The Hidden Intellectualism of "Beer Bad"
2003-09-05, 8:19 p.m.
(Wrote this Friday, forgot to post it.)
I'm currently renting Buffy Season 4 from Netflix, since I'd seen maybe three episodes of the series that season. "The Freshman," which is a fairly depressing episode, turned me off of it at the time, and rewatching it and the episodes immediately following it didn't change my original assessment of it: it is depressing. Like the high school seasons, the start of this season really emphasizes the metaphor of "school is hell." Only in college, it's "My roommate is not only annoying, she's EVIL! No, really, she's a soul-sucking leech!" and "Man, a lot of kids wash out of this school, why?" and "Boy, people really get stupid when they drink."
From what I'd heard from most people, "Beer Bad" is supposedly one of the worst, if not the worst, Buffy episode ever. And when I started watching the episode, I nearly started to agree with them. (But really, "Doublemeat Palace"? Much worse. Not to mention gross. But I digress.) Really, it's hard to take an episode seriously once 3/4 of the people on screen are grunting, jumping around, and burning down a bar, not to mention growing their own Neaderthal brows. But as the episode went on, I realized that it's a lot better than it seems to be, and really is quite eloquent in its message, even if the message is along the lines of "Boys are pigs, deep down, even if they claim to be all deep and stuff."
The episode starts out in Buffy and Willow's psychology class, where Professor Walsh is lecturing on the id. Buffy, however, is daydreaming about her one-night-stand, Parker, who has been quickly and easily moving on to other girls (and is doing so a few rows down in front of her). She fantasizes about saving him from vampires and him pleading for her forgiveness. We never get to see what her fantasy reaction to his pleading is, however, though one might presume given her wistful musings about how maybe he'd get over his issues that she'd take him back at this point.
At the start of the season, Parker and Buffy had several conversations about his emotional scars from his dad dying and how he'd learned to seize the moment, hence leading to their night of nookie. Afterwards, he brings her coffee, tells her his mom's coming, and she doesn't hear from him again until she walks up to him telling another girl about his dead dad and seizing the moment. Routine much? He's one of those lovely fellows who likes to play the sensitive guy, but seems to have no idea that he actually hurt Buffy's feelings or that she was expecting more from him.
From ATPOBTVS: "He was not clear to her in any way that his intention was to have "fun", just once. "You have no idea what it's like to finally find someone who really understands" is not an intro to "I'd like to have sex with you when it suits me without having to be nice to you."
The episode moves on to Buffy making the acquaintance of a bunch of friendly yet pretentious college boys who like to discuss philosophy. (Something I never once heard happen when I was in college, incidentally, unless it involved "The Philosopher's Drinking Song," which went through my head during this episode quite a bit.) They happily chug beer at a bar where the owner is ahem, quite lenient about carding, and where Xander has just been hired as a bartender.
Beer makes you stupid and loosens your inhibitions, especially if you chug more of it. Even more if you chug beer owned by a guy who's got a warlock brother-in-law and a grudge against pretentious teenagers. The effects of the beer seem to linger for a few days, as Buffy tries to figure out television and sees nothing wrong with stealing another girl's sandwich out of her hands and chowing down. Pretty soon, the bar denziens lose all ability to count or say much beyond "Want foamy beer." Buffy goes home to draw nasty stick figures of Parker, while her semi-comatose companions trash things.
Willow, feeling annoyed at her own boyfriend for eyeing another girl, decides to track down Parker and give her a piece of her mind. He explains in fairly elaborate detail about his philosophy of how people should create something wonderful for one night, then go on to their regular lives, feeling a little better. Or whatever, dude. He moves into sensitive-guy mode with Willow, giving her the old puppy dog eyes and "you're so sweet and thoughtful, blah blah, I can actually talk to you" crap. Fortunately, Willow's more cynical than Buffy about these things.
"Just how gullible do you think I am? I mean, with your gentle eyes and your shy smile and your ability to talk openly only to me. You're unbelievable!
That's right. I got your number, id boy. Only thing you're thinking about is how long before you can jump on my bones."
She says that men haven't changed since the dawn of time, and is somehow not at all surprised to see cavemen barge through the door. "See?!"
The best bit of the show, however, is Buffy's fantasy coming true while under the influence. The cavemen start a fire, and she somehow manages to get Willow and Parker out of it. Happily, she takes the opportunity to club him over the head with a stick before dragging him out. Later, he apologizes and said she was wonderful in there (how could he tell?) and asks her forgiveness, to which she...uh... clubs him over the head with the stick again.
On the one hand, maybe not the way she'd planned it in her fantasy, or how she would have normally handled it. But on the other hand, could you really say it any better than that?