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The Worst of the Best: BUFFY “Where the Wild Things Are”

I was a massive Buffy the Vampire Slayer fan during its 1997-2003 run, made the leap from The WB to UPN (which was silly because the two networks eventually merged a year or so after the show ended), stuck with the whole Dawn debacle, and even the sub-parness that was all of Season 6 [Editor’s Note: How dare you.]. But the later I got in the run, the less the episodes stuck with me and I didn’t rewatch anything from Buffy’s college excursion forward. So, when it came time to think of episodes to talk about for this column about the worst ones, I had to turn to the experts. I consulted several lists online and spoke to Nerdist managing editor Rachel Heine, who knows the episodes by name the way I do with Doctor Who, and while I remember a lot of them, the one that stood out to me as being memorably bad was Season 4, episode 18, “Where the Wild Things Are.”

Now, there are several bad episodes of Buffy, which, given that there were 144 episodes, is completely acceptable. Episodes like “I Robot, You Jane” and “Never Kill a Boy on the First Date” get some leniency from me because they were in the first season, when the show was testing things out. “Doublemeat Palace” also gets a slide because it exists within what I think is the show’s weakest season, and after the Jump-the-Shark point. No, when I look for bad episodes, I aim squarely in a program’s heart, during the period of time when the show should have been, and generally was, firing on all cylinders. This is why this episode stands out; it’s an episode that attempts some kind of message about college-age romance but does it SO hamfistedly that the whole point of it is undercut.


Comedy episodes are usually hit and miss, but Buffy generally managed more hits than misses, given its tongue-in-cheek tone. When it missed, though, it was usually because of having the jokes first and the story second. “Where the Wild Things Are” is all about jokes and premise and the actual script is very weak. Some of the dialogue exists only for plot and reminding-the-audience-what’s-happening moments. And big “mystery” pieces fall into place with about as much tactfulness as someone saying “Hey, what’s this all about?” and another person responding, “Oh, it’s this. This is what it’s all about. Bye!”

The general gist, the big idea that gets everything going, is “College People Like to Bone.” What insight! Glad it took a horror show to tackle this universal truth. The episode was written by Tracey Forbes, who only wrote three episodes of Buffy, the well-received “Something Blue,” and another universally-derided episode, “Beer Bad,” about another obvious thing about young people, that they don’t know how to drink responsibly. Not a good batting average, but hey, I didn’t get to write any Buffy the Vampire Slayer episodes, so she’s got a million up on me.


The story is this: Buffy and Riley, her new Initiative boyfriend, have a lot of sex. It’s funny because they think of lame excuses to leave a group of people in order to do so. Anya is upset with Xander because they didn’t have sex one night. It’s funny because she thinks humans have to have sex every night in order to remain in a relationship. Willow and Tara are starting to make the doeiest of eyes at each other. Adam, the Frankenstein’s Monster made up entirely of bits of different demonic things, isn’t in the episode but we see that his proposed truce between vampires and demons seems to be starting out okay. That’s for the season-long arc, though, and far too interesting to have more than a few minutes devoted to it here. The Initiative guys decide to throw a party at their frat house, which I must remind you is sat on top of the Initiative underground laboratories.

During the party, Buffy and Riley go off to have sex again and weird things start happening in the house. There’s a piece of wall that if people touch it, they receive sexual gratification. Tara recoils violently when Willow touches her knee; a girl Xander meets during his “I bet Anya’s gonna break up with me” mope throws herself at him during a game of Spin the Bottle and then runs to a closet to hack her hair off in shame; then Willow and Anya see ghosts of children, one drowning in the tub and another running screaming down the hallway, and the house begins to shake. All during this, Buffy and Riley can’t have enough sex, and clearly this is feeding the malevolent force somehow.


After retrieving Giles from a coffee shop where he’s playing “Behind Blue Eyes” acoustically causing Willow, Anya, and even Tara to swoon a little bit, the Scooby Gang go to the library to find out what might be causing the disturbances. They almost immediately find that the frat house used to be a home for orphans run by a very devout Christian woman who received plaudits from Sunnydale. They go and visit her in an old folks home and, after asking like two questions, they learn that she punished the kids when they were “dirty,” having any impure thoughts at all, preened or even looked at themselves in a certain way, and certainly if they acted on any sexual urges. It was a coed house and they were all adolescents. Giles yells at her and they decide that he and the two witches will call the spirits to them so that Xander and Anya can go into the house to save Buffy and Riley, which is done pretty easily with the use of a machete to cut through vines that have grown out of nowhere. The spell is broken when they finally open the door and snap the two lovers out of it.

Okay. I mean, where to start? This has to be one of the more convenient plots and most easily-solved mysteries in the whole of the series. They find one article, check one lead, and it happens to be exactly what they need to divine what’s happening. And the old lady tells them what they need to hear incredibly fast, like almost too fast, like she was ready for them to ask about it. There’s no explanation given about why the house held on to this repressed and abused sexual energy, nor why it was this exact moment that it chose to manifest. This is a fraternity house, right? Initiative or no, frat houses generally have a LOT of sexual activity in them, but it’s Buffy and Riley constantly doing it that awakens the poltergeists? There’s also no reason for the spirits to have gone away just by someone walking in on two people boning. Is that really all it took?! So, decades of deep-seeded scarring has a whole 3 hours to do anything about it and gives up almost immediately? And SOOOO much of the dialogue here is just explaining what’s happening. There’s a Spike and Anya subplot that’s pretty funny, but other than that the jokes fall super flat and are all just “Ha ha, it’s funny because sex.”


This is an episode that falls into the category of “Who gives a shit?” It comes very late in Season 4, only four episodes left after this, and THIS is what they give us? I know every episode can’t be all arc progression, and the occasional funny episode can ease some tension, but holy crap, guys. NOTHING happens in this and even the relationship building it attempts to do could have been served in a million other ways. And, chiefly egregious for a comedy episode, it’s not very funny.

What do you think? Did I choose the wrong worst episode? What other shows would you like me to cover for this column? Let me know below!

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  1. Zach says:

    Uh what? S6 is easily one of the strongest seasons of the show. Change of pace and tone sure, but drop in quality it is not. Also S5 is probably the best season of the show…4, 7 are both good but have big issues ; S1 is easily the worst.

  2. Kim says:

    Blech Riley! :/

  3. Emily says:

    It makes me sad that with all the smart, insightful Buffy fans out there, someone who does not appreciate or understand Buffy got to write this article. C’mon, Nerdist.

  4. Jaleh says:

    I actually thought this entire season was the worst in Buffy history. There are a couple of okay episodes, but for the most part, I was underwhelmed. I think Season 6 isn’t much better, but has a few stronger episodes than this one does.

  5. Becky says:

    This episode of Buffy is terrible and I love Buffy. Season5 for me was very hit and miss. I didn’t really buy into Dawn and she bugged the crap outta me. Season 6 is much better than 5.Who doesn’t love the Killed By Death episode?? It was ace.

  6. GirlWhedon says:

    How do I take you seriously when you say the Scoobs were swooning at Giles’s performance? So off the mark. As is a lot of this article, even though I don’t care for this particular episode.

  7. mjkbk says:

    Anyone who dismisses all seasons of “Buffy” after the ones with Angel in them?  Probably a ‘Bangel’.  Just sayin’…..

  8. Andrew says:

    I admit that on the first go ’round, I was not a fan of the sixth season of Buffy, but have gone back and watched it a couple of times since and find most of it to be among the strongest episodes of the series.  As far as “Where the Wild Things Are”, while it was far from the best episode, I wouldn’t go say it’s the worst.  That distinction goes to the season two episode “Go Fish”.  In a season filled with strong episodes, this one stands out as painfully bad.  There were elements of Where the Wild Things Are that I liked; there was nothing redeeming about Go Fish.  @Jeremy: Killed By Death is actually an episode I quite like.  I can think of at least four worse episodes that season (the aforementioned “Go Fish”, “Reptile Boy”, “Inca Mummy Girl” {despite being the introduction of Oz}, and “Bad Eggs”).

    • Suz says:

      Except for Zander in teeny tiny swim trunks!  Just sayin’

    • Jeremy says:

      Touche.  Go Fish is the same span of episodes and it’s also pretty weak.  I can’t argue with that pick.  I personally think both Reptile Boy and Inca Mummy girl are both better than Killed by Death and Go Fish.  As for Bad Eggs, I actually enjoy that episode, Invasion of the Body Snatchers with Hillbilly Vampires was fun.  Obviously not one of the greats, but not horrible.   Maybe I need to revisit, but I’ve always disliked Killed by Death because it never grabbed me.  It’s connection to the main storyline was Angelus showing up only to be perturbed Buffy’s not at the top of her game because she’s sick… it felt like throwaway filler.  @Suz: Some of the Xander joins the swim team stuff was amusing.

  9. Kyle says:

    Pretty much the only reason i kept reading was seeing the editor’s note.
    That being said, this episode was a weak one, but doublemeat palace was the worst episode, critically speaking.
     My personal least favorite episode was the zeppo. I found Xander’s character to be a raging tool throughout the series and I never liked that he got a heroic character spotlight. Even though he wasn’t a completely irredeemable character, his actions throughout the series rubbed me the wrong way. Also, before anyone gives me guff for saying that, let it be known my favorite character was Anya.

  10. Sandy says:

    All I have to say is that Once More with Feeling is a masterpiece… 

  11. Seasons 2,3,5, and 6 are the best seasons of the series. Anyone who disagrees with that statement is either mentally deficient in some way or not a true Buffy fan. But you’re right about one thing. This is a horrible episode. 

  12. Sarah says:

    Um.  You completely missed the point of Where the Wild Things Are.  The episode wasn’t pointing out that college kids like to bone.  The episode was about the dangers of repressing children and teens and trying to sterilize them and their desires and what it does to them emotionally.  Plus saying season 6 was the worst?  WHAT?  I feel like you didn’t even watch the same show that I did.

    • Charlie says:

      Yaaaaas! Thank you!! This was actually a really, really powerful episode and speaks directly to Whedon’s Humanist values. 

  13. Elisabeth says:

    This episode is horrible but redeemed by “Behind Blue Eyes”

  14. inlo says:

    i truly hated this episode due to my total dislike of Riley. bu i always thought the worst episode was doomed. 

  15. We call this one the “She who smelt it dealt it” episode – good call

  16. Crystal says:

    I thought 90% of the fourth season was a misfire, mostly because the whole Buffy -Riley romance seemed a bit forced after the genuine depths of the Angel romance.

  17. Wraith says:

    Kyle you are the first person to have the exact opinion I have regarding the progression of Buffy. I’m glad to finally have my validation. 😉

  18. Jared says:

    c’mon, Kyle, You can do better.  Once More With Feeling!

  19. Melissa says:

    I’d say any episode with Riley is the worst besides the Silent one. Hated that guy and I don’t remember any episode with him in it. 

  20. Jeremy says:

    Although I consider this a solid pick (‘Hamfisted’ definitely sums it up), personally I think the worst of the best for Buffy has to be “Killed by Death”.  The second half of season 2 is the show’s most famous storyline (evil Angel) and right in the middle of it, this snores-ville episode comes complete with a Freddy Kruger rip-off.  Blech.

  21. Wickk says:

    ” Doublemeat Palace” also gets a slide because it exists within what I think is the show’s weakest season ” You need to rewatch season 4. That is a bold statement. 

  22. Greg says:

    What?  Placement in the season was perfect for this goofy episode.  Third act “Calm before the storm sex” is almost demanded, so why not make it a whole thing.  Yes, Buffy had some filler episodes (I loved “Beer Bad” btw), but even they were completely enjoyable.

  23. Eli Fucile says:

    I dont understand how you can think season 6 is the worst?! It is by far my favourite and arguably the best season the show has to offer. But this is a pretty terrible episode.

  24. Michele says:

    After “the sub-parness that was all of Season 6” I knew this was being written by someone who had no business writing about Buffy and lost interest. 😛  That being said, yes, this episode was terrible.

    • Michae says:

      Seriously, you can’t call the season with Once More with Feeling, Tabula Rasa, and the heartbreak that was Tara’s Death completely sub-par

  25. Fireflyeyes says:

    It’s still not as bad as the Buffy 8th season comic where she and Angel f*ck a new universe into existence while flying naked through clouds…