The Initiative
Written by: Doug Petrie
Directed by: James A Contner
Air Date: Nov. 16, 1999

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With Seth Green off the main titles, James Marsters makes his grand first appearance. He’ll be featured in title credits, now, for another four years. Kudos to you, mate! And to kick it off right, we get an episode dedicated to making his reemergence in Sunnydale make all the difference in the world for the characters and us, as viewers. Through Spike we get our first introduction to the titular “Initiative” and what kind of things go on with our mysterious military men. We also get reintroduced to Riley, Prof. Walsh, and we meet a bunch of new characters who take part in the underground army demon science lab.

A sick dedication to continuity shows up right off the bat, here, as Tom, one of the vampires in Sunday’s gang shows back up and explains what he knows about the capture, abuse, and experimentation on monsters to Spike. Spike then uses this information to not only trick some overly incompetent white coats, but also to sneak out of the underground labs and start on his quest to murder the Slayer once and for all. He believes she “got funding” and built the labs in the first place, so he’s understandably pissed, just not justifiably.

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This all leads to a revelation we see before we’re told about: The Initiative has already done something to Spike. When he goes to confront Buffy he finds a defenseless and sad Willow listening to sappy songs in the dorm room. In a ultra creepy, brutal move, Spike cranks the music up to cover the screams, tosses Willow onto the bed to suck her dry. Only… he can’t do it. In one of the greatest scenes of comedy the series has ever had, Spike and Willow discuss whether or not it’s Willow’s fault (Spike says no, he’s often thought of biting her), if this happens to all vampires, or if he’s just nervous or trying too hard. The juxtaposition between the chip we learn later has been planted in Spike’s head vs a level of sexual impotence is over-the-head symbolic but still over-the-head hilarious.

This episode marks the return of Spike into the fold, true, but it also signals the first big push into the seasonal arc the story has been building toward. By having it revealed that doofy Riley and bitchy-as-fuck Prof. Walsh are not just members of the Initiative but key members is crucial, because we have their pre-established connection to Buffy and co. in place. Mixing it up a bit by having this new layer added is a great way to both develop them as characters, but to also develop the ideas of just what the Initiative is all about to them, and us, too. And the fact that this group is now brought to the narrative forefront also gives our local layabouts, Giles and Xander, something new to do, namely stalking about the place in search for clues, leading the series best fight scene thus far: Xander vs Harmony. Its shot tight, its shot in slow motion, and it is hilarious.

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Setting Riley up to be Buffy’s next big beau is OK, but he will not ever be marked as my favorite match in her relationship history (I… I might be giving this to Angel…!) but, by god… he punches the fuck out of Parker who is shown to have learned nothing from his time spent getting bashed on the head in “Beer Bad” though, possibly, he simply forgot about that episode like I wish I could. His attempts to woo and court Buffy are comical, sad, and human. His interactions with Willow while trying to get the inside scoop about Buffy are heartfelt and real. But I just don’t care that much about him as a character. At least, not yet. At this stage, though, its nice to get a little extra info on the guy, even if he’s pretty bland as a character.

Its a solid episode that sets the stage for everything else that comes this season. The big bad isn’t revealed yet, but the pieces are in place for his grand entrance (side note: Not a huge fan of Adam as a bad guy. But we’ll get there). We have a slew of new characters that will cross paths and get to know and we also have an entire organization prowling the night for demons and monsters and vampires that Buffy will either have to contend with or work with depending on how its presented to her in the future. But for now, we’re developing characters and we’re about to get more time with the new folks in the crowd. But its really damn good to have Spike back in a major way.

Episode Rating: 89

Additional Notes:
-Buffy calls Riley a doof. A DOOF. I’ve been calling him that since the first time he showed up on screen this watch-through. I don’t remember her saying that. What a fucking thing!
-Awesome transition between Spike proclaiming how bright Buffy is to her dealing with an exploding ink pen destroying her class notes
-Walsh gets an earful from Buffy who defends her friend. Its a solid set of comebacks from both people, and they are each in the right
-Daniel Osborne
-When Willow attempts to hide Buffy’s weapon bag but has a problem, Riley casually and ignorantly is like “duh, lemme ged dat for yoo” and doesn’t even look
-Harmony lives in a cave. At least she’s putting up a unicorn poster
-That stupid slap fight. Haha, Jesus.