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The INITIATIVE (ep #4.07)

(a.k.a. Floppy Fangs)

Written by: Douglas Petrie
Directed by: James A. Contner
Starring: Sarah Michelle Gellar as Buffy Summers
Nicholas Brendon as Xander Harris
Alyson Hannigan as Willow Rosenberg
James Marsters as Spike
Anthony Stewart Head as Rupert Giles
Guest Starring: Marc Blucas as Riley Finn
Mercedes McNab as Harmony Kendall
Adam Kaufman as Parker Abrams
Bailey Chase as Graham Miller
Leonard Roberts as Forrest Gates
Lindsay Crouse as Maggie Walsh
Co-Starring: Mace Lombard as Tom
Scott Becker as Lost Freshman

Plot Summary

Riley attempted to court Buffy while Spike hunted Buffy, and we finally find out who the commandos are.

Plot Details

The episode opened with Riley's friend, Forrest, gushing over the women in the dining hall. Eventually, Buffy attracted his attention. Riley pretended that he had not thought much about her except that she was peculiar. Buffy did nothing to dissuade anyone from that notion as she accidentally broke the handle of a yogurt machine and then tripped.

A very bored Giles drew a picture of the commando that Buffy saw in "Wild at Heart." The commandos were most likely human, so Giles and Xander had nothing to do. Giles wanted Buffy to go patrolling, but Buffy wanted to go to a party, using the need to cheer up Willow as an excuse.

Spike woke up in a cell. Eventually, a packet of blood was dropped in. He was about to drink it when another inmate warned him. Apparently "they" starve vampires and then drug their food in order to do experiments on them. The other vampire, formerly of Sunday's gang, blamed Buffy.

In psychology class, Willow was very upset to hear that Oz was not on the roll call. He had missed class, and Prof. Walsh was not willing to be flexible. Buffy chewed her out for that, which actually impressed her, although Riley thought that Buffy was still peculiar.

Riley talked to his friends Forrest and Graham about Buffy standing up to Prof. Walsh. Parker showed up, leading Forrest to quiz him on Buffy. Parker appeared to have learned little from "Beer Bad" and started locker room talk, which prompted Riley to punch him out, which, in turn, prompted most of the audience to cheer wildly. Riley finally realized that he actually liked Buffy, something Forrest and Graham figured out already.

Spike pretended to be unconscious, so a couple of people in white suits brought him out. He fought back and managed to free Sunday's old minion. However, when three guards arrived, Spike dumped the minion on them and escaped.

Riley visited Willow to try to learn as much about Buffy as possible. Unfortunately, romance was the one thing that Willow did not want to think about. She eventually gave in and supplied Riley a couple of hints, including the fact that Buffy was planning to go to the party at Riley's dorm and the fact that Buffy likes cheese.

After a slight hesitation, Harmony welcomed Spike back. Spike promised to take her wherever she wanted to go, right after he killed Buffy. Harmony did not like the last part of that plan and had other ideas of what the two of them could do together.

At the party, Willow gave Riley some last minute pointers and something that definitely was not a vague disclaimer. Armed with this information, Riley went to have a very awkward conversation with Buffy.

Meanwhile, Xander patrolled and found Harmony about to set fire to some of Spike's things. Being on opposite sides of the good/evil war, they decided to fight. Dramatic music started and the scene switched to dramatic slow-motion as they fought like two four-year olds. After some slapping and hair-pulling, they called a draw. Harmony did let on that Spike was back.

At the party, Riley vented his frustrations to Willow. She eventually decided to go home, which gave Riley something to tell Buffy and talk about. He was about to ask Buffy something when Xander interrupted. That was OK, because Forrest and Graham needed Riley downstairs.

They entered an elevator that required retinal scans and a voice identification. They exited into a large laboratory with dramatic music and a lot of aluminum foil. Their commander, Prof. Walsh, told them that "Hostile 17" (a.k.a. Spike, but they do not know that) escaped. Failure to capture him could do serious harm to "The Initiative." Riley set up three teams of the commandos we have seen before, and they started their search.

Buffy finally decided that it was time to take out Spike. She was going to be very visible and attract Spike away from populated areas. Unfortunately, Riley, Forrest, and Graham found her. Forrest wanted to use her as bait, but Riley did not like that idea. He went to try to get Buffy home, but both were stubborn until they heard a scream, when both of them left.

Willow heard a knock on her door and stupidly invited the knocker in. This turned out to be Spike. He offered her a choice of simply dying or being turned into a vampire. He turned on the radio, pinned her down, and got ready to bite her just as the camera panned outside the room.

We came back from what would have been a commercial break to find that Spike was unable to perform. Every time he tried to bite her, he had to recoil with a massive headache. Willow alternated from being supportive to worrying that she might not be a desirable person to bite. Spike corrected her on the last point.

Meanwhile, Riley, Forrest, and Graham used thermal equipment to find that Spike was in Willow's room. Willow finally decided to smash a lamp on Spike's head and try to escape, but Riley had somehow gotten all the doors to lock and the lights to go out. He, Forrest, and Graham charged into the building. They barged into Willow's room just as she tried to burst out.

The three of them quickly subdued Spike. Forrest wanted to quarantine Willow, but Riley vetoed him. During the discussion, Spike was able to escape. He blocked a taser with a fire extinguisher, which let loose its contents. Buffy then arrived and saw three commandos holding Willow. She fired a flare gun, which added to the confusion, before she joined the fight. She was getting the best of the three commandos, so Riley called a retreat.

Prof. Walsh was not happy to hear that "Hostile 17" escaped with the help of a big strong guy. She was relieved to hear that the implant worked, which meant that Spike cannot harm any living creature.

Riley caught up with Buffy the next day to apologize for trying to chase Buffy away. Riley admitted that Willow was helping him on a "project" whose success had yet to be determined. Buffy admitted that she found Riley "peculiar," which probably pleased him.

The Good

Like the vast majority of fans, I liked to see Parker finally get what he deserves

The Xander/Harmony fight was a lot of fun.

The Spike/Willow interactions were all well done, at least when analyzed separately.

The Bad

The imponderables section has a few plot holes that many people saw.

Overall Rank: 44

Action: 7

Spike and Sunday's minion tried to escape from the Initiative (one successfully).

Xander and Harmony had a fight that was to action scenes as the Wesley/Cordelia kiss in "Graduation Day, Part 2" was to romance scenes.

Willow tried to escape Spike as Riley, Forrest, and Graham charged in. They had a confused scuffle that ended with Buffy fighting everyone off.

Comedy: 7

There was a little slapstick humor as Forrest was admiring Buffy.

Xander and Harmony had a fight.

Spike and Willow had a conversation after Spike was unable to perform.

Drama: 3

Willow is still hurt from Oz's sudden departure.

Riley had to cope with his failure to recapture Spike.

Romance: 6

Riley realized what it meant when he thought that Buffy was "peculiar."

Harmony sort of took Spike back.

Character Development: 8

Riley is one of the commandos that we saw a few times this season. He finds Buffy "peculiar" and finally figured out what that meant.

Xander is very bored and appears to have lost much of the military knowledge he gained in "Halloween."

Giles is also very bored.

Forrest is one of Riley's friends and a fellow commando. He is very talkative and is sometimes crude.

Graham is another of Riley's friends and fellow commandos. He is much less talkative than Forrest.

Willow has been very sad lately for obvious reasons.

Professor Walsh is the commando commander and is impressed with Buffy for standing up to her.

Spike has been changed during his captivity. He is no longer able even to try to hurt a human without severe pain.

Buffy likes cheese, according to Willow. She also finds Riley "peculiar."

Importance: 9

We now know that Riley is one of the commandos and that they are part of an organization called "The Initiative" headed by Professor Walsh. It somehow involves capturing and studying vampires and other demons and a lot of aluminum foil.

Riley found out that he is attracted to Buffy and has decided to start courting her.

Spike is once again on the loose but has been altered so he cannot hurt living things.

Most Valuable Player: Spike

There are two strong candidates for MVP. Spike managed to escape the Initiative once and slipped their grasp a second time. However, he failed to kill Willow. Buffy rescued Willow from the Initiative, but, in the process, she inadvertently helped Spike escape. Spike gets the slight edge here because he was incapable of hurting Willow, whereas Buffy failed to stake Spike.

Sherlock Holmes Award: Forrest

Forrest and Graham figured out that Riley found Buffy "peculiar." Otherwise, hardly anyone figured out much of anything in this episode. I will give it to Forrest because he spoke up first.

Goat of the Week: Riley

There are several candidates. Willow should have known better than to invite someone in to her home without knowing who it was, especially at night. Riley failed to catch Spike. Xander and Harmony failed to kill each other. Riley's failure will have the biggest consequences, so he gets the Goat.

Random Commentary

The first Spike/Willow scene was clearly a metaphor for acquaintance rape and the latter scenes were a metaphor for impotence. They were each very well done individually, but they did not fit together. Put together, this was a metaphor for a woman reassuring her rapist, which makes me feel uncomfortable. The writer can either make the scene a date rape metaphor or he can make it funny. He cannot make it a funny date rape.

There are very few universities in the United States that would not fire Riley for trying to court one of his students. This would be in violation of policies against sexual harassment and/or nepotism.


This was a big episode for imponderables. Many sources wondered how Spike could escape during the daytime. They also noted that 62.7 F was quite cool for room temperature. A couple noticed that one would not even see an object at room temperature with a thermal scan. Nobody seems to understand how Spike could attack the Initiative workers if he was chipped.

There is at least one that they did miss. How could Graham and Forrest be sure that they had the right vampire when all they read was a body at room temperature? Do they not realize how many vampires live in Sunnydale? It could have been any of them if the plot did not require otherwise.

Stevenson Hall Students

DVD Extras

Commentary by Writer Doug Petrie Petrie talked a lot about how this episode introduced many science-fiction elements to the show. There are spoilers though the middle of the fifth season as well as some speculation about the sixth season. Insights include:

Memorable Dialogue

"How are you gonna learn anything if you keep doing schoolwork." Forrest

"How about this? We whip out the Ouija board, light a few candles, summon some ancient, unstoppable evil. Mayhem, mayhem, mayhen. We show up and kick its ass." Xander
"Wee bit unethical." Giles

"And they are? The government? Nazis? A major cosmetics company?" Spike

"You know, for someone who teaches human behavior, you might try showing some." Buffy

"OK, say that I help, and you start a conversation. It goes great. You like Buffy. She likes you. You spend time together, feelings grow deeper, and one day, without even realizing it, you find you're in love. Time stops, and it feels like the whole world's made for you two, and you two alone until the day one of you leaves and rips the still-beating heart from the other who's now a broken, hollow, mockery of the human condition." Willow
"Yep, that's the plan." Riley

"Every man faces this moment. Here, now, watching, waiting for an unseen enemy that has no face. Nerve endings screaming in silence, never knowing which thought might be your last." Xander
"Oh, shut up!" Giles

"Remember, if you hurt her, I will beat you to death with a shovel. A vague disclaimer is nobody's friend. Have fun!" Willow

"Maybe you're trying too hard. Doesn't this happen to every vampire?" Willow
"Not to me, it doesn't." Spike
"It's me, isn't it?" Willow
"What are you talking about?" Spike
"Well, you came looking for Buffy, then settled. You didn't want to bite me. I just happened to be around." Willow
"Piffle." Spike
"I know I'm not the kind of girl vamps like to sink their teeth into. It's always like 'Ooo, you're like a sister to me,' or 'Oh, you're such a good friend.'" Willow
"Don't be ridiculous. I'd bite you in a heartbeat." Spike
"Really?" Willow
"Thought about it." Spike
"When?" Willow
"Remember last year, you had on that fuzzy pink number with the lilac underneath?" Spike
"I never would have guessed. You played the blood-lust kinda cool." Willow
"I hate being obvious. All fangy and 'Rrrr.' Takes the mystery out." Spike
"But if you could?" Willow
"If I could, yeah." Spike
"You know, this doesn't make you any less terrifying." Willow
"Don't patronize me." Spike

"I'm only 126." Spike
"You're being too hard on yourself. Why don't we wait a half an hour and try again? Or... [smash]" Willow

"Did Willow tell you I like cheese?" Riley
"You're a little peculiar." Buffy
"I can live with that." Riley

Characters in Peril

Evil Escaped

Departed Characters Remembered

Police and Guns

Strictly the Caucasian Persuasion

Unusual Pairings

Spoiler Questions

Highlight the space after each question to find the answer. It is strongly recommended that you do not do so if you have not seen episodes through the episode indicated.

This page was last modified on November 21, 2012