[Review by Mike Marinaro]
[Writer: Jane Espenson | Director: Nick Marck | Aired: 01/29/2002]
Paralysis: a state of helpless stoppage, inactivity, or inability to act.
I started this review with a definition for a specific purpose, which is that “Doublemeat Palace” (DMP) has a very well executed point and theme at its core that excellently connects the viewer emotionally with its characters. This makes it a very important episode in the S6 lineup. While still definitely flawed, I’m going to get into the ‘why’ and ‘how’ of all this craziness. In short, I find DMP to be a very unique and frequently funny, gross, and disturbing episode that has utmost importance being in S6 for its theme and purposefully negative emotional connection. This may all sound pretty wacky, much like DMP itself, so let me begin doing some earnest ‘splainin.
Large portions of this episode are quirky and oddly paced, framed, and acted. Sometimes the episode even feels like it’s completely devoid of much of anything. Quiet staring, long scenes, a weird atmosphere, and a whole lot of gross characterize much of this episode. Normally, this would be a bad thing. But I feel this is an episode designed to be flawed. I’d argue this was even Espenson’s goal here. The point is that it accurately makes you feel what the characters are going through this season: the boredom, despair, disorganization, and assorted chaos. None of these are particularly positive emotions, which is why many people interpret what they’re feeling as hate towards the episode itself. Personally, I think everyone’s missing the point.
A flawed episode to service deliciously flawed characters? It might just be so. In my humble opinion, entertainment isn’t just about laughing and having a grand old time. It can also be about learning, growing, and — most of all — feeling through characters we’ve come to love. Even negative emotions — if done right — can be enthralling to experience through a conduit such as the characters on Buffy. “Doublemeat Palace” is an episode that, yes, punches me in the gut with the emotional reality of these characters. They’re really having a hard time, and unlike so many other shows which aren’t willing to go all the way, Buffy continues to buy my emotions and make me continue to care, even when it’s flawed (intentionally or not), because so much of what we see here is just so emotionally real. Although an episode like “Go Fish” [2×20] may be a whole lot funnier than this, I’ll take structurally daring and emotionally risky over modestly funny any day.
“Doublemeat Palace” certainly has some major problems (which I’ll get into later), but its guts certainly isn’t one of them. It takes a huge risk in asking its viewers to share in the characters’ pain, suffering, and boredom. I personally love seeing risks like this: seeing a show spill itself all over the floor and demand so much from its characters and its audience. Although DMP doesn’t completely succeed when you put it all together, I can’t speak highly enough of the show’s willingness to have deeply flawed characters and even, at times, be flawed itself to make a point about the characters. All that I’ve just described is something I constantly feel Buffy fans often miss out on, especially when it comes to this season. So with all that said, it’s time to address character threads.
Thankfully, last episode, Buffy came to the important realization that she didn’t still want to die. Although that’s very important progress, she’s hardly all better. From zoning out on the meat slicer (a throwback to the fountain stare in “Flooded” [6×04] ) to Spike’s precise “You’re not happy here” speech to the fact that even sex with Spike is becoming a routine distraction from her problems — she looks bored. All of this is why she’s at the point where she’s willing to go even further into the black in the next episode. When Spike says, “You don’t belong here. You’re something… you’re better than this,” he’s completely right, but he’s completely failing to see the point and is completely oblivious to the reasons why she doesn’t just be with him and enjoy it. It’s called guilt over the effect her absence and occasional negligence is having on Dawn, which stems from not only the promise she made her mom in the hospital last year, but also from her own core morality.
This is why I feel Spike’s comment reflects right back on him. Buffy’s better than Spike. At her core she’s a moral, responsible, and utterly amazing woman, one that Spike cannot fully see, understand, or comprehend. While he certainly loves her greatly, he’s only unknowingly continuing to bring her down while she’s in this broken state. To Spike’s credit, he’s not inflicting this pain on Buffy intentionally, but he simply doesn’t have the moral capacity to realize what effect he’s having on her. Unfortunately, it takes a near-rape for this reality to open up nakedly in front of him and, to his credit, he does something about it.
Let me now go back to the definition I opened this review with: paralysis. This word has meaning permeating not only this episode, but this entire part of the season. In the literal, immediate sense, we have the paralyzing penis monster! Yes, it’s extremely out there, but I have to say that it really works for me. Wig Lady says “[the] paralysis means I can eat you slowly.” This is a very adult metaphor — and yes metaphors are still an integral part of the series — for how Buffy’s sexual relationship with Spike is slowly killing her, which is a realization she eventually verbalizes in “As You Were” [6×15] , but has a continued effect all the way through “Seeing Red” [6×19] . Her root problem is that she’s inable to break away from it — Buffy is too torn up inside to do much of anything, and the news she got back in “Smashed” [6×09] that she might have come back “wrong” is fueling all of this forward.
All in all, Buffy’s a complete mess right now, with the only consolation being that’s she’s not suicidal anymore. Many people complain that S6 drags Buffy and Spike’s ordeal out too long, but I couldn’t disagree more. Every episode since “Smashed” [6×09] has been relevant towards this relationship and has propelled it forward. Now that all the foundation has been set, though, it’s time for an episode that has the characters really start to see inside themselves and start piecing together what it all means and what’s next. How lucky for us, then, that “Dead Things” [6×13] does just that!
Although I’ve been mostly positive and enthralled by the style and issues tackled by DMP, it’s unfortunately far from a great episode. My major problems mostly consist of Buffy’s freak-out over the alleged human burgers, which is way over the top, the mid-episode Buffy/Willow/Xander scene where they discuss the “Gary burger,” which just drags on and on and is not funny at all, Willow’s constant “it’s not magic!” outbursts, which are pretty irritating, and Amy’s characterization from this point on. I hate her dialogue to Willow about “how it made you feel.” Corny and trite. What is Amy’s issue anyway? At the end of the episode, it seems like it’s that Willow took so long to de-rat her, but this idea is never developed after this.
Because I’d like to end on a positive, I’ll say that one little moment I really appreciated was seeing Dawn making a big realization about Buffy’s future. She says, “(sighs) Buffy’s never gonna be a lawyer, or a doctor [or a software developer ;)]. Anything big.” Xander truthfully replies, “She’s a Slayer. She saves the whole world. That’s way bigger.” Dawn then says, “But that means she’s gonna have like crap jobs her entire life, right? Minimum wage stuff. I mean, I could still grow up to be anything. But for her… this is it.” This is a really insightful bit of character growth for Dawn, which I think makes her respect Buffy even more than she already did. Wow, we needed more of this kind of development from Dawn throughout the entire season. Great stuff.
Anyway, to wrap up, all I ask is that you consider what I’ve said here, and try to watch “Doublemeat Palace” with a different perspective next time. It’s definitely got problems, but when you dig below the surface, it’s a surprisingly daring and emotionally naked episode. It also doesn’t have the egregious character slip-ups we saw in “Wrecked” [6×10] and the severe execution issues of “Gone” [6×11] , which is why it scores better than both of those. I’m fully aware that this isn’t a popular opinion, but I take great pleasure in seeing something like this rather than the simplicity of much of the very early days of the series.
Minor Pros/Cons (+/-)
+ Love the continuity from “Gone” [6×11] . To Buffy’s credit, she went out and got herself a job to support Dawn and get Social Services off her back.
+ Xander saying that Jonathan should have learned his lesson (see “Superstar” [4×17] ).
+ The Doublemeat Palace training video is utterly hilarious!
+ The entire DMP staff/environment.
+ Buffy’s reaction to Manny imposing the Medley burger on her.
+ The abrupt cut to the meat slab.
+ Buffy mentioning waitressing “that summer in L.A.” (see “Anne” [3×01] ).
+ The group visiting Buffy at work.
+ Xander imparting his fast food working experience knowledge onto Buffy.
+ The genuine surprise that Buffy showed up for her second day.
+ The crazy/creepy ‘ear guy.’ I love Buffy’s reactions to him.
+ Xander bailing when Halfrek arrives.
+ Halfrek’s probing questions about why Anya’s marrying Xander, which start to make Anya doubt herself.
+ Amy wanting her cage back. This is unfortunately the last positive Amy moment in the entire series.
+ A lesbian defeating a penis monster… wait, I need a minute here… busy laughing!
+ Willow’s dual meaning of “Stay away from me” towards Amy.