Written by David Fury and Jane Espenson
Directed by Nick Marck
The first thing I noticed when this one started playing was that it was in widescreen, and I was outraged, because while 99% of the time, I think everything is better in widescreen because all screens are rectangles now, Buffy is the exception, because it was not filmed for widescreen! Get with the program, Netflix and Hulu! But then I noticed that, at least on Netflix, “Life Serial” is the only episode in widescreen. So...was that on purpose? Did they actually film this one episode in widescreen?
We open on Buffy getting home from meeting with Angel, and it seems like it’s been at least a whole day, because now it’s dinner time, and she comes bearing fried chicken...which will be unnecessary because everyone’s already eating a meal they made. Everyone finds room for fried chicken so that she won’t feel bad. Buffy, like Angel, opts not to share anything about her time with Angel except that it was “intense.” DANG IT.
Giles wants to know what Buffy’s plans are. With her life, not with her bills. Maybe she can start up at school again. Willow suggests that she could audit until it’s time to register for spring courses.
The nerds feel that Buffy is an obstacle they have to overcome in order to take over Sunnydale. They have a big, high-tech surveillance van...on which Andrew has painted an extremely detailed Death Star. Warren makes Andrew paint over it. I...feel kinda bad for him. I mean, yeah, that’s nerdy to the degree of, like, RTS gaming where you spend hours painting your own figures, which is definitely at least five degrees nerdier than I am (if you’re curious, I’m at the degree where you write hundreds of thousands of words of fanfiction, grow your hair out to waist length and learn how to sew just so you can dress up as Éowyn, and have most of your deepest conversations about fandom analysis). But still. That Death Star looks really cool.
Buffy is optimistic about auditing Willow and Tara’s class. Ooh! And this is the first time I’ve watched this episode since I got a master’s. Maybe I’ll be able to understand this crazy class discussion now. The discussion topic is social construction of reality. So far, so good. Dangit now Buffy and Willow are having a side conversation and I can’t hear what the students are saying in the actual discussion! Okay, I’m done trying to make sense of this discussion. I’m sure there’s a meaningful idea in there, but they’re burying it under a load of academic flap-doodle. Don’t know that word? Here you go:
The thing that irritates me most in academia is when people think they have to use big words to make themselves sound smart. But making yourself seem smart by making your audience (in this case, Buffy) feel stupid is not real cleverness, it’s the Emperor’s New Clothes effect. In the end, nobody wins and you’re left with an extremely convoluted piece of rhetoric that’s completely inaccessible to anyone outside a very narrow window of specialization. The way to actually sound smart is by using bold, forceful diction that will invigorate the minds of your readers and get them excited about a new topic, not by bogging them down with buckets of SAT vocab words. Your audience should feel intrigued, not baffled.
Okay, rant over. Back to our regularly scheduled programming. Buffy now thinks she’s stupid. Tara catches up with them in the hall, and then someone bonks into Buffy and slaps something on her sweater. That was Warren. The Trio have commenced screwing with Buffy. Great. They activate whatever gadget that was.
Tara hands Buffy her giant Art Appreciation textbook, and she opens it to a page of angel sculptures. Then time gets all wibbly-wobbly on her, fast-forwarding weirdly. The next thing she knows, Tara is heading to class without her. The Trio is observing this, very psyched. Buffy ends up missing class. She knows something’s up, though. Eventually, she ends up in fast-forward constantly, getting knocked around by people not stuck in slow-mo. She figures out that the noise is coming from that thing on her sweater. The Trio makes it self-destruct before she can squish it, and everything goes back to normal.
Jonathan and Andrew give Warren his marks: 220. Whatever that means. It’s Andrew’s turn next. Ooh, Buffy’s wearing one of those necklaces with a marble silhouette thing on it. I want one of those.
Buffy’s next attempt at re-assimilating into adult life is working construction with Xander. Nobody has any theories about what the fast-forward weirdness was. Xander’s construction crew does not appreciate Xander bringing a petite woman on site. And, I mean, I get why most construction workers would be guys. Guys, on the whole, are larger and stronger than girls. So yeah. But they don’t have to be jerks about it. Buffy quickly proves her mettle by casually picking up an I-beam like it’s a smallish plank of wood. However, this is also bad, because if she’s too good at this job, then the construction project will be over sooner and nobody will get paid for as many hours as they otherwise would have.
It might’ve been okay anyway, except that Andrew sics three demons on her using a magical pan flute. And it might’ve been okay even in spite of them, if she didn’t have to toss the foreman out of the way first. By the time he gets up, she’s killed all three demons (and destroyed a wall), and the corpses have melted. Even though there are witnesses, they come down with a case of Sunnydale Syndrome (that thing where people can get attacked by a demon one minute, then convince themselves it was just a big thug the next) and fail to back her up. Xander and the foreman are both upset (even though Xander believes her), and she gets fired. But not before noticing the suspicious black van on the street, which has the Star Wars main titles theme for its horn.
Xander sends Buffy on her way, promising to help her research the weirdness later. He thinks the two incidents are connected. Next, Buffy goes to the Magic Box. She very much did not want to resort to retail. (Why? It’s mind-numbingly boring, but at least it’s easy, and Giles and Anya will probably not be jerks about it if she has unpleasant encounters with customers, unlike some bosses who are all “The customer is always right!” or “If you have time to lean, you have time to clean!”)
Giles is bringing out the books for the research. Anya will be the one training Buffy. Yeah, that’s a fantastic idea. There’s a camera inside a skull on the shelf, with which the Trio is spying on Buffy. They’ve noticed how directionless Buffy seems to be. Warren suggests they pass the time with porn. Uggggh. Go back to making nerdy references and bickering like children. Don’t be gross.
It’s Jonathan’s turn. His plan involves a spell. It creates a bunch of smoke when he finishes it, so they have to open the van to air it out. In comes a customer! Giles gives Buffy some advice. Hey, now her shirt has a silhouette like the one on her necklace from earlier! Strange coincidence.
Anya encourages Buffy to go help the customer. On the way, a man asks for her help picking out candles. A very stupid man. He wants something seductive, and the two choices are “lemon seduction” and “essence of slug.” The customer is after a Mummy Hand for a prosperity spell. She’s British and deaf to Buffy’s sense of humor. (It’s okay, Buffy; I thought it was funny.) She goes to get it, and it turns out to be mobile and very averse to being retrieved for purchase. She stabs it with a dagger. Unfortunately, this renders it powerless, so the customer doesn’t want it.
In comes a customer! Giles gives Buffy some advice. Hey, now her shirt has a silhouette like the one on her necklace from earlier! Strange coincidence.
Anya encourages Buffy to go help the customer. On the way, a man asks for her help picking out candles. A very stupid man. He wants something seductive, and the two choices are “lemon seduction” and “essence of slug.” The customer is after a Mummy Hand for a prosperity spell. She’s British and deaf to Buffy’s protestations that she can’t get the hand. Buffy tries to get the hand with tongs and the dagger, but she ends up having to cut the fingers off, and the lady won’t pay for it.
In comes a customer! Giles gives Buffy some advice. Hey, now her shirt has a silhouette like the one on her necklace from earlier! Strange coincidence.
Anya encourages Buffy to go help the customer. On the way, a man asks for her help picking out candles. A very stupid man. He wants something seductive, and the two choices are “lemon seduction” and “essence of slug.” The customer is after a Mummy Hand for a prosperity spell. When Buffy tries to give it to her, it strangles her.
Hehe, that was fun. I like time loop episodes. The Supernatural one is my favorite, but this is also excellent. On her fourth time around this scenario, Buffy has lost all patience. The Trio observe from the van (and break into periodic nerdy squabbling). She tries to walk out of the Magic Box, but ends up walking right back in through the back door, at the beginning of the scene again. In another loop, the mummy hand taunts her with the tongs. In another, she rips the bell off the door, then smiles. That’s my favorite one.
Then the Trio make a Monty Python reference! Yes! Then Buffy stomps on Giles’s glasses and attacks the customer. Then she throws the slug candle at the idiot. Then she just breaks down crying. Then she starts apologizing to the customer, before realizing she can just have a mummy hand shipped to her. Time loop broken! However, she forgot to charge for delivery, so Anya decides to take it out of her pay, which is the last straw for Buffy. It’s not the last straw for the Trio, though! They’re cooking up something else.
Buffy has had such a horrible day that she would now like to get drunk enough to forget the whole thing, and Spike has just the bourbon for the job. Spike thinks he can do a better job of figuring out what’s doing this than Giles and they’ll have fun doing it. Because scouring the demon community for information is fun. He’s convinced she’s a creature of darkness and that she’ll enjoy it if she gives it a shot. They go to a seedy bar, where demons are playing poker in the back. Buffy wanted to beat something up for information, but instead, Spike is going to play cards and wait until information comes out in casual conversation. The stakes? Kittens!
The Trio are on their way to wreak fresh havoc for Buffy, and they’re arguing about which actor was the best Bond, of Dalton, Connery, and Moore.
The demon poker game goes south when Spike wins so much that the demons get suspicious, except they’re all cheating. The demons want to fight Spike, but Spike says he and Buffy can take them. Buffy doesn’t want to take them, because this is all stupid. She lets the kittens go and leaves. Spike chases her, and then she breaks down. This was pointless, and everything she tries to do is pointless. She continues with the storming out, and Spike looks irritated enough to kill something.
The Trio are still having their Bond argument. Buffy has noticed the van. She’s very drunk, but she remembers it from the construction site. She goes to check it out, and the nerds’ squabbling almost ruins everything for them. But Jonathan catches her on the camera just in time to pull a smoke and mirrors trick with a demon transformation spell. It’s an extremely transparent trick, but Buffy and Spike are both drunk enough that it works anyway. Buffy might puke.
Jonathan turns back into a human, very sore from getting kicked in the chest by Buffy. Warren feels that they’ve gathered a lot of valuable information about Buffy’s strategy and fighting style. It was a very productive day for them. Also, they found porn. *smacks them all up the backs of their heads*
Buffy is painfully hungover and attempting to sober up at home. Giles wishes he’d been more helpful at finding out what was going on. She thinks she’s doing a horrible job of functioning in society. Giles disagrees: this is clearly the work of demons, not her. She shouldn’t be so hard on herself. Also, he can give her a check to take care of her current money troubles, until she gets on her feet. She deeply appreciates it. She feels safe with him taking care of her. He seems oddly troubled by that idea.
What’s interesting about seasons five and six of BtVS is that season five has a very strong Plot A arc but pretty much no one-shots with high rewatch value (well, except “The Body,” I guess, but I’ve never been in the mood to just watch that one by itself). Season six has a very weak Plot A arc (and a soul-crushing Plot B arc) but several one-shots with high rewatch value. (Season seven, incidentally, has neither a strong arc nor fun one-shots, which is why it might actually be the worst season.) “Life Serial” is one of the most entertaining one-shots of S6—well, unless you’re Buffy. The Trio, when they aren’t drooling over the prospect of porn, are hilarious in their nerdy ridiculousness. Buffy’s frustration is pretty entertaining. The Plot A scenarios she gets put in are interesting (well, perhaps not the melty demons Andrew conjured), and the Plot B ones are very sympathetic. It sucks being in college classes where you’re the only one who hasn’t done the reading. It sucks being ganged up on at work. Retail just sucks in general. And Plots A and B are surprisingly well matched in all three situations. And even though Buffy isn’t 21 yet so it’s surprising there weren’t horrible consequences for the drinking, the bit where she’s drunk and annoyed about kitten poker is also pretty funny. All around, it’s just a fun hour of television. 10/10 would recommend.
Buffy has reached that fun point in adulthood where you realize you have no idea what to do next, which is especially bewildering when everyone around you expects great things. She seems to think that if something is going to work out for her, it has to work out immediately. I really think she should talk to Angel again. He could tell her how fulfilling (and semi-lucrative) it is to work as a supernatural private investigator. Instead, she’s starting to make a habit of turning to Spike so she can wallow in her misery, since he’s the only one who isn’t put off by it (or stuck on another network that was apparently twitchy about crossovers).
Xander should’ve stuck with Buffy on the construction site for longer than two seconds. She has no idea what she’s doing! How can he possibly expect things to go well when he leaves her alone with a bunch of guys who think she’s a little girl? I suppose that speaks well of his faith in her, but that doesn’t mean he has to let her handle a less-than-ideal situation alone.
Anya is a great employee but not so great of an employer. Far too uncompromising.
Was Dawn even in this episode? Oh yeah, at the very beginning when Buffy came back with chicken. That was it. She tentatively asked how things went with Angel, and then backed off when Buffy said she’d rather keep it to herself. I think she might actually be the one most respectful of Buffy’s emotional state out of the entire gang right now. Not pushing and letting her have space: excellent strategy.
Spike continues to take advantage of Buffy’s depression! It doesn’t seem all that sinister yet, but give it time. What’s ominous already is that instead of trying to help her solve her problems, he’s keen to let her wallow in them, as long as she’s doing her wallowing in close proximity to him. The creepiest part is how he believes she’s a creature of darkness. Spike tends to see his subjective point of view as objective fact, so this particular belief cannot possibly lead to good things. It’s like when a sleazy guy decides a girl he’s set his sights on is a “bad girl,” so he won’t leave her alone until she fulfills that mental image.
Willow is barely in this one. She’s just there long enough to completely fail to empathize with Buffy about how overwhelming college can be if you’ve missed a semester or more. It’s nice that she seems to think Buffy is smart enough to understand this stuff, but it would be nicer if she was paying attention to how Buffy was actually feeling. And Willow is also prone to flap-doodle! Boooooo. (I’ve actually been thinking about the way Fred talks. Since she’s still a bit crazy, I don’t think there’s anything pretentious about her speech patterns. She just legitimately doesn’t realize that most people can’t follow her trains of thought, which, while brilliant, also tend to meander wildly across subjects.)
Giles is starting to feel like he’s Buffy’s crutch and his presence is preventing her from becoming an effective adult. Which is complete rubbish. As I have said before, there’s no reason she needs to become an adult all at once. Her mom died, she died, and she was brought back to life against her will all in the space of half a year. You’d think people would give her at least a few months to pull herself together. Oh well. Maybe Giles will realize what a stupid idea this was when he sees how crappy things got for Buffy in his absence. Nice of him to write that check, though, but it really just reminds me of how ridiculous it is that the Council pays Watchers but not the Slayer herself. She’s the one who gives their entire organization meaning, and they’re the ones who insist that she operate in secrecy, so really, they owe her a decent living.
“Don’t mind him—he may seem pig-ignorant, rude, and a little hostile.” *pats Buffy on the back*
“Stop touching my magic bone!”
“Don’t be nervous; just do what I do: just picture yourself naked!”
“Timothy Dalton should get an Oscar and BEAT SEAN CONNERY OVER THE HEAD WITH IT!”
“The Slayer touched you.”
“Yeah, it was sexy the way she touched me real hard with her fists.”
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The Watcher's Diary
In this blog, I'll be reviewing, analyzing, and generally fangirling over excellent television. Exhibit A: the Whedonverse.