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Monday, October 8, 2012

Flooded

[Updated May 2, 2013]

I didn’t like Flooded when it first aired, nor for a long time after. I’ve changed my mind, and now I think it’s pretty good. Why?

The key point that I didn’t know years ago is that “Flooding” is a term from psychology:

“It works on the principles of classical conditioning—a form of Pavlov's classical conditioning—where patients change their behaviors to avoid negative stimuli. According to Pavlov, we learn through associations, so if we have a phobia it is because we associate the feared object or stimulus with something negative.

A psychotherapist using flooding to treat a phobia might expose a patient to vast amounts of the feared stimulus, hence if the patient suffered from arachnophobia, the therapist might lock them in a room full of spiders. While the patient would initially be very anxious, the mind cannot stay anxious forever. When nothing bad happens the patient begins to calm down and so from that moment on associate a feeling of calm with the previously feared object.”

What is Buffy “flooded” with in this episode? Adult responsibilities, exemplified by her financial problems for which the money-grubbing demon is a metaphor. I should emphasize that Flooded is NOT an episode about Buffy’s financial problems; those are just a synecdoche for her overall concerns about adult life generally. It’s fear of adulthood which is her problem. The fact that the plumbing failed in the basement – flooding it – tells us that her fear is subconscious. And, of course, the nerds are classic arrested adolescents – what Buffy must avoid.

Did it work? Well, at the end of the episode Buffy left Giles and Dawn to deal with the cleanup and other problems while she rushed off to Angel.

What makes the “flooded” metaphor especially good is that it also works other ways as well. Buffy’s fascination with the water flowing down the drain may suggest how she sees her life right now. In his review for the AV Club, Noel Murray identified some others:

“The episode opens with Buffy trying to fix a leaky pipe in the basement—“We meet at last, Mr. Drippy!”—and instead causing water to gush out from every available hose and spigot. It’s a funny little pre-credits blackout sketch, but also a hell of a metaphor. Fixing some immediate problem—like, say, bringing Buffy back from the dead—can cause even greater problems if you don’t understand the underlying issues. Later in “Flooded,” a returning Giles will tell Willow this same thing outright, calling her “stupid” and arrogant for attempting a spell so dark and uncontrollable. When Willow boasts about her mastery, Giles dismisses it, saying, “There are others in this world who can do what you did; you just don’t want to meet them.” To which Willow snaps, “I’m very powerful, and maybe it’s not such a good idea for you to piss me off.” What’s the “gushing water” in this scenario? The dark forces that Willow may have unleashed on the world when she brought Buffy back? Or Willow’s growing cockiness?”

Noel’s comment references the passage in the episode which garnered the most attention, namely, the fight between Willow and Giles. I want to talk about it in detail, so I’ll quote the bulk of it here:

GILES: (over his shoulder) You're a very stupid girl.
Willow pauses chewing, slowly stops smiling and frowns.
WILLOW: What? Giles...
GILES: (turns to face her) Do you have any idea what you've done? The forces you've harnessed, the lines you've crossed?
WILLOW: I thought you'd be ... impressed, or, or something.
GILES: Oh, don't worry, you've ... made a very deep impression. Of everyone here ... you were the one I trusted most to respect the forces of nature.
WILLOW: Are you saying you don't trust me?
GILES: (intensely) Think what you've done to Buffy.
WILLOW: I brought her back!
GILES: At incredible risk!
WILLOW: Risk? Of what? Making her deader?
GILES: Of killing us all. Unleashing hell on Earth, I mean, shall I go on?
WILLOW: No! (stands) Giles, I did what I had to do. I did what nobody else could do.
GILES: Oh, there are others in this world who can do what you did. You just don't want to meet them. (turns away again)
WILLOW: No, probably not, but ... well, they're the bad guys. I'm not a bad guy. (upset) I brought Buffy back into this world, a-and maybe the word you should be looking for is "congratulations."
GILES: Having Buffy back in the world makes me feel ... indescribably wonderful, but I wouldn't congratulate you if you jumped off a cliff and happened to survive.
WILLOW: That's not what I did, Giles.
GILES: (angry) You were lucky.
WILLOW: I wasn't lucky. I was amazing. And how would you know? You weren't even there.
GILES: If I had been, I'd have bloody well stopped you. The magicks you channeled are more ferocious and primal than anything you can hope to understand, (even more angry) and you are lucky to be alive, you rank, arrogant amateur!

Let’s look at this from both sides. Willow had to have been shocked by Giles’s reaction. She was very proud of what she’d accomplished. Moreover, she could reasonably have expected Giles to understand how extraordinary her accomplishment was and had no reason to think he would disapprove. While others have expressed doubts about her magic in the past (notably Oz in Fear, Itself), Giles never has since Willow volunteered to restore Angel’s soul in Becoming. During that time he often encouraged her to do spells (Something Blue; Primeval; The Replacement) or said nothing when she performed one which was obviously useful (Choices; Blood Ties; The Weight of the World). Giles strongly implied in the Bargaining 1 teaser that Sunnydale needed a Slayer, and he admits that he’s happy that Buffy is back. Willow could reasonably believe that Giles would be forgiving of her actions now that she was successful, even if he presumably wouldn’t have given her permission beforehand.

I think Willow came to see Giles as a surrogate father. Her affection for him, and his for her, was obvious in Buffy v. Dracula and when he left in Bargaining. Instead of the praise she expected, he lashed out at her. He didn’t discuss it, he didn’t insist on the details of the spell, he didn’t ask her for her reasons. He didn’t really have the factual basis for his accusations (even if he was probably right). I see Willow as feeling hurt by the violence of his reaction, so her anger was pretty natural, though threatening Giles was over the top.

But from Giles’s perspective, he’s not Willow’s “surrogate father”. He’s Buffy’s, and his duty is to her. Willow is so pleased with herself that she isn’t seeing the real problems Buffy’s having, but Giles can. Willow’s boastful pride to the contrary, the spell was far from perfect. She resurrected Buffy in her own coffin, from which she had to claw her way out. No one was there to greet her (not Willow’s fault, but still); she wandered all over town dazed and confused; and, while still suffering the trauma of resurrection, had to rescue her friends from demon hellions. Willow doesn’t know it yet, but her spell actually yanked Buffy out of heaven, a fact which Buffy is concealing in order to spare Willow’s own feelings. And those are just the consequences we know of to this point; there may be more later.

One more point about Willow. She is, as I’ve suggested repeatedly, Buffy’s metaphorical spirit. In my reading of S6, Willow’s story will parallel Buffy’s thematically precisely because Buffy’s crisis in S6 is largely a crisis of the spirit. You should pay particular attention to Willow’s storyline in S6 with this idea in mind.

Xander’s continuing refusal to tell anyone about the marriage suggests a fear of commitment which appears similar to Buffy’s reluctance to commit to adulthood (“No job? I wish.”). It also will parallel another story line which I’ll discuss beginning in episode 9, with Xander’s metaphorical role prominent in that. For now, the way Xander keeps dodging Anya might bring back memories of this dialogue from The Gift:

Anya stares at him a moment, then slaps him across the face.

XANDER: Can I take that as a "maybe"?
ANYA: You're proposing to me!
XANDER: Yes...
ANYA: You're proposing to me 'cause we're gonna die! And you think it's romantic and sexy and, and you know you're not gonna have to go through with it 'cause the world's gonna end!

Like Willow and Xander, Dawn’s metaphorical role is important to S6. There’s a hint of that in her dialogue with Tara:

DAWN: Oh come on, Tara. I am so old enough to do research. Do you really think I'm not mature enough?
TARA: I think you're very mature for your age ... but you're still only fifteen.
DAWN: Right, fifteen. As in *teen*ager. You know, if you don't let me look at the pictures, I'm gonna learn everything I know about demons on the street.
Tara sighs, hands her a book.
TARA: Knock yourself out.
DAWN: Thank you. See? (sits) No biggie. I can totally handle it.

Season 6 often gets accused of dropping the metaphors, and it does at some crucial times, but they are present and the metaphorical roles of Willow, Xander, and Dawn are critical to the season.

I found Flooded frustrating on first watch because it was so obvious that Buffy’s friends aren’t helping her adjust: “I just, I feel like I'm spending all of my time trying to be okay, so they don't worry. It's exhausting.” They don’t laugh at her jokes, they offer no solutions to her problems, they harp on her emotional withdrawal, almost everything they say is awkward or wrong, and they fight about her where she can hear them. What they’re doing is expecting her to behave as if nothing had happened to her, which is precisely the source of her concern. At the same time, they aren’t necessarily behaving very much like adults themselves. What I now realize is that Flooded fits right in with the season.

Two final points:

I’ve seen lots of debate regarding the role of the 3 nerds (above and beyond being arrested adolescents and a warning to Buffy). Viewers usually fall into one of two camps: they represent the audience, and the writers are making fun of us; they represent the writers. I go with the second interpretation. I see them as little kids telling stories to each other – just what the writers are doing when they hash out the show. There’s a lot of meta-commentary in S6 and even more in S7, and I’ll mention it from time to time.

For purposes of the seasonal arc, it’s worth taking some time to satisfy yourself on the identity of the real scary monster(s) in this episode.

Trivia notes: (1) Xander’s “we should start gathering up two of every animal” refers, of course, to Noah’s Ark. (2) Xander claims to be supportive like a flying buttress, which is a term from architecture. (3) The use of a gun (by the bank guard) is rare on the show and will be meaningful later in the season. (4) Warren’s “back things up a parsec” uses a term from astronomy. It’s a measure of distance equal to 3.26 light years (a bit over 19 trillion miles). (5) The original plan for the nerd trio was to use Brad Kane (Tucker Wells in The Prom; the voice of Jonathan singing in Superstar) as the third member. Brad was unavailable, so Tom Lenk (previously one of Harmony’s minions in Real Me) was substituted as “Tucker’s brother”, Andrew. (6) The nerds make so many Star Wars and Star Trek references that I’m not going to even try to annotate them all. I assume they’re familiar to most viewers. (7) Willow’s mention of the Blair Witch refers to the movie of that title. (8) Giles’ argument with Willow about magic reminds me of what he told her in Becoming 1: “Giles:  (very concerned) W-Willow... channeling... such potent magicks through yourself, it could open a door that you may not be able to close.” (9) Buffy calls the demon a “mook” which is a slang term for an unpleasant person. (10) Buffy’s “no…more…full…copper…re-pipe” is a reference to the movie Mommie Dearest. (11) Giles’s reference to getting knocked unconscious brings to mind Cordelia’s comment in Gingerbread: “Cordelia:  Things are way out of control, Giles. First the thing at school, and then my mom confiscates all of my black clothes and scented candles. I came over here to tell Buffy to stop this craziness and found you all unconscious... again. How many times have you been knocked out, anyway?” (12) Angel learned that Buffy was alive in the AtS episode Carpe Noctem.

10 comments:

  1. Great article Mark, just one nitpick.

    Giles isn't supportive of Willow's magic use in Something Blue actually, he's critical of it, suggesting that her energies are too unfocused for such a spell, about which he is right, her unfocused energy drove the spell to do what she unwittingly wanted done. The ensuing argument is where she blinds him.

    And I got no clue what you're going for with the reference to M'Cookies

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    1. Giles was going to do a truth spell on Spike. He asked Willow to pick up the ingredients and the implication was that she would do it: "I just forgot the doing the spell part." It was that spell I meant, not the "my will be done" spell which, as you rightly note, Giles didn't support at all.

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    2. She was supposed to do it with Giles, was how I took it, definitely implying he didn't feel comfortable with her doing it solo.

      And I think I finally got the implications of your Final Note. OOOHHHH!

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    3. I think you can see it either way. But whether Willow was going to do it on her own or with Giles, he was still encouraging her use of magic. It's especially odd because the truth spell was largely for his own convenience (he wanted Spike out of his life). They never did do the spell and didn't need it. An interesting exemplar for Willow.

      Heh on the final note.

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  2. Nothing particularly profound to say today—

    But I did want to note that the flooding does have some impact: as Willow (unhelpfully, awkwardly) points out, Buffy is moved to anger by the bank manager's denial of her loan—a break in her heretofore affectless demeanor. Of course, the moment that Willow mentions this, the affect dies, but...

    I confess that I always find this episode difficult to watch—discomfiting, dismaying (but then, those are two of the primary affects produced by the season)—for all the reasons you found it frustrating... Everything just feels off in this episode—even Giles' return provides limited comfort, given what we know of where Buffy's been, given that we know she won't tell him the truth—primarily because of Buffy's friends' behavior, but also because of the gap between their knowledge and ours, which makes everything they do feel even more wrong. We are now in a privileged position, knowledge-wise, but the privilege just makes everything harder to take...

    (None of which is a criticism of the episode, just a registration of my own affect... )

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    1. Agreed. Almost everything the SG says is awkward or wrong. Part of that, to be sure, is that they don't know where she's coming from (either literally or figuratively), but partly because they seem detached from her. It's hard to pinpoint, but it's there.

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    2. SPOILERS

      I will have to think about this more as the season progresses, but I think that this sense that everything the SG says to Buffy is off—even if by but a fraction—is symptomatic of the year... I think of what Willow will say in TR about Buffy's pre-resurrection location, that they "didn't want to know": it is as if once they know where she has been, they still don't really want to know where she now is, emotionally, as a consequence of their actions—their guilt is too great, and they are not fully able to take responsibility. There is not only never an apology—there is never even a conversation. And the absence of that face-to-face reckoning haunts the season, rendering actual intimacy, any true face-to-face seeing of each other impossible.*

      I do wander how much the absence, too, of Giles has to do with this: he is, metaphorically, Buffy's Mind, without which the Heart and Spirit cannot be integrated—and tend to run amok. Moreover, the situation amidst the SG—their inability to know, to reach each other any more—bespeaks Buffy's own inability to know herself, which is symptomatic of the major depression from which she suffers...

      I think that there are other implications for the nature of identity more generally in BtVS, but I want to think through them a little more.

      *The one exception to this would be Tara: her conversations with Buffy about Spike, with Willow about Magic are all very much on the mark—and Buffy, at least, is able to be honest with her in return. But Tara has always been outside the main SG, and I think she took responsibility, in her own mind, at least, in a way the others did not; even in TR, she does not seem to shy away from the revelation the way the others do.

      One might come up with other exceptions, but in every one I have been able to think of so far, fuller examination reveals a wrinkle.

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    3. I agree with all of this.

      SPOILERS FOR S6

      Buffy is, to some degree, responsible early on because her decision to conceal her time in heaven makes it hard for her friends to understand where she is. But even after it slips out, they make no real effort. Again, Buffy could be more communicative, but so could they all.

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  3. Another thing this season catches heat for is enscapulated in that gift from Giles, namely Buffy and employment.

    Buffy demanded that Giles be given backpay for his years after his firing, even though he didn't need it, as he has the Magic Box for income(and the comics show that he is fairly wealthy from his family***BUFFY SEASON 8 SPOILERS AT THE END OF THIS POST***) but made no demands for herself that the audience saw, and this season spends a lot of time on Buffy's money problems, epitomized here by Giles. And next season, they have been taken care of apparently, because even before she takes the job she is offered in Lessons, she has enough disposable income for a cell phone and isn't struggling anymore.

    So my fanwank is this. Buffy was always getting paid by the Watchers Council after Checkpoint, it just wasn't enough to get by because of the debt from Joyce's death. She hadn't recieved a check from the Watchers Council since The Gift, so she had no recent income to report to the loan officer. Once the money started coming in again, it still wasn't enough to get her outta debt, so hence the second job.

    Now it took me all of one parapgraph to fit that here, so there is no excuse to not put it in the story, if that's the case. But one thing I've observed(and the AV Club had an article about this topic the other day, here) since I came into adulthood, is that television shows have a very unrealistic view of poverty, as its something most tv writers don't experience much, making them somewhat incapable of writing it. Money problems only matter in how they affect the story, and afterwards, they are dropped. Which is one of the things that made the Buffy RPG so much fun, is that your characters were limited by the income they allotted themselves when building their characters(unless you wanted to spend the five character points to become the wealthy heiress to human-owned, demon-exploiting corporation with deep ties to Wolfram and Hart who was just called as a Slayer). For example, you want to perform a spell that calls for a rare item(like the Orb of Thessala or Urn of Osiris), if you were low on the income scale that rare item was out of your range, so you were left with the option of stealing it or finding another spell. Lots of ambiguity there.

    ****MAJOR SEASON 8 SPOILERS***
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    After Giles is murdered by Twilight, he leaves his entire fortune to Faith, who had been working with him for about a year, helping recuperate Slayers who were going dark. That made me livid, let me tell you, even though it's spun in the book that it was because Giles had more faith in Buffy than Faith, and didn't need to ensure she was set for life to follow her calling. I still haven't forgiven a dead man for that.

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    1. I like your fanwank. The issue of money would bother me more, but I tend to see it, as I said, as merely an example of adult responsibilities generally. Still, they do harp on money early in S6 and some explanation would have been good.

      Agreed on your spoiler point.

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