Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Buffy the Vampire Slayer S6E12 - Doublemeat Palace


There’s a lot to unpack here.

I think this episode does a lot of things very well, but core to them all is that very real fear of amounting to nothing. I find I'm personally dealing with this a lot more as I get older. When you’re young, you’re constantly being told how much promise and potential you have. You can be anything you want.

But there will come a time in your life when you've stagnated. It can happen when you’re 60, it can happen when you’re 20. You really never know.

When you get that first job, initially you’re pretty happy. You can start saving up to buy that shiny new car. Maybe you wanna move out. A movie ticket used to be expensive to you last week. Now, after a single 8 hour shift you can afford 4+ trips to the movies!

You become disenchanted with your job after a while. You stop looking at yourself as a difference maker and start seeing yourself as a replaceable cog in an enormous, greedy machine. But you don’t mind because in the back of your mind is always this assuredness - this idea that you could not possibly stay at your job for years and years and years, languishing for eternity. You’re not like those crazy people that have been working there for 10 years and are proud of it. You’re better than that! Besides, you’ll only be there for a few more months.

But then a few more months turns into a year. A year turns into 2 years. Soon this harrowing idea that you will be stuck there forever starts to creep into your mind. It’s likely totally irrational - you might just be working there because you’re paying for your schooling. Of COURSE when you graduate you’ll move on. But what if the economy is bad? What if you struggle to find a job? What if you become complacent? What if this isn't so much a stop along the way for you, but the end of the line? Failure begins to loom, constrict and crush you. It becomes so tangible that you can almost taste it.

We should remember that Buffy had good SAT scores. When she graduated from high school she had aspirations to do something with her life. Like many graduates, she didn't exactly know what that thing would be but she knew she would be able to figure it out. Time was on her side.

But now her mom is dead. Faith went bad. Slaying is a full time job and she doesn't have time to get an education. She arguably has the world’s most important non-paying job yet she has to keep it a secret from everybody. It’s not only possible – it’s LIKELY that she will rot in service economy hell for the rest of her life.

Let's explore how the episode captures and emphasizes this gloomy despair. 

Take a look at Buffy's co-workers  The guy flipping patties on the grill is resigned like you’d imagine an employee of the Doublemeat Palace could be – but he also talks about the horror of the grease and grime built up in his ears. Buffy’s manager is austere to the point of being a joke – but there's a very strange, robotic energy about him. You see an old lady who is so aloof and withdrawn that she might as well not even exist. All of these people have these strange idiosyncrasies because they appear as alien to Buffy. She can’t picture herself working in this world and associating with these people all the time so she sees them as excessively strange – perhaps subhuman, even.

Then there are the moments like the extreme close-up shots of the “10 YEARS” and “5 YEARS” pins as Buffy’s managers tell her to aim for those career goals. Take the claustrophobic anxiety of these scenes and throw in Buffy's hypnotic transfixion on the machinery and you're left feeling cold and distant... Trapped, just like her.

In this way, the episode is unrelenting. It does a good job creating a drab and dour atmosphere and it never lets up. But I think it’s highly watchable because the tone of the humor shifts to a darker, more twisted place. A place that this episode thrives in.

There are constant mentions of the secret ingredient being people or cats. Xander at one point gawks at Buffy with his mouth open and full of food. Buffy jokes about taking a piss test when told to fill up a cup for a customer. The training video Buffy watches shows graphic footage of cows getting slaughtered.

And then there's the rest of the episode. Willow, Xander and Anya all have actual character moments. In particular, the Anya/Halfrek scenes work very well as Halfrek plants seeds of doubt within Anya, leading to a pretty funny confrontation with Xander near the end.


Odds and Ends

  • Spike tells Buffy she isn't happy and, in a moment, her resolute façade completely vanishes. We've seen a lot of this from Buffy of late.
  • Willow dispatching the monster by beheading (castrating?) it and throwing it in the grinder was another highlight.
  • I really did love the cheesy, phallic B-movie monster of the week.
  • Xander: "Huh?"

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