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BBDiscusses : Into the Woods

Cheese Slices

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This week we discuss everyone's favorite episode : Into the Woods (5x10) !

Spike disrupts Buffy's one moment of peace after her mom's successful operation to expose Riley's late nights spent in the arms of a vampire, sending an upset and bewildered Buffy into a tailspin and putting their relationship in turmoil.

Written and directed by Marti Noxon


Constant feature in the hit charts of most controversial episodes, we can at least all agree that this episode has the merit to unleash a certain amount of passion, and that would certainly make Riley pretty darn happy.
First, have some music to put you in the mood :

I broke down several aspects to discuss, which I'll expand depending on how the discussion is going. You can pick and choose which points you want to address.

Buffy
As per usual, cannot catch a break. Her mother is out of the woods (yeah that'll work out), and she can finally breathe and spend some me time with her boyfriend. Too bad her boyfriend is not getting what he wants out of the relationship and started visiting prostitutes/using drugs (both ? we'll get back to it).
  • this episode arguably (re)introduces us with a darker aspect of her character : angrier, rasher, more callous. Both the performance, the costuming and the general atmosphere and themes seem to point to that. Do you agree with this and if so, do you enjoy this characterization for Buffy ?
  • Following the previous point, let's discuss the scene in which Buffy stakes the vampire prostitute who was sucking on Riley's...arm. The vamp is clearly depicted as weak, chetive and non threatening. Buffy lets her go at first but turns around and stakes her from the back. What is your take on this scene ? Justified or disturbing ?
  • What is your reaction to Buffy "caving in" and running after Riley at the end of the episode ?
  • Has Buffy been indeed "holding back/cutting herself off" as Riley suggests ?
Riley
He's been feeling useless and purposeless ever since the whole Initiative stuff went down the drain. He doesn't seen to be having much of a life besides being Buffy's boyfriend. He attributes Buffy's perceived lack of passion for him as him not being "dark enough", and goes to find the passion and the danger in the vamp brothel.
  • Do you agree with his assessment of the situation ? And if so, do you believe it’s necessarily a bad thing ?
  • Riley asserts that Buffy's "thrill seeking" tendencies (needing a little monster in her man) are what weighs down the relationship, yet he rather paradoxically is the one who goes to "seek that thrill" and metaphorically goes to bed with literal monsters. How do interpret this ?
Xander
Xander acts and is presented as the "arbitror" of the relationship in this episode, the one who sees and understands.
  • Is this portrayal accurate ?
  • He makes a speech persuading Buffy to go after Riley : is he a good choice for this speech ? Is he impartial ?
  • Buffy suggests he is merely projecting his relationship with Anya onto her relationship with Riley ? Is he indeed projecting, and to what degree ? Has he been taking Anya for granted ?
  • He admits he doesn’t have all the info, but goes on to give his big speech anyway : is he still justified ? Are we supposed to believe he is ?
Spike
He is not featured prominently in the episode, but is essential in kicking the plot into gear. How do you feel about the choice of making him "the messenger" ?

Parallels
This episode features a certain number of parallels that have been introduced previously or will be drawn later on :
  • Buffy|Xander : both are depicted as taking their respective partners for granted and not giving them the respect they deserve. Xander first explicitely compares and measures his relationship with Anya with Buffy/Riley in The Replacement (5x03). Buffy and Xander's love lives will again be paralleled in S6 with the Buffy/Spike and Xander/Anya pairings.
  • Riley|Spike : this parallel started as early as S4's The Initiative (4x07). Both men pursue Buffy, both arguably love her more than she loves them and invest more in the relationship. Spike's words to Riley in this episode seem to foreshadow his own doomed relationship with Buffy in S6.
  • Riley|Buffy : a lot of Riley's justification of his actions sound like Buffy's own reason to seek Spike out in the next season.
  • Buffy|Spike : this one is just for fun, but given that both episode are written by MN I'll humor myself : the scene of Spike seeking a naked Buffy in her bedroom and turning around visibly flustered while she dresses is pretty much reproduced exactly a season later in Wrecked (6x10), except this time the roles are reversed.
--> How do these parallels work out for you ?

Lore
What do you think about the introduction of the vampire brothel to the lore of Btvs ? Is it a good addition to the world by adding complexity and grey areas, or is it ill-fitting ?
And is it prostitution or drugs ? Or as a wise peroxyded manpire once said : "a bit of both" ?

Direction
This episode marks MN’s directorial debut on the show. What did you think about the directorial choices in the episode ?

Acting
How would you qualify the performance of each “key player” in this episode :
  • Sarah Michelle Gellar
  • Marc Blucas
  • Nicholas Brendon
  • James Marsters
Psych
The episode features not one but two “trolling the audience” moments : the first one is when the doctor comes back and we expect him to make an announcement but then we immediately cut to credits, the second one being Riley “staking” Spike. So what’s up with that ?

What if
Buffy had caught up to Riley in time ? Please insert your fanfic here
 

Faded90

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I think Buffy was totally right to stake the vamp. She’d been more than happy to stand there as part of a group to kill Buffy. Got what she deserved

I love seeing a more ruthless side to Buffy. Totally badass

I think Buffy had been gaslighted into believing it’s all her fault so it was a very good thing she missed the helicopter. The episode blames Buffy for Riley’s mistakes. It places ALL responsibility for the relationship onto Buffy. Apparently Riley only did something wrong because Buffy didn’t do something right

Honestly no I don’t think she pushed him away. I’m biased in this because I’m someone who needs my space and the people who care about me respect that. I think Buffy is 19 and not quite ready to enter into a super serious relationship with her boyfriend of less than a year. She’s prioritising her family and I don’t see the issue in that. I actually think the scene in Shadow which shows Riley showing up at the hospital and then the scene tells us ‘poor Riley being shut out!’ When I actually see it as ‘Joyce needing some privacy with her daughters while Buffy’s big oaf of a boyfriend doesn’t seem to get that’

I think Riley is blaming Buffy for him having no purpose outside of being Mr Buffy - that’s not her fault. He’s a healthy fit young man why can’t he go out and find himself something to make him feel like he has some worth.

I think the ‘the girl needs some monster in her man’ is nothing more than Riley and Spike projecting on to her. Spike because it makes him believe he has a chance with Buffy and Riley because it’s indulging his thought processes and him doing something dark he is telling himself is what Buffy wants. He’s got a mouth in his head there was no reason he couldn’t have spoken to Buffy about how he was feeling. Instead he puts it all on Xander which was totally unfair - what’s Xander supposed to do with that information?

I think Xander is full of S*** here. I hate how he admits he doesn’t know what’s happening but automatically assumes that it must have been because of something Buffy did wrong. Xander also basically lies to Buffy - when she says ‘who told you?’ He says ‘nobody told me, it was in front of me’ . Escript someone DID tell him, Riley did. Xander had access to information Buffy didn’t for much longer than Buffy had it. Xander knew about Riley’s doubts and insecurities. In fact before Riley told him of him doubts Xander had actually been idealising their relationship to Riley showing that without being told what was going on he had no idea and it wasn’t as obvious as Xander was making out it was. We then get Xander telling Anya ‘you make me feel like a man’. The insinuation is that Anya is being a better girlfriend than Buffy because she is making him feel like a man whereas Buffy wasn’t with Riley. This isn’t Buffy’s job to be responsible for his whole self work. Anya has no other family and the others are barely her friends of course she’s able to focus so heavily on Xander. This scene actually retroactively looks worse because we find out that actually while Anya makes him feel like a man and so loved she has focussed on him so much and ‘clung to him’ at the total expense of her own identity. Is this what Buffy should have done? Let go of her own individuality to be Mr Riley and be whatever HE needs?

I think while Spike was clearly doing what he did for selfish reasons at least someone finally felt like Buffy deserved to know something

On a final note I hate this episode. I think Riley is an emotionally abusive manchild who needs extensive therapy, not a girlfriend. There’s a couple of episodes innS5 that show how astonishingly self absorbed he is. The first being in Out of My Mind - Buffy spends the entire day running around after him leaving her Mother who got rushed to hospital that day in the care of her 14 year old sister whose likely still freaking about the last time she was alone with her - all because Riley would rather die a big strong man. Then Buffy gives him a very heartfelt speech, stays by his side for his operation and only then says ‘actually yeah I really should check in on my Mom’ . The scene then pans to show ‘poor neglected Riley!’ Erm no, why wouldn’t she go and check on her. Riley thinking she should just be staying with him if beyond selfish. Who cares about Joyce right? Or even Dawn?

Another is in Shadow, Riley knows that Joyce has just been diagnosed with a serious illness that she may not survive (and sadly she doesn’t) Riley then chooses THAT DAY to go get bitten. He later admits he did it to ‘even the score’ after Buffy was assaulted . Wow Riley that’s seriously twisted, you decided to punish the girl on probablg one of the worst days of her life?

Hate this episode, hate Riley and he can just get in the bin. I could rant for pages about how much I hate this episode and it’s gaslighting nature
 
BelieveInFaith
BelieveInFaith
"This scene actually retroactively looks worse because we find out that actually while Anya makes him feel like a man and so loved she has focussed on him so much and ‘clung to him’ at the total expense of her own identity. " << love this!!

TriBel

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I think Buffy had been gaslighted into believing it’s all her fault so it was a very good thing she missed the helicopter. The episode blames Buffy for Riley’s mistakes. It places ALL responsibility for the relationship onto Buffy. Apparently Riley only did something wrong because Buffy didn’t do something right
Get your point but I don't think the episode blames Buffy. IMO, Buffy blames Buffy...which is something entirely different. If she's been "gaslighted" (gaslit?) it's because she's internalised patriarchal hegemony. IMO, one of the strengths of BtVS is its ability to convey opposing voices/conflicting viewpoints without actual saying anything. It's a polyphonic text...it's the reason there are still discussion boards and why it's stood the test of time. It's an excellent example of Death of the Author in the truest Barthesian sense of the term...it rarely authorises a single meaning. Instead there's a diversity of simultaneous points of view and voices. The logic culminates in the cacophony of Empty Places - multiple viewpoints/conflicting ideologies/clashing voices...discord not harmony.
 

Priceless

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I have to agree that the episode doesn't blame Buffy, or if it does, not one of the audience believes it so it didn't do it's job very well. The episode shows a man telling a woman that another man is what she wants and needs, I think we all pick up on that being pretty sexist. Perhaps the writing or direction is a bit too subtle, but I really think this episode is about how women/girls are told they need a man, even if that man has done something terrible, because it's her fault if the relationship fails and it's her job to make it work. I think we all pick up on that message, and why we all pretty much hate it.
 

Cheese Slices

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@Priceless @TriBel Are there specific elements in the episode that make you lean towards the idea that Buffy isn't being blamed ?
In a similar vein, @Faded90 , do you think your interpretation of the character is shared by the writer(s), or do you think there is a dissonance at work ?
 

Faded90

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@Priceless @TriBel Are there specific elements in the episode that make you lean towards the idea that Buffy isn't being blamed ?
In a similar vein, @Faded90 , do you think your interpretation of the character is shared by the writer(s), or do you think there is a dissonance at work ?
I genuinely think we were supposed to have an ‘of course that makes sense!’ moment when Xander makes his speech. They give Xander a few of these speeches where’s clearly supposed to be the ‘voice of reason’ except it doesn’t really work - Dead Mans Party being another one.

To be honest I’m basing a lot of this on that every time a writer and Joss has spoken about Riley they seem to think he’s this amazing guy and super duper cool and they seemed baffled as to why fans just never really took to him. He’s immortalised as ‘the one who got away’ in As You Were - an episode where they have Buffy apologising for the way their relationship ended and this episode completely ignores Riley’s S5 behaviour. I think we were absolutely supposed to hope Buffy caught up with the helicopter at the end of the episode which would mean we’d have to agree with Xander’s shockingly one sided assessment of the situation
 

thrasherpix

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Heh, suddenly wondering how the Xander speech would've gone if Buffy quipped, "He was letting vampire hookers bite him."

Hopefully he'd be stunned and change his tune fast (or better yet, just say he's there for her and excuse himself from the scene). But I wouldn't blame him for mind blown.
 

Priceless

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@Priceless @TriBel Are there specific elements in the episode that make you lean towards the idea that Buffy isn't being blamed ?
For me it's Noxon writing Riley virtually blaming Buffy. He was an unpopular character blaming the hero of the show for not being there for him, even when she was taking care of her little sister and dying mother. Noxon must have known how that would go down. Then she has Xander, who was Riley's biggest fan, and another man, telling Buffy she should go after Riley. Can you imagine Willow saying the things Xander said to her? I hate that Buffy chases after Riley, but it tells me that all women, even superheroes, can chase after men who aren't good enough for them and who do not respect them.
 

Faded90

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Heh, suddenly wondering how the Xander speech would've gone if Buffy quipped, "He was letting vampire hookers bite him."

Hopefully he'd be stunned and change his tune fast (or better yet, just say he's there for her and excuse himself from the scene). But I wouldn't blame him for mind blown.
Honestly considering in the next episode him and Anya are still talking about Buffy like she’s a complete relationship failure ‘relationship debris piling up on the Buffy highway’ I think it wouldn’t really change his words a lot. Because 2 boyfriends at 19 apparently makes her damaged goods 😂
 

Priceless

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They give Xander a few of these speeches where’s clearly supposed to be the ‘voice of reason’ except it doesn’t really work - Dead Mans Party being another one.
I read this as Xander lying during the speech to Buffy, which means for me he's not being the voice of reason as such.

XANDER: No? Good, so you and Riley *aren't* imploding? (Buffy turns to face him in surprise) It doesn't take a genius. What I can't figure out is how you never saw it coming.
BUFFY: What? Who told you?
XANDER: Nobody told me anything, Buffy. It was right in front of my Xander face. The guy would do anything for you.

This is a lie. Riley told Xander that Buffy didn't love him, Xander of course doesn't reveal this to Buffy. If he'd revealed that Riley had confided in him, it would make Riley seem even more pathetic. As for 'the guy would do anything for you', well he wouldn't be faithful.

Xander's whole speech is a mess, earlier he accuses Buffy of hiding and that not being very slayer like of her, but then he encourages her to beg - he's ok with her begging Riley to come back, which to me isn't very slayer like either. He's happy to criticise her, make her feel even worse, as long as she keeps Riley around.

BUFFY: What am I supposed to do? Beg him to stay?
XANDER: (in disbelief) Why wouldn't you? To keep Riley here-
 

Cheese Slices

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Heh, suddenly wondering how the Xander speech would've gone if Buffy quipped, "He was letting vampire hookers bite him."

Hopefully he'd be stunned and change his tune fast (or better yet, just say he's there for her and excuse himself from the scene). But I wouldn't blame him for mind blown.
FTR, she actually does tell him exactly that. However, after being stunned for a few beats, he shrugs it off and asks her if she is going to let him go.
 

Faded90

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I read this as Xander lying during the speech to Buffy, which means for me he's not being the voice of reason as such.

XANDER: No? Good, so you and Riley *aren't* imploding? (Buffy turns to face him in surprise) It doesn't take a genius. What I can't figure out is how you never saw it coming.
BUFFY: What? Who told you?
XANDER: Nobody told me anything, Buffy. It was right in front of my Xander face. The guy would do anything for you.

This is a lie. Riley told Xander that Buffy didn't love him, Xander of course doesn't reveal this to Buffy. If he'd revealed that Riley had confided in him, it would make Riley seem even more pathetic. As for 'the guy would do anything for you', well he wouldn't be faithful.

Xander's whole speech is a mess, earlier he accuses Buffy of hiding and that not being very slayer like of her, but then he encourages her to beg - he's ok with her begging Riley to come back, which to me isn't very slayer like either. He's happy to criticise her, make her feel even worse, as long as she keeps Riley around.

BUFFY: What am I supposed to do? Beg him to stay?
XANDER: (in disbelief) Why wouldn't you? To keep Riley here-
Oh I agree he’s flat out lying. I genuinely think the writers may have overlooked that. I hate his ‘how did you not see it coming?’ When actually before Riley told Xander his doubts Xander was actually idealising the Buffy/Riley relationship. This whole episode is a big mess for me
 

Cheese Slices

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Rewatching the scene I was surprised at how harsh/severe Xander comes off. I don't know if NB was directed that way or if he made the choie himself, but he comes off as kind of pissed at Buffy. One might say he identifies with Riley and admires him quite a bit ? Food for thought (I should have added this in the parallels section).
 
Priceless
Priceless
Oh he's incredibly pissed at Buffy
K
katmobile
How dare you make the one bf I approved of leave?! The one guy I wanted to be like and could ID with ergo I could stand you dating - eugh I hate Xander sometimes.

thrasherpix

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FTR, she actually does tell him exactly that. However, after being stunned for a few beats, he shrugs it off and asks her if she is going to let him go.
Just looked it up and was WTF. While not quite that blunt, it was close enough.

While plot > character has long been a problem in this show, I think it becomes much worse in season 5, and continuing for the rest, which is probably why I haven't been able to watch an entire season after the end of season 4 in almost 10 years now. Not too long ago I watched every ep through season 4, but just could not bring myself to start season 5 (though there are scenes and episodes I like from all the seasons). Maybe that's why. And Xander does sound more like a writer's hand puppet berating the viewers for not being into Briley (continued in the next episode with Anya) is just one more manifestation of that, and why the show lost more and more appeal with me later on. I love character growth, but I see very little of that (as opposed to character violations for plot) in later seasons.
 

TriBel

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No...or rather...possibly/maybe/maybe not. I'm loath to talk about a single episode - primarily because BtVS is a series and its effect is cumulative. In addition - and this is where it gets complicated - my ultimate take on BtVS comes from here:

"And that's where we're going...right back to the beginning. Not the Bang... not the Word... the true beginning. The next few months are going to be quite a ride. And I think we're all going to learn something about ourselves in the process". Also...this. "It's about power...Who's got it. Who knows how to use it". Hands up...I'm a card-carrying poststructuralist with a penchant for postmodernism. Shoot me for it...I've been doing it for too long to change now. I think S7 calls on the viewer to revise what they know in the light of the end. I've seen it in other postmodern texts. In the light of what I learn from S7 I think it's as @Priceless describes it:
this episode is about how women/girls are told they need a man, even if that man has done something terrible, because it's her fault if the relationship fails and it's her job to make it work.
This is going to be clumsy because it's not my usually rhetoric. I think Buffy's completely taken in by patriarchy...she's her own worst enemy (figuratively speaking). She doesn't know what it is to be a woman on her own terms (that she doesn't know her own power is indicated when she squeezes the doctor).

"I wanted to know why Dracula and Angel have so much power over you". Buffy gives people (men) power over her by adhering to patriarchal perspectives of what it is to be a woman.

Xander gives the speech to Buffy and then says this to Anya: "I'm in love with you...Powerfully, painfully in love. The things you do ... the way you think ... the way you move ... I get excited every time I'm about to see you...You make me feel like I've never felt before in my life. Like a man".

I'm really not comfortable with the timing and the content of this. Get a room Xander...ideally with Riley. Xander loves men. He's not gay; but he loves men. Look what he does to Buffy in Life Serial... sacks Buffy even though he knows the truth. And she lets him! Xander likes homosocial institutions...like the army. There's something going on here that's to do with the male gaze. Did @Priceless say Noxon wrote it?

Like the plastic stake, it looks real but it isn't. That stake is probably key...it's ersatz - something artificial; an inferior substitute or imitation.

One might say he identifies with Riley and admires him quite a bit ?
Yeah that! Why ask me if you knew the answer all along? 🤣

Yep...it's Noxon. It's the male gaze. I haven't written complete BS...it's just lacking coherence because I haven't thought it through.
 
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K
katmobile
I think Xander's in search of a father figure/bro and he finds it in Riley.

Athene

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Sineya
I found it very unfair of Riley to give Buffy an ultimatum in that way because when she couldn't reach him in time she had to deal with feeling like it was her fault that he left and she questions if she's turning to stone partly because of it later on.

And Riley just comes across as being very weak searching for someone to tell him who he is.

  • What is your reaction to Buffy "caving in" and running after Riley at the end of the episode ?
I was very sad for Buffy, Xander's speech just gave her FOMO and then the chance of fixing things with Riley was taken away from her.
 

Cheese Slices

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Yeah that! Why ask me if you knew the answer all along. 🤣
Oh, I don't know anything. I just ask dumb questions and hope people will give me smart answers anyway :p
Just looked it up and was WTF. While not quite that blunt, it was close enough.

While plot > character has long been a problem in this show, I think it becomes much worse in season 5, and continuing for the rest, which is probably why I haven't been able to watch an entire season after the end of season 4 in almost 10 years now. Not too long ago I watched every ep through season 4, but just could not bring myself to start season 5 (though there are scenes and episodes I like from all the seasons). Maybe that's why. And Xander does sound more like a writer's hand puppet berating the viewers for not being into Briley (continued in the next episode with Anya) is just one more manifestation of that, and why the show lost more and more appeal with me later on. I love character growth, but I see very little of that (as opposed to character violations for plot) in later seasons.
This is actually an interesting discussion to have. As we grow attached to the characters, we grow attached to our interpretation of those characters, and if the writers stray too far from this interpretation, we say they "jumped the shark", or forced the narrative to fit a certain message/please certain fans/... However, there are some point to consider: 1) not everyone has the same interpretation of the same characters and 2) the line passed which we decide the show jumped the shark is pretty fuzzy to begin with. How do we determine what is a previously uncovered facet of a character, or character progression as opposed to mischaracterization ?
Characters voicing the writers' thoughts and messages are not exclusive to later seasons, so how would characterize when it works and when it doesn't ?

To bring this more specifically to this episode, what are the factors that made an evidently large portion of the audience feel a certain cognitive dissonance between what they believe the writers wanted them to think and what they ended up "seeing" on screen ?
 

DeadlyDuo

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What if
Buffy had caught up to Riley in time ? Please insert your fanfic here
Buffy would've been trapped in an unhealthy relationship that she wasn't happy in because she'd feel like she "owed" Riley to make the relationship work because she'd cost him his chance to re-join the misery.

Contrary to what the show wants it's audience to believe, Briley is not a good relationship. Riley displays a lot of "red flag" behaviour in both Season 4 and 5 and it's very jarring that the writers use Xander to describe Riley as "the one who comes along once in a lifetime" and basically say that Buffy should tolerate that kind of behaviour and actively want that kind of relationship.
 
B
Btvs fan
The writers go further. In As You Were Buffy actually apologised to Riley for this episode !!

Btvs fan

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@Cheese Slices People have talked about Riley but I also hate the fake staking. There was actually no reason in the episode for that other than an act break.

Side Note before the episode aired there had been spoilers posted that JM was leaving to do a Shamalyan (who was big at the time) Movie and that he was going to be killed off to do it. JM later declared Joss himself leaked that and that he thought it was funny to fool the fans. I don't think he realised he was kind of being mocked by Joss too with the implication that the idea of him doing a big movie was simply humorous.
 
Cheese Slices
Cheese Slices
Wow, I've never heard about this before ! I guess that's something that Joss would do, yeah...
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People have talked about Riley but I also hate the fake staking. There was actually no reason in the episode for that other than an act break.
I remember me an my mum screaming so loudly at the fake staking ... though fortunately it wasn't an ad break in the UK (because we have less of them) it just faded to black and then faded right back in again.
But it's always made me feel queasy - it's one of those things where you're obviously not meant to think about it too deeply but I just can't stop. So - the stake is plastic wood grain, and Riley - what? Went to the local hardware store bought a chunk of plastic woodgrain (as you do) and then spent hours whittling it down into a stake just so he could do a fakeout stake - but he doesn't know he has an audience, so he did that purely to fake Spike out? And then (the bit that really makes me feel queasy) he's stabbed Spike in the heart but Spike hasn't dusted so ... does Spike just have a big gaping hole over his heart now? Spike spends the whole scene sort of grasping at his chest and the thought of his sucking chest wound makes me feel physically sick.
So - I think the fake stake is pretty dumb both in world and out, it's there just for the reaction which it totally got - but is pretty cheap.

As for the bigger and more serious issues within the episode, I'm anti-Riley, pro-Buffy and Xander doesn't know what he's talking about.
 
B
Btvs fan
Yeah it was on the BBC back in the day though Ats was on Channel 4 I believe
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