The Yoko Factor
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Buffy, Angel and Riley


It seems to me that you have to look at the interaction between Buffy, Angel and Riley in "the Yoko Factor" in the light of the events in "Sanctuary".  It was, after all, the breakdown in communications between Buffy and Angel that took place in LA that motivated the latter to return to Sunnydale and in turn forms the backdrop to their meeting there.  I am bound to say, therefore, that given the rich and interesting dynamic created between our hero and heroine in "Sanctuary", the follow up in "the Yoko Factor" came as something of a disappointment.

I am not one of those who take the view that Buffy's character was "trashed" in "Sanctuary".  Certainly we did not see her at her best.  But what we did see was, I think, entirely understandable and in character for her.  First of all it was obvious from the beginning that Buffy could not get past how Faith had affected her personally.  And indeed in this respect she had a lot to be angry about.  So too had Angel.  When Wesley warned him in "Five by Five" not to take things personally he retorted that Faith had tried to shoot him in his own personal back.  And he also seemed very upset when Giles told him how bad things had been for Buffy because of Faith.  But Angel was able to look over his personal feelings about these things and concentrate on his mission of redemption.  Buffy could not.  This is hardly surprising.  Buffy has always had some difficulty in setting aside her personal feelings in favor of her wider mission.  Then there was, I think, an element of personal jealousy.  Faith may have envied Buffy but the latter had her own fair share of insecurities when it came to Faith, especially as far as Angel was concerned.  When Buffy entered Angel's apartment she saw them together in a very compromising position.  So, when there was a confrontation between Faith and Buffy, Angel was only conscious of the need to prevent his work with Faith being undone.  His mission to redeem Faith was the key and for that he set aside personal concerns, both his and Buffy's.  To Buffy, however, it was the personal history with Faith that was important.   So, to her it looked as though Angel had simply chosen Faith's side against her.   None of this makes Buffy a shrew.  What it does make her is a slightly immature 19 year old with still some growing to do.

So, the difference between Buffy and Angel over Faith was merely symptomatic of their very different approaches to life in general and to their respective missions in particular.  And this was not the only problem between them.  This other difficulty was illustrated by Buffy's reaction to Angel’s attempt to protect Faith.  She hit him.  This was a classic Buffy way of taking control of a situation but he would not be controlled any more.  Instead his reaction was to hit her back.  So, not only was there a clear gap in understanding between them but she had lost the ability she once took for granted to resolve their differences in her favor.  He had indeed truly become independent of her, a fact that was reinforced when he somewhat peremptorily ordered her out of LA, leaving him to continue his mission as he saw fit.

The point about "Sanctuary" was not, therefore, that Buffy and Angel had stopped caring about one another.  Essentially it was about how much Angel had developed from the character Buffy had known and also about the difficulty Buffy had in adjusting to this new character.  That is what led to her angry reaction to him and, in particular, to her casting Riley into face.  In fact the bitterness that passed between them was an indication of just how much they still cared about one another.  Otherwise there would have been no reason to fight.

The Road to Sunnydale

Angel, of course, regretted his harshness to her.  He must have realized that it was unnecessary.  Certainly it was as understandable as Buffy's own anger at him and probably more justified.  But he was the older and more mature one.  He expected better of himself.  So, when he went to Sunnydale it was to clear up the sense of personal bitterness that this final conversation in LA had left behind.  But that feeling was a mere symptom of the real problem that now existed between them.  And it was really Buffy’s problem, not his.  He had done the right thing with Faith.  He was now fulfilling his destiny.  It was not for him to change back to what he had been before.  It was for Buffy to come to terms with what he now was.  But that is what she failed to do in “the Yoko Factor”.

At least part of the reason for this is that the BUFFY writers had their own agenda for Angel’s return visit to Sunnydale.  And that agenda had nothing to do with the real point of the scenario created by “Sanctuary”.  Instead the main focus of Angel's appearance in "the Yoko Factor" was the feud with Riley.  But the real problems that now existed between Buffy and Angel had nothing to do with Riley.  He was simply a convenient stick Buffy used to beat Angel with.   And as far as Angel was concerned he left Buffy so she could move on with her life.  The absurdity of this aspect of the plot was demonstrated quite conclusively by the fact that the fight between them was such an artificial contrivance.  The writers’ intention seems to be to show that both Angel and Riley thought the other was the aggressor.  First of all we have Riley overhearing on the radio that the Initiative team had been attacked by someone who came “out of nowhere”.  Angel for his part says that he “got jumped by some soldiers”.  However the writers seem to have overlooked the fact that these two statements are very difficult to reconcile because they give contradictory indications as to who initiated combat between Angel and the Initiative.  This was at best carelessness.  But it gets worse.  Even if Angel did attack the soldiers that is a flimsy basis on which Riley could conclude that he had lost his soul.  Angel, for his part, blames Riley for the welcoming committee.  But how precisely was Riley to know Angel was coming to Sunnydale?  He didn’t even know what Angel looked like until they met.  In other words the writers present a scenario where it is simply impossible to accept their rationalization of the set up.  The only conclusion that you can draw from this is that Angel and Riley are spoiling for a fight with each other over Buffy.  As a piece of character writing this is a nonsense, especially for Angel.  For him self control is essential. There is a demon within him just waiting for an opportunity to escape from his control and kill again.  That is something Angel has always been conscious of.  He uses the killer impulses of Angelus quite deliberately and in a controlled way against evil demons (remember his assassination of Russell in "City of...") and even against some humans.  But he dreads the same impulses getting out of control.  In this context I would mention "the Ring".  In the first fight even though he was fighting for his life he used spoiling tactics to prevent himself from killing.  In the end the excitement and pain provoked him to kill and afterwards he felt wretched.  So in his fight with Trepkos he was even more determined not to kill.  That was what won Trepkos over in the end.  That is why I say self control is all important to Angel.  What we see in "the Yoko Factor" was spontaneous violence  from Angel provoked by an emotional response.  It was an abandonment of self control and ran the risk of the demon inside him leading him to kill not for a reason but simply because he was jealous. That is why I find his actions here frankly unbelievable.  Moreover, as I have already said, Angel left Sunnydale precisely to allow Buffy to have other relationships.  Indeed it has always seemed clear to me that deep down he considered himself unworthy of her and that she would be better off without him.  Given his willingness to make any sacrifice for her (remember IWRY?) it would have been much more in character for Angel to welcome Buffy’s happiness with Riley.  And in fairness to Riley I have seen nothing about him to indicate he was as immature as he was shown here.  Indeed let us not forget that he had a very responsible position in a top secret military project.  Those are not really handed out to people who have difficulty in behaving rationally. 


Buffy and Angel

And what precisely was the purpose of the confrontation in advancing plot or developing character or relationships?  I, for one, cannot see any.  It seems to me that it was a ratings stunt pure and simple.  There was, however, more significance in the Buffy and Angel scenes themselves.  Her reaction to his visit was interesting.

Buffy: " You thought of something else *really* hurtful to say and you couldn't tell me on the phone because the funniest part is that look on my face..."

This shows as clearly as anything can the way she still saw the events in “Sanctuary” and Angel’s actions through the prism of her own personal agenda.  She still doesn’t have a clue about the real meaning of went on.  And the disappointing thing is that was the way the writers left it.  Riley’s interruption was a (pointless) continuation of the “testosterone poisoning” we had seen earlier.  It only served to make Buffy look like the sane and rational one (go figure that).  When she is again alone with Angel her sense of grievance remains as sharp as ever and it is really only Angel’s apology that defuses her anger.  It was of course entirely in character for Angel to come to Sunnydale to apologize and equally in character for Buffy to refuse to accept any real wrong on her part.  Even the concession she made to his apology was half hearted ("Look, you weren't entirely wrong with what you said in LA.”).  But I have much more difficulty with the idea that Angel was content to leave it at that.  What separated them in LA was much more fundamental than a few harsh words.  It represented a new direction in Angel’s life and if they were ever going to re-establish a relationship was something she had to come to terms with.

And it is important that she does so because, if anything, “The Yoko Factor” confirms the impression given by “Sanctuary” that things are not over between these two.  If they were then Buffy’s still smoldering sense of grievance would be inexplicable.  Even more interesting was the accusation she threw at Angel

“Okay. I come to see you, to help you and you treat me like I'm just your ex."

So she still doesn’t think of him as just her ex.  And the fact that Angel was prepared to apologize to Buffy even though he knew deep down he was right and she was wrong speaks volumes about how he still feels about her.  Most intriguing of all was the parting exchange between them about Riley.  Angel’s "I don't like him." Was met by an enigmatic “Thank you”.  Thank you, for what?  For being honest? For caring enough still to be jealous?  I think that this does reinforce the idea that Angel and Buffy are now apart because of circumstances and not because anything fundamental has changed in the way they feel about one another.


Review added Sunday 17th September 2000