The fourth season of Buffy tried to shake things up a bit. Buffy and Willow went to college (I’m still not entirely sure whether college means university or something different in the US, but it does seem a bit different than just higher classes at school, so I guess it’s a form of university), Xander and Giles pretty much did nothing with their lives (the former hopped from job to job with no vertical growth, the latter enjoyed doing nothing). Boyfriend-wise Buffy tried to get a more mundane boyfriend, though her choice turned out to be not so mundane after all, while Willow lost her werewolf and got a witch in return. And Xander took in a former demon.
As for the overall plot arc this season, things also looked different. After two boss vampires and one (sort of) über-magician, the big bad this time was a hybrid made of human and demon parts mixed with cybertech. I liked that for the first time the series acknowledged that we live in a modern world and technology might be one way to deal with demons and their ilk. Sadly, it was clear from the start that the Initiative had something to hide and the military guys were painted as less competent compared to Buffy. So in the end, Buffy’s the only savor allowed to be around.
I also thought the big bad this season was slightly disappointing. Adam’s motivation for doing evil stuff was pretty much generic. Evil Angel was obsessed with imagined slights by Buffy and the mayor wanted to become something different to not feel these annoying human feelings anymore, but both the big bad from the 1st and the 4th season were evil just because. The 1st because of his nature and Adam because he saw humanity as inherently flawed and in need of replacement through something better. Abstract motivations like that don’t really make for memorable villains beyond their basic power set and their look. There’s nothing that makes you able to empathize with their evil needs to some degree.
Worst, at the end Buffy and her gang needed a deus ex machina to deal with Adam. A technology-based solution would have worked thematically better instead of doing a spell they could have done from the start and which they seemingly pulled out of their collective asses. All that said, while I disliked the overall plot arc, quality-wise the acting and writing on the individual level got better and better. That was already in full force in the third season, but the fourth season made it even more apparent, which every actor putting in their best effort.