Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Living Conditions

The problem with Living Conditions is that it’s half a story. That story is The Boy Who Cried Wolf. It’s a widely misunderstood fable because the boy isn’t the one who suffers the consequences of his lies, with the exception of a few later retellings of the story, in which writers sought to correct the problem by having the wolf eat the boy as well. The consequences in the original story are suffered by the villagers, whose flock of sheep gets eaten. The moral therefore should be this: take people seriously when they warn that something bad is happening, even if they have an unreliable track record. The one time you ignore them might just be the one time they happen to be telling the truth. It’s basically this: even a stopped clock is right twice a day. Don’t assume the time has to be wrong because the clock isn’t ticking.

OK, I’m mixing my metaphors, but you see what I mean, and Marti Noxon works hard to establish Buffy as a stopped clock, or a boy crying wolf. Willow’s predicament makes that clear, by comparison. While Buffy is complaining about a name written on some eggs, Willow can’t actually make use of her room at all, because it’s a constant party venue. The viewer is therefore taken firmly by the hand and led to a place where we sympathise with the assumption of Buffy’s friends: she’s getting things out of proportion.

“Learning to live with someone can be a challenge.”

The moment they (and we) should realise the wolf is really approaching the village is the toenails revelation: “They grew, after they were cut. That’s a demon thing.” It’s a clever moment, because collecting toenail clippings, keeping them in a bag and measuring them seems weird and obsessive, further evidence that Buffy is unhinged by her troubled sleep and weird room-mate, but this is some actual, measurable (literally) proof that she is right about Kathy. The reaction of her friends is to tie her up.

So here we have the moment where the villagers ignore the boy, but we are missing the consequences. Instead the story plays out in much the same way as it would without the involvement of Willow, Xander, Oz, and probably even Giles (soul sucking or not, you can’t tell me Buffy wouldn’t have won that fight on her own anyway). The only difference is that Giles eventually believes her, which ironically probably saved Kathy’s life, because she is taken back home by her dad instead of having to be killed by Buffy. That makes the conclusion a little unsatisfying and the fable is lacking the moral of the story it needs to make this anything more significant than a lame duck of a comedy episode, with a few chucklesome lines about a gum gnome and a shifty bench.

Maybe it’s because I struggle to relate to the experience of starting university anywhere, let alone in the USA, but it feels like we are treading water, waiting for the season to kick off and get to the point. Where’s our Big Bad? We are getting little hints at some ongoing stories, such as Oz’s lingering look at a girl who isn’t Willow, but there comes a point where a few crumbs don’t do anything to sate the appetite, and that point is reached early when we are being given half-fables, red-herring-boyfriends and university room-mate issues instead, while going through the usual motions of a vampire gang followed by demon rituals. It all feels small scale and unimportant, at odds with the major life change Buffy is going through, as if the horror were being squeezed out by the domestic concerns. The latter is integral to the show, but a better balance needs to be struck. Buffy’s world needs to feel dangerous again.   RP

The view from the Sunnydale Press…

This is one of those tug-of-war episodes; you know, the ones that pull you apart?   I’m pulled between loving this story and hating it.  It’s not really a great example of what the series is all about but it does do a great job of showing a slice of life drama about roommates.  Yeah, they add the demonic twist, but that’s really secondary to what the episode is about, and this one is as plain as day.  (Usually you have to dig a little… maybe sift the topsoil a bit… not this one!)  This is an episode about sharing a place with another person.  Hey, I can relate.  I have 2 really good kids, but by god they drive me crazy with all the little things.  Like Kathy’s toenails or Buffy’s tapping of the pencil, there are really not bad things.  With my kids it’s putting dishes in the sink instead of the dishwasher or taking a 90 minute shower!  Frankly, there are worse things than that!  Take Willow, who has it far worse with a non-stop party going on.  That’s got to be especially rough for a girl who actually wants to study!   What makes this episode great is that it amps up the tension between Buffy and Kathy making it clear that there is a tiny war going on between them.  That adds a sense of humor to the story too.  The camera shots zooming into Buffy’s eyes is fantastic and made funnier still at the end of the episode when Willow takes Buffy’s sandwich.

What bothered me, I blame on Galaxycon.  Let me explain that so it makes some kind of sense.  I’ve been following Galaxycon for a bit; they offer a chance to meet celebrities from our favorite fandom and pay for time with them or autographs or just listen to a panel with them.  In a post-pandemic world, this is a nice idea.  Since I haven’t seen all of Buffy yet, I don’t know who is important and who isn’t but if I want to pay $60, I can get an autograph of Dagney Kerr, aka Kathy.  So in my tiny mind, I thought Kathy was destined to be around for a while.  And I was ok with that because I saw potential where the writers saw a plot that needed wrapping up.

The plot is one of those that rely on keeping a secret from the audience but fails to make a lot of sense in the grand scheme of things.  Kathy ends up actually being a demon.  The story is designed to make us think she and Buffy are victims, but by the time the story ends, we discover that Kathy is basically a child demon being hunted by her parents.  (She’s 3000 yet treated like a 900 year old!  Spoiled, I tell you!)  But that’s a problem because the moment she and Buffy are attacked early in the episode, before the roommate rivalry even kicks in, she would have pieced together that her parents were looking for her.  Yet she shows no signs of anxiety, worry or awareness.  She even tells the gang what her dream was about which would match Buffy’s and only serve to draw attention to the situation.  But no!  When dad shows up and takes her “back to her room” (in a nutshell), I was thinking of Galaxycon; surely she’s going to stick around!  Buffy is going to save her and they will have a demon on their side from now on!  How amazing will that be?!  Alas, to my disappointment, that wasn’t to be.  Kathy is sent back to her hellish dimension; no friendship with the monster.  Bummer.  Her soul drinking was for nothing.

I like the demon of nonspecific origin.  I thought they looked great with their odd glowing eyes; reminding me of something from Doctor Who.  The roommate rivalry was really done well, depicting how two teenagers might react when forced together in a confined space.  There’s not as much comedy in this episode though I did like Oz’s comment about the shifty looking bench.  Buffy’s “I knew it” was also funny.  But my favorite moment was when Willow calls Giles and says that Buffy was all “homicidal crazy, so I told her to come see you!”  And I really like Willow’s new haircut.  Always say something nice!

I liked the episode; I just didn’t love it.  I’m probably just bitter.  I love it when the enemies work things out and become friends.  This episode offered an opportunity for such a thing and passed it up.  What can I tell you?  I see things with rose-colored glasses sometimes and am not always ready to be exposed to the harsh light of day.  ML

Read next in the Junkyard… Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The Harsh Light of Day

About Roger Pocock

Co-writer on junkyard.blog. Author of windowsintohistory.wordpress.com. Editor of frontiersmenhistorian.info
This entry was posted in Entertainment, Reviews, Television and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Living Conditions

  1. Oh, I’m so glad Kathy didn’t stick around– I was with Buffy 100% on this one lol

    Liked by 2 people

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