Note: Buffy the Vampire Slayer was my security blanket during formative teenage years. I’m overjoyed to relive the show with all of you through a new series of recaps.
Season 4 | Episode 2 | “Living Conditions” | Aired Oct 12, 1999 on The WB
Buffy fans first encounter her college roommate, Kathy Newman, in the season 4 premiere. “I just know that this whole year is gonna be super-fun,” Kathy says, while taping up a gigantic poster of Celine Dion to her wall. She’s a bubbly, cheerful chatterbox and seems on track to being a semi-permanent addition for Buffy’s first year at UC Sunnydale. Until episode 2.
Kathy’s blasting “Do You Believe in Life After Love?” on repeat and it’s driving Buffy, a sane person, insane. So Buffy decides to go on patrol, leading the roommates to engage in the stilted, passive-aggressive conversation of two people forced to spend time with each other.
“I guess I just didn’t realize you’d be coming and going at all hours,” Kathy says. “Not that I mind. I’m just surprised.”
Buffy tries repeatedly to leave, as Cher yodels on in the background, but Kathy wants to show Buffy her anal-retentive system to log phone calls. (We’re just two minutes into the episode, and already Buffy has dated itself, with CDs and a landline telephone.) Anyway, Buffy can’t get outta there fast enough. “And you thought your days of sneaking out were over,” Willow quips.
After hearing Kathy spin the best of VH1 all day and night, Buffy is on edge and itching to dust some vamps. But “Living Conditions” is the first episode of the series since “Inca Mummy Girl” not to feature a single vampire. Before the opening credits, we do see a glowy-eyed monster hiding in the bushes outside Willow’s dorm, watching Buffy. (Way to go, UC Sunnydale campus security.)
Buffy hears rustling in the woods—a demon? Nope, just Kathy again, who wants to hang out. But the glowy-eyed demon attacks the girls and Buffy is forced to throw Kathy into a bush so she can fight without being seen. Kathy’s sweater is ruined. Their rocky relationship continues.
Buffy visits Giles to report the demon fight, but really to wait until Kathy goes to class. Giles offers advice about how it’s hard to live with someone else, and how Buffy ought to try and tolerate it. Back in their Stevenson Hall dorm, Kathy is still sighing over her ruined sweater and decides to wear one of Buffy’s sweaters. She unlocks Buffy’s closet and finds all her weapons—stakes, crosses, and crossbow. Bad news.
At lunchtime, Buffy hits up the cafeteria and again runs into Kathy. She tries to hide by cutting someone in line. It’s Parker Abrams, a significantly negative blip in Buffy’s college experience. Parker calls Buffy out for being a freshman, and offers some advice to save money on her meal plan, appearing to be totally not the douchenozzle he turns out to be.
Buffy meets up with the ol’ Scooby gang for lunch, putting to bed any worries at the time the new college set would break up Oz, Willow, and Xander. Buffy shares the demon news, Willow comments on Parker’s “random adorableness,” and Xander practically begs to help Buffy beat the demon. He’s living with his parents and he’s clearly bored out of his mind.
But they have to cut the demon talk short, because Kathy has appeared. She plops down at their table, wearing Buffy’s sweater, which leads to an awkward little tiff between them. She tells Xander she’s from Nebraska, originally, before spilling ketchup all over that light blue cardigan. Buffy glares. First World problems.
The writers have fun showing Buffy and Kathy’s growing hatred for each other. They engage in a dorm-room Cold War to piss each other off. Kathy flosses in bed and labels everything in their mini-fridge, including individual eggs. Buffy leaves her gum everywhere and keeps the window open. That night, Buffy has a nightmare of the glowy-eyed demon, a scorpion, and being forced to drink blood. She wakes up to Kathy’s irritated face: “Do you always make that noise when you sleep?”
Willow, Oz, and Giles realize Buffy and Kathy are having the same nightmares, but Buffy can only focus on throwing shade Kathy’s way. Willow notices Buffy is acting like a downright “Cordelia-esque” jerk.
Things come to a rolling boil when Buffy comes home to see Parker is in their room. He stopped by to give Buffy freezer bags—per their meal-plan flirting—but now he’s sitting and chatting on Kathy’s bed. Infuriated, Buffy shoos Parker away and starts a fight. Kathy accuses her of being spoiled. “Maybe the world revolved around you where you used to live, but it’s share time now!” she declares. Buffy promptly goes to the fridge and drinks the rest of Kathy’s milk on the spot, giving us this memorable milk GIF.
Oz offers to check on Buffy for signs she’s going over the edge. On his way to find her on patrol, he passes Veruca and her band, and gets all kinds of weird werewolf tinglies. She becomes important later. Nearby, military guys are patrolling in the woods. This episode pretty much sets up the rest of the season.
The real foil for Buffy this episode is poor bookworm Willow. She’s stuck with a bad roomie too, whom we never meet. That roommate throws parties every night, forcing Willow to study all the time in the library. Willow, being of sound mind, just deals with it. Buffy, on the other hand, says, “Kathy’s evil. I’m an evil fighter. It’s simple. I’m gonna have to kill her.”
Now, at this point, everyone think Buffy’s being crazy, and they’re half-right. But crazy Buffy found a clue that Kathy is a demon (her toenails grow after they’re cut), and no one believes her. Thinking a demon has possessed Buffy, Giles, Oz, and Xander tie Buffy up so Giles can go to the magic shop to get supplies for an anti-possession spell.
No ropes will keep a Slayer down! Buffy pulls free, knocks out the boys, and goes to confront Kathy, who almost immediately throws the first punch. During the fight, Buffy peels off Kathy’s face, revealing that she’s one of those glowy-eyed demons.
Just in time, Giles realizes Kathy has been sucking out Buffy’s soul as she sleeps in their unreasonably large freshman dorm room, causing Buffy’s rage, paranoia, and all those weird nightmares. Duh! Off your game, Giles, seriously. Even Kathy’s last name, Newman, hints that she is in fact a new human.
As Kathy and Buffy beat each other up in the dorm, Oz and Xander hurry back to campus to try to help (they don’t), while Giles and Willow perform a spell to return Buffy’s soul to her body. After they succeed, Kathy’s demon father shows up to chide her for sneaking out, basically, and forces her back into their dimension. You gotta feel bad for Kathy at this point. She escaped her dimension just to go to college! Arne Duncan would be proud.
Willow finally moves into Buffy’s room, with her Dingoes poster and a penchant for Buffy’s sandwiches. The best friends found where they belong, but viewers see Buffy still doesn’t like to share. Only children, man.
Big bad of the week: Kathy, the spot-on metaphor for soul-sucking roommates everywhere.
Quote of the week: Oz gets all the best zingers this week: “Nobody deserves mime, Buffy.” Also, “On the plus side, you killed the bench, which was looking shifty.” Raise your hand if you miss Seth Green.
Heinous ’90s fashion of the week: Bandannas as headbands.