Jul 8 2013 1:00pm

Buffy the Vampire Slayer Rewatch: World’s Silliest Jobs, Slayer Edition

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Life Serial, Xander

“Life Serial,” by David Fury and Jane Espenson

A chicken-bearing Buffy returns home after her meeting with Angel last week. (Though this is never shown on screen, the Internets tell me there’s an Espenson-written comic, Reunion, that covers this. Was it good? Am I sorry I missed it? You tell me.) WillTara, Dawn and Giles are just wrapping up a dinner that makes the bucket of chicken pointless, but because they love her they all eat some anyway.

After Buffy declines to tell them what happened with Angel, the gang wants to know what she’s going to do with her life besides mope over the bills and run off to see her ex. She makes a half-hearted flail in the direction of returning to school—how? with what money?—and Willow and Tara encourage her to audit their classes. She then asks Giles what he thinks.

What he thinks, mostly, is: Why are you asking me?

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Life Serial, Tara, Willow

What the Trio thinks, meanwhile, is that it needs to find Buffy’s weaknesses if they’re going to defeat her. Since they’re agreed that they aren’t going to murder her—though Warren’s lying—I’m faintly interested in what they think they mean by “defeat.” Anyway, they’ve equipped themselves with an enviably uber-cool surveillance Supervan. Or, perhaps, uber-uncool? Andrew, you see, has painted the Death Star on the side. Once they all stop arguing about whether he’s got the specs right, Warren points out that this could get them spotted, recognized and Slayer-pummelled.

Andrew offers to paint over the Death Star. He doesn’t mean it, but Warren and Jonathan take him up on it anyway. This is something we should all remember: don’t volunteer if you don’t mean it.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Life Serial, Andrew

Buffy could have taken this advice, for example. She doesn’t really want to go to school. She thought she was safe in suggesting it because it’s mid-term. But now she’s trying to be upbeat and perky about fitting back into WillTara’s world. Possibly because she has no better answer: what else is she going to do?

After a disastrous class where Mike the groovy professor and his sociology proteges all make her feel completely too slow to do university anymore, Buffy gets tagged by Warren, who plants a very tiny super gizmo on her. It makes time zoom past her. One second she’s flipping pages in an art history book, and the next Tara’s telling her she missed class. It’s confusing and scary, but she eventually finds the device.

The Trio panics, destroying the gizmo remotely. Then Jonathan and Andrew score Warren.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Life Serial, Trio

Next day they move on to the next test. Buffy has figured out that auditing classes isn’t for her, and is going to do construction work with Xander. She’s not fitting in with his peers all that well—she’s disturbingly strong, too efficient and way too female for their taste—so in a sense it may be a mercy when Andrew summons a bunch of monsters to attack the site. When Buffy saves the guys, trashing the work site in the process, they are too macho to admit it and thus she ends up getting fired.

The gang was already looking into Buffy’s weird loss of time, and now they add the monster attack into the research mix. The two don’t mesh well, and they can’t even decide if they’re related. At the same time, with school and construction work crossed off her to-try list, Buffy is reluctantly checking out Giles and Anya’s answer to life, by embarking on a career as a Magic Box Minion.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Life Serial

Even the Trio has noticed, by now, that our Slayer’s a bit unfocused.
That doesn’t stop Jonathan from taking up his magic bone and tossing Buffy into a service industry version of the film Groundhog Day. Warren and Andrew are delighted because this gives them a chance to talk about Star Trek: TNG and the X-Files episodes that also riffed on this idea of, as they call it, looping.

And the media references continue, because Buffy essentially has to satisfy a female customer who’s come in looking for the undead version of Thing from The Addams Family. And the mummy hand in question just plain doesn’t want to be bought.

Personally, I would score Jonathan well for this sequence, because unlike the first two tests, it’s darned funny. We get Buffy crying, Buffy throwing a customer a slug-flavored candle, Buffy fighting undead Thing with salad tongs, Buffy stomping Giles’s glasses, and even Buffy weeping in frustration.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Life Serial

In time she hits upon the idea of a special order and completes the appointed task, thereby breaking the spell. The Trio starts totting up their points. Anya, meanwhile, discovers that Buffy didn’t charge the woman for delivery. “We’ll just take it out of your pay,” she chirps. (She’s also kind of greedy.)

At this point, Buffy’s out of legitimate options. If she can’t live the lives of any of her Scoobies, she might as well give Spike’s existence a whirl. At least his comes with addictive substances and, as it turns out, kittens. (Plus also Clem the loose-skinned demon, in his first Buffyverse appearance. Hi, Clem!)

The Trio’s competition has them tied on points, and looking for some kind of sudden death round to give them a winner. At this point, they’ve all but forgotten the point of this is supposed to be tactical data-gathering. They’re looking to see if their surveillance equipment can pick up cable pornography, and arguing about which Bond was best. They’re barely paying attention to the poker and drinking going on with Spuffy mere meters away.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Life Serial, Spike

(Be interesting to see how that conversation about the Bonds might go now that we’ve had Daniel Craig, hmm?)

I think I’ve mentioned before that as the general tone of BtVS gets darker, it’s the Jane Espenson episodes I find myself liking best. Here’s one reason why: Buffy, inebriated, saying: “... the only person I can even stand to be with anymore is a neutered vampire who cheats at kitten poker!”

That’s the kind of line that just makes me cheer out loud. She’s not ignoring her problems—nobody’s forgotten that she’s deep in the Valley of Suck—but she’s making me laugh just the same.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Life Serial, Spike, Clem

Buffy frees the kittens and storms out, and despite her incredible drunkenness she recognizes the Trio’s van, which tootled John Williams music from Star Wars at her in an earlier scene. Because of her incredible drunkenness, she doesn’t capture or kill Jonathan when he jumps out of the van, disguised as a demon, and announces that he’s been testing her.

And so the Trio escapes.

Buffy then goes home and spends some undefined long period of time throwing up. I’m thinking that if you’ve been raised from the dead and feel like you’re in hell, this would make matters worse... while also being a little validating. Wouldn’t there be a “I told me so, this is Hell!” flavor with every heave?

Thankfully, we don’t have to watch that part.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Life Serial

After she has recovered a bit of her sobriety and can form coherent sentences, she debriefs with Giles, who can’t bear to watch her beat herself up over falling apart. He cuts her a big anxiety-relieving cheque. Anxiety-relieving for her, I mean: Buffy mushes all over him. What Giles hears: this is like having Mom back, thank you for always taking care of everything forever!

To say this worries him is an understatement.

As I recall, Giles’s decision to go back to England came about primarily because Anthony Stewart Head was tired of never seeing his family. Team Mutant Enemy was stuck with shrinking his role in the story, and it’s to their credit that they didn’t have another silly villains contest in the writer’s room (Giant attack clowns! Ferrets of unusual hungriness! Super-intelligent flying demon cabbages! Your suggestions welcome!) and send him off to the land of we loved you, but you’re dead now.

In a season whose theme is about growing up, it makes sense for the parent figures to all be absent. But, as some of you have already argued, what we’re building up to here—Giles leaving Buffy because she needs too much support—is a bit of a shaky proposition.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Life Serial, Giles

Good thing Halloween’s coming. All the demons will be indoors tinting their scales and painting their toenails with Ichor Black #17, and the gang can catch up on their sleep.

Next: Dawn’s in Danger?

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.

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treebee72 _
1. treebee72
In about 6 months Buffy has died, been raised from the dead, lost her mother and been made her sister's caretaker (a sister that didn't even exist a bit over a year ago). And about 3 of those months were spent being dead. Under these circumstances, anyone would need someone to lean on. That Giles decides this is the moment when Buffy needs to learn to stand on her own is absolutely horrible.
Chris Nelly
2. Aeryl
(Be interesting to see how that conversation about the Bonds might go now that we’ve had Daniel Craig, hmm?)

FYI, Alyx, Buffy and Andrew bond in S8 over a shared love of Daniel Craig as James Bond.

This is one of the funnier episodes of Buffy.

Buffy, college? My understanding is California provides college education to residents at state universities, (Cali people correct me if I'm wrong), so I don't stress about how she's paying. At the same time, she was ALWAYS out of her depth trying to run with Willow intellectualness in college, so I don't know why this is supposed to be some indicator at the pointlessess of Buffy's life. Auditing WillTara's classes is a bad move, she should have instead audited classes she'd take instead.

Buffy, construction? That's totally how I'd see it going down.

Buffy, retail? Completely pisses me off that Anya gets a share of the business when Giles leaves, but Buffy doesn't. Don't get me wrong, Anya EARNED it, but do has Buffy. Back on topic, I never understood why she didn't just take the lady down to the basement and SHOW HER what the hand was doing. Simplest solution to THAT problem!

Also, as far as the whole money thing goes, she is getting some money, she's recieving Dependant SS benefits for Dawn, and I imagine Hank is paying child support. Which again demonstrates that she doesn't need the money from DMP permanently, she just needed a temporary financial boost to cover her mother's debt, so that part of the story(Buffy needs money, then doesn't) doesn't really bug me.
stephanie keenan
3. adriel_moonstar
And what about the money that Willow and Tara would be paying to live in the dorms...or rent anywhere else in town? Let's everybody just jump on board the "take advantage of the Slayer" bandwagon. This seaon always pissed me off.
treebee72 _
4. treebee72
@ Aeryl - I wish CA provided us residents a college education! The only public education is K-12 (and preschool in some areas/states) - all higher education is paid throughout the USA. The fees are usually less for residents of the state the school is located & people can get scholorships, loans and/or grants if they qualify, but tuition is the responsibility of the student.
Marie Veek
5. SlackerSpice
Reunion doesn't cover the bangel-y reunion so much as the other Scoobies and their interpretations of what's going on, and adds a little more weight to the "Willow abusing the magicks" plotline when she summons a demon in order to "know the Slayer's heart"... only for it to take the order a mite too literally.
Alyx Dellamonica
6. AMDellamonica
Aeryl, what you say about the money makes sense to me. Though I liked the argument that someone made to the effect that WillTara are still paying rent on a dorm room (which Tara moves back into) for reasons of hiding Buffy's death.
Constance Sublette
7. Zorra
I also think Buffy earned the right to get blotto with booze. This is only the second time we see her drinking -- at all. And the first time she was depressed too, due to being dumped by a jerk. And it was magic. This time at least she gets Clem and kittens ....

Whether or not you pay tuition, college is expensive, even then (I'm not sure if California had already started tuition for instate students of state schools). I look at the kids in the classes I teach on occasion and shudder at how much debt they are racking up -- and then they don't even show up to class. One time I reckoned up on the white board what each minute of sitting my class cost them, and that by not showing up, by not doing the work, they were pissing that money -- that THEY owed -- down the toilet.
Chris Nelly
8. Aeryl
@6, I made that one too!

I also felt they may have been hiding their cohabitation from Tara's family too!
treebee72 _
9. treebee72
@Zorra - Technically CA state schools weren't charging 'tuition' when Buffy would have gone, but the 'fees' charged were tuition by another name. I went to a state school in the early 90's & there was a fee per unit taken. Which increased every year. Buffy would have paid 'tuition' to go to school (and books! OMG book prices!).
10. Dianthus
You're right about the meta reason for Giles's imminent departure, and I'm glad they only sent him away rather than a ridiculous death (sorry, Ms. Kitty Fantastico) but I have to agree that anyone in Buffy's situation would need some support, and his leaving again is a crappy thing to do.
The closest she gets to any real support is (say it with me) Spike. As someone pointed out last week, he's the only one who makes her a direct offer of assistance. It's not that he doesn't have issues of his own (he does), but he seems the only one capable of looking past them (at this point) to see hers. He becomes something of a de facto Watcher for her, just as he was something of a de facto Slayer while she was elsewhere.

I think if Hank was paying child support, there'd be some mention of it. Something along the lines of "At least you've got this...." No, I'm fairly certain he ends up as another in a long line of Bad Dads.
11. adaptr
If you think about it, Giles' entire raison d'être as a Watcher is to support Buffy. Do we know if the WC still pays him, even though his charge died last year? If they do, he'd be obligated to support her financially as well - it wouldn't be very effective to leave her destitute while he's off enjoying his red penis extender. So yes, plenty of things Wrong With This Picture.
Vicki Smith
12. EclecticMayhem
The 'bleurgh' noise and facial expression Buffy makes after taking a shot is one of my very favourite things in the whole of the Buffyverse. Strangely the best one is the one that happens off camera - it's really beautifully timed.
Keith DeCandido
13. krad
The entire thing was badly thought through, and they should've come up with a way to write Tony Head out of the series that didn't require him to be an asshole. (But yes, Head figured the gig wouldn't last more than a year or two, and he'd been away from home for five years and was sick of it.)

Also, why didn't Buffy just open a self-defense school? That would've paid the bills and put her mad Slayer skillz to good use...

---Keith R.A. DeCandido
14. Dianthus
@11. I can't help but wonder if that $30,000 wasn't the amount of back pay she'd gotten for him in Checkpoint.
@13. Starting your own business is an expensive and tricky proposition (not that I've tried it - yet). However, you'd think she could've gotten on somewhere (the Y, a gym, an unofficial business out of the basement? Something).
Here's another thought: assuming there's an overlap btwn the criminal and demon underworlds, Spike uses his 'intelligence gathering' for leads on criminal activity. He reports back to Buffy, she calls the cops - Hey presto! Reward. There's no question the money's clean.
Of course, nobody likes a snitch, and the cops are all stupid, jackbooted thugs workin' for the Man (honestly). My kingdom for an eye-rolly emoticon.
IIRC, at the poker game Buffy says something to Spike about him busting heads (or whatever) and fixing her life. He's the one with the more peacable (if cheaty) solution. Also, as she tells him he's the only one she can stand to be around, anyone who thinks that he's deliberately trying to distance her from the others can bite me!
Keith DeCandido
15. krad
There's this big space in the back of the magic shop where Buffy works out. Convert it into a dojo.

---Keith R.A. DeCandido
16. Dianthus
@15. Solved!

OTOH, life is far too sucky to actually do anything useful/pro-active about your problems. The best you can hope for is self-medicating with your totally hot undead not-a-boyfriend who thinks the sun rises and sets in your pants (even tho' you treat him like sh!t just 'cuz he lets you.) Not that I'm bitter, or anything.
17. Gardner Dozois
I didn't much like these early-season episodes with the Three Nerds as bumbling slapstick villains, they remind me too much of the Adam West Batman, and I didn't much like this one, although the kitten poker scene was funny, and Sarah Michelle Geller, who does have a good touch at light comedy, plays the inebriated Buffy in an amusing and endearing fashion, much as she did in "Beer Bad." She won't have much occasion to use that light touch in most of the rest of the season. Later episodes in the season become more intense and interesting, but also more grim and gloomy.

It does seem as if Giles is going to give a percentage of the store's profit to anybody, it should be to Buffy, so that she can keep them all alive by saving the world rather than having to flip burgers to stay solvent instead.
18. GarrettC
@16: It's just a good thing for Spike that the sun does not actually rise in Buffy's pants.
Chris Nelly
19. Aeryl
Funny comment I saw on tumblr, and wanted to share.

No matter how divisive the Buffy fandom gets, over ships, analyses and interpretations, we are all united by the shared desire to stab Warren Mears in the face.
Vicki Smith
20. EclecticMayhem
@Aeryl - very true!

I'm of the opinion that flaying was too good for him.
Andrew Love
21. AndyLove
If you think about it, Giles' entire raison d'être as a Watcher is to support Buffy.
The position of "Watcher who is assigned to an actual active Slayer" seems to be a pretty low status position in the "Watcher's Council," for some reason (perhaps because "active Watcher" is expected to be a position held for a year or two, until the Slayer is killed?). He doesn't get invited to the good meetings, or get vital memos in good time. In a better world, Buffy would have sent Giles off to England to knock heads in the council - with him providing as much financial support as possible both from his salary and the Magic Shoppe while doing so.
22. Dianthus
@18. Well, ya' got me there. How 'bout the moon, instead?;-D

@19. Stabbing? Maybe. In the face? Maybe a little lower. The Man Who Killed Tara (and I use the term 'man' loosely) deserves to rot in Hell.
Alyx Dellamonica
23. AMDellamonica
I can see a fun Buffy party game developing here: "Pin the crossbow bolt to the Warren," maybe?

Krad, I am *so* behind the dojo idea.

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