Thursday, 12 March 2015

BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, 6.4 & 6.5 – 'Flooded' & 'Life Serial'

Thursday, 12 March 2015
ANYA: Captain Logic is not steering this tugboat. I smell Captain Fear at the wheel.
It's great we're exploring the aftermath of Buffy's (Sarah Michelle Gellar) Lazarus act, without it being brushed under the carpet too quickly. Her awkward rebirth's having a tangible impact on both her soul and, um, bank balance, which I appreciate seeing... but that didn't stop "FLOODED" being another weak episode with only a few decent scenes worth watching for.

Buffy's nearly bankrupt and her basement's flooded, which is to be expected when you don't have a paying job and expect huge bank loans to pay the bills. Worse luck, a mercenary M'Fashnik Demon (Todd Stashwick) has been hired by three of Sunnydale's geekiest nerds—Jonathan (Danny Strong), Warren (Adam Busch) and Andrew (Tom Lenk)—to rob the town's bank in exchange for the Slayer's home address, so he can send her back to the great hereafter. Better news: Giles (Anthony Stewart Head) has returned from England after receiving word that Buffy's back from the dead, and he's exactly the calm and reassuring parental voice she needs to hear.

I didn't like much about "Flooded", but the single most worrying aspect was the emergence of three horrendously clichéd geeks as potentially recurring villains. One of my pet hates in genre TV is when writers opt for lazy stereotypes to portray nerds, and this trio were the worst examples I've seen in ages. Mind you, I sometimes forget this season's Buffy the Vampire Slayer is 14 years old (at time of writing), and therefore exists before 'geek chic' was a term and the internet helped establish nerdy pursuits as relatively mainstream. So maybe it's to be expected these 2001-era geeks can't communicate without dropping a Star Wars reference or two? But it's still disappointing to see such broad caricatures from a genre show actually written by geeks... even pre-Lord of the Rings. It's fine to laugh at yourself, but by perpetuating outmoded stereotypes? What a shame.

There were a few highlights in this hour, it's true—and both were character-driven scenes fuelled by smart dialogue. There was another strong moment between Spike (James Marsters) and Buffy on her porch, where she's visibly relaxed in her former-enemy's company because his lovesick obsession's cooled into charm. They also have common ground now as dead creatures, walking the earth once more. However, the best moment was undoubtedly Giles reprimanding protégé Willow (Alyson Hannigan) for risking armageddon by using magic to revive their mutual friend, when the increasingly arrogant witch was expecting to be praised by a teacher/mentor she admires and seeks approval from. Instead, Giles described Willow as a "rank, arrogant amateur", which caused her to bristle and threaten him! It felt so refreshing to watch a genuine development in the relationship between two key characters on BtVS, and for it to be edging into a deliciously dark place. Much better than Xander (Nicholas Brendon) stalling over letting his friends know he's engaged to ditzy Anya (Emma Caulfield), eh?


written by Jane Espenson & Doug Petrie • directed by Doug Petrie • 16 October 2001 • UPN

BUFFY: Tonight sucks. And look at me. Look at--look at stupid Buffy. Too dumb for college, and-and-and freak Buffy, too strong for construction work. And-and my job at the magic shop? I was bored to tears even before the hour that wouldn't end. And the only person that I can even stand to be around is a... neutered vampire who cheats at kitten poker.
Okay, if the so-called 'Trio' of geeks are genuinely this year's Big Bad, season 6 and I aren't going to be friends for long. They're plain awful. Woefully written Revenge of the Nerds-style clichés who don't make a lick of sense to me. Why are they so intent on taking over Sunnydale? I presume they feel bullied and want some kind of triumph against adversity, but we've seen nothing to support that theory. Why do they hate Buffy in particular? I have no idea. Consequently, they're little more than irritating thorns we're forced to endure right now, as the sixth season begins to feel like the atrocious downturn in quality I've been warned about.

To be fair, "LIFE SERIAL" had some enjoyable moments floating around. I really liked seeing Buffy step out into the big wide world: attending class with Willow and Tara (Amber Benson), but realising they've exceeded her academically; helping at Xander's construction site, but encountered sexist co-workers; and toiling at the Magic Box with unreasonable customers. Adding to her woes, the Trio were simultaneously testing her super-abilities with a variety of technological and supernaturals means—sending demons to attack her building site colleagues, and attaching a device that made her experience 'time jumps' (experiencing one particular hour over and over and over again...)

Some of the experiences Buffy had were fun to watch (especially that amusing timeloop sequence at the Magic Shop), but none of it made a lot of sense to me. How have three nerds who bicker about James Bond created a tiny device that can manipulate time? And how are they able to perceive Buffy's own experience of non-linear time, just because they're watching from a high-tech van? Shouldn't they be as oblivious to Buffy's perception of her jumbled-up day as everyone else is?

This was quite a goofy episode, and one I struggled with because it felt so erratic and didn't have a clear enough purpose—beyond the Trio just messing with Buffy's head as a preamble to, well, whatever they have planned for her. More than anything, I was just left asking questions this season hasn't thought to bring up: why doesn't Buffy just get paid through the Watchers Council like Giles? Being a Slayer and saving mankind on a weekly basis surely deserved some reward! Where does the rest of Sunnydale think Buffy has been? I assume she wasn't pronounced dead, but why was there a grave? And what happened when Buffy was reacquainted with ex-boyfriend Angel, between episodes? (Aha! Well, all was apparently revealed in a comic-book written by Jane Espenson, but what a shame we don't get to see anything in live-action form because BtVS and Angel were on different networks at this point in their lives.)


written by David Fury & Janes Espenson • directed by Nick Marck • 23 October 2001 • UPN