In the twelfth episode of the fourth season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Giles begins to feel more and more left out, so the writers decide to do the most horrific and hilarious thing to him. Ever. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Buffy.
I’d been waiting for this season to address Giles’s role in the Scoobies for some time now. I genuinely thought the writers would find a way to stick him into the action at Sunnydale University, but this episode couldn’t exist if that had happened. And this episode must exist. Giles truly has been ignored quite a bit in the first half of season four, and I can see why Xander, Willow, and Buffy all haven’t been as open and involved with Giles. They’re all moving in different directions with their own lives, and Giles doesn’t always factor in to things. That being said, I think that “A New Man” demonstrates just how important Giles is to the operation of everything, and that a world without Giles would not be a fun one at all.
Over the course of the first half of this episode, we’re essentially being shown just how bad Giles’s isolation has gotten. To be fair, he’s involved in every episode in some way, but the degree by which he is part of the action is much less than it used to be. Plus, he has been pursuing other interests of his own in his free time, so it’s not like his life is devoid of meaning. Still, from the beginning, Giles comes to realize that there may come a day when he’s actually not needed anymore. It’s bad enough that he’s as awkward as he is, but when Buffy starts gushing about Professor Walsh, it’s easy to see why Giles might feel upset about this. Is he being replaced? No, of course not, but this story is about perspective. In Giles’s eyes, the things his friends do to him make it seem like they either don’t care, or that he’s replaceable. No one thought it important to tell him that Riley is one of the commandos. Buffy is off hanging with Professor Walsh. Professor Walsh tells Giles that Buffy clearly lacks a father figure in her life, which is the role Giles thought he was playing for her. So how could he feel good about any of this?
The thing is, I don’t think any of this would have held as much emotional weight as it does if the entire season had not been full of hints that Giles felt this way. On top of that, I feel like “A New Man” is a story about inadequacy, and Jane Espenson brilliantly parallels both Giles and Riley with one another. They both feel like less of a person because of Buffy. And that’s not necessarily her fault, either! Granted, Buffy should have been more open with Giles, but she’s so terribly busy balancing college life with the hectic life of the Slayer. At the same time, she can’t help that she’s so strong that she intimidates Riley. I’m sure she knows that she’s got way more power than Riley. I’m betting the thought probably crossed her mind. THIS IS JUST A GUESS.
And then Ethan Rayne. And then I laugh really hard when his evil monologue is interrupted by Giles. And then he and Giles get wasted and it is a damn treat to watch it. You can sense that the two were once close friends, and that perhaps if Ethan wasn’t a massive bigot, they could be friends again. Well, they won’t be, but that’s not the point. Ethan admits something to Giles that made my Season Four Mythology ears prick up: the Initiative are doing something that’s threatening the underworld, and it has to do with the number 314? What I understood from this conversation was that this might be the first introduction of the idea that the Initiative is not helping out, that there’s some ulterior motive to their studies. (Also, this is the first time I think it was spelled out that it’s a branch of the US Military, and not just some private endeavor. Stories about secret government agencies abusing their power? Sign me the fuck up.)
I also need to devote this entire paragraph to Tara and Willow. I do not understand what is going on with them. I am going to shortly abandon any and all attempts to call their relationship a “gay subtext” because this shit is on the surface now, and every time they hold hands, one of my homophobic bullies is magically punched in the face. I want it, and I want it right now. Willow/Tara for LIFE, I swear.
And we have now reached the moment when I spent nearly twenty minutes alternating between gasping with horror and laughing nervously in shock. Giles wakes up as a demon. Giles wakes up as a demon. Giles wakes up as a demon. There is never going to be a part of my body that does not think this is utter brilliance. You know, I wouldn’t even say that if it all hadn’t been done so fucking well, too. His make-up and prosthetics were weird enough that he was clearly a Fyarl demon, but we could still see bits of Giles left behind. On top of that, there are so many tiny details that realistically show us what a Fyarl Giles is like. Of course, Giles would misjudge his own strength. Despite that he has killed a few demons and vampires himself, I don’t think he considers his physical prowess to be his top quality. It’s all quite in-character that he would stomp out of the house (ripping the door off the hinges in the process), and then he’d try to talk Xander into believing him. Only Giles would try to talk through a massive, life-altering crisis. It’s so like him!
As funny as all of this is (XANDER THREW POTS AT GILES IT’S SUPER EFFECTIVE) (OH MY GOD SPIKE IS HELPING FOR JUST $200) (Giles’s car is literally one of the funniest things this show has ever done) (Giles chasing Professor Walsh made me laugh until I nearly cried) (I would watch a spin-off that was just Giles and Spike? I really would) (I’m pretty sure Anya has the best background facial expressions in the history of the universe, and next time you watch this episode, look at her face because it is perfect), there’s kind of a lonely sadness to Giles’s transformation into a Fyarl. He can’t communicate with the people he loves, and he’s left feeling helpless as he tries to figure out what to do. Even if he catches Ethan Rayne, the man could just say no. Plus, there’s an interesting conflict going on inside of him. He’s fighting this awful urge to destroy those around him because he’s now a demon. Does he give in to this side to fight Ethan? What’s he going to do if he is stuck as a demon?
When Buffy and Riley show up, things are about as terrible as they could be. Without Spike around to translate, there’s no way for Giles to communicate his identity. Even worse, as Buffy attacks him, the violent demon side in him comes out. Seriously, I actually think this is one of the coolest fights in the whole show, not just because it’s Buffy and Giles fighting (something I thought would never happen). It’s choreographed super well, too! I found myself touched, then, when it was the look in Fyarl Giles’s eyes that gave him away. Thankfully, the letter opener wasn’t real silver because I HAD A PANIC ATTACK WHEN BUFFY STABBED HIM. For me, it’s this huge moment between these two characters, both because Buffy has to face her feelings of guilt over how she’s treated Giles, and because it shows us all just how close they are. I think that’s why he ultimately brings up Ethan’s conversation from earlier to Buffy. Even if Professor Walsh insists that Buffy doesn’t have a father figure in her life, he’s still eager to play that role for her. He’s concerned about her relationship with Riley, and he just wants her to be safe.
I don’t know that Riley is aware of whatever is going on in room 314, and I bet that it will be a method of bringing about some sort of moral crisis for him. I can’t deny that he and Buffy have a fantastic chemistry, and it’s fascinating to me that their relationship is coming to be about how Riley feels like the one with less power, strength, and appeal. Still, the two of them are kind of into the idea that they’re both hunters of evil (and human, of course), and I’m totally ready to see them together more in the future.
What the fuck is in room 314, by the way?
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