“Dead Man’s Party”
Written by Marti Noxon
Directed by James Whitmore, Jr.
Buffy is getting resituated in her bedroom after three months away. She goes to see Joyce in her room, causing her to hammer a hole in the wall from surprise. Things have been super quiet in the house all summer. Joyce tells Buffy about the horrific new mask she has. Buffy wants to go find Willow and Xander, and Joyce is being a bit helicopter-y. She eventually lets Buffy leave by herself, though.
Buffy wanders through town to what looks like the warehouse district near the bronze, where she finds a shady-looking dude walking. It’s Xander! He is completely shocked to see her, and doesn’t seem able to comprehend his own emotions. Buffy makes a joke about how it’s only fun to play with pointy sticks until someone loses an eye (I’m sure that won’t ever come back to haunt them). But a vampire bursts out of a boarded-up window and spoils the moment. Xander has a walkie-talkie, and Cordelia’s voice comes through it. They’ve started using codenames. Xander’s is “Nighthawk.” The rest of the Scoobies come running to help Xander, but Buffy is the one who stakes the vampire (after they’ve all been knocked down). They stare at her in amazement.
Okay, I know Joss and all the other show creators were really proud of the theme song remix, but I kind of like the old version better.
Buffy and the Scoobies go to Giles’s flat. Buffy’s very nervous about this particular reunion, but it turns out to be the least awkward one. He takes a moment to recover from being overwhelmed, then smiles and welcomes her inside. Oz tells Buffy that she’s no longer a murder suspect, so that’s a plus. Xander’s being an endearing dork. Giles goes to fetch the kettle and is practically crying with happiness to have Buffy back. He brings tea out for everyone. He’s also the most understanding about her summer sabbatical. She wants to get back into the swing of things. She also wants to hang out with the gang, but the gang all has plans. Willow awkwardly changes hers.
Another part of getting back into the swing of things is getting reenrolled at Sunnydale High. Alas, Snyder is refusing to reverse the expulsion. Buffy and Joyce have rarely been so united on an issue. However, Joyce is willing to put Buffy in an all-girls’ private school (Kent Academy, or is there more than one in Sunnydale?), which Buffy is not psyched about. She goes to the little coffee shop (which is a new set), where she was supposed to meet Willow. No Willow.
Buffy walks home, feeling a bit abandoned, and an overly nurturing lady named Pat comes out of the house just when she gets home. She makes with the passive-aggressive guilt tripping and then goes away, smiling. I hate her so much already.
Inside the house, Joyce tells Buffy that Willow called to say she couldn't make it (very helpful, Willow). Joyce wants to invite all the Scoobies over for dinner, complete with fancy company flatware. When Buffy goes to retrieve it, she finds a horrifying dead cat. She and Joyce bury it, and Joyce gives a pretty nice little eulogy.
Buffy goes to sleep that night…or, lies awake in her bed. In Joyce’s room, the horrifying mask on her wall shows signs of not merely being tacky. Its eyes light up. Outside, the dead cat emerges from its grave.
Buffy’s in the school by herself. The same forlorn piano music that’s been playing on and off all episode continues here. She makes her way to the sunny courtyard, where Angel finds her. Seems like he’s always going to turn up in the sunlight when she’s dreaming. Holy crap does he look good in the light. He tells her to go find her friends…and also that she should be afraid.
Joyce is going up the chain of authority about getting Buffy back into Sunnydale High, and she’s also found information about Miss Porter’s Girls’ School. (So that makes three high schools in Sunnydale! And two of them are all-girls’ schools. Are there boys’ schools?) Buffy is very not okay with that idea, and Joyce gives her a little lecture about how running away might just have consequences. It’s not all lecture, though. Joyce doesn’t think it’s fair that Buffy has to keep her Slayer identity a secret when it should be able to get her some special privileges. Before she can go too far down that fantasy road, the dead cat comes running in through the cat flap in their kitchen door. Wait, why do they have a cat flap in their kitchen door? They don’t have pets! I bet that’s how the cat got into the basement in the first place.
Giles arrives to retrieve the zombie cat. (Poor Giles.) While he’s there, Joyce shows off the horrifying mask. He recognizes it as Nigerian, but it doesn’t occur to him that there might be something wrong with it. Buffy wants to leave with Giles to do research on the zombie cat, but she isn’t allowed on campus.
The Scoobies who aren’t banned from campus have gathered in the library. Oz takes quite a shine to zombie cat. He names it Patches. They all talk about the dinner party at Buffy’s house. Some extreme bitterness about Buffy leaving for months comes out of Xander during this conversation. They essentially decide to upgrade (or downgrade) the dinner party to a hootenanny, which is basically a packed, rowdy party with a rock band, spiked punch, and a lot of strangers jumping up and down to the music. The discussion is distracting enough that Giles fails to look at the page in his book that has the horrifying mask on it.
Buffy is dressed for a nice dinner party, and Pat shows up. Good grief, this woman is like a hippy version of Umbridge. I hate her so much. In an extremely hilarious little teenager moment, Buffy yells upstairs so that Joyce will come take Pat off her hands. Then Dingoes Ate My Baby and half the senior class show up (or is it a bunch of random twenty-something stoners?). This is definitely not what Buffy had in mind. She grabs Willow away from where she’s standing very close to the band (because it’s impossible to talk to her there…which might be on purpose). Buffy thinks Willow is avoiding her. Willow says she’s not, then heads right back to stand in front of the band.
Upstairs, the horrifying mask’s eyes have lit up again. Somewhere nearby, a man who died in a car accident gets up off the pavement.
Next, Buffy tries to talk to Xander, but he’s busy making out with Cordelia. They both pay lip service to the idea that it’s awesome having Buffy back, but like with Willow, Buffy is feeling distinctly unwelcome.
A burn victim in the hospital dies, but then the power of the horrifying mask brings him back, and he promptly attacks all of the doctors in the room.
Buffy overhears some loser at the party saying that it’s for “some chick who just got out of rehab,” which she does not appreciate. In the kitchen, Joyce is telling Pat how having Buffy back isn’t as great as she thought it would be. She doesn’t mean it in quite as bad of a way as that sounds, but Buffy only overhears the worst of it. She goes up to her room and starts packing. And crying.
An army of zombies is now shambling in the direction of Buffy’s house.
At the library, Giles finally finds the page with the information about the horrifying mask that he missed earlier. He tries to call Buffy to warn her, but the same loser who thought the party was a “welcome back from rehab” party answers and is extremely unhelpful. Giles hangs up in frustration and hurries out of the library.
Willow walks into Buffy’s room in time to see Buffy packing, and she gets angry. And harsh. Buffy is sorry she left, but she doesn’t think anyone would be able to understand what she went through. Willow is just a bit heartbroken that she didn’t have her best friend with her when so many big scary things were happening in her own life.
Giles, in one of the most hilarious moments of the series, is grumbling about Americans as he drives his crappy car to Buffy’s house. Then he finds some of the zombies. Uh oh.
Joyce joins Buffy and Willow in Buffy’s room, and she’s angry too. Buffy can’t handle all this contention. She flees downstairs, and Joyce follows her, in full Scolding Mom mode. The music and noise dies down. Joyce is a bit tipsy, so her filter is off. Buffy reminds her that she kicked her out. Xander joins in on Joyce’s side. Guests are starting to edge towards the door. Xander is even less sensitive than Joyce.
The zombies swarm Giles’s car, but alas, his keys are still outside on the pavement from when he went to check on a guy he didn’t realize was a zombie. He has to hotwire the car, and when he succeeds, he says, “Like riding a bloody bicycle!” Haaaa, I love Giles so much.
Xander says something extremely infuriating: “I'm sorry that your honey was a demon, but most girls don't hop a Greyhound over boy troubles.” OKAY. Well. I will save my rant about that for the Xander section of the character discussion. Cordelia tries to defend Buffy, but sucks at it, so Buffy asks her to stop. Willow joins in the “kick Buffy while she’s down” team, and Oz tries to put a stop to all the fighting. Nobody feels like stopping, but that’s too bad, because zombies!
Zombies attack the Summers house in force, and promptly start killing party guests (including the loser who answered the phone when Giles called). Also Oz is wearing a really cool shirt.
Buffy tries to stake one of the zombies, but it does nothing. These things don’t seem killable, so the best they can do is force them outside and barricade the entrances. They’re strong enough to punch through the front door, though. Pat gets attacked (oh no not Pat anyone but Pat I’d be so sad if she died). Most of the main characters make it into Joyce’s bedroom, just in time for Pat to die. Zombie Pat wakes up.
Cordelia and Oz ended up stuck in the…either the basement or a closet. They brandish ski poles at Giles when he arrives, but he is still Alive Giles, so it’s cool. Giles delivers exposition on how to break the power of the zombies. They have to destroy the mask. Preferably before one of the zombies puts it on.
Zombie Pat puts on the mask. Whoops. It fuses to her face, and the other zombies cower away from her. Whenever anyone looks at her, the mask flashes with power and paralyzes them. Buffy knocks Zombie Lord Pat out the window, and they fight on the back lawn. She keeps her eyes shielded whenever the Zombie Lord Pat flashes her with power, and then she stabs her right in the eyes with the shovel she and Joyce dug the cat’s grave with. All the zombies disappear.
The house is completely trashed, but at least there aren’t any dead partygoers still there. The battle seems to have the same effect on everyone’s friendship with Buffy as staking a vampire had on Xander and Cordelia’s relationship last time. There’s hugging. Hooray.
Giles confronts Snyder in his office about his continued refusal to let Buffy back into school. He’s going to take it straight to the state supreme court. His pleasant yet threatening tone is greatly helped by how he’s like a head taller than Snyder. I just love Giles this episode.
Buffy and Willow are at the coffee shop, where Willow is telling Buffy about her adventures in witchcraft. Willow is still acting like she’s the better person of the two of them, and Buffy is taking it. They playfully trade insults until the episode goes to credits.
If it wasn’t for Giles and Oz, Buffy’s excellent jokes, and Pat (yes, I hate Pat, but not in a bad way), I would completely loathe “Dead Man’s Party.” Did everyone forget while they were focusing on their own hurt feelings that in the space of a single night, Buffy was expelled, kicked out of her house, blamed for the murder of the only girl in the world who shared her Slayer burden, and forced to send the love of her life to hell in order to save the world? Running away seems like a pretty mild response to something like that (and a logical one, considering the whole murder suspect thing). Yeah, maybe it seems a little weak when Buffy says nobody could’ve understood what she was going through, especially to Willow who desperately wants to understand what she’s going through, but I think she has a point. That is a crapton of psychological/emotional baggage to have dropped on you in the course of a single night, and why would she have believed she could talk to Willow about it when, for all she knew, Willow wanted her to “kick [Angel’s] ass” without bothering to warn her that she was planning to re-ensoul him? (Yet another way in which Xander’s lie has screwed things up. It damaged Buffy’s ability to rely on Willow, even though Willow would’ve had her back 100%.) So when Buffy comes back, why is it just about their pain? Why do they all suck so much at empathy? Why are Buffy’s two best confidants (Angel and Giles) never there to defend her from the vitriol of her own friends? And over in Plot A, we’re back to that irresponsibility problem I first mentioned in “The Harvest.” A lot of people die at that party, but the bodies conveniently vanish so that it won’t ruin the reconciliation moment between Buffy and the Scoobies. I feel like Plot B actually matches Plot A for clumsiness. I know the idea was to use zombies as a metaphor for the issues between Buffy and the Scoobies, but those problems are a little difficult to overlook. And, like the zombies, the issues magically disappear at the end of the episode, leaving Buffy to be the only one who still feels like crap.
I would have vastly preferred for the end of “Anne” to have involved Buffy finding a clue about Angel’s whereabouts in hell while she was in that factory hell dimension. Instead of going home, she could have called Joyce to let her know she’ll be back soon, then called Giles to tell him what she’s attempting to do. After that, the second episode could have been her attempt to rescue Angel while all the Scoobies try to figure out how they’ll act around Buffy when she comes back. She’d get Angel out and they’d return to Sunnydale, at which point the Scoobies would shelve their own issues so they could help Buffy beat the murder charges, and instead of bottling up all the bitterness until it exploded all over Buffy, they all could have talked it out in nice individual moments throughout the episode. This would’ve taken care of not only the problems in “Dead Man’s Party,” but it would’ve helped to avoid the little bit of deus ex machina coming up with Angel’s return.
Oh, poor Buffy. Right now, it sort of feels like her friends care more about her because she’s the Slayer and can protect them from monsters than they care about her as a person dealing with major issues. I wish I could give her a hug. I mentioned a few reviews back that she has this tendency to just let her friends rip into her without defending herself, and I really hate that. I’m on her side in this episode, but what hurts is that I’m not sure she’s on her side. (Also, I think maybe the reason she never contacted any of her friends, Giles, Joyce, or her dad is that she might’ve thought them being in touch with her would’ve implicated them in the investigation into Kendra’s death. If she stayed completely off the radar, even their radar, then they’d be safe from suspicion.) Joyce’s attitude is, I think, the one whose reaction is most unfair. Whether she knows she instantly regretted kicking Buffy out or not doesn’t change the fact that for all Buffy knew, she was serious. It was just bad luck that Joyce didn’t run into Buffy while she was grabbing her stuff the morning she left. As Buffy’s mom, of course she spent the summer going crazy with worry and guilt, but Buffy pretty much believed she’d been disowned. What Buffy needs right now is Joyce’s love and enough space to feel like things are normal. And an apology and reassurance that she’s still her daughter, Slayer or not. Ugh.
WHAT THE HELL, XANDER. Part of why Buffy ran away was because the lie YOU TOLD resulted in her having to send Angel to hell. Where does he get off yelling at Buffy after the crap he pulled? And that “boy troubles” line. Oh man. Boy troubles? Boy troubles?! EXPELLED, A WANTED FUGITIVE, KICKED OUT, HAD TO SEND HER BOYFRIEND TO HELL. Can Xander just never take the moral high ground again ever? He is officially persona non grata on the moral high ground from now on. Xander frustrates me so much. He puts Buffy on this pedestal that she never asked to be put on, and whenever she falls off it because she’s a human teenage girl who isn’t perfect, he treats her like garbage. WHY DOES SHE LIKE HIM?
Of the hostile characters, I think Willow is the most sympathetic. (Part of that is because of Alyson’s acting.) Willow is just as bad at empathy as Xander, but it mostly seems like she wasn’t dealing well with how deeply she missed her best friend. She wanted the chance to be there for Buffy almost as much as she wanted Buffy to be there for her. Buffy is the first really close female friend she’s had (I guess Amy is the runner up). She can’t really talk to her parents about personal stuff, and even if she’s known Xander since childhood, talking to him isn’t the same as talking to another girl. She’s not close enough to Oz yet to confide in him about everything either. Over the last year and a half, she’s really gotten used to having Buffy in her corner (and being in Buffy’s corner), and suddenly she didn’t have that anymore. Oh, and because Willow got an automatic boost to Level 2 Human Mage status when she did the curse to restore Angel’s soul, she’s been studying magic all summer, and I think we can say she is now at Level 3.
I get to talk about Oz now because he’s in the main credits! Like I mentioned above, Oz is one of the few good things about “Dead Man’s Party.” He doesn’t exactly help the situation at Buffy’s house, being the one whose idea it was to turn it into a hootenanny, but he’s also the only one who tries to get everyone off Buffy’s case. He’s not really Buffy’s friend, but I really like that he doesn’t just automatically back Willow up when she’s ganging up on Buffy with Xander and Joyce.
There’s really not enough Cordelia in this episode to say much about. She seems even less affected by Buffy’s absence than Oz, but at least she’s not on Xander’s side when he starts yelling at her.
I love Giles so much. He gets to be both hilarious and extremely endearing. (And he gets to show bits of the Ripper, which is awesome.) Most importantly, he's the only one who understands the concept of empathy. As the only character who devoted his summer to actually looking for Buffy instead of just stewing in negative emotions about her leaving, he could’ve been just as angry as Joyce (minus the hypocrisy), but instead, he’s just grateful to have her back. I want to hug him too. I’m actually very annoyed that he and Buffy didn’t hug. Not cool, writers.
“It’s angry at the room, Mom. It wants the room to suffer.”
“Pat wishes us quality time.”
“Is it a gathering, a shindig, or a hootenanny?”
“Do you like my mask? Isn’t it pretty; it raises the dead! Americans.”
The Watcher's Diary
In this blog, I'll be reviewing, analyzing, and generally fangirling over excellent television. Exhibit A: the Whedonverse.