"GOODBYE, IOWA." BtVS Episode.

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70 02/15/00 4014 Goodbye Iowa Marti Noxon David Solomon

On Buffyworld.com: Trailer, Summary, Transcript

On BuffyGuide.com: Goodbye Iowa

This season 4 episode sees Adam enter into action as the season’s Big Bad, and Riley’s crisis of confidence in his mission and the army (and implicitly, the American society) he serves. As the episode opens in Giles’s flat, Buffy reveals to the Scoobies that Maggie Walsh tried to have her killed (see the previous episode, ‘The I in Team’). Spike (who earlier came to Giles’s flat for help to remove the tracer signal with which he was shot by Initiative forces) raises the possibility that Riley was complicit in the attempted murder. He accuses Buffy of a ‘bleeding tragic taste in men’, reintroducing the theme of her problematic romantic relationships. Riley arrives and is shocked at not only Buffy’s accusations against Walsh but also the discovery of her protection of the missing Hostile 17 (Spike). Adam, meanwhile, immediately establishes his identity as the season’s Big Bad by murdering a friendly and trusting child in a scene highly reminiscent of James Whale’s film Frankenstein (1931). The Scooby Gang hide out in Xander’s basement from the Initiative soldiers. On hearing of the child’s death on the local news, Buffy goes out to investigate, presuming this to be the work of the Polgara demon that was captured in the previous episode and which has now supposedly escaped. She encounters Riley, who has learnt of Walsh’s death and has also argued with Forrest about his relationship with the Slayer. Forrest has accused Buffy of getting involved where she does not belong and then of Walsh’s murder. Riley is now suspicious of her, and the couple argue. Riley subsequently begins to undergo some sort of physical and mental breakdown. He confronts Buffy in Willy’s bar and threatens one of the clientele with a gun, saying that he is no longer sure who’s human and who is a demon. Back in Xander’s basement, Riley begins to shake and to scratch himself obsessively, saying that he no longer knows who the good guys are and that maybe he is the animal, the evil thing, that needs to be hunted.

Buffy and Xander break into the Initiative to try to find out what is making Riley ill: they discover that all the soldiers are receiving some sort of medication through their food. It is the unwitting withdrawal from this medication that is causing Riley’s physical condition. Riley himself learns from the Scoobies that Buffy has infiltrated the Initiative, and goes there to find her. As the couple begin to argue again, Adam arrives. He reveals he killed the child, and now he has come back to find out more about himself. When Dr. Angleman asks Adam to stand down, he replies that he has a design flaw (that implicitly means he will not respond to orders). Adam also refers to the special role Walsh had in mind for Riley, and to the fact that she looked on both Riley and Adam as brothers (a motif developed in more detail in ‘Primeval’). Buffy, Xander and the Initiative confront him for the first time, and are forcibly made aware of his immense power. All are bested and Adam escapes. Riley collapses and is taken away to hospital by Forrest and his team, after a hostile exchange between Forrest and Buffy. Buffy is not allowed into hospital to visit Riley, but he draws inner strength from her scarf which he grips as he lies in his hospital bed.


Interspersed with this main plot are two subplots. One features the developing relationship of Willow and Tara, when Willow arrives at Tara’s room in order to carry out a spell to locate all the demons in Sunnydale, including the Polgara demon mistakenly thought to be responsible for the child’s death. A mystery is set up when Tara deliberately sabotages the spell (we later discover in ‘Family’, season 5, that she fears she herself is a demon. It is arguable as to just how effective Willow’s spell would be anyway, given the high level of demon activity in Sunnydale). The other subplot involves Spike’s ongoing readjustment to life after being chipped by the Initiative. He still seeks to avoid capture by Initiative forces, and hides in a tomb when Forrest and Graham invade his crypt in search of the Polgara demon. However, his recently discovered ability to beat up demons (in ‘Doomed’) results in his violent ejection from Willy’s bar by the demon clientele, when he goes there for a drink.

Thematically, the episode explores the notion of ‘us and them’, and who ‘belongs’. Forrest perceives Buffy as someone who doesn’t belong in the Initiative, thinking of her as in infiltrator. This can be read in terms of women intruding inappropriately into the sphere and affairs of men: Forrest explicitly refers to Buffy as ‘a female getting into places and things where she don’t belong’. The notion of infiltration also implies racial infiltration, a theme underscored throughout season 4 in the idea of mixing demons and humans to create a super-race. Forrest’s reference to Buffy as a ‘supernatural freak’ aligns her with the demon worlds, while the Initiative represents the human law and order of the USA: it also suggests his fear of supernatural infiltration. It is notable that Forrest, in particular, reiterates his perception of demons as nothing but animals. This suggests a fear of and paranoia about the Other that is overtly linked to a US government experimental programme. It is also worth noting that this fear and hatred of the other is seen in reverse with Spike’s comment that Forrest and his colleagues are also animals (when they smash his TV). The theme is nonetheless worked out primarily through Riley’s increasing loss of the sense of ‘us and them’, which he links explicitly with a sense of right and wrong. His disorientation occurs from the very beginning of the episode, when he discovers that the woman he loved and trusted protects vampires, and that the woman he admired tried to have his girlfriend killed. Having subsequently discovered that the government forces he works for may be as threatening as the demons he hunts, wonders who he should be hunting down, and who the good guys really are. The pressures arising from this inability to distinguish who is good and who is bad leads him to aim a gun at a client leaving Willie’s bar, remarking that if he shoots he does not know if the result would be a dead human being or ‘one pissed-off vampire’. He then immediately cracks up both mentally and physically. He subsequently tells Buffy: ‘I don’t know […] who the bad guys are. Maybe I’m the bad guy. Maybe I’m the thing you should kill’. Riley no longer knows whose side he is on. His increasing loss of a sense of belonging is paralleled (in a more comic vein) by Spike, who has himself lost a place to belong to. He loathes the Scoobies (who have shown him a certain level of nurture and protection if not friendship), but he no longer belongs to the evil, demon side either. The demons do not want him to be where they are.

The loss of a sense of belonging, and of self and other, is bound up with questions about who to trust. Riley’s faith in Buffy is shaken from the very beginning of the episode, when he discovers that she and the Scoobies have been protecting Spike or Hostile 17. Admittedly, Buffy does not seem to come up with a very good explanation as to why the Scoobies let Spike wander round freely. Indeed, why don’t the Scoobies dispatch Spike? The answer is implicit in Buffy and Riley’s different labels for Spike. While Riley reduces Spike to a number, Buffy calls him by name, suggesting knowledge and familiarity with this vampire as an individual who can lay claim to some rights, even though he is regarded (and insists on regarding himself) as evil. As Willow said previously in ‘Doomed’ when she and Xander saved him from suicide, they know him now. Riley at this stage does not know Spike as an individual entity at all. This initial shock for Riley makes it that much easier for him to half believe Forrest’s accusation that Buffy murdered Walsh, since the latter died from a stab would made with something resembling a stake. (The actual ‘weapon’ used was the long, sharp barb from the Polgara demon that Maggie attached to Adam). When Buffy meets Riley at the scene of the child’s death, he suggests that she must now be happy to know that Walsh is dead. Buffy reacts angrily to such a suggestion.  But at this point, Riley has aligned Buffy with his enemy: she has now come to represent part of the problem he is there to tackle, since she apparently sides with demons and vampires and opposed a woman who had in many senses become a mother to him (a fact to which Adam explicitly draws attention). What seems to prevent him from lapsing into the outright hostility that Forrest shows throughout the episode and beyond, is his love for Buffy, though this is only implicit.

But on the other hand, the episode equally raises the question of how far law and order and the American military and government are to be trusted. Indeed, this is the question raised first, in the episode’s opening scene when Spike voices what the Scoobies seem to be thinking: did Riley participate in the plot to kill Buffy? The episode also explores the implications of a US government-sponsored project to develop a race of super-warriors: we should not forget that Adam was designed by top US scientists, who presumably used money from American taxpayers. When Adam speaks of his design flaw that means he will not obey the orders of his creators, he implicitly critiques the entire project as flawed. This takes us back again to the Frankenstein theme: the plot of Mary Shelley’s original novel takes issue with the idea of science (represented by the scientist Victor Frankenstein) trying to gain ascendancy over nature, which results in abominations such as Frankenstein’s creature. Adam’s hint that Riley himself has been mechanically manipulated – saying that Riley cannot kill him because he has not been programmed to – taps into both this fear and the fear of anonymous institutional authority. Riley acts with understandable revulsion to Adam’s suggestion but it will turn out that Adam is right. In ‘Primeval’ Riley discovers that Walsh embedded a computer chip into his body, which Adam now uses to control him. Riley can only stop this by ripping out the chip from his body, thus doing violence to himself.

Another theme of the episode is Buffy’s ongoing relationship problems, introduced when Spike refers to her former involvement with Angel (who turned evil as a result) and her one-night-stand with Parker. (This comment might have come back to haunt Spike, given his own subsequent relationship with the Slayer, particularly in seasons 6 and 7). Buffy herself refers to the difficulties she has in establishing a ‘normal relationship’. Anya agrees, arguing that she should find somebody ordinary like Xander (but then insists that Buffy cannot have Xander. The later hostility between Anya and Willow which becomes overt in season 5, is here prefigured briefly when Willow rolls her eyes at Anya’s remarks). Buffy agrees with Anya in principle, but says that it is already too late, as she is now far too committed to Riley to back out so easily. Although Buffy and Riley’s relationship seems to come out of the episode stronger, the issues that caused the conflict will prove not to go away that easily. They resurface as early as ‘New Moon Rising’ in season 4, when Riley has to come to terms with the idea that a werewolf is also a human (Oz) and thus deserves better treatment that he gets from the Initiative. Then in season 5, Riley’s whole sense of right and wrong becomes so blurred that he indulges in ‘suck jobs’ in a vampire brothel, and eventually goes back to join the army that he left, leaving Buffy behind. Eventually, their relationship does not survive this dilemma over who is good, who is evil, and where demons and vampires should be placed in this spectrum.

--Ann Davies