Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Buffy the Vampire Slayer- Living Conditions

Season 4

Episode: “ Living Conditions” (October 11, 1999)

Synopsis and color commentary lovingly provided by Jason Henderson

What do you do if your college students and your roommate is driving you crazy? If you’re the slayer, you just might kill her. Will Buffy?

Buffy: Sarah Michelle Gellar
Willow: Alyson Hannigan
Oz: Seth Green
Xander: Nicholas Brendan
Giles: Anthony Stewart Head

Kathy, the new room-mate who announced last ep that this year is going to be “super-fun,” is driving Buffy crazy. She listens to diva-driven pop and does a lot of ironing, wants Buffy to log her long distance phone calls, and doesn’t like Buffy taking her milk, and all with a big, cheery smile. Buffy barely manages to scrape out of the dorm room to patrol, “going for coffee.”
Willow listens sympathetically—her room-mate is a challenge, too, but after all, they put the “grr” in grrl and can handle it. Oh, and there’s a demon watching from the woods.

Act 1
Buffy patrols the campus to discover to her horror that Kathy wants to come along. “Hey! Caught you! A decaf latte sounded like heaven after all!” A glowing-eyed orangey sort of monk-demon (the one from the Prologue) attacks Buffy, who knocks Kathy into the woods and defeats the demon without Kathy noticing. The orangey monk demons muse that “she may be the one,” while Kathy bemoans her ruined sweater.

Buffy goes to see Giles, who will look into the monk-demons and advises her to ditch the roommate in the future. Giles is changing, jogging and reading motorbike magazines, and for once Buffy wants to know what his plans are. She’s avoiding her roommate, mainly. “You’d do well to learn to tolerate idiosyncrasies,” Giles suggests.

Kathy, meanwhile, goes into Buffy’s closet and discovers a bag full of crosses and crossbows.

Buffy goes to lunch and is given a lesson in the meal card gauntlet by Cute Guy Parker Lewis, who can’t lose. No, no. Parker Abrams, at Kresge Hall. Buffy eats with the Slayer Gang, including “non-college guy” Xander, who’s starving because his parents are now charging him for food.

And then, to Buffy’s horror, Kathy comes to sit with them in Buffy’s sweater which she gets jelly on. Buffy’s going mental, fixating on Kathy’s every fussy move. At night, Buffy dreams that the monk demons are sitting on her chest, pouring blood down her throat, putting scorpions on her and sucking out her life force.

Act 2
Kathy had the same dream and she’s still driving Buffy nuts, and the Slayer is becoming overtly hostile. The Slayer Gang will try to discover the significance of the ritual in the dream and Giles ants to know if Buffy’s hostility goes over the edge.

Buffy comes back to her room to find Parker and Kathy chatting one another up. Gag. The two fight after Parker is gone and Kathy calls Buffy “spoiled,” after which Buffy retaliates by going to the mini-fridge and drinking all of Kathy’s milk.

The unidentified Clancy-esque commando squad we saw last episode still lurks in the woods, affecting the plot in no manner.

Buffy tells Oz that Kathy is a “crawling black cancer” and “something has to be done,” and she kicks a bench to pieces. The following evening is a nightmare of heightened irritation at her roommate and true nightmares of demons and life-force-sucking.

Buffy is furious to find Willow listening to Kathy. Willow tells Buffy, “You just have to deal.” Buffy agrees: “Kathy’s evil. I’m an evil Slayer. It’s simple; I’m gonna have to kill her.”

Act 3
Buffy has news for Willow: she’s convinced Kathy’s evil because she stole some toe-nail clippings (Kathy’s clipping drives Buffy insane) and measured them after a night. They grew, she says. Kathy’s a demon and must die now. Willow suggests Buffy check this out with Giles and Buffy heartily agrees. (“Of course. I wouldn’t want to do anything crazy.”)

Willow calls Giles and tells her Buffy, newly insane, is on the way. At Giles’ place, Xander, Giles and Oz capture the Slayer and tie her up while Buffy raves about the transparent evil of her room-mate: “She irons her jeans: She’s evil! Lite FM! Love songs! Nothing but love songs! She has to die!” Clearly, Giles says, the demon the two girls met in the woods has possessed Buffy.

Willow goes to see Kathy and sees that Kathy’s gone a little homicidal, too.

Buffy escapes rather readily from Oz and Xander and heads straight back to Kathy. They begin to fight and Buffy pulls Kathy’s face off, and luckily she really is a demon. Buffy holds Kathy’s ever-cheerful face in her hands: “I knew it!”

Act 4
Kathy is a Mok’ta-gar, a demon from another dimension who’s run away to college. The demons in the woods have been hunting for her and can recognize her through her pop fan disguise because of her Lack of Soul. (And the metaphors just climb.) So Kathy’s been trying to steal Buffy’s soul.

Buffy and Kathy have a wonderful fight wherein they list their many grievances. (“All you had to do was WRITE! DOWN! YOUR! CALLS!”) Meanwhile, Giles has figured out that Buffy was correct about Kathy’s demonic toe-nails. So he and Willow can do a reversal spell, returning Buffy’s stolen soul, while Oz and Xander (a team I will from here on out refer to as “OX”) go to help her in the fight.

The spell works before OX show up, and Kathy’s dad appears from his dimension. (“Do you have any idea how much trouble you’re in, young lady?”) And Kathy gets sucked away to her own reality.

And guess what? Willow moves in as Buffy’s roommate. Voila, and it only took two episodes.


And now, finally, Buffy the Vampire Slayer returns to what it's really good at: stories that take the everyday fears of the young and validate them with violent fantasy. Remember, this is the series where Buffy lost her virginity to her boyfriend, who immediately became demonically evil towards her. This is the show where young men with raging hormones not only travel in packs, but are possessed by hyenas.
And now, Buffy has come to college, which gives Joss Whedon an entirely new untapped reservoir of anxieties to play with. In this episode, Buffy deals with having the first roommate of her life. But of course, the roommate really is a demon!
There are so wonderful moments here. The scene in which Buffy begins to fixate on Kathy’s toenail clipping is priceless; the world slows to a crawl and the toenail clippers clatter and echo like field artillery.

I was sorry to see Kathy the demon go, actually. I wonder if, now that everything's out in the open, we'll see Kathy return next semester.

It was nice to see the slayer gang more or less together again. It doesn't really matter that Giles has no particular reason to be hanging around, and for that matter neither does Xander. We viewers will put up with almost any excuse they can give us. And luckily, Buffy is important enough -- in a cosmic sense -- that Xander and Giles both probably feel a certain amount of duty to stick around.

By the way, I know they call it “the Scooby Gang,” but I just can’t.

General question: how does Buffy’s patrolling work, anyway? Does she get to go in if she faces one demon?

I also enjoyed the fact that this episode really exists merely to get Willow and Buffy into the same dorm room together. Throughout the episode, we see Willow suffering in her dorm room; her roommate throws wild parties all the time so that Willow appears to be sitting on a bed and talking on the phone in the middle of a club. One can sense Willow’s skepticism about demon Kathy when Buffy's strongest complaint is that Kathy likes to listen to Cher. So by the end of the episode, Willow and Buffy are going to be roommates together (and there are hints that this may not be as easy as it sounds.) I just have to admire the fact that Buffy is the kind of show that can do a really memorable commentary on first roommate angst to overcome a fairly simple plot hurdle.

The Clancy-esque special ops team of vampire hunters, all decked out in goggles and camouflage, moves through the woods in the background of this episode, just as they did the premiere. Jury's still out on what they're up to.


(Kathy queries Buffy about missing milk.)
Kathy: “I just wanted to make sure we didn’t have a thief!”
Buffy: “Like who? Sid the wiley dairy gnome?”

(After Buffy escapes from Team OX)
Xander: “Why couldn’t Giles have shackles like any self-respecting bachelor.”

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