Posted by: thebuffyrewatch | March 18, 2012

Robin’s Review: S4, E02 – Living Conditions

Synopsis: Buffy and Kathy irritate each other deeply. Buffy feels like Kathy is anal and horning in on her turf. Kathy sees Buffy as a grumpy, freeloading slob. Buffy’s attitude becomes so harsh that her friends begin to worry about her. When Buffy declares that Kathy must be a demon Giles ties her up.

The Good: Not many episodes of Buffy have had the kind of focus this story got. The story remained mostly in the surface world (with only the dreams to hint at the supernatural) and explored every facet of the disintegrating roommate relationship. There was also no B story this was all about Buffy v Kathy.

Most of the story was pretty entertaining. Kathy’s initial behaviour was anal and irritating with Buffy straining in her polite tolerance. Then we got the slow motion, music-backed, horror moment when Kathy dripped ketchup on Buffy’s top and we were off to the races. Suddenly Buffy was bitching non-stop and finding irrational things annoying. Their passive aggressive battles over gum and the open window were entirely believable in their pettiness. I really appreciated the directorial touches which demonstrated the growing cold war reaching its peak with the exaggerated sound effects of pencil tapping, toe nail clipping and egg rolling.

One of the sharpest lines in the episode saw Giles point out that Buffy is an only child. By dropping that into the picture it became easy to see her behaviour as an overreaction. When she finally snapped and announced that she was going to kill demon Kathy the demon metaphor was revealed: the roommate from hell. There was also the added intrigue that perhaps Buffy was about to abuse her Slayer powers by hurting an innocent human.

I liked the conclusion to the episode where Buffy has trouble adjusting to Willow as her new roommate. It wasn’t just Kathy’s nocturnal soul sucking that created her paranoia. She will indeed have to learn to share.

The introduction of the charming Parker was neatly achieved. I liked Buffy’s line cutting as an organic way for them to meet and his canteen banter fit the setting and provided an excuse for him to pop by later and add another issue for the girls to bicker over. Oz had another solid episode quipping away and smoothly lying “I’m a good guesser” when he is able to tell Kathy exactly what her “dream” was. The scene where he smelt out a girl on campus neatly planted the seeds for a future story and was immediately followed by the army guys shuffling past too. Now that’s economy of writing.

On a side note Willow seemed so much more grown up and relaxed than when she was in high school. Whether this was a very deliberate choice by the writers\actress I don’t know but it works well and contrasts with Xander’s mild regression.

The Bad: I’m not a fan of the ultra cheesy ending with Kathy’s demon Dad scolding her and taking her back to their dimension. It just felt too silly to be funny and followed a prolonged comedy fight that had lost my interest. Of course some Buffy episodes will be all fun but in the best of them (e.g. Doppelgangland, 316) there is a very real threat underlying the laughs. Here its clear Kathy is a paper villain. She and Buffy are quipping and messing with each other’s stuff as they fight. It all went on too long and was a flat conclusion to the tension which had built up.

Buffy’s out of nowhere decision to measure Kathy’s toe nails was an odd choice. I didn’t think there was enough of a vibe either silly or serious to tell me how I should feel about Buffy’s insanity. The following sequences didn’t work so well as a result. The boys tie her up with rope (which shouldn’t be able to hold her) and then Willow begins to worry about Kathy while Giles rushes off to the magic shop and back before whipping up a spell out of nowhere. It all felt directionless and didn’t hit a consistent note.

There was a whiff of Ted (211) to this story. A clever demon-metaphor tale which can’t end satisfactorily except allow Buffy’s paranoia to be revealed as true and avoid any sense that she was to blame.  

The Unknown: What was it about the girl that Oz smelt? Seeing Buffy sneaking out to Slay and having to make excuses to Kathy underlined how foolish it was to try and have a roommate other than Willow. However we got two solid storyline ideas out of the way before the logical thing happened.

Best Moment: The Buffy-Parker meeting was well written and acted.

The Bottom Line: A clever idea that was executed well for a while. The writing made a choice to go all-out comic with the ending which didn’t work for me but otherwise it was fine.

58/100

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