Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Buffy The Vampire Slayer, "Out Of My Mind" Review (5x04)

Brief Synopsis: “The drugs that were unknowingly fed to Riley during his time at the Initiative to give him increased strength and speed are starting to deteriorate his body. To stop himself having a heart attack, he must give up his enhanced power, but in doing so will be further away from Buffy than ever. Will Riley make the ultimate sacrifice?”

"The Replacement" (5x03) quick link here                                                                                              "No Place Like Home" (5x05) quick link here

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With that being said, let’s get started, shall we?

I can sum up my thoughts on this episode in seven words...“Riley’s character development, yay! Plot itself, meh!”...however, I’m told that this doesn’t make for the most exciting review, so I suppose I’ll have to explore the episode itself. Have you noticed a theme thus far in season five? Four episodes down, four episodes where the villain is trying to kill Buffy because she’s the Slayer. Dracula, Harmony, Toth, and now Spike, have all wanted Buffy dead for no apparent reason...okay, Spike has some justifications, I suppose, but not really. Not exactly an all-star list of the greatest villains the show has produced either. Spike hasn’t been remotely villainy for years, Harmony is the worst vampire in history (she has a unicorn shrine!), Dracula was underwhelming, and Toth didn’t do a great deal in the episode outside of giving Xander a splitting headache (pun-believable!). Buffy’s 5th season is a good one. Scratch that, a fantastic one. There is very little that I would consider to be below average and most of the season is in that ‘great-superb’ range. “Out Of My Mind”, alongside “Shadow”, “Listening To Fear”, and “Triangle”, represents the worst of the season. They’re not bad episodes by any stretch of the imagination, but they simply don’t live up to the rest.

In the case of “Out Of My Mind”, it’s a tricky episode to find a ‘final score’ for. On the one hand, the Riley developments are terrifically handled, the dissection of Buffy and Riley’s relationship is great, and Spike’s Earth-shattering realisation is important for the show. On the other hand, the rest of the episode feels...underwhelming. The character development is great, but this episode lacks action and pacing sometimes. I can’t think of one exciting or memorable moment that takes place in the first 20-25 minutes. When you smush both hands together, you have an episode that is ‘good’, but not ‘great’.

The episode opens with Buffy patrolling. The musical score that plays over the top of the scene is reminiscent of something you’d hear in the first or second season of the show. It has that dark, edgy tone to it, which I feel represents Buffy’s renewed interest in slaying. Buffy has taken a back-to-basics approach to her slaying. Giles has been reinstated as her unofficial Watcher, she’s taking a more active role in researching the history of her power and why the other Slayers died, and she’s becoming increasingly proud of her role as guardian of the Hellmouth. Buffy has put the distractions of the past few years behind her and she’s focusing more on patrolling and making sure the world is a safer place, without it feeling like a burden. This is significant, as it’s new territory for Buffy. Slaying and the responsibilities that come with it have always been a burden to Buffy. Buffy is making that transition from ‘burden’ to ‘purpose’. From ‘resentment’ to ‘pride’...and then both Riley and Spike interrupt and join in the slaying of vampires, which makes Buffy wonder why she even bothered showing up at all.

Spike: “Looks like neither boy’s entirely welcome. You should take him home, Slayer. Make him stay there. I’ve got knitting needles he can borrow.”

When it comes to Buffy and Riley’s relationship, Spike is oddly perceptive. He always has been perceptive at noticing problems in other people’s relationships...just not his own. Spike can see that Buffy didn’t want Riley interrupting her patrolling either and he can see that Riley is feeling insecure and neglected. Therefore, because he’s Spike, he uses this to his advantage in order to spread further discord between the Slayer and her ‘Captain Cardboard’ boyfriend. Spike sees the larger cracks in Buffy and Riley’s relationship before Buffy does. That shows you how little attention Buffy is paying to Riley or her relationship with him. She’s too busy focusing on slaying right now, which is understandable. After Buffy and Riley leave, Spike gives a very intense speech about how he’s going to kill the Slayer and use her neck and his chalice...then he falls into an open grave. Smooth.

The interesting thing about Riley and Buffy’s problems here (and later in the episode) is that Buffy warned him of this exact thing in “Doomed”, just before they got together! Riley sees patrolling and monster hunting as something fun. It’s exciting, it’s thrilling, it’s an adventure! To Buffy, it’s a job. It’s responsibility, hard work, and something she can’t escape from. She’s not in the graveyard to smile and have a couple’s bonding experience, she’s there to do her job, kick ass and take names, protect the world from evil, and go home. Just because they’re both vampire hunters, it doesn’t mean that they have a lot in common.

The Magic Box is coming along nicely and is almost ready for its grand opening! I kinda love that Xander is responsible for making most of the storage units and cupboards that are scattered throughout the shop because it’s yet another example of Xander finding some focus in his life and being able to contribute more to the Scoobies (something he’s always been struggling with). Over the past few episodes, he’s really started to grow up and find his place in the world. This is reiterated by the fact that Giles tells Xander that he’s impressed with him! Oh, sweet summer child! I’m feeling all warm-hearted after that. It’s no secret that Xander has a very turbulent relationship with his father (most of his dream in “Restless” was his fear of becoming his father), so it must have meant a great deal to Xander to hear a father-figure tell him that he was impressed with him. Especially as it was Giles, who often views Xander as an immature pain in the ass. I wonder if Xander subconsciously chose a career in construction because everything is always breaking in the world of the Slayer? Her house, The Magic Box, the Sunnydale High library...they’re always getting demolished.

Willow: “What do you see?”
Tara: “Willow hand.”

Willow and Tara are fast becoming my favourite couple on “Buffy The Vampire Slayer” with cute interactions like that.

Buffy’s new training room at The Magic Box is gorgeous and I wish I had one similar for myself. My current ‘gym’ is my bedroom, which holds a treadmill, a bench press, an ab-roller, and a bunch of free weights and weight plates. After Buffy confiding in Giles at the conclusion of “Buffy vs. Dracula” that she wanted to re-focus on slaying, Giles secretly built her a room where they could train together and hone her techniques. There’s actually a very significant, but subtle moment that takes place during the training room between Buffy and Riley. Riley asks Buffy if she wants to spar and Buffy pulls away from him to go and view her new training area. Go back to that moment and watch Riley’s face. Buffy physically walks away from Riley and the look on Riley’s face exudes that he’s made up his mind once and for all that it’s only a matter of time before Buffy walks away from the relationship for good. Buffy blanked Riley in favour of her new training facility. In that moment, she chose slaying over Riley whether she meant to or not. The sad thing about this moment is that we know how Riley is feeling. Riley told Xander at the end of “The Replacement” that Buffy doesn’t love him. We know that Riley is feeling unloved and neglected and this moment only adds to his insecurities. This is going to be a recurring theme over the next 6 episodes...Riley feeling ignored and unappreciated.

Spike will allow Harmony to stay in his crypt if she sleeps with him and Harmony agrees. It’s funny how tone, musical scoring, and the way the scene is acted can make dialogue sound very different. If you change the tone of this scene, it’s rather dark. Harmony has no place to go and can only stay with Spike if she prostitutes herself out to him. Granted, she sounds nonchalant about the whole affair, but it’s still rather dark when you stop and think about it.

“Out Of My Mind” also contains the first moments of foreshadowing for Joyce’s brain tumour woes. It’s the start of a half-season journey that concludes with us all crying ourselves to sleep and rocking in a corner of a room. GET OUT! GET OUT NOW, PEOPLE! THIS IS NOT A DRILL! I REPEAT, THIS IS NOT A DRILL! Joyce comes over all faint, looks at Dawn, asks her “who are you?”, and then collapses. At first glance, the “who are you?” comment could have just been because Joyce had a brain issue, but as we discover later in the season, it’s because Dawn isn’t a human and doesn’t belong in Joyce’s life. She’s been forced into it by some monks. The temporary brain flash allows Joyce to see past the cloud of fakeness the monks put into her brain to make her think that Dawn is her daughter and has always been there. When the brain flash disappears, Joyce forgets what she saw...or does she? As we discover at the end of “Listening To Fear”, Joyce is aware of the fact that Dawn isn’t her daughter. She doesn’t know how she knows this or what’s really going on, but she knows that Dawn isn’t hers and she loves Dawn and treats her like a daughter anyway. That’s the kind of woman that Joyce Summers is. She realises that Dawn is precious not just to her and Buffy, but to the world as well, and asks Buffy to protect Dawn if anything happens to her. Ugh, pre-“The Body” feels. But, I’m getting ahead of myself...

After Joyce’s brain episode, Buffy takes her to the hospital, where three important things all happen at once. Joyce’s medical issues start, we discover that Riley’s heartbeat is INSANE, and we’re introduced to Ben, who is arguably the most bland, boring character to ever arrive in Sunnydale. Luckily, Glory is insane to counteract this boredom. Charlie Weber isn’t the problem, he does a good job. The problem is that Ben is written to be completely normal so that people don’t suspect he’s Glory’s other half for a while. In doing so, they make him something of a remedy for insomnia. Riley completely ignores doctor’s advice and decides to leave the hospital. This may seem like a stupid decision (it is), but he does have his reasons.

Graham returns to the Buffyverse (I always liked Graham) to ask Riley to let an Initiative doctor take a look at him. The drugs that the Initiative were secretly feeding the commandos are starting to tear their bodies apart. Riley received more drugs than anyone so his body is deteriorating the most. Understandably, Riley is sceptical and refuses. The government are the reason why Riley’s heart is in such a bad condition to begin with! How can he trust what Graham is telling him? How can he believe that the military doctor will do what he’s supposed to do? How does he know that they won’t secretly feed him more drugs or implant another behaviour modification chip inside of him? He doesn’t! However, as we discover later, this isn’t Riley’s primary reason for refusing the treatment. Riley fights off the Initiative soldiers and disappears into the wilderness.

To find out where Riley has runaway to, Buffy goes to Spike for help. In Buffy’s defence, she does technically give Spike half of the money upfront like he wanted...just, ya know, not in the way he wanted. This scene is critical in understanding the end of the episode. Spike is growing increasingly frustrated at not being able to hit Buffy back and his frustrations are turning increasingly sexual. To Spike, physical violence and fighting go hand-in-hand with sexual attraction and desires. Spike has always had a certain fixation with Buffy and now he can’t have her in a sexual or physical way whatsoever. In retaliation, Spike steals Riley’s doctor and demands for him to remove the chip from his head. I must admit, when I first saw “Out Of My Mind”, and the doctor put the penny in the tin, I thought he’d removed Spike’s chip. Spike has had the chip for about a year (which is a decade in TV-land) so it would have made a certain amount of sense...especially as his character didn’t do a great deal in season four.

Willow and Tara are also searching for Riley. In doing so, yet again, Willow uses magic for things that she could easily do without needing to resort to magic. I adore the storyline of Willow’s growing addiction to magic in order to alter her life as she sees fit because it has such a slow burn! It’s been going on since the beginning of season four and doesn’t climax until the end of season six. What a great story! Another interesting point is that Tara’s face gives away that she’s concerned in this episode. She’s concerned over Willow’s growing reliance on magic for the most mundane of tasks. Is could be because she doesn’t want Willow to discover the demon side of her that she still thinks exists until “Family”, but the more realistic option is that she sees that Willow is growing too reliant on magic and is concerned. This will also be a recurring theme for Willow and Tara over the next couple of seasons.

Riley: “Best case scenario, they turn me into Joe normal. Just another guy.”
Buffy: “And that’s not enough for you?”
Riley: “It’s not enough for you.”

And we finally get to the big problem that Riley has been facing for their entire relationship. Riley thinks that Buffy doesn’t love him because he’s not strong enough or powerful enough. He’s a regular guy. He’s not a vampire like her previous love and he can’t handle the fact that his girlfriend is stronger than him. Riley is a corn-fed boy from Iowa, where he was raised to believe that men are the stronger sex and should help women. We’ve seen this a few times during the fourth season. He’s insecure about his masculinity because his girlfriend is a superhuman. When you couple this with the fact that Buffy has been growing distant with him and keeping him at an arm’s length and you have a recipe for disaster. I know that Riley gets a lot of stick from Buffy fans for this episode and his attitude in season five, but I can see things from his perspective. The vampire sucking thing that comes later is ridiculous, but outside of that, I can see why Riley is feeling the way he is. While Buffy hasn’t acted like Riley isn’t good enough for her, she’s also done nothing to minimise his fears by blowing off their plans and not wanting him patrolling with her. Unlike Xander, Riley can’t accept the fact that he’s ‘normal’ and his girlfriend isn’t, which is making him think that Buffy can’t handle it either. It’s petty, jealous, and silly, but it’s understandable that Riley is feeling this way. What you’ve got to remember is that Riley has given up everything to be with Buffy. He walked away from The Initiative, he left his career behind, his friends behind, and what does he have left? Who is he now? What is his identity made up of now that his relationship with Buffy is failing? That’s why Graham’s words at the end of the episode have such a profound effect on Riley. Riley knows that without Buffy, he has no life, no purpose, and no reason to stay in Sunnydale. So, he clings to Buffy tighter, which makes Buffy push him away more, which leaves him feeling more insecure. It’s a vicious cycle. Xander says it best in “Into The Woods”, when he says that Buffy just expected Riley to show up when she needed him and to disappear when she didn’t. When Buffy is concentrating on slaying, he’s an inconvenience to her (like at the beginning of this episode), but when she’s lonely, she wants him around. 

Buffy: “Nobody has ever known me the way you do. Nobody.”

Hmm...I disagree with this statement greatly. Does Riley know Buffy better than Angel? Than Joyce? Giles? Willow? Xander? Obviously, we don’t know what happens in the vast amount of hours that take place off-camera, but it seems like an exaggerated statement to me at best. Riley knows Buffy better than anyone physically, sure. Buffy only slept with Angel once (that she remembers) and only slept with Parker once, whereas her and Riley have had a...fruitful sex life. However, outside of that, I disagree. Buffy never let Riley in like she did with Angel (which she later admits herself). She keeps Riley at a distance, she always has. Even here, in this moment of desperation, in this moment of trying to convince Riley to go to the hospital and save his life, she doesn’t tell Riley that she loves him. She tells him that she needs him, but she doesn’t say “I love you”...which is just what Riley fears. That she doesn’t love him. The clever thing about this scene is that it’s played in such a way that you think that Buffy and Riley’s problems might be over. Instead, it’s just the beginning of Riley’s insecurities and this episode enhances them, not minimises.

After Riley’s heart is fixed and his enhanced abilities are removed, Riley says “back to normal”. Marc delivers that line perfectly. You can feel all the pain behind those words as he says them. He’s ‘normal’ and powerless again. He knows that Buffy is attracted to dark, dangerous, and powerful types, and now he’s none of those things.

The episode closes on a very sexy Spike dream, where Spike and Buffy start arguing, but end up kissing passionately. Spike wakes in a cold sweat, terrified at the fact that he’s just discovered he’s in love with the Slayer. I’m sure I speak for everyone when I say that we could have told him that years ago. It’s completely fitting for his character to love Buffy! Since he stalked into The Bronze in “School Hard”, he’s had a weird fixation and fascination with her. He went to her for help in “Becoming Part One”, Drusilla dumped him because she could see that he loved the Slayer years before he realised it himself, he hasn’t tried to really kill Buffy in a very long time, and yet he’s stayed in Sunnydale anyway. Why? Why live in a place that encompasses so much of your misery? Because he’s in love with Buffy and has been for a long time. Buckle up, kiddies. The drama is about to unfold even more.

Quote Of The Episode

Spike: “Okay, is it bigger than a breadbox?”

Harmony: “No. Four left.”

Spike: “So, it’s smaller than a breadbox?”

Harmony: “No, only three.”

Spike: “Harmony, is it a sodding breadbox?”

Harmony: “Yes, oh my God! Someone’s blondie bear is a twenty question genius!”

Firstly, Harmony and Spike together are hilarious. They were a terrible couple, but their scenes together are usually amusing at the worst. Secondly, I don’t think you can consider Spike a ‘genius’ for guessing correctly...he only has 20 items in his crypt to choose from!


What are your thoughts on "Out Of My Mind"? Did you enjoy this episode? Dislike it? Let me know all your thoughts in the comments section below!

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  1. Hahahahahaha "splitting headache"

    Oh Spike falling into the open grave never fails to crack me up!

    Riley is an interesting character. He is drawn to Buffy and her slayer side but can't handle that she is stronger than him. With her renewed interest in her slayer heritage, of course she is going to be more interested in her new training area. Yes, I feel sorry for him but at the same time, what exactly did he expect?

    I liked Graham too.

    I don't think Riley really knows Buffy at all. At this point Spike knows her better.

    Brilliant review once again good Sir!

  2. I always loved this scene. truthfully I always kinda loved Harmony, probably because of what a airhead she was.

    - Tara

  3. Haha! My youngest, who is 4 now, is the only one in our family with blond hair. Since the day he was born I've called him my "blondie bear".

  4. I feel like I've been doing a bad job following certain aspects of our heroes' journeys such as Willow's magic addiction.

    I also never really got the impression that it bugged Riley that Buffy was stronger than him. I understand that he's insecure because her strength means she doesn't need him to come to her rescue (or help her out at thus depriving him of a purpose even more since he's not with the Initiative anymore) but I never saw him not being able to handle the fact that Buffy was stronger.

  5. You made a lot of good points as usual. One thing that didn't cross my mind until now was the nature of Spike and Harmony's living arrangements. I guess it's because it's Harmony and that the situation is played for laughs that I didn't think of it.

  6. I think Riley is intimidated by Bufffy and has always been so, but NOW that he is off the drugs he is even more intimidated by her physical strength. However it goes deeper than that, Buffy has at present saved the world FOUR times. Almost as long as he has been playing govt soldier boy. She has fought vampires, werewolves and demons all before she entered college. She has had a vampire as a bf a witch as a best friend and has old world knowledge of all sorts of scary monsters. So yeah Riley is intimidated by Buffy's strength, experience, brain and circle of friends. We rarely see Riley hanging with anyone but Initiative folks.