Posted by: thebuffyrewatch | April 29, 2013

Robin’s Review: S6, E05 – Life Serial

Synopsis: The Trio test Buffy to learn about her strengths and weaknesses. Warren plants a device on her which alters her perception of time while at college. Andrew sends demons after her as she tries to do a shift at Xander’s construction job. Jonathan casts a spell which makes her repeat a time loop at the magic shop. After such a testing time Buffy heads for a night of drinking with Spike who takes her to a demon bar to gamble for kittens.

The Good: This wasn’t a good episode but I’m not sure it was terrible either. Rather like the Trio’s appearance last episode they managed to make things entertaining as a whole even though so much of what they attempted didn’t work.

It helped that the core story remained a serious one no matter how many layers of silly went on top. Buffy didn’t want to come back to life and now that she has she doesn’t know what to do with herself. Missing so much college has made it hard to catch up, while finding an appropriate job is not going to be easy. The construction job revealed two unfortunate truths. Work that suits her strengths will show up other people (the construction workers resented her pace) and draw unwanted demon attention. Clearly retail isn’t right for her but the Magic Box was the obvious place to employ her so it was good to rule it out. In the end Giles shares some Watcher cash to fix the most immediate problems. Buffy is so relieved to have a parent back while Giles is disappointed to see how dependent she is on him. The fallout from her return to Earth continues to be handled well.

The Bad: As for the way those stories got told…hmm. The comedy was as broad as could be verging on cheap at times. The Trio’s childish bickering felt too easy and predictable. But to be fair it was entertaining at times (“grab your magic bone”) and began to steadily differentiate their characters.

The three tests were flawed but served a purpose. It was never clear what was happening with Warren’s time device. Was Buffy frozen on the spot as time passed or did she disappear? Tara’s reaction made no sense because she kept wandering away as if Buffy had blown her off rather than acting concerned. The demon attack at the construction site was a lazy choice but again accomplished its goal. I didn’t like the way Xander was scripted to tell Buffy not to talk supernatural stuff to the foreman (why would she?) and then to blame her for the attack. It was clumsy writing because the wider point about Buffy’s danger to her own job made sense but he should never have seemed so unsympathetic. Finally the time loop took advantage of the obvious Groundhog Day gags which was fine but at times it felt sillier than the show should be. It was entertaining though and kept you guessing about how she would get out of it.

The three tests were depressing enough to explain why Buffy would go drinking with Spike. However after telling her to embrace her dark side he then joined in a poker game…for kittens. That felt like a big swing and miss as a gag and as cute as drunk Buffy is it was probably a joke too many.

The Unknown: I guess we’ll never know what happened when Buffy and Angel met.

Best Moment: The final scene did an effective job of showing us the difference between Giles and Buffy’s perspectives. She is clinging to him at a time when he thought his responsibilities were finished.

The Bottom Line: This is the second episode in a row where I’m surprised at my own lack of harsh words for the episode. The explanation, beyond the strength of the overall arc, lies in the Trio being more thoroughly characterised and therefore more entertaining than your average villain. I already know more about them in two episodes than I did about Glory and Ben in a whole season. I think that is really helping to cover for the fact that most of what they do is pretty flawed television.

56/100

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