Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Buffy Blog: "Beer Bad"

“Beer Bad” written by Tracey Forbes—it is her first Buffy script, by the way—and directed by long time Buffy director David Solomon, is about yet another one of the rituals of freshman college life, if not college life in general, students heading to campus pubs in order to drink those frosty beers.

Monster of the Week. There are two monsters of the week in “Beer Bad”. The first is Jack, owner of The Pub where Xander now works and where he hopes to ply his listening to your problems skills. Jack, tired of the abuse he has been taking from snot-nosed UC Sunnydale kids for some twenty years, has gotten his warlock brother-in-law to help him brew a beer, Black Frost, that turns these snot-nosed full of themselves look down on “townies” students into primitive Cro-Magnon men whose sole goal, at least for a day or so, seems to be to quest for food, women, and more beer.

The other monster of the week in “Beer Bad” is men, those id boys—Buffy and Willow are learning about Freud’s theory of id, ego, and superego in Professor Walsh’s class (compare, by the way, this to the use of Othello in “Ear Shot” where what is being discussed in class also feeds into the narrative)—who think that the world revolves around them, who think of the world is their personal plaything, who fancy themselves as the future of the world, who think it is they and they alone that women want, and who think that “townies” like Xander have only the capacity to fill the peanut bowl they eat out of and to serve them the beer they drink when they are out on the town on the prowl.

At the beginning of “Beer Bad” Buffy is still in a post-Parker funk. Buffy dreams during Psychology class that she dramatically (listen to that very dramatic and romantic music) saves Parker from vampires getting an apology, ice cream, and flowers from him as a result. She wakes up to find that real life isn’t always the same as dream life and a Parker sitting next to and flirting with yet another woman who is not her.

Later—Buffy has come to see Xander—Buffy spots Parker romancing and kissing the same coed at The Pub. As Buffy, brave face fallen away, begins to leave she bumps into Roy and his friends and decides to drink with them after they tell her that someone so beautiful should be covered in men, men like them. Buffy, with face once again smiling thanks to the you are beautiful talk and wanting to make Parker jealous decides to drink with her “five smart guys”.

The next day Buffy and the “five smart guys” are drinking Black Frost in The Pub once again. But this time they are not as smart. Nor is Buffy. Xander eventually cuts Buffy off and sends home. At closing time the five once smart guys are transformed into instinct driven “Cro Mags” who have been reduced to an id state and, in, want, have, take, fashion, began their hunt for food and women across the Sunnydale near the UC campus.

Xander—it is Zeppo Xander to the rescue yet again—figures out what Jack has done, rounds up Giles, and off both go to make sure that the Slayer is fine. What they find instead when they get to Buffy’s dorm room is a Buffy with hair tousled into near dredness, a Buffy with make-up smudging her face, and a Buffy crouching on her bunk using make-up to draw scenes on her wall which look like they came from the Cave of Altamira. And while she is, as the script describes her, dumb as a stone, she is not the neanderthal id even dumber than stone of the five guys she has been drinking with.

While all of this is happening Willow, in a bad mood and not aware that some UC Sunnydale students are devolving into neanderthals, happens upon Parker in a coffee house near the UC Sunnydale campus called The Grotto. Willow ever the friend to Buffy, decides to give him a piece of her mind about how awfully he has treated her best friend. Parker proceeds to give Willow his spiel asking her why people, for just one night, can’t simply come together to create something wonderful? Soon Parker, thinking that he has once again worked his sensitive guy let’s make magic together for one night spell this time on Willow, begins to hit on her. But Willow, seemingly innocent Willow, isn’t, as we know by now don’t we dear viewers, as innocent as she often appears. Willow tells Parker that she isn’t as gullible as he appears to think she is and that his sensitive guy live for today rhetoric isn’t about connecting with her. It is just a cover for his id I need to jump your bones pleasure principle mentality.

While Willow is berating Parker the id boys arrive with their female captives at The Grotto where they knock Willow and Parker, who does try to come to Willow’s aid, unconscious. With Willow and Parker unconscious on the floor pleasure principle boys accidentally set The Grotto on fire and it is, of course, Buffy, who has gone on her own quest for beer after escaping from Xander and the stern and fatherly Giles, who smells the fire, to the rescue yet again. Buffy, despite her dumb as a stone disability, swings into Slayer mode and saves the id boys, the captive girls, Willow, and Parker, Parker by carrying him to safety after knocking him unconscious after he awakes with bearings fully lost, and coughing.

The end of “Beer Bad” brings us full circle. Just as Parker apologized to Buffy in Buffy’s dream in the teaser at the beginning of the episode after she saves him from vampires, he comes up and apologises to Buffy at its end. Buffy doesn’t, however, accept his apology as she did in her dream. She, once again, knocks Parker unconscious with her primitive Slayer staff. “Beer Bad” over. Vicarious release of anger against Parker just like I had when Buffy kicked an Angel who had been so mean to her in the balls at the end of “Surprise”/“Innocence. Buffy’s Parker funk over? I sincerely hope so.

The Metaphor: The metaphor in “Beer Bad” is, as it sometimes is in Buffy, very close to the surface. Beer can turn even smart students, particularly men, into pleasure principle seeking id idiots. Ain’t that the truth.

Oz and Willow. Veruca (Paige Moss) is back. We last saw her as the young woman Oz has eye interest with as he passes her in “Living Conditions”. This time Oz is intently watching Veruca and her band, Shy as they perform at the Bronze. As a result Willow feels the pangs of jealousy and decides not to go with Oz to see them again at the Bronze—he has been invited to sit in with them—but instead to go to the library. Instead she goes to The Grotto. Is the pleasure principle affecting Oz and Veruca? Will Willow’s and Oz’s relationship be further impacted by Oz’s fascination with Veruca?

The Employment Line: Xander gets his first job at The Pub. The put-downs he is on the receiving end of there—he does get back at Colm, one of the Buffy’s five smart boys, who put him down in the end after the “five smart guys” go neanderthal pleasure principle stupid and are unable to figure out his tip so they give him a very profitable wad of money—feeds into Xander’s shame of not being a college student and, of course, his broader self-doubts.

The Chorus: “Beer Bad” is for many Buffy fans one of the worst if not the worst episode of the series as Nikki Stafford remarks in her unofficial guide to the series, Bite Me: The Unofficial Guide to Buffy the Vampire Slayer (page 220). Others, as the comments about “Beer Bad” on Stafford’s Nik at Nite website during the Great Buffy Rewatch Stafford hosted (http://nikkistafford.blogspot.com/search/label/Buffy%20Rewatch, http://nikkistafford.blogspot.com/search/label/Buffy%20Rewatch%20Spoiler%20Forum), say similar things about the episode. The Buffy Phenomenon website puts it at number 139 on the basis of fan ratings (http://www.phi-phenomenon.org/buffy/byrank.htm).

While I don’t think “Beer Bad” is the best Buffy episode ever and wouldn’t rank it with the best of the series, “Surprise”/“Innocence” and “Passions”, to pick two examples, I don’t think it is as bad an episode of Buffy or an episode of American television some appear to think it is. Yes the metaphor is quite close to the surface, the reason Stafford damns the episode, but, as Whedon once said, the metaphors are sometimes if not often very close to the surface in Buffy. I give you “Witch”, “Teacher’s Pet”, “Never Kill a Boy on the First Date”, “Some Assembly Required”, “Inca Mummy Girl”, “Bad Eggs”, “Beauty and the Beasts”, episodes from seasons one throught three, and even “Surprise”/“Innocence”, to some extent.

By the way, I think that “Beer Bad” is, to some extent, a companion piece to season three’s “Band Candy”. In “Band Candy” adults reverted to teenagehood. In “Beer Bad” teenage and early twenty something students devolve to primitive pleasure principle early humans. I would hazard a guess that it is this, Buffy’s devolution into something close to a pleasure seeking id girl, that is why so many Buffy devotees don’t like the episode. Buffy fans apparently don’t like to see their heroine messed with. Such a hypothesis would require, however, far more audience analysis research, research that is quite absent, ironically, from the groves of academe and the halls of Buffy Studies.