In the overall canon of the B:TVS universe, “Living Conditions” is a blip on the importance scale. While we get our first glimpses of Parker and Veruca, it’s one of the Monster-of-the-Week episodes that exists solely to be entertaining and has no long-lasting impact on pretty much anything. But for a one-off, “Living Conditions” has aged remarkably well. It’s still as funny as I remember it being.
Last week, season 4 dealt with the off-kilter feeling of being thrust into the larger world of adulthood after high school ends. This week is another ritualized growing-pain, the abject horror of having to share your living space with a stranger. The close quarters, Cher soundtrack, clothing stealing, and passive-aggressive volleys before open warfare are the stuff of familiar, familiar nightmare. Everyone’s got a story. Even me, and I went to college where all the dorm rooms were singles. (It was a major selling point as far as I’m concerned.) I had hall mates who dealt drugs out of their rooms, moved in old boyfriends/girlfriends, let their pets shit all over the common area, drank my flu-tainted orange juice, punched holes in the common hallway, only bathed once a month and left their unwashed clothes in the bathroom, set off the dorm fire alarms by smoking so much pot, and threatened to claw out my eyes, but I never had a single one of them attempt to steal my soul while I was sleeping. Well, at least to the best of my knowledge. Maybe I should get that checked out.
For whatever bizarre reasoning the writer’s concocted, Buffy and Willow are not rooming together at UC Sunnydale, despite the fact that one is a practicing witch and the other is a superhero with a secret identity. It seems like maybe Giles would have suggested they request each other as roommates. Instead, Willow has an un-seen raver for a roommate, and Buffy gets Kathy, a junior mom-type who irons her jeans, labels her hardboiled eggs, and insists on a call log. (True story: one of my hall mates also ironed her jeans, because her family maid did it for her before she went to school and she didn’t know anyone who went around with un-ironed jeans.) Kathy has a perky demeanor and enjoys Cher on repeat, and not even the good stuff, just the techno ’90s remixes.
Their living conditions (get it, get it?) are an escalating series of push and pulls, and that’s before Buffy starts having nightmares about demons sucking strange light out of her body and spilling blood on her Egyptian cotton matching pajamas. Kathy gives as good as she gets, honing in on Buffy’s friends, her lunch tables, and her locked closet, all while smiling brightly – entirely too chipper for a regular ’90s era college student. In retrospect, this should have been everyone’s first clue that there’s something wrong with her.
Now, when you and I have terrible roommates, we gossip about them behind their backs to our friends, obviously, and we say things that might be hyperbolic, like wanting to murder them in their sleep. You and I are not the Slayer, someone who is actually capable of committing grievous bodily harm. So when Buffy starts wishing violence upon Kathy, her friends become concerned for her sanity. However, given that we are in season 4, and every single time her friends have poo-pooed Buffy’s instincts about someone’s evilness they’ve been wrong, you’d think that they’d take her instincts a bit more seriously.
This is a TV show. They do not.
Instead, they do exactly what they did in high school and send Buffy to Giles for a stern talking to. This one is delivered with a net dropped overhead and while Buffy is tied to a chair, but it’s still a talking to. Giles, of course, eventually looks through his nerd books and realizes he was wrong in doubting Buffy (just like last week!). In the meantime, she’s knocked Xander and Oz unconscious, and gone on the hunt.
Of course Kathy is a real demon. A real 3,000-year-old demon who has escaped to our world to attend a state school and needs to rip Buffy’s soul from her in order to disguise herself from her dad’s private detective team of glowing eyed, orange skinned demons. Buffy rips her face off (literally), gets a little banged around, and is saved when Demon Dad shows up to take his spoiled little demon princess back to their alternate dimension.
And so, Willow moves in with Buffy, as it always should have been, though she might want to watch her back if she’s gonna keep stealing Buffy’s sandwiches.