Buffy the Vampire Slayer - Beer Bad

Summary

Buffy is in her psychology class in which the professor is discussing id, ego, and superego. She's fantasizing about saving Parker's life and having him then realize how much he loves her.

Xander tells Willow and Buffy he got a job as a bartender at the campus pub. He has a fake ID and is working on his empathy. Buffy has too many real problems to provide fake problems for him. Willow tries, though. Buffy wonders whether Parker really loves her but simply has a problem dealing with that. Willow says Buffy needs a guy who thinks with his brain, not his penis. Buffy is sure Parker has intimacy problems.

At the pub, Xander is having a hard time keeping up with things. Buffy comes in and sees Parker there with a girl. She bumps into Riley, literally. He tries to warn her about Parker, but she isn't listening. He leaves to join his friends. Xander gets harassed by some loudmouth students. Buffy tells Xander she realizes what Parker is and she thinks she's a slut and an idiot. Xander has to work and can't talk to her. She ends up drinking with the loudmouth students. Willow is at the Bronze with Oz who seems very interested in the girl singer there.

Next day, Willow is upset with Oz's interest in Veruca. She finds a very hung over Buffy. Buffy is clearly out of it. Willow even has to remind her to dress. In class, Buffy is acting strangely. She even steals another student's sandwich. We cut to a scene of someone brewing some potion and putting it in the beer.

That night, Buffy and the loudmouths are drinking again. And they seem to be devolving before our eyes. Oz asks Willow to go to the Bronze again to see the band and she says no. He realizes she is upset. Buffy is fascinated by the jukebox and clearly very drunk. Xander gets her to go home, although she isn't articulating very clearly. The loudmouths take several minutes to realize she has gone.

Willow tracks done Parker, who is having a coffee in a campus cafe. Willow gives him a piece of her mind. He starts doing his routine on Willow. The loudmouths are very drunk and basically inarticulate now. Xander tries to get them to leave and they suddenly physically turn into cavemen. They attack Xander, but he chases them away with his lighter, they fear fire. Xander tells the pub manager what happened and discovers he's the one who poisoned the beer (his warlock brother-in-law taught him how). He says it will wear off in a day or so. Xander goes looking for Buffy.

One of the cavemen gets hit by a car. The others attack it but leave it to chase some girls who walk by. Xander gets Giles and they find Buffy in her room drawing on the wall and saying "Parker bad". Parker is still running his line on Willow. It seems to be working, but then Willow tells Parker what she really thinks. She sees through his phony line and says he's all id, just the pleasure principle at work. He just says whatever he thinks he has to say to get a woman into bed. At that point the cavemen rush in with the girls they have grabbed and knock out Willow and Parker.

Buffy wants beer. Xander and Giles try to stop her, but she knocks down Giles and escapes. They chase her. The cavemen have started a fire. Xander finds Buffy and tries to reason with her. She sniffs the fire and runs toward it, saying "fire bad". She breaks into the building and tries to put out the fire with an extinguisher, but she can't figure out how it works. She sees Willow unconscious on the floor. She breaks open a window. The cavemen and the girls get out. Buffy lifts Willow out. She goes back in and sees Parker, who comes to. She hits him and knocks him out.

The fire department is putting out the fire. Xander has locked the cavemen in a van (it was standing there open). Buffy is tired. Parker comes up and makes the speech from Buffy's fantasy, asking for forgiveness. She hits him and knocks him out.

Analysis

There are certain things I remember from university. Alcohol is really cheap on campus. A lot of undergraduates spend part of that first year in a drunken haze. Student pubs are usually run by students and staffed by students. The first two emphasize the realism of this episode (which read as a metaphor is very true to life). But that last sentence causes me just the slightest bit of trouble. I can understand some schools bringing in an outsider to run the student pub, but wouldn't they require preference be given to hiring students? Would Xander so easily get a job?

Putting aside that reference and trying hard to ignore the passing reference to Good Will Hunting (the student mocking Xander is very similar to the bar scene from that film), I actually thought this was a fun episode. One with only a couple of moments that went deeper than the surface.

I guess the first moment consists of the psychology lesson. Professor Walsh points out that we are essentially very simple creatures with very simple needs. Well, not quite. What she really says is that there is an animal part of ourselves with simple needs that can be simply met. And there is a more highly evolved part with complex needs not easily met. Problems arise when we try to placate the latter using the methods of the former.

Buffy is in just such a bind. She wants a happy relationship, something pretty evolved. Parker is happy with sex. And clearly he intends to have sex with as many different women as he can manage. Every time we see him, he is hitting on a woman. Even when Willow comes to upbraid him, he makes a pass at her. In fact, even his apology to Buffy sounds like one of his lines. Parker, for all his pretense at depth and compassion, is a very simple creature - more cavemanlike than the cavemen of this episode. Everything he does is geared to getting sex. He has no other interests in life. And once he gets it, he moves on to the next available female. Actually, I might be being harsh on Parker. When we first met him, in Living Conditions, he was interested in food. So I guess he does have one interest other than sex.

The loudmouth students try to act sophisticated, witness their intellectual put down of Xander (reminiscent of the bar scene from Good Will Hunting). But as the pub manager points out, beer is the great equalizer. A few drinks and they are just as inarticulate as anyone else. They, like Parker, become interested only in pleasure. Willow points out the pleasure centered life of Parker and claims that man has not really evolved at all. That's when the cavemen rush and pretty much prove her point. While they do look a bit different from normal humans, they really aren't all that different from university students. And their actions - questing for sex, drink, and food - exactly mirror the actions of Parker - who we have really only seen looking for sex, drink, and food. Whenever we encounter Parker, he is either talking up a girl (we see that in this episode in the classroom and at the pub and in Living Conditions when he chats up both Buffy and Kathy), getting food (we first meet him in the cafeteria line in Living Conditions), or drinking (he's getting a coffee when Willow finds him). For all his intellectualization, Parker is a caveman and Professor Walsh may be right.

The other deep moment is Willow watching Oz watch Veruca. This is clearly the beginning of big problems for these two. Oz's obsession with the singer is pretty clear to Willow who has demonstrated a strong grasp of the male psyche. Her condemnation of Parker is probably at least partly directed against Oz. Although Oz is a werewolf, he is much more evolved than Parker or the cavemen and for most of the month seems to resist his id impulses. Even when obsessed with Veruca, he tries to remember Willow and be kind to her. But he's clearly drawn by a strong impulse. It's interesting that, unable to deal with her problem with Oz - or even really confront him directly with her feelings - Willow instead tries to deal with Buffy's problem with Parker.

Willow undermines Parker's intellectual attack. She punctures his balloon of self confidence and reveals that some women, at least, can see through his pretense. And, for the record, I don't even believe his father is dead. I think that's just part of his line. Similarly, I don't think his mother came to see him in The Harsh Light of Day, but that he just wanted an excuse to get rid of Buffy and not have to deal with her any more. But Parker is a caveman for all his pretend sophistication and he isn't really defeated until he's taken down caveman style, by Buffy bopping him on the head. Not only does this teach Parker a lesson, but it allows Buffy to act out her anger and get past him.

I've often maintained that Buffy is the most moral program on tv and one every teenager should watch. It's the only show I can think of where teenagers seriously have to deal with the consequences of their actions (whether having sex or getting drunk). If we see this episode as a metaphor for freshman alcohol abuse, it sends a pretty clear message. For those who think the excesses are unrealistic, I can only say that when I was teaching English 101, all my freshman students would write essays about how drunk they had gotten that weekend. And a lot of them had experiences not all that different from Buffy's.

Riley just seems full of good advice. He gave some to Buffy in Fear, Itself and again in this episode. Anyone this nice and sensitive must be evil. And I have to wonder where that van came from and whether those strange commando guys may not be rounding up the cavemen soon. Finally, when Buffy says "fire bad", I couldn't help but remember her using exactly those words in Graduation Part 2 while surveying the wreckage of her school with Giles. I guess when you strip away the ego and superego of Buffy, you get to an id that's still pretty evolved. Even as caveslayer, she was still trying to help others and not simply seeking to please herself.

Lines of the week:

"Nothing can defeat the penis." - Xander being unseemly.

"How gullible do you think I am?" - Willow really surprising Parker.

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