Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Season 4 Episode 7

The Initiative

Aired Tuesday 8:00 PM Nov 16, 1999 on The WB
out of 10
User Rating
539 votes

By TV.com Users

Episode Summary


Having been captured by the commandos who have been lurking around campus, Spike is being held hostage in a high-tech prison-like facility. He manages to escape and heads to find Buffy, whom he assumes is responsible. Instead he finds the helpless Willow.

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  • This is a solid episode which really manages to get the seasonal arc moving.

    We're introduced to the Initiative, we discover Spike can't harm any living creature anymore, we find out Riley and Walsh are both heavily involved with the initiative, and we see Riley making his first romantic moves on Buffy. The title, "The Initiative," means two different things. There's the obvious, but Riley is also taking the romantic 'initiative' with Buffy. Much of the episode is centered around introducing us to both of these threads. It's also interesting to note that while Buffy does initiate contact with Riley, she really isn't a large part of the episode. The focus is really on Riley and Spike's attempts of connecting with Buffy, in their own unique ways.

    There are a lot of abrupt scene changes that really work perfectly here. The first is when the Initiative boys are talking about how hot Buffy is. Forrest says, "I bet a lot of guys would like to get their hands on The scene then quickly changes to Spike on the ground saying, "Slayer... I'll kill you. Not so tough. I... Kill Another instance is when Spike, trapped in the Initiative, overhears that the Slayer is likely somehow related to why he's trapped there. He assumes that the Slayer is responsible and says "I always worried what would happen when that bitch got some funding. She's wised up a bit. Fine! I'll take her apart. I don't care how brilliant she Then the scene abruptly cuts to Buffy in class having a really hard time with her ballpoint pen. Yet another instance of this happening is when Riley admits his attraction to Buffy and tells his friends, "Well, I guess I'm gonna go see a The scene quickly changes back to Spike who, while trying to escape, tells the labcoats, "Sorry, can't stay. Got to go see a

    Riley and Spike are both after the same thing here: Buffy. Riley wants to establish a relationship with her while Spike, at least on the outside, wants to kill her. I'm going to focus on Riley and the Initiative first, though, which both come across as frequently hammy. Riley's "I guess I like her" speech is an example of this. He really does rub off as so nice that there's got to be something wrong with him. However, when he punches Parker out for saying that Buffy is too whiney, I can't help but love the guy for it. His attempts at gaining information on Buffy are also very well-intended.

    Riley and Spike both go looking for Buffy in her dorm and find Willow there instead. At first Riley doesn't win Willow over in their very interesting conversation. She says, "Why should I trust you?" He replies, "Just sort of hoping you'd think I have an honest She uses recent experiences to shoot him down: "I've seen honest faces before. They usually come attached to He is sympathetic and says, "I appreciate you wanting to protect your friend. I guess, uh, she kind of brings that out in Riley, of course, observed Buffy stick up for Willow when Professor Walsh was overly cruel to her. Before he leaves the room Willow begins to feel like her pain is robbing Buffy a chance to meet someone new, and that that isn't fair to her. So she opens up a bit and gives Riley a bone. She says, "She likes cheese ... She has a stuffed piggy named Mr. Gordo, loves ice capades without the Cheese rules all.

    Later on at the party Willow helps Riley approach Buffy, but all he can think of is to offer her some cheese. This doesn't go over too well and ends with Buffy running off with a very poorly dressed Xander. At the end of the episode, when Riley gets another shot, he makes some progress by asking, "Did Willow tell you I like cheese?" Buffy calls him peculiar, which is what Riley called her earlier and he says "I can live with I sure know that if a pretty girl walked up to me offering cheese that I'd be pretty happy. So I'm very pleased that cheese won the day in this situation.

    The Initiative, what Riley is a part of, gets a solid introduction here, even if it comes off as very hammy for a secret military group. I love their big hanger bay and the Initiative theme song. It's also fun to see that Professor Walsh is the one running the show. She's actually a pretty fascinating character, which makes me wonder why she got killed off so quickly. More on that when the time comes though. The fight scene towards the end also worked for me. I enjoyed the complete chaos of it, what with Willow trying to crawl away, Riley saving her, Spike trying to escape, and Buffy firing a flare gun and laying the hurt on the military boys. The commandos should have been far more beaten up by Buffy than they were though. I only wish that this arc would have been developed sooner than six episodes from now.

    A lot of stuff is going on with Spike here as well. He now has the chip in his head and begins the process of learning what that means for him. The chip comes off as pretty inconsistent in this episode though. He's able to lay several blows on various people without his head exploding in pain. The only time we outright see him have problems is when he tries to bite people. This is changed in the following episodes. Anyway, this was a really smart move by the writers. This gives him an excuse to be a regular on the show and allows his character to be developed in new areas. A scene in particular which I adore is when he violently attacks Willow in her dorm. This is very brutal and feels very much like a rape scene. After the break, though, we see that Spike can't bite her. A brutal scenes now turns into an impotence parody and the two of them pull it off hilariously. Spike even points out that back in "Lover's Walk" when Willow was wearing the pink lilac sweater he wanted to bite her. Willow tries to be kind and tells him, "You know, this doesn't make you any less Spike amusingly replies, "Don't patronize The truth of the matter is that Spike isn't terrifying anymore. It will be a little while until he finds out that he has other ways of inflicting damage.

    Xander and Giles get some fun bonding time again. Boy these two are really at a really pathetic place right now. Early on we see them doing research alone together. Xander's so bored that he, in jest, suggests they summon a demon and "kick its The writers also firmly establish that Xander's military skill is completely gone. I'm personally happy about this, because there really needs to be someone in the group who has no special knowledge or skills. He claims he still has good hand-to-hand skills and then later has a slap fight with Harmony. This moment has to constitute a new low point for his character's ego. Wow was that both pathetic and hilarious.

    To finish up here I'll say that this is a strong episode which covers a lot of important ground. Some of it came across as a bit hammy and lightweight for the main arc of the season, but fun was definitely had. When pitted against the arc-initiator episodes from other seasons we can see that this one definitely lacks the same intensity and punch. It's certainly a solid start, though, which leaves me interested for more.moreless
  • "Ever think I'm gunna take you home?"

    Great way to reveal the Initiative! I love that RIley and Maggie Walsh are both high up in the commando

    s league; it's a good way to introduce new characters into the scoobie gang. Although, I'm not a fan of Walsh, I do love Riley. All in all, good plot, and fun scenes with Riley/Buffy and Spike/Willow.
  • The War on Demons

    The Good;

    So at last the truth! The Initiative set is indeed impressive and Spike's escape is daring, he's almost like Jaws in the Bond films, the audience starts rooting for him even when he's the bad guy. The fights also good and the Harmony/Spike scenes and Harmony/Xander scene is wonderful

    The Bad;

    Not a great deal, strong ep

    Best line;

    Buffy (to Walsh); "For someone who teaches human behaviour you might try showing some"


    Buff uses a flare gun, odd to see her using a firearm of any kind. The Initiative seem to have more guns than NATO.

    Tied up;

    Spike tied up but escapes.

    Knocked out;

    Willow in the struggle with Riley and co.

    Women good/men bad;

    The horrible scene where we think Spike is killing Willow. Of course, she then fights back, You go girl! Contrast that to Harmony who takes Spike back AGAIN after all he's done to her. She asks Xander why men just leave but of course by that stage Xander already has. Buffy is outraged at Riley's seeming chauvanism towards her. Parker's remark about Buffy is unforgiveable although maybe he has a right to be bitter, he did try to apologise to her only for her to bash him over the head with a branch.


    Walsh's remark to Willow about Oz is very harsh. For a moment your heart is in your mouth when you think Willow is lying dead behind Spike on the bed.

    Kinky dinky;

    Buffy describes her top as 'slutty' but I don't think it is particularly. Unlike her top on the cafeteria which you can blatantly see down when she trips. Forrest eyes up the women in the cafeteria, the first blonde girl in the floral number in particular is undeniably HOT! Parker describes Buffy as 'Bunny in the sack'. You figure she must have gone easy on him? Forrest figures that Buffy and Xander are on their way to have 'Crazy naked sex'. Harmony comments that she can 'slap Spike around' a little if he likes it. Buffy dancing is also good although she's better with Faith.

    Calling Captain Subtext;

    Doug Petrie describes the Initiative boys as a 'gay calender pin-up' and he's not wrong, you can imagine Jack from Will&Grace having it on his wall. Petrie seems very keen on Marc Blucas in his commentary although he was equally as keen on the Faith/Buffy sapphic subtext.

    The whole Spike/Willow scene is one big impotence gag. Once again a vamp feeding is compared to a sexual act. Harmony comments that Buffy is just going to slap Spike around and that she can do that. Is that why Spike falls in love with the Slayer? When Spike finds Buffy on the computer he says 'Hello gorgeous". Hmmmmm. Will still has some insecurity left over from her wallflower days.

    Guantanamo Bay;

    The whole idea of the Initiative is very 'War on Terror', it resembles Camp X-ray to a T. Of course this all takes place BEFORE 9/11

    Scoobies to the ER;

    Thankfully not this week

    Questions and observations;

    Spike likes the Sex Pistols, big suprise. Buffy likes cheese, a leftover from her day as a rat? Here we have Spike in the opening credits hinting that he's a regular from now on (by contrast it took poor old Tara 3 seasons to get there and she only lasted 1 ep). Giles comments that he should lock his door. Spike refers to the Nazis conducting experiments on vamps which we'll see in 'Why we Fight'. Xander refers to the mobile infantry from Starship Troopers, Riley not unlike Johnny Rico in many ways. Spike is 126 which means he was born in 1873, making him a late Victorian (Angel is over 200 making him a Georgian). Note Doug Petrie named Grahme Miller after a Canadian friend of his and that it's Grahme who suggests that Buffy might be a little off because she's Canadian. Spike seems to use significant violence during his escape but maybe the chip hasn't really kicked in yet? Riley' shirt makes him look like he's from Star Trek.

    Marks out of 10; 8/10

  • Sexist writing, unbelievable plot and a wasted opportunity to kill one of the deadliest vampires in Sunnydale.

    The writer of this episode is so sexist. From the camera work in the first scene to the conversation between the College boys and especially what Parker says about Buffy and freshman girls on campus. I would have thought that Parker would have been more careful how he spoke about Buffy after getting knocked out by her twice or possibly had a bit more respect after she saved his life in the last episode. I found it so unrealistic for someone (like Riley) to go to Willows room and close the door behind him and start talking to Willow to find out about Buffy and to ask if she also liked him. Maybe if they were 12 years old you could believe it. Season 4 has really had the sexual references and scenes increased this is probably the first episode from the season that didn't have a sex scene in it so the writer had to replace it with crass humour. Over all the acting and dialog was really bad and I wonder if the actors just didn't really feel like trying after reading the poor script. I know it was just supposed to be funny but I found it stupid how Willow was talking to Spike after he tried to kill her and saying things like ,"maybe try again in half an hour". (another implied sexual reference) she should have picked up a pencil with her magic skills and dusted him. She hates Spike because he has hurt Buffy many times, he has helped torture Giles helped torture Angel he is to blame for Cordelia almost dieing when he kept her prisoner in the old factory. He is a murdering vampire and he was sitting on the bed with his back to her very vulnerable. After all Willow said the reason she was not going to Harvard , Yale or Oxford Uni was to stay in Sunnydale and fight evil.

    There were some good plot developments like explaining the initiative and the chip in Spike's head.moreless
  • Maybe the best episode that involves The Initiative.

    The Initiative is my least favorite "Big Bad". I'm sure most people probably feel the same. This seasons only real fault if you ask me. Don't get me wrong. I don't dislike the the idea of the The Initiative, just the execution. Willows continues to grieve over Oz leaving. Meanwhile, the Buffy and Riley relationship starts to develop. Riley seeks Willows help in courting Buffy, but because of what has just happened to her, Willow is reluctant. Spike, who was captured by The Initiative earlier in the season escapes. He needs a place to stay, so he looks towards Harmony. He wants revenge on Buffy, so he heads over to her dorm and finds Willow instead. In an attempt to feed on her he discovers that something has been done to him in The Initiative that keeps him from being able to harm people.

    Let's also not forget one of the most Epic battles in the history of the show happens in this episode... Xander vs. Harmony...lol.moreless
Mace Lombard

Mace Lombard


Guest Star

Scott Becker

Scott Becker

Lost Freshman

Guest Star

Marc Blucas

Marc Blucas

Riley Finn

Recurring Role

Mercedes McNab

Mercedes McNab


Recurring Role

Adam Kaufman

Adam Kaufman

Parker Abrams

Recurring Role

Trivia, Notes, Quotes and Allusions


  • TRIVIA (12)

    • The Initiative beginning when Spike mentions the Nazis is more than likely because in the episode "Why We Fight" on season 5 of Angel during WW2 he was drugged by the SS.

    • Goof: After Harmony and Xander have their cat-fight, Harmony lights a match to throw onto Spike's things. While she is talking to Xander the match burns out, but in the next shot the match is still lit, as she throws it onto Spike's things.

    • The vampire that warns Spike about the drugged blood is the vampire that was captured at the end of the episode "The Freshman".

    • Nitpick: When the Initiative scientists are taking Spike out of his cell the empty blood packet can be seen. Spike didn't drink the blood as he's only faking being unconscious. The cell has no toilet or sink, and there isn't a drain in the floor. It's not clear what Spike did with the blood.

    • Nitpick: When Graham is scanning the various body temperatures, they're ALL 98.6°, except for Spike. While 98.6° is roughly average, peoples' temperatures will vary by a degree or two as a matter of course; the chances of finding three people all at exactly 98.6° is pretty slim. Then, when he gets to Spike, Spike reads 62.3°, which Graham announces is "exactly room temperature". First, there's no such thing as "exactly room temperature", as different standards put it at different temperatures, typically varying from 68 to 77° Fahrenheit. Second, a temperature of 62.3° would be noticeably cool, and would not be considered a normal room temperature, much less "exactly room temperature".

    • Goof: Spike and the other vampire cast reflections in the glass of the Initiative's holding cells.

    • Goof: Spike states that he is 126, yet in the season 2 episode "School Hard" Giles says that he is "barely 200." Also in the upcoming episode "Fool for Love" we learn that Spike was sired in 1880. If he were 126 in the year 2000 it would mean that he was 6 years old when he was sired, yet he appears to be between the ages of 25-30.

    • Goof: At the beginning of the episode when Spike is in his cell and the camera pans to show a never ending row of cells, you can see the mirror used to make this effect possible.

    • Nitpick: Giles' drawing of the commando guy was pretty good, but a few weeks later, in "Hush", his drawings of the Gentlemen are a little less as artistic. It's the same thing with the drawingss he made for Chao-Ahn in season seven's "First Date". How'd he go from so good... to not-so-good?

    • Nitpicks: Maggie Walsh calls a Code Red and reports that Hostile 17 (Spike) escaped at 2:47 pm, yet she did not call Riley's team until many hours later. Also, she uses regular time rather than the military 24 hour clock.

    • Nitpick: If Spike has had a chip in his head since before he woke up, a chip that prevents him from harming humans, how was he able to fight his way out of the Initiative? Throughout the episode, Spike actually does a good deal of fighting without the chip going off, not just when he escapes the lab, but also when the soldier boys try to bag him in the dorm and he tosses them around. It only really goes off when he tries to bite people. A possible, albeit weak, explanation is offered near the end of the episode, when Riley is reporting in. He says that "Hostile 17 can't harm any living creature...". The key word there being "harm". The possibility of at least hurting someone seems to be confirmed as expected behaviour, when Riley continues with "...can't hardly even hit any more." If he couldn't hurt any living creature, then hitting would be unexpected; but if the limitation is harm, then hitting would still be possible.

    • Goof: When Spike has Willow against the wall in her dorm room, he vamps his face out. At this point, when Spike has his back to the camera, his coat collar is up, but down when it's facing him, and so on as the camera cuts back and forth a couple of times.

  • QUOTES (20)

    • Riley: You know... I wanted to ask you something.
      Buffy: Ask away.
      (Xander runs in, interrupting them.)
      Xander: Buffy! I've been looking all over for you. We need... Need to talk, uh, not here. It's sort of... Unfinished business.
      Buffy: Business? Right. Um, excuse us?
      Riley: No problem.
      (Forrest walks up)
      Forrest: Denied.
      Riley: It's not like she blew me off. She just left with another guy, that's all.
      Forrest: We need you downstairs, anyway. You know, I hate to say it, but they're probably on their way to make crazy naked sex.

    • Spike: I don't understand. This sort of thing's never happened to me before.
      Willow: Maybe you were nervous.
      Spike: I felt all right when I started. Let's try again.
      (He tries, but he can't do it.)
      Spike: Damn it!
      Willow: Maybe you're trying too hard. Doesn't this happen to every vampire?
      Spike: Not to me, it doesn't!
      Willow: It's me, isn't it?
      Spike: What are you talking about?
      Willow: Well, you came looking for Buffy, then settled. You didn't want to bite me, I just happened to be around.
      Spike: Piffle.
      Willow: I know I'm not the kind of girl vamps like to sink their teeth into. It's always like, "Oh, you're like a sister to me," or, "Oh, you're such a good friend."
      Spike: Don't be ridiculous. I'd bite you in a heartbeat.
      Willow: Really?

    • Riley: Did Willow tell you I like cheese?
      Buffy: You're a little peculiar.
      Riley: I can live with that.

    • Riley: The problem is, what kind of girl is going to go out with a guy who's acting all Joe-regular by day, and then turns all demon-hunter by night?
      Graham: Maybe a peculiar one.

    • Willow: Okay, she's wearing the halter-top with the sensible shoes, that means mostly dancing, light contact, but don't push your luck. Heavy conversation's out of the question.
      Riley: So what do I do?
      Willow: Ask her to dance.
      Riley: Right, dance. Wait, no.
      Willow: What's the matter?
      Riley: I can't dance.
      Willow: Then, talk. Keep eye contact. Funny is good, but don't be glib. And remember, if you hurt her, I will beat you to death with a shovel. A vague disclaimer is nobody's friend. Have fun!

    • Riley: (about Buffy) Well, I guess I like her.
      Forrest: You're kind of like a moron.
      Riley: So, you... you knew that I had feelings for her?
      Graham: Everybody knows, man.
      Forrest: Oh, she's peculiar? Dead giveaway, buddy.
      Riley: I'm always the last to know.

    • Spike: Forever and ever, mon petite creme brulee.
      Harmony: Ooh, Italian!

    • Buffy: Stupid pen. (she ruins her notes) My notes!
      Willow: Ballpoints can be tricky.

    • Spike: (about Buffy) I always worried what would happen when that bitch got some funding.

    • Riley: There's definitely something off about her.
      Graham: Maybe she's Canadian.

    • Forrest: Check her out. Is she hot, or is she HOT?
      Riley: She's Buffy.
      Forrest: Buffy? I like that. The girl's so hot, she's Buffy.
      Riley: It's her name, Forrest.

    • Willow: Any reaction is okay... except projectile vomiting...but what are the chances of tha...(stops and listens to the 'Dingoes' song that is playing)

    • Riley: I was just hoping you thought I had an honest face.
      Willow: I've seen honest faces - they usually come attached to liars.

    • Riley: I'm thinking 'how 'bout them Broncos?' won't really cut it.
      Willow: Okay, say that I help and you start a conversation. It goes great. You like Buffy. She likes you. You spend time together. Feelings grow deeper and one day, without even realizing it, you find you're in love. Time stops, and it feels like the world is made for you two and you two alone. Until the day one of you rips the still-beating heart from the other, who's now a mockery of the human condition.
      Riley: (looks stupid for a second) Yep, that's the plan.
      Willow: I figured it was.

    • Xander: No studying? Damn! next thing you'll tell me I have to eat jelly doughnuts or sleep with a supermodel to get things done around here. I ask you how much can one man give?!

    • Buffy: You know, for someone who teaches human behavior, you might try showing some.
      Walsh: It's not my job to coddle my students.
      Buffy: You're right. A human being in pain has nothing to do with your job. (Buffy walks away)
      Walsh: I like her.

    • Xander: I'm warning you, I've been highly trained to put this through your heart. No mercy, no warning.
      Harmony: I can kill you where you stand.
      Xander: Bring it on, then.

    • Harmony: I am so gonna bite you!

    • Xander: Every man faces that moment, here, now, watching, waiting for an unseen enemy that has no face, nerve endings, screaming and silence, never knowing which thought might be your last...
      Giles: Oh... shut up!

    • Xander: Take this.
      Buffy: A flare gun? Xander, if I find Spike I'm staking him not signaling ships at sea.

  • NOTES (9)

    • It is confirmed that vampires do not generate body heat (the Initiative's heat sensor clocked Spike in at 62.3 degrees Fahrenheit).

    • It seems that all of the names in the list of Stevenson Hall residents which Spike looks at are real — most of them have listings at IMDb, and some of them work for Buffy, including Jeff Pruitt (Stunt Coordinator), David Solomon (Co-Producer), and Lisa Rosenberg (Hair Stylist).

    • The Initiative Headquarters is under Lowell House, which is the house where Riley lives (and probably at least some of the other commando guys); the house is presumably on campus.

    • It looks like Buffy and Willow kept Kathy's CD player (shown prominently in "Living Conditions").

    • We hear the voice of Xander's mother for the first time, calling down to him from upstairs, though we still do not see her until the "Hell's Bells" episode in season 6.

    • In the U.K., Seth Green's name still remains in the opening credits until the next episode, James Marsters isn't credited at all in this episode.

    • In this episode we learn Oz's full name: Daniel Osborne. Willow lets it slip when she asks Riley about Oz not being called during role call.

    • From this episode James Marsters replaces Seth Green in the opening titles cast line-up.

    • We learn Buffy and Willow do live on the second floor, as their room number implies.


    • Spike's treatment is very similar to the 1971 film A Clockwork Orange based on the novel of the same name by Anthony Burgess. The story follows a young man who ruthlessly rapes and assaults strangers until he is given "the Ludovico treatment" which renders him unable to harm anyone without feeling physically ill, just like Spike feeling pain whenever he tries to hurt others.

    • Buffy: Who died and made you John Wayne?
      John Wayne was the stage name of Marion Michael Morrison (1907-1979), who is a genuine icon of 20th century American film. Famed as a star of westerns, he also played cops and soldiers with regularity. Wayne nearly always played the same character: a big, tough but sensitive hero who talked straight and met the bad guys head on.

    • Willow: Loves Ice Capades, without the irony.

      The Ice Capades were a traveling entertainment show featuring theatrical performances involving ice skating. Ice Capades shows were extremely popular for several decades, virtually a household name, although criticized by some as kitsch. Shows would often feature former Olympic figure skaters that had retired from amateur competition.

    • Xander: Might as well face it. Right now I don't have the technical skills to join the Swiss Army. And all those guys ask you to do is uncork a couple of sassy cabernets.

      A Swiss Army knife is a multifunction hand tool. Generally, a Swiss Army knife sports a blade as well as various tools, such as screwdrivers, wine screws, and can openers.
      Xander jokes that all the Swiss Army does is to use their knives to uncork bottles of wine because of Switzerland's position of neutrality.

    • Xander: How about this? We whip out the Ouija board...
      A Ouija board is a board marked with letters, numbers and a few words. People rest their fingers on the planchette, ask the board a question, and the planchette will move around indicating the answer. This is how people try to communicate with spirits.

    • Harmony: Like I'd listen to the Sex Pistols, ew.
      The Sex Pistols is a British punk rock band, led by Johnny Rotten and originated in the 1970s (though they're still putting out albums). Spike was listening to one of their songs (sung by Gary Oldman from the soundtrack of Sid & Nancy) in "Lover's Walk".

    • Xander: I put the Semper in Semper Fi.
      Semper Fi is an abbreviation for the Latin semper fidelis, which is the motto for the U.S. Marine Corps meaning "always faithful".