June 13th, 2011
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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.
- 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.