Written by Jane Espenson
Directed by Nick Marck
We open at Buffy’s house, where the Scoobies are discussing the Trio. They don’t think they’re much of a threat, really (which seems like a very reasonable conclusion to arrive at). Buffy raided their basement headquarters and confiscated a ton of magical equipment that’s making Willow salivate just talking about it, but the Trio themselves were gone. Anya thinks the Trio are an example of why demons are better than people. They’re trying to cheat the capitalist system and get rewards after no labor. Willow takes this opportunity to rib Xander about how this is the kind of conversation he’ll be having on a daily basis for the rest of his life. Buffy won’t be able to try tracking them down for a bit because she’s starting her new job. At a fast food place. Which requires her to wear a cat with a cow on the front and a rooster tail on the back.
Buffy is watching the overly perky employee training video. Which for some reason includes footage of slaughterhouses? We can tell that the training video has done its job by the way Buffy looks dead inside when she finishes it. Her manager’s name is Manny, who is even more dead inside, and wants you to know that his name and rank are not a joke. He asks Buffy why she chose to apply at Doublemeat Palace. She starts to answer honestly (that she needed money very quickly), then realizes he’s looking for signs that she’s enthusiastic about and devoted to Doublemeat Palace.
Manny shows Buffy around. Pretty much all the employees are dead inside. Like, more than you’d expect. Like, are they actual zombies? Did that training video suck out their souls? I’m surprised Buffy hasn’t already been reprimanded for not smiling enough. The chicken-slicing machine is exactly the same as the one we used to slice Canadian bacon at the pizza place I worked at. Buffy finds it kind of hypnotic. Ugh, come on! This is not the atmosphere of a food service kitchen! People would be chatting and being dorks while they work, and there would possibly be music playing. At least, on the days when the manager’s wife is in a good mood. When she’s in a bad mood, it still isn’t like this. There’s yelling, and the atmosphere is more one of terrified tension than sleep-walking drudgery.
The last part of Buffy’s initiation is to eat one of the Doublemeat Medleys, which is a double-decker burger except that one of the patties is chicken. But not like the awesome juicy breaded chicken like at Chick-fil-A—just a bland, beige slice of processed chicken. Ew. All Manny will tell Buffy about the secret ingredient is that it’s a “meat process.”
One of Buffy’s coworkers is less of a lifeless husk than the others, but he urges Buffy not to show off her sense of humor while she’s on the clock. A little old lady orders coffee and cherry pie. She’s a regular. Buffy’s worried she won’t be able to figure out the cash register, since it looks complicated. The old lady cheerfully tells Buffy she thinks she’ll be working there a long time. Buffy is just thrilled. She struggles with taking the next order.
It’s break time! Buffy didn’t pack a lunch, so she’s eating another Doublemeat Medley. She has a look in the walk-in freezer, but Manny scolds her. She seems to be half-jokingly coming up with a list of theories about what those burgers might really be made of. The Scoobies arrive to order food and support Buffy’s new job. She appreciates it. Buffy kind of preferred her waitressing job at Helen’s Kitchen, and she thinks there might be something wrong with Doublemeat Palace in a Plot A sort of way. Also, Willow is still having issues. Xander is pretty sure this is just how fast food is. Buffy offers to treat them to free food, which completely defeats the purpose of working here to pay her bills, since I’m pretty sure four meals will knock out at least half her pay from one shift. Anya rambles about wedding plans.
It’s late evening now, long after the dinner rush has come and gone. Buffy decides she should have another break because there are no customers, but then Spike shows up. Buffy tries to shoo him away, but he would rather stay put and be a jerk. He thinks Buffy just took this job to prove to herself that she’s normal. There are better ways to get money, and he can do that. He tries to get her to go with him, but she heads to the back to help a coworker with something so that she can get away from him.
Around the back, the least soulless coworker is taking out the trash when he gets attacked by something we don’t get to see yet. Looks like Buffy was right about this place.
Buffy clocks in for her second day of work. Manny tells her Gary’s gone, so she has to work the grill now. One of the soulless workers shows her how to work the grill. He emphasizes the importance of consistency across all the burgers at every Doublemeat Palace. For some reason, that’s portrayed as a bad (or at least creepy) thing, which makes no sense, because consistency is how restaurants work! You don’t go to a restaurant for a one-of-a-kind masterpiece meal. You go to get exactly what you order. Variety comes from the way different people order different things. The last shred of the coworker’s soul gives his dying scream as he tells her about how she’s going to get coated in grease, right down to her nostrils and the insides of her ears. He actually has an ear-cleaning kit to get the grease out of his ears.
Manny informs Buffy that she’s working a double-shift, which at Doublemeat Palace means two eight-hour shifts back-to-back. That’s insane. The longest I was ever at the pizza place in a single day was from nine in the morning until midni—oh. But still! I wasn’t scheduled for that much work, I signed up for it! I picked up as many of the shifts my coworkers’ needed covered that summer as I possibly could, because I wanted to earn enough money to buy a new laptop, and I succeeded! I was only scheduled for between twenty and thirty hours a week. What Manny’s making Buffy do on her very first week of work seems highly suspect. And why would a manager want to put the newbie on a double shift in the first place? Newbies suck.
Xander gets a call from Buffy that she’ll be working late, and then a vengeance demon appears dramatically in his living room. This is Halfrek, who drops her menacing air as soon as she recognizes Anya. They go way back as vengeance demons, and Halfrek admires Anya’s ring. Xander leaves. Halfrek is very confused about Anya being engaged.
Buffy is making fries, and I guess it’s weird for the oil to boil with no fries in it? She goes on break, and she spots Spike lurking outside. Cut to them having mostly clothed sex right next to the dumpster. Ewwwwwwwwwww.
Willow is doing homework in her room...well, sort of. She’s highlighting pretty much the entire page of a textbook, so maybe she’s just still dealing with magic withdrawals. Amy shows up, and Willow gets really nervous. She’s just here to pick up her rat cage. She’s sort of fond of it. Amy is not impressed with Willow’s voluntary Muggle lifestyle. She zaps Willow with a boost of magic power, and now everything Willow touches does weird transfiguration stuff. She’s horrified, and Amy leaves smugly.
At Doublemeat Palace, Buffy is back on the clock after her dumpster sex with Spike, and she finds a severed finger in the pile of ground beef coming out of the meat grinder. (Wait, how is that still a whole finger? Wouldn’t it be indistinguishable from the ground beef by this point? Ewwwwwwwww.) Buffy shows it to Manny, who still can’t muster the appropriate level emotional investment even when she’s waving a severed finger in his face. Buffy’s new theory is that the secret ingredient of the Doublemeat Medley is ground human. She runs out into the dining area and throws everyone’s food on the floor in an hilarious homage to Soylent Green. The other workers all grab her and wrestle her back into the kitchen, where she throws them across the room until Manny fires her.
Halfrek still doesn’t understand why Anya is engaged to Xander. Anya explains, but Halfrek keeps picking out all the negative bits of what Anya says and twisting it so that it seems like a much bigger problem than Anya thought. She keeps drinking her tea and going “hmm” about Anya’s supposed happiness.
Buffy finds Xander and Dawn at the Magic Box and recruits them to help her deal with whatever’s happening at Doublemeat Palace. She’s disheartened to realize that she still smells of fast food. She shows Dawn the severed finger. By the time she gets around to her theory that the meat patties are human meat patties, Xander has already eaten the burger she brought for testing. Oops. Willow comes in. Xander is trying very hard not to throw up, and Willow is still making weird stuff happen to things she touches, against her will. Buffy thinks they need to bring down the entire Doublemeat Palace chain. Willow will attempt to determine what the patties are made of from the bits still stuck to the wrapper.
Buffy goes back to the restaurant now that it’s closed to do some investigating. She looks in the freezer, which almost closes behind her. She examines the grinder. Then she trips over Manny’s severed foot.
Dawn has realized that Buffy being the Slayer has doomed her to a life of crappy minimum wage jobs. Pfft. That’s only true if Buffy doesn’t put a single second of thought into her career options. Personally, I think the best one, if she’s still refusing to open a supernatural detective agency, is to open a dojo and teach self-defense classes. She could easily do that during the day, so it would rarely conflict with her mostly nighttime Slayer work.
Willow is using chemistry to determine if there’s any human meat in the burgers, and—hey wait a second, shouldn’t that be one of the few things Spike would actually be useful for? I mean, vampires can tell immediately if they’re drinking human blood or animal blood. Just let Spike smell the burger. Anya arrives, and she’s a bit miffed about Xander’s aversion to her best friend. Good news! The burgers aren’t human. Bad news: the burgers aren’t meat at all.
Buffy is still holding Manny’s severed foot. Next, she finds a wig, which she realizes is from the little old lady who orders cherry pie every day. Turns out, wig lady is a horrifying demon who sprouts a long tube-y Alien-like thing out the top of her head. It sprays some kind of paralytic gas in Buffy’s face, so she can’t fight back. Wig Lady targets Doublemeat employees because all the Doublemeat food they eat makes them so tasty. Buffy struggles to get away as the paralysis spreads upward through her body.
Willow arrives! She informs Buffy through the drive-thru microphone that the burgers are processed vegetables (gross) and that Amy spiked her with extra magic energy. Wig Lady’s demon head starts taking bites out of Buffy’s shoulder, and Willow hears the noise and comes running. She avoids the spray of paralytic gas, then chops off the tubey demon head and dumps it into the meat grinder. Gross. So gross.
Amy comes to pay Willow another visit, but Willow doesn’t let her in. She tells her they can’t spend time together anymore. Amy still isn’t taking Willow’s no-magic policy seriously, but eventually she leaves.
Buffy goes to the Doublemeat Palace to return her uniform. The new manager is a woman who seems surprisingly normal compared to everyone else who works there. Buffy uses her knowledge of the secret ingredient as leverage to get her job back. The episode ends on the depressing note of the new boss wanting Buffy to aim for long-term Doublemeat work.
“Doublemeat Palace” is the reason I vowed as a teenager that I would never ever work food service. Nothing seemed less appealing to me than the idea of working a job of soul-sucking monotony and then coming home coated in a thin film of grease and smelling powerfully of fast food. But I broke that vow as a college junior who lived a ten minutes’ walk away from a pizza place, at which point I discovered that between food service and retail, retail is by far the worse minimum wage job option. At least for me. Being coated in a tangible layer of eau de pizzeria after every shift was repulsive, admittedly, but the thing I can’t handle most at a job is boredom, of which there is an endless supply in retail, but which you simply do not have time for in food service. For some people, I think the stress level is a bigger deterrent than boredom, in which case I would recommend retail over food service. But “Doublemeat Palace” makes working at a fast food joint seem like the most degrading, humiliating job ever, which isn’t very fair. Admittedly, I probably would’ve felt worse about working at the pizza place if I’d been a college dropout rather than using it to pay my way through college, but Buffy is associating this job with a level of despair appropriate to believing she’ll be there the rest of her life, not merely until she finds something more suited to her interests. And I still refuse to believe that being the Slayer disqualifies her from everything that isn’t minimum wage. Or that she shouldn’t be getting monetary support from Hank, the Council, and Willow, the cumulative effect of which should make it quite easy for her to acquire training for a more fulfilling job. The point of this very long paragraph is that the premise of “Doublemeat Palace” is not a convincing one. The portrayal of the fast food work environment doesn’t seem very accurate, and in the process of trying to make food service seem extremely unappealing, they mainly succeeded in making an unappealing episode.
I wonder if Buffy really took the Doublemeat Palace job because it was the fastest way to get money flowing in, or if it was because she’s so full of self-loathing now that she doesn’t think she deserves anything better than this. Maybe it was a bit of both. This way, she can wallow in despair while still managing to pay the bills. Ouch.
Xander has historically been pretty up-front about his anti-demon stance on most issues (particularly when those issues revolved around Buffy and her feelings for Angel), so why is he being so passive-aggressive with Anya about all her demon stuff? He needs to tell her he’s not comfortable with this and make an effort to understand why it’s so important to her. The way it is, it’s very easy for Halfrek to convince Anya that Xander’s opinions are just opinions he’s forcing on her, but not everything about this situation is down to subjective preference. He shouldn’t act like it is.
I feel like after two and a half years in the Scooby Gang, Anya should probably know by now that Xander and the others are unlikely to be comfortable with all the demon culture and society she wants to incorporate into the wedding. Also, this season is the first time we’ve really seen evidence that Anya even wants to continue being part of that culture. Yes, she’s still completely unrepentant about her vengeance days, but she hasn’t been hanging out with demons or anything. That one time she commiserated with Spike in S4 was the closest she came to it. It sort of feels like her interest in demon culture is a characteristic the writers contrived purely to sow discord in her and Xander’s engagement.
Dawn is abruptly done being a jerk to Buffy, I guess, and back to being wary of Willow and particularly irritated with Amy, so that’s an improvement. It’d be nice if her attitude could be consistent, though.
Apparently fast food is so soul-crushing that even Spike looks down on it. (You know, if soul-crushing was what they were going for, then I kind of think this episode would’ve been more effective if Buffy had gotten a job with the DMV.) This is convenient for him, because now he can frame the situation so that Buffy working there is how she’s hitting bottom, and sleeping with him is a step up from that.
Willow is doing much better now that her ego has been forcibly destroyed. And she’s had some more success at being a Muggle Scooby! Solving the problem with chemistry like the good old days, and killing the monster of the week with a cleaver. But the most impressive victory is when she stands up to Amy and politely informs her that she won’t be taking any more of her crap. Go Willow!
“Hey, respect the narrative flow, much?”
“It’s like Sleepless in Seattle, if Meg and Tom were, like, minced.”
The Watcher's Diary
In this blog, I'll be reviewing, analyzing, and generally fangirling over excellent television. Exhibit A: the Whedonverse.