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Monday, June 11, 2012

The I in Team

[Updated April 30, 2013]

The I in Team brings us to the second real world event which impacted S4: Lindsay Crouse, Prof. Walsh, left the show. Her death at the end of this episode was not part of the original plan. It was written in when she decided to leave. Nobody has ever explained just why she left; it’s all very professional on both sides. Something happened but we don’t know what.

Her departure had a major impact on the season because she was supposed to be the Big Bad. Adam got substituted as the Big Bad, but this changed some of the thematic points which had been intended (I’ll talk about that in the next post and later ones). As a result, in my view, a lot of the emotional resonance of the season got lost. I’ll explain this in more detail later on.

The expression “there is no ‘I’ in team” is a cute way of saying that teams are supposed to work together as a unit. They can’t succeed if each team member refuses to set aside her ego and goes off on her own. The natural question, therefore, is Who is guilty of this behavior? The answer, not surprisingly, is Buffy. Buffy became, however briefly, a member of the “team” at the Initiative: “Prof. Walsh: Welcome to the team.” She was, obviously, not much of a team member given the way she stood out in dress and in attitude.

We’re obviously supposed to think that Buffy’s maverick behavior was a good thing. She began asking questions which someone should have asked before. When she questioned Riley about “314”, the phone rang immediately afterward. Since we know that Prof. Walsh was watching Buffy and Riley on video, the natural implication is that Buffy’s question is what led Prof. Walsh to attempted murder, which in turn backfired on her and exposed her big secret, Adam. All well and good – it’s a classic rogue agent story line – but …

Buffy began the episode belonging to another team. She then found an exciting new form of foreplay with her new boyfriend, and she became eager to become part of his “family”. Yes, the Initiative is a “family” – that’s why, when the commandos get paged in the Bronze, Riley tells Buffy “Mother wants us”, and it’s why Adam’s first word is “Mommy”. Prof. Walsh told both of them to “make me proud”, just what a mother would tell her children.

Buffy “joining” the Initiative is a metaphor for the way the world often works – the woman leaves her own family and goes off to become a member of her man’s. Thus, another way to interpret the episode title is that Buffy left her team to go off on her own – that is, without the SG – to join the Initiative. Buffy therefore was “the I in team” when it came to both her old team and her would-be new one.

Her metaphorical heart and spirit have doubts about her choice which they express in the teaser:

“Xander: Wish the Buff could've made it.  This three-hand poker is not quite the game.
Willow: Guess she's out with Riley.  You know how it is with a spanking new boyfriend. …
Xander: Well. . .(coughs) The thing is . . . I think Riley is . . . okay, in an oafish kind of way.  But . . . am I the only one with a big floating question mark over his head about this Initiative thing?” 

Buffy’s distraction from her friends then gets hammered home in the early part of the episode:
“Buffy: Hmm.  How was your night?
Willow: Like a normal person's.  Light on the action-pack.  Hope tonight's not too much of a let-down for you.  Excitement-wise. (a pause) You do remember about tonight, right?
Buffy: Bronze.  The gang.  Are you kidding?  I wouldn't be anywhere else.  I miss you guys.  We haven't been able to spend that much time together lately.
Willow: You've been busy.  Fighting armies and stuff.  Not to mention other distractions of a romantic-- (sees that Buffy's no longer paying attention)”
Xander: … Besides, it's getting late.  Maybe we should go.
Willow: Go?  You can't go.  Buffy hasn't gotten here yet.
Xander: Let's face it, Will.  She's over an hour late.  She's probably out living the life of Riley.  I don't think she's coming.
Willow: She is! (unconvincingly) She said she was looking forward to spending quality time with just us. (brightens) See?  Here she comes.
Shot of Buffy walking into the Bronze followed by Riley, Graham, Forrest, and two other guys.
Willow: (crestfallen) . . .with Riley . . . and some other guys.”
“Buffy: (lowers voice, but excited) I'm in.  The Initiative.  Professor Walsh gave me the grand tour and we're talking Grand as in Canyon! You'd never believe the size of it.
Willow: That's really . . . again I say 'neat.'  So, what do you mean exactly?  You've joined them?
Buffy: No.  N-not exactly.  It just means that when I patrol I'll have a heavily armed team backing me up. (smiles) Plus, boyfriend going to work with me: big extra perk.
Willow: Buffy, do you really think this is a good idea?  I mean, don't you think you're rushing things a little?
Buffy: (frowns) I thought you liked Riley?
Willow: Not with Riley.  With the Initiative.  I mean, there's a bunch of stuff about them we still don't know.
Buffy: I know that. (then) Like what?
Willow: Well, what's their ultimate agenda?  I mean, okay, yeah, they-they neuter vampires and demons.  But then what?  Are they gonna reintegrate them into society?  Get them jobs as bagboys at Wal-Mart?
Willow: Plus, don't forget that '314' thing that Ethan told Giles about.
Buffy: Well, a man that worships chaos and tries to kill you, is a man you can trust.
Willow: Well, bad info or not, I just think there's certain questions you should ask before you go off and enlist.”

Buffy’s rejection of her friends is paralleled with Willow initially declining to meet Tara later to work on spells. When Willow did knock on Tara’s door after Buffy blew her off, she commented on the irony.
From the perspective of her actual team, the SG, Buffy went off on her own and nearly got herself killed. That’s what Prof. Walsh told Riley: “She . . .went after them on her own. … she kept insisting she didn't need any team,  she could handle it by herself.” Prof. Walsh lied when she said this, but her words were true from the perspective of the SG. The title has different implications depending on which “team” is meant.
But there’s another way to think about the title as well. I don’t want to talk about that in detail yet, because it would spoil the season ending, but I will drop a couple of hints:
(1) The I in Team serves the same functional role as Gingerbread did in S3. By this I mean that the episode shows a potential, but wrong, solution to Buffy’s seasonal dilemma. (2) The discussion above focused on the two different “teams” and Buffy’s role on those teams, but another way to think about the title is to ask “what is the meaning of ‘I’?” We’ve already seen that the issue of identity is one of the key themes for S4, so asking this question obviously connects directly to that theme.

When Buffy tells Prof. Walsh “If you think that's enough to kill me, you really don't know what a Slayer is. … Trust me when I say you're gonna find out.” – and may I say that I love that scene – I read it as saying “you don’t know what a true adult is”. I’ll discuss the implications of this in the next post. I’ll also discuss the most important line in this episode, Riley’s “I am how they trained me”, and some related issues.
Trivia notes: (1) We got an early clue about Prof. Walsh’s role as “mother” in Pangs when Forrest called Riley “mama’s boy” when he thought Riley was too gung ho. (2) Spike’s reference to Willow as “Teen Witch” comes from the 1989 movie of that title. (3) The scene of Buffy and Riley waiting to enter the Initiative elevator and then her reaction when she sees it reads as a double entendre of a couple about to have sex for the first time. Of course, they do just that a bit later on. (4) Adam’s name is an intentional Biblical reference. (5) Xander describes Buffy as “living the life of Riley”, punning on the old expression which means “living the good life”. (6) Private Benjamin – Buffy’s rejection of camouflage – was a 1980s movie starring Goldie Hawn. (7) As Riley said, Prof. Walsh did tell Riley that she liked Buffy in The Initiative. (8) This is the first time Buffy has slept with someone and he’s still in bed the next morning. Hence her initial concern and Riley’s “Weren't expecting to see me?” (9) Spike’s reference to playing “Rock the Casbah” on a Jew’s Harp refers to a very old musical instrument.  (10) Note that Giles has a new cordless phone after he destroyed the old one in A New Man. We saw him install it at the end of that episode. (11) It’s a bit subtle, but when Willow and Buffy returned to their room, each having spent the night out, Willow had the doll’s-eye crystal Tara had offered her the day before. I missed that on first watch.


  1. Is it weird that whenever Xander says the "life of Riley" line, I think of "Life of Brian?"

    Also, when you bring up Teen Witch, you have to watch this:

  2. Ok, I've reread your review of Gingerbread, and I am still confused. The thesis of Gingerbread is that it was teaching Buffy the wrong/right ways to deal with the absurdist nature of the world, rebellion vs revolution.

    Is it that this episode demonstrates to Buffy the wrong way to fight demons? That by trying to fight demons Riley's way, she was denying herself her true identity as the Slayer?

    1. Not demons per se, but yes she was going about things the wrong way by going off on her own, meaning, in context, without the SG. That's what I meant by "same structural role" -- each episode is showing us a potential solution that happens to be wrong.

  3. Okay, that death was a little sudden and out of place, guess I understand why. That's a little disappointing to hear, also disappointing to know, if for no other reason than because it gives me a reason to make an excuse for the season if it doesn't excel.

    I like your comparison to Buffy trading one family for another. This wasn't something I thought of when I was watching the episode, it seems like typical switching of friend groups, but the "mother" comments definitely are deliberate and I can see how Walsh could represent a counterpart to Giles who is a father figure. I wonder, though, if Buffy's failure with this family is in any way indicative to her perpetual state of loneliness that's associated with her Slayer status? Like, perhaps the fact that she fails here with the Initiative shows that the work she does is work she is meant to do alone (mostly).

    I also have enjoyed Willow this season, in fact I think all the Scoobies have done a good job in their engagements with Buffy (season three there were definitely a few suspect moments in regards to their friendship). I imagine it would be easy for the group to become angry and frustrated with Buffy, especially with all their latent insecurities with her and their reliance on her as an integral part to their own identities.

    And as much as I said I didn't like Riley, he's earned some points this episode. The simple fact that he is the first boy Buffy actually wakes up and sees laying besides is a wonderful moment. Its heart-wrenching seeing her worry for a moment that he might not be there, and the relief that comes with it. SMG does a great job with facial expression I think, this kind of makes me wonder if he will be the one Buffy ultimately ends up with?? And then there's also his loyalty to Buffy when he she delivers her awesome "screw up" speech to the prof, I half-expected him to stay there, but was happy to see him walk out.

    Btw--I'm the same guy who commented on Doomed and Graduation 2...sorry I don't have a name yet. And no, I haven't finished the series yet, which is partially why I love your reviews so much -- spoiler free!

    Even if, SPOILER:

    I did already know that Willow was into the ladies.

    1. Don't worry about the name, although I get a number of "anonymous" comments and sometimes it's hard to keep them straight.

      S4 is my favorite season for Willow. At the time, I probably would have called her my favorite character. I'm not surprised you knew that particular spoiler. It's pretty hard to avoid.

      Riley has a lot of good characteristics, and we see most of them in The I in Team.

      As for the issue of Buffy's family, that's one of the keys to the season and I'll talk about it at the end.