In the fifth episode of the sixth season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, my god, I love this show so much. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Buffy.
Even with only four episodes airing, season six of Buffy has been relentlessly depressing and frustrating to watch. I am not complaining about this! After “The Gift,” I wanted the writers to take the implications of that finale very seriously. I didn’t want Buffy’s resurrection to be a simple answer. I didn’t want a feel-good fairy tale. I wanted a story that would make me feel something like the show had done in the past. I am already quite satisfied with how this season has started, but it’s emotionally exhausting. I’m tired while watching this. I personally don’t find anything wrong with that, as I love when fiction can give me such visceral and physical reactions. But “Life Serial” provides a comedic break that also respects the story being told.
This episode is funny, but I think the writers don’t ignore how disturbing some of this is or how taxing the tests the Trio give Buffy are for her. It’s the way these two tonal themes are combined that make this a truly fantastic episode of the show. First of all, though, I need to praise the Trio. (I’m so glad they gave themselves a name. I LOVE OFFICIAL NAMES FOR THINGS.) The true brilliance of their characterization is the sheer accuracy of the portrayal of bored, white middle class nerds. It’s perfect. Each one of the three is geeky about a particular thing, and yet they still manage to find a million things to bicker over in that condescending, know-it-all tone that’s so familiar to me. And yet the writers take time to make their characterization detailed. Andrew doesn’t just paint any Death Star on the side of the Trio’s van; it’s the one based off of Return of the Jedi, and he’s very angry if you get this wrong. (This has a personal relevance for me, as I have a giant Star Wars sleeve on my right arm with the Return of the Jedi Death Star sitting on my shoulder, and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to tell people that it is from the series canon, and now I’m just going to hang my head in shame because I am Andrew.)
Those details make the Trio something so close to real life that it creeps me out. I mean, seriously, of course they wouldn’t namedrop Groundhog Day during Jonathan’s task. It’s not obscure enough; instead, they make reference to a Star Trek episode and one of my favorite episodes of The X-Files. THIS IS WHAT NERDS DO. This is what I do, and it’s what we do. And seeing it on the screen in this context is just so fabulous to me! Especially the heated argument about James Bond. OF COURSE THEY WOULD FIGHT OVER THIS.
But this sense of detachment we watch over the course of “Life Serial” is important, too. The Trio are so engaged with banal minutia and this endless list of facts about fictional worlds that they don’t ever truly think about what they’re doing. To them, Buffy Summers is merely an object, an obstacle they study and gather data on by tormenting her for an entire day. They don’t care how much this hurts her, and they certainly don’t know the context of her journey through various professions. That is what’s so disturbing to me. It’s this combination of misogyny and carelessness that makes the Trio frightening. Before this, I viewed them as bumbling fools who were the least threatening Big Bad in the history of television. But with this episode, I now see that their mastery of technology and magic can seriously fuck things up. Well, I wouldn’t say Jonathan’s mastered magic, but he can at least pull off complex spells. Oh shit, what’s going to happen when Willow finds out? FUCK. BATTLE.
It’s true that a lot of “Life Serial” demonstrates how out of place Buffy is. Because she’s spent most of her teenage and adult life as the Slayer, it’s not like she’s gotten the chance to focus on developing any skills that could get her employed. Like “Flooded,” this acknowledges the logistics of post-resurrection Buffy. She needs money to start to pay off her debt, so she has to start thinking about what else she can do. While the Trio’s tests on Buffy create this almost slapstick sense of failure, she really doesn’t feel like she belongs in any of the places she tries out. She’s not terribly good at jumping into school again; she certainly doesn’t fit in with the sexist atmosphere at Xander’s work; and she barely has the patience to tolerate retail work. But in a way, I think you can see how the Trio’s tests examine what it is about Buffy that makes her so different. She’s constantly on a chaotic schedule, so it would be hard for her to stick with the regiment of college. She’s so much stronger than everyone around her, and that makes construction work, while well-suited, a challenge socially. And in terms of retail, the sheer repetitive, unending nature of the work is almost too much like slaying.
And so she just gives up. Good for her! Again, how is this not Hell on Earth? In this moment of pure frustration, she turns to the most miserable member of the Scoobies: Spike. I don’t really see this pairing as a romantic thing yet, but it’s kind of nice that Buffy has Spike in these moments of need, and I do admit that his general attitude is complimentary to Buffy’s post-resurrection. But even in this episode, she’s left feeling unsatisfied by him as well. Though let’s be real, here: gambling for kittens. If there was ever a sequence in Buffy written specifically for me, this is it. My god.
But this “low” in Buffy’s life doesn’t have an easy solution. Oh, there’s a temporary one, and it’s beautiful and I may have teared up at it. Giles… my god, the ways in which I love Giles are endless. For real. I don’t doubt that Buffy is thankful, but this episode doesn’t end on a truly happy note. First of all, the writers deliberately let the Trio get away with their torment of Buffy. They’ve got enough information on her to build some sort of credible threat. I mean, they have to create it somehow, don’t they? The guys themselves are no match for her. So I’m left to wonder what the hell these creeps are going to come up with.
In the case of Giles, though, he doesn’t look too pleased when Buffy says she’s glad he’ll always be there for her. She forgets that he wanted to leave Sunnydale, to leave this painful, listless life behind. Of course he loves and cherishes Buffy, but what’s his purpose anymore? Is he even a Watcher at this point? Ugh, all of this worries the hell out of me. THIS CAN’T END WELL.
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