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Note: This article is about the episode. For the organization, see Initiative.

"The Initiative" is the seventh episode of the fourth season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and the sixty-third episode in the series. Written by Douglas Petrie and directed by James A. Contner, it was originally broadcast on November 16, 1999, on The WB network.


THE TRUTH IS DOWN THERE — Unbeknownst to Buffy and the gang, Spike is captured by a commando squad for The Initiative, a mysterious underground laboratory beneath the streets of U.C. Sunnydale. Meanwhile, Buffy's Psych T.A., Riley, has a major slayer crush and turns to Willow for advice on ways to woo.[1]


Riley, Forrest, and Graham watch as Buffy makes a mess of the soda and yogurt machines in the cafeteria. Forrest and Graham comment on how attractive she is and how interested in her they are, but Riley is reluctant to make fun.

Giles and Xander discover the commando guys are human and that their help will not be needed, again. Buffy arrives and while Giles tells her to patrol, she says she's going to party with Willow and hopefully cheer her up.

Spike wakes up in a facility where various types of demons are held captive behind electrically charged barriers. A packet of blood drops from the ceiling into Spike's cell but before he drinks it, a vampire in the next cell — Tom — warns him that doctors starve the vampires and then feed them drugged blood before doing experiments on them. Tom mentions that he was captured after his gang took on Buffy, making Spike come to the conclusion that the Slayer is behind his capture.

In class Willow asks about Oz, but Riley tells her that he's dropped out of college. After Willow tries to tell him that Oz will return, Professor Walsh informs her that he won't be welcome in her class, which upsets Willow and she quickly leaves. Buffy approaches the professor, and tells her off, prompting Walsh to comment to Riley that she likes her.

Forrest asks Parker about Buffy, and when Parker vulgarly brags about having sex with her, Riley punches him. Riley then realizes he likes Buffy.

Spike lies on the floor of his cell, pretending to have drunk the drugged blood, and when the doctors come to get him he attacks. He lets Tom out of his cell, but this is only to use him to aid his escape (which he does by pushing him into approaching commandos, resulting in Tom being quickly dusted). Riley visits Willow and asks her advice in wooing Buffy. Willow, still emotionally distressed, questions his motives but eventually relents, listing some of Buffy's likes and interests. After escaping from the Initiative, Spike returns to Harmony's lair, telling her he's "back for good" — then immediately leaves to kill Buffy.

At the party, Willow tries to help Riley flirt with Buffy with little success but is upset when a Dingoes Ate My Baby song starts playing and decides to leave. Xander discovers Harmony crying, burning some of Spike's things. The two get into an inept slap-fight, and then mutually agree to stop. Harmony lets Xander know that Spike is back. Xander interrupts Riley's renewed attempt to chat Buffy up to inform Buffy that Spike has returned. Riley is also called away; he and Forrest break away from the party and, after passing through several electronic checkpoints, go down a hidden elevator to the underground facility where Spike had been held. The operation's head, Professor Walsh, informs them that Hostile 17 — Spike — has escaped, and the guys suit up. Riley gives orders to three teams that he sends out all over Sunnydale to find Spike.

Riley's team spot Buffy sitting on a bench. Riley says she won't be their bait and goes out to get rid of her. Each unaware of the other's secret identity, Riley and Buffy try to send each other out of harm's way.

Meanwhile, Spike has found Buffy's dorm through the school computer system. Inside, Willow is feeling miserable and when the door knocks she calls out to come in without thinking, only for Spike to swagger through the door. Willow tries to get away, but Spike throws her against the bed and attempts to bite her, only to be stopped by an intense pain in his head. Willow hits him with a lamp and runs out just as Riley and friends cut the power and then work their way up to the dorm room. They capture Spike but, while they consider whether to take Willow or not, Spike breaks free and uses a fire extinguisher as a shield, filling the corridor with smoke. Buffy arrives and fights Riley and his friends while Spike manages to escape through a window. Buffy and Riley continue to trade blows, each unable to identify the other. Seeing that Spike has escaped, Riley orders them to retreat.

Professor Walsh is not happy with what happened or with Riley's report on the event but he confirms that Walsh's inhibitor chip works, and Spike cannot kill or even harm a human without feeling pain thanks to an implant they placed in his head. Riley catches up with Buffy and they talk. Buffy tells him he's a little peculiar, which he says he can live with.


  • Tom, Spike's cell neighbor at the Initiative, had been captured in "The Freshman" after running away from Buffy when she was slaying Sunday's gang.
  • One of the demons that is locked inside an Initiative cell and subsequently experimented on is the same species of demon that Buffy killed at the start of "The Wish."
  • Spike receives an inhibitor chip in his head, which will continue to be a major story point for years to come. It is eventually removed in "The Killer in Me."
  • Spike asks a fellow prisoner who their captors are, guessing if it's "the government," "the Nazis," or "a cosmetics manufacturer" that are involved. In "Why We Fight," it's revealed that Spike was captured by the Nazis during World War II and dealt with the Demon Research Initiative. Ironically, Spike declared at the time: "I'm not getting experimented on by [the American] government," which is exactly what happens to him.
  • When talking to Forrest about Buffy, Riley dryly remarks that she doesn't have good taste in men given that she slept with Parker. Two of Buffy's other love interests say very similar statements about her love life: Spike in "Goodbye Iowa" and Angel in "The Girl in Question."
  • Spike remarks that he is "only 126"; it's eventually established that he was born in 1853 (Asylum, Part Two) and sired in 1880 ("Fool for Love"), therefore having mistaken his age by 20 years (146 years old).
  • Spike and Willow discuss the love spell and her kidnapping from "Lovers Walk."
  • Years later, Spike and Willow amusingly tell at a party the story of when he first had the chip implanted in his head and failed to attack her, as well as the awkward conversation that followed (Freefall, Part One).
  • Projecting from her own situation, Willow inadvertently foreshadows how Riley eventually breaks up with Buffy and leaves town in "Into the Woods."
  • The song that plays at the party that Willow says has big associations and Riley asks his friend to change is "Fate," which Dingoes Ate My Baby played at the Bronze in "Inca Mummy Girl," the first time Oz noticed Willow.



Organizations and titles[]




Death count[]

  • Tom, dusted by an Initiative soldier.

Behind the scenes[]


  • The working title for this episode was "Secret Agent Man," but the writers thought it'd be a giveaway to the revelation about Riley.[2]
  • Seth Green has been removed from the opening credits, with James Marsters promoted to the main cast and taking his place, a position he will maintain for the remainder of the series. This is also the first time in the series that a cast change occurs mid-season.
  • Several of the names in the student directory Spike examines are actually behind-the-scenes production staff, such as assistant chief lighting technician Eric Parker, Marti Noxon's assistant J.D. Peralta, stunt coordinator Jeff Pruitt, hair stylist Lisa Rosenberg, costume supervisor Cindy Rosenthal, set designer Victoria Ruskin, special effects technician Leo Solis, lighting console operator Tim Speed, and co-producer David Solomon.
  • The vast set for the Initiative, revealed for the first time in this episode, was filmed at Skunk Works, a complex where stealth bombers are built. When describing the set, writer Doug Petrie said he was told by Jim Contner and Joss Whedon to "go big. Use your imagination. Do it, go there. This is a big budget movie."[3]
  • Actress Mercedes McNab says that the hair-pulling, shin-kicking fight with Xander was "actually one of my favorite on-screen fights." When asked if she had a stunt double, she responded "No, it was all me," but "we wore knee pads and shin guards… which was kind of ridiculous seeing it was just such a cheesy fight."[4]
  • Graham Miller was named after a college friend of Doug Petrie's. The original Graham Miller was Canadian, and while talking about Buffy with Riley, Graham references this by saying that "Maybe she's Canadian."[2]
  • Forrest and Graham were meant to be Shakespearean sidekicks, whose job was to tell the hero what his heart truly wants: "So it's Shakespeare with ray guns and shit."[2]
  • Scott Becker is credited as "Lost Freshman" although his scene was cut.


  • "The Initiative" had an audience of 3.5 million households upon its original airing.[5]

Deleted scenes[]

  • This line was cut in half:[6]
    Buffy: "Giles, I live in a dorm now filled with what the young people these days call 'the young people.'"
  • After Giles tells Xander to shut up, they would continue:[6]
    Xander: "Just setting the mood, big guy."
    Giles: "I don't think I ever fully appreciated how Buffy deals with this every night."
    Xander: "Buffster's the champ. Way she deals with the boredom. The violence. And all without these tasty little cucumber sandwiches to keep her going..." (Xander reaches into a brown paper bag. Fishes about. Empty.) "Hey, who ate the last one?"
    Giles: "Still, it's nice to be able to make oneself useful. I dare say we'll see some action before the night is through."
    Xander: "Commandos'll never see us coming. We're shadows, we're the wind, unseen and un—
    Lost Freshman: (offscreen) "Excuse me? You guys know which way's Mather House?" (Pause. Giles points.) "Thanks."

Pop culture references[]

  • Xander comments on not being up to passing weapons drills for the Mobile Infantry, a reference to the film Starship Troopers.
  • Buffy refers to the commandos as a "late night Stormtrooper pal," referring to the troops from the Star Wars franchise.
  • Harmony mentions not listening to the Sex Pistols when talking about Spike's belongings.
  • Riley mentions not asking Buffy: "How about them Denver Broncos?" referring to the American football team.


  • When Spike throws Willow down on the bed in her dorm, and the camera shows from Willow's point of view, the top of the set and the set lights become visible.


International titles[]

  • Armenian: "Նախաձեռնություն" (Initiative)
  • Czech: "Iniciativa" (Initiative)
  • Finnish: "Aloite" (Initiative)
  • French: "Intrigues en Sous-Sol" (Schemes in the Basement)
  • German: "Die Initiative" (The Initiative)
  • Hungarian: "Az Iniciatíva" (The Initiative)
  • Italian: "Le Pattuglie della Notte" (The Patrol of the Night)
  • Japanese: "イニシアティブ" (Initiative)
  • Polish: "Z Inicjatywą" (With Initiative)
  • Portuguese (Brazil): "A Iniciativa" (The Initiative)
  • Romanian: "Inițiativa" (Initiative)
  • Russian: "Инициатива" (Initiative)
  • Spanish (Latin America): "La Iniciativa" (The Initiative)
  • Spanish (Spain): "La Iniciativa" (The Initiative)
  • Swedish: "Initiativet" (The Initiative)



Promotional stills[]

Behind the scenes[]



Willow: "Why should I trust you?"
Riley: "Just sort of hoping you'd think I have an honest face."
Willow: "I've seen honest faces before. They usually come attached to liars."
Walsh: "You know the rules. You know I hate exceptions, and yet somehow, you feel your exception is exceptional."
Willow: "Oh, but..."
Walsh: "It is. To you. But since I'm neither a freshman nor a narcissist, I have to consider the whole class. If your friend can't respect my schedule, I think it's best he not come back."
Buffy: "You know for someone who teaches human behavior, you might try showing some."
Professor Walsh: "It's not my job to coddle my students."
Buffy: "You're right. A human being in pain has nothing to do with your job."
Walsh: "I like her."
Riley: "Really? You don't think she's a little peculiar?"
Willow: "Okay. Let's say I help. And you start a conversation. It goes great. You like Buffy. She likes you. You spend time together. Feelings grow deeper, and one day without even realizing it, you find you're in love. Time stops and it feels like the whole world's made for you two and you two alone until the day one of you leaves the other and rips the still-beating heart from the other who's now a broken, hollow mockery of the human condition."
Riley: "Yep. That's the plan."
Willow: "I figured it was."
Willow: "Okay, she's wearing the halter top with sensible shoes. That means mostly dancing, light contact, but don't push your luck. Heavy conversations is out of the question."
Riley: "So what do I do?"
Willow: "Ask her to dance."
Riley: "Right. Dance. Wait. No."
Willow: "What's the matter?"
Riley: "I can't dance."
Willow: "Then talk. Keep eye contact. Funny is good, but don't be glib. And remember, if you hurt her, I will beat you to death with a shovel. A vague disclaimer is nobody's friend. Have fun."
Willow: "I know I'm not the kind of girl vamps like to sink their teeth into. It's always like 'ooh, you're like a sister to me,' or 'oh, you're such a good friend.'"
Spike: "Don't be ridiculous. I'd bite you in a heartbeat."
Willow: "Really?"
Spike: "Thought about it."
Willow: "When?"
Spike: "Remember last year, you had on that... fuzzy pink number with the lilac underneath?"
Willow: "I never would have guessed. You played the blood lust kinda cool."
Spike: "Mmm. I hate being obvious. All fang-y and 'grrr.' Takes the mystery out."
Willow: "But if you could..."
Spike: "If I could, yeah."
Willow: "You know, this doesn't make you any less terrifying."
Spike: "Don't patronize me."


  1. "The Mortuary." Buffy.com. Archived from the original on March 31, 2001.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Douglas Petrie, The Complete Fourth Season on DVD: audio commentaries for "The Initiative." 20th Century Studios, June 10, 2003.
  3. "Doug Petrie, Buffy Producer's guide to season four - The Initiative." BBC. Retrieved on May 4, 2020.
  4. "Girl-fight fun." BBC. Retrieved on May 4, 2020.
  5. "Nielsen Ratings for Buffy's Fourth Season." Nielsen Ratings for Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, & Firefly. Archived from the original on July 6, 2008.
  6. 6.0 6.1 "The Initiative Script." BuffyWorld. Archived from the original on June 3, 2018.