After the excellence of season 3, it would always be a pretty tough act to follow, no matter what Joss Whedon had up his sleeve. I remember being a little underwhelmed buy the first few episodes when watching it the first time around and during the recent re-watch, and that feeling hasn't ceased. In the fourth season, Buffy and Willow venture into the big bad world of College, Xander tries to find himself a steady job and survive living in his parents basement, Oz exits, Spike re-enters, soon to be chipped by 'The Initiative' and two of the worst characters in the history of the show are introduced...but the season does have some stand out moments, including some very quiet monsters of the week...and you better believe Giles cleans his glasses, and Xander says 'Avengers Assemble' Hi-oh!
It is easy to pan this season for its weaknesses- the undercover-military-demon-hunting-super-secret-club-of- kickass-army-dudes rubbed me the wrong way and in essence diluted the somewhat exclusivity of the Scoobie gangs M.O. and seems purely to be a vehicle to shoe horn in Riley- a rather forgettable beefcake who Buffy swoons for, and a place to keep 'Adam'- a half machine/demon/human Frankenstein rip-off hybrid under wraps until the last few episode to fight our demon slaying heroine. The 'Initiative' are also responsible for also 'chipping' Spike soon after he swaggers into town again. This action ultimately neuters Spike and drains quite a lot of the fun out of one the shows most loved and entertaining characters in the show. And the less said about Tara, the better (I will get to her in the season five review)
HOWEVER, season four does have its charms, mainly many of the monster of the week episodes. 'Hush' is probably one of the most famous episodes of the show, and one of the best. It always hovers at the top of polls for best episode and rightly so. Written and Directed by Joss himself, it is a truly stunning episode of prime time television. I could go on about how it harks back classic fairy tales and addresses the importance of community, language and how scary the 'Gentlemen' are, but I won't. If I was to sit someone down to try and get them into the show, Hush would be one of the essential episodes I would make them watch.
There is also much charm and entertainment to be found in the Halloween episode, 'Fear, Itself' in which the gang find themselves in a haunted house that comes to life and slowly picks off frat boys, and we also see Anya dressed up as a bunny. 'Beer Bad' has some of the funniest moments in the show when Buffy and some pretentious college boys are reduced to stupid cavemen through the drinking too much beer which has been spiked by the landlord of the Sunnydale college student bar.
Towards the end of the season, the impending face-off between Adam and Buffy kicks off in the penultimate episode and boy, its a good one. This is the Scoobie gang joining forces like never before to help the Slayer take down Adam. With the help of Giles, Xander and Willow combining forces with a spell, Buffy takes on Adam with all her might and I must say, in pretty impressive style.
The last episode 'Restless' is a little talked about but excellent episode of the show and a great conclusion to a rather average (but not totally awful) season. Each of the gang take a trip into their own psyche in dreams that showcase and reveal their doubts and feelings for the future, and the Slayer. An achievement both technically and in story telling, it bodes well for the fifth season...