“That’s a Flawed Design”: Buffy Re-Watch, “Life Serial,” S6.E5

I’ve cited Elizabeth Rambo’s essay previously, though perhaps I haven’t made explicit that ever since I read it, it has colored the way I experience the entire season. Playing off the line from Tara in “Entropy,” (“Things fall apart, they fall so hard … You can’t ever put them back the way they were”), Rambo reads the season and the character arcs as Yeatsian Gyres.

It’s a complex concept that even baffles English majors, and I recommend reading Rambo’s explanation for the fullest treatment. However, I’ll briefly attempt to summarize. Perhaps the most famous poem by the Nobel-Prize Winner is “The Second Coming,” which I teach as more or less a commentary on the state of Europe post-Great War. Lines like “The best lack all conviction, while the worst/Are full of passionate intensity” seem to eerily presage the rise of Hitler and the policy of appeasement. Like many contemporaries, Yeats appears to predict the ushering in of a new era, one where “mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,” and the reign of (perceived) Western dominance comes apart. (See T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land for a similar take. “London Bridge is falling down, falling down …”)

But it goes deeper than that. Yeats was delving deeply into mysticism, specifically The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn and the teachings of Madame Blavatsky. He crafted his own mystic ideas about how the world works, which he elucidates in his impenetrable book A Vision. His view of history consists of two spiraling gyres, which move in opposing directions spiraling from tightly controlled to broad, chaotic circles. Thus, the image of the falcon who can no longer hear the falconer. The bird has flown so far wide that he’s unable to locate his center, where he can safely land.

Yeah, like I said, read Rambo because I suck at explaining this. (Ask my students.) Here’s a graphic representation from Craig White at University of Houston Clear Lake.


Rambo contends that upon Buffy’s return to the living, she is at the widest part of her spiral, and she will spend the rest of the season on a slow, repetitive journey until she’s back grounded in the world and under control. Others, however, are headed in the opposite direction: Xander’s come apart culminating in “Hell’s Bells,” Willow’s, of course, in the final episodes. Giles and Dawn also have mini-spirals. The only one who appears grounded the entire season is Tara, always the voice of reason, or, to paraphrase from Willow in “Pangs,” her head is level head and the others have noggins that things would roll off of. Rambo goes as far as to suggest that Tara could be the falconer (158).

All that just to say that if we take this reading, “Life Serial” is the point where Buffy “widening gyre” starts to slowly narrow. Again, it won’t be a quick, easy journey, and–in true cyclical fashion–she’s going to repeat some mistakes along the way. Still, after the shock of being torn from Heaven then, last episode, getting thrown for a financial loop, she’s finally starting to at least attempt to get back into the world.

This begins by her realizing she will need to become a provider for herself and Dawn. Thus, she makes three attempts to re-enter the world of adulthood, each of which is thwarted by the Troika’s scheming.

Buffy attempts first to return to college, auditing her classes because she missed the deadline “busy being dead and all.” The first class is nearly impossible for her to keep up, which is fair. I recall covering Berger and Luckmann in a philosophy class and an undergrad, and it wasn’t the easiest to follow.

(Side note: just like in high school, when the viewer is privy to a lesson, the material being taught adds something thematically to the show. I don’t think there’s been any scholarship on this, and I’m not even going to try, having no desire to revisit Berger and Luckmann. Still, it’s out there if anyone wants to snag it.)

The inhibitor, as Warren calls it, causes Buffy to, for lack of a better term, freeze in time. At first, it’s only for short periods, then the duration of an entire class, then going full tilt as people rush past at blistering speeds. Time, of course, is static but our perception of it is malleable. My college years were a bit of a blur. Not to mention, when overwhelmed there’s never enough time to study and complete assignments.

Buffy decides she should go another route.

And construction is a good pursuit. She has an in with Xander, and her super-strength gives her an advantage, too good of one, as she’s reminded that they’re paid by the hour. But the workplace is again full of toxic masculinity … and Andrew’s summoned demons.

Perhaps Vince doesn’t want to admit he’s been saved by a girl. He’s certainly loath to concede that he was “huddled in a corner, crying like a baby.” Instead, he goes along with the notion that she lost it (more misogyny with the “time of the month” crack).

00lifeserialmummy hand
“This mummy hand has ceased to be.”

So maybe retail? The sequence with the time loop is riotous, building off the audience’s knowledge of what is coming each subsequent time. It’s also fitting. It won’t be the last time the season weighs in on the mind-numbing drudgery that is working with the public, but, having done nearly two decades of retail work myself, I can attest to the feeling that every day, nearly every interaction with customers, is the same.

So, three attempts to tighten the gyre, three times having it “fall apart.” Thus, Buffy lets the spiral widen by drinking with Spike.


We’ve all been there too. Life just gets too much to take, so you numb the brain with a little poison and kitten poker. We’ve also had that whole, “my life sucks and I’m a failure” breakdown.

“Saw the cheating, did you?”

There’s more to unpack, but I’ll wrap with two final observations. First, aside from Jonathan getting the wind knocked out him, the Trio again escape unscathed. They are quite proud of this fact, but, again, it’s only dumb luck. The Slayer managed to overcome each of their schemes, and, even inebriated, spot their van. (The horn blaring the Star Wars theme didn’t help.)

No way they would have gotten away had she not been drunk, her roundhouse with equilibrium off-kilter doing more to level her than Jonathan in his demon glamour. I noted in the last essay that the Trio revel in getting rewarded while not having to work for it. While also true at the time of its airing, this is even more salient today, especially in light of the debate over income inequality. White males have an inherent advantage due to institutional and structural racism/sexism, etc. in our society. Though the Trio don’t explicitly exploit this, just as being born into the middle/upper-class or a certain gender or race is a stroke of luck, so are their victories thus far.

Finally, we get the bailout. Giles is understanding when Buffy returns soused and turns herself “completely inside out.” She’s had a rough few days after a succession of even rougher days. (I’m guessing clawing your way out of your own grave is worse than trial by mummy hand.) Indeed, here he is playing the role of the falconer, trying to center Buffy.

He may, however, be impeding her progress, at least in his mind. (He’ll be crooning these thoughts soon enough.)

I also talked last essay about parents of Millennials being torn between helping out their children and letting them try to succeed on their own. Here, Giles breaks down and saves the day by way of a check. Buffy’s declaration, “This–it really makes me feel safe … knowing you’re always gonna’ be there,” is, of course, setting up a major upcoming plot point, and, for the second straight episode, Anthony Stewart Head nails the sentiment as his smile gradually fades when Buffy disappears.

All in all, not as bad an episode as I remembered. Lots of laugh-out-loud punchlines and some clever laying of groundwork for what is to come.

Also, for the record, the first Bond film I ever saw was The Living Daylights, so I am sympathetic to Timothy Dalton. Just don’t get me started on Moonraker. That’s probably the only time Warren and I are going to agree.


Works Cited

Eliot, T. S. The Waste Land.

Rambo, Elizabeth. “Yeats’s Entropic Gyre and Season Six.”

Yeats, William Butler. “The Second Coming.”

—. A Vision: The Collected Works of W.B. Yeats Volume XIII. Edited by Catherine E. Paul and Margaret Mills Harper. Scribner, 2013.

Legal Disclaimer

All images © 21st Century Fox/Mutant Enemy unless otherwise noted. No claim of originality is made by the author of this essay.  Images are displayed for educational and critical purposes and not for profit, therefore fall under the terms of Fair Use (17 U.S.C. § 107).

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