Season 4 | Episode 5 | “Beer Bad” | Aired Nov 2, 1999 on The WB
After dusting a vamp, it looks like Buffy just saved Parker the Scumbag’s life. He apologizes for being awful, but Buffy is just daydreaming in psych class as she watches Parker flirt with another girl.
“These are the things we want,” says Professor Walsh, conveniently. “Simple things. Comfort, sex, shelter, food. We always want them and we want them all the time. The id doesn’t learn. It doesn’t grow up. It has the ego telling it what it can’t have, and it has the superego telling it what it shouldn’t want. But the id works solely out of the pleasure principle. It wants. Whatever social skills we’ve learned, however much we’ve evolved, the pleasure principle is at work in all of us.”
The other girl giggles at something Parker says. Buffy forces herself to look.
“What do we do when we can’t have what we want?”
Buffy drifts back into the daydream, where Parker again asks for forgiveness, holding flowers and a tub of ice cream for her. Ah, we see Buffy is still in that pesky post-Parker depression. But thankfully, this episode will be the final straw.
A quick sweep of the Internet reveals “Beer Bad” is one of the most hated episodes in the entire Buffyverse. It does feel stale and drawn out in some scenes, particularly the fire-rescue climax. Still, genuinely guffaw-worthy moments exist here, thanks to sharp editing, good direction, and Xander’s mustached fake ID.
Xander is eager to assimilate on campus after securing a bartender job at the college-town pub: “No more looking down on the townie!” Unimpressed, the gals keep gabbing, Buffy about Parker, Willow about not-Parker. “There are better men wherein the mind is stronger than the penis,” Willow tells Buffy, while Xander memorably and loudly declares, “Nothing can defeat the penis!”
Xander’s first day working at the pub is a disaster. He can’t make drinks (“Ice water? Do you want that on the rocks?”). Even his rehearsed attempts to pick up girls implode when a snobby college guy wages a little class warfare (“We are the future of the country, and you keep our bowl of peanuts full”). Your heart has to break for Xander in this scene.
Meanwhile, Willow and Oz catch a concert at the Bronze, and Oz feels a tingly, weird vibe when the singer Veruca takes the stage. Willow tries to keep his attention, but fails. We all know the horrible place where this is heading.
Back at the pub, Buffy sees Parker kissing that girl from class and jets back to Pouty Town. She realizes Parker’s “problem with intimacy” is that he can’t get enough of it. She calls herself a slut and an idiot. Now your heart breaks for Buffy.
Self-worth at all-time low, Buffy decides to accept drinks from strangers. Great idea! They’re intellectual strangers. They like quoting Thomas Aquinas and hearing themselves talk: “All the socio-economic and psychological problems inherent to modern society can be solved by the judicious application of way too much beer.” This quote should hang in more American bars.
And so our hero drowns her sorrows in Black Frost with three white guys and the amazing Kal Penn: “It’s nice. Foamy. Comforting. It’s beer.” The next day, Buffy’s hangover manifests strangely. She forgets to put on clothes for class, barks out in class, and steals a girl’s sandwich.
After Buffy’s second night out with the “really smart guys,” Xander starts to worry. He sends Buffy home and attempts to send the rest of the guys home too, but they won’t leave, and their behavior grows increasingly wild. The dumb, drunk college kids transform into actual cavemen before Xander’s eyes.
Turns out Xander’s boss, the bar manager Jack, spiked the Black Frost beer with a potion to turn drinkers into actual Neanderthals. “Beer makes all men the same,” he reasons. “My brother-in-law’s a warlock. He showed me how to do it.” Hahaha, best brother-in-law ever.
The spell wears off eventually, but Xander knows a Slayer-strong Cave Buffy could pose a serious threat on campus. He calls Giles for help. In her dorm room, Buffy has gone full Neanderthal. She starts smearing cave paintings on her walls and spinning over and over in her computer chair, after plotting Parker’s death.
“I’m tired of you men and your manness,” Willow lectures Parker later in a campus cafe. Foreshadowing! While Willow tries to teach Parker some respect, Parker tries to make a case for one-night stands, “People shouldn’t have to preface casual sex with, ‘Just so you know, I’ll never grow any older with you.'” It’s a fascinating tête-à-tête on two very different beliefs about relationships. The problem is, Parker starts coming on to Willow, and she sees right through it.
“You’re unbelievable! Men haven’t changed since the dawn of time,” she exclaims. And just like that, the Neanderthals burst into the cafe and knock out Parker and Willow. They promptly start to burn it down, with everyone inside.
On her quest for more beer, Cave Slayer smells the fire and runs toward it, with Xander and Giles chasing after her. Her Slayer instincts still trump all else. After helping Willow and the cavemen escape, Cave Buffy finds Parker trapped in the fire and rescues him, despite hating him.
When the smoke clears, Buffy’s classroom psych fantasy comes true. “Do you think you could forgive me?” Parker sheepishly asks Buffy, with his big, dumb puppy-dog eyes. Parker sympathizers can argue that Buffy took Parker’s one-night stand too harshly, but good luck convincing an 18-year-old college freshman of that. We’re all done with Parker anyway.
Buffy whacks him on the head with a giant stick. Finally, the writers grant viewers a slice of the pleasure principle, too.
Big bad of the week: Jack the bar manager, who spiked the Black Frost beer with the caveman potion. You can’t hate him too much, though, after his spot-on complaint about snot-nosed college kids and “their fruity little microbrews.”
Quote of the week: Xander’s “Au contraire, mon frère” and Buffy’s zippy retort, “Frère means brother.” Adorable friend exchanges FTW.
Heinous ’90s fashion of the week: Check out Veruca’s frosted blue eyeshadow and gloppy pink lip gloss. And are those snakeskin pants? Wow. I mean, she’s cute by ’90s standards, but she looks straight out of a vintage J-14 magazine.