“Conversations with Dead People”
Written by Jane Espenson and Drew Goddard
Directed by Nick Marck
A band is setting up in the very dark Bronze. Oh hey! These guys are familiar. The lead singer is wearing a much less stupid outfit than in “The Freshman” and “I Only Have Eyes for You.”
This band seems to be one of the show’s go-to bands for setting a mopey/wistful/depressed sort of tone. Spike is sitting at the bar in the Bronze. Buffy is patrolling at a cemetery. Willow is studying at the university's library. Dawn is just getting home. As the song concludes with “I will spend the night....alone,” a hand punches out of the fresh grave in front of Buffy. We’ll be doing several separate stories this episode. I may just summarize each one of them, instead of doing every scene in chronological order.
Andrew and Jonathan
The remaining two-thirds of the Trio are on their way back to Sunnydale. Jonathan thinks this is a bad idea, but they’ve both been having the same recurring nightmare about badness brewing on the hellmouth, so they want to help.
Once they reach Sunnydale, Jonathan descends through the skylight of the high school, and then Andrew falls right down. Bahaha. Andrew doesn’t want to go to the Scoobies until they have solid proof that they have valuable information for Buffy. They spend a ridiculously long time checking to make sure their walkie talkies work, then split up. They’re hopeful that they might be able to join the Scoobies.
As soon as Jonathan walks out of sight, Warren strides up to Andrew. He has Andrew convinced that his death was part of his plan, which will end in them living as gods. They get side-tracked with Star Wars quotes. Jonathan is apparently their last hope for...something.
Andrew and Jonathan are in the school basement. Jonathan tries to use the map, but Andrew is following ghost Warren. They go through a door and start digging in the floor, where for some reason it’s made of dirt instead of cement. They dig until they uncover a creepy pentagram seal with a goat’s head on it. Jonathan is reminiscing rather fondly about Sunnydale High. He knows he had a horrible time there, but he still misses it. He’s matured quite a lot since then. Ghost Warren is watching Andrew over Jonathan’s shoulder as Jonathan talks about looking up all his old classmates. Andrew tells Jonathan no one cares, but Jonathan still cares about them. Aww! This is why Jonathan is my favorite.
They finish uncovering the seal, and then Andrew stabs Jonathan in the gut. NOOOOO! He collapses on the seal and his blood pours into all the grooves in it, which makes it glow.
Buffy is fighting the new vampire. Eventually, after they trade many blows, he suddenly stops, because he recognizes her! He reminds her that they used to be classmates. He’s Holden Webster! Doesn’t she remember Holden Webster? Instead of insisting on getting back to the fight, Buffy decides to amiably catch up with him a bit. He tries valiantly to remind her who he is. It takes a while. He tells her a bit about what he’s been up to. He’s a psych major and he’s been working at the hospital.
His face eventually switches back to human mode. He’s psyched about being a vampire, but still very amiable. He starts asking her about herself. She tells him a bit about being the Slayer; she’s the only one, and it’s not so much a paid gig as a sacred calling. He informs her that Dweeby Guy (which you probably don’t recall is my unaffectionate nickname for Scott Hope, Buffy’s exceptionally lame boyfriend in early S3) recently came out as gay, after spending years insisting all his ex-girlfriends were gay.
Buffy notices that Holden is starting to do a lot of psych major stuff on her, and she reacts how most people do when they realize they’re being analyzed by a psych major. She also fails to notice that her cell phone is ringing over on the grass where she dropped it.
The next time we see Buffy and Holden, Buffy’s lying on one of those above-ground graves while Holden is sitting on a nearby headstone, in a morbid parody of the therapist/client couch setup. They’re talking about Buffy’s intimacy and abandonment issues. She thinks it’s partly because of her parents’ divorce. He thinks she keeps people at arm’s length to protect herself. She disagrees. She commits! He thinks she’s overly hard on herself. Why does she feel like she needs to already have the relationship stuff figured out at twenty-one, anyway? (That’s actually a really good point.)
It occurs to Holden that their fight to the death was merely put on pause. He’s excited about it, and very overconfident because of all his taekwondo experience. Buffy doesn’t want to spoil his good mood with her own assurance of victory, which makes the conversation really awkward until it becomes an argument. Bonus points to Buffy for naming the Insane Troll Logic trope!
Buffy is pretty sure her parents’ divorce was because her dad cheated. Holden suggests that maybe Buffy’s relationships have all failed because she has a well earned superiority complex. Buffy disagrees. She hates feeling so isolated from her friends by her role as the Slayer. She starts talking about how depraved and degrading the thing with Spike was. Holden responds by whacking her in the face with a Virgin Mary statue. The fight is back on! They end up crashing through a mausoleum window.
Buffy gets the upper hand and is about to stake Holden when he asks her an annoying psych question that makes her draw back in frustration. She kicks him when he laughs about it. She greatly prefers less chatty monsters. He reminisces about some hot girl, and she gets annoyed, because vampires always seem to conflate sex and violence. Holden thinks he’s figured her out. If she answers his next question how he thinks, he gets to ask her anything. Was her last relationship with a vampire? Yes, if you can call the thing with Spike a relationship (which I wouldn’t).
Later, they’re still talking about Spike. Buffy didn’t want to be loved; she wanted to be punished. Spike’s super screwed up take on love seemed to fit. She feels like she doesn’t deserve anyone’s love, and there’s a huge gulf between her and everyone else because she’s the Slayer and they aren’t. Now we’re to that thing about how she has an inferiority complex about her superiority complex. Holden thinks that makes perfect sense. It’s normal to feel alone!
He’s ready for the death match now. She appreciates the talk. She mentions Spike’s name for the first time, and he reveals that Spike’s his sire. Whaaaat. Buffy stakes him.
Dawn is enjoying anchovy pizza despite Buffy’s clear instructions not to order pizza. She gets a huge gob of sauce on one of Buffy’s shirts, but who cares; Buffy’ll just think it’s blood. *snort* Next, she plays with Buffy’s weapons, managing to make a hole in the wall when she tries to pull a crossbow bolt out of it. Then she listens to super weird instrumental Hispanic music while dancing around and microwaving a marshmallow. What’s with the Summers sisters and listening to this kind of music?
Then, she’s watching old movies while chatting with a friend (Kit, from “Lessons”! Yay!) when there’s a weird banging noise. It gets louder and more frequent, and then the door blows open so fiercely that she can barely get it closed. There are definitely some spooky Plot A shenanigans going on. Dawn can’t turn the TV off, even when she unplugs it.
Next, every electronic device in the house seems to be on the fritz, so she smashes them all with an axe. Because that’s clearly the best thing to do. Especially to the microwave, the door of which sends a spray of broken glass onto the floor, cutting up Dawn’s bare feet. Then the radio, which she hadn’t gotten to yet, switches from the Hispanic music to Joyce’s voice.
Dawn tries to call Buffy while bandaging her feet, but Buffy doesn’t pick up. Behind her on the couch, Joyce’s dead body briefly appears, in the same position as when Buffy found her. A variety of other super creepy things starts happening. Dawn screams for it to stop, and it seems to, for now. She gets the mysterious banging noise to communicate through a series of one=yes, two=no bangs. It seems this is Joyce, who is neither okay nor alone. The house starts shaking violently.
There’s a super scary growling noise. Dawn thinks this is the thing keeping Joyce away. Joyce is lying on the couch, and there’s a creepy black creature crouching over her. Aside from how Joyce is reaching out for Dawn, it’s the classic Old Hag tableau. Freaky. Dawn frantically looks for the axe, but it swings at her head. She runs to the door, but changes her mind. She won’t leave until she’s sure Joyce is okay.
Dawn sets up a spell to cast out the evil spirit thing so Joyce can talk to her. While doing the spell, she gets loads of minor injuries. She refuses to give up, even when she’s bleeding from the mouth. It finally seems to work because blood spatters appear on many walls, then vanish. The house is still completely trashed and she’s still very hurt, but then Joyce appears as a brightly glowing figure in the middle of the room. She tells Dawn that bad things are coming, and Buffy won’t be there for Dawn when that happens. She’ll be against her. Then Joyce disappears. Dawn cries.
Willow’s studying gets unexpectedly interrupted by...Cassie? The dead girl from “Help.” She implies that she’s a ghost. Willow is understandably alarmed. Cassie says she’s a messenger from Tara, who still sings to Willow, even if she can’t hear. Willow starts crying. Cassie explains that Tara can’t come see her herself because Willow killed people. Willow tells Tara she misses her. Cassie tells Willow Tara’s crying. Willow tries to comfort Tara but succumbs to her own grief, which hasn’t gotten any easier. Cassie tells Willow she’s strong, “strong like an Amazon.” Aww.
Willow talks about what happened after Tara died. The power she absorbed is a part of her forever now. According to Cassie, Tara doesn’t want Willow to use magic ever again because it can only end badly. Willow disagrees, based on what Giles told her. Cassie won’t budge. She says Tara thinks it’s inevitable that the power will take over Willow and she’ll kill everyone. Willow is horrified. But if she stops, it might be fine! However, that still doesn’t tally with what Giles said. Stopping could be just as dangerous as doing magic.
Cassie hesitantly (perhaps slyly) proposes a third option. Suicide! She and Tara would be together again! Willow doesn’t think Cassie is really Tara’s messenger anymore. Tara would never tell her to kill herself. Not-Cassie drops the act, but continues to paint a fun mental picture of Willow killing herself. It mocks Willow’s grief. It tells Willow it’s done playing nice and merely keeping the good/evil scales balanced. It wants to take over, and none of them have ever seen anything like how bad it’s about to get. This thing is where “from beneath you it devours” comes from. Not-Cassie smiles...wider and wider until she turns completely inside out and vanishes.
Spike eventually gets approached at the bar by a cute blonde (who will go on to be one of the hilarious white suburban housewives in Fresh off the Boat, so that’s fun).
Cut to them walking down a sidewalk together, apparently getting along quite well. They arrive at her apartment. Just after the bit where Holden tells Buffy Spike was his sire, Spike viciously bites this nice lady. He leaves her body on the ground, grinning a fanged grin.
The final montage of the endings to all the separate stories brings that song from the beginning back, and then we cut to black.
“Conversations with Dead People” frequently ends up on people’s top ten lists, but not mine. The concept of juxtaposing a bunch of completely isolated short stories is pretty cool. I actually really like it—in Avatar: The Last Airbender, which is what my review title references. But this one doesn’t quite work for me because of the five sections, I dislike two, hate the ending of one, am largely indifferent about another, and only actually enjoy one. Buffy’s section irritates me, I’m not sure where the heck Dawn’s section came from, and the section with Andrew and Jonathan is the worst because I hate that the writers decided to keep Andrew instead of Jonathan, and that Andrew will become part of the Scoobies (which I’m pretty sure is still going on even in S10 in the comics) after pulling a Brutus. Jonathan would’ve made such a better addition to the team than freaking Andrew. He’s been on the show since the unaired pilot! He has so much history with the Scoobies! UGGGGGGH. I get that they basically resolved Jonathan’s character arc in this one, but they didn’t have to! Still, it was incredibly endearing. Spike’s section is probably a lot more interesting for viewers who like Spike. At first he seems to be hitting on someone who isn’t Buffy, and then we find out he’s killing and turning people even though he has both a soul and the chip. Since I don’t like Spike, all of that is merely intriguing rather than potentially devastating. Willow’s section is probably my favorite. They originally wanted Amber Benson to come back for this one, but I think the reason that didn’t work out is that Amber refused because she thought it would be a horrible way to see Tara onscreen for the last time. I agree with her, mainly because the idea that Willow would be barred from seeing Tara right now because of her crimes is fascinating, but also because it’s a nice thought that the First Evil somehow can’t imitate Tara. Like it’s one of Tara’s magical abilities to be inimitable. Cassie was kind of a weird choice for someone to intermediate, though, since she and Willow had never met. (Unless that’s part of the whole “can’t see the spirits of dead loved ones if you’ve murdered people” thing, I guess.) Why not someone else Willow cared about who’d died? Were Jesse and Miss Calendar too far back? (Actually, the Jesse idea now has me wishing there was a Xander section where Jesse—or the First pretending to be him—visited.)
As irritating as I find Holden and his whole junior psychologist bit, I think he might be right about Buffy’s layered inferiority/superiority complexes. She has demonstrated multiple times in this season alone that she feels being the Slayer makes her the final authority on matters of supernatural justice, but that she despises the necessity of being in that position. But that’s pretty much the best case scenario. We’ve seen the alternatives. Faith saw herself as the final authority but loved abusing that authority, and Kendra saw herself as a tool of the Council whose personality and interests were meaningless. One of the reasons Buffy is so good at wielding her power is that she has never been power-hungry.
Oh hey, this is the only episode in the whole show without Xander! And Anya’s not in it either. If there had been time, it would’ve been cool if they’d done an Anya story where the dead person was Halfrek, and as I already said, I kinda wish there was a Xander story with Jesse. My policy is pretty much always that more references to Jesse would’ve made things better.
Seriously, what the heck is up with Dawn’s story? Is it all just the First screwing with her, or is there really some kind of evil entity attacking Joyce’s spirit as she struggles to communicate with her daughter? The message she ultimately delivers smacks so much of a “sow the seeds of discord” type Big Bad strategy (not to mention self-fulfilling prophecy) that I’m leaning towards option 1, but that would still be the only time the First ever appears as a being glowing with heavenly light. Why the heck would Joyce fight so hard to get to Dawn just to tell her Buffy won’t choose her? Go Dawn for being super brave and pulling off that banishing spell, though. And she’s really endearing and funny at the beginning before all the crap hits the fan.
So Spike is picking up chicks at bars to kill them! Fun. I was hoping for more roommate shenanigans between him and Xander, but this is cool too. Also, what’s with his wardrobe? It’s super boring all of a sudden.
Willow’s section is, for me, easily the most poignant. I like to believe that some of the things the First said about Tara were true, like the singing and that Tara’s very close, even if Willow can’t perceive her. And it’s interesting that Willow is the one the First directly approaches...first. It clearly recognizes that Willow is the Scooby with the most raw power. It’s more important to its plans to personally attempt to throw Willow off her game than to try that with Buffy.
“It eats you starting with your bottom.”
“I’m here to kill you, not to judge you.”
The Watcher's Diary
In this blog, I'll be reviewing, analyzing, and generally fangirling over excellent television. Exhibit A: the Whedonverse.