Season Six, Episode Four

Water over the bridge.

Flooded: The Review

Cellar Dweller

Flooded reminds one of the manuscript of an ancient play that has been saved from complete destruction by ravaging bookworms or cooks who on occasion needed a piece of parchment for a meal: it consists of a number of remarkable fragments that have been stitched together with pages from another, inferior work. One basic problem with Flooded is that it comes to a screeching halt whenever the trio of nerds (Jonathan, Andrew, and Warren) come on the screen. Another is that it lacks plot. It is the first disappointing episode of the season.

The teaser is an overly elaborate joke, a play on the finger in the dike scene in any number of movies and television shows, wherein the protagonist's Tool Time do-it-yourself attempt to stop a small leak leads to cascades of water flooding the set. In this case, the Laurel and Hardy routine is played out by Buffy and Dawn, but the purpose is overtly metaphorical: Buffy's attempts to settle one problem in her life will result in a cascade of problems that will threaten to submerge her. The mock-dramatic setup for the scene, with tense music and murky lighting, which culminates in the forcibly comical shower, also serves to emphasize that, while Buffy is eminently qualified to face any supernatural or paranormal challenge, she is ill-prepared to face the ordinary problems of life. It isn't subtle or funny.

Executor action.

Buffy's fixation on the image of swirling water in her kitchen's sink is, perhaps, slightly more subtle and interesting, as it brings to mind the moment of clarity that she had immediately before her plunge down the cosmic drain in The Gift. Like the Master, who became the stopper in the Hellmouth's bottleneck, Buffy herself corked up the dimensional rift opened by the Key. Having popped back into life, she can only vaguely recollect the brilliant flash of transcendence that preceded her death. Clearly, the circling water in the sink triggers a faint response in her memory from which she attempts to reconstruct that clarigent moment, when understanding came to her with such force and purity. Circling the drain can have two meanings for Buffy. Significantly, it is Willow who shuts off the tap, even as she did in raising Buffy.

It is also Willow who brings Buffy the news that she is facing yet more problems, most of them financial. "I know you're just getting back on your feet," says Willow. "After lying flat on my back," says Buffy in completion. (Buffy gets all the funny lines in the script.) The humor in the next scene is double-edged, ostensibly at Buffy's expense, or literally at Buffy's expense, but to some some degree reflecting on her friends. None of the problems are of Buffy's own making. By the numbers, she is the victim of circumstances. She was, as she puts it, "all dead and frugal." Perhaps, she seems to suggest, a little better management of her "estate" by Willow et alia would have avoided the problems altogether. Willow and Tara are living in the house, eating the food, consuming the electricity, etc., but they seem to be contributing nothing but basic housekeeping and babysitting in return. As Buffy says later, "Everybody I know lives here." (She means Sunnydale, of course, but the point remains. Why don't they help her?) Instead, they all expect her to pay the bills, and resume Slaying, and be Dawn's guardian. Free room and board appear to be taken for granted (certainly without comment). Bringing Buffy back to solve their own problems appears to have been their whole strategy. Only Anya has any suggestion for a solution to Buffy's financial woes: charge for her Slaying services. "That's an idea," says Buffy, "that you would have," she concludes. Although it borders on the immoral, and it certainly is impractical, it is the only suggestion that anybody offers, other than Buffy's own, to burn down the house for the insurance.

Anya's suggestion having caught the flak of ridicule, she and Xander fight again over his hesitancy to announce their engagement. (His failure to be supportive is the pretext for the fight. An allusion to Tough Love might have been in order here.) During a sunlit scene in which Suave Xander of The Replacement almost succeeds in assuaging Anya's fears and suspicions, he makes a plausible case for himself, but Anya wakes up and tells him off.

Buffy's application for a loan is barely more than a mechanism to put her into the bank so that she can interfere with its robbery. To establish that she can't qualify for a loan is a superfluity. She brings her life history in a file folder, including old report cards, but she neglects to take the primary step for qualification, getting a job. Anya and Xander, both of whom ought to know these things, must have neglected to mention this elementary requirement for securing a loan. Perhaps the summary rejection of Anya's suggestion and Xander's subsequent failure to be supportive were a plot point to explain this neglect. Buffy saves the loan officer's life, of course, and yet she still can't get a loan, proving that Anya's suggestion was worthless. A banker's life is not all that valuable after the incentives have been removed.

Rewind the Watcher.

The high point of the episode is the return of Giles. The emotional attachment between Buffy and Giles cannot be severed by death, and both Sarah Michelle Gellar and Anthony Stewart Head have the perfect degree of restraint to make the reunion a success dramatically. Because of this restraint, when Giles adopts the line that Buffy had been in Hell, the reticence that Buffy shows toward him afterwards, keeping from him her secret, that she was not in Hell but rather in Heaven, works. Her earlier frankness in declaring her vulnerability and her acceptance of his touch, with her post postmortem humor, is gone. She recoils. Buffy is crying out to be hugged, but she withdraws from his caress. Giles, being Giles, knows then that something is amiss with Willow's version of Buffy's story, and this leads to his confrontation with her in the darkened kitchen. This is an unsatisfactory scene. Willow has been secretive about her acts, to the extent that she has concealed some of them from Tara; she has shown that she has entertained doubts about her success in bringing Buffy back "right"; she has already been proven to have been hasty and careless in planning the ritual - failing to dig up the coffin is one oversight, failing to anticipate the thaumagenic demon is another - but she has now evidently forgotten all of that and is bubbling over with self-congratulations. How did that happen? When? (Presumably, the viewers are expected to have flashbacks to Tough Love and her quarrel with Tara when Willow asks Giles if he doesn't trust her. If they do, it will be to the detriment of Flooded, for the exchange in TL came after many earlier references to Willow's magical precocity.) Giles is not written any better. That he would be disapproving of Willow is not surprising, given his own experiences with Eyghon, but the viewers have been shown nothing to indicate the intensity of seething anger that he vents now. Too, the scene is cast as one between quarreling parents, but it lacks conviction as such. Willow wants the standing to make a credible maternal figure opposite Giles, her speech about bringing Buffy into the world notwithstanding. The fight sounds more like that between a father and daughter, despite that the following scene, Buffy and Spike commiserating on the porch, makes the parental context unmistakable. Buffy is the child eavesdropping over Mother Willow and Father Rupert as they argue at night. Willow's barely veiled threat is also unconvincing in light of the subsequent inaction by both Giles and Willow.

With relations between Willow and Giles already at that stage of deterioration, one wonders why nothing more serious than a frown passes between them later that morning at the first hint of magic from Willow. This is, no doubt, a fault of the serial format, which resembles a roller coaster: an abrupt peak of excitement succeeded by a long stretch of tedious track to the next peak. Serial drama attenuates resolution for the sake of filling time. As work tends to expand to fill the time allotted, so too does plot in a serial drama. Having hurried into the conflict precipitously in order to shock the viewers, the story must find ways to dissipate the tension until the scheduled climax. As with so much else in this episode, the sudden eruption of anger and resentment between Giles and Willow is used ineffectively, because the episode is about nothing other than postponement. Giles does nothing about his suspicions concerning Buffy's real fate after death, nor does he make any effort to determine the extent of Willow's descent into the black arts. Marking time is not good drama.

Momentary Spike.

The only other bright spot in the episode is the scene between Spike and Buffy on the porch. It is comforting for the viewers that Buffy has at least this connection. Her detachment from everyone, Giles now included, leaves Spike as her lone sympathizer. Marsters and Gellar play off one another perfectly.

Tedium fabulae.

The redshirt demon, M'Fashnik, is even more poorly conceived than the trio for whom he works. He evidently has made a deal by which he will create a diversion at the bank in return for which the trio will kill the Slayer. He makes a deal of noise on that point, at least, but then he simply walks away with the Slayer's home phone number and address, willing to do the job himself. Why? Passing off this inconsistency with a joke about The Force doesn't make the unmotivated behavior go away. Hand waving by a Jedi is one thing, by Petrie and Espenson, it's something else altogether - poor writing. Couldn't they have written a few lines of deception into the scene, a fake weapon or spell, that have would set M'Fashnik up for the fall? (Reportedly, Petrie could not finish the script because of his work on Angel.)

The less said about the trio, the better. That Andrew is an artifact of the creation of Buffy's new reality, like Dracula and his castle, is the only point of any interest regarding the three. Warren and Jonathan have the same reaction to him as did Buffy to Dawn on first encounter, that of delayed recognition. Andrew is one more reason that the alteration in the primary reality of the series was a poor idea, however carefully planned and executed.

After Buffy proves once again that she can, indeed, beat up demons until the cows come home, and then beat up the CoW as well, there is the perfunctory scene in which she answers the phone off stage and arranges her assignation with Angel. (This call raises a curious point. Over on Angel in the episode Carpe Noctem, Angel is called to the phone to speak to Willow, who has rung up to give him the news that Buffy is alive. When and from what location did Willow place her call? In Flooded, she is throwing the broken furniture in the trash when Angel rings Buffy.) This scene, too, is nothing but a bit of business that needs to be gotten out of the way. It throws things on Giles, despite that Buffy has shown an earlier willingness to tackle the problems facing her.

In Sum.

Flooded cannot overcome the unwarranted intrusion of the incongruous elements that represent the historical upheaval of the show. They cannot be successfully integrated with the previously existing elements. Alyson Hannigan's difficulties as an actor with her changed role bring the faults into greater relief. The story, such as it is, has very little substance, and no real structure. There are too many scattered talking points, but not one dramatic point, to the episode. Things happen in a chronological sequence, but to what end? Everything seems adrift in a formless sea of events. Flotsam and Jetsam or Adrift might have been a better title.

Horace LaBadie

Previous Review

Buffy Menu

Next Review