Buffy the Vampire Slayer - Doublemeat Palace

Summary

Xander, Anya, and Willow are at Buffy's, discussing the stooges. Xander can't believe Jonathan is acting this way, although it seems in character for Warren and he can't even remember the third guy. Willow explains Buffy went to their lair, but they had fled. They did leave behind some stuff. Willow excitedly describes the magical objects they found, then gets control of herself and describes the more mundane things like scooters and pictures of T'Pol from Enterprise. Anya says this is why demons are better. Demons work and get compensated. Supervillains expect to get everything easy. They don't want to put in the work. She says workers are the tools that shape America. Buffy enters, ready to join the workforce in her ridiculous Doublemeat uniform.

Buffy watches a disturbingly graphic training video. Manny, the manager, comes to take her on a tour (first making her say she wants to be part of the Doublemeat experience). He introduces her to a couple of brain dead guys he tells her to copy. He says they are lifers, like him, pointing to his 10 years badge. He tells Buffy if she puts the work in, in ten years she could be him. There's mention of the previous employee who just never showed up. Buffy gets a locker with stuff in it. Manny says they have a lot of turnover and people often just don't show up. He clocks her in (they use a time card machine). Manny shows her the kitchen (where she is bemused by the identical slices of processed chicken), the drive through window (where she doesn't have to go), the walk in freezer (where she doesn't have to go), the dehydrated pickle storage, and the locked filing cabinet. He then makes her eat a Doublemeat Medley. Reluctantly, she does. She asks what the secret ingredient is and he says it's a meat process.

Buffy is put to work at the counter. The guy working with her seems normal, but he warns her to watch her sense of humour (she keeps making Manny jokes). An elderly lady orders a coffee and a pie. He shows Buffy how you punch that up and then has her take the next order. The elderly lady is nice to Buffy, saying she thinks Buffy might last there. That others have just disappeared. The next order is from a family and it's big and confused and Buffy is stymied. Later we see Buffy on her meal break, eating a medley and drinking a shake. Later still, she is wandering around and looks in the freezer. Manny tells her not too. She says she was curious and he says 'curiousity killed the cat'. She wonders whether they are cat burgers.

Willow, Anya, Dawn, and Xander show up to offer moral support. Buffy talks about her previous waitressing experience (in Anne) and how things are different here. Willow is playing with the straws and obviously nervous. Buffy tells them about Manny, the mysterious secret ingredient, and the zombielike staff. Xander says that's just the nature of the fast food business. He points out people often don't show up and it's just life, not demons. Buffy isn't convinced, but not even seeing Manny (rehydrating pickles) gets them thinking anything is wrong. Xander orders a medley and Buffy says it's on her. Anya says if he likes the food they can have Doublemeat cater their reception. She says they have to hurry with their planning. When Willow threw the magical engagement party for them in All the Way, it led Anya to believe she would help with the wedding planning. But now magic is out of the question and Anya is behind with everything and many of the guests have not RSVPed yet. Buffy gives Xander his burger and jokes about cutting back on the cat.

That night, Spike arrives. He calls Buffy a demon and she says she's not. He asks if she took the job to prove this. She says she needs the money. He says he can get money. He asks her to walk away with him, saying the place will kill her. Buffy goes to help with the fries. We see one of the staff in the supply room. He sees someone, talks to them, and is then attacked by them. In the morning, Manny tells Buffy Gary (the attacked guy) did not show up. He moves her up to grill.

At the grill, she's taught how to make every patty exactly like every other. She asks what the secret ingredient is, but again is just told it is a meat process. She does get a lecture on grease from the grill, how it will coat every part of her body. The guy training her tells her that he once lost his hearing because of a grease plug in his ear. Manny tells her she's working a double shift. Another guy didn't show up. Buffy wonders where they are and a package of meat is delivered.

Xander gets off the phone, calling to Anya that Buffy will be late. He turns to find a demon, proclaiming vengeance, has appeared in the living room. Anya walks in and we discover it is Halfrek (Hallie) a demon friend of hers whom she invited to the wedding and who misunderstood. Xander says he'll leave them alone to get caught up. Hallie has trouble understanding why Anya would marry Xander, who she refers to as the man with the large upper arms.

Buffy is making french fries. She notices the oil keeps bubbling even when she takes the fries out. Timothy tells her he thinks bugs fall into it. He tells her she can take her break. She sees Spike outside and soon they are having sex, standing against a wall.

Willow is in her room studying and Amy shows up, Dawn let her in. She asks for the cage she lived in as a rat which Willow gives her. She asks how Willow's cold turkey approach is working. Willow says it was tough, but she is getting her focus back. Amy notes she has highlighted everything on the page she is reading. Willow says it's a pivotal page. Anya picks up the cage, tells Willow it's her birthday, and says potestas. This gives Willow a big, magical charge - her eyes go all black as in Wrecked.

Buffy is looking at the meat being ground. She sees a finger. She rushes it to Manny who tries to explain it away saying there was an accident 6 weeks ago and maybe Gary had an accident and got himself to the hospital. Buffy thinks the secret ingredient is people. She rushes into the restaurant telling people not to eat because the meat is people. The staff drag her out and the elderly lady asks whether this is true of the cherry pie. Manny fires her.

Hallie keeps asking Anya questions which cause her to doubt her love for Xander and their decision to marry. Xander and Dawn are playing Go Fish. Buffy comes in with a burger and tells them something is up at the restaurant. Dawn notices she smells funny (probably the grease from the grill). Buffy shows her the finger she found. She says the secret ingredient is people. They turn to find Xander has eaten the burger. Buffy is angry because she wanted to analyse it and will have to get another. Xander does not feel that is their biggest problem. Willow arrives. She goes to the table and picks up a pencil and it turns to rubber, the magic is still there. She hides this. They tell her about the people burgers. Willow says she can analyse the burger and Dawn points out there are bits of meat left on the wrapper. Buffy leaves to go check out the now closed restaurant. She finds Manny's foot, but no rest of the body.

Willow is struggling not to use magic. Dawn is talking to Xander about how being the slayer pretty much means Buffy will never have a good job, like a lawyer or doctor. Xander says maybe Dawn will be a lawyer or doctor and can support Buffy. But that doesn't cheer up Dawn. Willow has finished producing a solution which will react with human proteins. She's ready to put some of the meat under the microscope and tell what it is. Anya arrives. Xander asks if Hallie has left and then if Anya looked like her when she was a demon. Anya thinks Hallie is very attractive, but Xander refers to veinyness. Anya criticises his large upper arms and his tendency to criticise. Willow says it is not human flesh. Anya wonders whether it is demon meat and says she is opposed to using demon meat even if it saves money. Willow says no, she's confused at what she is seeing.

Buffy finds the wig of the elderly lady. The woman is there. We discover she is a demon and some huge snake like thing comes out of her head. It sprays Buffy with a paralyzing spray. The paralysis works its way upward, so Buffy is trying to flee and fight. The demon lady says she likes eating Doublemeat workers because they are so full of the burgers and go down smoothly. Buffy crawls away and the demon lady slowly follows. Willow shows up and can't see inside, but talks through the drive through speaker. She tells Buffy the burgers are processed vegetables. She also starts telling Buffy about what happened with Amy. The demon lady grabs Buffy and the snake part starts gnawing on her shoulder. Willow hears the noise inside and comes in. The demon lady tries to spray her with the paralysing spray, but misses. Willow cuts off the snake part. Buffy then stabs it with a knife and Willow tosses it into the grinder which she turns on.

The next day, Amy shows up at the house, but Willow won't let her in and says they cannot hang out together any more. They argue and Amy says she forgot some things while Willow was busy not making her not a rat. She's clearly resentful. Willow warns Amy to stay away from her. Buffy returns to the restaurant. She meets Lorraine, the new manager. She says she's sorry about her 'practical joke' about the burgers being people. She says she came to return her uniform. She reveals that she knows the medley is vegetables. Lorraine admits it is a vegetable product with rendered beef fat to add flavour. She tells Buffy this is a valuable secret and she mustn't spread it around. Buffy says she needs money, she wants her job back. Lorraine agrees, but says she wants Buffy to be dedicated. She points to her 5 year badge and tells Buffy she wants her to be aiming for it. Buffy agrees.

Analysis

I've got to admit, there was a lot of interesting stuff in here for such a light episode. We've got the whole issue of fast food as a demonic enterprise, the temptations of Willow and Anya (with a really interesting parallel between the two of them and to some extent with Buffy as well), and maybe a peek at the big bad of this season. Not bad for a nonarc story.

I've got to start with fast food. I'm not quite sure when fast food turns from great cuisine to desperate measure. I know it happened to me sometime after grad school, but then again, I was eating a lot of university cafeteria food at the time and possibly even Doublemeat Palace would have tasted gourmet compared to that. But nowadays, I can't stand fast food burgers. And I guess, given the aging population, I'm in the majority. But this episode wasn't so much about the horror of eating the stuff as the horror of serving it up. Buffy is reduced, as Dawn realizes, to the dreariest of McJobs. She will never have time to learn anything better. At best, Dawn will be successful. Pretty sad for someone as bright and capable as Buffy.

It's no surprise that Buffy thinks Doublemeat Palace is run by some demonic corporation. There is the mystery of the secret ingredient (and don't all these places boast of their secrets). There is the zombielike nature of the staff (again something you normally see there). The pathetic lifers who take pride in having risen through the ranks from manning the grill to ordering other people to man the grill. All this and minimum wage too. Who could fail to believe this was a vast, demon conspiracy. And a glance at one of the web's urban legend pages will reveal theories almost as weird as Buffy's. Her analysis of the situation is almost perfect. There is an expectation of high turnover. Using the workers as meat reduces overhead - the key concern of such establishments. And by feeding them to the customers, the murderous corporation gets rid of the evidence. It is so perfect a scheme I'm surprised no one else has suggested it.

I work in the software industry and when I am looking to hire someone, the first thing I am interested in is intellectual curiousity. Someone who doesn't ask questions and isn't interested in lots of things beyond their specified job just isn't a good employee. But I can see the exact reverse is true of a fast food company. So all the things which make Buffy stand out, all the things which normally would garner her compliments, are big negatives here. And since the real world is so different from fast food, she's got to become suspicious when her questions are never answered and so many places are off limits.

To be honest, I was slightly surprised to learn the meals didn't include human flesh. Although just slightly. That would have turned the gang (and we saw Buffy and Xander eat those burgers, Dawn talk about eating there all the time, and Buffy saying everyone ate there) into cannibals. Of course, Xander already ate a person (way back in the episode where some of the students were turned into animals and ate the principal), so I did think it was just possible. But it was a nice surprise to discover a customer was the demonic villain. And, in retrospect, it makes perfect sense. Who but a a man eating demon would regularly dine at one of these places? It was also nice to see Buffy taken by surprise and almost defeated. She may have successfully taken on a god, but she's still beatable.

Both Anya and Willow receive a visit from a friend from the past. A friend who may simply be saying or doing the wrong thing at the wrong time or a friend who may be actively trying to sabotage Anya's/Willow's happiness. Hallie asks Anya what she sees in Xander, why she believes she would be happy with him. She asks questions which point out Xander's supposed flaws: physical and character. She works away at Anya's insecurities, noting that Xander corrects her, tries to change her, acts in a controlling manner. This is a skewed view of the relationship, looking at certain aspects of it in isolation. But it isn't false. Xander does correct Anya. He does make comments. Of course, he does this within a loving context and he does genuinely love her. But if you just focus on the criticism, it looks bad.

Amy does something very similar with Willow. She focuses on the enjoyment Willow gets from magic. On the technical fact that if Amy does it for her, Willow hasn't broken the rules. This is similar to an alcoholic having someone else pour the drinks for him. Amy keeps asking Willow whether she enjoyed the kick of the magic. This is a question Willow never answers and Amy knows the answer is yes. She's using Hallie's approach, focusing on one element out of context. Yes, the magic is fun. But it's also dangerous for someone who has not built the self control mechanism needed to deal with it. Willow didn't quit magic on a whim; she quit it because it was endangering herself and others. As Hallie tries to move the argument away from the mutual love of Anya and Xander and to Xander's faults, Amy tries to move the debate away from the effect of magic on Willow's life to the pleasure it gives her. Both Willow and Anya realize, at least to some extent, what is happening. Anya asks Hallie to stop and Willow refuses to see Amy any more. But whether they will stop is uncertain.

It's interesting that Anya, Willow, and Buffy are hit by despair this episode. Amy tells Willow this will be her life forever, there will never be magic in it. Hallie gets Anya wondering about spending her whole life with Xander. And everyone keeps depressing Buffy (the managers telling her she'll be like them, Spike saying the job will kill her) and Dawn notes that she's doomed to such jobs forever. Each face concerns about the future, not because it is unknown but because so much of it seems known. Each is faced with giving up pleasures. Anya will give up a certain amount of freedom and have to conform to Xander's views of how humans act. Willow will have to give up the pleasure, and the speed (she's constantly complaining about how slow things are now) of magic. Buffy will have to give up any hope of a rewarding career, both emotionally and financially.

Very early this season, Spike spoke of how magic always has a consequence. It seemed a statement related to the events of After Life or Once More, With Feeling or Willow's magic addiction problem. But two interesting points were raised in this episode. The curious turn to evil of Jonathan (they are ready to accept this in Warren and can't remember Andrew) and Amy's apparent resentment of Willow. You have to wonder whether the use of magic didn't affect their personalities. Jonathan used a major spell to enhance himself in Superstar and Amy used magic a lot when she was first introduced and of course turned herself into a rat in Gingerbread. Has the casual use of magic opened up both of them to evil. Is it easier for the evil side of their characters to dominate because of the use of magic?

I've been really unhappy with the stooges as the major evil of this season. But if Amy turns out to be that evil, or possibly Amy and some combination of the stooges as her tool, I'd be a lot happier. This would be both a consequence of the casual use of magic (on the part of Amy and Jonathan) and the failure to use magic seriously (Willow taking so long to change Amy back, she clearly wasn't focusing on it). Now Willow may be forced to use magic again, to fight off Amy.

Some quick final thoughts. I think Xander, the stooges, and I are all on the same page when it comes to the Vulcan lady on Enterprise. You've got to appreciate the way the gang seem incapable of remembering Andrew, just like the audience. I liked Anya's explanation of the superiority of demons over supervillains and the need to put in the work for your reward. Classic American beliefs with a demonic twist. I also like the way Buffy quickly learns Manny the manager expects the right lie rather than the truth from her. That Doublemeat Medley was about the size of Buffy's head. I was amazed she could open her mouth wide enough to even take a bite. I can't believe she could ever finish one. The sex scene with Spike was both really erotic and really sad. I have to wonder whether the demon lady wasn't a breed of demon who feed on fast food workers. This would explain a lot. Like the high turnover in fast food plus those elderly people who seem to hang out there all the time. The word potestas, which Amy uses when she magics Willow, means power or ability. She is both giving power and ability to Willow and displaying her own power and ability. Again making clear the double edged nature of magic.

Lines of the week:

"I was kinda feeling like a tool." - Buffy getting the point.

"Theory number 5: cat burgers." - Buffy wondering about the secret ingredient.

"I think you're seeing demons where there's just life." - Xander understanding the nature of the fast food industry.

"I don't know how to grill."
"Just think. This is the last day you'll be able to say that." - Buffy hearing something really scary from Manny.

"Guess you really were a lifer." - Buffy with an epitaph to Manny.

"I forgot a lot while you were failing to make me be not a rat." - Amy on grudges.

"If you really are my friend, you better stay away from me. And if you really aren't, you better stay away from me." - Willow summing up the situation for Amy.

Addendum

Many people have written to let me know Xander did not eat anyone in the hyena episode. He ate a pig, and the others ate the principal, but he did not. I had the chance to rewatch that episode and not only does he not eat the principal, but it is explicitly mentioned twice. But I'm leaving the error in my review and correcting it here. So, for those who corrected me thanks. For those who considered correcting me but didn't, write me next time. I do make mistakes. And for the rest of you, sorry I'll try to be more careful next time.

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