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A brave new world, but with boundaries,
This review is from: Buffy the Vampire Slayer - Season 4 [DVD]  (DVD)
With the loss of David Boreanaz and Charisma Carpenter to the spin-off show, "Angel", there were voids to be filled in this, the first season out of high school, and Marc Blucas and Emma Caulfield suitably obliged. The fragmentation of the Scooby Gang was for many the core reason why Season Four didn't match the heights of the previous three: nobody seemed to care enough about each other any more. With Giles out of work, Xander flitting from one deadbeat job to another, and Buffy and Willow settling in to life on campus, there was concern that the old gang would never get back together.
A big risk was taken in introducing a more classic sci-fi element with the arrival of a secret government demon-hunting operation. But there's a big difference from other genre shows: the Initiative was never in control of its actions. And that's the gist of the season: that Buffy and her traditional methods will always be superior, and that it's through her skills and her friends that evil is defeated, not bureaucracy. Which is why there's no big finish in episode 22 (the grand climax happens in episode 21), because the most important storyline is about the reaffirmation of friendships, demonstrated in the most bizarre way imaginable in an episode composed almost entirely of dream sequences.
There are a few misses among the hits (watch "Beer Bad" for the cavegirl activities of Buffy, but don't expect much else), and some classics (the Emmy-nominated "Hush" was possibly the boldest piece of television attempted before "The Body" the following year). And in the final scene of the season, we get a great setting-up of what's to come, without knowing any specific details.
There's a featurette on "Hush" as well as a commentary, and Christophe Beck gives us a great insight into the work that goes into scoring an episode. Plus there's all the usual scripts, episode commentaries, stills gallery and cast bios.
All in all, a season that left a few minor gripes, but which in the overall scheme of things, has continued the journey of life into adulthood. Now they're all supposed to be grown up, but the future still holds a great deal of uncertainty, and that can only be good for the show.