya; she’s always just kind of “there.” Cordelia, at least, was able to get under everyone’s skin. So yeah, Cordelia was missed, her “replacement” wasn’t much, and I think that’s one of the reasons I wasn’t huge on this season.
Another reason I wasn’t wild about Season 4 was the lack of an interesting villain. Season 2’s villain was a demented, pure evil Angel, and the conflicting emotions inside of Buffy helped to make him an especially worthy antagonist. Season 3’s villain was the charismatic and always entertaining mayor, and let’s not forget about his little Slayer sidekick, Faith. Again, powerful villains with some sort of an emotional effect on Buffy. But this season villain? Adam? There are certainly some cool concepts with regard to a cyber-demon, but there really wasn’t anything cool about Adam. He was, essentially, a big, stiff dork, and it was tough to stay interested in what his motivations were.
I also didn’t care too much for Riley, who is vanilla personified. Angel always kept Buffy on her toes, whereas Riley was plain, boring, and the type of guy I’m surprised Buffy went for. The idea of The Initiative was fine, but at the same time, if they were doing experiments on demons and whatnot, you’d expect them to have at least heard of the Slayer. Also, a secret entrance to the secret base of a secret government operation in a fraternity house? Sure, whatever.
But like I said, I still enjoyed this season or, at least, certain parts of it. Joss Whedon is always credited for his ability to write string female characters so well, and I think that this acclaim was fully illustrated in this season. The ups and downs of Buffy and Willow’s relationship was well-paced and never at any time seemed forced, and the changes each of them went through as freshman in college seemed organic and fluid. Buffy learned the hard way that college guys aren’t necessarily interested in getting to know a girl, and Willow’s relationship with Tara was, to me, anything but contrived. It didn’t feel gimmicky or like it was written into the script to create buzz; it simply felt like that was part of who Willow is and what she was going through at that time.
I loved having Spike around so often this season, as he’s probably my favorite character on the show. It’s a shame that he had a chip in his head that prevented him from attacking humans – and I hope he gets it out next season – but it was refreshing to see that no matter how often he crossed paths with the Scooby Gang, he remained a self-centered, power-hungry bastard. Which is just how he ought to be.
Finally, all of Season 4 was worth watching, in the end, simply for the episode “Hush,” a.k.a. the silent episode. This was easily my favorite Buffy episode ever (replacing the one where Angel breaks Ms. Calendar’s neck) and I enjoyed it so much that once it was over, I watched it again. “Hush” is truly great television, and I am blown away at how well Joss Whedon was able to pull off a silent episode. Not to mention that The Gentlemen are beyond creepy – I really want a figurine of one. And it wasn’t just the novelty of a silent episode that made me love “Hush” so much; it was the fact that there was a strong theme of communication permeating every scene. Again, just great television.
All in all, yes, Season 4 was a letdown compared to the first three seasons of Buffy, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t have its high points. More importantly, it hasn’t deterred me from finishing up the series, and I’m excited to start up Season 5 sometime this week.