Aug 26 2013 1:00pm

Buffy the Vampire Slayer Rewatch: “Continue the Story of Failure”

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Doublemeat Palace

“Doublemeat Palace,” by Jane Espenson

Last week, Buffy and Willow were the only members of the gang present at the showdown against the Trio, so “Doublemeat Palace” opens with XandAnya getting their very own “previously-on” catch-up. Since their semi-visible throwdown in the local arcade, Willow tells them, Buffy has raided the Trio lair. The search yielded spell books, some pictures of Jolene Blalock, and assorted nerd toys.

The three would-be evil amigos had fled, which proves they aren’t completely entirely without a sense of self-preservation.

Anya begins to make a point about their villainous lack of work ethic, only to be interrupted by Buffy in her technicolor and somewhat frightening Doublemeat Palace uniform.

Yes, it’s come to this—Buffy has a McJob.

Soon she is watching a training video about how she, a cow, a chicken are all about to become part of the Doublemeat experience. She meets Manny, the humorless manager of her new place of employment, and he introduces her to two tuned-out fellow wage slaves. She—and we—find out that there’s a lot of turnover: people leave without cleaning out their lockers, and there are a whole bunch of timecards in a bucket marked “Gone.”

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Doublemeat Palace, Manny

(This caused me to stop and doublecheck that I wasn’t in fact watching “Gone” again.)

In the restaurant kitchen, Buffy continues to be struck by the zombielike mien of her peers. Then she’s obliged by Manny to eat a Doublemeat Medley.

(This caused me to stop and wonder how many of you enjoyed season one of Hannibal.)

Buffy asks Manny what the Doublemeat Medley secret ingredient is and is told: “It’s a meat process.”

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Doublemeat Palace

Well. Yummers, am I right?

After the force feeding, work continues. A chirpy boy cashier named Gary shows her the ropes, demonstrating the nuances of bringing an old lady and a cherry pie together in a joy-inducing consumer transaction. While Gary’s got his back turned, the lady mentions that she’s in for her pie every single day and lots of the employees just vanish. Buffy looks like she might be in for the long haul, adds the old lady. This is not a statement calculated to make anyone happy. Buffy musters a weak grin.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Doublemeat Palace

Usually in a five minute stretch of BtVS, we bounce from the Magic Box to the Summers house to Spike’s crypt. There’s a villain scene, maybe a fight or two, a shot of the Hellmouth burbling, Angelus with long hair in his pre-Liam days, Dawn moping, a quick peek in at the Bronze... and then, eventually, we make our way back to Buffy. In this story, nothing supernatural happens and we don’t go anywhere else for a really long time. There is no escaping Buffy’s new job, not for us and not for her. You kinda do feel like you’re on shift in a hellish fast food factory. In fact, when it’s finally time to get the Scoobies back into the story, they come to her—to order lunch and be supportive.

Buffy tells the gang something unsettling is up. But Xander has worked at exactly this kind of crappy job, and he tells her that comatose coworkers and high staff attrition are all part of the racket. This would be a reasonable thing to say if Buffy wasn’t a Slayer and Xander wasn’t a battle-hardened veteran of her Scooby unit.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Doublemeat Palace Xander Anya Willow Dawn

How many times do we have to go through this, people? She’s not being paranoid. Remember Ted? Remember that kooky college roommate?

Even Spike comes to visit. Unlike her friends, he argues that she has to get out of the McJob before it McKills her. He even offers to get her McMoney. By “get” he means steal, but it’s still, arguably, kinda sweet.

My heart breaks for her a little when she pleads with him, asking him not to make it even harder.

They also talk about the Initiative chip’s refusal to punish him for hitting her. Buffy insists it’s not because she’s a demon.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Doublemeat Palace Spike

Next morning, it turns out that Gary the friendly cashier has met a typically horrific Sunnydale end. Manny the manager promotes Buffy to chef duty. The grill and its operator are gut-wrenchingly gross.

At long last, if only for a moment, we get to leave it all behind. Instead we go to Chez Xander, where Halfrek the Vengeance Demon is bringing the fun in. Hallie is a friend of Anya’s—a work friend, of course, because that’s the thing this week—and she has grave doubts about the whole Xander element of the XandAnya marriage scheme.

And at the Summers house, Amy shows up looking for her rat cage. This is pretty much the same gambit Spike used recently when he turned up claiming to need his lost lighter. It’s less sexy, though. Amy asks Willow about having quit magic, and basically tries to tempt her back into the spellcasting fold. She makes snarky comments about her long incarceration in rat form. When temptation, guilt and bullying fail, she zaps Willow full of illicit magical power.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Doublemeat Palace Willow

Back at the Doublemeat doubleshift, Buffy is so bummed out by her job that she has a sad, soulless and not at all sexy hook-up with Spike out back by the office’s inspirational teamwork sign. A little while later, she finds a human finger under the meat grinder.

In a sense, her day is looking up. She gives Manny the manager the finger. He seems pretty horrified. But Buffy is freaking out now. She runs into the restaurant and tries to get everyone to stop eating the alleged food products. Her thinking, logically enough, is that the Palace’s so-called meat process involves heaping portions of 100% USDA approved minimum wage proletariat. When the staff tries to stop her, Buffy’s super-strength comes out to play. She wreaks enough mayhem that Manny ends up firing her.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Doublemeat Palace

So. Yay?

Elsewhere, Anya is telling Hallie that Xander is kind and brave and loves her despite her deficiencies. Hallie points out—not incorrectly—that Xander shouldn’t necessarily be making all of Anya’s wacky ex-demon quirks seem like faults. This vengeance demon is a world-class stirrer, making straight for the worst thing about Xander’s treatment of his beloved—at least to date—and shining a big old spotlight on it.

She does it to be mean, in a way. If Xander didn’t have this particular unlovable habit, Hallie would surely have found another. But it’s not a bad thing for Anya to have to consider, either.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Doublemeat Palace Anya

While that particular trouble is brewing, Buffy calls a Scooby meeting to discuss the finger. Xander and Dawn are the only ones who show. By the time she gets around to saying she thinks the burger might be made of soylent green, Xander has eaten the thing. He’s nauseated and freaked out through the rest of the scene.

Willow shows up next. She’s trying desperately to hide the fact that she’s brim-full of magic. But Buffy doesn’t notice. She’s imagining peopleburgers being eaten all across California, and with that charming image indelibly stamped on her imagination, she heads back to her now-former workplace for some after-hours snooping. She’s looking for clues about the burgers’ secret ingredient. Instead, she finds Manny’s leg.

Even as Willow is shakily making her way through a magic-free chemical analysis of the remaining traces of the burger, Dawn is struck by an epiphany: Doublemeat Palace may be the best day job Buffy can ever hope for. Ow.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Doublemeat Palace Dawn Willow Xander Anya

Xander suggests that maybe she can support her big sister by getting a high-powered high-paying flashy career. But why should Dawn do what the Watchers won’t?

Anya is last to arrive at the meeting. She’s feeling stroppy even before Xander asks about Hallie’s demonic face and offends her. It’s probably a good thing that he is so distracted by the fact that he may have recently eaten human flesh that he’s not exactly spoiling for a fight.

But, in fact, he hasn’t done any such thing. Willow finds no meat at all in the Medley.

Buffy’s search of the palace has, by now, turned up a wig. Then she finds the old lady, the regular, who ordered cherry pie from Gary. Wig lady has a demon in her head and the ability to paralyze her intended prey. This makes the battle between them more of a fight than it would otherwise be, when she incapacitates Buffy and chases her through the kitchen.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Doublemeat Palace Willow

Fortunately, Willow shows up to report on the chemical analysis—the whole there’s no meat in the Doublemeat issue. She also confesses about Amy’s having zapped her, through the drive through P.A. She is so wrapped up in her own problems that she barely realizes what’s going on inside the restaurant in time to get inside.

But when she does, she saves Buffy! She’s actually kind of awesome. She beheads the old lady—and not using magic. The two girls finish off the snake-like monster and toss it in the grinder.

It’s yucky; I think we can all agree.

And so, for two weeks in a row now, the final battle has come down to Bummed Buffy and Abstinence Willow versus the bad guys. There’s a bit of a fissure developing here—Xander and Anya are, oddly, kind of stuck in the Giles role, waiting at home to hear what’s gone down. Is it just because they’re so wrapped up in wedding plans? Is the Dawn-sitting falling to them? I’m not sure.

Amy shows up at Chez Summers next day, expecting Willow to be all ready to go back to being mystic playmates. Willow sends her packing with one of her most menacing (and most justified) threats. “If you’re my friend, you’d better stay away from me. And if you aren’t, you’d better stay away from me.”

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Doublemeat Palace Willow

I got chills.

While that’s happening, Buffy goes back to the Palace to return her uniform. Since she’s there anyway, she asks the new manager about the secret ingredient, which is... not meat! In the ensuing conversation, she asks for her job back. It’s a horrible job, but Dawn is right—it’s the best she can do, at least for now.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Doublemeat Palace

Next: Katrina’s back! Who? Never mind. The key thing is: don’t get attached to her.

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.

Chris Nelly
1. Aeryl
But when she does, she saves Buffy! She’s actually kind of awesome. She beheads the old lady—and not using magic. The two girls finish off the snake-like monster and toss it in the grinder.

But when she does, she saves Buffy! She’s actually kind of awesome. She beheads the old lady—and not using magic. The two girls finish off the snake-like monster and toss it in the grinder.

So yucky you had to say it twice?
Alyx Dellamonica
2. AMDellamonica
OMG, I have no idea how that happened, Aeryl. I'll see if I can get it fixed--and thanks.

Also, to everyone: I wasn't around much last week. It was FanExpo, here in Toronto. Sorry to have been so quiet.
Jack Flynn
4. JackofMidworld
You know, back when I worked in fast food, I think I would've welcomed a demonic encounter, if only to get out of having to mop out the restrooms again.
Marty Beck
5. martytargaryen
Very entertaining write-up of an episode that took time to grow on me.
6. Athreeren
"She gives Manny the manager the finger."
I grinned.
David Goldfarb
7. David_Goldfarb
This episode kind of encapsulates season 6 for me: it just wasn't any fun. When I watch Buffy, I want to see cool fights and monsters and hear witty banter, not watch someone forced to work a McJob to keep the wolf from the door. That I can get in real life.
8. Gardner Dozois
This is my least favorite episode of this season, and one of my least favorites of the entire series.

We have already discussed in great detail why the Watcher's Council should be paying her a living wage, rather than her having to flip burgers while she should be saving people from vampires or preventing the End of The World, and there's not really a lot else to say about this episode. Boring, sodden, and dumb.

(It does strike me as odd that the Watcher's Council isn't more interested in preventing the End of the World. When Buffy is trying to keep Glory from destroying the world, they offer her almost no practical support, other than giving her some old books. You'd think they'd be trying to use their wealth and vast resources to try to help her do that, since if the world is destroyed, they're going to go with it, even if they are in far-off England. Again, when Willow was fixing to destroy the world, the help Giles got in defeating her came from a coven of witches, not from the omnipotent Watcher's Council, who sat the whole thing out in spite of the fact they they too were in the world that was about to be destroyed. Seems like they ought to take a little more interest in the world being destroyed, since once it IS, the whole set-up of Watchers and Slayers isn't going to matter in the slightest.)
Jessica Trevino
9. Ciella
@8. Gardner Dozois You know, while you're correct (they're paying Giles so they should pay her) Buffy is kind of not doing what she's supposed to be doing. From what we've seen from past Slayers and books and comics and such, it seems like the Slayer is to be put in the care of her Watcher who should provide room, board etc. But Buffy insists on living in her house, going to school/college, buying more than one shirt, and caring for her sister. All of these are obviously good things and one of the reasons we're watching Buffy and not one of her "toe the line" predecessors. But it could be that the council looks at is as an all or none package. Either you are in our care or your not and never the twain shall meet. Buffy probably should have negotiated some extra money for her while she was getting Giles some back pay. But then again, I doubt she could have foreseen her current burger flipping situation.
Chris Nelly
10. Aeryl
They way I view the money issue, is that she IS getting paid, just not for the months she was dead. So she needs EXTRA money, which is why the DM Palace job doesn't have to last, and she's not stressing about working part time at the school next year.

But Ciella, your point about demanding complete reliance on the Council as a part of the "We pay your bills" package, is a really good one. NO INDEPENDENCE ALLOWED!
Jessica Trevino
11. Ciella
@10. Aeryl

I can totally see the council saying exactly that. I mean, Kendra had ONE shirt. The girl works out and fights things for a living and she only gets one shirt? That's a tight leash. She was also denied friends, family, romance and education, so there's a lot more problems than just the shirt, but that thing was probably pretty rank.
12. Gardner Dozois
So they're going to let the world be destroyed, with them in it, to spite Buffy for refusing to toe the line and demanding more than one shirt? THAT'LL teach her a sharp lesson.
Chris Nelly
13. Aeryl
I think their outlook is that the Slayer won't survive long without them, so they don't have to worry about it, she'll get taken out long before it becomes IMPORTANT. Or something.

There's a line about absolute power corrupting that seems apropos here.
14. Dianthus
Old Business:
1. A couple of discussions ago, I used the phrase " heterosexual...." I didn't mean anything by it, not really, but still, I'd like to appologize for my tone-deafness.

@. Re: the spacefrak - Buffy could've been banging every guy she met, and it still would've happened. She and Angel were just tools in someone's Grand Scheme.

New Business:
Ordinarily, I love Espenson's work. Dunno what happened here. I'm with Gardner.

As sad as the alley scene is, it's the best thing about this ep (IMO), which is sadder still. A giant penis-monster rising out of an old woman's head? WTF?!? Could we get more Freudian?
Consumer service? Please. Who says that?
I'd expect this sh!t from Noxon.

Alyx, Spike won't be stealing money for Buffy, he'll be doing a deal in black-market demon eggs (As You Were). He wants a big score, not some penny-ante stuff. As if she'd take any money from him. Poor besotted Fool. It's the same old Grand Gesture fetish he just can't shake.

Anyway, we know who's serving whom, don't we? Whether it's a quicky out back or a 5 hr marathon, Spike prides himself on service. The dumpster in the shot is nicely symbolic. Buffy's been dumped -hard- by three Stooges, each time more on account of his shortcomings than hers.
JM once likened Spike dating Harmony to revenge. I think we've got some of that here as well. Spike's suffering for sins not his own (but, yeah, those too).
It also says, to me, that one man's trash is another man's treasure. Spike loves Buffy, full stop. Of course, he'll be running head long into his own shortcomings later on in the season. What separates him from the other guys is that he'll do something about them.
Matthew Glover
15. themightysven
I still say that back in season 3 they had career day, and Buffy scored high as a gardener, and that this would be a great job for her, work in the day leaving the nights free for slayage, much more flexible schedule, can have a truck full of "gardening" equipment nearby at all times, and ready supply of wood for stakes
16. Alex C.
Something that I've noticed in reading discussions of Season 6: this episode is far and away one of the most disliked in the entire series, but there is one particular group of fans who generally claimed to have enjoyed it/found it hilarious: people who have also had the (unfortunate) experience of working in the fast food industry.

It may or may not be related, but I also recall that some of the fans who most enjoyed the 4th Season (generally not a favourite amongst the fanbase apparently) were people who said that they saw it at or around the time they were in college themselves. On a note more pertinent to the season under discussion here, Buffy's character arc in this season (i.e. coping with a major case of resurrection-induced depression) was controversial to say the least amongst many of the fans, but one group of viewers who, from what I gather, reacted very positively to it were people with experience dealing with depression, either themselves or someone they know. (Example: this series of essays, which make up the best analysis of Season 6 that I've read).

Not sure if there's a particular point to be drawn from all that, but there it is.

Coming back to this particular episode, and my reaction to it: I fall into the camp of those who disliked it when I first saw it, and it still isn't on my list of episodes that I'd re-watched.

With that being said however, I did love the ending. Not the punchline about the soy-based beef substitute in the burgers (although that was mildly amusing), but the fact that Buffy asked for a second chance at the job, and resolved to make the most of it. Irrespective of all the discussion about how silly it is for the Chosen One to have to take a crappy minimum wage McJob to support herself and her family, I thought that it was a demonstration of good character, and felt proud of her for doing it. If the previous episode showcased Buffy at her most childish, when she used being invisible as an excuse to take out her feelings on people, this episode showed her up in much more mature colours (albeit painfully orange ones).
17. Dianthus
@15. I'd forgotten about that, but you raise a good point. I've never understood why I should have a sad 'cuz Buffy can't do 9-to-5 at a cube farm somewhere. Something creative like gardening offers her greater flexibility and a chance to make life with her hands.

@16. You raise some good points, too. I've been through a nasty bout of depression, but it happened after s6 had already aired. I'm sympathetic to what Buffy's going thro', but critical of how she handles it. Depression makes it hard to do the things that will lessen the problem, but she doesn't do anything to help herself. OTOH, I've also worked fast food (Taco Hell) as a second job and I still hate this ep. I only lasted three months or so. I've held other Customer Service jobs, and my current job involves customer interaction. Mostly, I don't mind it. Some people are better suited for customer service than others.
18. Alex C.
@17. WRT Buffy not doing anything to help herself, I think that the basic problem is that she doesn't recognize it as a problem, but just something that needs to be muddled through. This is obviously a mistake, but I find it to be an understandable one.

This is one of the reasons why I think that the Trio are more effective as the antagonists of this season than they are sometimes given credit for. Most of the villains on BtVS have a heavy metaphorical aspect to them, and I subscribe to the reading of S.6 that sees them as a metaphor for Buffy's depression: an apparently trivial obstacle/irritation that is treated as such, and consequently grows time into something much more serious. It is surely no coincidence that the Trio become most dangerous in the episodes where Buffy's depression becomes most critical ("Dead Things" and "Normal Again"), and then start to splinter and diminish as she starts to make strides towards dealing with the problem (basically from "Entropy" onwards).

Like I said in a previous comment, I thought that the depression arc was on the whole one of the stronger elements of this season, and it certainly led to some great episodes as well as some not-so-great ones (I can endure a bunch of episodes like "Doublemeat Palace" in exchange for one that's as good as "Normal Again"). The real problem was that it got mixed up too much with the other, weaker elements of the season, particularly the 'magic as drug addiction' arc, which I still think is as weak as the ' resurrection depression' arc is strong. Taken individually the latter would have been great, and the former would have been (sorta) tolerable. But combined together they generated far too much gloominess, which is why I still rate S.6 as the weakest (excepting S.1) of the series.

On the bright side, even a weak season of Buffy is still pretty good, and I can appreciate the argument that whatever its flaws, S.6 did a very good job of setting the stage for the Seventh Season, which I enjoyed greatly (although I know I'm out of lockstep with a lot of fans on that opinion).
Constance Sublette
19. Zorra
This is one of the reasons why I think that the Trio are more effective as the antagonists of this season than they are sometimes given credit for. Most of the villains on BtVS have a heavy metaphorical aspect to them, and I subscribe to the reading of S.6 that sees them as a metaphor for Buffy's depression: an apparently trivial obstacle/irritation that is treated as such, and consequently grows time into something much more serious. It is surely no coincidence that the Trio become most dangerous in the episodes where Buffy's depression becomes most critical ("Dead Things" and "Normal Again"), and then start to splinter and diminish as she starts to make strides towards dealing with the problem (basically from "Entropy" onwards).
An excellent reading.

As for depression and recognizing or not you're in it: In Buffy time, Joyce's death was at most only a year ago, and for half that time Buffy was in Heaven, i.e. not grieving. Then she's brought back to all these problems, many of which have their cause in the Great Big Fact That Mom Died. She's not been able to process that grief at all either.

I fell into depression after three of the people most close to me died so close together there was no processing at all. I was grieving and very confused and very lost and slid into what, only much later, I and others realized was a full-blown depression. I was in sorrow, I was grieving, I was hurting. I couldn't tell the difference between that and depression. I felt awful in every way.

Love, C.
20. Ithilanor
@16: Thanks for the link to that series; definitely some very good analysis. I hadn't seen the Trio-as-depression reading before. Looking at it makes a lot of sense, and finally makes the Trio work as villains in a way I've never seen before. I'm also on board with liking the depression arc, and I don't think it make the season too dark...but then, I like bleak, depressing stories.

As for this episode itself: not much to say that hasn't already been said. It's boring, it's bad, and it completely kills any momentum this season had. Story arc-wise, it's mostly relevant for the Xander/Anya drama, which is probably my least favorite plotline of the season.

I'm not too critical of Buffy for the way she acts; she's got a lot to handle. I'm more critical of Giles for running out on her. *glare*
21. Dianthus
@18. I think Buffy recognized that she had a problem, but felt she had no other choice than to muddle through it. Her friends need her to be ok, so they can be ok with what they did. Dawn needs her to be ok.
She's always been the kind to suck it up and keep going. Plus, her resources are limited.
Spike's the only one who doesn't need her to be ok. Ironically, this means he's the only one who gets to see her weakness, until the truth comes out in OMWF.

I just have a problem with these people not being more proactive. Angel doesn't do anything about his problem, Buffy doesn't do anything about her problem, Xanya don't do anything about their problem (pre-wedding). All of the characters are suffering 'cuz Buffy's suffering, but it's kinda crazy.

Interesting take on the Trio. I hadn't looked at it/them that way.

@19. You have my deepest sympathy. You seem to be doing better now. I certainly hope that's the case. You have my admiration too, for making it through such a difficult time.
Chris Nelly
22. Aeryl
The only thing I've got to add to the depression discussion, is this incredible comic by Allie Brosh.
Constance Sublette
23. Zorra
@ 21. Dianthus

Thank you, but I'm fine now. Time does heal. Or at least grow scar tissue .... :)
24. Dianthus
I was lucky. I was in school at the time, and able to use the health center on campus. I saw a counselor (poor thing, used to dealing with drug and alcohol abuse, she admitted feeling a bit out of her depth with my problems) and a nurse practitioner. It was the nurse practitioner who got me on medication.
I remember feeling so much better once it kicked in after a couple of weeks. Then, I started backsliding. It was awful. I did not want to fall back into the Pit of Despair. Fortunately, adjusting the dosage helped.
I only wish I'd reached out sooner. Prior to that, I'd been going it alone. I read that regular exercise was good for combating mild cases of depression, so I was working out three days a week. Plus, I tried some homeopathic stuff (Bach floral remedies). It just wasn't enough.
Obviously it's not the same for everyone, but that was my experience. Even at my lowest point, I wasn't suicidal.
Jason Parker
25. tarbis
This is an episode that I never felt strongly about, but always seemed a little off. I think I've figured out why.

It was in the wrong season. Buffy gets a McJob is a high school concept and would have worked fine in seasons 1-3. Drop the Willow subplot, alter Buffy's motivation (spare money, going undercover, etc.) for taking the job, drop the sex, and you have a pretty good high school episode. (Go ahead and keep a "friend" trying to breakup Xander's mess of a relationship.)

Buffy gets a job that sucks was a decent idea for this season (regardless of finances Social Services would have found it disturbing that nobody in the house was working), but McJobs have an unfair amount of baggage as being immature. Which made Buffy the character look immature. Maybe they should have had her go back to waitressing instead. Still a low status service job, but not one that people automatically think of as a job for a teenager.
26. Dianthus
@25. More interesting points. They did have her trying out retail in Life Serial, but not in a serious way. Mostly they were exploring the awkward transition from child to adult. Sure, it can be scary, painful and confusing. It can also be exciting and fun. IMO, they just chose to accentuate the negative, hence the McJob. Plus, bonus points for humiliating Buffy/SMG with that outfit.
When I was working at Taco Hell (circa 1996 - 1997), one of my younger co-workers asked me if I had kids. I told her no, but I did have a mortgage. Today, there's a Carl's Jr. I frequent with at least one elderly employee. Even if they've screwed up my order or something, I always try to be nice to the folks at these places, 'cuz I've been there.
Now that so many people have been forced into McJobs by the economic downturn, we're even seeing these folks go out on strike for better wages.
Alyx Dellamonica
27. AMDellamonica
I also admire her for committing to the job, despite its flaws. And you've between you said everything I would have about this episode that I didn't, already, in the essay.
Emma Rosloff
28. emmarosloff
It always felt incongruous that Buffy had enough gumption to run away and get a waitressing job after the whole ordeal with Angel, but she couldn't do any better than a McJob here, several years later with more life experience under her belt. I get that she's got pretty solid reasons to be depressed, but there are tons of jobs out there along similar lines (in terms of skill level/work experience required) that are far less hellish.

I guess the argument can be made that her emotional state attracted her to such a depressing place, but still... she's a cute girl with a bit of waitressing experience. You'd think, in the very least, she could get a job at a coffee shop or something like that for the same amount of money.

Even if Buffy was incapable of steering herself toward such a place at this point in her life, her friends could've done so. Instead their brand of support is to accept that Doublemeat Palace is the best she can do. Even if that's true, it always felt like a disservice to Buffy. Spike's the only one who seems to think she can do better.

No offense to anyone who's worked at a fast food place... I myself am a waitress just barely getting by. But Buffy is the Slayer for eff's sake. Imbued with supernatural powers... she's averted the Apocalypse how many times now and everyone's just okay with her being resigned to this?

It just never sat well with me, and frankly it's what always bothered me about this episode and those like it in the season. I agree with Alex C. that the depression arc on the whole was a strong one, but it always felt like Buffy's foray at the Doublemeat Palace was laying it on unncecessarily thick.

Buffy has some legitimate reasons to be depressed. Instead of more deeply exploring that the writers spent several episodes showing us the inside of a greasy fast food chain as if her majorly sucky life weren't already abundantly clear. On top of that, this felt like an attempt at black humor, at making light, but the truth is there's just nothing funny about Buffy's life right now. If you've gotta be serious, be serious. Don't try to force the funny. It just doesn't work.

One of the shows strengths has always been it's ability to tread that line... to give us comedy and drama all in one breath. To be light and dark at the same time. It's a hard balance to strike... if anything Season 6 is an indicator of how hard it can be to maintain. This season felt like a scale that kept tipping one way or the other; only occasionally maintaining its equilibrium.

As much as I liked that Buffy decided to keep the job in the end (in essence taking a necessary step toward getting back in control of her life), I still think she could've made the decision to look for a better one. If nothing else, her experience in this episode could've shown her that.

Oh well. It is what it is. Come Season 7, her job as school counselor will be a much better fit.
29. Dianthus
Larding it on...yes! It's ridiculous.

Talk about the subject of depression. It's a big deal. It affects women disproportionally. Still, be responsible about it.
A later episode of Veronica Mars dealt with a character's gambling addiction. At the end of the ep., they put up the number for a hotline you could call if you or a loved one had a gambling problem. The folks at ME never did anything like that. Putting up the number for a suicide prevention hotline could've helped a lot of people.
30. Dianthus
"It affects women disproportionally."

So, what do I see on the front page of the LA Times today? An article about new research suggesting that men are just as likely to suffer from depression as women. Along with the usual symptoms (sadness, hopelessness, loss of interest in pleasurable activities), depression in men can manifest as risk taking, addiction, and belligerence. What's more, men are four times as likely to commit suicide.
Alyx Dellamonica
31. AMDellamonica
I agree that some kind of mental health hotline number, perhaps after "Normal Again," would have been a terrific public service.
32. Alex C.
@28. Judging from the comments here, I think that we're all more or less in agreement WRT to 'laying it on a bit thick' in this episode. At the same time however, for all that I don't have much love for this particular episode, I can sort of grasp the (possible) rationale behind the writers' artistic decision to have Buffy take this kind of job, and depict it in all its disgusting, degrading (un)glory. In order for the depression plotline to work as powerfully as it does (and in the episodes where it succeeds, my opinion is that it does have quite a lot of power), it's not enough for the audience to simply be told that Buffy is feeling down because she was forcibly taken out of paradise and returned to the land of the living; we also have to see that she does in fact have strong external as well as internal reasons for feeling (really) bad about the direction that her life has taken at the moment.

Watching her cope with nightmare money problems, struggle to act as her younger sister's guardian, engage in a seriously unhealthy sexual relationship, take out a crappy job, etc - all of this and other things in the 6th Season can make for very painful viewing at times. It does succeed however in creating a definite atmosphere that is, IMO critical to setting the scene for some of the most important episodes in the season, which are the pivotal points in Buffy's development in what is, almost certainly, the darkest section of her seven-season character arc.

I don't want to overstate this, but my feeling is that if the show had, for example, cut out the disgusting Mcjob and instead shown Buffy waitressing in a sunlit, wholesome coffee house - i.e. a job where the audience isn't wincing at the thought of having to do that - then it impacts on how we see the rest of what Buffy is doing, feeling, and experiencing. I'm not sure if I'm articulating this as clearly as I could, but the bottom line for me is that I believe that the great episodes of Season 6 - "Once More With Feeling", "Tabula Rasa", "Dead Things", and "Normal Again" - work better/make more sense (at least in relation to Buffy) when viewed in connection with the events depicted in many of the less-loved episodes that come between them.

I'm not saying that all of the decisions about how to depict the negative turn in Buffy's life were well concieved and/or well executed, but I will say that even if I don't have any intention of re-watching episodes like "Doublemeat Palace" and "As You Were" anytime soon, insofar as they contributed to laying part of the groundwork for episodes like "Dead Things" and "Normal Again", then I am happy that they were in the season. Like I said before, I don't mind having to watch a few not-so-good episodes if there is a pay-off in good or great episodes further down the track.

TL;DR version: episodes like this may not be good re-watch material, but they do contribute to creating the atmosphere for the episodes that are.

I run the risk of repeating myself, but I will note again that I think that the more unfortunate sections of Buffy's (overall successful) character arc in this season would not have been nearly as bothersome if they hadn't been surrounded by so much misfortune and downward-spirals in the other major character arcs that occur alongside it - i.e. Willow becoming a mystical drug addict, Xander messing up his relationship with Anya, Giles fleeing the country out of a misguided sense of paternal responsibility. I'll grant that at least part of that (especially Giles) was necessitated by factors external to the show, and parts of it had definite pay-off (or skillful fixing) later on down the road. I also think though that there were some definite repurcussions for the story that extended beyond the end of Season 6, but I reckon I'll wait to comment on a later post to talk about those.
33. Alex C.
On an entirely different, I'd like to extent a very belated thank you to Alyx Dellamonica for writing up these fantastic re-watch essays. I've only made a couple of comments starting with the Sixth Season, but I've been following them week-by-week for quite a while, and it has been lovely to vicariously experience the series again, re-watching a couple of episodes in accompaniment, and following the discussions/opinions on the comments thread.

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