Sep 3 2012 2:00pm

Buffy the Vampire Slayer Rewatch: Living Conditions of the Freshman Kind

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The Freshman/Living Conditions

It’s nice to imagine this third summer in Sunnyvale, isn’t it? Buffy mentions that it is slay-heavy, but at least she isn’t dealing with her recent death, as in S1, or incognito waitressing while living in a dive.

Instead, she’s picking classes for college with Willow at her side. Whatever else may have happened to our girl BFFs this summer, they spent it together making vampires go poof. The exception being autumn’s first disposable vampire of the week. He gets away while the girls are poring over the UC Sunnydale course catalog.

Next day, Buffy feels overwhelmed by the University of it all, while everyone else is apparently thriving. WillOz are in established couple mode. And maybe Buffy is secretly longing for love; before you know it, she’s knocking a bunch of psychology books onto Angel’s non-broody, intimacy-capable replacement.

And so we meet Riley, who has symmetrical features and doesn’t seem to mind the occasional head injury if it’s inflicted by a pretty blonde.

Naturally, we don’t jump straight from here into the smoochies. On this first day, in fact, nothing post-secondary gels for our Slayer. She gets tongue tied with Riley, her roommate is just okay, and she gets yelled at in a class she isn’t even registered for. Everything’s pretty much coming up Meh until she meets Eddie, who is even more lost and overwhelmed as he adjusts to the campus. They get themselves oriented and bond a little, but then as soon as Buffy’s back is turned, Eddie gets himself fatally neck-bit.

It turns out the university’s got an undead contingent of mean kids, evil post-adolescent Peter Pan types with a leader, Sunday, who’s just smart enough to keep them off the radar and out of the news.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The Freshman/Living Conditions

Buffy consults Giles, and Giles is dating Olivia! (Hi, Olivia! I forgot you were in anything but “Hush”!!) He says, in effect: You’re a big slayer now and don’t need coddling—go figure out where your new pal Eddie vanished to all by yourself.

So she does, tripping over Eddie in the next scene. Two seconds later, he’s dust. Sunday and the minions show up and, inexplicably, win the ensuing punchfest. Scoobless, demoralized, Buffy has to run. She flees all the way home, where Joyce has filled her room with stuff from the gallery. The vamps, meanwhile, have rendered her doubly homeless by emptying Buffy’s dorm room and leaving an unconvincing goodbye note.

Things turn around, as they so often do, when Xander turns up. He delivers a (thoroughly excellent) heartwarming speech and the two of them track down the vampires, and before she knows, it, Buffy’s back where she was not so long ago: fighting Sunday and the Pips singlehanded. But her confidence has been renewed by the power of friendship. The Scooby gang reunites to herd the minions as Buffy kicks the wannabe master vamp’s butt to, well, Monday?

As they’re all moving her stuff back to the dorm, Giles rushes up to apologize for having insisted Buffy behave like a self-reliant adult. This’ll be a pattern with him, as we learn. It’s too bad the “Once More with Feeling” Demon isn’t around to get him to sing about it.

Instead, dessert for this episode consists of seeing the one vampire who escaped the carnage getting grabbed by the Initiative. They apparently haven’t noticed or been able to stop Sunday by themselves. Maybe they were too busy digging all those shiny white tunnels, and checking out their so very buff reflections in the weight room mirrors?

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The Freshman/Living Conditions

A week later, Kathy the roommate is stalking Buffy, following her out for “coffee,” which is actually code for “Patrolling now, please don’t come with me.” Soon a monster shows and Kathy’s getting thrown into the bushes for her own safety.

Buffy goes off to Giles to report on the monster and vent about her domestic situation. He tells her to suck it up and she agrees to try. But by now Kathy is not only borrowing Buffy’s clothes but investigating her weapons bag and trailing her to the cafeteria. (Whose window has a rocket that pretty much looks like’s Stubby!! Eee! Retroactive Retro Rocket Product Placement!)

It’s as Buffy is avoiding Kathy that she meets Parker Abrams. He seems cute, has hair superficially like Angel’s and runs a charming patter about scamming campus food. Flirtage ensues. Oz and Xander, who seem to consider themselves experts on guys, assure Buffy that he’ll be sniffin’ round again.

When Kathy joins the gang at the lunch table, goodwill evaporates and important information emerges: both girls are having creepy dreams about demons sucking foggy somethings out of them.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The Freshman/Living Conditions

As things worsen between the roomies, Willow begins to worry, so much so that Oz volunteers to hang out with Buffy to keep an eye on things. En route, he gets his first glimpse of Veruca. (Between Veruca and Parker, this is apparently not a good day for our heroes to be making new friends.) What’s clear to Oz—and us, and everyone on the planet—is that Buffy is indeed on edge. She and Kathy are driving each other crazy in all those charming ways that strangers confined to a small space really do tend to discover: fights over the window, fights over food, music wars, little creepy hygiene rituals, you name it. It’s funny and depressingly true-to-life, a picture-perfect depiction of the drama that plays out in college dorm rooms all the time... except, of course, that in this case there are also the demon dreams to contend with.

When Buffy decides the answer is to kill Kathy, the Scoobies freak out and confine her. Willow tries to talk Kathy into leaving town and finds that she is pretty much in the same state as Buffy. Xander and Oz, meanwhile, discover that bondage is harder than it looks, at least where slayers are concerned.

After her not so daring escape, Buffy runs to the dorm to rip Kathy’s face off. Literally. How perfect is that?

By now, finally, the gang has caught up. They’ve realized Kathy is probably, in fact, evil, and Buffy was right all along. Willow puts it perfectly: “Later on, big remorse!”

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The Freshman/Living Conditions

In this sense, “Living Conditions” is a bit of a reprise of “The Freshman.” The gang had been distanced from Buffy, disregarded what was going on with her, and barely embrace the truth in time. Now Giles and Willow restore the soul Kathy was stealing from Buffy, and then a daddy figure from another dimension shows up to collect the wayward demon child. Have the Scoobies learned their lesson? I can’t quite recall. But Willow and Buffy move in together and they all live happily ever after. Or something.


Next week: Spike and Harmony, sitting in a tree

A.M. Dellamonica has two novelettes up here on Her ’baby werewolf has two mommies,’ story, “The Cage,” made the Locus Recommended Reading List for 2010. There’s also “Among the Silvering Herd,” the first of a series of stories called The Gales.

In October, watch for her novelette, “Wild Things,” that ties into the world of her award winning novel Indigo Springs and its sequel, Blue Magic.

Constance Sublette
1. Zorra
I hate-hate-hate Kathy the Demon roommate scenes so much that I won't watch the scenes -- even some eps -- that have her in them any more, thereby missing cool stuff.
I really do hate her. Even more than the sexbots.
Constance Sublette
2. Zorra
In fact, she is the only character in all 7 seasons that I have this utter, complete, total aggressionist hostile hatred for, with the exception of Nate Fillion's Preacher. He scares me to death. Kathy is the duck who inexorably kills you via endless inexorable nibbles of screaming tedium.

I've had the great misfortune to encounter both of them in my real life.
Sydo Zandstra
3. Fiddler
I really hated Kathy too. I guess that's a compliment to Joss.

That scene where she keeps that Cher song on autorepeat brings back nightmares from my university days. My roommates girlfriend was like that...

And the fridge labeling! My roommate and I had separate rooms, and at some point I bought a refridgerator myself, and put in my room instead of the kitchen...
john mullen
4. johntheirishmongol
For some reason, I recognized that Kathy was an evil demon right away and I just thought it was funny. But, I really hated Parker the second I saw him.
I thought that season 4 started off very slowly. I suppose a lot of it was that 3 was so good that it was hard to follow that up.
5. BGHawkins
Ah "Poop Head Parker".

It's still short with my friends for any lad who is the worse possible sort of boyfriend. I just want to punch his smug face every time I watch him now :)
6. Bittersweet Fountain
I never understood why Buffy and Willow weren't roommates in the first place. Requesting a roommate before the start of the year is pretty easy. They are best friends going to the same college. Why wouldn't they room together?
Alyx Dellamonica
7. AMDellamonica
That's a great question, Bittersweet. We have no evidence, so we could just come up with plausible theories:

1. Buffy, having had a slay-heavy summer, wasn't organized enough to make the request.
2. Parents on one side or the other gave the two the very reasonable advice that living together is a great way to stop being friends.
3. Ummmm.....
8. Michael S. Schiffer
While it wasn't entirely successful, the Kathy plot seemed to be an attempt to continue with what had been a reasonably effective device during Buffy's high school years, literalizing common problems into horror motifs. So just like the unpopular girl actually became invisible, and Buffy's boyfriend really did become a different person after they slept together, Buffy's first major college experience is with the Roommate from Hell.

Unfortunately, college doesn't really as many widely-shared primal experiences as high school does, so that well ran dry pretty quickly-- arguably exactly at this point. Which may point to why the show mostly stopped doing that kind of story going forward. (Are there any later ones that fit the model?)
Brooke Robinson
9. ShinySpecialOne
Dagne Kerr, the actress who played Kathy, was one of the fitness models in a yoga video I used to have. After watching Living Conditions, it was very hard to follow along with that video because I kept seeing Kathy's demony face. Way un-zen.
john mullen
10. johntheirishmongol
@8 Michael

If your are looking for college storylines that fit archetypes, there are a couple of the frat party ones that fit pretty well. Also, if you think about it, the whole evil professor being subsidized by our evil military is another and a main theme for the entire season. Maybe that's one reason why I didn't care for season 4 that much.
Alyx Dellamonica
11. AMDellamonica
I agree, Michael, that the Roommate from Hell is a great archetype to draw on, and it was a worthy attempt.

Most of the BtVS seasons have a bit of a slow build, with lots of little seeds being sown in the opening episodes and a fair number of what Gardner calls 'wheel spinners.' In a sense, both of these qualify.
12. Gardner Dozois
I thought Season Four started really slowly, and the first two episodes--yes, they're wheel spinners--I really disliked, especially the Demon Roommate one, which I won't watch again; as far as the first episode is concerned, you'd have thought that Buffy had faced formidible enough foes by now, including The Master, Angelius, and Spike (to say nothing of assorted demons and The Mayor) that her confidence couldn't be so easily shaken by coming up against a run-of-the-mill vampire, or even several of them together. The opening of this season was a real disappointment to me, especially following on the heels of the excellent run of shows that had ended the previous season. Of course, I thought that Season Three, which started with the waitress episode and went on to the zombies-invading-the-party episode, two of the show's worst, started pretty slowly too.
Alyx Dellamonica
13. AMDellamonica
I was just complaining about "Dead Man's Party" in the essay I'm writing today, Gardner.

Buffy's being so set back by Sunday was a little forced, I agree. On the other hand, if this were a more realistic show I might buy it. (I'm talking big R realism, there.) We do all have times at work, I think, where we hit a patch of "I've done this a million times before! Why is this so hard? What is my problem?" And then we slip back into our groove.
14. Fiona Kelleghan
Hey, Alyx, I'm buffing up some Wikipedia BtVS pages, starting with S-4, which is my favorite - and here you are! How the hell are you, honey? Still with Kelly? Still in BC? I'm between jobs at the minute, and living with chronic pain, which sucks. I've meant for ages to get in touch with some of the special-er CW95 folks, but what a great way to find you!
Love and hugs,
Fiona Kelleghan
15. fkelleghan
I was so enthused about *you* that I forgot to enthuse about this column and how great it is. So please consider me an enthusiastic reader of all things AMD.
Love, Fiona
(PS - I just noticed "keep and eye on things" - if that's fixable - I've been a line-editor my whole life.)

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