We’re Like Super Villains

Like a living mirror

Like a living mirror

“Life is the Big Bad” was the ME’s conception of season six’s unifying villain.  While there’s some divide among fans as to whether or not this worked, for my money it was a brilliant way to explore the profound and painful issues facing the Scoobies this year.  None of us have ever returned from the grave, but most of us have had an identity crisis at some point and know how difficult they can be.  In this sense, Buffy remains thoroughly relatable.  That’s why it’s ironic that episodes like “Flooded,” which presents Buffy dealing with a far more everyday financial crisis, only serves to damage her Everyman credibility.

I promise I’ll get to the episode itself in this write up, so skip ahead if you don’t want to read a lengthy digression.  The critical flaw of the superhero genre that you absolutely have to ignore if you’re going to enjoy it is that superheroes aren’t like us.  Their lives are so far removed from the human experience that to see ourselves in them requires the most extraordinary contortion of suspension of disbelief.  Yes, their powers and villains are metaphors for the things we experience (I know that’s the point) but the actual act of becoming the night, flying faster than a speeding bullet, or catching thieves just like flies is in no way normal.

Creators need to walk a tightrope between making heroes super, and keeping them relatable. Giving them some very human problems, be they with careers, relationships, daddy issues, or whatever is a good way to do this.  But those problems need to be fundamental to what makes the character human and not just petty annoyances.  Of course, petty annoyances may well be a fundamental part of what makes us human, but they’re too far removed from the superheroes’ life for us to maintain sympathy.  No one wants to see Bruce Wayne pay his taxes.  Sure, nobody likes taxes, but he’s the Goddamn Batman and he’s just not allowed to bitch about something like that.

They’ve made this mistake with Buffy before, back in season four when the bitchy vampire gave her a hard time.  The point was that Buffy’s still human, can still find herself intimidated under certain circumstances.  But the effect is merely to get us thinking about how inhuman Buffy is.  How can someone who defeated the Mayor, Angelus, and the Master even bat an eye at such a measly little spider?  I make the same complaint here.  “Bills can be daunting, even if you’ve got superpowers.”  Except that no, they can’t be.  Once you’ve prevented the Apocalypse a few times, you really shouldn’t be sweating the flooded basement.  It just rings false.  Asking the audience to care about such trivialities only reminds us that we shouldn’t.

To bring this back to the episode, it also rings false that Buffy would even be in this situation.  Are we really meant to believe that Buffy’s friends brought her to the brink of financial ruin while she was in the grave?  Anya seems pretty good with money, shouldn’t she have seen this coming?  Giles seems to have a lot of money, wouldn’t he have ensured that Dawn was provided for?  Couldn’t Willow and Tara have helped out a bit with the mortgage, or are they just squatting?  Did they all just say “Buffy’s dead, let’s take out a bunch of credit cards in her name?”  Even if we assume that they let her financial house fall to ruin over the summer, shouldn’t they all step up now considering the fact that they think she’s just returned from hell?  Shouldn’t Buffy be focusing on getting healthy rather than applying for loans?  The point is that life’s petty annoyances continue to intrude, even when we’re dealing with profound personal trauma and even when we’ve got profoundly more important things to do.  That may be true, but that doesn’t mean there’s a story there.  Given her situation, Buffy really ought to be able to ask others to deal with such petty concerns.  If she isn’t then, given her experience, she ought to be able to just shrug them off.

Speaking of petty concerns, the best thing to come out of this episode is The Trio.  It’s appropriate that these small men make their first appearance while Buffy’s dealing with trivialities.  Their schemes are childish compared to those of real Big Bads, as are their consequences for Buffy (trashing her place).  They bring the funny, rather than the threatening, and that’s just fine.  Those looking for amusing digs at geekery really need to put The Big Bang Theory away and just watch this season.

Final Thoughts

I’m aware that Buffy needed to deal with all sorts of mundane, everyday concerns while she was in high school, but I always considered that necessary for her to maintain her secret identity and to provide her with some non-Slaying opportunities later in life.

Giles’ return is the second best thing about this episode, though I was distracted by the fact that he didn’t immediately write Buffy a cheque.  If he didn’t want to dip into his (apparently vast) personal fortune, surely the Watcher’s Council has some funding to keep Slayers from needing a day job.

I suppose that Buffy dealing with bills could fall into the “Buffy’s not Buffy” category, but her dealing with uninteresting problems really isn’t a progression the series needs to make.

“Willow’s not Willow” is the bigger standout this episode, as she tries to defend herself to Giles.  It’s a little extreme for her to be tossing around threats.

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