Buffy the Vampire Slayer Episode Guide
Season 5, Episode 10
Into the Woods
Original Airdate: December 19, 2000
Written and directed by Marti Noxon
This is The One Where Riley Leaves. A lot of folks didn't like him (some sites referred to him as Backstreet), and were happy to see him go. I thought he never got a fair shake, and was a little shocked and upset. So far, he still hasn't come back.
I think if you don't really stick with this show, it's easy to assume that it's immature, just because there's a high weekly influx of monsters and kung fu and cleavage and all that. But it's here that I've seen some of television's most true-to-life portrayals of just how twisted and sticky long-term relationships can get. These characters change, and not always for the better. They fuck up, and they don't always get forgiven at the end of the hour. Or ever.
We start in the hospital, where everyone awaits the return of Joyce (Buffy's mom) from brain tumor surgery. After some agonizing suspense, we get word of a full recovery, and there is much rejoicing. Too bad it won't last.
That night, there is celebratory nookie in the still momless Summers household. We have two plot threads leftover from the previous episode, which slam into each other here: (1) Spike's admitted to himself he's in love with Buffy, and (2) Riley lets himself get sucked by the vampire hos downtown. Spike, in stalker mode, tails Riley after he leaves and discovers this nasty secret.
Spike awakens Buffy, and leads her to the hideout. She locks eyes with Riley and is shocked, and runs away. Riley tries to chase her, but gets held up fighting vamps, who aren't too happy the Slayer knows where they live.
The next day, Riley visits Spike, following up on the threat he made in the season opener. He stabs Spike but won't stake him. They realize they're both basically in the same boat--she won't love either of them--and they wallow in the drink together.
Meanwhile, Buffy leads the Scoobies to the hideout, but it's ditched. She's inconsolably angry, but won't tell anyone why. She goes to the Magic Box to train, where Riley interrupts her so they can have it out. He finally expresses what he's been feeling for months: That she doesn't need him, and what he sought from the bloodsuckers was a wrong and stupid way to quench his need for need. She claims that she's given him everything: "This is me. This is the package." He lets her know that there's a transport leaving tonight for a mission in Belize, and asks her to give him a reason not to be on it. She's offended that he would give her an ultimatum like this. He walks out the front door, and she leaves by the alley...
...into an ambush of every damn vamp from downtown. She wallops them all in about five seconds flat. She recognizes the one that sucked Riley, and spares her, then slays her anyway. Xander confronts her. At first, she's not willing to admit to being the bad guy anywhere, but he finally convinces her that she's taken him for granted and refused to open herself up. He asks her to really think about what she's about to lose. This sends her running out the door after Riley.
But she gets to the helipad too late. About two minutes too late. He's gone.
During their fight, Buffy had mentioned to Xander that he himself might have been stringing someone along. He accused her of dodging the issue and brushed it off, but he knew her point seemed valid. So we see him go to Anya and tell her that he's in love with her, that he gets excited every time he's about to see her, that no one's made him feel this way before. Lessons learned from one relationship applied to another. In the midst of death we are in life. This also supports Xander's arc as announced in Buffy vs Dracula, where he said he was through being everyone's monkey boy. He's really, finally acting like a man.
Somewhere in there was also a really bitchy fight between Willow and Anya that does a great job of setting up for the next episode, which features much destruction via a large hammer, lots of ale, and more focusing on Xander as love daddy.