The Initiative (Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode)

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"The Initiative"
Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode
Episode no. Season 4
Episode 7
Directed by James A. Contner
Written by Doug Petrie
Production code 4ABB07
Original air date November 16, 1999
Guest appearance(s)
Episode chronology
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"Wild at Heart"
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Buffy the Vampire Slayer (season 4)
List of Buffy the Vampire Slayer episodes

"The Initiative" is the seventh episode of season 4 of the television show Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Written by Doug Petrie and directed by James A. Contner, it originally aired on November 16, 1999 on the WB network. In "The Initiative", Spike is imprisoned in an underground demon-research facility, and Riley realizes he has a crush on Buffy.


Riley and a couple of friends, Forest and Graham, watch Buffy as she manages to make a mess of the soda machine and yogurt machine. They comment on what a catch she is, and how interested they all are, but Riley is reluctant to make fun.

Giles and Xander discover the commando guys are human and that their help will not be needed, again. Buffy arrives and while Giles tells her to patrol, she says she's going to party with Willow and hopefully cheer her up. Giles and Xander decided to patrol for her.

Spike, having been knocked out by a Taser at the beginning of the previous episode, wakes up in a facility where various types of demons are held captive behind electrically charged barriers. A packet of blood drops from the ceiling into Spike's cell but before he drinks it, a vampire in the next cell - Tom, captured in "The Freshman" - warns him that doctors starve the vampires and then feed them drugged blood before doing experiments on them. Spike is quick to blame the Slayer for his misfortune.

In class, Willow asks about Oz but Riley says he dropped out. After Willow tries to tell him that Oz will return, Professor Walsh informs her that he won't be back to her class, whereupon Willow abruptly leaves, saddened. Buffy approaches the professor, and tells her off, prompting Walsh to comment to Riley that she likes her.

Forrest asks Parker about Buffy, and when Parker vulgarly brags about having sex with her, Riley punches him. Riley then realizes he likes Buffy. He visits Willow and asks her advice in wooing Buffy; Willow, still emotionally distressed, questions his motives, but eventually relents, listing some of Buffy's likes and interests.

Spike lies on the floor of his cell, pretending to have drunk the drugged blood, and when the doctors come to get him he attacks. He escapes the Initiative and returns to Harmony's lair, telling her he's "back for good" - then immediately leaves to kill the Slayer. Xander later discovers Harmony crying, burning some of Spike's things. The two get into an inept slap-fight, and then mutually agree to stop. Harmony lets Xander know that Spike is back.

At the party, Willow tries to help Riley flirt with Buffy, but his attempts are thwarted when Xander arrives to inform Buffy that Spike has returned. Riley is also called away; he and Forest break away from the party and, after passing through several electronic checkpoints, go down a hidden elevator to the underground facility where Spike had been held. The operation's head, Professor Walsh, informs them that "Hostile 17" (Spike) has escaped, and the guys suit up. Riley gives orders to three teams that he sends out all over Sunnydale to find Spike.

Riley's team spots Buffy sitting on a bench. Riley refuses to allow the team to use her as bait and goes out to get rid of her. Each unaware of the other's secret identity, Riley and Buffy try to send each other out of harm's way.

Meanwhile, Spike has found Buffy's dorm through the school computer system. Willow, moping in her room, hears a knock on the door and invites the person in without thinking. Spike swaggers through the door and attempts to bite Willow, but is stopped by an intense pain in his head. After a short, calm dialogue with multiple metaphorical references to impotence (ex: "I know I'm not the kind of girl vamps like to sink their teeth into. It's always like 'Ooh, you're like a sister to me,' or 'Oh, you're such a good friend.'" "Don't be ridiculous. I'd bite you in a heartbeat."), Willow hits him with a lamp and runs out just as Riley and friends cut the power and then work their way up to the dorm room. They capture Spike but, while they consider whether to take Willow or not, Spike breaks free. Buffy arrives and fights Riley and his friends while Spike manages to escape through a window. Unable to make out the identity of their attacker, Riley orders them to retreat.

Professor Walsh is not happy with what happened or with Riley's report on the event. It is revealed that Spike cannot harm a human without feeling pain in his head thanks to an implant they placed there. Riley catches up with Buffy and they talk. Buffy tells him he's a little peculiar, a term used by Riley before he realized he liked Buffy, and he responds that he can "live with that".

Production details

The vast set for the Initiative, revealed for the first time in this episode, was filmed at a Skunk Works facility, in a location where stealth aircraft have previously been manufactured. When describing the set, writer Doug Petrie said he was told by Whedon to "go big. Use your imagination. Do it, go there. This is a big budget movie."[1]

In the commentary for this episode, Douglas Petrie reveals that after Spike attacks Willow in her dorm room and the scene immediately cuts to commercial after a fleeting glimpse of the corridor outside with people who fail to hear Willow's screams, he wanted viewers to believe that Willow had actually been killed.

Actress Mercedes McNab says the hair-pulling, shin-kicking fight with Xander was "actually one of my favorite on-screen fights." When asked if she had a stunt double, she responded "No, it was all me", but "we wore knee pads and shin guards... which was kind of ridiculous seeing it was just such a cheesy fight."[2]

Cultural references

  • Both Spike and Riley saying that they "Had to see about a girl" may be a reference to the final line of Good Will Hunting.
  • When Xander sees Harmony burning Spike's belongings, one of the items is a Sex Pistols CD.
  • Buffy, holding a flare gun, imitates the "Dodge this" scene from The Matrix, which was released earlier that year.
  • While Buffy & Riley are talking in the park, she says, "Who died and made you John Wayne?"
  • While getting ready to go on patrol with Giles, Xander says, "I put the semper in semper fi." Semper fi is the motto of the U.S. Marine Corps


  • While captive, Spike asks a fellow prisoner who their captors are, specifically asking if "the government" or "the Nazis" are involved. It is later revealed in "Why We Fight" that during World War II Spike was captured by Nazis who intended to make an army of vampire slaves to win the war. Ironically, in that same episode, Spike claimed, "I'm not getting experimented on by his (the American) government."
  • Xander mentions that he obtained his weapons and gear "back when he was military guy," a reference to the season 2 episode, "Halloween"

Arc significance

  • The existence of the Initiative is established.
  • This episode marks the first of many references to Spike as a neutered animal, or an impotent man, now that he has the Initiative-installed inhibitor chip in his brain. Their entire conversation is filled with euphemisms and double entendres, and ends with Willow tries to comfort Spike after he tries unsuccessfully to bite her, telling him they could "try again in half an hour."
  • This episode marks the second time that Willow sits next to a distraught Spike on a bed and tries to comfort him; the first time is when Spike returns to Sunnydale in Season 3 and kidnaps her to perform a love spell. He threatens and menaces her, but then sits next to her and they discuss the pain of his breakup. From now on, they develop a sort of friendship and mutual understanding, as we see farther.
  • With this episode, James Marsters (Spike) replaces Seth Green (Oz) in the opening credits.
  • Willow's words to Riley come true in "Into the Woods", where Riley leaves Sunnydale and Buffy.
  • Oz's full name, Daniel Osborne, is mentioned for the first and only time.
  • This episode marks the first appearance of Forest and Graham, Riley's teammates in the Initiative, and the final appearance of Parker Abrams.


  1. ^ "BBC Interview with Doug Petrie: Buffy producer's inside guide". Retrieved 2007-07-20.
  2. ^ "BBC Interview with Mercedes McNab: Girl-fight fun". Retrieved 2007-07-20.

External links

  • "The Initiative" on IMDb
  • "The Initiative" at
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