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 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?
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 Tor.com’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.
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!”
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 Tor.com. 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.