“Killed by Death”
Written by Dean Batali and Rob Des Hotel
Directed by Deran Sarafian
We open with a rather sniffly, uncoordinated Buffy patrolling the cemetery for vampires, but instead, she finds Willow, Xander, and Cordy. They think she should take the night off because she has the flu, but she’s determined to stop Angelus from killing anyone else. Angelus shows up, and he’s not down with Buffy’s plan. They fight, and he has her pinned and is about to finish her off when the Scoobies step in and beat him off. He leaves and Buffy gets annoyed at the Scoobies for interfering, but she collapses before she can really make any kind of argument.
They bring Buffy to the hospital, where the doctors wheel her to the “employees only” part of the hospital. Giles and Joyce show up, and the doctor lady gives them all an update. Buffy will be fine, but she needs to stay there for a few days until they’re sure she’s recovered from the flu and doesn’t have head trauma from her fall or anything. Everyone accompanies Buffy’s gurney from the trauma ward to her room, and she’s very delirious now. She is not a fan of hospitals. They have to sedate her. The Scoobies are all a little rattled at seeing Buffy weak and afraid. Joyce explains that Buffy’s cousin Celia died in a hospital when she was eight.
Joyce offers Giles her condolences about Jenny. Cordy suggests that Buffy get plastic surgery as long as she’s in the hospital, which Xander and Willow ignore because they’re more worried about how Angelus can get in and attack her since it’s a public building.
Buffy wakes up from an unpleasant sleep in her hospital room and sees a little boy standing in the doorway. He walks away and then a TALL FREAKY DEMON DUDE WALKS PAST. Is she hallucinating? (Probably not, but I think we’re supposed to assume that’s a possibility.) She gets up and heads down the hall in the direction the boy and the demon dude went.
Flashback time! Eight-year-old Buffy walks down a similar hall into her cousin’s hospital room.
Buffy wakes up, still in her bed. So was all of that a dream? She takes off her IV and gets out of bed. She sees some other sick people in their rooms, and there’s a janitor and a nurse. A security guard pokes out from a corner after she goes past. He seems a little shady. She keeps walking until she gets to the children’s ward, where a couple of orderlies are wheeling out a dead kid. Inside, two doctors are arguing about a course of treatment. Two little kids find Buffy (one of them is the boy from earlier). Something is after them. The boy calls it Death.
Angelus comes bearing flowers! Xander faces off against him. He points out how many other people Angelus would have to go through to get to Buffy, and Angelus taunts him about how Buffy slept with him and never wanted Xander. He leaves. Xander is rather shaken.
Flashback! Buffy and Celia play together, Buffy pretending to be a superhero and Celia pretending to be a helpless citizen. So cute. Then it switches to little Buffy approaching Celia’s hospital bed.
Buffy wakes up in the morning. The doctor is very surprised at Buffy’s quick recovery rate. Buffy’s already better, and even her physical injuries have healed. The Scoobies show up to present Buffy with balloons and forged homework. They all head outside, Buffy in a wheelchair. She tells them about the girl who died and the boy who saw something he called Death and her own possible hallucination. Cordelia thinks Buffy’s projecting, but the gang still offers to help.
Xander and Cordelia have the job of figuring out what killed the little girl. Cordelia’s annoyed, but Xander’s invested. When the suspicious security guard shows up, she flirts with him until Xander finds what they need. Xander’s a little annoyed about how thick she laid it on, and then he sends Cordelia off with the little girl’s files so she can show Giles. She’s not happy that he’s the one sticking around to guard Buffy, because she thinks he still cares more about Buffy than about her.
Willow and Xander have the job of researching at the library. Giles thinks Cordelia might’ve had a point, but Willow thinks it’s worth investigating. Maybe it’s not a monster, though; it could just be a person the kids think is a monster (much like Billy and his Ugly Man little league coach). They look up information about the creepy doctor at the hospital. He’s had a lot of issues with malpractice suits and questionable treatments, so he’s looking more and more like the culprit.
Buffy, now in pajamas, is still checking out the hospital. She heads to the children’s ward. She finds the little boy, Ryan, drawing a picture that looks a lot like the freaky demon guy she saw. She promises him she’ll keep him and the other kids safe.
Dr. Backer (the prime suspect) is doing research at the hospital. Cordelia returns with doughnuts and coffee for Xander. Buffy follows Dr. Backer to the children’s ward and watches him adding something to one kid’s IV. He certainly looks suspicious. But then there’s a wheezy laugh behind him, and something invisible starts attacking him! Ryan watches, terrified. Blood spatters the wall, and claw marks appear on Dr. Backer’s coat. Then he gets dragged away by the invisible thing.
The Scoobies come to see Buffy in the morning, and she tells them Backer died and shows them Ryan’s drawing. Joyce comes in before they can get very far with their planning session. It’s time to take Buffy home! Unsubtle Buffy pretends to be still sick, because she needs to stay long enough to take out the thing that’s killing people. She sends Giles off to do research, and recruits Willow to help her figure out why the monster would kill Dr. Backer. There’s a hilarious bit about how Xander and Willow used to play doctor, only Willow used actual medical textbooks and diagnosed him with stuff. Xander sends Cordy with Giles (much to Giles’s obvious chagrin)—he, Xander, is still standing guard.
Buffy and Willow successfully sneak into Dr. Backer’s office. Willow finds out that Dr. Backer was trying to burn the virus out of the kids by giving them more of it. It is actually sound medical practice to let a fever burn itself out (only in patients who are usually very healthy, though, and not for really high fevers) instead of trying to bring it down with medication, because the added body heat is a big part of what kills the microorganisms. However, I’m pretty sure you’re not supposed to raise the fever by introducing more of the virus into the patient’s system. That just seems reckless. A few extra blankets would do the trick just fine. If he’s pulling this crap with child patients without getting their parents’ consent first, then no wonder he’s been dealing with malpractice suits.
Giles and Cordelia are researching. Giles can barely concentrate because Cordelia keeps asking him questions about what all the different demons do. When he snaps, he does so too obliquely for her to take the hint. The answer they’re looking for turns out to be on the cover of the book. The thing is called Der Kindestod, which means “Child Death.” Its victims look like they died of illness. Cordelia gets so grossed out by the pictures of how Der Kindestod kills its victims that she leaves in disgust and irritation.
When Giles tells Buffy about it, it’s time for another flashback. Buffy’s cousin was one of Der Kindestod’s victims. Now it’s personal. Celia’s actress does a very good job of portraying her terrifying death scene. Buffy and Willow realize that the only way she’ll be able to see Der Kindestod is if she makes herself sick again.
Um. Okay. While it is possible to get sick from identical strains of certain viruses twice (but not most viruses), that’s only after all of the antibodies have cleared out of your system, which won’t happen for nearly a year. Buffy would definitely still have her antibodies, and since she recovered in one day from a sickness that keeps most people out of commission for about a week, I’m guessing Slayer antibodies are even hardier and longer-lasting than normal antibodies. Why couldn’t Willow be the one who gets sick? She could tell Buffy where to aim her punches. Or why couldn’t Buffy infect herself with a different virus? Surely it wasn’t the exact same strain that Celia was sick with nine years earlier. Der Kindestod doesn’t only target people infected with this one specific virus. Also Willow says that Buffy will have a 107° fever if she gets sick again. What the heck kind of super-flu is this? Most of the time, people only get fevers around 103° with the flu. 107° is high enough to cause permanent brain damage.
Willow dilutes the virus so it won’t hit Buffy hard enough to kill her, and this part is so sensible that it makes the rest of the absurd medical stuff more annoying by contrast. In the next shot, Buffy is definitely sick again. Willow’s supporting her as she staggers down the hall towards the children’s ward…which is empty of children.
The kids are making their way through…the sewers below the hospital? The basement? Buffy keeps looking in the window of the children’s ward, and slowly, she begins to see Der Kindestod. It’s looking for the children, and when it sees Buffy, it doffs its hat to her.
Then it goes through a basement access door. Ah, so it was the basement the kids were running through. It seems way too drippy for a hospital basement. They should get some plumbers in to check that out.
Buffy’s doctor tries to get Buffy back to her room, but Buffy shoves her away. Security guards come to intercept the girls, and Willow distracts them by pretending she’s being attacked by frogs! It works, and it is amazing.
Xander finds Buffy, and they head to the basement together. Der Kindestod is down there, looking for the kids, who are trying to hide behind some machinery. This is not a good hiding spot. Der Kindestod grabs Ryan, and the other kids scream.
Xander helps Buffy catch up to Der Kindestod. It’s leaning over Ryan and doing…THIS with its eyes.
Buffy knocks it over the head before it can finish Ryan off. Xander gets the kids out while she fights it. To him, it looks like she’s fighting thin air. It tries to do the creepy energy-suck thing to her, but she snaps its neck. Looks like that did the trick. Seems a bit anticlimactic. (I’d burn the body just to be safe.) Xander helps Buffy back out of the basement.
Buffy, Willow, and Xander are chilling on her bed, eating snacks and watching TV. Joyce is very patiently catering to their very picky snack needs. Buffy’s drink is one part grapefruit juice, two parts orange juice. (I have tried that, and it is delicious.) Ryan sent her a drawing of her killing Der Kindestod. It seems that Ryan and I agree about how much blood there should be in the show, even though this time, there weren’t any bleeding wounds.
“Killed by Death” might be the best monster-of-the-week episode of season two. At least, it’s the best monster from a season two monster-of-the-week episode, but it feels more like a season one episode. I’m not sure the emotional arc is quite as good as in “Halloween” or “The Dark Age,” but boy is Der Kindestod one of the creepiest villains on the entire show. (I think it takes the bronze; the Gentlemen undisputedly deserve the gold, Knarl in S7 has the silver, and that freaky alien creature that preys on the mentally ill in S5 gets an honorable mention.) It actually seems to be the closest thing this show ever does to a monster based on sleep paralysis or the Old Hag (a demonic creature that sits on people’s chests while they lie in bed, unable to move as it crushes the breath out of them), a subject that endlessly fascinates me. I actually tried to do my Master’s thesis on sleep paralysis until my advisor reminded me that I was a literature and writing major, not a folklore major, so I settled for writing about Lady Macbeth, dreams, and the four humors. Sleep paralysis/the Old Hag is actually where the word “nightmare” originally comes from.
The Nightmare by Henry Fuseli, 1781
Considering that up to a quarter of the real-world population will have an Old Hag experience at least once in their lives, I find it surprising that there haven’t been Old Hag episodes in all the major urban fantasy series. I suppose Grimm and Supernatural could still do one, though. It might be because Der Kindestod is so similar to the Old Hag that I’ve always enjoyed “Killed by Death” so much despite its fairly weak ties to the season arc right after “Passion.”
Buffy has been trying so hard to live up to her newfound resolution to kill Angelus that she has run herself ragged to the point of becoming physically ill. According to Joyce, Buffy never gets sick. Once she’s in the hospital, we get both Plot A and Plot B. Plot A is that a monster is killing children. Plot B is that Buffy hates hospitals. I think Plot B could have been stronger if we’d seen earlier evidence of her hospital phobia (like in “Nightmares,” when she went to visit the girl who got attacked by the Ugly Man), and I think they both could have been stronger if we’d seen earlier evidence of her cousin Celia. In “Some Assembly Required,” Buffy told Chris “I know what it’s like to lose someone you’re close to.” She didn’t explain what she meant by that, and so far on the show, we hadn’t actually seen her lose anyone she was close to. It was implied that her Watcher in Los Angeles died, but she’s never mentioned him at all, so we can’t assume they were close. That might’ve been a good moment to slip in a line about Celia, and maybe there could’ve been photographs of the two kids together somewhere in Buffy’s room. (I’m not bothered that her fear of hospitals never comes up again, because that’s obviously something she’s dealt with by the end of the episode. I just wish it had been established before this one.) Even with these flaws, Sarah Michelle Gellar’s acting is good enough to make it work pretty well. Plots A and B converge when Buffy realizes that Der Kindestod killed her cousin. This enables her to save the children, avenge Celia, and overcome her hospital phobia all at once. Buffy being unable to save Celia also connects nicely to her being unable to save Jenny. Having now triumphed over the thing that killed Celia, she’s on her way to doing the same against Angelus.
Apart from his reactions to the two mentions of Jenny’s death, Giles mainly performs his usual function in this episode: remaining reasonably rational and skeptical until there’s enough evidence to really figure out what they’re dealing with. I can’t decide if I wish the focus had been more on him and his grief, or if I’m impressed at his selflessness in focusing on Buffy at such a painful time. It’s the first time since “The Dark Age” that he’s had a scene with Cordelia, with no other Scoobies as buffers. They’re even less compatible as research buddies than Giles and Xander. It’s excellent comedy material.
Willow gets the least to do of the Scoobies. It seems like she’s mainly just there to facilitate the computer hacking at the library and the dodgy medical stuff at the hospital. She gets to use her brain a lot, but she doesn’t really get an emotional arc.
Xander’s bad habit of prioritizing Buffy over Cordelia comes back, and Angelus calls him “Buffy’s white knight.” Angelus calls Xander out for his jealousy and questionable motivations in a way that nobody else ever has, which definitely hits a nerve. However, the way he stands up to Angelus right after “Passion” is probably one of his best moments in the series so far. That took serious guts, but he didn’t hesitate for a second to get in Angelus’s way. Regarding Cordelia’s gripe about Xander prioritizing Buffy, considering that Cordelia was in perfect health the entire episode and was only in peril for two seconds, I think Xander was actually mostly in the right. He refuses to leave the hospital for any reason until Buffy gets discharged, but he’s not doing it for attention or approval, and he doesn’t really try to justify it to anyone. He’s just there in case Buffy needs someone looking out for her—which, it turns out, she does. Cordelia’s reaction to his standing guard might be more of a reflection of her own insecurities than his skewed priorities at this point.
I covered a lot of Cordelia’s stuff in Xander’s paragraph, but it’s also worth noting that despite how unintentionally obnoxious she is to Giles at the library, she’s also remarkably perceptive. She instantly sees that underneath Buffy’s desire to find a monster to slay lies her sense of helplessness and corresponding need to turn physical illness into something she can actually fight. Granted, there actually was something for Buffy to fight, but that early in the episode, nobody knew that for sure yet, even Buffy. She’s similarly clever in her reproofs of Xander, even if that’s more about her own insecurity than a legitimate analysis of his behavior at this point. She brings him food at the hospital later, suggesting that she’s realized that she is, in fact, the one who’s in the wrong in this fight, and they say no more about it. Moments like these are a nice change of pace after a couple of episodes of her having nothing to do but be ditzy. Cordelia is blunt, not ditzy, and it’s lovely when the writers remember that distinction.
I’m not sure how I feel about Angelus’s involvement in this episode. Surely he isn’t finished with his Buffy=Drusilla2.0 plans. He only killed one person close to her, and not even one of the closest people to her (Joyce, Willow, Giles, or Xander), but it kinda looks like he’s trying to kill her when he attacks her in the graveyard. Or is he just psyching her out since she’s off her game? Making her feel ineffective and weak? I get that if he does anything serious, it would make it hard for the episode to be about a monster-of-the-week, but mightn’t there have been a way to maintain the level of threat he achieved in “Passion” while still focusing primarily on Der Kindestod? Newspaper articles about bodies drained of blood, which Giles is hiding from Buffy because she can’t do anything about it while she’s sick? Could Angelus’s confrontation with Xander at the hospital have been more physical? Could he have sent Buffy some kind of horrifying “get well” present, which the Scoobies confiscated before she saw it?
“Shh, hospital zone. No singing.”
“Cordelia, have you ever actually heard of tact?”
“Tact is just not saying true stuff. I’ll pass.”
“Well, I was using the phrase ‘watch her back’ as a euphemism for ‘looking at her butt.’ Sort of a pun?”
The Watcher's Diary
In this blog, I'll be reviewing, analyzing, and generally fangirling over excellent television. Exhibit A: the Whedonverse.