Cultural Catchup Project: “Flooded” (Buffy the Vampire Slayer)

“Flooded”

June 13th, 2011

You can follow along with the Cultural Catchup Project by following me on Twitter (@Memles), by subscribing to the category’s feed, or by bookmarking the Cultural Catchup Project page where I’ll be posting a link to each installment.

Thus far, Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s sixth season has been strikingly “realistic.” It sort of reminds me of the fourth season, in that Buffy spent the first set of episodes battling “real world” forces as much as demonic ones. There, the traditional college experience was framed through the eyes of the Slayer, while here Buffy’s resurrection from heaven is almost being framed as the transition into the adult realities of parenting, home ownership, and everything in between. Whereas Buffy’s role has more often than not been framed in terms of general responsibility, a task that she has always been able to live up to, the show is reframing that role in the context of financial responsibility.

While “After Life” very much focused on the ways in which reality itself has become a burden for Buffy in light of her ordeal, “Flooded” makes reality a bit less philosophical and a bit more…well, real. We could argue the same for the season itself, actually, given how the episode uses a fairly typical Monster-of-the-Week and a number of private conversations to set a pretty clear foundation for the season that follows. It’s too early to pass judgment on The Trio, and on the direction the season seems to be heading in, but the best thing I can say about “Flooded” is that it never gave me pause. Burdened by exposition, the episode nonetheless found a fair deal of poignancy in what could be considered a mundane premise, and created a great deal of interest (and a moderate amount of excitement) for what is to come.

I will admit that The Trio weren’t a surprise for me: as part of a course on serial narrative, I was shown a brief clip from an upcoming episode that highlighted the use of pop culture references among the group, and it was kind of easy to figure out what the show was going for.

I don’t consider this a particularly problematic spoiler, though. Yes, there is a certain thrill in the discovery that the show has turned these three side characters into villains, but it’s not as though there was any really substantial buildup to their turn. We haven’t seen these characters for a while (or, in the case of Andrew, never at all), and “Flooded” spends more time defining their villainy than actually explaining it. It really is as simple as “Three unpopular, highly intelligent characters from the show’s past band together to take over Sunnydale,” which means that the spoiler was only about details rather than anything important relating to theme or the like.

You can tell that the episode has to do a fair bit of legwork to re-establish the three characters: while Jonathan has been fairly central to some memorable episodes, Warren took a few seconds, and I only knew who Andrew was because the show told me so (and, as I’m not realizing, this is because we had never seen him before). Of course, the show conveniently drops in various references to ensure we understand where each character is coming from, pitching it as comic in-fighting that captured their dynamic pretty well. And, of course, the episode itself wasn’t really built to show that off: as indirect villains, at least at this stage in the game, their actual villainy is placed in the hands of the M’Fashnik demon, who is…well, a bit dull.

In fact, the episode as a whole would probably classify as a bit dull on a plot level. Buffy deals with a flooded basement and financial difficulties? A generic demon is tasked with robbing a bank and then somewhat one-mindedly going after the Slayer? It doesn’t pop in a way that gets me excited, even if there are some promising ideas introduced around the edges of the episode, and I think the plot is the problem. If I had one major issue with the episode, actually, is that it is a bit on the writerly side. Because of the amount of exposition necessary to establish the Trio, and because of the sense that the financial problems (and the flood that exacerbates them) are introduced purely to nail home a particular theme, the episode struggles to seem natural when dealing with either the monster-of-the-week or the gestures towards a larger seasonal arc.

What makes “Flooded” work, though, is that there are moments that seem almost effortlessly natural. Giles’ return allows for some very real conversations with both Buffy and Willow that are almost starkly realistic, perhaps moreso because the episode around them feels so planned. Although I know enough to know that Willow and Giles’ conversation is something akin to foreshadowing, Anthony Stewart Head, Sarah Michelle Gellar and Alyson Hannigan tapped into some real emotions in an episode that mostly peddled in one-liners and metaphors outside of that. One could argue that this demonstrates inconsistency, but the balance makes both sides of the equation stand out, and is something the show has always strived for.

It seems to have become a major part of Buffy’s post-resurrection personality: the quippiness is there, but it reads as a defense mechanism for what we know is a deep psychic trauma that no one other than Spike understands. Her friends could read her quippiness as the return of the old Buffy, but in truth it’s an attempt to pretend that everything is normal: what they read as a sign of hope we see as a sign of reservation. That moment early on when Buffy stands watching the water emerge from the tap is almost Robo-Buffy-esque, and I like what that says about the character. I can see how some might not like this new Buffy, but I also don’t think anyone can deny that Sarah Michelle Gellar is doing a fine job handling what is a fairly nuanced, challenging characterization. I think the show could be doing more with it, and this kind of stock Monster-of-the-Week stuff is perhaps not the best outlet for showing it off.

On the whole, this is one of those episodes that has a number of memorable scenes (mainly those involving Giles), an important introduction (given The Trio’s role as a new Mayor-like figure which harnesses the evil of Sunnydale for their own benefit), but nothing really substantial for us to latch onto. In fact, I have a feeling that writing about it on its own will only welcome a lot of comments that have to be restrained in order to avoid talking about future developments that this episode builds towards. At the end of the day, though, “Flooded” feels important enough that it should be considered on its own merits which are, if perhaps a bit uneven, strong enough to create some narrative momentum.

Cultural Observations

  • We can add the Anya/Xander scenes as some that worked quite nicely, even if they felt a bit separate from the rest of the episode (albeit purposefully in this instance). Same goes for Buffy/Spike: every time two characters were alone and just having a conversation, it’s almost like the rest of the episode stopped around them, which was a really interesting and effective choice from Petrie and Espenson.
  • Enjoyed the note that property values in Sunnydale are somewhat inexplicably low – that entire loan scene felt a bit weird tonally, as Buffy was a bit too ignorant for her own good, but the details were nice.
  • Not shocked to see Dawn wanting to be a bit more involved, although the penis joke was a bit on-the-nose in terms of why she might not be ready to be more involved.
  • Cannot emphasize enough how fantastic Anthony Stewart Head is here – sad that his scheduling means he won’t likely be around for the entire season. “You’re a stupid girl” was just chilling.
  • “I know I am back in America now: I’ve been knocked unconscious.”
  • Do the fifth episodes of each series classify as a crossover given that both Angel and Buffy are heading for some kind of meeting, or is it just a scene that plays out in one show or the other? Also, how does the connection between the two shows work between networks? I just find the whole thing a bit abstract, and have been avoiding spoilers, so any advice would be welcome.
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36 Comments

Filed under Cultural Catchup Project

36 responses to “Cultural Catchup Project: “Flooded” (Buffy the Vampire Slayer)

  1. Susan

    You found more value in “Flooded” than I have before, Myles, and have redeemed it a bit for me. I agree about all those small moments between characters (esp. the confrontation between Giles and Willow), and there are some great quips (“I was all dead and frugal.”) but never before thought that those great moments added up to anything worth much. It’s a pretty workaday ep, but I feel persuaded by the idea that it maybe needs to be.

    To answer your question, and I hope I’m not spoiling by answering it: there’s not really a crossover here to speak of. What happens between Buffy and Angel happens offscreen and is only obliquely (and, in the case of Angel, amusingly) referenced onscreen. Fodder for lots of fanfic. 🙂 Buffy’s network issues caused some problems with the crossover content, esp. for Angel. (Hence Cordy’s statement in “Heartthrob”: “We try not to say her name too much.”)

  2. Julie

    We never actually see the meeting. I know Angel addresses it in the next episode, but I don’t remember if Buffy does. I would think that happened because of the network shift.

    Love this project and your tv related tweets! Thanks!

    • Rowan

      Myles – there’s a comic that does the crossover from the Buffy crew’s POV. It’ll probably be unsatisfying, as I think that’s kind of the point. Free to read here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/cult/buffy/ecomics/reunion/index.shtml

      Also, interesting that you could place Andrew, since we’ve never seen him before.

      • I guess “place” is a relative term – I placed him as soon as the show told me who he was, but even then he was placed only relative to the scenario mentioned, and not in terms of actual memory. A neat bit of rehistoricization, actually, given the circumstances mentioned in an above comment.

  3. If it took you a while to place Andrew, that’s because this is first appearance.

    • I should clarify that Andrew was intended to be Tucker (from season 3’s The Prom), but they couldn’t get actor Brad Kane back, so they changed it to that character’s brother.

      Tom Lenk appeared in season 4 as a vampire named Cyrus, but Andrew is all new.

  4. voluntarymanslaughter

    No more crossovers now they’re on different networks, which is one of the reasons I stridently advocated watching them separately rather than together 🙂 After AtS1, there just isn’t that much connection any more.

    I think Flooded is valuable mostly because it gets the season arc rolling. (Hm, the corresponding season of Angel has the same problem…). And I absolutely adore the Trio, which is one of the reasons I love this season.

    The scene between Giles and Willow is amazing, and I’m always shocked by how Willow stands up to him — she has grown so much that she really does see herself as Giles’ peer. (I’m not saying this is good, b/c she’s overestimating how far she’s come. But it shows an amazing amount of strength-of-character from the shy little nerd from season 1.)

    The season will do a lot of things to show Buffy attempting to deal with “real life” responsibility. Some of them work. Some of them do NOT.

    A cute note from the commentary: in the brief moment that the three are playing D&D, not one of them had any clue what to do. (“Uh… do we roll the die or what?”)

    • Jonathan

      No more crossovers this season, true, but there are a couple in B7/A4.

      • voluntarymanslaughter

        I stand corrected. I will go out into a field and do the dance of shame.

        • Rowan

          They’re not really crossovers in B7/A4 – a character might switch over from one to the other, but it’s just characters, not plot intersections – as opposed to B4/A1, which had plots, characters, and rings from one leading directly into the next.

          It is probably wise to finish Angel 2 eps before Buffy, as that involves the most direct crossover. But getting it exactly right is mostly irrelevant at this point.

          • I’d argue that (SPOILER) Faith has a storyline that carries from Angel S4 into Buffy S7. That’s not just Faith, that’s a story about her.

            But yeah, it doesn’t make much difference. I watched Buffy seasons 5-7 in their entirety before I watched Angel season 2-5, and I never felt lost.

          • Susan

            I’m going to disagree here, too, with Rowan’s idea that the B7/A4-5 crossovers aren’t crossovers. There are actual plot intersections, a couple of which, IMO, are key.

          • Rowan

            To clarify – it’s not that there aren’t crossovers, just that they aren’t direct. If you’re watching the shows in roughly concurrent order, nothing is going to be a huge surprise. Getting the order exactly right is primarily a technicality. The reason Willow visits LA for an episode is pretty clear from Angel’s plotline for several episodes before it happens. And all that it is is that she gets a phone call on Buffy and says she’s leaving.

  5. This is somewhat of a rarity, but for a change I actually don’t have anything significant to add to this great review of “Flooded.” Myles, you pretty much nailed the big strengths and weaknesses of this one. This episode is often a bit underrated in the community, but there’s some really great stuff here. Thanks for the nice morning read! 🙂

    • Karen

      I agree. Somehow, for me, Flooded works as being more than the sum of its parts. I love the Trio, love Giles’ return, love the implication that Buffy just can’t handle *real life* let alone the demands of slayerhood.

      I don’t wanna be the one pushes the convo, as you said, into how the episode builds towards future developments…but yeah it does.

  6. morda898

    If there’s an episode of the show that’s boring, it’s this one. You can say many things about Buffy the Vampire Slayer – some good, some not so much. But it is never boring. This episode comes to the edge, but thankfully it only peers over it and doesn’t actually fall in. ANYWAY, never been a big fan of the trio. I love Andrew because…Well I won’t spoil it, but I love Andrew. The other two – meh. Certainly the highlight of this episode is the fight between Giles and Willow. I agree with a comment above about how far Willow’s come. Once you’re finished watching the series for good, you should really consider the psychological depth of Willow’s character since I think it’s one of the more extraordinary things about the show. There’s so much to her character, and not all good which is why she works so well, and I think that scene highlights it as well as any. This was the girl who had a picture of herself and Giles in her locker. She was in awe of him and now look where she’s come. She truly believes she is his better because she’s so strong (and I guess, if I went up against a God when even the SLAYER couldn’t, and came out victoriousish, I think I’d have a pretty big ego too. Not to mention resurrecting said Slayer therefore, in some ways, becoming like a God herself).

  7. greg

    Determined to make my reputation as the guy who’s obsessed with Willow’s wardrobe, I gotta ask: is that a crucifix she’s wearing in this episode? How, umm, odd.

    I (like most folks round these parts) am gonna hold off on comments on the Trio until later in the season, but I’m mostly a fan. I love what they’ve done with Jonathan over the years, especially as his presence always cemented the concept that these guys were far from the bottom of the social pile in high school. Not as popular as Cordy’s group, natch, but it’s not as if they didn’t have friends or dates and a busy social life. No one was staying home alone isolated. Was kinda expecting Jonathan to disappear after season four, but they use him wisely. And I’m glad they had more in mind than just turning them into Lone Gunmen a la ‘X-Files.’ We’ve seen Jonathan willingly give up power to save Buffy before and we’ve seen Warren build a sexbot (never the sign of a virtuous hero) and run away while she was trying to kill Buffy, so it’s Andrew that’s the real wild card here. Some people hated him with an intensity usually reserved for Jar Jar Binks, other found him an amusing catalyst.

    I really like the feel of this episode. With the exception of the unconvincing bank scenes and being somewhat confused as to how Dawn is too young (?) to research demons, a lot of this episode has great relationship scenes. Everybody gets to play off each other nicely and (even beyond Will being pissed of Giles wasn’t proud of her) there’s some nice character foreshadowing. This is an episode that played much better after I’d seen the entire series.

    • I agree. Dawn being too young to research always bothered me as well.

      • Aeryl

        I always read that as Buffy being over-reactive in trying to “protect” Dawn, which pays off in many a storyline this season. So while it “bothers” me, cuz it’s total garbage, Buffy was killing her first vampires when she was Dawn’s age, it also completely makes sense, because she is trying her hardest to shelter Dawn.

  8. greg

    Say, didn’t ‘Angel’ have an episode early on where Cordelia convinced Angel that they HAD to charge people they saved, lest said people might feel the need to establish a personal relationship? Isn’t that why we also pay firemen and doctors and the police and the army etc.? Odd that the ‘Buffy’ writers seem so determined to make Anya’s suggestion seem silly.

    And how did the Watcher’s Council get funding, anyway? Sure, they acted like pimps with unlimited disposable girls at their unpaid beck and call, at least up until Buffy quit, but the watchers got paid, no? (If Buffy getting Giles’s pay reinstated (retroactive!) when they showed up to hold back info on Glory meant anything)

    • It helps if you think of the Watcher’s Council as being much like Anne Rice’s Talamasca.

      • Aeryl

        SPOILER

        Well, since Buffy seems pretty financially secure after this season, and no longer employed at the DMP, I just assumed she recieved a salary again once she was reinstated by the Watchers in “Checkpoint.”

        There just was no salary in the months she was dead, but they started paying her again after her resurrection, perhaps not even until after “Flooded”, once Giles arrives on scene to confirm that it’s really her, not a demon imposter or the like, she was just still in debt, so she took the job at the DMP.

        Once the bills were all caught up, she was able to dump the 2nd job, and live solely on her Slayer salary.

        Now, WHY the writers didn’t put that much thought and effort into this, I don’t know. But it does make sense.

        • Bonnie

          SPOILER
          She doesn’t get any pay. She says so explicitly in Conversations with Dead People. The show made her financially secure again because they didn’t need her being poor any more.

    • voluntarymanslaughter

      Greg — I’ve always thought the whole point of that suggestion from Anya was a deliberate inside joke — anyone who has been following AtS knows that Angel charges — so I think that interchange is extremely funny. (I also like that Xander is the ultimate authority on all things comic-book.)

      Regarding money and the watcher’s council and possible salaries for Slayers and Watchers, that’s a great big mess that never gets any kind of real explanation. Feel free to make up your own explanation — I rather like Aeryl’s, below.

    • Lyvanna

      I did read a very interesting blog post once (which I’m now probably going to do disservice to by paraphrasing so here it is, but seriously don’t read Myles) about the difference between the way Buffy and Angel approach saving people for money. The gist of it is looking at killing demons/fighting evil as a traditional role that women have filled such as cleaning. Women still do the majority of the cleaning at home as unpaid labour because that is what is expected of them. Whereas professional cleaning is often done by men. Slaying is Buffy’s calling, it’s who she is, and as such she is expected to do it unpaid. While Angel has a choice and for him killing demons is his profession. (Yeah, ok, read the linked post if you’ve seen the series)

      • voluntarymanslaughter

        That’s an interesting take, and I guess it’s supported by the text, but it’s not really clicking with me. I feel it’s more that the high-school show doesn’t often need to explore money thematically, whereas it’s a pivotal part of the in-your-20s-trying-to-make-a-living theme. But interesting to think about.

      • Mel

        ha, I was going to link to her treatise on season six as a metaphor for clinical depression with the caveat that Myles not read it until he finishes the series. I think it’s an amazing read on the season and has really altered my opinion on it.

  9. Sophist

    “Buffy’s resurrection from heaven is almost being framed as the transition into the adult realities of parenting, home ownership, and everything in between.”

    No “almost” about it — you nailed the exact metaphor for the season, and you got it at the very point where it’s introduced. Nice job.

  10. tjbw

    Ah, ‘Flooded’, the episode that introduced my favorite inside joke with myself whenever I eat cookies. 😉

  11. DaddyCatALSO

    An episode that does what it needs to do, even if it’s not especially good while doing it. The money thing; are Willow and Tara pitching in? Where is the money that used to go for their dorm rooms going now?

    Anya’s suggestion has its good points; the problem would be that Buffy would first have to convince the public demons and monsters exist.

    If Brad Kane had been avialable to re-create Tucker, I think the Trio/Toika storyline would’ve been even darker,a dn maybe Warren would’ve palyed the role Andrew eventually does.

    The actors palyign the Trio had no idea how to play D&D, even not knowing to role the dice, so the writing staf had to coach them. The writers have said much of the Trio’s internal interactions are based on their own fannish arguments. Danny is a classic film buff and apaprently a very nice guy, but he’s let it slip in itnerviews that soemtimes the questions fans approach him with get annoying. (Up until s-6, when he hsowed his moral weakness, Jonathan was the character I idntified with most, except height-wise.) Adam seems more impatient (lately; altho the first couple years he and she had a sense of humor about it) with fannish comments about who he’s dating. Tom once had a Star Wars poster but that’s the extent of it; he’s a “theatre geek.”Satr Wars p

  12. Another good article on your website, keep up good work!

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