Buffy the Vampire Slayer – “Giles: Beyond the Pale”
Dark Horse Comics – October 4, 2000
Writer(s): Christopher Golden and Tom Sniegoski
Artist(s): Eric Powell, Guy Major, and Pat Brosseau
Editor: Scott Allie

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Eric Powell you magnificent bastard. You make stuff that isn’t fun, fun. So what happens when you draw something that IS inherently fun? This Giles comic.

The internet tells me this takes place during Season 4, somewhere after Faith but before Jonathan. I chose to ignore this. It makes far more sense to just take place in the time between seasons. There was just too much going on for Giles to leave the country with Adam and stuff. This fits more.

Giles goes back to England because one of his old Watcher friends died of mysterious causes. Travers is there, as is some magical Watcher from some book I’ll end up reading at some point I’m certain. They continue to reference the comic cannon by being pissed he stole an amulet back during “Blood of Carthadge” and oh yeah, they fired his ass.

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The story is grotesque, the art is equally unsettling. It moves briskly and the people (that I know) remain true to character and sound and act appropriately. Its just… its just fun. And while the monster design is extremely Lovecraftian in nature, its never so “big” that they seem untrue to the production values and scope of the source material. This can be something that plagues an otherwise “ok” comic and turns it into some kinda “Spike & Dru” book. Ugh.

We’re nearing the end of these comics and they are actually turning out to have a few tricks up some kind of sleeve. Too little too late? You bet. But I’m less nervous about the ride these days. So there’s that.

Final Score: 9 Shoggoths out of R’lyeh

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Restless
Written and Directed by: Joss Whedon
Air Date: May 23, 2000

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99/100 – I’m just going to put a score here because this one will be long and if you don’t care about words and only points, there it is, right up top for you. Usually I do a six paragraph/three image structure with a score and then random notes at the bottom. This time? Not so much. There is simply too much to unpack. So, sorry if this is long. Not really, though. This is one of the best episodes of the series so it deserves the attention. Ready? No? Too bad, here we go.

Let’s start out by saying that this episode marks the halfway point of the show in regards to many things. It falls right in the middle of the series and although it isn’t the literal half-way point, it IS a stop and re-examine point for the whole show as well as a look forward to many things to come. But we’ll get to that as we roll, here. At the start of the episode we do away with the need for superfluous characters; Riley, Anya, and Tara. Riley needs to get debriefed so he’s outta here (after FINALLY meeting Buffy’s mom! Man, I’ve missed her this season) and Anya and Tara aren’t full-fledged characters yet, so their further development isn’t necessary. Having said this, we gain some insight into how they are viewed by others, but not much. No, this episode focuses on our core cast of characters: Buffy, Willow, Xander, and Giles. They sit down to watch some movies and eat some popcorn after their harrowing defeat of Adam and immediately pass the fuck out in a great, comical moment of honest humanity. And then its on.

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The dream sequences in this episode could each get reviewed as their own full-length post, but I’m going to try and fail to be succinct and to-the-point as it is, so we’ll just dive right in to each one in chronological order. But before I begin, the important thing to note is that these dreams are all connected to one another, something I see a lot of reviewers miss. If something doesn’t make sense in one dream, its because its bleeding in to someone else’s. Examine how many things impact Willow’s dream from outside influence and then Buffy’s, where there is only her. Something to think about.

WILLOW:
Willow’s dream is a solid exercise in symbolism, mostly about how she views herself and the changes she’s gone though. In all of the dreams the characters are chased by something (being the First Slayer’s essence in Buffy, but we’ll get there) and it starts to be described by Tara, who we find out later is acting as the essence’s voice. Up to this point in the series, Tara has been slightly mysterious, messing up spells, being wierded out by certain aspects of her new friends’ lifestyles, etc. So she’s a natural choice for being the dream’s narrator. Then its immediately off to a play that Willow is in right away at the first session of her Drama class (taught by Giles, no less). We encounter Oz, Xander, Buffy, Giles, and Riley here. As well as Harmony for some reason! Everyone is on point. Oz and Xander exist together as the two men she’s loved before (Oz says he’s been there for a long time and Xander is, well Xander) and then there’s Buffy and Riley.

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Riley is so excited to be “Cowboy Guy” in “Death of a Salesman” (there is no Cowboy, if you didn’t know) and while this would be easy to assume is Willow’s view of him being a meat-headed soldier excited to play cowboys and Indians, it is safe to assume this is everyone’s view of him, compacted into one. Examine how happy he his to deliver his lines about helping a woman in distress and the bravado he displays. Its clear that at least a few of these people don’t view him as seriously being a real Scoobie, just playing pretend. And Buffy? She is incredibly prepared for her part: she’s in costume, she’s got her lines down, and she’s excited. But Willow shows up “in character” and Buffy’s confidence shatters. This, I think, is a combination of Willow and Buffy’s views of the latter at this point: fully equipped but not sure enough of herself to step up to bat.

Then the dream takes a turn and Willow is in a classroom and Buffy asks why she’s still on costume. This comes across like a standard “showing up to class naked” dream, but after Buffy tears Willow’s clothes off she’s still dressed: under her current haircut and perky clothing was Season 1 Willow, hiding in plain sight. She’s back to nerdy, dorky Willow, giving a report on “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe” rather than spunky, blossoming lesbian witch. No one cares, either. And this is where it’s ALL Willow’s view of herself. She’s scared that her new persona is just a costume covering the weak person she views her younger self as. And it is this fear that the First Slayer uses against her, jumping on the unsuspecting girl and begins to kill her, jumping out of the dream to show her dying in her sleep.

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XANDER:
My favorite of the bunch from so many standpoints: the symbolism, the cinematography, the visuals and camera work, everything. Its also one of the actor’s best sequences in the entire series. As seen in previous episodes, Xander feels less sure of himself than the rest, at least visibly and/or vocally. This rings through every last aspect of his dream sequence. Immediately his ability to even hold his dick and piss is called into question by Buffy who asks if he needs help. Xander “has a system” and goes upstairs where he meets Joyce. A seductive, funny, and awkward sequence plays out for comedy, mostly, but it also shows how unsure he is of himself – you’ll note that he looks uncomfortable and leaves the situation without doing anything. And what happens? He gets performance anxiety as soon as he sees a bunch of Initiative white-coats watching him urinate. Its hilarious.

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Frequently, this dream takes Xander back to his own “apartment” in his parents’ basement where he his tormented by a banging from the door to the upstairs. This is the center of his life, a life of uncertainty and a lack of forward progress. The slamming of the door upstairs can be viewed as a few things. But mostly it is “life” – real life is out there and he’s scared and trapped, mostly by his own decisions. We even see how some of these decisions effect him, outright. First, his interaction with Giles and Spike on the swingset: Giles is teaching Spike to be a Watcher (to whom gravity apparently doesn’t apply!) and Xander seems slightly miffed about his father figure no longer taking an active interest in him, though he at least admits its his own doing. He also spies Buffy in a sandbox that appears larger than it could be after initial viewing. He says he’s going places and Buffy says she’s way ahead of him. Willow says this too, later. Xander feels so much further behind because he didn’t go to college, but he’s starting a life and he’s ahead of his friends in that regard. This sequence is him reconciling his two lives – what is expected of him and what he wants. Who expects it? His friends? Family? Himself? Anya? It doesn’t matter. These two conflicting views of a status quo for Xander is the heart of his internal struggle.

In the ice cream truck Xander confronts this best against the competing attention grabbers of Anya and Willow+Tara (is Tara the voice of The First Slayer, here? I think so, as is Willow. Notice they both are against him while the others are either on his side or neutral). Its a battle of “Adult Wants” and “Immature Wants” – Anya can’t do anything on her own, or not completely. She thinks she can steer a vehicle by gesticulating wildly for God’s sake. This is Xander’s – and likely everyone else’s, given the next dream – view of her, subtly squeezed in. She relies on him just like he views her as support. Willow and Tara make sexy-times in the back and Xander wants in, but he doesn’t feel like he should. Anya, here, I think is part of the First Slayer, as well as Tara. Destroying the strength of the character is how it can kill them, and Xander is far more mature and collected than he thinks. When he falls for this one, a few other moments play out: he can’t understand French and thus misses a conversation, he has to run past a dying Willow in Giles’ house, and he fails an interaction with his yelling, screaming father. Then he gets attacked. The First Slayer uses this entire dream, like Willow’s, to pry at a weakness, and it does so very efficiently.

The only part of this dream that seems to not go the First Slayer’s way is the “Apocalypse Now!” segment with Snyder. Here it underestimates him by presenting an authority figure he didn’t respect or fear at all. Snyder tries to get under Xander’s skin but he dismisses all of it by making jokes, insulting the dead man, and suggesting he needs to move on because something that is actually scary is coming to get him. Its an awesome juxtaposition that cements my position on how this dream world works and how the First Slayer makes her move.

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GILES:
The shortest, most concise dream belongs to the ex-Watcher. Its mostly a tale of him failing as a father figure, a boyfriend, a Watcher, and as a jobless person. That’s really it. Its got some of the best single moments in it (Anya’s bad jokes, the warning song to Buffy, Buffy sucking at a carnival game being indicative of his view of her skills since he’s no longer training her or her Watcher, etc.) but the most interesting thing about this one is that The First Slayer already has him beat. As we learn, here, the essence of the First Slayer is attacking them for messing with the purpose and the power of the Slayer at its core: it fights alone, it has no friends. It is death in all meanings. Giles didn’t see this coming though he should have. Notice how he starts piecing things together right away by recognizing the First Slayer when Buffy’s face is covered in mud.

The only purpose of Giles dream is that the First Slayer is actively trying to discourage and show Giles how stupid he’s been. His final lines about beating it with his intellect and how it never had a Watcher are telling: he knows his words are a mere bluff, he knows he failed to stop this by not seeing it coming. And he knows there is very little he can do to save himself. He doomed them all. Think about when he figures it out: he is sitting with Willow and Xander, the others that have already been taken out of the picture, and they are aware of the issue, too. In their dreams, no one knew anything. Giles recognizes he lost the moment he goes up to sing. The First Slayer is acting completely out of spite. To kick him while he’s down. And its awesome.

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BUFFY:
And the final dream goes to the one that’s had dreams before. And that’s where we start, in the bedroom she and Faith have made up in the past, only now Tara is present instead. Clocks, “before Dawn”, and “you have no idea blah blah” are all thrown around and Buffy is confused. But she takes it in stride. She knows she needs to find her friends and, since they have been picked off one-by-one, they are nowhere to be found. The only people left are Anya, Joyce, and Riley. Anya shows up in Willow’s spot because of a few things, but mostly because SOMEONE has to be in that bed and there is no Willow. It creates confusion for the viewer as well as confusion for Buffy. Its a subtle fourth-wall break that I really appreciate. Speaking of broken walls, Joyce is stuck in one. This is a really easy sign of The First Slayer showing her how stuff holds her back – her mom is stuck watching from a hole in the wall where she shrugs of discomfort and says “all is well” – Buffy could break her out easily, but doesn’t. You could easily view this one of two ways: one being that Buffy ignores her mother or the other being that Buffy doesn’t need to look after her mother because she is part of her very foundation. She always knows where she is and that she’s almost literally “safe as houses” – I prefer the latter, since – for once – the First Slayer isn’t trying to kill anyone, but prove a point, and this fits in with my interpretation.

This point is further driven home in the next sequence with Riley and a pre-cyborg Adam. This entire sequence is the First Slayer deconstructing Riley and her need for him in her life. You’ll note that I say this is the First Slayer’s doing, when previously I’ve said that the dreams were people’s views on characters and events. This is because in the act of taking each member of the team out of the shared dream space, the First Slayer has more control. Notice how Giles and Buffy’s dreams are less metaphorical or symbolic and absurdist and more ‘on-the-nose’? This is because they have less control than the others. But what about Riley? He’s seen as secretive, authoritative, and in collusion with the enemy. Adam is shown as a human to signify that they are both made of the same stuff, even though Adam mentions that his strength comes from something outside of human ability, same as Buffy, which we learn MUCH later is because of the Slayer’s origin eons ago.

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When an alarm goes off, Buffy wants to search for weapons in her bag, but only finds mud. The boys talk of making a pillow fort, clearing “playing at war” while Buffy smears the stuff on her face, much like her appearance in Giles’ dream. This stuff is planted in her bag to show that the only weapon a Slayer needs is her primal urges, the Slayer essence. This is why putting it on transports her to the desert, the giant sandbox from Xander’s dream. This is where the primal essence of the First Slayer lives, as explained by its ‘voice’, Tara. It can’t speak, it just wants to show. And here we get to the root of her dream sequence: The First Slayer doesn’t want to kill Buffy… notice how it stands and stares when presented? It wanted to take her friends away, take away the things that defile the nature of the Slayer, and show her that she doesn’t need them. Its only after Buffy rejects this that we get the fight (that reduces the perfect score by one point due to stupid, unnecessary slow motion) and its through fighting it that she realizes the way to defeat it.

The way to stop the Slayer Nature and keep it from killing her is to do what she’s always done: Ignore it.

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The rest of the team wakes up and they lament the situation they were in. Its a learning experience and a moment of growth for all of them. But before they can all shuffle off back to real life, the episode throws Tara speaking on behalf of the First Slayer back at us as Buffy passes the bed she was making before: “You think you know…. what’s to come; what you are. You haven’t even begun.” AND END SEASON.

All in all, best season ending. And though this was more an analysis than a review (some commentary of my opinion on quality was here and there), my love for dissecting symbolism and uncovering meaning was met head-on by this episode. Nothing to sneeze at. There is probably plenty I missed along the way, but that just leaves stuff for you to inspect on your own viewing. When all is said and done, this is the best season finale and the best dream episode I’ve ever seen, rolled into one. Who wrote it? And directed it? Oh. Oh, right.

Episode Rating: 99

Additional Notes:
-Cheese Man. There. I mentioned him.
-I love that shot of Riley through the glass table framed by his pistol. Fantastic camera work throughout the episode.
-Spike is hilarious throughout this episode and I didn’t touch on him much because he isn’t really central to the analysis. But Marsters probably had a hoot
-That Willow+Tara scene in the back of the ice cream truck was likely extremely racey for early 2000’s television!
-I don’t know that I’m going to put together a full season review this time. Seems like a ton of work for no reason
-Joyce is still the perfect TV mom when outside of the dream world. “Finally” meeting Riley. LOL!
-It is extremely easy to dress up Willow like her younger self
-Last appearance of Oz in any fashion on the show(s)

Primeval
Written by: David Fury
Directed by: James A. Contner
Air Date: May 16, 2000

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This is the best finale episode this season could have hoped for, and before you jump down my throat: I know it isn’t the finale. It just feels like one. So, while this will be an episode I praise quite a bit, go into this one knowing that the following episode – the REAL finale – is actually a better episode in every way possible. In fact, it might earn a rare “Perfect Score” – more to follow. As for this episode, however, it more or less does everything right: it sets a stage; it reintroduces all the players; it presents a grand battle between good and evil; and it has a thrilling conclusion worthy of all the season-long setup. The only kicker is that the season long setup was sparse, full of missed opportunities, and lacking in punch in many places. So what we get here is a wet fart of an ending because the weight of it all is lost before we even get to the climax. Oh well, what we DO get is still a jolly good time.

First we deal with the aftermath of the big fight everyone had over at Giles’ place last episode. Buffy is alone in her dorm, staring at an old photo of the gang, Xander is with Anya lamenting that he may be a loser afterall (despite Anya sharing the news that she loves him), and Willow and Tara continue to dig away at the computer after visiting a hung-over Giles for a brief moment. Its all very sad and culminates in the realization that all of our heroes have been segregated all season, but they are just now bringing that issue to the forefront for the finale, which provides these characters an opportunity to grow and learn and come back together. And who better to bring everyone together than the guy that tore them apart: Spike.

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While hunting Adam, Buffy comes across an all-too-conveniently placed Spike who is constantly taking one step forward and two steps back; he got everyone to fight but that was before Willow could decode the discs he “stole” – so he tries to get Buffy back on track and flubs it up by saying he knows about their verbal brawling the night before, which is impossible. She lets it go and contacts everyone to meet up in an awesome fashion; likened to he shot of them coming together back in Season 1. A plan is formed to join all their abilities and battle Adam, who likely has monsters showing up in the Initiative to make more of himself to take over the world. Soldier parts + monster parts = who cares. Zombie/monster Forrest? If the army is going to be a bunch of dumb jocks that can blow to bits easily, just let Adam try out his plan.

And that’s where the episode falls apart. Between the fight with Buffy/Riley and Forrest and the long decent down that elevator shaft, this episode tries to make grandiose moments happen in the span of a few minutes. Buffy and Willow (and then Xander) have a touching conversation as they repel, but its all resolved so quickly. Both make a point to share that they’ve been so wrapped up in their own things that they lost track of each other, but saying they love one another and hugging it out resolves it immediately. Likewise, Forrest becoming a monster hybrid and evil just wraps up his whole “I’m the best Riley, please make out with me” so quickly, and the ham-fisted acting is bad and cheesy, and not in a good way. His presence is only there to give emotional weight to Riley’s dilemma of being confused about his purpose, but his emotional connection to this dude has been questionable since the start, seeing as they’ve never seen eye-to-eye all season. Its all dumb and indicative of the whole season – a lot of good ideas with poor follow-through.

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Thankfully the fights are all pretty damned good, starting with the verbal throw down between Buffy and the General (“What is this?” “A Magic Gourd”) to the dash across a battlefield of military men and monsters in slow motion, and the eventual beat down of Adam. Its all very fun. Aside from the lame fight between Riley and Forrest, anyhow. But none of us came for that. We came to see Buffy go full Matrix on Adam. The increasing worry on his face and in his voice as his fight stops being an assured victory is fantastic, as is the bizarre magic Buffy exhibits, like turning a missile into some birds. Tapping into this power will have repercussions for seasons to come, but here, it shows how far the group has come since the early days. And as Buffy pulls Adam’s heart out of his chest, we say goodbye to the lamest “Big Bad” the show will ever have.

It all ends so spectacularly against a voice-over from some head dude in Washington as he states the Initiative was a failure (both as a military group and a season-long arc, if you ask me) with slow-motion brawling, people getting killed, and that General dude meeting his end. If this were the finale, it would be fine. You’ll see I’m going to give it a 75 here in a second. But it would be lacking in the way that makes sense if you’d be paying attention: the arc was never about Adam. It was about growing up. Whedon has said that Season 6’s “Big Bad” is “Life” itself, but I think it started being a bad guy this season, just not in as grim a fashion. Thankfully, we have an actual finale episode coming up that cements that idea into place.

Episode Rating: 75

Additional Notes:
-Stupid tubed-up Walsh. Come on, guys. Come on.
-Riley digging that chip out of his chest was badass:
-But how did he fight Forrest all weak and opened up? Especially since he was wiping the floor with Buffy? Come on, guys.
-Come on.
-Why wouldn’t they just kill Spike?
-Most of the effects are great, aside from the floating Adam-heart
-They are going to fill that place with concrete? I think not!
-Cheesy ass tentacle monster in the tin-foil pit worked for me for some reason!

Blind Date
Written by: Jeannine Renshaw
Directed by: Thomas J. Wright
Air Date: May 16, 2000

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Imagine, if you can, an episode like this for James Gunn. Not that lame episode we got last time, I’m talking an episode dedicated to bringing light to a character we’ve met and had some fun with before, but now we get some development and dedicated screen time. I like to imagine “War Zone” would have been much better if it was like this episode; giving Lindsay time to shine and finally making the world of Wolfram & Hart make a bit of sense within the larger picture works wonders. Don’t get me wrong, though. While Gunn’s debut is a weak debut episode, Linday’s first big episode is weak because the framing device is so awful you guys. It gets all the points for the epic, full introduction to Lindsay as a character, and the handling of showing us the inner-working of the evil law firm. If this episode didn’t feature this content, whoo boy.

From the awful “blind-lady lenses” to the cheesy as shit “Predator vision” (which they achieved, turns out, by smearing a cream on the actors that can be viewed with night vision rather than paying big bucks for the actual tech), Vanessa Weeks should have been called “Vanessa Weaks” – get it? Because she’s weak as a plot device. She’s not a demon or possessed, she simply blinded herself, trained with monks, and is now a hired killer that W&H use periodically to get things done, and then lawyers like Lindsay make sure she gets off with all charges dropped. This pisses Angel off because he saw her off some Black Man (not racist: he is credited as such) and he has a huge meltdown in front of Wesley and Cordelia that is so over-dramatic its a wonder Boreanaz wasn’t spewing literal cheese from his mouth.

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Turns out, Lindsay found out that this lady is set to kill three blind children (why is everyone blind? Justice is blind. I just made that up, no telling if they were going for this at the time of filming, back in 2000) and he needs Angel’s help to save the day. And Angel need’s Gunn’s help to cause a distraction because the W&H offices have shamans that will detect any vampire getting on the premises. While Angel welds away in the sewers and Linday coyly talks the big talk to get Lilah out of his hair, Gunn goes full-on stereotype in a comical moment before bringing a vampire in, setting off the shaman alarm, and Angel slips in unnoticed. Keep in mind, if this happened before Gunn’s first episode, it would have developed him further and THEN he could have the dramatic showdown with his sister and it would mean more, weigh more. Food for thought.

Angel steals some discs and picks up a scroll that he is drawn to and its time to escape. Only Linday gets pulled in by his boss, Holland Mathers, who thinks something sneaky is going on. A pair of twin psychics show up and read everyone’s minds and – UH OH – Lee, that balding fuck that no one liked was going to betray the firm. BOOM! HEADSHOT! and he’s outta here. Holland says he could do the same to Lindsay in confidence but gives his star pupil time to think over his deeds and next moves. He keeps this secret when he meets back up with Angel because he’s confused, but also because he’s a lawyer and he knows when to reveal relevant information. The blind lady strikes tonight, he says, and its off to the races to save the day.

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And then we get to the climax. Wherein Angel battles a blind girl and impales her on her own walking stick. The gimmick is so stupid – she can’t see you if you don’t move so Angel stands still and hits suddenly – that you have to wonder if this lady only ever killed complete idiots. They save the kids and Lindsay vanishes to say he’s done at W&H, but Holland is like “boy, you got my job, I’m moving up” and its all over; Lindsay’s crisis of faith and purpose is resolved with a better office and pay raise. So much for you conscious. And/or soul.

Ok, I blasted through that, but hear me out; this episode is supposed to be more of the same – Angel wants to save a soul. He did it with Faith, why not Lindsay? But not only is his initial level of vitriol through the roof, his sudden turn-around to helping is too quick for its own good. He has no reason to trust this guy, this stooge who has been at his heels the whole way through the season. But he does. And its fine if he wants to blindly give the kid a shot, like he does with Faith, but he says – repeatedly – that he doesn’t care if Lindsay lives or dies. When he doesn’t show up after the heist, he says “he made it or he didn’t” and they start work on the files he stole. When Lindsay does show up, he doesn’t seem relieved or even surprised, but mostly inconvenienced. Its lame and not true to character. Oh well, Wesley found out that the scroll contains the Shanshu Prophecy! So there’s that…!

Episode Rating: 67

  Additional Notes:
-Cordelia is hacking. In the first episode of “BtVS” she could use command prompts. Oh boy.
-And the computer makes tons of “beeps” and “boops” like its an old episode of classic Trek. Oh boy.
-Wesley does make good on some sleeping powder or whatever, and Angel just takes down the guard demon like nothing
-I’m not interested in the blind lady at all
-Holland, the shaman, and the mind-reading ladies are all effectively creepy. Points for them
-The name of this episode is “Blind Date” – who the Jesus let that one through?
-The music when Angel sees and takes the scroll is about the cheesiest cue on either series to date
-Those blind kids looked stupid
-The scene where Lindsay tries to tell Angel his past is hilarious and perfectly acted. True to both characters

War Zone
Written by Garry Campbell
Directed by: David Straiton
Air Date: May 9, 2000

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Ladies and gentlement, James Gunn. Roll credits! I don’t hate Gunn. In fact, some of his later development is easily some of the best this show has to offer in regards to character arcs. But his introduction is so stilted, flawed, and uninteresting. And rushed. Did I say rushed? It is rushed. Street gangs, inner-city youth, troubled family life, and misunderstanding lead to further misunderstandings, quick judgements, and – in more than a few cases – death. And for a character introduction episode, it does very little to bring us an understanding of the newbie and as an episode of the season, it only drives home the most basic point or part of the message: fight the good fight. Past that, its all a bit… lacking. I’ll explain.

It all starts out so OK: vampires attacking and getting cornered and then the reveal that it is not Angel or his team, but Gunn and his gang of street-smart vampire hunters who are just trying to keep their neighborhood safe. They are all homeless and starving and look to Gunn as a leader and protector. And he wears those mantles as well as he can, often times though he appears to only really want to keep his little sister, Alonna, safe. She is the driving force behind his need to fight the good fight, something that mirrors Angel’s drive and, likewise, makes them fairly comparable in more than a few ways. This is about the only bit of development past the surface that we get for Gunn, and it is entirely reliant on your understand of Angel as both a character and a series.

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The street war with some random vampires that have been in the area for a long time is interesting to a fault; the idea is only toyed with and never given time to grow. This is one of the major issues with the episode as a whole. If we’d had more time dealing with the gang warfare going on between Gunn’s group and these vampires, leading to some kind of major climax, I think it would have worked better. Instead, we’re introduced to Gunn, his sister, and the bad guys in one episode and all but one of those survive to the ending. Take the “shocking” conclusion and its fallout for an extreme but perfect example: the vampires trick Gunn and his crew and kidnap his sister, kill her, and turn her into a vampire. Gunn then has to kill her again and its all for naught because we didn’t really get enough time to develop feelings or ideas about these characters. Its only heartbreaking because we know it is supposed to be. Not to fault the acting (or the extremely awful vampire makeup on Alonna), but the script does not favor this moment in the least.

On the flip-side of this we are introduced to David Nabbit, a pseudo-series mainstay who hires Angel Investigations to track someone who took illicit pictures of him at a demon whorehouse. He’s a computer programmer and former D&D player who has no social skills and hires people to come to his parties. That this story is more compelling and it features a character who gets more development than the new character who becomes a series regular is telling of the poor writing this episode suffers. Angel’s involvement with Gunn is pure coincidence (unless everything is fate, which – sure – I can buy on this show), basically being in the right place at the wrong time while investigating the indecent photos. You can make a case that “social outsider-ness” is the theme of the episode, but I fell like this is covered better in the tale of “Angel and David” than “Angel and Gunn”.

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Likewise, this episode just doesn’t do anything with Wesley and Cordelia. They drive around, they get ice cream, they talk about whoring themselves out (or, at least one of them does), they arrive in the nick of time to save their boss and make a joke about cell phones, and then just sit around and talk about money. Its funny, but it is all very shallow and does them no justice as characters. Cordelia actually seems to have forgotten some of her development until the last minute(s) and Wesley does almost nothing at, period. He attempts to offer advice to Angel, who more or less shoots him down, and then that’s it.

I don’t know. Its the end of the season and real estate is valuable. After spending time developing Wolfram & Hart and the major themes of the show in the past few episodes, this feels like a hiccup that should have been either much earlier in the season or saved for the following one. Or, at least, they could have tied it in better or dealt with things a bit slower than they did. As it stands, this is a rush job that is so dependant upon your understanding of the underlying message of the show and not much else. And as one of the last three episodes of the season, I don’t know that we needed another character introduced who is none-too-trusting of our friendly “Vampire with a Soul” – its all familiar ground and a retread of it is unnecessary.

Episode Rating: 70

Additional Notes:
-That one demon hooker’s boobs, tho…
-Having said that, the bit with her tail was stupid and amatuerish
-David Nabbit is a great character because he’s just a nice guy who knows demons are real and is just chill
-Where is Lorne.
-I don’t mean to knock this episode so much, it just seems like bad timing
-Note: the dusting effects have come so far on these shows vs where they were a few years prior
-What a difference a budget makes!
-Best line? David, revealing the number of times he’d gone to the brothel: “Once… twice… twelve times…”

The Yoko Factor
Written by: Doug Petrie
Directed by: David Grossman
Air Date: May 9, 2000

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After this, Adam only has one more episode to go, so it is about damn time he got some dedicated screen time and development. After episodes of hearing about his exploits, he finally has a plan and we get to start hearing about it. Hot damn. And, on top of that, everyone else’s season-long development is starting to come to a head, and in a positive way. We’ll see how I feel about that, specifically, at the penultimate review for the season, but as it stands, now, this is all very pleasing and feels natural. And, above all else, its brought to the forefront by Spike as part of his devious plan to help Adam kill his enemies. Let’s tackle these in no particular order.

First up, Spike drops in to tell Giles that he wants to see Buffy; he knows where he can get his hands on some important data and wants her go-ahead because “vamp got to get paid, son!” – and he does this by reminding Giles that he hasn’t acted like a Watcher in a long time and has been less and less hands-on these days because Buffy doesn’t need him any more. Over the course of the episode, we see the effect on this bit of truth has on him, as he hits the bottle more and more, resulting in some of his best comedy moments in a long time (“Fort Dix?!”). This results in Xander and Anya supplying Spike with military fatigues so he can “sneak in” to the Initiative, and here he lays into Xander. He suggests everyone has been talking behind his back, saying he can’t hold down a steady job and that he is likely to join the army to become useful. Anya doesn’t like hearing this, but Xander likes it even less.

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Next, Spike gives Willow and Tara a disc that is encrypted and asks them to quickly decode it. Willow says it will take some time, since it is a huge military encryption code and she’s got a laptop from the year 2000. Spike points out that Buffy and Xander said she hasn’t kept up on her hacking skills now that she’s into being a witch, but he does so through heavy allusions to them actually commenting about her relationship with Tara. He says something akin to it “being a phase” and Willow gets huffy. All of this is done so effortlessly, it harkens back his ability to read people like a book, shown back in “Lover’s Walk” – he knows how to dig at people and is quite good at making it hurt if he needs to. This all comes to a head during a confrontation near the end of the episode, but we’ll get there in a moment.

On the other side of the episode, you have Buffy and Riley – remember, she went to L.A. to help Angel deal with Faith in “Sanctuary” and it didn’t go the way she intended. She shows up unannounced, doesn’t tell Riley she’s back. During this time, Xander has had more than enough opportunities to be a real dick-monger and tell Riley that Angel goes back due to a heaping dose of Buffy-sex. By the time he catches up to her, she doesn’t have the time or energy to deal with it and sends him packing. This leaves an angry, confused, and suspicious Riley to act impulsively and go help some of his former team-members take on some monster in the shadows. It turns out? Its Angel. He doesn’t like Riley, and Riley sure as hell doesn’t like him. So, they brawl. And I want to stress, they brawl hard. Riley gets some good hits in, but I enjoy that Angel pretty much dominates him. This leads to a tense but comical show-down in Buffy’s room where Riley thinks Angel is evil, again.

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Buffy is mad that Angel shows up, but understands that they need to talk so she asks for privacy. Riley says “no” – more accurately, he says he won’t move a muscle. So Buffy and Angel leave (the latter smirks so well I smirked with him). Riley stands his ground and waits, holding to his word through sheer stubbornness, alone. Buffy and Angel have an awesome and deeply honest conversation in the hallway about forgiveness and understanding and it is at once both extremely heartfelt but also kinda lame. It undercuts more than a little bit of the punch their last conversation had by bringing resolution too swiftly. I understand that it is a TV show, but I think they could have left that stuff to simmer before cooling down a bit. After he leaves, though, Buffy explains to Riley that nothing happened between them but, whoops, Forrest is dead. Yeeeaaah, she and Forrest met up in… the… forest… earlier and ran afoul of a wild Adam, who proceeded to kill Forrest and, well, no better time to share that new than after a huge fight, huh? Riley is understandably upset and vanishes, but it is revealed that he tracks Adam to that cave, where he will remain until the following episode.

Back at Giles’ place, everyone’s previous situations, as well as their entire years together (and, more importantly, apart) come to a head. Spike’s subterfuge worked wonders, with everyone at each other’s throats, accusing each other of saying and thinking negative things and causing the rift that has been growing since the start of college. Buffy attempts to get to the bottom of this hostility as Tara and Anya head to the bathroom to hide out until its over. No one allows anyone any space to argue because everyone is, unfortunately, right. And truths comes out, like how Xander didn’t know Tara and Willow were dating or that Giles might be an alcoholic. And it all boils up to a killer line about how the prophecy is about the Slayer and not “the Slayer and her friends” and everyone is left feeling gutted in the final minute of the episode. Everyone’s drifted apart in a time where they need each other and it is all exactly as Adam planned. What will happen? Likely they all die and Adam takes over the planet.

Episode Rating: 90

Additional Notes:
-Adam likes “Helter Skelter”
-More time with Giles playing and singing
-Also more time with Spike just walking into Giles’ home unannounced
-Adam tears Forrest and Buffy apart like nothing. Nice to see him wreck it up and actually be something to worry about, for a change
-Drunk Giles is hilarious
-As is anything Anya says. When does she become a series regular?
-Mr. Kitty-Fantastico!

Sanctuary
Written by: Tim Minear and Joss Whedon
Directed by: Michael Lange
Air Date: May 2, 2000

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I don’t know how else to have watched these episodes and I feel bad, now. I thought there was going to be some mention in “BtVS” about Faith being in L.A. and that caused her to show up in this episode, otherwise I wouldn’t have waited so long between them. Whoops. This one picks up right after the events of “Five by Five” and I mean that literally – the very first scenes are of Angel bringing Faith to his home and beginning the long process of trying to help her overcome her demons (figurative and literal) and take off on the road to recovery. This is something Wesley and Cordelia don’t take well, with the latter tricking her boss into signing checks that allow her enough money to take a vacation during their unexpected guest’s stay. Wes, on the other hand, is simply flabbergasted Angel is getting his would-be-killer donuts and also departs, leaving Angel alone with Faith.

This episode rests mostly on the shoulders of Boreanaz and Dushku, playing Angel and Faith respectively in an episode that is almost entirely downplayed and quiet. The scenes between these two work incredibly well, of particular note the first attempt Faith makes at taking off and the scene where Faith wants to make popcorn. The way Angel talks to her about pain, suffering, redemption, and battling inner evil is true to character, as are the reactions Faith has. And in the popcorn bit specifically, I love that the episode is written to show that they aren’t going to be heavy-handed with the speeches, because when Faith asks “how does this work” and Angel rants about how to forgive oneself and ask for forgiveness from others, she was actually just asking how to use the microwave and it is well handled and reminds you that these characters are real people.

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But as much as Faith needs to seek forgiveness from Wesley and Angel, the real person she’s hurt is Buffy. And, after killing a demon Wolfram & Hart sent to take her out, that is exactly who shows up, just in time to see Faith cuddled up in Angel’s arms. After calling Giles in the previous episode, she’d found out Faith was in L.A. and came to make sure her ex- was OK. More than OK, it seems! Buffy says Faith goes to jail, Angel says that it won’t save her soul and the two come to blows. Literally. This episode works incredibly well at having a huge supporting cast, some of whom are crossover characters, and they all advance the plot and never as just a “hey, look who it is!” Buffy is the prime example, never feeling forced and never feeling against character or there just for the hell of it. It makes sense that she’d be there and all of her actions make just as much sense.

The rest of the characters work, as well. Weatherby and the rest of the Watcher’s Council wetwork team show up and are just damned pissed off about being screw-ups previously, so they try to rope Wesley into helping re-capture Faith with the promise that he gets reinstated to the Council. But even though the episode attempts to show a dark Wes who would consider this, it is his loyalty to Angel and the mission that keeps him grounded and sane, warning everyone about the issues at hand and buying time to escape. At the end of the episode, Wesley even agrees with all of Angel’s decisions, turning his own opinion around as to whether or not Faith is worth saving, or even capable of saving at all. Its a great bit of character development that really strengthens him and his relationship to his boss. Hell, even Kate shows up and is used appropriately, both in interactions with Angel and also with Lindsay, who rats on Faith and Angel in an attempt to take them both out of the picture.

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As stated, Buffy’s presence is what both cements and legitimizes the messages of this episode. And it is her interaction with Faith on the rooftop prior to the helicopter battle that steals the episode. Angel is shown trying to give Faith a chance and Buffy isn’t, and Faith attempts to rub that bit of info into her face. But Buffy snaps and takes the higher ground while delivering the low blow: she gave Faith every chance at every turn. Even as recently as “This Year’s Girl” when she provided an option to not fight on the campus, which Faith shot down. While Faith delivers some nasty lines about Buffy that are true, it is the admission of her guilt – which is presented on Faith’s face – that leads her to her final destination in the episode: behind bars. In a move that shocks Buffy and pleases Angel, she’s turned herself in and Angel and company are free from any charges.

This leads to a tense and dramatic ending where Buffy and Angel trade more barbs before Angel throws her out of his city, for good (literally, as this is the last time SMG shows up on the spinoff program). Its a lot of painful stuff, but in the end, Angel is right. About everything. And his being right is part of the themes and messages of the show, as a whole: saving souls. His fight to protect Faith and give her a chance is part of what constantly drives him and the rest of this series. Going above and beyond, trying to help others, and doing so at any expense and putting the fight before his own needs (something that comes into play in the show’s final minutes). More of this Angel/Faith story will come into play in upcoming seasons of the show as well. But for now, this is an episode that plays to the show’s overall strengths and succeeds at nearly every turn. Extremely solid.

Episode Rating: 94

Additional Notes:
-Who was flying the chopper?
-Likewise, what happened to the Watcher dudes?
-Bullseye, Wesley.
-That look Buffy gives Angel after he punches her. Way to play through the eyes like always, SMG!
-The pain Angel has over Buffy being with someone else is visible and you can hear it in his voice
-Don’t worry, Angel, you’ll get to punch the Doofmeister General in the face soon enough
-I like that Lilah knew about Buffy and Angel in Sunnydale. Good universe-building

New Moon Rising
Written by: Marti Noxon
Directed by: James A. Contner
Air Date: May 2, 2000

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Phew! Made it! Two games and some comics, and finally we arrive at another episode. “Wild at Heart” is the best Oz+Willow episode. There is no question. It has the perfect level of emotional weight without feeling bloated, it carries the narrative arc of two main characters forward and doesn’t cause irreversible damage by having any of their actions go against their development up to that point, and it feels like a natural progression of the themes and story of the season. While all of these things can be said about “New Moon Rising”, the bottom line is this: it just doesn’t do any of these things quite as well. Oz returns and picks up his story where we left off: he’s gone off into the world to cure that whole “being a werewolf” thing and seems to have done so. But his return – and the entire episode – is just a plot device to get Willow out of the closet. That’s fine, though, because it works.

Seth Green gets his second-to-last chance (though final, in reality) to play Oz, the sarcastic, wise-cracking ass we’ve grown to love. And he does so admirably, without missing a beat. He makes it look easy to come back to a character you can just tell he loved playing, and though his screen time with each Scoobie aside from Willow and Tara is minimal, he makes the most of it all. His return immediately bothers Tara who was starting to feel really close to Willow, and she is too nice about it, stepping aside without any kind of fight so that Willow can return to her lost love. Its telling of her character and a fascinating thing to watch, knowing how she ends up more confident and strong later on. Everyone else is nice, too, letting Willow and Oz have their moment, chatting through the night (and a full moon!) about his journeys, his love for her, and where they go from there.

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Out on the hunt, Buffy lets slip that Oz is a werewolf and Riley can’t deal with it. He doesn’t understand how someone can be with any kind of monster and you immediately know that she has kept her history with Angel from him. Buffy gets angry and defensive and says they should just drop it (though she still sleeps at his place that night and is all pissy in the morning; bet that was a fun night). She returns to Willow to ask how things went and gets a bombsell dropped on her: Willow and Tara have big ol’ lesbo feelings for each other. This is a powerful scene and the delivery of lines is amazing, as is SMG’s constant ability to act through her eyes. Watch as she puts two-and-two together and gets “lesbians” – and in great fashion, the two come to an understanding, with Buffy maintaining her strength as a friend and offering the best advice she can: whoever Willow choses, someone gets hurt.

And get hurt they do… even before she chooses. Later in the episode, Oz and Tara meet up and, because Tara is wearing Willow’s sweater, Oz smells something fishy in the air (don’t be gross). Tara, shy and confused about the situation, says too much and too little at the same time and we have our final look at a werewolf costume on this show (one more in “Angel”, a ways down the road). Before any real damage can happen, Riley and the boys show up, hungry for a chance at revenge (previously in the episode some werewolf-type monster killed some of them). Oz turns back to human in front of them and suddenly Riley is having a crisis of faith. Is he on the right side of this, afterall? He doesn’t think so and attempts to stage a rescue, but instead is captured by the new head-honcho and Oz is back in captivity. Its now up to Buffy and Willow and Xander. And Spike?

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Turns out, Spike had a secret meeting with Adam, the seasons “Big Bad” – he needs Spike’s help defeating the Slayer and her friends and – in exchange for this help – is willing to remove the chip in his head. Spike is all about this, because it kills two birds with one stone, so she shows the Scoobies to an “unguarded” back entrance (heh heh) that Adam is actually controlling – the cameras, the security, even the electrical grid (which Anya and Giles “take down” on their own, to great comical effect) – its all Adam’s doing. And its refreshing, because for once Adam is kind of a character, not just a plot device. Except he is still mostly a plot device, so oh well. Anyhow, they break in, rescue Riley (who is now quitting the Initiative) and Oz (who can’t go near Willow without wolfing-out) and get out of dodge.

Then its the two sweeter moments of the episode: Willow and Oz and Willow and Tara. I’ve said before that I’m more of a Willow+Oz kind of guy and, you know, the Tara relationship is still the weaker one. Somewhere, some feminist is out there cursing my name for saying poo-poo to the lesbian relationship. I’m not suggesting it is bad or not believable. I love Tara and I think the two are cute together. But just examine the scenes here: The final parting between Willow and Oz is heartbreaking and powerful. And the one between Tara and Willow is cute and important to the show, but doesn’t reach the same level. Perhaps that’s just a current reading, perhaps I’m not remembering the remaining relationship that well and this will grow on me more? I don’t know. I just know it is sad to lose Seth Green, again, because he brings a type of character this show never gets back in full. And he will be missed. Sorry if I come across as hard on Tara. Let’s see if I develop a stronger feeling for them as a couple, yeah?

Episode Rating: 79

Additional Notes:
-Anya and Giles try to high five and are really cute together
-Little-to-no activity on patrols = end of the world
-Buffy threatens to go “William Burroughs” on the colonel – what an odd reference
-Goodbye, Seth Green!
-I like that Spike was going to try to take Adam apart and I like that some part of Adam was a Boy Scout
-Still not enough Adam for only being around for two more episodes

Buffy the Vampire Slayer – The Wrath of the Darkhul King
Game Boy Advance – 2003
Developed by: Natsume
Published by: THQ
Directed by: Sosuke Yamazaki

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“Darkhul King” is a video game; it is on a handheld console, it is something you press buttons to control, it has clear level breaks and end bosses, and it has a narrative arc that only progresses as you – the player – do. There are obstacles to overcome, methods of overcoming them to develop and master, and secrets to uncover. In all of these ways, the Game Boy Advance “BtVS” is a video game. And while all of these statements are true of this title, one thing remains unocquivacably accurate about it: it is pure, unfiltered bog-monster bile mixed with a generous helping of rancid, putrid vampire dookie. It is a shit sandwich and I ate it so you didn’t have to. Wanna hear about it?

I don’t even know where to start, there is so much bad here to digest. But, if you look down and you think “man, this review is too long” let me put everything into immediate perspective with one anecdote regarding this game: in the final moments, right before you enter the chamber to do combat with the titular Darhkul King, there is one final puzzle to solve. It is… to play a game of Tic-Tac-Toe. Win? The gate opens to the final boss battle. Lose? Play Tic-Tac-Toe again. If ever before in your time you wondered when your childhood skills at a nine-by-nine grid would come in handy, here is your moment you infantile imbecile. Again, in short: the game’s entire final act hinges on a game of Tic-Tac-Toe. And its the hardest part of the game, too, because the boss fight? Well, I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s break this down in easy-to-chew sections. And remember, we’re chewing a shit sandwich. Want to make that very clear.

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Visuals: Ok, this is one place where we’ll give the game a few points for the hell of it. As opposed to the incredibly awful cut scenes made in MSPaint back on the Game Boy Color game, this one uses still images from the show and they look OK. Not great, mind you. But OK. Alright. That’s out of the way, and good, because everything else this game has to offer is downhill. The gameplay graphics are complete, buggy poop. Buffy and the bad guys move well enough, but the blotchy-looking attempt at “models” vs pixels is hauntingly surreal. Sometimes the game forces a different perspective and you have no idea what you’re looking at, like during the finale when you stand over the bad guy’s corpse. It looks like a blob of blue and brown nothing. How can something look like nothing. When it is nothing. Which is what this game is. Nothing.

Story: So, unlike the last Buffy games, this one has a clear place in the story. Or, well, less contradictory place. Its Season 4, before they beat Adam but before Riley is thrown out of the Initiative. Some demons try to bring back the Darkhul King with a scepter of some kind. That’s it. You just have to stop him from showing up and then kill him when he does. There’s some stuff about Adam, but it is meaningless, despite the fact that you can kick him in the shins until boulders fall on him.

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Music/Sound: Nope. Not even going to talk about this. Composer Kinuyo Yamashita really knocked this one out of the park. All that time working on Power Rangers games have served him well. So unfortunate that his auditory diarehea gets drowned out by screeching, clanging, and otherwise unnatural sound effects one hears when jumping on a series of wooden boxes.

Gameplay: This is the real meat of a game, and “BtVS” doesn’t disappoint. Except it does. In every regard. In the previous handheld Buffy games, you knocked bad guys over and then staked them until they were dead. The GBC game was so easy, I never came close to dying because you would just sweep kick them and stab them in the heart in the same move. Even the bosses. So I was sweating bullets when this game offered some challenges. Chiefly, you have limited stakes and must keep finding them as they get used up with each dusted vamp. On top of that, you have to beat them into submission first. No more leg sweeps. This means you have to get close enough to get hit and you stand a good chance of dying a few times. Taking this into consideration, it shouldn’t be overly surprising that it took me over two hours to beat the opening, tutorial level.

That is, until I realized you can just run and jump over every monster and reach the finish line in each level in under one minute.

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That’s right, if you don’t care, you can be a lazy-as-fuck Slayer and just let the baddies roam the streets and woods of Sunnydale as you run to the unmoving arms of your boyfriend, Riley (who, even in game land is a Doof, seriously. He tosses presents – ribbons and bows and all – on the ground that you kick open. That is his entire role in the game) to see the “Save Game” screen and move on. After I figured this out, levels flew by without me breaking a sweat. I times level 6. 48 seconds. I just don’t even know. There are 16 levels. If you over-estimate a two-minute level play-time (which is essential, because falling down one of the game’s infinite bottomless pits sends you back to the start of the level with no checkpoint system in sight), that gives you an overly generous guess of 32 minutes to beat this game. Granted, you have story scenes between levels that take a few extra minutes to read through. But all in all? Under one hour. How do games like this even get made?

The only time this system doesn’t work is when there are puzzles or bosses. Aside from the previously mentioned Tic-Tac-Toe puzzle, most of the others are just getting to the right switch and flipping it to open doors in the correct order. And they are always electronic switches that turn from Red to Green, even in ancient temples or along cave walls. CAVE WALLS. I don’t…

The bosses are things you HAVE to fight. You can’t just jump over them. Thankfully, this game offers more pick-ups than just stakes. Throwing axes, holy water, crossbows, etc can be picked up from dead monsters or busted crates (or opened gifts, thank you Riley). Just switch to something long-distance and have at it. I ran out of holy water fighting Adam so I just crouch kicked his shins because he has no low-attack. The end boss I just shot from a distance with a crossbow. Took longer than Satan in the previous Game Boy game, but that’s not saying much because three seconds is three times as long as THAT fight took.

What’s left to say? Nothing.

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I don’t know why they can’t make a good Buffy game. The best one is on a cell phone. What does that tell you? What does that say about the universe? I don’t know. I can’t speak to the low quality of the things the universe shits out, like this thing. I understand that licenced games have a huge and storied history of sucking. AVGN makes a good point about this, routinely. So I get that it is a hard thing to accomplish. I just don’t know why they can’t make a good side-scrolling brawler, first, and then tie it to “BtVS” later. I don’t know. Only one more official game left and some DS game that I’ll have to figure out how to play. But that’s a long time coming. I just… I’m wiped. Time to get back to the joy of watching the show(s). And also the limited pain of reading the comics. Because the pain these games cause? Truely limitless.

This Game’s Worthiness: 9 Adams out of 10 (keep in mind, Adam sucks and is worth less than nothing, so this is a low score. I don’t know why I had to make it complicated, I guess I’m just messed up. Sorry).

Sorry for the delay. Turns out this Game Boy Advance game takes place during Season 4, before Adam dies and while Riley is a member of The Initiative.

So, gonna need to wait until I beat that to move on.

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Oh boy.