Overall Rating: 6.0
I don't think we needed a drug angle to get Riley to have trouble letting go of his initiative training, nor do I think it was a good thing that they introduced that concept and then never made reference to it again after this episode - I mean after the project got shut down, was Riley just handed a permanent prescription refill...blank-check for mind and body-altering drugs forever? Otherwise, this episode is just...kind of boring. Which usually happens when your villain is boring and overdone.
The full details may be found here.
Maggie Walsh must not be a very good psychologist if she so utterly failed to understand the nature of her own creation or the dangers it would pose. This is the problem with this season in a nutshell...it's not like each episode is 100% pureed SPAM served over a pile of dog crap...most of the episodes, when you watch them, don't feel like horrific television. They're just...not effective. Partly because the characters stopped feeling very real (more on this shortly). Partly because the villains were uninteresting (and cliche) and partly because I don't feel as though most of these episodes are trying very hard to send any particular message. They largely abandoned the successful formula they were using in the first three seasons of coming up with a theme for an episode and making the monster of the week reflect that theme...they'd managed to strike a balance between writing with a clear purpose (and often, a clear message - risking some accusing them of being preachy) and writing without such ambitions to preserve a feeling of objectivity (and risking your stories feeling pointless and empty). That's not what seems to dominate this season...they've drifted too far toward telling stories just to tell them and lost their soul in the process. They'll fortunately get it back in seasons 5-7, but this season utterly lacks a compass, moral or directional.
In this episode, we see the perfect example of Buffy characters no longer feeling like the same people we started watching the show for over the years. Following the "Parker experience" (which is another great example of Buffy not behaving at all like Buffy), we have Buffy wanting a relationship with a normal guy and getting one instead with a drugged-up demon-fighter...and her response changes every five minutes...sometimes, she feels like the Buffy of old...taking charge and moving mountains to help the one she loves...and sometimes she just feels like a whiny, angst-ridden teenager with no clue in the world about how to handle a relationship. Riley isn't much better...they started out with a clear enough concept...he's just a corn-fed Iowa-boy with a good moral background who wants to do good and save the world. That would have been a nice contrast from most of the people who appear on BtVS, but the writers don't seem to have ever MET a corn-fed Christian soldier from Iowa, because they never had one gosh darned clue how to write one. This week, his behavioral anomalies can be explained by withdrawal in part, but before he starts really sliding into those symptoms, he responds to his girlfriend (whom he supposedly loves very much) nearly getting killed by his mentor and then his mentor's subsequent death by...doubting Buffy. Which, I must tell you...I find hard to believe. I get that they think of his type as respecting authority above all, but I think his type is more likely to respect the ones they love more above all...that's the character trait I most commonly associate with military folks and mid-westerners.
About the only parts of this episode that I feel I can relate to at all are those featuring Anya and Xander. I really think that those two are the only characters they know how to write consistently during this season...and their relationship is the only one to which I feel attached. It helps that Caulfield and Brendon are fabulous actors and have tremendous chemistry, but it also helps that they're never written out of character or left to stumble aimlessly without a clear vision of what story the crew intends to tell about them.
Overall, this script feels slapped together...the plots don't mesh well and Adam's quest to "understand humanity by exploring their innards" just doesn't make any sense...and is never really explained.
+1 bonus for the performances of Emma Caulfield and Nicholas Brendon. Blucas manages to avoid being unwatchably wooden and lame this week...so doesn't cancel those two out.