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Monday, November 5, 2012

Doublemeat Palace

[Updated May 2, 2013]

I’m reliably informed that people who’ve worked in the fast food industry find Doublemeat Palace funny. Most viewers didn’t like it and it regularly gets rated among the worst in the series. The episode doesn’t do much for me either, but I do think there’s a point to it.


A number of viewers interpreted Buffy’s job as a return to the “Buffy has no money” theme we saw in Flooded. That’s certainly present in the text, but I think it makes more sense to see Buffy’s dead-end, soul deadening job at the DP as a metaphor for how she sees her Slayer job at this point in her life. Consider the dialogue as if the references were to what it means to be a Slayer rather than a worker at the Doublemeat Palace: “We have a lot of turnover here.”; “MANNY: In it for life. Like me. You wanna get something out of this, Buffy? You'll do the same. You put the work in, and ten years from now, you'll be where I am.”; “WIG LADY: Oh, you really might make it, dear. Not like some of them, where suddenly you never see them again. I can see you here a long time.”
Following the same thought, it’s also possible to interpret Buffy’s conversation with Spike – seemingly referring to her job – as an attempt by him to convince her that she should stop being the Slayer (at least in a moral sense) and join him in the dark:
SPIKE: You're not happy here.
BUFFY: (quietly) Please don't make this harder.
SPIKE: You don't belong here….
SPIKE: This place'll kill you!
 

At the end of the episode, when Buffy says she would “like to not be fired”, we can take that as referring to being the Slayer, rather than her DP job (from which, after all, she has already been fired). She’s at least willing to accept that she is the Slayer, but she’s still just going through the motions. Progress of a sort, as “not wanting to die” represented progress in Gone.
Should we interpret this as progress in the sense of solving Buffy’s seasonal dilemma? Not if you adopt my view of it. In my view, her problem is not her failure to accept responsibility – that’s merely a symptom. She doesn’t want to take responsibility because she’s depressed. Going through the motions on her job may be a step above not doing her job at all, but it doesn’t make her less depressed. If ending her depression is the goal, then focusing on her “job” is a diversion.
I’ve said enough to this point about the addiction metaphor, so I’ll just add that Willow’s continued focus on “addiction” should also be seen as a diversion from her real problems. The text makes that problematic, but it’s the only way I can see to make it work.
Sex with Spike continues to be Buffy’s escape. But what was once daring, thrilling, hot enough to bring down the house, is now lifeless and tawdry in the back alley.
Buffy’s relationship with Spike is, in my view, reflected in her metaphorical heart’s doubts about the marriage and how he feels about Anya:
ANYA: When I was a vengeance demon, I caused pain and mayhem, certainly. But I put in a full day's work doing it, and I got compensated appropriately.
XANDER: Welcome to today's episode of 'Go Money Go!' I hear it daily.
WILLOW: Yep, for the rest of your life.

Xander looks dismayed, continues to contemplate that as Anya continues talking.
Xander shouldn’t be seeing things just from his own POV, though. I thought Halfrek made excellent points about Xander’s treatment of Anya, even if she was obnoxious about it. I never thought he treated Anya very well. That’s one reason why his speech in Into The Woods rang false to me – he hadn’t ever acted like someone who truly loved her, as I documented in my post then. His behavior hasn’t really improved since then, even bearing in mind that Anya is difficult and that, as he told her in Graduation Day 1, “That humanity thing's still a work in progress, isn't it?”. Anya’s faults don’t excuse Xander’s, any more than Spike’s excuse Buffy’s. Some examples of Xander’s lesser moments, not including the stall on announcing their engagement and one other point which I’m leaving out to avoid an important spoiler:
ANYA: Are we gonna see the body?
WILLOW: (shocked) What?
Xander looks annoyed, turns away. (The Body) 

XANDER: Ahn, how's about we try being a bit less prejudiced, and a bit more inclusive? Not us, (indicates himself and Willow, then points to Anya) just you. (Tough Love)

ANYA: Piano!
XANDER: Because that's what we used to kill that big demon that one time!
Buffy turns to look at them with a confused frown.
XANDER: No wait, that-that was a rocket launcher. (turns to Anya) Ahn, what are you talking about? (Spiral) 

XANDER: Anya, Giles is gonna leave the store to you when he goes. What more do you want?
GILES: I'm not *leaving* the store to anyone. I'm going to England. I'm not dead, I'm still a partner. (yanks the statue away from Anya)
ANYA: (sullen) Silent oversees partner.
XANDER: Who you should be very nice to, unless you want to end up working at Video Hut. (Bargaining)
ANYA: Well, um, it's just ... we're minus a Buffybot. And, uh, Spike is missing in action somewhere with Dawn, and Giles flew away, and, uh, well you, you're looking a little magicked-out.
XANDER: Ahn honey, we're nearing your point, right? (Bargaining)
ANYA: Slaying vampires! (Xander looks embarrassed) Well, you're providing a valuable service to the whole community. I say cash in.
Awkward pause. Xander still looks uncomfortable. Anya doesn't pick up on it….
DAWN: Xander?
Anya looks at Xander. He continues looking uncomfortable.
XANDER: (reluctantly) Action is his reward.
Dawn gives Anya a "told you so" look. Anya looks annoyed, stands up.
ANYA: (angrily) Why don't you ever take my side? (Flooded) 

GILES: Anya is a wonderful former vengeance demon, I'm sure you'll spend ... many years of ... non-hell-dimensional bliss.
Xander smiles, looks a bit nervous.
GILES: Is she moving in with you?
XANDER: Um...
GILES: You know, with your combined incomes, you might think about a down payment on a house.
XANDER: Like the kind you *live* in?
GILES: No rush. I'm sure you have plenty to think about with the arrangements for the wedding and so on. You've got the rest of your lives to plan the rest of your lives.
XANDER: (laughs, nervously) Yeah, yeah.
They sit there. Xander looks increasingly nervous. (All The Way)
ANYA: What? I'm just saying what everyone's thinking, (to Xander) right baby?
XANDER: You are attractive and have many good qualities. (Tabula Rasa)

In comments, Aeryl said I was too hard on Xander: “As far as Xander and Anya go, man I hope you are never outside MY relationship looking in. While I agree that Xander is frightened to take their relationship to the next level(and Anya is too eager, more on this when it's appropriate), I don't necessarily see his tactless attitude as a symptom of the problems in their relationship, more as a response to Anya's own tactless attitude(he was much the same way with Cordy, and I don't think any of us doubt the sincere affection he had for her)…. I think he's tactlessly honest, because he cares, not because he doesn't.”
I think Xander loves Buffy, and always has, despite his tendency to put her on a pedestal and then condemn her when she fails to live up to his image. His feelings for Anya, however you see them, certainly aren’t as strong as hers are for him. Just like Buffy and Spike.
Trivia notes: (1) Xander thought Jonathan had “learned his lesson” about being a supervillain, but it’s not clear what he has in mind. The reference is probably to Superstar, but Jonathan wasn’t a villain in that episode. (2) The “Vulcan Woman” on Star Trek: Enterprise, mentioned by Willow, is T’Pol. (3) Buffy said she felt like a “tool”, which is American slang for a loser. (4) The movie Sleepless in Seattle, mentioned by Buffy, starred Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan. (5) Manny’s expression “curiosity killed the cat” is an American idiom meaning that asking too many questions gets you in trouble. (6) Buffy told Dawn that she had waitressed “that summer in LA”, referring to Anne. It’s interesting to speculate whether Dawn actually had memories of that. (7) Buffy’s “variety is the spice of bad” plays off the expression “variety is the spice of life”. (8) If Halfrek looks familiar to you, she should. She’s the same actress (Kali Rocha) who played Cecily in Fool For Love. (9) When Buffy ran through the DP shouting about that the meat was people, the scene was an homage to the movie Soylent Green. There was a similar scene in Earshot. (10) Xander and Dawn were playing the card game “Go Fish”. (11) One of the weird things about living in LA is that you can recognize the scenes where TV shows and movies are filmed. DP was filmed at what was then a small hot dog place (now it’s a Coffee Bean) at the corner of Palms and Sepulveda. (12) After this episode aired, Jane Espenson gave some tongue-in-cheek interviews in which she was very disingenuous about the demon. She said it had never occurred to them that the penis-shaped demon which paralyzed its victims by spraying them with poison, but missed when it aimed at a lesbian, who screamed and ran away from it, after which it was killed when the lesbian chopped it off, could be seen as in any way sexual.

8 comments:

  1. I don't know if Jonathan was a villain in the typical sense, but he was responsible for the evil that episode, so what would you call him then?

    As far as Xander and Anya go, man I hope you are never outside MY relationship looking in. While I agree that Xander is frightened to take their relationship to the next level(and Anya is too eager, more on this when it's appropriate), I don't necessarily see his tactless attitude as a symptom of the problems in their relationship, more as a response to Anya's own tactless attitude(he was much the same way with Cordy, and I don't think any of us doubt the sincere affection he had for her).

    I think he's tactlessly honest, because he cares, not because he doesn't. But maybe that's just because I'm in quite the dysfunctional relationship myself, and can easily see using deragatory language as an endearment, not epithet.

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    1. As I saw it, Jonathan was wrong in Superstar, but he didn't try to make himself a "supervillain". He tried to make himself a hero, and he actually did some good things.

      Ok, yes, I am hard on Xander. Nothing makes me more judgmental than watching him be judgmental. I just judge myself by my motives and him by his actions. :)

      I doubt I'd react that way in real life. For some reason I feel very free to criticize fictional characters much more than I do real ones. Hey, aren't all relationships dysfunctional in some way?

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    2. Xander is so easy to judge;D

      I think it's because ALL of us were Xander at one time or another.

      Bringing up Jonathan as a ?villain? also opens up the possibility for others. LIke Xander, in BB&B, OMWF, he's the party responsible for everything.

      Willow in Doppelgangland, Something Blue, After Life.

      Should we hold Jonathan as more culpable? Or less? And even though he didn't view himself as a villain, doesn't mean he wasn't bad, the characters obviously held him as one, even if the audience didn't, but then we weren't the ones whose minds were messed with against our wishes(we do wish to get our minds messed with, it's why we watch the show).

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    3. What characters we like and dislike is completely subjective, of course. manwitch at AtPO always referred to Xander as "bastard Xander". Malandanza, whom I quoted about Spike earlier, just blistered Willow on every possible occasion and then some. If you'd asked me in S1, I'd have said Xander was my second favorite character (after Buffy). By the end of S2 I'd switched to Willow (and Spike) and that never changed.

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  2. Two thoughts—

    I don't think Xander loves Anya, although he wants to; like you, Mark, I think he is still in love with Buffy... With Anya, it was at first flattering that a woman would pursue him—and then there was the great sex... And then, in The Replacement, he had a vision of what he could be—a responsible, settled, adult person, someone so different from his vision of himself (and from his parents)—and fell in love with that. That Xander would be in love with Anya and would marry her, so he convinced himself that he was and proposed. And then for him, as for everyone else in S6, life became real...

    That said, I see a subtle difference between his comments about/to Anya in S6 and the previous seasons: in S4 & S5, the tone is more, "She still may be a demon, and she is odd, but that is kind of sexy... And yes, it is embarrassing at times, but maybe I can change that..."—

    In other words, he is exasperated by her at times, embarrassed by her—but he also really likes her, and his tone is affectionate and teasing, if slightly condescending.

    In S6, it is more like, "I love her (yes, yes, I really love her, I must remember that I love her), but will she ever change? Is she always going to be like this? Am I marrying a demon?"

    That is, the tone has more of an edge: it is more openly condescending, less teasing, almost hostile at times, with an underlying weariness and dread, born of the sense that this is going to be his life.

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    1. Agreed. I do recognize that I'm very hard on Xander, but your comment describes the way I saw it.

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  3. I don't think you are that hard on Xander—

    But then, I don't think that I am, either, so...

    I confess that he has never been one of my favorite characters, but he has grown on me over the years, to the point that I have become quite fond of him (even if I think I'll never quite forgive him for Becoming II... ).

    That said, I don't think Xander is acting in bad faith—unless you count a lack of self-knowledge as bad faith—

    But then, a lack of self-knowledge is one of the central problems of S6: Willow's jump to abstinence is a way to avoid knowing herself, while Buffy's depression traps her into a false sense of self-knowledge, a kind of false-self-knowledge loop that engenders endless self-loathing...

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    1. Well, I should confess that Malandanza once started a thread at AtPO called "Why Sophist Shouldn't Hate Xander".

      In my defense, I don't hate Xander. And at the end of the discussion, Mal said he'd changed his mind and agreed with me.

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