As far as American drama series of the late 90s and early 2000s go, “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” is a gold mine of metaphors for the lived experiences of young life, told through the eyes of a teenage vampire slayer.
While the show is typically out of the age range of high schoolers and college students today, (and the only person I have bonded with over the show was a millennial English teacher in my high school), it remains as relevant and relatable as if it were made today.
I first started watching the series in eighth grade and saw as the metaphors extended from high school bullies becoming possessed by hyenas, to a demon in a computer who manipulates Buffy’s meek best friend Willow into thinking he loves her, to parents against witchcraft persecuting their children (largely believed to be a metaphor for homophobia).
When I came to college, looking for some comfort, I returned to “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” but specifically starting at season four when Buffy goes to college. The challenges faced in these episodes are both parts hilarious and remarkably applicable to college life.
There will be spoilers ahead, but with anything that has been out since the 90s, it can be considered historical knowledge. “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” includes much more lore overall if further watching is considered.
- Season 4, Episode 1: The Freshman
A classic portrayal of figuring out classes, finding books in the bookstore and dealing with daunting professor introductions on the first day, this episode reimagines unfamiliarity with college intertwined with disappearing college students. Their disappearances are chalked up to how some students cannot handle college until Buffy discovers the vampires who are taking them.
This episode features a guest appearance of a young Pedro Pascal, who actress Sarah Michelle Gellar acknowledged on Instagram in light of his recent trending. This episode grapples with adjusting and coping in a new transitional period, letting you know that even vampire slayers have new challenges to get used to.
- Season 4, Episode 2: Living Conditions
The second episode of Buffy’s college experience centers around her getting used to living with a roommate named Kathy. Kathy has all the quirks needed to create an uncomfortable living situation: Writing her name on all her food in the fridge, including each individual egg; demanding that they log every phone call; and playing the same Cher song on repeat when she irons.
The episode unravels as Buffy does, avoiding her roommate and progressively becoming more obsessed with convincing her friends that Kathy is evil.
As it turns out, Buffy was right the whole time and those dreams she had of a demon sucking out her soul were not just dreams, but the actions of her demon roommate.
If you ever feel like your roommate is driving you crazy and you are looking for some catharsis and validation in your suspicions of their evilness, this is an episode that will hit close to home.
- Season 4, Episode 5: Beer Bad
The premise of this episode entails the revenge of the owner of a college bar, who has been putting up with the taunting of college kids for 20 years. Because this is “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” he learned from his warlock brother how to chemically change the beer to turn those who drink it into cavemen.
The episode unfolds with Buffy becoming drinking buddies with a group of smart college guys, and together they all revert to their primitive roots. The reason Buffy was drinking to begin with was that she was recovering from being used for a one-night stand by Parker, an older college guy who gave her a sob story about his dead father simply to never speak to her after the fact.
Noticing the slow and odd changes in Buffy’s behavior, such as stealing a girl’s sandwich in a lecture hall and staring at “pretty colors” on the TV, Willow confronts Parker for how he seems to have affected her. This only encourages Parker to hit on Willow (classic guy move).
This episode alone can simply represent how alcohol makes people stupid. But further than that it parallels the primitive nature of college students in a variety of ways: not just representing being a stupid drunk college kid, but also comparing the acts of Parker (and all players, at that) to the primitive reckless behavior of cavemen.
In the end, after cave-Buffy saves him from a fire, Parker gets what is coming to him.
- Season 5, Episode 6: Family
In season 4, Willow discovers she is gay and begins a relationship with Tara, whom she starts bonding with over witchcraft. In this episode, Tara’s family comes to visit for her birthday, and her father gives her a hard time for not giving up magic and says that he is there to take her home to keep her “demon side” under control.
The truth is revealed, after Spike, (a vampire who played a villain up to Season 5 when he gets a chip in his head leaving him unable to hurt humans), proves by punching Tara in the face that she is not a demon, because the chip caused him immediate pain.
“There’s no demon in there. It’s just a family legend, am I right? Just a bit of spin to keep the ladies in line? You’re a piece of work,” he quotes.
In many episodes of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” magic and witchcraft commonly play a narrative in the acceptance or lack of acceptance experienced by the LGBTQ+ community. This episode ends with an answer about what makes a family: solely blood or a support system.
This is something especially prevalent in the college experience, as for many students, it is the first time they are forced to find a family of their own choosing.
Comfort films and shows do not always make sense to others. In my experience as a fan of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”, many people perceive it at its face value; a science fiction/supernatural television show. To me, it is an anthology of lessons in learning how to live.
I watched it before high school and returned to it as I grew up. For a 90s show, limited in what they can show in the lived experiences of youth, “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” teaches how to remain a good person for yourself and the others in your life. It uses the pressure of being a slayer as a vehicle to express the urgency of growing up while trying to keep your morals and yourself, but knowing when change is needed.
College can sometimes feel like demons and monsters lurk around every corner and every deadline. Take a deep breath and fight them like Buffy.