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This is awesome, thanks for sharing!
I’m probably not the first to say this, but just think of Buffy season four without Adam as the Big Bad. Instead, the Big Bad is Maggie Walsh.
Adam’s just not very engaging as a villain, and he seems to have this sense of having been a replacement - they couldn’t have Maggie (presumably because of scheduling conflicts on the part of Lindsay Crouse) in the same capacity she’d been in, so they threw something together at the last minute with their plans already derailed. Given that Buffy’s major villains are usually more nuanced than ‘I’m a monster, I kill,’ Adam is a letdown, but if he’s a last second replacement for that nuanced character… I can see how that happens. I’m not made happier about it, but I can see how it happens.
But just imagine what we could have had with Maggie Walsh as the season’s antagonist. Stretch out Buffy’s time working with the Initiative some, see her begin looking to Maggie as almost a surrogate mother figure. Think of Giles being forced to interact with her on a semi-regular basis. Picture a scene where Maggie gets to meet Joyce, where she proceeds to psychoanalyze her and make a few uncomfortable comments about the Slayer’s upbringing. Then it moves to Maggie realizing that the Slayer can’t be controlled and setting out to ‘contain the situation.’ Plus, much as I know Riley’s not a fan favorite, seeing him side with Buffy over the woman who has been his mother figure would have more resonance than him not wanting to be Adam’s ‘brother.’
And it would give a chance to ask some of the bigger questions - the Initiative, in theory, is a necessary organization. The Slayer can’t be everywhere, surely some allies and back-up aren’t a bad idea. Maybe having a military ready and capable of fighting demons isn’t that bad of a thing on its own (you know, minus the whole ‘catch and release’ and ‘experimentations’ and ‘anal probes’ bit). At the least, ask these questions, because there’s some importance to them.
Plus the ultimate moral dilemma with Maggie - she’d be setting things up to where Buffy would have to face her and stop her. It’s Buffy having to stand up to and fight and potentially kill someone who may be a threat, but is still purely human. What happens when Buffy has to go up against a human being? Yeah, physically Buffy has the edge, but killing people has always been to Buffy and the Scooby Gang one of those lines they don’t cross, not without severe repercussions. They tackled it some with Faith in season three, but it wasn’t as the ‘can you do this’ element, it was the ‘it’s already been done, how do we handle it’ side of things.*sigh* Dammit, why do real world conflicts have to interfere with the goldmine of storytelling opportunities?
Excellent post, very good points.
I’d add to this that the Frankenstein storyline they’d set up was also very interesting and terribly underused. AFAIK there aren’t many adaptations of the novel where Frankenstein is a woman and where her creation is a substitute child. It’s a shame, because Mary Shelley wrote the novel with exactly this in mind (she’d lost a child and dreamed that it came back to life). This definitely deserved to be explored, as well as Maggie’s ambiguous relationship with Riley (Lindsay Crouse suggested in an interview that there weren’t just maternal feelings there).
That said, season 4 was generally poor compared to the rest of the show. Too many serious issues were passed off as jokes or glossed over (Giles’ alcoholism/midlife crisis, Buffy’s mourning of her relationship and learning to live in College, Xander being stuck with his parents, Willow using magic to get over Oz, etc). So considering S4’s approach to character development, I’m not sure it could have done Maggie (and Riley and Adam) justice even if Lindsay Crouse had stayed on.