In the second episode of the fourth season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Buffy and her roommate Kathy begin to find one another a tad unbearable. That’s an understatement, actually. If you’re intrigued, then it’s time for Mark to watch Buffy.
I had the luxury my freshman year of landing a roommate who was nothing short of perfect. His name was Max, and he only lived about twenty miles north of Long Beach near downtown Los Angeles. The best part about this was that he basically only used our dorm as a temporary space to sleep when he needed it. That meant that he was around for just three days out of the week: Tuesday morning through Thursday evening. I don’t even think he was ever present for more than 72 hours straight. On top of that, whenever he left to go live the other four days of the week with his parents, he would implore me to use his computer. He was also quiet, organized, remarkably polite, and a great person to have a conversation with. For at least the first month we lived together, I was convinced that this was an elaborate prank of sorts, that I was being filmed, and that he’d turn into a demon and reveal his evil ways.
It never happened. Sometimes, my life is not a Buffy episode. DAMN IT.
I have, however, had some atrocious roommates over the years, including some who once refused to do any of their dishes while I was on a long, month-long trip so that when I returned, the same dishes that were there when I left had birthed a nice film of mold. Oh, and they just bought new dishes to avoid washing the old ones. FUN TIMES. Or there was once they guy I lived with for four months who developed some pretty severe alcoholic tendencies, hid bottles of liquor in my printer and the basin of my toilet, and once came home drunk with some random guy and proceeded to have sex with him on the couch quite loudly.
I was living in a single room loft, for the record.
But that’s the true, utter brilliance of “Living Conditions”: the comedy and tension comes from the idea that some people simply should not live together. I love that I am just two episodes into season four and it’s already easy to see just how Buffy is going to use the college experience to tell stories. God, there’s already SO MUCH they can do with this setting! That’s genuinely exciting to me because I enjoyed the way that Buffy explored high school in its first three seasons. For a lot of teenagers, having a college roommate is one of those quintessential stepping stones towards adulthood, which I also refer to as The Years of Hell Before You Can Live On Your Own.
For Buffy, it’s the small things that unravel her, and I can’t deny that I’ve had the same experience before. What’s so lovely about this story is how funny it is until the last fifteen minutes or so; that’s when you realize how slowly the writers have been developing a severely unsettling endgame. I really do think this is one of the slowest episodes of the entire show, especially since a good chunk of it doesn’t seem to have anything to do with slaying or the supernatural, but I also don’t think that’s a detriment to “Living Conditions.” Truthfully, the time spent developing Kathy and Buffy as roommates allows us to appreciate the details. The use of Cher’s “Believe,” for instance, provides a gorgeous hilarity at first, but after we’ve heard it a billion times, it starts feeling FUCKING DISTURBING. On top of that, the slower nature of this episode also gives us a much more complex characterization of Kathy.
And that’s all I really want, you know? I love that this show has given us SO MANY side characters that are developed, fully-formed, and fascinating. Kathy herself is a person obsessed with a cheery order to life, and if the writers had just brushed over these moments, I don’t think I would have liked “Living Conditions” as much as I did. She’s a direct foil to Buffy because we’ve spent three seasons seeing just how Buffy feels averse to statements and attitudes that are overly positive. And while Kathy is irritating, she’s not really wrong. Well… okay, she is, since Buffy ends up being right about her being a demon, but the writers do a great job of showing us just how irritating they both are. It’s not an issue of one person being a worse person than the other. They’re simply not compatible as roommates, and the more that either person refuses to see this, the more absurd their fighting gets.
It’s nice that we get the perspective of all the other Scoobies, too, especially since we see how much they’ve all changed over the years. Giles is not nearly as fatherly as he once was, at least not to the same degree. Willow is there to offer an ear and advice, but she’s still concerned about the things she has in her own life that are taking her time. Xander is much quicker to offer support instead of berating or insulting Buffy. But it’s Oz who really impresses me here. It really is true that we don’t see much of Oz and Buffy interacting on their own, and it was just so pleasing to have a scene between the two of them. Oz’s obsession with words and thoughts comes out so easily in his speech, and it’s kind of a perfect match for the way Buffy talks as well. But I just liked how comforting he could be in a very subtle way. Could more of this happen? THANK YOU.
Parker looks like that one dude from Mean Girls. That’s all I have to say about him.
I think when it comes down to it, the reason I liked “Living Conditions” so much was that the tonal switches worked so well. It’s kind of related to my feelings on “Earshot.” Here, however, I felt all of the segues between comedy and drama worked extremely well. I mean, the premise of this episode is innately funny: Buffy goes to war with her annoying roommate. But as the Scoobies begin to discover how Buffy is becoming increasingly irrational and paranoid, things very subtly stop being funny. These two have severe issues with being passive-aggressive, and they’re heading towards a showdown that isn’t going to be pretty. But what exactly can friends do in a situation like this? They’re watching their best friend turn into someone else. It’s not like Buffy to be mean, to be vindictive, and to be so vicious. Is she really turning into this person because of college? Or is this due to the presence of some demon?
When Buffy announced to Willow that she had to kill Kathy, I realized just how much the writers had set up this plot twist. It comes so late in the episode, too, and I love that. Very suddenly, we’re left thinking WHAT THE FUCK IS GOING ON. Buffy’s going to kill a human because she believes Kathy is a demon. BUT SHE’S NOT. SHE’S JUST REALLY IRRITATING. WHAT THE FUCK!
I don’t think the reveal that Buffy was right all along changes how I feel about this. It was such a shocking moment to see Buffy pull off Kathy’s face (!!!!!) to reveal that she’s one of the Mok’tagar. But it didn’t make me feelings about the story differ at all. Kathy was still just as neat and organized as a demon as she was as a human. Her personality and her actions still matter. AND I LOVE WHEN THINGS MATTER SO MUCH. (Oh god, how wrong was I about “The Wish”??? I WILL NEVER FORGIVE MYSELF.)
There are two small moments I must comment about before I end this: WHO THE FUCK WAS THAT GIRL OZ LOOKED AT? And: WHAT THE FUCK ARE THOSE SOLDIERS.
God, I love this show.