Covering from “Doublemeat Palace” to “As You Were,” in which they started these stories, and now they have to see them through.
Fan consensus holds that “Doublemeat Palace” is another strong contender for the worst episode of the series. Get ready for some more contrarianism, though.
I don’t think it’s that bad.
Don’t mistake me, this is by no means an episode to rival the series’ heights, or even its middles. “Doublemeat Palace” is a far cry from good. Comparatively, though, it has a…relatively decent central idea—possibly evil fast food chain—and has a tone that isn’t “plodding, tired moroseness.” Buffy confronting the indignity of fast food work feels authentic and, you know, if they’re going to open the Pandora’s Box that is Buffy’s financial problems, they needed to let her do something about them. Dawn even highlights the faint tragedy in the situation when she notes that Buffy’s calling precludes her from doing work that requires a lot of responsibility. Yes, the monster looks unmistakably like a dick, but you know, at least there is a monster, and one that’s pretty freaky, sitting somewhere between Geiger (hence the dick head), Lovecraft, and Resident Evil. Also, it doesn’t feel as afflicted with suffocating insularity as most of this season. Similarly, “As You Were” doesn’t have the greatest reputation, but I find it better than that reputation suggests.
It’s still not great, though, far from it. Riley is more than a bit comical here, from his new, super badass face scar to just how perfect his new wife Sam is, but, man, ya know, coming where it did I had no objection to that level of silliness. Mostly, though, the episode has some solid emotional roots in a solid young adult experience (running into the ex who is doing far better than you) that doesn’t toss elements of the show into a meat grinder.
Between the two is the episode that almost got me to stop watching. And “Older and Far Away,” about which I have little to say, except that it didn’t fill me with much hope after “Dead Things.”
So, the Trio. They’re awful, easily as annoying as Glory, and shrill in a different way. Their references aren’t funny or knowing or clever—it’s not hilarious when they’re cowed by Spike threatening a Boba Fett figure, it’s dumb and irritating. The joke of Andrew being the unknown and unrecognized little brother of Tucker falls flat because Tucker was an unknown, unrecognized cypher to begin with, and the two others I’ll get to in a moment. All of their schemes have been, as Anya astutely notes, lame, and not fun or entertaining. And to boot, in “Dead Things,” they become really ugly when they conspire to rape a girl, possibly Buffy if they can manage it.
There were two ways Warren could have gone. In one, he’s a creepy but lonely guy who tries to fill that loneliness with a faulty and false notion of a perfect relationship, only to find that perfection unsatisfying when he finds a real relationship, but tragically he can’t shake his skewed assumptions about women and relationships and loses it all—in its own way, a story as horrific as any the show has done. Or, he could have simply been a deranged sicko. Returning to the show as he does, malevolent and cartoonishly misogynistic, really locks him into the latter, simplistic direction.
Warren, though, was a one-point-two off later season antagonist, and, you know, “I Was Made to Love You” wasn’t bad by any means, but tarnishing it isn’t that big of a deal. Jonathan is a different matter. “Earshot,” “The Prom,” and “Superstar” are classics, and Jonathan a beloved part of them, and Buffy’s growth as well. He was an antagonist, but a highly sympathetic one who we and Buffy cared for, and he likewise cared for Buffy, so it’s really, really uncomfortable that he goes along with any of this, particularly things like Andrew suggesting they use the sex-slave chip on Buffy and Warren plotting to convince her she committed the murder that was actually his doing. Now, some will no doubt say that Jonathan does make attempts to sabotage the Trio, but they’re pretty weak efforts.
The victim, incidentally, is Katrina, Warren’s ex, who doesn’t live in Sunnydale but is in town for reasons that are never stated, and happens to be in a swank bar that we have never seen before and never will again. Warren uses his chip, they dress her up like a French maid, she breaks free, and he ends up beating her to death with a Champaign bottle. Did I mention this is ugly? This is ugly, exploitative in a very cheap way that isn’t fun and makes the show feel gross.
But the worst part about Jonathan among the Trio is that it seems the show is ignoring or has forgotten his significance as someone Buffy sought to help by doing something other than slaying. That’s why he was the perfect one to give her the Class Protector Award (which is still, undeniably, a high point for the series). The important bit of “Superstar” was not that she killed the demon thing, but when the explained why everyone was angry about what he did. Jonathan’s actions, and Buffy casually dismissing him as just one of these lame nerds betrays that the show has lost sight of that importance. Why does Warren have such a hold on Jonathan? How did they even meet? No clue. It’s not even alluded too. Refrain of the season, we’re just expected to go with it.
All that ugliness is not alieved by the major story running through these episodes other than Willow’s rehab—Buffy having increasingly uncomfortable and degrading sex with Spike, including by a dumpster at the Doublemeat Palace and on the mezzanine level at the Bronze while her friends mill about. No prude I, but it’s uncomfortable to watch, possibly because, again, it’s mostly fueled by the vague and esoteric Pulled from Heaven thing.
The bright spot through all of this is Tara, who emerges as kind, dependable, knowledgeable, and responsible, which are traits that were always hinted at but really get thrown into contrast following her breakup with Willow. Season 6 was allegedly a season about being grown up, but it seems only Tara and to a lesser degree Xander and Anya made it there.Still, none of these qualify as the worst episodes for me. But we’re getting there. Dear God, we’re getting there.