I was a massive Buffy the Vampire Slayer fan during its 1997-2003 run, made the leap from The WB to UPN (which was silly because the two networks eventually merged a year or so after the show ended), stuck with the whole Dawn debacle, and even the sub-parness that was all of Season 6 [Editor’s Note: How dare you.]. But the later I got in the run, the less the episodes stuck with me and I didn’t rewatch anything from Buffy’s college excursion forward. So, when it came time to think of episodes to talk about for this column about the worst ones, I had to turn to the experts. I consulted several lists online and spoke to Nerdist managing editor Rachel Heine, who knows the episodes by name the way I do with Doctor Who, and while I remember a lot of them, the one that stood out to me as being memorably bad was Season 4, episode 18, “Where the Wild Things Are.”
Now, there are several bad episodes of Buffy, which, given that there were 144 episodes, is completely acceptable. Episodes like “I Robot, You Jane” and “Never Kill a Boy on the First Date” get some leniency from me because they were in the first season, when the show was testing things out. “Doublemeat Palace” also gets a slide because it exists within what I think is the show’s weakest season, and after the Jump-the-Shark point. No, when I look for bad episodes, I aim squarely in a program’s heart, during the period of time when the show should have been, and generally was, firing on all cylinders. This is why this episode stands out; it’s an episode that attempts some kind of message about college-age romance but does it SO hamfistedly that the whole point of it is undercut.
Comedy episodes are usually hit and miss, but Buffy generally managed more hits than misses, given its tongue-in-cheek tone. When it missed, though, it was usually because of having the jokes first and the story second. “Where the Wild Things Are” is all about jokes and premise and the actual script is very weak. Some of the dialogue exists only for plot and reminding-the-audience-what’s-happening moments. And big “mystery” pieces fall into place with about as much tactfulness as someone saying “Hey, what’s this all about?” and another person responding, “Oh, it’s this. This is what it’s all about. Bye!”
The general gist, the big idea that gets everything going, is “College People Like to Bone.” What insight! Glad it took a horror show to tackle this universal truth. The episode was written by Tracey Forbes, who only wrote three episodes of Buffy, the well-received “Something Blue,” and another universally-derided episode, “Beer Bad,” about another obvious thing about young people, that they don’t know how to drink responsibly. Not a good batting average, but hey, I didn’t get to write any Buffy the Vampire Slayer episodes, so she’s got a million up on me.
The story is this: Buffy and Riley, her new Initiative boyfriend, have a lot of sex. It’s funny because they think of lame excuses to leave a group of people in order to do so. Anya is upset with Xander because they didn’t have sex one night. It’s funny because she thinks humans have to have sex every night in order to remain in a relationship. Willow and Tara are starting to make the doeiest of eyes at each other. Adam, the Frankenstein’s Monster made up entirely of bits of different demonic things, isn’t in the episode but we see that his proposed truce between vampires and demons seems to be starting out okay. That’s for the season-long arc, though, and far too interesting to have more than a few minutes devoted to it here. The Initiative guys decide to throw a party at their frat house, which I must remind you is sat on top of the Initiative underground laboratories.
During the party, Buffy and Riley go off to have sex again and weird things start happening in the house. There’s a piece of wall that if people touch it, they receive sexual gratification. Tara recoils violently when Willow touches her knee; a girl Xander meets during his “I bet Anya’s gonna break up with me” mope throws herself at him during a game of Spin the Bottle and then runs to a closet to hack her hair off in shame; then Willow and Anya see ghosts of children, one drowning in the tub and another running screaming down the hallway, and the house begins to shake. All during this, Buffy and Riley can’t have enough sex, and clearly this is feeding the malevolent force somehow.
After retrieving Giles from a coffee shop where he’s playing “Behind Blue Eyes” acoustically causing Willow, Anya, and even Tara to swoon a little bit, the Scooby Gang go to the library to find out what might be causing the disturbances. They almost immediately find that the frat house used to be a home for orphans run by a very devout Christian woman who received plaudits from Sunnydale. They go and visit her in an old folks home and, after asking like two questions, they learn that she punished the kids when they were “dirty,” having any impure thoughts at all, preened or even looked at themselves in a certain way, and certainly if they acted on any sexual urges. It was a coed house and they were all adolescents. Giles yells at her and they decide that he and the two witches will call the spirits to them so that Xander and Anya can go into the house to save Buffy and Riley, which is done pretty easily with the use of a machete to cut through vines that have grown out of nowhere. The spell is broken when they finally open the door and snap the two lovers out of it.
Okay. I mean, where to start? This has to be one of the more convenient plots and most easily-solved mysteries in the whole of the series. They find one article, check one lead, and it happens to be exactly what they need to divine what’s happening. And the old lady tells them what they need to hear incredibly fast, like almost too fast, like she was ready for them to ask about it. There’s no explanation given about why the house held on to this repressed and abused sexual energy, nor why it was this exact moment that it chose to manifest. This is a fraternity house, right? Initiative or no, frat houses generally have a LOT of sexual activity in them, but it’s Buffy and Riley constantly doing it that awakens the poltergeists? There’s also no reason for the spirits to have gone away just by someone walking in on two people boning. Is that really all it took?! So, decades of deep-seeded scarring has a whole 3 hours to do anything about it and gives up almost immediately? And SOOOO much of the dialogue here is just explaining what’s happening. There’s a Spike and Anya subplot that’s pretty funny, but other than that the jokes fall super flat and are all just “Ha ha, it’s funny because sex.”
This is an episode that falls into the category of “Who gives a shit?” It comes very late in Season 4, only four episodes left after this, and THIS is what they give us? I know every episode can’t be all arc progression, and the occasional funny episode can ease some tension, but holy crap, guys. NOTHING happens in this and even the relationship building it attempts to do could have been served in a million other ways. And, chiefly egregious for a comedy episode, it’s not very funny.
What do you think? Did I choose the wrong worst episode? What other shows would you like me to cover for this column? Let me know below!