Janes (a True Stan) and Nerdy Spice (a New Fan) are watching all of Buffy together and comparing notes.
Season 4, Episode 1 “The Freshman”
Buffy’s off to college–and she has a roommate, Kathy, from whom she has to keep her secret identity secret, which as we all know she’s GREAT at. She’s extremely nervous, in contrast to Willow who’s excited for every class and every protest. And things don’t go super great for her: she gets yelled at by a professor for whispering in class, she can’t get into the one class she kind of wants, and the first cute guy she meets can’t remember her name because he’s more interested in talking shop with Willow about Psych 105, while the second cute guy gets turned into a vampire by a ring of goth stoner vamps that like to eat college freshmen and then just pack up their rooms and take their stuff and leave a good-bye note so that no one realizes they died. (I guess the parents never bother calling the school to find out what happened when their kids don’t come home for Thanksgiving. Just roll with it.)
That first cute guy, by the way, is named Riley. He comes equipped with classic WB leading man looks: blonde and white, a very symmetrical face, ripped arms, and what I can only describe as Dawson Leery hair:
He is eminently unremarkable, but since I have heard tell of mysterious creatures called Buffy/Riley shippers, I know he’s important.
So back to the goth vamps. They are led by a snarky goth girl named Sunday who’s mean to all of her lackeys, including fat-shaming one of them (Buffy also body-shames someone later on, I feel like something went very wrong in the writers’ room when they were doing this episode). And the worst part, even worse than the fact that they turn the only guy who gives Buffy the time of day at school into a vampire? Sunday insults her outfit and then fully wins a 1-on-1 fight with Buffy, forcing the way-off-her-game Buffy to ignominiously turn tail and run.
Buffy seeks comfort from the adults she knows–Giles, who’s busy having some kind of weeklong fling with a friend who’s visiting from out of town, and intent on teaching Buffy to be self-sufficient so he can go right back to getting laid; and Mrs. Buffy, who has filled Buffy’s room with packing crates so she can do inventory at the gallery. Turns out the adults don’t need her as much as she needed them! And she doesn’t even feel like she can interrupt Willow and Oz to help her while they are thriving at school.
She finally retreats to the Bronze, where she looks hopefully at all strong-jawed twenty-somethings in case one of them turns out to be her four-hundred-year-old ex-boyfriend, but instead, she only finds Xander. Turns out Xander’s road trip was cut short when his car broke down and he may or may not have had to strip to earn his way back home. But regardless, he gives her a great pep talk, tells her she’s his hero, and only makes one creepy comment about picturing her underwear, so… progress?
Properly fortified, Buffy takes Xander to the vampire gang’s lair, then sends him off to double-check her empty room for the weapon box. There, Xander finds Willow and Oz, and invents a cover story just plausible enough for the gullible Karen [Side note: I just realized I accidentally referred to Kathy as “Karen” several times in this post, which honestly kinda fits so I’m just gonna go with it!], so that they can make their way to Willow’s room for some extra weaponry. Unfortunately, Buffy falls right through the roof while spying on Sunday’s gang, and Sunday starts right in on beating her up again! But since Xander’s pep talk gave her her mojo back, Buffy barely even needs the rest of the gang. She kicks Sunday’s ass even with one arm barely working. And then, as they go home triumphant, up comes Giles with some more weaponry. He couldn’t bear to leave Buffy alone! So cute!
Also, there are men in camo hunting vampires in the woods of the campus. Intrigue!
Notes from a New Fan:
- I guess Buffy didn’t quite master the whole sensing-vampires-that-are-close-to-you thing. Is that still a thing?
- Hey, at least this creepy guy inviting freshman women to parties and offering them free Jell-O shots is calling them freshman women. Progress? (Also, what kind of college party charges for shots to anyone? Weird.)
- I like that Oz pretends to be disoriented to make Buffy feel better. I mean it’s totally transparent so perhaps not that comforting, but in his quiet way, he’s just so nice.
- I’m sure this is Riley. Is he secretly some kind of demon whose superpower is that he’s not knocked unconscious by having hardcovers drop on his head from a great height?
- Buffy is rendered totally socially awkward in the face of Riley’s buff arms and greasy middle-parted bangs.
- College professors on TV are always (and by always I mean here and on Dawson’s Creek, the only two shows that really exist in my head apparently) bizarrely aggressive towards students, when in my experience it is much more common for burned-out high school teachers to be mean. Burned-out profs just kind of… ignore you, or forget to show up to class altogether.
- So did Buffy stay at psych class for the last six hours and wait till it was completely dark to go to her next class? Or is Fisher Hall where the free shots are?
- I like this nerdy guy who’s definitely going to be a demon much better than Riley as a love interest already.
- When Buffy says her security blanket is “Mr. Pointy,” does she not realize that sounds kinda like a dildo?
- Aww, nerdy guy has fallen into the clutches of demons! Too bad. Now we’re stuck with Riley.
- I really appreciate that Buffy openly admits she thinks Giles is too old to be having sex and “it’s gross.” That’s exactly what we’d have thought at her age! He takes it quite well, too.
- If Sunday, the ringleader of the vampire ring, looks familiar to you it might be because she played basically the same character, minus the vampire part, in She’s All That–she was Clea DuVall’s pal, who told Laney Boggs to kill herself. Even the makeup is the same.
- How did this Sunday person get to be a better fighter than Buffy? It would be very upsetting if it was a boy vampire, but it’s still pretty upsetting!
- It’s pretty tragic for Buffy that Xander has to explain to her the difference between reconnaissance and the Renaissance. Although I did find it confusing when I was a kid too.
- Xander’s proportion of time being Xander (aka terrible) to time being vaguely human was higher in this episode.
- Yay, I was so relieved when Buffy got her mojo back and kicked Sunday’s ass with one arm!
Notes from a True Stan:
- “How do you get to be ‘renowned’? Do you have to be ‘nowned’ first?” Okay, Bianca.
- I feel like television set me up to believe that kids would just be protesting all over the place. I wish college were actually like that! [I think that’s because 90s shows were written by people who’d gone to college in the 70s when that was actually true. When GenX starts writing TV shows their characters will probably also be protesting up a storm! –Nerdy Spice]
- Of course Willow fits in at college better than Buffy ever could. It’s very Marianne and Connell.
- I agree, Buffy. The hardest thing about college is finding where everything is, even now that we have Google Maps.
- Although, I do think Buffy is being a little dramatic about how “lost” and “out of place” she feels. She has her best friend with her! That’s more of a support system than most people have when they go to college.
- Riley has a little bit of the Dawson bangs going on here. They’re so–piecey. [Great minds -Nerdy Spice]
- TV also set me up to expect that college professors would just kick you out if you were talking or didn’t do the reading. Ha! As if anyone in college does the reading.
- I love Maggie. That is all.
- Buffy claims that she needs to be “secret identity gal” again, and then, completely unprompted, brings up Mr. Pointy! Some things never change.
- I also love Sunday! This show should have had more female villains.
- Okay, so the vampires pretend that these kids who go missing just “freaked out” about college, and then… didn’t go home? Don’t their parents wonder where they went?
- I love when the vampires make fun of all the college students hanging Monet in their dorms. But really, Klimt is in second place? Before Picasso, or Andy Warhol? [Yeah… I’ve never, ummm, heard of this person. I thought it might be some kind of plot device. —Nerdy Spice]
- It’s so silly that Giles turns Buffy away when she asks for help. She’s eighteen, not thirty!
- For those of you who don’t watch Angel (and I’m very mixed on whether you should), that’s Angel hanging up on her in her kitchen! He’s such a Jess sometimes.
- Buffy asks Xander to tell his male stripping story! Seriously, are they flirting?
- Xander’s speech where he calls Buffy “[his] hero” is actually so cute. What is happening to the world?
- Oh wait, then he ruins it by implying that he thinks about her when he’s masturbating. All is right in the world again.
- Not the umbrella!!
Season 4, Episode 2 “Living Conditions”
Buffy is having that classic college freshman problem: a demonic roommate. She behaves like, as Buffy puts it, “mini-Mom of Momdonia”–she makes Buffy log all of her calls, passive-aggressively comments on Buffy’s late hours, and plays diva anthems on repeat. (The previouslys goes out of its way to remind us that she hung a Celine Dion poster in their room, just in case we’d forgotten about her mommish music taste.) She also asks a lot of questions, which is super inconvenient for a girl trying to hide a secret identity. As Willow says, “And you thought the days of sneaking out of your room were over.”
Buffy keeps having to make excuses for going out to patrol late at night, and when she says she’s going for coffee, Kathy insists on coming along. They get attacked by orange, glowy demons, who then hide in the bushes and say ominous things like “That’s her,” presumably referring to Buffy. After this encounter, both Buffy and Kathy start having skin-crawling nightmares, where the orange demons put scorpions on their bodies and pour blood down their throat.
This shared experience, however, does not make the roommates closer. At first, Buffy tries to be the bigger person, even when Kathy commits cardinal roommate sins, like clipping her nails in public spaces and borrowing Buffy’s sweater without asking (and then spilling ketchup on it!!). But she quickly becomes obsessed with her hatred for Kathy and gets pulled into passive-aggressive fights where they each take turns opening and closing the window. It’s all pretty funny, but my favorite part about all of this is that Buffy is also kind of a bad roommate! She’s an only child, so she wants everything her way, and she also commits a few cardinal roommate sins, like pilfering Kathy’s food. (And she leaves gum everywhere? Ew! I’m on Kathy’s side.)
Their conflict comes to a head when Buffy finds Kathy flirting with a boy she likes–Parker, aka Wise Gay Sage from Dawson’s Creek, the less said about him the better–who came to their room to see Buffy, no less. In the ensuing fight, Kathy tells Buffy that she’s “spoiled” and that it’s “share time now,” and Buffy responds, “I’ll show you share time” and downs an entire carton of Kathy’s milk, which is now, like all of Kathy’s food, labeled “Kathy” in big black letters. Heh.
Buffy’s friends start to get worried about her bratty behavior, which is, as Willow says, “bordering on Cordelia-esque.” At one point, Willow tells Buffy that sucky roommates are a part of life, and she just “has to deal.” Buffy says she’s right, but then follows it up with, “Kathy’s evil. I’m an evil fighter. It’s simple. I have to kill her.” Hee!
Buffy tells Willow that she gathered Kathy’s toenails from the floor the night before, and when she measured them that morning, they had grown. “That’s a demon thing!” Willow is unconvinced. She conspires with Giles, Xander, and Oz to capture Buffy in a big net thing and tie her up so she doesn’t do anything crazy. They don’t tie her well at all, though–where are Angel’s kinky chains when you need them?–and she quickly escapes.
Buffy finds Kathy in their room, and they quickly escalate to physical violence. As they struggle, Buffy pulls off Kathy’s face to find one of those orange demon faces. “I knew it!” Buffy says with a smile, right before Kathy slugs her again. Kathy reveals that she escaped her demon family because she “wanted to go to college,” but they found her. Ever since then, she’s been doing rituals to gradually suck Buffy’s soul each night, so that when they come for Kathy, they’ll take Buffy, since she has no soul. They keep fighting as Kathy tries to finish the ritual, and all of their previous gags come back into play. Buffy tries to strangle Kathy with the sweater she borrowed, and Kathy breaks the window with Buffy’s head. “Window’s open–happy?” Buffy even takes the time to step on and break all of Kathy’s pencils, which she measures as she sharpens to make sure they’re all exactly the same size. And in a hilarious little cutaway scene, we see that Kathy is smashing Buffy in the head with their old-fashioned landline phone to punctuate her words: “All you had to do was WRITE. DOWN. YOUR. CALLS!”
Meanwhile, Giles comes back to his house in a panic and announces that he’s figured it out. Or, more accurately, he holds up the plastic baggie of Kathy’s toenails, and exclaims, “Toenails!” Heh. He’s figured out that Kathy actually is a demon that regenerates from its parts after it’s been destroyed. (So each of those toenails could become another Kathy? Neat!) They perform a ritual to return Buffy’s soul to her, and the demon family takes Kathy instead.
In the end, Willow and Buffy finally start rooming together, and all is well, save for a little gag about Willow stealing Buffy’s food. Buffy may have her soul back, but she’s still an only child (for now!). [Um, spoilers! Just kidding, I already know Harriet the Spy is her little sister. —Nerdy Spice]
Notes from a New Fan:
- This was honestly one of my favorite episodes so far, especially in terms of monster-of-the-week. It’s just funny! A lot of the gags were easy to spot coming, but even so, I just liked it. [I agree! All of the jokes are well-crafted and pay off so well in the end–such an underrated episode. –Janes]
- And the whole “My roommate is evil, I have to kill her” thing is such an amusing, hyperbolic, but not that hyperbolic portrayal of what happens to pairs of mismatched roommates!
- I can’t decide who I’d least want to live with: Buffy and her used gum everywhere, or Kathy flossing in public. Both disgusting. But I think I’mma give the edge to Karen, because it is also kind of obnoxious to eat your roommate’s food if you weren’t invited. My roommates and I always shared in college! But, we always asked!
- I can’t believe Giles and Willow left Xander and Oz alone with the demon-infected Buffy without really making sure she was securely strapped down. That just seems cruel, like, those boys are obviously not equipped to handle Buffy.
- So Willow kept mentioning her awful roommate and I honestly thought the twist was gonna be that her roommate turned out to be Cordelia. But that seems to have been false, and at the end of the episode Willow just moves in with Buffy and I guess we never hear about the original roommate again?
- Also… what happened to those camo guys who were hunting vampires? [They’ll be back! –Janes]
Notes from a True Stan:
- This situation where Buffy has to lie to Kathy about patrolling every single night is exactly why it makes no sense that she and Willow weren’t roommates to begin with.
- Aw, I love that Giles knows something’s wrong just because Buffy asks about his day. So real. Did any of us ask adults polite questions when we were Buffy’s age?
- I love that Buffy and Parker specify their buildings when they introduce themselves, like their dorms are their royal titles.
- I also love that I’ve never seen the actress who plays Kathy in anything else, except for an overly cheery yogurt commercial. I feel like Kathy would buy that yogurt.
- “On the plus side, you killed the bench, which was looking shifty.” I adore Oz.
- So many good jokes in this episode. I love Willow’s message to Giles: “Buffy’s a little homicidal right now,” and then her cheery, “So I sent her to see you, okay?”
- Xander: “This hurts me more than it hurts you.” Buffy: “Not yet, but it will.” Hee!
- “She has parts that keep growing after they’re detached! She irons her jeans! She’s evil!”
Season 4, Episode 3 “The Harsh Light of Day”
Buffy is still seeing Parker. I kinda thought he was gonna get killed soon, because I know Riley’s a thing and I never hear about Parker, and I figured it was too early to turn yet another of Buffy’s love interests into a demon. But I was wrong… sigh.
Anyway, so Buffy and Parker run into each other at a club and are walking home together when they’re interrupted by Willow and Oz. Right after Buffy left, Willow was attacked by an old nemesis, Harmony–only now Harmony’s a vampire. Willow and Oz managed to fight her off but she got a nick out of Willow’s neck first, and threatened to send her boyfriend after them in revenge. So Buffy has to ditch Parker to get Willow a bandaid, right in the middle of their first kiss.
As it happens, Harmony’s boyfriend is someone we know well and have missed dearly: Spike! Hooray! Spike appears to be tolerating Harmony’s presence mainly because she has nice boobs. (There is some pretty revolting sex stuff involving both of them getting turned on by him mistreating her and comparing her to Drusilla… let’s not delve into it.) Spike doesn’t want to take revenge on Willow because he doesn’t want to alert anyone to his presence, given that he’s gotten his ass kicked in this town a few times already. So basically, he’s scared of Buffy. Woo, girl power! But he says that once he has what he wants, everyone will die.
We find out shortly enough what Spike’s goal is when Buffy is on yet another date with Parker that gets interrupted by vampire shenanigans. This time it’s Spike and Harmony leading some intended victim out of a college party. Buffy ditches Parker to run after Spike, and before the vampires can take off, Harmony reveals Spike is after something called the “Gem of Amara.” Giles thinks this isn’t real at first, but then realizes it is, and it will make Spike unkillable. Spike and Harmony do manage to find the gem, at which point Spike strolls out in the light of day to attack Buffy–only to be neatly overpowered by her long enough for her to take off the gem. Spike is forced to stagger off to the nearest manhole, his skin sizzling from the sun. Go, Buffy!
In the end, Buffy decides to give the ring to Angel since it will make him unkillable. Oz offers to drop it off for her since he has a gig in LA. Buffy stares at the ring sadly. Oh, goody, the return of Emo Buffy. Ugh! Buffy, focus on all the cute college boys you’ve met and hooked up with, not on your brooding, 400-but-looks-40 ex who wouldn’t even say good-bye to you.
Meanwhile, Buffy is dealing with the fact that she slept with Parker after her first run-in with Spike, because he spouted such breathtakingly original sentiments as wanting to “live in the now” and to “find someone who understands” and that convinced her that they were in love. Only then, the next day, he doesn’t call her like he said he would, and she finds him giving the same lines to some other young student. He tells her he likes her, but he’s getting the sense she thought that there was a commitment, and there isn’t. Buffy, heartbroken, asks Willow if every guy turns awful after you have sex with him, and Willow comforts her that Parker just happened to be a poopyhead.
So, this situation with Parker. It’s offensive in SOOO many ways. First of all, the whole storyline — where he pays her lots of attention, is super sweet to her, they finally have sex and then he loses all interest immediately afterwards — is unrealistic. That never happened to a single woman I knew in college. Beyond being unrealistic, it’s misogynistic: stories like this are so clearly just a way of randomly punishing the female character for having sex, while also making her seem more “chaste” because she only slept with the guy when he acted really serious about her. And finally, it is RIDICULOUSLY CLICHED. It may be rare in real life but it happened on basically every TV show we grew up with. (See also Jen on Dawson’s, and… OK I can’t think of any other examples right this second, and Gilmore Girls actually did avoid this particular one, but it was definitely a thing.) So: offensive, unbelievable, and unimaginative. Three cardinal storytelling sins.
What happens with Anya and Xander is actually a lot more realistic. Anya is in love with Xander (because he’s funny and has “a nice shape,” which… hate to say it but he did get pretty fit this season) and he doesn’t really like her that much. She’s not very good at processing human emotions, since I guess she doesn’t have all that much experience being human. So she shows up to his parents’ basement, where he now lives, takes off her dress and persuades him to have what she calls “sexual intercourse” with her in a thinly veiled, possibly subconscious ploy to make him fall for her, all the while promising him that this will actually somehow make her get over him. Then she gets mad because it doesn’t make him fall in love with her. I feel bad for Anya, not really because of all this but just because she’s silly enough to be attracted to Xander in the first place. But the main thrust of this storyline–that having sex won’t make someone love you if they didn’t love you before–is at least more realistic than the whole “men can be incredibly nice and considerate to you and suddenly lose all interest if you are whorish enough to actually have sex with them” slut-shaming of Buffy’s non-relationship with Parker. And it’s funnier, too, because Anya is amusing. (When Xander mentions the consequences of sex, clearly meaning emotional ones, she says, “I have condoms. Some of them are black.” Heh.) It would be nice if some of these young female characters could just have sex and not have it be a horrible punishment, but I guess that does happen for Willow, so … one for three?
Notes from a New Fan:
- Yay, Spike’s back! But, boo Hulu for spoiling it in the summary so I didn’t get to be surprised. 😦
- Ahh, Buffy’s ruffled off-the-shoulder peasant top is so of its time.
- Parker “as it turns out, has a reflection,” Willow points out is a plus.
- Ah that feeling of not knowing if you should say hi to your new boyfriend when you’re at the same party but didn’t come there together. That was like my constant state of being in college.
- It’s like mid-October and Willow is wearing a fabulous but giant knee-length coat that looks like it’s lined with the wool of about seven sheep. I approve in theory, but also, isn’t she hot? And Harmony is wandering around in like a cardigan and a tank top.
- Although I guess that could be because she’s a vampire. Maybe they don’t need coats.
- Parker, last seen condescendingly lecturing Jack on Dawson’s about the best way to be a gay teen, asks Buffy if she hates dark, brooding guys. LOL.
- Rather than “dark” and “brooding,” Parker wants to know about Buffy’s hobbies and decides they must be soulmates because they both believe in “living for the now.” What an original!
- Anya announces that she has naked dreams about Xander. “If I’m standing in the checkout line at Wal-Mart, I’ve had that same dream,” he cracks. Hee! Ugh, I’m annoyed I laughed out loud at Xander’s joke.
- I feel like I might’ve predicted that Spike would be Harmony’s new boyfriend before the big reveal if it weren’t for Hulu, but NOW WE’LL NEVER KNOW, WILL WE?
- Damn, that is a nice T-shirt on him.
- I never went to a college party that had a live band, did you?
- Spike and Buffy talk to each other like jealous ex-lovers, making fun of their dates. It is not at all out of line for Parker to ask later if they dated, because the weird flirtatious jealousy masked as hostility is so palpable.
- Ooh, Spike got jilted for a fungus demon. That’s rough.
- I was really confused by Xander hanging up a disco ball. Is this just his bedroom? Why does he want a disco ball in it? Is he having a party or does he think he’s going to be having lots of parties or does he just have the tackiest taste in the world? So confused.
- Xander’s juice box explodes when he sees Anya naked… so to speak. No just kidding, it really is a juice box. But it definitely reminds me of when my English teacher explained to us the, um, ejaculatory symbolism of the exploding fountains at the end of Clueless.
- Watching Spike emotionally abuse Harmony is not fun. It’s very uncomfortable.
- Xander makes some comment about “turning into a woman” because he wants the sex to be emotionally meaningful. Ugh, shut up, Xander. You are in fact the worst. I don’t even feel bad for you that you’re being pressured into sex by an ex-demon.
Notes from a True Stan:
- Oh, Buffy. Such a bad-ass, but still young and naive enough to fall for the classic “let’s live for now” line.
- Even if I didn’t hate Xander, there is no reasonable explanation for Anya’s obsession with him. She’s a thousand year old demon who was turned into a hot human woman! She could have anyone she wants!
- Buffy really should have just told Parker that Spike was an ex. It’s the only reasonable explanation for their jealous vibe. [I mean, that would involve Buffy realizing that she and Spike have a jealous vibe, which it doesn’t seem like she has yet! Even though it is absurdly obvious. –Nerdy Spice]
- I like that Buffy’s hatred for history comes back! And of course Parker loves it because it’s about people who look like him “making choices.” What a douchenozzle.
- I read that SMG objected to Buffy having sex with Parker because she “wouldn’t do that” so quickly, especially after her breakup with Angel. I think that’s silly, but I also object to this plotline because like–haven’t we already been through the whole “men turn into monsters after having sex” thing? Haven’t the TV sex gods punished poor Buffy enough?
- Obsessed with Willow’s gleeful expressions behind Giles’ back when Buffy comes back in her clothes the night before. Such a best friend thing!
- I agree with Nerdy Spice that Parker’s behavior is not only a cliche, but completely unrealistic. Ghosting is obviously a thing, but even if a guy is shallow, he doesn’t do it right after you’ve had sex for the first time, when there’s obviously potential for more sex! Plus, if we’re generalizing, Parker reminds me much more of those guys who actually believe that they’re sensitive and “sensual.” *shudder* Those guys don’t ghost on you, they make you fall in love with them and then, when you discover months later that they’ve been cheating the whole time, gaslight you with Baudelaire quotes and articles about how rare monogamy is in nature.
- I also hate the “woman says she wants casual sex but doesn’t REALLY mean it” trope (re: Anya). Lots of women like casual sex! [I had less of a problem with this one because I feel like Anya is supposed to be someone who doesn’t have a good handle on her emotions, being that she was a demon for like 99% of her life. It would be a silly cliche on a regular show, though. –Nerdy Spice]
- Heh, Xander tried to save Buffy and got knocked out–again!
- I love that Buffy doesn’t believe for a second that taking the gem of Amara will kill them both. Spike is so inept.
- “So what I’m wondering is: is this what always happens? Sleep with a guy, and he turns all evil?” Only on TV, Buffy. Only on TV.
- Willow responds to Buffy with, “Well, maybe you made a mistake, but that’s okay!” Um, worst friend ever! What was her mistake? Having sex with someone she liked? (Oh, right, that’s always a mistake on television if the man hasn’t proclaimed undying love yet, and sometimes when he has!)
- I think this last shot of all the lovelorn women walking around the same patch of land also happened on Ally McBeal. That’s how sexist this episode is–it reminds me of Ally McBeal.