Mark Watches ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’: S04E05 – Beer Bad

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.


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.

About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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5 Responses to Mark Watches ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’: S04E05 – Beer Bad

  1. Thiamalonee says:

    I remember this episode as so bad that this rewatch was a pleasant surprise. I was able to appreciate the humor while it was on, but this episode is mostly forgettable. I do love the moment with Parker at the end of the episode where Buffy gets exactly what she’s been dreaming about, and promptly cracks him in the head. I also love the serious college discussions that degrade with alcohol, as well as Xander’s: “Can’t find the beer? Good. Freshman girl not able to hold the beer.” It brings back fun college memories.

  2. Lina says:

    For the record when I was in college, which was right when this episode was created, it was very easy to enter a bar with very flimsy ID. Exteamly ridiculous ID. And my now Husband worked in one of those said college bars and the owner/ manager had no issue with underage kids being there. And that wasn’t the only bar that was like that, believe me. So I think that for the time period it was realistic that the owner would foo foo Zander’s worries. That being said this is definetly not a favorite episode of mine.

  3. Meesha says:

    Where I went to college, the local bars did allow underage kids to come in. It was a college town so the majority of their customers were the college kids. They used the hand stamp system to differentiate between over 21 and under 21. For the most part that system worked. However, there was this one bar that was repeatedly shut down for selling alcohol to minors – I know this because my mother was the court reporter at several of their hearings with the ABC board. They’d get their license back, reopen, and just keep on with the same issues. The owners didn’t really care who was buying as long as they got their money so they weren’t very stringent about checking the hand stamps or making sure that someone with an over 21 stamp that bought a pitcher of beer wasn’t sharing it with minors in the bar. Knowing that, the set up with Xander working at the bar and the owner not being concerned about underage drinking never really stood out as a problem for me when watching this episode.

    I do agree the caveman bit was rather heavy handed, but I also found it hilarious – and it’s really not the most over the top story idea that’s been presented on BtVS. I still think that goes to the steroid mix from Russia turning the swim team into sea monsters. At least the cavemen and cavegirl Buffy would eventually revert back to their normal selves. The sea monsters were stuck like that forever. I also liked the fact that Buffy got to smack down Parker – literally. Sometimes an emotional conversation just doesn’t cut it. Parker bad, indeed.

    Still, my favorite part of the episode was Willow’s verbal smackdown. I never thought Willow was going to cheat on Oz at all, but I did have a brief moment of concern that she might actually believe the crap Parker was spewing and defend him. But it was very, very brief. Willow is just too smart for that and she wasn’t blinded by any kind of attraction to Parker – nor was she feeling lonely like Buffy was. Very well done.

    I never had the impression that the message for this show was that casual sex was bad or even that drinking alcohol was bad – for those old enough to drink that is. The message I got from this show is that turning to alcohol will not help you deal with or solve your problems. It reminds me of that saying – people who try to drown their sorrows in alcohol need to remember that sorrow can swim. Buffy was hurting and, instead of dealing with the problem, she turned to drinking beer with those guys. She chose to avoid the problem by getting drunk and learned a valuable lesson from the experience. Beer Bad is a simplistic way to put it, but the actual lesson that getting drunk will not solve your problems is a good one.

    Of course, this also ties into the overall series because this type of avoidance is something Buffy has a tendency to do a lot. She tried to avoid dealing with the trauma of being killed by the Master in season 1 by alienating her friends. She tried to avoid dealing with the trauma of killing Angel in season 2 by running away and refusing to talk about it with anyone who cared about her – which carried over into season 3. She tried to avoid the inevitable conflict that Angel’s return would cause by lying to everyone. Avoidance is one of Buffy’s bigger flaws. However, she is learning from these mistakes and making progress – slowly, but there is progress.

  4. morganthetimetraveler says:

    i have never liked this episode! infact when i went to rewatch it with you, when i saw that the episode was “Beer Bad” i just skipped it. to me, ots a wast of an hour i could have spent on something else 😛

  5. Mischa says:

    I read an article at the time that said this episode was the product of an attempt by the network to cash in on an anti-drug/drinking initiative that would pay them or give them some sort of break. But they didn’t get it because the department didn’t think the message got across because it was too weird and supernatural.

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