Saturday, June 30, 2012

Buffy Blog: "Living Conditions"

Buffy’s adventures in college studenting continue in “Living Conditions” written by Marti Noxon and directed by David Grossman.

The Story as Metaphor. As virtually everyone who has gone to college knows one of the most potentially frightening of question marks about living in a dormitory on a college campus is the question of who you might get as a roommate. In “The Freshman” we met Buffy’s Stevenson Hall 214 roommate Kathy Newman (wonderfully played by Dagney Kerr). And we learned that Kathy, unlike Buffy, had a thing for Diva Celine Dion thanks to the poster of Dion which she put on her wall dorm room in “The Freshman”, a poster which remains in place in “Living Conditions".

In “Living Conditions” we learn that Kathy’s devotion to the “divas” isn’t limited to Celine. She has, according to the script, a Mariah Carey CD which Buffy is looking at in the teaser of “Living Conditions” and she is spinning the Cher tune, “Believe,” (1998) on her boom box as the episode opens, a tune she continues to spin again and again throughout the episode to the increasing annoyance of our Slayer.

Kathy’s Diva’s and Cher fixation isn’t the only thing that is annoying the Buffster. Kathy is, as Buffy calls her at one point, a "mini mom of momdonia". She is a neat freak who labels her food, makes every pencil the same length when she first sharpens them, makes sure everything, including her rug, is in its place, wants Buffy to log phone calls so they can more easily figure out who owes what on the phone bill, and takes Buffy’s cardigan, ruining it by dropping ketchup on it from a hamburger she eats after she forces her way into the table Buffy, Willow, Oz, and Xander are eating at in the Rocket Café on the UC Sunnydale campus. To keep Kathy from taking any more of her clothes Buffy puts a lock on her closet door in act two.

Buffy isn’t the only one annoyed by roommate behaviour in “Living Conditions”. Kathy is growing increasingly annoyed by the world no longer revolves around you as it did in high school Buffy. Buffy, Kathy fears, will be up all night, is messy, leaves gum on her bedside table that ruins her book, ruins her sweater when she, catching up with a Buffy on patrol so she can have a coffee with a Buffy who told her she is going out for coffee, is pushed out of the way by the Slayer when a demon attacks, and has weapons in her closet which makes her wonder whether the Buffster might be crazy. Willow has the roommate from hell, the proverbial college roommate who apparently parties all night and parties all day to sounds of very loud and very heavy rock music.

The Story as Operatic. This being Buffy the Vampire Slayer a show, which as Joss Whedon Buffy’s creator, once said, takes the metaphors underlying the show to operatic heights, the tensions between Buffy and Kathy ramp up to almost Wagnerian levels at the end of act one, in act two, and in act three. When Kathy horns into Buffy’s table in the Rocket Café the mise-en-scene, particularly the sound, the music, Buffy’s expressions, and Buffy’s eyes in close-up, reflect the heightened and heightening tensions between the two (end of act one). When Buffy returns from Giles’s place to her dorm room and finds Kathy chatting with the same Parker Abrams who Buffy met at the Rocket Café and went all googly-eyed over, tensions escalate between the two roommates even further as Kathy complains that Buffy doesn’t know how to share. The Buffster and Kathy get into a window opening and closing match and Buffy responds to Kathy’s sharing remark by sharing Kathy’s milk, "chug-a-lugging" it from straight out of the cartoon, getting it all over herself and the floor in the process (beginning of act two). When Buffy, on route patrol with Oz, complains over and over again about Kathy Oz wonders whether Buffy’s complaints about Kathy may be scaring off potential demons. The Buffster blames Kathy for her lack of hunting success and tells Oz that something has to be done once and for all about her roommate.

The Monster of the Week. At the beginning of “Living Conditions” Buffy fights a green-eyed monster who, along with his green-eyed monster comrade in arms, and the Tapparich they are summoning, appear to be “Living Conditions” monster of the week. These monsters of the week appear to be performing a weird ritual on Buffy and Kathy while they sleep, a ritual that involves leeches, pouring blood down Buffy’s and Kathy’s mouth, and the taking of something of light out of them.

But all of this turns out to be one of those literary, film, and television tricks. What we have been experiencing as viewers is a bit of narrative misdirection. As the Buffy and Kathy tensions ramp up the Scoobies become increasingly concerned that the dark ritual being performed on Buffy and Kathy and the lack of sleep both are getting as a result is heading toward disaster. Since Buffy is the Slayer the Scoobies become increasingly worried for Kathy’s safety. When Buffy finally tells Willow after yet another tense confrontation between the two, one that uses the exaggerated sound of Cher’s “Believe” spinning, the sound of pencils tapping and cracking, the sound of toenails being clipped, and the sound of the shells of hard boiled eggs cracking, often in slow motion, to heighten the tensions, that Kathy is evil and that she has to kill her the Scoobies finally swing into action. Willow calls Giles to tell her Buffy is coming over to his apartment with some bad puppy toenails that Buffy is sure will prove that Kathy is evil. At Giles’s apartment Oz and Xander capture the Buffster, tie her up, and watch over her as Giles goes off to do futher research.

Though the Scoobies don’t believe Buffy’s claims that Kathy is evil—Willow thinks she has gone all Cordelia-esque—it soon becomes clear, thanks to Giles’s research, that Buffy is right. Kathy is a demon.

The Best Laid Plans. While Giles is engaged in research Buffy escapes from Oz and Xander and returns to her dorm room to have it out with Kathy. Kathy admits, after Buffy tears off the human face that hides her demony visage, that she is a demon and that it is she who has been sucking the soul out of Buffy so she can escape the hell dimension where her parents from continue to think of her, their beloved daughter, as not old enough to leave home yet. “Living Conditions” ends with Tapparich, Kathy’s concerned father, berating Kathy for leaving home and returning her to the hell dimension she hails from. Demons, apparently, are anxious when their kids are away at college too.

Welcome to the Hellmouth: We meet Parker Abrams (Adam Kaufman) for the first time. Buffy has googly eyes for him. Oz patrols alone with Buffy for the first time in Buffyverse history.

Hilarious: Oz’s response to Buffy that nobody deserves mime. Oz’s wonderfully droll, “On the plus side - you killed the bench. Which was looking shifty”, remak after Buffy "kills" the bench because she blames Kathy for her lack of success in finding monsters to kill.

Pop Cult: There is yet another reference to the actor Linda Blair and her most famous acting role as the young girl possessed by the devil in The Exorcist (1973). The first reference to Blair occurred in “Teacher’s Pet” (1:4). Parker Abrams lives in Kresge Hall. Kresge is one of the colleges at the University of California Santa Cruz, the university that writer Marti Noxon attended.

The Ghosts of Buffy Past: Giles is once again Buffy’s unofficial Watcher. There is a reference to Giles’s rather unfortunate recapturing of youthful behaviour in “The Dark Age” (2:8).

Shapes of Things to Come?: Is love on the horizon between the Buffster and Parker? What’s up with the tensions, tensions that arise when Willow takes one of Buffy’s sandwiches and finishes it at the end of “Living Conditions”, tensions which parallel the heightened tensions between Kathy narratively and visually when she eats a hamburger in the Rocket Care,? What does this mean for the Buffy and Willow relationship in season four and beyond? What does it mean for the Scoobies? What’s up with the reference to Giles’s youthful behaviour? Is this going somewhere? Oz takes a quizzical look at a female he passes, and she at him, both of them turning to continue to look at each other, as he is going out to patrol with Buffy. What is up with that?

The Chorus: Enjoyable and very, very humourous episode particularly if you have been to college and lived in a dorm room on campus.

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