Blockbuster died so hard that today it’s a joke: a punchline whose setup is how terrifyingly fast new technology can destroy whole industries. But back in the day, Blockbuster was King Dick of Fuck Island, and everyone knew it. Working at Blockbuster was the dream job of every teenager and thirty-something burnout who’d seen Clerks too many times and told his girlfriend he was “definitely more Randall than Dante, maybe 72/25 — no, haha, I’ll be honest, it’s probably 60/40.” But even that was a lie, wasn’t it, Brandon? You’re not even Clerks. You’re Mallrats and that’s what keeps you up at night, staring into the void. Asking it why you even live. Begging it to give you a way out of this Mallrats life. Hoping today will be the day it answers.
Anyway, that’s why Blockbuster’s training videos were top notch. Welcome to Blockbuster University!
You’re going to major in “how about some Mike and Ikes today?” And you’re going to minor in “sir, we know exactly which scene in From Dusk till Dawn is too worn down to watch. We’ve already offered you a refund; do you really want to drag this into the light? Now, how about some Mike and Ikes today?”
Here’s Marie, our training video protagonist:
And yes, that is her normal face. Her resting expression is one of passive, uncomprehending mania – like she opened the front door and instead of finding her home on the other side, it’s a faerie circus. She likes faeries, she likes the circus, but her world is gone and the only thing keeping madness at bay is the certainty that this is all a dream.
That’s that exact expression, and I will brook no arguments.
Here’s Buster Sales:
He’s our magical training video host. He’s got a kind of offputting mookish presence, and he lives in the TV — like if Max Headroom was the manager of a local carpet store that couldn’t keep any female employees for reasons that are not discussed. He lives in a non-dimension whose totatility is the carpet they use in airports, and he wants to help Marie be a better corporate shill.
He is the very avatar of aggressive capitalism, and it’s his mission to show Marie that every time she thinks she’s helping a customer, she’s really costing Blockbuster up to $6.50 in upsales. He actually first describes himself as “a professional opportunist,” to which Marie wisely responds “that doesn’t sound very nice.” And I’m not shitting you, there’s a weird split-second of crazy rage from Buster:
Before he laughs and explains “not like that.”
What is that expression? That’s the face Bilbo makes in the six frames before he monsters out on Frodo. If somebody makes that face at you for a second and then laughs, know that they just briefly imagined what your organs taste like. I’m clearly reading something into this that’s not there. It’s just that Buster really fucks with me. I don’t know. That scratchy nothing dimension. His weirdly contrasting fashion sense from an era that never happened. All of his mannerisms are somehow subtly menacing to me.
That’s not a guy telling you how to talk a customer into a soda — that’s a painting of Christ askew in a church. There is something wrong here and you just don’t understand what it is yet, but you better start guessing before Mass starts. It might be short for something.
Buster starts off talking to Marie about customer interactions she had, but halfway through the video he suddenly steps up his game and becomes telepathic. Now he alerts Marie of ‘opportunities’ before they happen. He doesn’t tell her what they are, or what to do, he just warns her a second before a customer talks to her. In order to… do what? Fuck with her?
Then something happens. Something I don’t think should have happened. Buster butts in during a conversation to prompt Marie and the customer actually stops the training skit to ask: “Hey, are you okay? You look a little freaked out.”
I’m not being cute. That’s a direct quote. Marie staggers — lil’ trapeze elves doing backflips in her head — and points back at the now blank TV. She mumbles something about just checking the monitor, but Buster is gone and she’s thrown off her game.
This is an insane turn for a training video to take!
Earlier, Buster expressly promised Marie that nobody could hear them talk, so she wouldn’t look crazy. And it did work that way at first, but then Buster… revoked that promise? Just to make her look crazy? Why?
The arc of a training video is usually that of a harried employee who receives instruction that makes their lives steadily easier. That is not what happens here. Marie starts off happy and in control, then Buster puts her in weirder and weirder scenarios that she doesn’t know how to handle. He starts bringing up boys she might like, and boys that might like her. He starts hinting about things she can get if she listens to him. Here Marie is being stalked through the aisles by a superdork:
And Buster doesn’t advise her on how to deal with unwanted attention in a professional manner: he pushes them together and encourages Marie to get close to him, so she can learn his desires:
Later, a regular customer named Mrs. Simpson comes in with her son, Doug. Buster knows that Doug likes Marie, but she doesn’t pause to question why Buster suddenly has access to the personal details of her life. She only says “Doug’s a nerd,” to which he answers — again, direct quote: “Maybe so, but Mrs. Simpson is an opportunity.”
That’s some weird shit! Why include that in the video? The only possible implication to draw is that Marie should, at the very least, tolerate the kid’s advances so his mother spends more money at Blockbuster. W-what?
Buster doesn’t even chime in with advice during this interaction. He just starts laughing insanely, making pig noises and crazy faces behind Marie.
I’m not leaving out context. It’s not a joke, or a setup for something. It’s just ominous and vulgar and distracting. The filmmakers make sure you can see it in Marie’s body language! I do not know how this trains you for a day-to-day life renting Baywatch tapes to tweens in sweatpants!
Around this point in the video, Buster turns aggressive for no reason. Marie isn’t ignoring his advice, or even arguing with him. She happily does everything he says, and still he starts ambushing her by screaming, or blowing whistles and banging cymbals when she’s not paying attention:
Again the training video takes a few seconds out to specifically show us the real world consequences of this. Marie yelps in pain and covers her ears, and all the customers jump at her reaction, pausing to see if she’s okay.
None of this should be in a training video. I held every minimum wage job out there for about two weeks each. I have rapped along with Wendy’s and watched men burn alive just to learn where Chevron keeps the emergency pump shut-off switch. This is not normal. This strange escalation is not a training video trope, but it does mirror the classic signs of possession.
It all fits. Step by step, in exact order.
Infestation: The stage in which an entity merely makes itself known and familiar, like Buster’s early interactions. It can even feel helpful. Comforting.
Oppression: After you accept the entity’s presence, it will soon turn aggressive — random, small attacks designed to mess with you. Loud noises, harassment, distraction that affects your daily life. Not harming you, so much as wearing you down.
Obsession: You become fixated on the demon, your every interaction becomes about them. Listening to them, talking to them, arguing with them, it doesn’t matter. The more you solidify its realness, the realer it gets. The weaker you become, the stronger they do. Until the attacks stop being psychological, and become physical…
Marie, fuck. Get out of there! I know throwing popcorn seems like a small thing, but the rules have changed. He’s showing you he can affect the physical world now. He can get to you. He can bother you. He can hurt you!
I don’t understand why Blockbuster would put these moments in an innocent training video. How does it help a new employee to see that monitor silently flicker on behind Marie? To watch Buster smugly harass her? To see the wounded, angry look on her face as she spins around? To watch Marie’s customers and friends question her sanity? What purpose does this serve, if Buster Sales is not some sort of Training Parasite — an evil presence using naive young employees to exert his influence on the world?
Because that’s the last step:
Possession. The entity takes control of you.
I’m very sad to report that Marie did not catch the signs in time. This video ends with Buster Sales fading out and Marie slowly slipping into an unfamiliar posture. She rubs her hands and says, “I guess now… I’m the opportunity expert.”
He told us from the start what he was.
His secret name.
He is The Opportunist.
And he is free.