I will admit I haven't been completely understanding of Riley's (Marc Blucas) state of mind this season, as his behaviour toward Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar) has struck me as odd and unwarranted... so perhaps my brain's wired more like the titular Slayer, who came to realise her relationship with her boyfriend's been slowly crumbling for awhile now. Marti Noxon's "INTO THE WOODS" was one of the better character studies this season, and certainly managed to explain the mindset of both Riley and Buffy.
After receiving good news that her mother's "out of the woods" after a successful operation to remove her brain tumour, the life that Buffy's been putting on hold for awhile started to fall apart... with a little help from Spike (James Marsters), who took great delight in leading Buffy to the vampire nest her boyfriend's started frequenting to get his blood sucked by lowlife vampires, in this show's version of a crack den. It was certainly a fairly shocking moment when Buffy saw her lover topless in a dirty room ordering an emaciated vamp to suck his forearm, and I also loved the reaction of Spike when he realised his plan to end Buffy's relationship has actually caused great pain to the woman he privately claims to love.
This episode (also the directorial debut of long-term writer Noxon) mainly served to have Riley and Buffy put their cards on the table about their feelings. Riley confessed he's felt second-best after Angel and Dracula, and has never really felt like he has Buffy's heart; and Buffy came to realise she's been treating Riley like a reliable rebound for far too long. The tragedy of the episode being that Buffy realised this too late, after a heart-to-heart from Xander (Nicholas Brendan) of all people, and narrowly missed stopping Riley leave Sunnydale with his military pals who've offered him a return to the simpler life he enjoyed before falling in love.
This episode appears to herald the last appearance of Riley on the show, although perhaps a few Oz-style returns are likely in the near-future. I've enjoyed his character more than I expected to, even if this season didn't quite manage to make his attitude about Buffy feel entirely plausible to me. The incident with Buffy and Dracula was too minor for me to feel like it was a serious issue for him, while the envy over Angel just seems to get dragged up for the sake of it. Still, this episode actually did a surprisingly good job making the relationship problems between Buffy and Riley feel more plausible than I've felt before now, and I understood where both were coming from. You don't actually get many episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer that are almost exclusively about the characters, so this hour worked well for me. Plus the simple introduction of that creepy nest actually gave us a glimpse into the vampire subculture of the town, which is something this show has neglected to its cost. I always stop to wonder what the vampires actually do in Sunnydale (beyond wander across the graveyards getting slayed by Buffy every night), as you never hear anything about people getting bitten, killed, or turned by any vamps. It's strange, as modern vampire dramas put most of their emphasis on the culture and practical existence issues of these creatures, whereas BtVS has always treated them as largely disposable pests.
After such a big and heavy episode, writer Jane Esponson gives us the lightweight "TRIANGLE" for when BtVS originally came back after a winter hiatus. It makes sense to offer viewers a palate cleanser, but this was such an inconsequential episode I didn't find much to savour.
Giles (Anthony Head) leaves the Magic Box under Anya's (Emma Caulfield) supervision as he travels to England to discuss the situation with Glory, and during an argument Anya and Willow (Alyson Hannigan) accidentally release Olaf the Troll (Abraham Benrubi) from a crystal. The green-faced, red-haired behemoth proceeds to stomp around Sunnydale demanding ale and babies to eat, meaning the group must work together to defeat Olaf without Giles's help and knowing Buffy's slightly off her game thanks to her breakup with Riley.
The strength of this episode lay in the decision to have a few characters rub shoulders who don't often get the chance to—from Tara (Amber Benson) and Buffy at university, to the more prominent Willow and Anya. The latter worked best mainly because they both have Xander in common as his past and present girlfriends, respectively. I quite enjoyed the comical bickering between the pair and it's always nice when the show focuses on the non-Buffy characters who can sometimes get a little neglected, and reduced to making quips during group chit-chats.
Unfortunately, everything else about "Triangle" didn't really hold my attention. Olaf was a fun villain with more personality than most, and the reveal that he's one of Anya's ex-boyfriends was amusing, but guest-star Abraham Benrubi's camp performance was about the only thing keeping this hour alive. Spike apppears to have gone crazy now he's practising talking to Buffy using a mannequin, and there was one scene with Olfa tearing up the Bronze where it just felt ludicrous all the bystanders never seem to question what Buffy and her friends are doing. Rather like the issue with the show's lack of a plausible explanation of what vampires actually do in this world, I wish BtVS had an answer for exactly what the people of Sunnydale know about Buffy and her friends. We've had some episodes in the past where it was fairly clear they know Sunnydale's a magnet for the supernatural and Buffy's a protector, but what about her university peers? What was going through their heads when Willow's standing there casting spells at a giant troll? I guess it's never a good sign when such questions bubble up in your mind when watching an episode, so take that for what it's worth. The direction of the climactic Olaf vs Buffy fight was also terrible, as you never even saw the winning blows.
written by Marti Noxon (5.10) & Jane Espenson (5.11) | directed by Marti Noxon (5.10) & Christopher Hibler (5.11) | 19 December 2000 & 9 January 2001