Synopsis: The demon motivational speaker is on the loose. Will Buffy and the Scooby gang be able to stop him by the end of the season?
Review: There are websites, books, and essays dedicated to the philosophical underpinnings of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I imagine they had a heyday with super villain Adam and used big words like Nietzschean. Such discussions about a television show are as ludicrous as they sound. I read an interview with a Buffy producer. The theme of this episode was self-image!
Every work of fiction communicates messages. And, yes, "messages" is always plural. Sometimes the message the viewer gets out of the episode was never meant by the creator. Every work of fiction is also really just another take on the same story: good vs. evil. J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings trilogy excellently captures the essence of good vs. evil. A lot of stories including this episode have faltered in capturing this.
On the surface, Marti Noxon offers the classical good vs. evil story where good and evil have been flipped over, spun around, and turned onto their heads in a giant Twister game until you can not discern between the two. Because Noxon is capable of this facsimile of history's greatest stories, she gets to keep writing and earning promotions.
With Goodbye Iowa, Noxon offers the worst possible introduction to the season arc. The fact that the episode was slow and Adam is one of the silliest Buffy monsters to date aside, Noxon bumbles the core good vs. evil story. In this regard, I compare all stories to the Lord of the Rings. No, I do not grade characters, plot, etc. against Lord of the Rings. Tolkien was a master at his art. Few storytellers can aspire to tell as good of a story as he did. Lord of the Rings is the best example of what the core message of every story should be: good cannot use evil without becoming completely and entirely (I know that is redundant, but I am trying to make a point here.) evil itself. Even if their goal was good, Walsh and (by association) the Initiative are evil because they employed demon parts (evil).
But Noxon depicts Walsh as a misguided do-gooder and Adam as a monster with serious self-image problems. I dislike Noxon's writing, because when you dig beneath the surface, the message of her stories disintegrates. The good side even had some evil going on in this episode. Willow is not being entirely honest with Tara with why she wants to perform a specific spell. Her sweetness as if she was trying to use Tara made me sick to my stomach. In return, Tara was also dishonest. The dishonesty between these two characters was much more insidious than any evil done by Adam in this episode because supposedly they are close friends.
The dichotomy of Spike and Riley is where the episode really failed to develop. Spike is bad, but he has become mixed up with the good side. Riley is good, but he has become mixed up with the bad side. Hopefully the writers who pen the subsequent episodes of this arc will take this dichotomy and run with it. Buffy may be the titular character, but the success of this arc depends on these two characters because they illustrate the struggle between good and evil. This episode was neither good nor bad at 5 out of 10.
Spiritual Content: Willow and Tara intend to call upon a goddess as the source of their magic for a spell. Monsters and even "demons" are metaphors for real-life problems. Their powers are inherent in what they are. Wicca is not a metaphor. It is a real-life spiritual practice. Its practitioners may sincerely call upon a variety of goddesses but any magic that they do manifest is coming straight from Satan. There is no such thing as good magic. What Willow is messing around with truly is black arts. It is a path no Christian should ever start down. Willow's involvement in Wicca is the most problematic aspect about this series for me.
Rating: 5 out of 10 (Reviewed by: Matthew Miller)