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Monday, April 30, 2012

Living Conditions

[Updated April 30, 2013]

There’s an obvious life lesson in Living Conditions: don’t have the bad judgment to be the college roommate of someone who grows up to be a Hollywood writer.

We saw in The Freshman that one risk college presents on the road to becoming an authentic adult is a failure of self-confidence. Living Conditions shows us another source of risk, namely immaturity. Kathy may seem sympathetic in her struggle against her father, but she’s a metaphor for immaturity despite being 3000 years old. Age isn’t the same as maturity; Kathy’s behavior was that of a child.
Kathy actually shares something in common with Eddie. He was insecure in his own identity, which is why he kept his copy of Of Human Bondage with him at all times. Similarly, Kathy can’t stay at college with her own identity so she tries to steal Buffy’s: “Willow: Ok, so that was the evil twin, right?  'Cause she was bordering on Cordelia-esque. Giles: I concur she's not, uh, herself….” “Willow: And Buffy's completely being not herself.”
Since issues of identity appeared in both of the first two episodes, the question of one’s identity, including identity theft, is therefore an important theme of the season.
I talked about Giles last episode so now I need to consider how Willow and Xander fit into Buffy’s life after high school. Willow and Xander are becoming adults too, and they’ll naturally start to develop more independence of thought as they do. This means they won’t always agree with Buffy, which we see here in their questioning of her judgment about Kathy. Just as Giles’s new role will create tension, so will the paths of Xander and Willow. They all need their own path, but Buffy needs them as well – they are, remember, her metaphorical mind, heart, and spirit, and her goal is to create an integrated self. That’s part of the challenge for S4.
Trivia notes: (1) Contrary to Xander, “Big Sky Country” is Montana, not Nebraska. Since Kathy didn’t seem to know that, this was probably a clue to the audience. (2) Oz’s concern about Buffy “hitting the red zone” comes from the warning on the dashboard of cars that the engine is overheated or being revved too hard. (3) Presumably Buffy sees Kathy as “the Titanic” because Celine Dion, whose poster Kathy put up in The Freshman, sang the music for the movie. Note that at the end, Kathy is sucked into a vortex much like the Titanic sank. (3) When Xander described Buffy as “doing a Linda Blair on us”, he was referring to the actress’s role in the movie The Exorcist.


  1. I find it interesting how Buffy hates the Cher song that Kathy keeps playing on and on and on. I'm Buffy's age, and I remember how that hit was both huge and annoying, and how you tend to start hating the things someone metaphorically bludgeons you with, but I think there's something more to it than simply being annoyed to death by both the song and the person who plays it. You mentioned that Kathy is immaturity personified, and Buffy's struggling with growing up. The lyrics to the song are also quite revealing - Cher is singing how there must be something inside her that tells her she's not strong enough to live after love. Part of Buffy's growing pains this season is to go back on track after the whole Angel fiasco, and I find it a really nice touch that she refuses to listen to the song that basically tells her that she's not strong enough to do it.

    1. That's an excellent point. I think an argument could be made that the lyrics set up the events of the next episode and maybe the post-Hush episodes. Thanks for bringing this up.