In the fifth episode of the fourth season of Buffy, WHAT. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Buffy.
Well, that just might be the strangest episode of Buffy ever. I can’t bring myself to hate it. It’s not good by any stretch of the imagination, but the smaller moments that are good save it from being a complete and utter mess. Well, I suppose it is a mess, but at least there are some redeeming factors?
I think that initially, it’s just impossible for me to accept such an absurd premise: Xander gets a job serving at a pub as a bartender at 19 on a fake ID with no experience, and Buffy suddenly drinks more beer in two outings than most people do in their lifetime. Did the writers just think that it was at all believable that no one in the whole bar would card anyone? I could have suspended my disbelief if there wasn’t a scene where the pub owner didn’t wave away Xander’s concern for drinking age. Like FOR REAL. That happens never in any universe ever.
But it’s not the only problem. What’s the metaphor supposed to be for this episode? Is it that casual sex and drinking beer turns you into cavemen? Is this show trying to say these are bad things? That doesn’t even fit in with any message the show has ever gotten across, first of all. But let’s say we ignore that. I think there was a way to address underage or college-age drinking in a smart, sophisticated way. And I think that is something I would have liked to see on Buffy. Spoiler alert: THIS WAS NOT THAT STORY. There’s no moderation here! It’s just INJECT BEER INTO MY FEMORAL ARTERY or no beer at all. And I’m not exactly one for subtlety when it comes to drinking, given that I used to be an alcoholic in high school and now I’m straight edge. HELLO EXTREMES. But surely there is a responsible way to drink, right? RIGHT? There’s something in the middle, yes?
Not in this episode. What’s even more irritating is that for a good portion of the story, “Beer Bad” addresses both sides of casual sex IN A REMARKABLY WONDERFUL WAY. Despite that the scene was set up to make us believe that Willow was going to cheat on Oz again, we are instead treated to a wonderfully acted conversation between Alyson Hannigan and Adam Kaufman. It’s done incredibly well because we get to hear:
1) A reasonable defense of casual sex
2) A brilliant portrait of how fucking creepy and manipulative Parker is
3) Willow’s joyous takedown of Parker
THESE ARE ALL GOOD THINGS. I do wish it was Buffy having the conversation, but this episode is such a disaster otherwise that complaining about anything is almost a moot point. But after this conversation happens, it’s all reduced to CASUAL SEX BAD. FIRE BAD. BEER BAD. THE EXECUTION OF THIS IDEA BAD. Like, that’s it? That’s as far as you’ll take the story? You won’t explore how Parker fucked over Buffy, or give her that closure, and you won’t also say that casual sex is perfectly fine between consenting partners as long as one of them isn’t a total fucking creep? To me, that is the real point here. There’s nothing wrong with casual sex! It’s when you trick or manipulate people into having it that you start fucking people over.
CAN I JUST HAVE A LITTLE SUBTLETY, PLEASE?
But nothing about this episode is subtle. My god, they literally turn into cavemen. WHO THOUGHT THIS COULD BE EXECUTED? And how does their hair become all gross? Why does Buffy have thick lines of eyeliner if she’s regressed to some primitive state? Why is Kumar on this show? How you gonna name a character Veruca and never play any Veruca Salt? Oh my god, I feel ancient because I recognized Luscious Jackson on Buffy’s television. My gay, tragic 90s. FUCK. And did anyone else detect a very rape-y undertone to the caveman conversion? Like, it felt as if the episode was heading to this KIDNAP-WOMEN-AND-HAVE-OUR-WAY-WITH-THEM place, and while I’m glad things never went there, holy shit that is so awful.
Even Oz’s scene with Veruca was just too much. Like, could you foreshadow any more that there’s something special about her? Oh god, stop beating me over the head with all of the points you need to make, episode. It’s just too much!
Still, it was nice to see Giles politely looking for Buffy, and Xander was largely entertaining throughout the story. I felt incredibly bad for him when one of the asshole beer dudes insulted his class status because HELLO I AM VERY FAMILIAR WITH SUCH THINGS. That moment wasn’t abrasive and over-the-top, and I really wish that this episode has more scenes like that.
Oh my god, what a hot mess. Have the MST3K/Rifftrax guys done a riff on this episode? It’s fucking ripe for that.