Into the Woods

Written by Marti Noxon
Directed by Marti Noxon

Perri's Review | Christina's Review | SunSpeak

Perri's Review

Buffy finds out Riley's darkest secret, leading to an exit surprising only in how genuinely heart-wrenching it is.

It's becoming a familiar scene -- Dawn sleeping sprawled across an uncomfortable couch, her head in her sister's lap as their friends cluster around them in silent support. Time is passing too slowly fore everyone, as they wait for Joyce to come out of surgery. Riley tries to comfort Buffy with the thought that a long surgery means something is actually being accomplished, which offers a little help. The return of the surgeon is better, though. Everyone jumps up, ready to hear the news.

And the news is good -- the tumor was completely operable, and Joyce should be fine. Happy hugs are exchanged, some with better results than others -- Xander and Giles narrowly avoid embarrassment with each other and Buffy breaks a few of the surgeon's ribs. The celebrating commences -- Dawn is sent off to eat Chinese takeout with Xander and Anya "so Buffy and Riley can boink," as she puts it. Extremely accurately, as it turns out; slow music, candles and slow dancing are the order of the night. "I want this night to be special for you," Riley says. "It's more than special," Buffy assures him. "It's perfect." Riley tries to tell Buffy how proud he is of her for staying strong, for never crying; she confesses that she broke down and cried alone plenty of times. He blinks, surprised and hurt, but the kissing begins and leads to the aforementioned boinking (in a very sweet, romantic sense, of course). Below Buffy's darkened window, Spike blows out a cloud of cigarette smoke and watches, alone and jealous.

So he's there when Riley slips out of Buffy's bed and into the night; curious and suspicious, Spike tags along as Riley heads for an abandoned warehouse and walks inside.

The next morning, Joyce studies her bandages and shaved patch with doubt, but refuses to let Buffy go with the wig idea. Joyce tries to reassure her that she should be going back to her life, to school and Riley; Buffy assures her mom that she sent Riley off to have fun with his friends. Of course, the only friends Riley really has outside of the Slayerettes have things other than fun on their minds; Graham and his commanding officer have a mission coming up -- South America and a nest of hostile supernaturals. Graham suggests Riley for the mission, and his CO agrees, since no one can think of anything that could possibly be keeping Riley in Sunnydale.

Buffy wakes from sleep that night when someone comes into room. She rolls over sleepily, calling for Riley, but finds Spike standing in the shadows instead. The standard threats commence, until spike notices Buffy isn't wearing anything under the sheet. But he only stays distracted for a second, since he comes on a serious mission -- he needs to show Buffy something across town. Reluctantly, she makes Spike turn his back, and gets dressed. Together, the pair walk to the warehouse Spike found Riley at the night before; Spike leads Buffy to the front door. It's... a vamp house -- mortals sitting around in a condemned pit, willingly being sucked on by vampires. "This isn't what we're here for, Slayer," Spike quietly warns the shocked Buffy; she moves forward towards the stairs. Spike dusts away one vampire who goes after them, then leads the rest of the way up. But he makes her go through the last door alone -- to find Riley, shirtless and being fanged by a female vampire. She stares, shocked, until his eyes look up to meet hers.

Buffy turns and runs, and Spike sticks around long enough to be snarky before following her outside. "I thought you should know," he tells her; she stares at him with horrified eyes before running away. Spike looks after her with something that looks like hurt, sympathy and regret, all combined. Riley finds himself fighting his way past a pissed off vampire (he's not happy about the Slayer finding their digs); Buffy is long gone by the time he gets out. He makes his way home to find Graham and his CO waiting for him in his darkened apartment. They tell him about their mission in Belize and ask him to join them. "I'm a civilian," Riley points out; Graham's CO couldn't care less. "We're not the Initiative," he says. "This is the real deal -- high risk, low pay and seriously messy." After telling Riley they're heading out at midnight tomorrow, they leave.

At the magic shop, Giles is appalled to find himself setting up for holiday promotions, and Anya is appalled to find them with an overstock of chicken feet. Her suggestions for tying the two together lead to some humor at her expense, which leads to a hissy fit from Anya, who feels she isn't being appreciated. Xander tells her to back off, which only makes the hissy fit worse. It's all forgotten when Buffy slams in, on a righteous quest. She tells Giles about the vampire nest -- leaving out certain salient details; turns out people paying vamps to suck on them is a long-standing practice, if dangerous, practice. Giles doesn't regard it as a great threat, especially considering the problems at hand with Glory, but Buffy is determined, bordering on psychotic. The Slayerettes reluctantly head out with her to the nest, leaving Anya behind to mind the shop, but the warehouse is empty when they get there. Not satisfied with that, Buffy sets the place on fire and strides out.

Spike is settling down to a nice drink when Riley breaks in, and pins him against a wall. He knows who told Buffy and is really pissed -- enough to slam a stake into Spike's heart.

Luckily for our favorite bad boy, it's plastic; Riley had no intention of killing him, just warning him off of Buffy. Yeah, he's hot for Buffy, Spike admits, but that isn't Riley's problem. "You're not the long-haul guy and you know it," Spike smirks through the pain from his chest. "The girl needs some monster in her man."

"You actually think you've got a shot with her?" Riley demands in return.

Spike shrugs. "No. A fella's gotta try, though."

"If you touch her, you know I'll kill you."

"If I had this chip out of my head, I'd have killed you long ago. Ain't love grand?" And just like that, two deadly enemies find themselves bonding over bitterness and wine -- Spike is bitter knowing Riley has Buffy and can hold her, feel her, in ways Spike never can. And Riley... Riley is his own kind of bitter.

Meanwhile, Buffy is taking her bitterness out on a practice dummy in the training room, Anya and Xander outside listening in concern. Riley arrives, tired and intense, but composed, and asks them to leave. They comply, Anya doing the usual thing of talking too much about her and Xander's after-hours time in the training room. "This isn't the time for stories of Xander and Anya's sex-capades," Xander cuts her off brusquely. She's taken a aback, but recovers. "Then we can go home and, you know, have them!" Xander brushes her off, "I've got some stuff to take care of," and leaves without her.

Riley -- showing either courage or stupidity -- faces Buffy, forcing her to fight with him instead of the fighting dummy. It's about as tense a confrontation as you'd expect. "It was just some stupid, immature game," Riley says, that started when he was jealous over the Dracula incident. He wanted to understand what had happened. Buffy is less than responsive to that line of reasoning, and even less so when he tries to explain that the vamps "made me feel something. Something I didn't even know I was missing." Buffy doesn't want to hear it, but Riley persists. "Fine," she spits. "Tell me about your whores. Tell me what on earth they were giving you that I can't."

"They needed me," Riley responds simply. "On some basic level it was about me. My blood, my body. When they bit me, it was beyond passion. They wanted to devour me, all of me... They had such hunger for me." Buffy isn't impressed -- they didn't actually care, she informs him. But Riley was willing to settle for the illusion. "You keep me at a distance," he accuses. "You didn't even call me when your mother went into the hospital.... It's about letting me take care of you! It's about not having to be on top of everything al the time!"

But Buffy can only see it in terms of needing to be the Slayer, all the time, and not depending on anyone. "What else do you want from me, Riley? I've given you everything that I have, I've given you my heart my body and soul!" Riley just doesn't feel that, and Buffy can't figure out any way to give him anything else. They face each other in anguishes silence.

"They want me back, Buffy," Riley finally says. "The military. Deep undercover, no contact with civilians. The transport's leaving tonight." Buffy stares at him in shock. "Are you going?" she asks.

"I don't know. If we can't work this out...."

"Then this is good-bye?" Buffy reacts predictably to what she sees as an ultimatum, submerging pain in anger. She almost swings on Riley, who eggs her on, daring her to hit him. She walks past him instead. "I'm leaving, Buffy," he calls after her. "Unless you give me a reason to stay, I'm leaving tonight." She pauses, then leaves without a word or a glance. As she heads out into the dark alley, five vampires emerge from the shadows to surround her -- lead by the big guy who was playing bouncer at the warehouse. "Walk away," the pissed-off Slayer warns them. They ignore her and, in a few seconds, she takes them all down. The last one tries to run for it and Buffy confronts her -- the vampire she last saw sucking on Riley's arm. She stops in shock, letting her improvised stake drops, and the vampire turns and run. She makes it to the end of the alley before Buffy pulls her arm back and lets the stake fly. The vampire crumbles into dust.

Xander emerges from the shadows behind her; Buffy blows him off, striding away, but Xander won't blow; he follows her inside a nearby building instead. "Leave me alone, Xander," Buffy warns. "You have no idea what's going on."

"No? Good, so you and Riley aren't imploding?" Direct hit. Buffy pours the story out, ending with Riley's ultimatum.

"And you're going to let him go?" is Xander's quiet response. Buffy tries to tell him it's not her choice, but Xander isn't having any of it. "In about 20 minutes Riley's going to disappear, unless you do something stop it."

"I don't even know who he is anymore," Buffy whispers. "I thought he was dependable."

"I think you mean convenient," Xander says, advancing on her. "I think you took it for granted that he was going to show up when you wanted him to, and take off when you didn't." "Look who's talking," Buffy retaliates. "Look who has Anya following him around like a lovesick puppy. Is she more than a convenience? 'Cause that would kind of be a surprise."

But Xander refuses to be distracted. "You've been treating Riley like the rebound guy, and he's the one who comes along once in your life... and you're about to let him fly because you don't like ultimatums? If he's not the guy, if what he needs from you just isn't there.. let him go. Break his heart, but make it a clean break. But if you really think you can love this guy -- I'm talking scary, messy, no-emotions-barred need -- if you're ready for that, think about what you're about to lose."

It's finally sinking in; Buffy's face falls as she realizes what's about to happen. "Run," Xander advises, and she does. Her feet pound against the street as she runs towards the departure site, where Riley stands outside a sleek helicopter. Waiting. The rotors start turning and his head falls; slowly, he turns to board his ride out. It lifts off -- as Buffy races into the clearing, screaming Riley's name. But the motor is too loud and Riley never looks down. Never looks back.

Buffy watches in the dark, as the helicopter leaves, then slowly trudges home. Alone. And Anya rises slowly from her bed as Xander stands in the doorway in her room. "I've got to say something," he says quietly, with obvious and heartfelt sincerity. "'Cause I don't think I've made it clear. I'm in love with you. Powerfully, painfully in love with you. 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 just thought you might want to know."

Anya smiles tearfully, joyfully up at Xander, then lunges into his embrace -- as Buffy slowly collapses on the stairs to her room, and a helicopter carries Riley further and further away from Sunnydale.

Riley go bye-bye. He's apparently reupping with the military to go fight the good fight as far away from Sunnydale as he can get.

Joyce's tumor was completely operable, and she is expected to make a full recovery.

See above re: Riley. < sigh >

Xander broke down and confessed his complete and total love for Anya.

Essentially a four-man show, focusing on Riley and the Buffster and the final disintigration of their relationship, with Spike and Xander popping in to offer their own perspectives -- one helpful, one harmful -- on the whole mess. :P

I refuse to take sides in the Riley/Buffy fight, since I know Riley was screwed up on lots of levels, but I have complete sympathy for where he was coming from. And Buffy is not without responsibility for the whole mess -- note that I said responsibility, not blame. Riley made the mistake of allowing his life to become focused around one person, and one person only -- Buffy. With little or no life outside of Slaying and the Slayer (did we see him having any life other than one pick-up basketball game?), he wound up in a nasty situation when Buffy's life started collapsing.

I've been there -- you're having a problem with something in a relationship, you're feeling unneeded and unimportant. But you don't mention it because the person you have a problem with is in a bad place and you have no intention of doing or saying anything to make it worse. So, you squirrel it away and ignore it for a while and it turns from a minor thing to a major Thing. But, you've only got one person in your life you can trust to talk to (he's not that close to the Slayerettes, and Graham is severely and vocally biased against Buffy) about this Thing, about this problem and, well, she is the problem, so you can't talk to her. Are we seeing the little self-destructive cycle here? Pretty soon, Riley found himself wrapped up in knots, desperately needing to protect Buffy, but only allowed, from his scared and screwed-up little place, to protect her from himself, from his own problems and fears.

I'm not defending any of the choices Riley made -- becoming a vampire chew toy is just never intelligent and yes, he should have talked this out with Buffy long before it became a Thing. And I have no idea how he deluded himself into thinking those vamps "needed" him int he ways he needs to be needed (was that a sentence?). But I do understand where he was when he made those bad choices, which gives me a lot of sympathy for the guy.

And I also see where Buffy was coming from. The girl is a control freak to the max, with very good reason. Lives -- hell, the fate of the universe -- ride on her shoulders; in the end, it's her call. If she screws up, the world pays. The thing that has always kept her steady under that burden, as Spike observed, is her "real life" -- her friends, her mother, her sister (I know, that's not the point. We're talking about mental stuff, not reality). Then suddenly, the "real life" starts falling apart, and the lives she's responsible for are much closer to home. She wigged and decided this was something she had to deal with alone, just like Slaying; any weakness could destroy everything. Patently untrue, but convince Buffy of that. But she wasn't in any condition to be dealing with those issues, not with her mother sick, and Glory out there, and Dawn to be protected. She just didn't have the emotional energy to even notice Riley's meltdown, must less deal with it, and that is so not her fault. Like I said: responsibility, not blame.

So Pathologically Protective and Focused Guy meets Control Freak Issues Girl and... things implode. Kiki once called Buffy and Riley's relationship a "casualty of war" and I can't think of a better description. If they'd had a little more time before Joyce got sick and Dawn showed up... If Riley had had just one person to talk to, to work some of this crap out with... If Buffy had gone just a little lighter on the control issues.... If Spike and Graham and various assorted others hadn't been wandering around further messing with Riley's head... < sigh > See you around, Riley. After you get it back together.

Oh, and Buffy's going to be single for a while, I can tell you that. You can just hear the thoughts running around her head as she sits on those dark stairs: "Is it me? Do I make them all insane?" No, she doesn't, not intentionally. But her life is never going to be simple and there's just no way around that. < sigh > Sucks to be her right now, I tell you.

And Xander? Wow, has our little boy grown up. Even a year ago, he would have backed off from Buffy, let her work things out herself. And if he'd gotten up the courage to bull his way in, he wouldn't have known what to do or say to make the difference. This time, he did. He forced Buffy to listen to him, forced her to hear things she didn't want to hear, but needed to. Forced her to look at things from a different perspective. And I am awed at how well he managed to walk in Riley's shoes. He really has matured considerably, even in just the last few months, and it's a wonderful thing to see for those of us who always loved Xander, even when we really didn't like him that much. It's not Anya who makes him a man, if you'll forgive a moment of sloppy sentiment -- it's himself, dealing with what has to be dealt with, looking out for his friends through suppport or butt-kicking, and summoning up the nerve to spell out to his girlfriend exactly what she means to him. Way to go, babe; I'm proud of you.

Spike wanders around contributing mayhem and chaos in his own particularly skewed way. In some ways, he's the anti-Xander this time around, forcing Buffy and Riley to face truths for his well-being as much as for Buffy's. There's no doubt that his feelings for Buffy are very real; the way he shadowed her throughout the warehouse visit was more than watching her back, and more than waiting to see his rival's comeuppance. He was worried about her -- because of what Riley was doing, because of how Riley's actions could harm her, because he knows what kind of emotional beating she's taken. Don't get me wrong, I'm giving the boy sianthood -- you know a huge part of him was celebrating when Riley was stupid enough to screw up this big, to essential remove himself from the Fight for Buffy. < rolling eyes > Witness his reflexive pause to be a bastard at Riley before he chased after Buffy. But the expression on his face when Buffy ran.... < sigh > What a messy. And was that guy bonding too cute for words or what? That one line to Riley, as he relaxes in his chair and reaches for the wine, that resigned, amused, depressed, bitter "Ain't love grand" just sort of sums it all up for him.

As for Anya and Xander, I do beleive that Xander meant every word he said to her. Only love could have kept him around her this long, given her personality quirks; sex ain't reason enough to deal with Hurricane Anya. And she does care about him, or she wouldn't have stuck it out, either. I wish, though, that we got to see more of that love in everyday situations, rather than only in life-death-extreme situations. Day-to-day, despite his patience, Xander is irritated or embarassed by Anya, for all that we see -- and, apparently, for all that the Slayerettes see. It would be easier to believe in true love if we saw it, those quiet moments that have nothing to do with sex. We got a few in "The Replacement", with Anya's concern for Xander when his parents started fighting, and his sweet and romantic candlelight dinner -- but not much else. < sigh > And with Riley and Buffy a thing of the past, we're gonna need it.

Best Moments:
The entire opening scene, with the Slayerettes clustered around alternating supporting each other and irritating each other. The almost-hug between Xander and Giles was particularly classic!

Buffy's sudden realization of who she's talking to, when she's telling Joyce that Riley will come back around looking for sex. < snickering > These two have gotten so close; it's very cool to watch. I hope they can maintain it as Joyce gets better.

Spike in Buffy's bedroom. The rapid-fire transition from deadly serious to silly and back was beautifully done by all parties concerned.

The first vamphouse scene. Excellent scene setting, very claustrophobic and scary, as we follow Buffy and Spike up those stairs. Spike is great in protector mode, Riley's face is a study in anguish when he looks up, and the abrupt exit is just as good. Kudos to Marc, James and SMG for an outstanding job.

Spike and Riley 'bonding'. < snerk > Guys.

The confrontation between Buffy and Riley. Viscerally painful at moments, even as you want to start bashing both of their heads into walls. < shudder >

Buffy fighting the vamps. An outstanding fight sequence, following up with the cold and almost scary execution of the female vampire. Gorgeously done.

Xander and Buffy's confrontation. See above for the previous gush about how much I lvoe Xander. < g >

The final montage, from Xander and Anya's cementing their relationship, to the shots of Buffy and Riley as theirs dissolves. Major kudos to Marti.

Rating: 4 stars out of 5. This might have been better if we hadn't known for months that Marc was leaving, but I can't say for sure. Still, the four crucial actors turned in outstanding performances, leaving the final outcome in doubt up to the end. Very nice.

Christina's Review

Anyone else getting bad Raven flashbacks at seeing all those vamps munching on the willing humans? Granted the Raven always had *tons* more class, but the atmosphere.... yeeeeeee.... And Giles *so* knows more than he's telling about getting bitten for fun. eep!

Riley & Buffy... gah. I'm feeling extraordinarily defensive of Buffy, and I just want to *smack* Riley. I know that their relationship isn't perfect, I know she should have, maybe, realized that he wasn't happy, that she hasn't been completely fair to him sometimes... But he's the one who didn't speak up about how he was feeling, he's the one that did something self-destructive and hurtful in order to deal with it, he's the one that didn't have *life* aside from Buffy, and he's the one didn't think clearly enough to say 'pass' on the Belize thing until he and Buffy really had enough time to work out their problems. I mean, please, give the girl more than 24 hours to come to terms with the fact that he'd been a chew toy!

And yet, I can hear all the people who are taking Xander's wake-up-call conversation, twisting it just a *little* bit, and making it all Buffy's fault. Xand needed to say those things, so she'd see Riley's point of view, and he needed to be harsh because she was *really* not listening until he hit her with a clue-by-four. And he knew she needed to stop reacting and start thinking, if Riley was going to leave in less than half an hour. But I don't think he thinks it was Buffy's 'fault' any more than Riley does.

And I'm very glad that Buffy's throwing his words back in his face made Xander realize that from the outside, his and Anya's relationship doesn't look all that great either... and that maybe he owed it to his girlfriend to make at least one thing very clear. : > Awwwwww!

I *still* don't see that those two are in love--- but that's because they've had no time onscreen when he wasn't setting her straight about something over the last year. Maybe they'll modify this, and become more of a 'couple' than amusing sex fiends now. I hope.

Back to Buffy.... I know she was rushing to the helicopter, but you know what? I bet she didn't even know what she was going to say when she got there. I think she just didn't want it to end so badly, not when she finally got that she'd hurt Riley with her distance--- but that she didn't honestly know if she loved him 'forever' at that moment or not. Maybe she just would've asked him to stay so she could find out. She looked in shock when the 'chopper left, not terribly grieved, or hurt... then again, it may be that Buffy's capacity to cry has taken a beating lately, and she just couldn't connect with the situation emotionally. Poor kid. Another thing she's going to blame herself for; it's what she does.

I think they were just like two puzzle pieces that didn't really fit, that went along okay for a long time because no one was looking at the bigger puzzle. And when Riley did, he realized he didn't belong with her, but he wanted to so badly that he kept trying to change her, or him, in order to make it work. No one's fault, in a lot of ways, that things weren't better--- but I'm still gonna blame Riley for how it ended. That sucked.

Well, him and Spike. That scene with those two bonding --- I have never *seen* anything more hysterical. Riley's an idiot to be listening to Spike at all, and he didn't really seem to get that yes, Spike *would* have killed him a long time ago, if he could've. But as true as every word out of Spike's mouth was during that scene, it was also beautifully calibrated to make Riley feel even more like worthless dirt. If you're dumb enough look at the world through Spike-colored glasses, of course you're going to end up feeling horrible. Riley should know better.

And every thing James Marsters did tonight made me love Spike even more... even though he's evil. It's soooo sick. : >


< shrug > Everyone was either doing the holiday thing, or screaming about Angel.

Back to Episodes.