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Thursday, October 11, 2012

Life Serial

[Updated May 2, 2013]

Without straying into spoilers, I can say that I think Life Serial foreshadows some very important themes for S6, including what some of the characters will do later on. Note particularly in each of the first 3 vignettes what the nerd is trying to accomplish with Buffy and how he goes about it. As we get to later episodes I’ll come back to this; for now, avoiding spoilers limits what I can say about the episode. As this promise of future relevance suggests, Life Serial is an important episode. The additional fact that I think it’s hilarious makes it one of the highlights of the season for me.

As usual, the classroom lesson relates to the theme of the episode. Note that the teacher’s name is Mike and see trivia note 1. Here’s the dialogue from that scene:
“MIKE: Social Construction of Reality. Who can tell me what that is? (many students raise their hands including Willow) Rachel.
RACHEL: A concept involving a couple of opposing theories, one stressing the externality and independence of social reality from individuals. (Buffy looks confused)
MIKE: And the flip side? (many hands raised) Steve?
STEVE: That each individual participates fully in the construction of his or her own life….
WILLOW: (lowers hand, speaks to Mike) Because social phenomena don't have unproblematic objective existences. They have to be interpreted and given meanings by those who encounter them.”

Cutting through the jargon, what they’re collectively saying is that there are competing theories about the extent to which people have control over their own lives. The question is whether individuals (1) live their lives under the influence of external events over which they have no control (remember my post on Goodbye Iowa about Foucault and the extent to which society tries to mold us into conformity); or (2) can actually play a role in creating their own lives, at least in part by interpreting what others are doing, namely by deciding on their own what meaning to attribute to the actions of others and thus how they themselves will respond to those actions. See more here.
The remainder of the episode then consists of Buffy searching for alternative ways of living her life – trying them out serially, to emphasize the pun – as she faces challenges which require her to interpret and give meaning to the actions of others. Buffy’s unable to do that; she fails to understand what the Trio are doing and therefore isn’t able to discover how their actions are affecting her life. As of now, Buffy is acting as if Rachel’s definition was correct: the world exists external to her and she’s simply buffeted (heh) by those events. Or, to use Spike’s wording, “So you, uh, just what? Gonna let this whoever play you till it figures out what kills you?” And Buffy gives her own answer: “I let the demon set the rules.”
The nerds don’t do anything to Buffy in the 4th vignette, but it still follows the same principles I mentioned above. I’ll discuss this when we get to episode 10.
Trivia notes: (1) The title, as usual, has multiple meanings, but one of them seems to be a reference to the old commercials for Life Cereal. (2) Warren’s “Francis 7, this is Logan 5” is from the 1976 movie Logan’s Run. (3) The picture Buffy looks at in Tara’s art book is Bernini’s Ecstasy of St. Theresa. I’m not certain, but I suspect the message is that Buffy appears lost in ecstasy while time passes. (4) Tony’s phrase “out on the DL” uses a baseball term meaning “disabled list” and used for players unable to play because of injury. IOW, he’s got men out sick or injured. (5) Tony’s reference to Buffy as “Gidget” refers to the 1960s TV show of that name. (6) J-boxes, which Danny was supposed to put in, are junction boxes for electrical connections. (7) The petrified hamsters are apparently in the basement because Giles said in Tough Love that nobody was ever satisfied with them. (8) The Star Trek:TNG episode where the Enterprise kept blowing up was Cause and Effect. (9) The X-Files episode where the bank kept exploding was Monday. (10) Warren’s “the mummy hand has ceased to be” and Andrew’s “it is an ex-mummy hand” both play off the Monty Python routine of the Dead Parrot. (11) Presumably Spike’s motorcycle is the one he took from the demons in Bargaining 2. (12) Final Jeopardy is the last round on the TV show Jeopardy. (13) Dr. No was the first James Bond film. Sean Connery starred as Bond. (14) Warren’s “don’t make me pull over” is what parents stereotypically say to children in the car when they’re misbehaving. (15) The check Giles gave to Buffy was for $10,000. The prop was auctioned on eBay in August 2004 and sold for $990.


  1. As my roommate pointed out to me once, Buffy should open up a kickboxing studio. It could even feature self-defense classes, which I'm sure Sunnydale residents would appreciate.

    Also, Giles should really be paying Buffy a cut of his watcher's council salary. Buffy's job as the slayer is certainly more time-consuming, preventing her from pursuing other sources of income. And Giles wouldn't even HAVE that paycheck if Buffy hadn't secured it for him in Checkpoint. I always get angry and Giles acts like he's giving her charity, when really much of his income is generated by her.

    1. I have a comment about that in the comments on Flooded.

      But the martial arts studio is a good idea. It would have to be instructional only, NO CONTACT!

    2. I just read your comment (sorry I'm not keeping up so well with them), and you cover this point very well. I like the fanwank alot =)

      Also, while I am often comfortable with ignoring literal points in favor of metaphor, I do get frustrated with this. The unfairness is just so glaring, and the general idea of "you'll have enough money if you just take adult-like responsibility of your problems" is a bit problematic.

    3. I think I posted that comment in Flooded at the same time you posted yours here.

      A little mention about the fact that California offers college to in state residents would have been nice, because I remember being confused as all hell during this episode, because Buffy was considering college. I was like "You're broke, how you gonna pay for college?!?!?!"

  2. I don't know if this is a stretch, but The Life Cereal pun, the structure of the episode, and the ending, with Buffy turning inside out, all recall this dialogue from Flooded:
    GILES: Couldn't sleep?
    DAWN: Not really. You?
    GILES: (smiles, indicating his book) Evidently not. (puts the book down)
    DAWN: You ever try mixing parts of every cereal you got in one bowl?
    GILES: (yawning) Does it work?
    DAWN: (shrugs) Gonna find out. Wanna come join the experiment?
    GILES: Perhaps I'll be the control group.
    As you get older you'll find you lose patience with throwing ... up ...
    Translated into Buffy, Buffy can't rest (being all resurrected), so she tries out a whole bunch of different things at once, and ends by throwing up (rejecting all the possibilities). She's an adult, and she's certainly losing patience.

    1. It's a bit of a stretch for me. I'll put it down as "maybe".