Jul 1 2013 1:00pm

Buffy the Vampire Slayer Rewatch: We Three Nerds from Sunnydale Are

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Flooded

“Flooded,” by Doug Petrie

“Flooded” begins with what looks (momentarily) like a vamp hunt. It’s another misdirect—Buffy ends up, instead, in a classic comedy situation. Her prey is nothing more than a leaky pipe in the basement. She tries to tighten the bolt to stop the drip, is rewarded for her efforts with a big wet explosion.

By the time the credits have rolled, Xander has used his tradesman-summoning powers to bring in Tito the Plumber to save them all, at a discount that isn’t nearly big enough. Buffy’s barely paying attention, having been mesmerized by the swirly swirly action of water running through her kitchen sink. As the gang freaks out, quietly, about this, she discovers that Tito’s bill, and his proposed repiping of the whole house, is financially problematic. Joyce’s life insurance has been hoovered up by her medical bills, you see.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Flooded, Wiloow, Dawn, Xander

Anya brightly proposes that Buffy start charging for vampire slaying. Everyone’s appalled but me. Okay, granted, she can’t save random citizens from death and then march them over to the nearest bank machine to facilitate a payout. But I still feel Buffy should either be on the Sunnydale city payroll—with medical benefits and possibly a driver—or supported by the Watcher’s Council. We’ve discussed this before, I know, and you’ve pointed out that it makes good metaphorical sense that slaying, like other woman’s work, should be unpaid and largely thankless. True. But I’m a pragmatist. It seems obvious that Buffy should at least try sending a note to Quentin Travers in England, saying “I’m back from the dead and in need of a salary.”

While I’m thinking all this, Dawn, Anya and Xander are having a little wrangle over whether Spiderman gets paid. “Action is his reward,” rules Xander—and this leads to a bigger conflict between XandAnya about how he’s still balking over telling the others they’re engaged.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Flooded, Anya

(She’s right, Xander. Stop waffling!)

Buffy’s first attempt to solve her total lack of income is to hit up the local bank for a loan. This goes badly even before a demon shows up and attacks the bank manager, all in the service of facilitating a robbery by unseen someones. Buffy runs the demon off, but doesn’t kill it. Even this doesn’t get her a line of credit.

Afterward, she takes out her feelings on the punching bag while Willow rants about the financial system on her behalf. Willow becomes momentarily excited when she realizes Buffy is angry, and promptly sticks her foot in her mouth about Buffy having been shut down emotionally since her return.

Shut down she may be, but our Slayer does a good job of being annoyed, a scene or so later, when Dawn is the one who finds their perp, an entity called M’Fashnik, in the demon books.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Flooded, Dawn, Tara

As the gang is pondering M’Fashnik’s mmmotives in mmmaking off with a whole bunch of mmmmoney, Giles returns. Buffy is so very happy to see him. (I think Sarah Michelle Gellar does a great job of showing how much less mixed her feelings are about Dawn and Giles, who didn’t have a hand in hauling her back to Earth.) Giles is happy too, naturally enough, as well as bewildered and presumably jet-lagged. He can see she’s not in good shape. On the research upside, he happens to know that M’Fashniks (M’Fashnikind?) are mercenaries, which means the rampage in the bank was likely a paid job. Gosh, who could have hired this one?

Oh, look, it’s the Trio and all their ill-gotten gains from the bank robbery!

Jonathan, Andrew and Warren are nerdy and wicked and extremely pleased with themselves. I wouldn’t say they’re truly evil yet. Jonathan and Andrew even have a certain dweeby innocence, despite their crime-oriented schemes. It’s already apparent that Warren is made of nastier stuff.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Flooded, the Trio

All three of them are just learning that hiring a M’Fashnik is easier than making it happy. Cookie, as he will henceforth be known, doesn’t appreciate having been pitted against the Slayer, and now he wants Buffy’s head. Warren’s on board with that, but Andrew and Jonathan have consciences, and aren’t ready to make the leap from stealing money to murdering heroic young women. Jonathan even mentions that he owes Buffy his life.

Though he’s outvoted, Warren nevertheless gives the angry demon Buffy’s contact info. He tells him that if he wants her dead, all he has to do is head across town and slay her himself.

Cookie, strangely, sees this as a valid and reasonable attempt at logic. Clearly he thinks the fight in the bank was a tie.

Giles is now coping with a great tragedy: he no longer has a cool apartment in California. He has been settled in on the (we hope) comfy couch at Chez Summers. His concerns about Buffy loom ever larger as he talks with her about her nightmares and her debts. Later, he gives Willow a stern talking-to about how irresponsible it was to resurrect her in the first place. It is a thoroughly riveting scene. Willow tries light humor, heavy conflict avoiding and, when that doesn’t placate him, resorts to making threats.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Flooded, Willow

She isn’t anywhere near her full-on Dark Willow self just yet, but we all know where this is going.

Poor Buffy overhears this charming clash just as Spike’s showing up for his nightly stalk-by. The two of them share a little moment of connection out on the back porch. And then, just as it’s looking as though some or at least one of the Scoobies—well, Tara, really—might settle down for a healthy night’s sleep, Cookie Fashnik turns up. He scares Dawn, knocks Giles unconscious, and busts up the house. Then he and Spuffy fight it out. The end result is one of the more ignominious demon deaths in the BtVS run, I’d say: Buffy beats him to death in the flooded basement, with one of the house’s failing, obsolete pipes.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Flooded, Spike

This works out well for the Trio. They happily gloat about their successful first outing as a criminal unit.

Next day, Buffy is just about to start grappling with the wreckage and the debt when Angel calls. She walks out on all of it—only temporarily, but so abruptly and completely that Giles and Dawn are left gaping and concerned.

Me, I’d consider being glad. Guys, she still drops everything the second Angel picks up the phone! She hasn’t changed that much after all! Weren’t you worried about brain damage?

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Flooded, Giles, Dawn

“Flooded” is in many ways the point where the slogging for Buffy goes from really tough to cosmically unfair. Willow may indeed have been misguided in bringing her back, but all of us can understand that impulse to recover a dead loved one. What’s more, though the rationalization about Buffy being in a Hellverse might have been self-serving, Angel’s example showed that it wasn’t impossible.

A week earlier, in “After Life,” the gang is ready and willing to shelter Buffy as she eases back into the land of the living—they even offer to take care of the unknown thing haunting them without her assistance. And why not? They’re more than capable—they’re combat-seasoned and, collectively, very powerful. 

(Heck, they should’ve asked the Council for a bit of support, too. They could have opened a Training Camp for future Watchers. Something like space camp, but with higher insurance rates.)

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Flooded, Giles

Now, in “Flooded,” they’ve stepped back and left Buffy to assume leadership of the team, and when she takes up the leading, they pile on what looks like total responsibility for Dawn, the house that four of them are living in, the money situation and stopping whatever the Hellmouth chooses to toss their way.

Most of this abandonment, if it can be called that, can be laid at Willow’s door. She was the one who made it possible for them to run the Buffybot all summer, and between maintaining the gadget, being the team’s witchy big gun in battle, and parenting a teenager, it had to have been an enormous load.

If I had carried Slayer-level responsibilities for a few months, I’d be more than ready to hand it all back and get on with my life. But Buffy’s clearly unready to start shouldering burdens. The only ones who seem to get this are the Brits, dead and undead, who love her.

Willow has always been an awesome support to Buffy—one of her biggest fears, we see repeatedly, is failing at being the perfect BFF. Why does she fail so badly in her burden of care to her here? Has magic already warped her so much? The threat to Giles hints that her balance of mind is already deeply disturbed.

As for how disturbed... well, Willow has been taking baby steps toward her confrontation with Warren in “Villains” for some time. When does she reach the point of no return? Is it with Buffy’s resurrection? Before that? Re-souling Angel, it seems to me, is what really got her started. But at that point she might still have turned away... or so it seems to me. 

Did Willow raise Buffy, in part, because she knew that at some point she’d need a Slayer to hold her back?

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Flooded

We can never know, any more than we could with a real person, but it sure is fun to speculate.

Next: Taking Care of Business

A.M. Dellamonica has tons of fiction 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. (Watch for the second Gale, story too—“The Ugly Woman of Castello di Putti”!)

Or if you like, check out her sexy novelette, “Wild Things,” that ties into the world of her award winning novel Indigo Springs and its sequel, Blue Magic.

Marty Beck
1. martytargaryen
Thanks Alyx. That was a fun review to begin the true slog of season 6...meaning Buffy's slog, not the run of episodes.

Oh and this:
"The only ones who seem to get this are the Brits, dead and undead, who love her."

So, who's the dead Brit, assuming Blondie Bear is undead?

ETA: I like your take on Willow here, and had not put much thought into her burdens over the past Summer. I had always looked sideways at the fact that she and Tara were housing at Dawn's and not paying.
Chris Nelly
2. Aeryl
So WillTara's not paying rent, but apparently, Tara's room on campus is still being paid for by something, scholarship or aid, because she quickly moves back into it.

I would assume that Willow's parents are also paying for her dorm room. So they are both lying about their living arrangements, which means no money for rent. Which is understandable.
Milton Pope
3. MiltonPope
It's wonderful to see Giles back, of course, but what keeps me interested in some of these episodes is Spike. I'm always moved by goodness in difficult times, and Spike is being good in spite of everything -- especially his own nature. The gang here has discussed this at length, of course, but this season seems to be a high point for Noble Spike, and I love it. Even when he begins to appear vengeful toward the end of the season, that's a (slightly lame) deception of Joss's part. He's giving more than ever.
Constance Sublette
4. Zorra
Running a home is no joke, even with funds available. Being responsible for someone (much) younger, like Dawn, isn't easy either.

But in some ways it did feel as though Willow at least was doing what we used to call "playing house," rather than actually grappling with the burdens of house and child responsibilities.

However, there is this: that they chose the path they did, which was to keep Joyce's household rather than try to set up something else, meant that Dawn didn't go to child services.

One wonders though why nobody ever attempted to contact Buffy's father after she died. Surely he too has memories implanted that Dawn is his daughter? Nobody mentions him at all do they? Wasn't there an attempt to reach him during Joyce's illness? What about after she died?
Gardner Dozois
5. Gardner Dozois
The Three Nerds have an odd arc--they start out as comic villians, ineffectual and bumbling, as they're shown being in the Buffybot episode from the previous season, where a threat to break an action figure brings them to their knees, and end up, Warren at least, as among the blackest of the shows bad guys--although as someone said earlier, this season's Big Bad turns out to be Willow, not The Three Nerds at all.

There's something odd about the tone of these early middle episodes, after the grimness of the season opening two-parter, almost as if a new writer or a new show-runner had taken over--they have a tone almost similar to episodes from the old Adam West TV Batman show, campy, with the Three Nerds and the Freeze Ray and the robbery at the Museum, and later Doublemeat Palace and the "fight" at the video game arcade. Buffy had rarely done camp before, and it sat on the show a little uneasily.

As we hashed over sometime ago here, the Watcher's Council really ought to be paying Buffy's bills at this point. It's absurd that somebody's wife or husband has to get killed because they run into a vampire when Buffy is working a shift at the fast-food joint and so can't save them. To say nothing of being unable to stop a world-ending Apocalypse because she's grilling hamburgers instead. This seems extremely cheap on the Council's part, penny-wise and pound-foolish.

Buffy's father just vanishes from the show, not even showing up for Joyce's funeral, or his daughter's funeral either, which seems weird and unbelievable. I wondered at the time if this was going to be a plot-point, if he was going to show up later as a vampire or something, but they never did anything with it, although there was a lot more mileage that could have been gotten out of Buffy's relationship with her father.
Gardner Dozois
6. Dianthus
Angel deserved to be in that Hell.

Poor Hank fell victim to the 'Bad Dad' syndrome that infects seemingly all of Whedon's work.

@5. For once, I have to disagree with you. Buffy was pretty much campy from the start. OTOH, camp can be done well, or it can be done poorly. Marti was the show runner for s6 & s7, yes? I don't think she'd ever been a show runner prior to this.
Slightly OT: did anyone else catch Whedon's appearance on The Colbert Report the other night? If I heard right, his given name was actually Joseph and he changed it to Joss. I'd never heard that before.
Gardner Dozois
7. Dianthus
BTW, Alyx, I'm the one who sent you that recent request (in case you were wondering).
Jason Parker
8. tarbis
The Council seemed to be financing the mobile Slayers (Kendra and Faith). However those two had no other means or support and, at the time, were following Council orders. Maybe as an organization they operate on the assumption that the Watcher writes the records, supervises training, does the research, and handles the money while the Slayer kills things.
A better question is why Buffy didn’t ask for financing when Travers was in town or call and ask for it after Joyce's death. Sure, the Council isn't not dumb enough to pay Buffy for doing what she proved she'll do for free (for a year and half), but she could work a deal where she flies out of Sunnydale to fight evil a few times a year (off camera) or let Watchers and potentials (special guest stars) intern with her.
Granted Buffy was always better at giving orders and making demands than engaging in negotiation, but the opportunity did exist.
Instead the writer's room went with having Buffy be broke at plot relevant moments until they got bored with that and she mysteriously became middle class again.
Tom Smith
9. phuzz
@ martytargaryen,

I'm assuming the dead Brit is Spike, well, undead, but close enough.

Angel is Irish if I remember rightly.
Gardner Dozois
10. Gardner Dozois
Just in time, she remembered her mysterious Slayer power to become middle-class at will.
Gardner Dozois
11. Dianthus
@9. Irish, yes. A book on Hollywood vampires seemed to suggest he was initially envisioned as being Greek, maybe. Either that or somebody just screwed up.
Having your Slayer distracted by money/job woes makes no sense. Period. She fights for others, but she can't fight for herself? Is this s'posed to be Selfless Hero stuff? Bugger that.
Marty Beck
12. martytargaryen
@9, @11 - Got that about Angel being Irish. Hey, maybe I misread Alyx's line about dead and undead Brits, but I assumed she was referring to Giles and Spike, since they were the ones in the episode ; ~>
Emma Rosloff
13. emmarosloff
This episode has always been painful for me to watch. It's just no fun watching Buffy flounder with real world problems, particularly when it seems like there's a better solution out there and nobody's reaching for it (for the sake of the plot). Even her reunion with Giles is bittersweet, given the divide that grows between them over the last two seasons.

I never liked how completely she thrust her responsibility of Dawn onto his shoulders with no seeming compunction or awareness around it. It just felt heavy-handed, storytelling wise. I get that she's legitimately depressed; what that can do to a person, but it soured long years of cultivated trust between them for her to use him so blatantly like that.

It goes both ways, too; Giles has always been her surrogate father, and he starts to pull away when she really could use a stable, adult figure in her life. If the two were able to meet in the middle, I might have been more engaged in their relationship at this point. Even if Giles still chose to leave. Instead I find their increasingly strained relations awkward and hard to swallow.

And the Trio is a bit goofy at this point, although I always loved the idea of homegrown villains in Sunnydale. Particularly kids who went to school with Buffy and the Scoobies (Harmony is another example, although she got vamped). It sort of reflects the feelings of alienation Jonathan was experiencing in Superstar, even calls to mind very real troubled kids who ended up bringing guns to school and taking lives.

Not that Buffy and Co. should've done anything differently in High School, but there's certainly a metaphor here for the insecurities teenagers experience and how formative those years can be. How the way they're treated can affect the choices they make, for good or ill (although they're certainly responsible for those choices).

There's something very ironic and twisted about the fact that the seemingly most harmless of Buffy's villains end up doing the most personal damage to her inner circle. I don't know how much say Joss had in the Trio's overall arc, but it feels like a very Joss thing to do.
Gardner Dozois
14. mjkbk
Regarding Buffy's dad:

The Scoobies didn't want him, or anyone, to know she was dead. There was no funeral, and they never tried to notify her father. With the Buffybot's help, as far as "the world and the underworld" knew, Buffy was still alive and quipping.

Plus, Dawn did not want to be taken away from the Scoobs and Sunnydale--which might've happened had her father been told.
Gardner Dozois
15. Dianthus
@12. It was an unusual line. I think Spike = dead and Giles = undead, but that's an odd way off looking at it IMO. I'd agree with you that Spike = undead.

@13. Most of s6 is painful for me to watch, for some of the very same reasons you mention here.

@14. You're right about the Scoobs trying to downplay Buffy's death, but Hank still got the fuzzy end of the lolipop. He's run off to Spain with his secretary and is (as Buffy tells Angel in Forever) "living the cliche."
Alyx Dellamonica
16. AMDellamonica
On reflection, that should have been that 'alive and undead,' or something along those lines.

Dianthus... request? I don't think I got it.

I like the suggestion that WillTara are paying rent elsewhere and lying to the university and their parents about the living arrangements. It makes sense.
Gardner Dozois
17. Dianthus
@16. FB - figured you'd have a presence there. Dunno why I didn't think of it sooner.
Gardner Dozois
18. GarrettC
Actually, having Buffy on their payroll would have been an extremely effective way for the Council to exercise the power over her that they so desperately wanted to be able to exercise. One could make the case that Buffy's ability to go "rogue" in the first place was tied to the fact that the Council hadn't established adequate dependence.

Odd, now that I think about it, that the figurative (and literal!) masculo-normative power in the series didn't think to keep their homemaker in the home by making sure she had enough money to buy herself something nice, like pipes for her entire house, or shoes, or crossbows, or something.
Alyx Dellamonica
19. AMDellamonica
I agree, Garrett--it's much harder to blow off a paying boss!

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