I had originally planned on spending most of the 4th writing my thoughts on this episode. Then the spirit of the holiday overtook me and I found myself creating ear-splitting explosions and–my recent struggles with going full-blown pescatarian be damned–eating the chargrilled flesh of dead animals.
I also think I might have been procrastinating a little. As much as I love season 6, there are a number of episodes I’m not fond of. “Life Serial” (coming up next), “All the Way,” “Older and Far Away,” “As You Were,” “Hell’s Bells,” and, of course, the much-maligned “Doublemeat Palace.” “Flooded” also ranks up there. As I write this, I’m struck by the fact that over a quarter of the season’s eps are ones I prefer to skip.
Guess that says a lot about the remaining installments. Or it could simply be that I’ve been unfair to the aforementioned list. This time around “Flooded” didn’t irk me the way it used to. It’s an important episode for a number of reasons:
- For the third time this season, we see a gun. As the M’Fashnik attacks the bank, a security guard fires his weapon. Buffy is thrown on top of him, where she picks it up. “These?” she says. “Never helpful.” She then tosses it, and it goes off again. Her dialogue is ironic when viewed with the knowledge of things to come. And the stray shot will, of course, prove to be prophetic.
- Giles returns from England and reunites with Buffy. Later, we will see the infamous exchange with Willow where he calls her a “rank, arrogant amateur” for what she’s done. He reminds her that “there are others in the world who can do what you did. You just don’t want to meet them.” Clear foreshadowing, as is her un-Willow-y outburst in response. “The magics I used are incredibly powerful. I’m incredibly powerful. And maybe it’s not a good idea for you to piss me off.” Almost immediately, she returns to her normal self, claiming she doesn’t want to argue, but the seeds have been planted. One might even say it’s foreshadow-y.
- We see the Trio for the first time: Warren, Jonathan, and Tucker’s brother. Of course, we’ve met Warren before, Season 5, episode 15, “I Was Made to Love You.” Jonathan has been a recurring character for a while. Off the top of my head: “The Wish,” “Earshot,” “The Prom,” and “Superstar.” Originally, the crew had wanted Tucker, the guy who unleashed the Hellhounds on the Prom in the season 3 episode of the same title, to round out the crew. When this didn’t happen, they cast Tom Lenk, and the rest is history. Plus, many great laugh lines arise from the Scoobies, like the audience, being unfamiliar with him.
Trio, Troika, whatever you want to call them, they are laughably inept. It’s easy to see why some fans were confused when they were positioned as the primary antagonists of Season 6.
Agreeing to “team up and take over Sunnydale” over a game of Dungeons and Dragons, having evil plans that consist of “shrink rays, trained gorillas, workable prototype jetpacks, and chicks, chicks, chicks.” Later, they will add “hypnotize Buffy” to mix making her, in Andrew’s words, “our willing sex bunny.” Most of these goals will actually be fulfilled, though sadly, not the trained gorillas. It will not be Buffy who is hypnotized, but “Dead Things” will return to this final goal. We’ll discuss deeper when that episode comes up, but here again, we have a nod to the recurring rape motif that was mentioned in episodes 1 and 2.
The attitude towards women shared by the Trio could easily be described as toxic masculinity: referring to women as “chicks,” talk of “willing sex bunn[ies],” and Jonathan’s protest about killing the Slayer. It’s not merely that it’s murder, something none of them appear to capable of (yet), and it’s not that she saved his life “a bunch of times.” (“Earshot,” “Prom,” and “Superstar” come to mind. I don’t recall if he’s seen at the Graduation ceremony at the end of Season 3 or not, but he would have been in attendance, thus at least upping the total to a minimum of 4.) It’s also the fact that “she’s hot.”
This point seems especially relevant today, when the term toxic fandom has become part of the net parlance. It’s certainly not a new concept, but recent controversies, particularly over Star Wars, comic books, and comic book movies have brought out nastiness. I don’t think it’s a stretch to label the Trio as sexist–Warren as a full-fledged misogynist–so one could imagine them some seventeen years later spilling their hateful vitriol in the testosterone-infested corners of Reddit or 4-Chan. One might even imagine them jumping on the “incel” bandwagon.
There will be much more to unpack from the Troika in later posts, so I’ll leave it there for now. Instead, I’d like to shift the focus to two other points in this episode that make it exceptionally timely.
For starters, financial insecurity. When Buffy is faced with the plumbing estimate (discounted, thanks to Xander calling in a favor from his friend Tito), Dawn remarks that it looks like a “weird phone number.” Buffy insists they’ll pay it, knowing her mother left her a nice safety net. That is, until Willow has to inform her that there is “some money stuff.”
The entire rest of the episode hinges on this need. Buffy would not have been at the bank to face the M’Fashnik Demon were she not requesting a loan. Later, when she’s attacked by the same monster, she laments the damage to the door and coffee table, exhorting Spike to throw him in the already-flooded basement. It’s her rage at her lack of funds that drives her to beat him with a copper pipe and leave him floating face-down.
As I noted in “‘You Brought the Monster’: A Discussion of Joss Whedon’s Work in TV, Film, and Comics,” while many of the early demons Buffy faces were clear metaphors for the struggles faced by young people (e.g. the hyena possession as a stand-in for adolescent misbehavior, Ted as the hated person a parent is dating, etc.), the later seasons shifted to a more literal portrayal, with the monster adjacent to the problem. The vampire who appears at the end of the “Body” further reinforcing the horror of losing a parent would be a good example. The death of the M’Fashnik in the flooded basement is also evidence of this.
The struggles of Millennials to snag successful careers, realize home-ownership, and find financial security would have resonated with fans during the show’s airing. However, today, this has become one of the major talking points surrounding American, and even global, society.
Another talking point is the out-of-control cost of healthcare. Joyce’s life insurance policy should have been enough to provide for her children, but, in Willow’s words, the hospital bills “pretty much sucked up all the money.” Though years before the debate over the Affordable Care Act (2010), and even further removed from the continuing debate over universal healthcare, a subtle jab was thrown at an unfair system that denies proper coverage to the poor and bankrupts many families who could be considered middle class or even marginally well-off.
The two ending scenes are a nice bookend. The Scoobies gather around the living room, Anya calculating Buffy’s debt, Xander calling it on fixing the coffee table, and Dawn and Tara declaring that the lamp has flatlined too. When everyone clears out, Giles attempts to offer encouragement. As her surrogate father, he’s akin to the parents of struggling Millennials who hate to watch their progeny struggling to get ahead or even stay afloat (no pun intended) financially.
After receiving a phone call from Angel, Buffy runs out to meet him, leaving Giles to “take care of this for [her].” Anthony Stewart Head is an accomplished actor, and the look on his face speaks volumes. Like any concerned parent, he’s torn between saving the day and letting a child solve life’s problems on her own. Again, there’s something brewing in Giles’s coconut, and the final scene of the next episode will build on it.
The previous scene is starkly contrasted to the financial despondency of the Summers residence. The M’Fashnik now slain, the Trio celebrate the spoils of their victory, literally tossing money around and lighting a cigar with a hundred-dollar bill. Buffy rejects Anya’s suggestion of charging money to slay vampires and save people, but the villains have no problem accepting their ill-gotten gain. The following exchange is telling:
Andrew: Is this the life or what? I mean, we got all the stuff we ever wanted, and we didn’t have to …
Warren: Earn it?
Mary Ellen Iatropolous notes that in both “Reptile Boy” (S2.E5) and “Help” (S7.E4) a group of white males attempt to sacrifice a woman to a powerful demon in order to gain riches and influence. Mayor Wilkins owes much of his success to fealty to dark powers. The Troika join these instances of invoking the forces of evil in order to get a shortcut to success. In their words, “Crime is our wormhole.” Buffy, on the other hand, is laden not only with the onus of her Slayer responsibilities but also the seemingly impossible task of keeping her household above water. (Last one, I promise.)
All in all, not a bad episode. It’s no “Hush” or “Once More with Feeling,” but that’s an impossible standard to set. Maybe the other installments I haven’t been so keen on in prior viewings will also turn out to be enjoyable.
Except “Doublemeat Palace.” I am so dreading that one.
Graham, Anissa, Stephen G. Melvin, and K. Brenna Wardell. “‘You Brought the Monster’: A Discussion of Joss Whedon’s Work in TV, Films, and Comics.” Florence-Lauderdale Public Library, June 2018, Florence, AL. Unpublished Invited Presentation.
Iatropolous, Mary Ellen. “The Savior and the System: Interrogating the White Savior Complex in Joss Whedon’s Works.” 8th Biennial Slayage Conference on the Whedonverses, June 2018, Florence, AL. Unpublished Conference Paper.
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