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The Big Damn Buffy Rewatch S04E02, “Living Conditions”

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In every generation, there is a chosen one. She alone will live in her car while her children do various extracurricular activities. She will also recap every episode of Buffy The Vampire Slayer with an eye to the following themes:

  1. Sex is the real villain of the Buffy The Vampire Slayer universe.
  2. Giles is totally in love with Buffy.
  3. Joyce is a fucking terrible parent.
  4. Willow’s magic is utterly useless (this one won’t be an issue until season 2, when she gets a chance to become a witch)
  5. Xander is a textbook Nice Guy.
  6. The show isn’t as feminist as people claim.
  7. All the monsters look like wieners.
  8. If ambivalence to possible danger were an Olympic sport, Team Sunnydale would take the gold.
  9. Angel is a dick.
  10. Harmony is the strongest female character on the show.
  11. Team sports are portrayed in an extremely negative light.
  12. Some of this shit is racist as fuck.
  13. Science and technology are not to be trusted.
  14. Mental illness is stigmatized.
  15. Only Willow can use a computer.
  16. Buffy’s strength is flexible at the plot’s convenience.
  17. Cheap laughs and desperate grabs at plot plausibility are made through Xenophobia.
  18. Oz is the Anti-Xander
  19. Spike is capable of love despite his lack of soul
  20. Don’t freaking tell me the vampires don’t need to breathe because they’re constantly out of frickin’ breath.
  21. The foreshadowing on this show is freaking amazing.
  22. Smoking is evil.
  23. Despite praise for its positive portrayal of non-straight sexualities, some of this shit is homophobic as fuck.
  24. How do these kids know all these outdated references, anyway?
  25. Technology is used inconsistently as per its convenience in the script.
  26. Sunnydale residents are no longer shocked by supernatural attacks.
  27. Casual rape dismissal/victim blaming a-go-go
  28. Snyder believes Buffy is a demon or other evil entity.
  29. The Scoobies kind of help turn Jonathan into a bad guy.
  30. This show caters to the straight/bi female gaze like whoa.
  31. Sunnydale General is the worst hospital in the world.
  32. Faith is hyper-sexualized needlessly.
  33. Slut shame!
  34. The Watchers have no fucking clue what they’re doing.
  35. Vampire bites, even very brief ones, are 99.8% fatal.
  36. Economic inequality is humorized and oversimplified.
  37. Buffy is an abusive romantic partner.
  38. Riley is the worst.
  39. Joss Whedon has a problem with fat people.

Have I missed any that were added in past recaps? Let me know in the comments.  Even though I might forget that you mentioned it.

WARNING: Some people have mentioned they’re watching along with me, and that’s awesome, but I’ve seen the entire series already and I’ll probably mention things that happen in later seasons. So… you know, take that under consideration, if you’re a person who can’t enjoy something if you know future details about it.

At Stevenson Hall on the campus of good old UC Sunnydale, Buffy’s roommate, Kathy, is cheerfully ironing her jeans to Cher’s “Believe” while Buffy looks through Kathy’s CDs in dismay. To escape, Buffy says she’s going out to get some coffee and study.

Kathy: “I guess I just didn’t realize you’d be coming and going at all hours. Oh, not that I mind! I’m just surprised.”

Just in case you were worried that this is Kathy’s only passive-aggressive tendency, she’s set up a call-logging system so there won’t be any “problems” when the phone bill comes. Also, she mentions that some of her milk was missing from the mini-fridge. She insists that it’s not a big deal, but you can tell that it’s kind of a big deal. With just one tiny scene, we know that Kathy is a total nightmare to live with.

Buffy meets up with Willow, who jokes about Buffy still having to sneak out of her room.

Buffy: “Listening to the best of VH-1 all day sort of put me on edge.”

Willow: “Kathy still spinning the Divas?”

Buffy: “‘Cause it’s the funnest!”

Buffy holds out hope that college will change Kathy’s tastes to, randomly, trip-hop. I don’t remember much trip-hop ever being used on this show. I mean, off the top of my head, all I can think of is Cibo Matto made that one appearance, and maybe there’s a Massive Attack song in here somewhere? That last one is really only a guess based on the fact that in the ’90s it was actually illegal to make a television show without a Massive Attack song on the soundtrack.

Willow’s roommate situation isn’t going very well, either, but she tells Buffy that it’s just an adjustment they’re both going to have to make. They part ways, never noticing the demon lurking in the shadows.

After the opening credits, we rejoin Buffy on the dark and spooky campus. She’s listening to the tell-tale cracking of twigs underfoot that portend the arrival of a monster, but it’s just Kathy, catching up to tag along for coffee. As she opines about the fresh air, the demon from before the credits springs out. Buffy shoves Kathy off the path and out of harm’s way, and the demon barely fights before running away again. Cradling her wrist, Kathy rejoins Buffy on the path, where Buffy makes up a story about almost being mugged. Kathy laments her ruined sweater and the fact that Buffy could have gotten seriously hurt taking on an attacker. As Buffy leads Kathy back to the dorm, the demon joins another demon friend in the shadows. They talk about “her” possibly being “the one” but they have to make certain by following “her.”

Cut to the courtyard outside Giles’s house, where Buffy is going through his mail while Giles almost dies from attempting to jog. She tells Giles about the demon, but he’s more concerned with the idea of her roommate tagging along with her on patrols. He tells Buffy that he’ll look into the demon and give her a call when he’s got info, but Buffy isn’t in a hurry to leave.

Buffy: “What are you doing today?”

Giles: “It’s a big day for me, actually. A friend of mine recently acquired an original Guttenberg demonography and it suddenly occurs to me that you’ve never once asked me what my day’s plans were, which would lead me to inquire whether you’re feeling entirely yourself.”

I had to include this line because it’s really cool. From a writer’s perspective, I feel like Giles is the most difficult character to transition out of the high school days of this show. After all, he was a staff member at the school, which is now a smoking crater in the ground. He can no longer be identified as just “the librarian,” which was sort of his thing. He’s no longer any of the things we’ve seen him be on this show. He’s not a Watcher anymore, he’s not a librarian anymore, and while he knows all sorts of sorcery-type stuff, it’s not like you can return him to that life without serious character regression and possible evil!Giles. So, how do you adapt him to the new direction the story has taken? You show him taking up various new hobbies like jogging and, judging from the magazine Buffy finds in his mail, mopeds. And while you do that, you keep some things hopelessly, dorkily, the same. You could remove that “It’s a big day for me” line and drop it into any of the previous seasons. Marti Noxon wrote this episode, and I really feel like she understands the characters better than any of the other writers on the show. Better, even, than Joss Whedon himself sometimes. Noxon writes the show the way a fan would have written the show.

Anyway, back to the episode. Buffy admits she’s looking for a way to kill time until Kathy is out of the room, but Giles has no patience for Buffy’s dramatics. He tells her that she’s going to have to learn how to get along with someone else, and Buffy resolves to be a better roommate.

Cut to the dorm, where Kathy grumpily scrubs a stain out of her sweater with what appears to be turpentine?

Kathy sitting on her bed, holding her sweater. I've highlighted the can of what appears to be turpentine on the bed beside her.

Emphasis on that can mine. This is a laundry trick I’ve never heard of but I’m loath to chalk it up to just “Kathy is a demon who doesn’t understand being human” because I don’t know that much about laundry in the first place. Realizing her sweater is hopeless, Kathy helps herself to one from Buffy’s closet. While she’s in there, she finds a bag full of crossbow and wooden stakes.

In the dining hall, Buffy cuts in line in front of this fucking douchebag:

This dude has Disney prince looks and stupid floppy 90s hair.

This character has a name, but I’m not going to use it. Stupid Fucking Douchebag is good enough for him. SFD. That’s his name. He’s fine with Buffy cutting in line because she’s clearly avoiding someone. He pegs Buffy for a freshman right off the bat and gives her tips on abusing the dining program. He’s meeting someone for lunch, and Xander, Willow, and Oz are waiting for Buffy, so she and SFD part ways.

Xander is visiting campus why? Because his friends have dining cards and he’s hungry. His parents aren’t feeding him, so he’s scavenging off Willow’s plate. And of course, Xander’s situation is endearing because it gives a reason for the gang to get back together. But nobody seems alarmed at the idea of their friend not being able to afford…eating. I mean, that’s so basic. But everyone is just cool with it because #36.

Xander also revisits #5, outlining his “hit on women and run” strategy. But it’s hard to be too angry with him when he’s also eager for an apocalypse. We spend so much time focused on Buffy and Willow and the changes they’re dealing with post-high school, we really don’t get much about Xander beyond, “He can’t keep a job and he’s poor.” The fact that he would rather face the end of the world than his current situation, just so he can get a hit of that sweet, sweet high school nostalgia should be heartbreaking.

Kathy arrives on the scene and literally pushes her way in at their table. She’s under the mistaken impression that since she and Buffy are roommates, they’re also friends now. Buffy notices that Kathy is wearing her sweater, and Kathy points out that Buffy ruined her sweater.

Buffy: “I was saving you from a–”

Willow: “Bear!”

Buffy: “…mugger.”

Then Kathy takes a big bite of her burger and gets ketchup all over Buffy’s sweater, giving rise to one of the greatest gifs of all time:

An animated gif of the scene. Buffy looks mad, the camera cuts to a closer shot of her mad face, then a closer shot of her mad eyes. This all happens in a few seconds, and is exactly like it's shown in the episode.

Later that night, Buffy is complaining about this on the phone to Willow, who’s got her own roommate situation she’s admirably trying to be optimistic about:

Willow's dorm room is a full-on mini party, with black lights, red solo cups, and a ton of people packed into the space.

Then Kathy comes back to the room and starts FLOSSING. She starts FLOSSING. FLOSSING, like it’s normal to just sit there and FLOSS your teeth near other people. I am sorry, but that gross shit is confined to the bathroom, only. You don’t just sit there and spray your plaque all over the place!

Things get weirder…

Kathy has labeled everything in the refrigerator with her name. Even individual hard boiled eggs.

You know someone in the writers’ room was like, “I once had this roommate who labeled their eggs!” and everyone was like, “We’ve got to put that in!”

Kathy isn’t alone in her war of passive-aggression. When she picks up her book to read, she finds it stuck to the table with gum. When she asks Buffy (who is chewing gum) who put gum there, Buffy swallows and plays dumb.

I remember the first time I watched this episode. I was like, “Where does the demon come in?” because I was not down for a non-supernatural episode of Buffy overreacting to minor roommate annoyances. I mean, she seems really spoiled in this one, even if Kathy is an obnoxious person. But then they go to sleep and Buffy dreams of that demon from the beginning. And, oh good, he pours blood into her mouth and sucks light out of her and puts a scorpion on her and stuff. Totally normal Buffy dream, actually. But she wakes up to find Kathy staring at her and demanding to know if Buffy always makes so much noise in her sleep.

So, I want to talk about this:

A shot of the dorm's common area, which has a stair case and arches and couches in a sitting around formation.

I know they shot exteriors for Sunnydale High at Torrance High because that’s where all ’90s teen movies and television shows shot their exteriors. But I assumed the interiors were shot on a set. Just like I assume that while they used UCLA and an office park to film exteriors for UC Sunnydale, the interiors are shot on a set. I mean, I could be wrong. I’ve honestly never watched any kind of “making of” about Buffy. But either way, doesn’t this look just a little too much like the lounge area at Sunnydale High? Just in basic composition of where shit is? I’m expecting the vending machines to be off to the left, and Cordelia to come bopping down the stairs in the back. Even if these were both shot on location (and like I said, they very well may be and I wouldn’t have a clue), why pick two locations that look so incredibly alike? Especially when trying to basically reboot the series as Buffy: The College Years.

Anyway, Buffy is telling Oz and Willow and Giles about her dream:

Buffy: “And the worst part? I wake up and there’s Kathy staring at me like I’m some sort of freak.”

Oz: “Well, actually, the worst part I’d have to go with the demon pouring blood down your throat.”

Willow: “Me too. I would vote for that, too.”

Just as Giles starts to talk about figuring out what Buffy’s dream means, Kathy arrives. Buffy is thrilled to introduce them.

Willow: “He’s our grown up friend. Not in a, a creepy way.”

It certainly didn’t strike any adults as creepy when he was hanging around you in high school. When it should have.

Kathy tells Giles about the weird dream she had the night before, which is exactly like the dream Buffy had. Buffy pointedly tells Kathy that she should go to class, and Kathy makes a dig about Buffy keeping her up all night. Giles points out that Kathy having the same dream means something, but Buffy’s in full Kathy-hate obsession mode:

Buffy: “Not only does she take my sweater, but now she has to horn in on my dreams? She is the most ever mooch–oh! I haven’t even gotten to the floss.”

Yes, thank you, the FLOSS! Why is nobody talking about the FLOSS?

Giles gently suggests that maybe if Buffy and Kathy both had the same dream, they’re both being affected by the demon they ran into that night on the path. Buffy tells her friends to research it while she goes to class, and when she leaves, Willow says:

Willow: “Okay, so that was the evil twin, right? Because she was bordering on Cordelia-esque.”

Giles chalks Buffy’s bad mood up to learning to live with a roommate, but he tells them to keep an eye on her, anyway.

You know what’s cool about Buffy bordering on Cordelia-esque? The fact that Sarah Michelle Gellar was originally considered for Cordelia, and this episode kind of gives us a clue how she would have played it.

The two demons meet around a fire. They talk about how they’ve definitely found the right girl, and they make plans to summon an even bigger demon than themselves. Then we cut to the dorm, where Buffy braces herself to enter the Cher zone. When she opens the door, she finds SFD reclining all cozily on Kathy’s bed, and they’re only keeping one foot on the floor. He’s talking about how underrated female pop artists are because of course he is. But he’s come by to drop off some plastic baggies for Buffy to take food from the dining hall with her. Kathy, however, goes on and on, giggling about how much fun SFD is and how much they have in common. She’s definitely flirting with SFD, and Buffy gets real testy about it. Like, makes SFD visibly uncomfortable. And here’s the thing: I don’t think Buffy’s behavior is justified here. At all. Even a little. She’s had one conversation with SFD. That’s not a contract. And while I don’t think SFD should ever get with a girl ever again ever, I do think he has the right to flirt with other girls even if he’s talked to our main character. This doesn’t make me dislike Kathy; it makes me dislike Buffy.

Kathy’s not in the liking Buffy business, either. They get into a fight and she says:

Kathy: “Your problem is, you’re spoiled. Maybe the world revolved around you where you used to live, but it’s share time now!”

And Buffy’s response is to “share” all of the prominently labeled milk with her mouth, her chin, and the floor.

Meanwhile, Willow and Oz are talking about being worried for Buffy. Willow is wracked with guilt over the fact that she has too much homework to spend time with Buffy and be a good friend. Oz steps up and reminds her that he’s also Buffy’s friend and can totally hang out with her. As he heads off to do that, he walks past a group of people. One girl, in particular, catches his eye in a suspicious way, and she gives him that same suspicious glance, while behind them, more of those commandos from the end of the last episode sneak obviously through the bushes. Like, hello, how is no one on a busy campus noticing armed soldiers storming through the commons?

Buffy patrols and complains to Oz about Kathy for a while, until Oz suggests:

Oz: “Just a…just a thought, Buffy, do you think all this ranting is scaring away potential demons?”

Which doesn’t make Buffy shut up about Kathy. It just makes her blame Kathy for fucking up her slayage. Then she kicks a bench in half. She says something has to be done about Kathy, and Oz ominously agrees.

Back at the dorm, Buffy is annoyed by the sound of Kathy clipping her toenails, so she retaliates by tapping her pencil on her textbook. Then Kathy retaliates by turning on Cher again. So Buffy puts on ear muffs. So Kathy gets a labeled hardboiled egg out and passive-aggressively peels it while staring Buffy down, until Buffy announces that she’s going to bed.

And what happens when Buffy sleeps?

A gross looking demon with green eyes sucks a long stream of what looks like a tornado out of Buffy's mouth.

Buffy wakes up, startled, just before Kathy does, as well.

Later that morning, Kathy is talking to Willow about all the issues that have been going on. Kathy says she has a feeling that Buffy isn’t normal, which Buffy overhears. Kathy leaves and Buffy demands to know why Willow was talking to her. Willow, having reached the breaking point with this bullshit, says it’s time for Buffy to let it go.

Buffy: “You’re right. I’ve been thinking a lot about this and it’s clear to me now.”

Willow: “Good. That’s better.”

Buffy: “Kathy’s evil. I’m an evil fighter. It’s simple. I’m gonna have to kill her.”

Spooky music, cut to commercial.

I love the red herrings this episode throws at us. At first, we’re like, “Kathy is fucking terrible and Buffy is frustrated with having to deal with a terrible roommate.” Then, we’re like, “Something demonic is fucking with them both, so even though they’re both unbearable, once we get this demon thing worked out, they’ll be fine.”

After the commercial, Willow asks Buffy like, you know, do you really have to kill her, and Buffy produces proof that Kathy is a demon: a bag of her toenail clippings. Which she collected when Kathy was in the bathroom. And measured. And then measured again the next morning, which is how she knows they kept growing after they were cut.

Buffy is really not making a great case for herself here.

Willow pretends to agree that Kathy is obviously demonic and Buffy should kill her but suggests maybe she should show the toenails to Giles, first. And Buffy is like, well, of course, I’m not going to do anything crazy. Which falls under #14, because ha ha, crazy people are dangerous murderers, even though I really love this episode and I don’t want to find anything bad about it because of that. But it’s there, and despite my complicated feels about the words “crazy” and “insane” from a mentally ill person’s perspective, I can’t really let this slide, as much as it hurts me to criticize this show sometimes.

Willow decides to give Giles a heads up:

Willow: “Giles, I just talked to Buffy and, yeah, I think she’s feeling a little…insane. No, not bitchy-crazy. More like homicidal-maniac-crazy? So I told her to come see you, ‘kay?”

So, yeah, #14. Because of the equating mental illness with violence. I do like to imagine the other side of that conversation, though, in which Giles presumably uses the word “bitchy”.

Buffy goes to Giles’s house, which seems empty. Then Giles throws a net over her and Xander and Oz emerge to help him wrestle Buffy to the ground long enough to tie her up. Which is just like, a whole separate genre of Buffy fanfic to itself.

Buffy: “Giles, look in my bag! Look in the bottom pocket of my bag! She has parts that keep growing after they’re detached! She irons her jeans! She’s evil. She has to be destroyed.”

Giles: “I fear the demon that Buffy met in the woods has somehow possessed her.”

Buffy: “Light FM! Love songs! Nothing but love songs!”

Xander: “Ya think?”

Giles tells Oz and Xander that there’s a spell he can do to get rid of the possession, but he needs supplies. Then, he runs out the door. Like, he super does not want to get his ass beat by a Slayer, so he leaves Oz and Xander behind to deal with that.

Meanwhile, Willow goes to Buffy’s room to find Kathy. Willow tells her that maybe it’s a good idea to get away for a while. Like, to get away from Buffy, and soon. Kathy is understandably alarmed and offended. She says that Buffy should be institutionalized (#14) and then says something that, given the first episode of the season, should be a red flag to Willow:

Kathy: “I wouldn’t put it past her to drop out or take off or something. Do something horrible to herself?”

Willow: “Herself?”

Kathy: “Or worse. She’s capable of it, you know? You can see it in those shifty little eyes of hers. One of these days, she might even push somebody too far.”

Now, we don’t know Kathy is a demon at this point. We don’t really have a reason to think Kathy is a demon. We’re thinking that Buffy is possessed by the demon and has become dangerous as a result. The other possibilities seem plausible enough that we don’t question them. Because Marti Noxon is great at this. However, we do know that we just saw an episode where vampires were killing students and leaving notes saying they’ve run away. So, that’s a clue there. Kathy is the one doing the wacky late night blood and scorpion fests with Buffy’s sleeping body, and clearly, this is going to lead to some physical or mental consequences for her, so Kathy has to set up why Buffy suddenly dies or disappears, right?

But you only really see that on rewatch because, again, Noxon is great at this.

Back at Giles’s house, Xander is worried that he didn’t tie Buffy up tight enough. He and Oz go to check on the knots, and surprise, they definitely did not tie her up tight enough. She smacks their little heads together and knocks them out.

You know…here’s something that isn’t just Buffy, but pretty much all TV shows: does our portrayal of head injuries in the media influence our attitude toward traumatic brain injury and is that why it’s so difficult to get people to take chronic traumatic encephalopathy seriously? And considering the number of times Giles has been knocked out already, why haven’t I dropped that link before?

Anyway, Buffy goes back to the dorm to confront Kathy, and it’s like, clear that this is going to be a showdown. But it’s still so surprising when Kathy actually punches Buffy, like super hard. And then Buffy…

Well, there’s no good way to put this. She tears Kathy’s face right off. And underneath is the demon Buffy has been dreaming about:

Kathy's human face is ripped off, and under the jagged edges of torn skin, she has the same scrotum-like skin texture as the other demons from before, as well as glowing eyes and long, pointy teeth.

Um, how did tearing off her people skin make her teeth longer? Wouldn’t we have seen how long her teeth are already?

But more importantly, Buffy yells:

Buffy: “I knew it!”

So like…suspicion confirmed, but…does that mean Buffy was cool with tearing Kathy’s face off, anyway? And finding out she was a demon was just a bonus?

Kathy tackles Buffy to the floor and we go to commercial. When we return, those other demons are around their campfire. They summon a third demon, and you can tell he’s special because instead of just ragged black robes, he’s also wearing a ragged pink scarf.

In the room, Kathy tells Buffy to shut up and let her finish her ritual. Buffy’s like, what ritual, and then we cut to Giles, reading about the ritual in one of his books. As he reads aloud to know one, as is his wont, we flip between him and Buffy and Kathy in the dorm.

Kathy: “Look, I’m sorry, okay? I left my dimension to go to college and they sent these guys after me.”

The problem is that even in human form, Kathy’s kind can spot her due to her missing soul. So, she’s been taking Buffy’s a little at a time every night. The plan is that when the demons show up, they’ll take Buffy back to their dimension instead of Kathy.

Buffy: “Well, thank God I won’t have to watch you floss anymore!”

I KNOW RIGHT?!

Giles realizes the horrible mistake he’s made and takes off with the baggie of toenail clippings. Meanwhile, back at Giles’s house, Xander and Oz wake up from being unconscious for waaaay too long to be safe.

Xander: “Why couldn’t Giles have shackles like any self-respecting bachelor?”

You’re expecting me to say something here. I shan’t. For I am a lady.

(But he does have shackles later in the season.)

Willow runs in and finds them, and seeing that Buffy is missing, she tries to call Kathy to warn her. But Kathy is using the phone to beat Buffy’s face up. Giles races into his house and says:

Giles: “Toenails!”

And he explains to them that only one kind of toenail regenerating demon uses Kathy’s ritual, so he knows how to stop it. While Xander and Oz go to help Buffy fight, Willow aides Giles in his spell to undo the soul transfer thingy (which is what has been making Buffy so awful lately). The spellcasting is interspersed with the dorm room fight that incorporates all the elements of things they hate about each other, including the sweater, the pencils, the window, etc. Just as Kathy is about to suck Buffy’s soul out, the spell reverses and Buffy sucks the soul out of Kathy. The big scary scarf demon appears and says (in subtitles):

Demon Dad: “There you are. Do you have any idea how much trouble you’re in, young lady?”

Kathy: “I’m not going back!”

Demon Dad: “Don’t take that tone with me.”

Kathy: “I’m 3000 years old! When are you going to stop treating me like I’m 900?”

Oz and Xander burst in at that moment, and Demon Dad snarls at them. He tells Kathy that she’s coming home and opens a swirling vortex through which they both disappear while Oz, Buffy, and Xander look on in horrified curiosity.

At some point in the future, Willow is on Kathy’s side of the room, hanging up a poster. She and Buffy are rooming together now, which is as it should have been all along. That said, I know someone mentioned in an earlier comment that Buffy and Willow should have requested to be roommates, but a quick survey of my friends who went to college tells me that not everyplace lets you request roommates your freshman year, because you’re supposed to meet new people and learn and grow and shit like that. But now they’re roommates, A Dingoes Ate My Baby poster has replaced Celine Dion, and all is right with the world.

But then Willow helps herself to the other half of Buffy’s sandwich, and we get the close-up Buffy glare shot again before the screen goes to credits.

I’ve always felt a lot of sympathy toward Kathy, though her motivations aren’t that clear. I really wish we would have gotten more time to get to know her. Why did she want to leave her dimension? Was she just really obsessed with human pop divas? Do they not have colleges in that dimension, or do the colleges just not offer the course of study Kathy wanted to pursue? What good would a human degree do in Kathy’s dimension? Or was she just planning to stay on earth forever? I actually kind of feel bad for her because, soul-sucking aside, she was just trying to get out from under the thumb of her Demon Dad.

I like it when the plot of an episode doesn’t necessarily revolve around someone trying to destroy the Slayer. There’s never any mention of any of the demons knowing who or what Buffy is. All the drama is intra-demon here, and Buffy is just a bystander. It puts her in the position we’ve seen a lot of side characters put in, where their lives are mangled by proximity to the Hellmouth. And we also get to see Buffy continuing to adjust to college life. The events of the last episode didn’t neatly resolve themselves and make everything fine, but we’re not mired down in boring, introspective, woe-is-me-I-can’t-adjust moping. Even with the casual ableism about mental illness here, I’d put this episode toward the higher end of my “Best Buffy episodes” chart.

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18 Comments

  1. Jimmy
    Jimmy

    The reason Buffy is increasingly unlikable is because Kathy is stealing her soul, hence the paranoia and rage and jealousy and ripping faces off.

    October 20, 2017
    |Reply
  2. Sara L.
    Sara L.

    I like that Buffy is unlikeable in this episode, and I don’t think it is for any supernatural reason. She is also a terrible roommate, and I love that her reaction to Kathy is completely out of proportion to the level of annoyance. That shot of Willow dealing with a much, much worse roommate issue is so great, pointing out how Buffy’s reactions are ridiculous in context. The soul sucking explains the increasing aggression, but I see no reason to give Buffy the benefit of the doubt here. That gum thing would have made me rage so much. Some people just should not be roommates.

    October 20, 2017
    |Reply
    • Jimmy
      Jimmy

      I’m not giving her the benefit of the doubt. She wasn’t the best roommate, but she probably wouldn’t have gotten any worse if it weren’t for the soul-sucking, like Giles said. The milk stuff probably wouldn’t have happened if not for the soul-sucking + Kathy being insufferable.

      October 20, 2017
      |Reply
  3. We were allowed to request roommates my freshman year, but it was a crapshoot whether or not the person doing the actual room assignments would honor it. My room was a 5-person suite, and my best friend and I got roomed together … with three cheerleaders. We were like uber-nerds, and of course no one had left that high school mindset behind yet so it didn’t go well.

    October 20, 2017
    |Reply
  4. Quelaag
    Quelaag

    I also liked the fact that Buffy was merely a bystander to the demon conflict in this episode. The demons in Buffy can come off as one-dimensional villains, especially in earlier seasons. This episode at least hints at the idea that they have a society and some interests beyond tormenting humans and fighting with the Slayer.

    As for colleges assigning rooms and roommates, I think it’s ridiculous that they charge 20-30K a year, and they force people to live with strangers in shitty, overpriced dorms.

    October 20, 2017
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  5. I thought that I was the only one who felt sympathy for Kathy. Yes, soul sucking is wrong, but if she was doing it because she felt desperate to get away from her father, how bad must things be for her?

    But exploring that probably would have had to mean making her a recurring character, so they just wanted to wrap it up a bit better.

    Honestly, even before Kathy sucked Buffy’s soul, Buffy was kind of an annoying room mate. I don’t mind sharing my food, but you have to ASK. If you ask, I’ll just let you and truly not mind. I’m really relaxed, whatever.

    If you take it without asking, THAT’S going to make me really angry. (There’s exceptions. If you steal stuff like Tylenol because your cramps were really bad and I wasn’t around to ask, that’s one thing. In that case I just want you to talk to me about it afterward and admit that you did it.)

    Basically, I wouldn’t want Buffy as my room mate, either.

    October 20, 2017
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  6. Oooh, you missed out one of my favourite lines: Oz, deadpan, saying “On the plus side, you killed the bench, which was… looking shifty.” (Disclaimer: I’m reciting that from memory seventeen years later, so goodness knows how I’ve mangled it. But I love that line and I love deadpan Oz.)

    As a British watcher, I’m going to add that this whole thing of having roommates at college seems bizarre to me. Who the heck thinks it’s a good idea to expect strangers to share like that?

    October 21, 2017
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  7. H2
    H2

    re: traumatic brain injuries – Giles and MacGyver could start a club

    re: Marti Noxon – for me, she’s hit or miss. She wrote like all of my ‘least fave’ episodes of Buffy and is responsible for the trash fire of s6 and the clue-by-four/the-fans-are-cabbages ‘magic is addicting, like ebil drugz’ bullshit. maybe she gets the characters, but mostly, i don’t love her plots.

    October 21, 2017
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    • Nocturnal Queen
      Nocturnal Queen

      Was it her who was responsible for the abusive Spuffy storyline?

      October 21, 2017
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      • That Dude from That Thing
        That Dude from That Thing

        It’s been so long that I can’t really remember which writer did which episode, but I do remember very clearly that she was behind the Willow and Cassie/The First scenes in “Conversations with Dead People,” along with Jane Espenson for the Dawn scenes, Whedon for the Buffy and Holden scenes, and Drew Goddard for the Troika scenes.

        Hers were by far the weakest of the episode, and bordering on, if not actually over the line into, homophobic.

        October 21, 2017
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      • Saint_Sithney
        Saint_Sithney

        Yes, she was. Including establishing that Buffy ignoring Spike’s clear lack of consent is fine and funny, but Spike ignoring Buffy’s is a horrible trauma.

        Like, I do understand from a writing perspective that Spike has no soul and his introduction to sexual relationships was Angel’s little coven. It’s got to mess with your sense of sexual appropriateness when your partners have been Drusilla, Angelus, and Darla – all of whom we’re shown view sadistic violence as mild foreplay (and Harmony, though neither of them seemed to affect the other’s sexual preferences much). Spike has a totally messed up conception of sexuality, and Buffy reinforced it by making non-consent a part of their relationship. But it’s never really visited that Spike has a weird conception of sexuality, and that Buffy was explicitly sexually abusive… and that Spike was portrayed as not minding at all.

        I always thought it was incredibly fucked up that we never visited the fact that Buffy performed oral sex on Spike after he emphatically told her, MULTIPLE TIMES, that he did not want to have sex with her. This could have produced some very introspective writing on the nature of how one views sex and sexuality as a product of one’s environment, how women are fully capable of sexual violence, and how toxic the relationship had become based on mutual inability to listen. But instead we got “Woman rapes man = Comedy, Man attempts to rape woman = Tragedy”.

        October 23, 2017
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  8. Erin C
    Erin C

    I always liked Oz much better than Tara. I know that Tara is more significant from a cultural standpoint, but I just don’t like her. Its also a shame they had to turn Oz violent to justify Willow’s choice. It should have been enough that Willow chose Tara.

    But then I also liked Riley, at least in the first season he was on the show. When they tried to pull the “I had to act like an asshole and treat you badly because my masculinity is too fragile” then I was ready to have him leave. If a writer ever wants me to instantly hate their male character have him pull that move. Double fuck Xander for making Buffy think she was in the wrong. Xander = The Worst.

    October 23, 2017
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  9. I…kind of disliked the bit where bc Buffy’s soul was being sucked out she was becoming an uber-bitch (or Cordelia-esque, or Evil Twin).

    Oh fun fact, this episode is why I was terrified to go away to college and have a roommate. It legit gave me anxiety nightmares to the point where it made me MORE anxious to leave my home, which had been why I wanted to go away to college to begin with. Which is a marvel in and of itself as only TWO things in my life have ever made me more anxious then being stuck at my home with my family.

    October 23, 2017
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  10. Lily
    Lily

    I had a terrible freshman roommate. She threw my stuffed bunny, which I had had from infancy, into the incinerator.

    October 23, 2017
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    • WS
      WS

      WTF, what an absolute monster!

      October 24, 2017
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  11. Jo
    Jo

    Yes, cleaning stains with turpentine is a laundry thing. It’s a rough approximation of dry cleaning. It fits with ironing jeans and labelling eggs. I probably wouldn’t try it on clothing I liked though!

    I’ve read and enjoyed your blog for years, so feel free to interpret answering a random laundry question as my bashful thanks for your writing 🙂

    October 24, 2017
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    • HeidiAphrodite
      HeidiAphrodite

      I was thinking it might be Fels Naphtha, which is pretty much the same thing, right?

      November 7, 2017
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  12. Torrin
    Torrin

    This episode is why I paid extra for a private room throughout college. It was totally worth it.

    Oh, and Erin C.? Count me in on the Oz love. I like Tara just fine, I just love Oz more. Oz remains my idealized television boyfriend. (I flat out ignore how they jacked up his character in the end. Never happened in my head canon. Lol.)

    November 9, 2017
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