Previously: Sunnydale High School Love Spell, Take 2.
Conversations With Dead People
Sweeney: The episode kicks off with tight shots of a band plugging stuff in and starting to play. An actual title card shows off the episode title, which already makes this episode all fancy like.
Kirsti: Can we give a gold star to a title card? Or is that just too easy?
Sweeney: Given that saying the title is literally it’s job, no.
Moody music plays while we get back-to-back shots of Buffy in the cemetery, Spike listening alone in the Bronze, and the band playing. Eventually Willow joins the montage party, passing out in the magical UC Sunnydale library we haven’t seen in a while. Dawnie comes home to an empty house, where Buffy left her cash to order food. The music ends just as Buffy sits down to a grave with a hand popping up. “Here we go.” Wolf Howl.
I only have half an idea of what episode this is, so I can’t yet confirm/deny that I share everyone’s love for this episode, but I definitely enjoy the teaser, which already makes this episode a step up from it-was-all-down-hill-from-the-previouslies, “Beneath You.”
Lorraine: I really like the teaser too. I was skeptical at first, because I thought it would be cheesy or over dramatic, but by the time Buffy says, “here we go,” I was intrigued. The song is so mournful and everyone in their separate scenes, all lonely like… It gave me feels for the characters in their own situations.
Sweeney: After the Wolf Howl, we see Andrew and Jonathan driving and bickering and I can see that Adam Busch, Azura Skye, and Kristine Sutherland are in this episode so I definitely do know what this episode is and I’m now pumped. Anyway, Mexico didn’t work out for the repentant duo who are returning to Sunnydale because they want to make things right. They are “outlaws with hearts of gold.”
K: The return of the duo also brings one of my favourite Andrew lines: “It eats you starting with your bottom.” I think I find it hilarious because I know just enough Spanish to mangle my way through things in a similar fashion.
Sweeney: Buffy fights vampires, while Dawn talks to her pizza. She gets some on Buffy’s t-shirt, but doesn’t worry too much, deciding Buffy will just assume it’s blood. She turns the music up loud and plays with Buffy’s weapons, damaging an arrow when she fires it into the wall. It’s all rather adorable and exactly what the Slayer’s little sister should be doing when left home alone. When she moves into the kitchen the music shifts and it’s interesting because this show tends to err on the side of pop rock or alt rock but the only other time I recall hearing Latin music like this was when Buffy was washing dishes during S5.
K: I had exactly the same thought, and I did actually wonder if it was the same music as when Buffy broke down and cried in the Space Cockroach episode.
Sweeney: We can see that someone is shadow-lurking outside, but Dawn’s too busy with her music and microwaving marshmallows. The shadow-lurker(s) sneak(s) into the house.
Library Whose Infrequent Appearances Kept A Name From Sticking. Willow wakes up to find CASSIE talking to her about how impressed she is with the size of the library. Us too, girl. Willow’s confused by Cassie’s presence, but Cassie assures her that she’s really there because “she” asked her to go talk to Willow. Willow asks for clarification on that pronoun and Cassie goes on to say that “she” still sings to Willow even though she can’t hear it. Willow chokes up and responds, “Tara?”
Chez Summers. Dawn has now settled down in front of a movie with her marshmallow. Her friend (L: Kit!) is clearly not watching the same movie, though. She hears a noise and insists it was the same one she recently heard. The door blows open and Dawnie can barely shut it. She goes to turn the horror movie off and finds that she can’t. Even after she unplugs it, the movie stays on. Yeah, that sounds like a fantastic reason to never watch horror movies again. (Unless you’re watching them alone-together with the internet, of course.)
K: Truth. Also, DAWNIE, GIRL. GET OUT OF YOUR CREEPY-ASS HOUSE. I think it says a lot about Dawn this season that she stays in the Creepy House of Creepiness on her own rather than running for help.
Sweeney: Yes. I have loads to say about that at the end of the post, but for now: YES.
Cemetery. Buffy continues to get her vamp-fighting on when the vampire stops because he recognizes her. He let Buffy copy off of him in high school and Buffy awkward lies that she TOTES remembers him.
Chez Summers. All of the noise-making appliances are now on and appropriately terrifying Dawn. She starts smashing them in order to force them to turn off, and is mostly succeeding in starting fires. In the kitchen, the stereo – the one playing the music we heard Buffy cry over her mother to – suddenly cuts out before Joyce’s voice comes over, saying Dawn’s name. “Mom?”
Lor: A+ destruction to the Summers home. I would most definitely beat the crap out of my possessed appliances.
Sweeney: After a Not Break we return to the cemetery where Buffy’s newly-vamped, former-classmate Holden continues to try to jog her memory with every random interaction they had. She insists that she didn’t recognize him with the vamp grill. B asks him what he’s been up to (besides going to Darmouth) “Well, apparently dying.” That earns a laugh from Buffy. He majored in psychology and took a year off to do an internship at Sunnydale mental hospital. They chat about former classmates and he loses the vamp grill, but is a touch confused. Buffy informs him that he can do the whole face-changing thing and apologizes for him being a vampire. He insists that he feels great – “connected to a powerful all-consuming evil that’s going to suck the world into a fiery oblivion.”
K: Meanwhile, I’ll be over here fangirling, because JONATHAN WOODWARD!!!! Welcome to part 1 of what will soon turn out to be a Whedon Hat-trick. Also, y’all should go check out his profile picture on IMDB, because it’s fabulous.
Sweeney: He asks how she’s doing, specifically the cemetery-lurking with the stake and cross. She reveals the whole Slayer thing that she’s been up to since high school. He informs her that there were a lot of crazy rumors about her in high school, with her general absence, affinity for crosses, and hypothetical “really old guy” boyfriend. Continuity shots for mention of nanosecond boyfriend Scott Hope, who said she was gay. He has since come out of the closet. “Men. Do I know how to pick ’em.”
The conversation turns a Psych 101 corner (which Buffy picks up on) when he says that identifying her lack of connection earlier (re: his connection) was a telling phrase. It wasn’t really her phrase, though — he totes started that. Regardless, Buffy insists that she’s connected to a lot of people as the zoomy cameraman shows us her cellphone on the ground, a few feet away, ringing.
Chez Summers. Dawn is bandaging her foot while crying and pleading with Buffy to pick up because she doesn’t know what to do. She picks up the stereo and orders it to “do it again” because she heard it. She looks around the room and then the lights cut out. When they come back on, things are piled creepily and there is blood on the wall spelling out “Mother’s milk is red today,” with a bloody handprint below.
K: I’m too busy hiding behind a cushion to see the bloody handprint because DEAD JOYCE APPEARS ON THE SOFA BEHIND DAWN WHEN SHE TALKS TO THE STEREO AND NOPE NOPE NOPE NOPE NOPE.
Lor: It was insanely creepy. Between these creepy bits and crying Willow, I paused this episode a lot to compose myself.
Sweeney: From this point on, every cut to Dawn is insanely terrifying. Also, I missed this brief initial shot of Joyce and I’m kind of glad because the times I did see her were sufficiently horrifying.
The lights cut out again and everything goes back to normal afterwards. A thumping noise starts up, though. Dawn cries out and asks why whatever it is is doing this. The noise accelerates and then stops when Dawnie lays out her patented scream. She stands up and says, “Once for yes, twice for no. Mom?” One thump. She asks again, the thump is repeated. “Are you OK?” Two thumps. “Mom? Mommy?” (a bit of a “The Body” callback in that.) “Are you alone?” Two thumps. Then the house starts shaking.
New Sunnydale High School. Jonathan and Andrew break into the New New New Wiggins Library all Mission Impossible style. Jonathan considerably more successfully than Andrew. They walk through the halls chatting and informing the audience that they are there to find something, which they will then alert Buffy to, thereby saving Sunnydale. “Then we join her gang and possibly hang out at her house,” adds Andrew, ever the fanboy. They resolve to find the principal’s office (which we know to be the new Hellmouth entry point) and start from there. They split up (bad move!) but not until after they have a fun little exchange testing their walkie talkies. As they walk off, Jonathan calls back to Andrew to ask if he really thinks they’ll let them join their gang. Aw! Jonathan! You’re almost awkward-hug levels of precious right there.
K: Seriously, you guys. This episode gives me Jonathan Feels.
Sweeney: Once Jonathan is gone, WARREN D: D: D: rounds the corner to ask congratulate Andrew on doing a great job. Andrew is freaking out, adding that Warren leaving him freaks him out, what with him once having left him by dying. Dead!Warren has convinced Andrew that he’s on the verge of becoming a god – contingent upon whatever Jonathan is going to do. They start quoting Star Wars back and forth, and it’s an exchange I kind of enjoyed in spite of including Warren. How did that happen?
Lor: This is probably indicative of this being Fake Warren. I’m on to you evil thing in the basement.
Sweeney: Glad that we’ve now confirmed that Fake Warren, played by The Evil Thing In The Basement is preferable to actual Warren.
UC Sunnydale Library. Willow’s confused by how Cassie can be there but not Willow. Cassie says that
it’s because Amber Benson refused to come back and play this part Willow killed people and part of her punishment is not being able to see her girlfriend’s ghost? That’s some Angel the Series level “explanation” from The Great Contrivance Spirit.
Lor: At least here, it’s more understandable, contingent on who we learn this actually is. “Yeah… yeah… your girlfriend couldn’t be here ’cause of…. murder rules and stuff.” Nice going, Evil Thing in the Basement.
Sweeney: Willow cries out that she misses Tara so much and I’m a little distracted by Azure’s amazing eyebrows as she nods her head. Cassie says that Tara is crying and she misses Willow too and wishes she could touch her. ”
Cassie assures her that it will and can. Willow’s not sure how that’s possible, since she’s gone. Cassie says that Willow’s not gone – she’s strong like an Amazon.
We see a blonde sitting next to Spike at The Bronze before we cut back to the cemetery, where Buffy is laying on a sarcophagus while Holden sits on a headstone and listens as she rehashes her ugly relationship history.
Lor: I was so taken by Buffy laying on this grave, on account of her having died once, that the realization of her being the patient here came second. It was an ewlol moment.
Sweeney: He accuses her of being afraid of commitment. He says that she’s in some pain – that he enjoys being evil – but should also ease up on herself. Buffy jokes that it would be pretty cool if she had a patent on bad relationships. (Would this give her legal grounds to sue ELJ?) (K: IF ONLY…) More banter when Buffy informs him about the word “sire” and Holden says something about how cool it would be if they became nemeses which is another continuity shot that I have totes been waiting for. “Is that how you say the word?” Buffy responds, because the word gave her and Warren so much trouble earlier.
Holden realizes that this banter will ultimately have to end in favor of a fight to the death. Buffy solemnly agrees and he notices that she’s less into that then he is. They argue about how reasonable it is for Buffy to be sure that she’s going to win and he abruptly shifts gears by asking who is to blame for her parents’ divorce. Buffy sits down to discuss. Buffy’s pretty sure that her piece of shit father cheated, in addition to all the other reasons he’s the shitbaggiest of them all. Holden suggests that she destroyed her relationships with her belief that she’s better than men, which she claims gets that bloodlust pumping, but not really because they keep bantering. She says that she doesn’t think that because she’s become kind of a mess. “Buffy, I’m here to kill you, not to judge you.”
K: I kind of adore that line.
Sweeney: Buffy goes on to say that she behaved like a monster to Spike while also letting him completely take her over. (Which is supposed to be the part where we say that Spike’s pattern of abuse was totally fine because Buffy feels responsible for all her ignored non-consent. Wheeee! See, the fact that Buffy did things she regrets means that Spike’s totes in the right for everything but the AR, OBVI! Obvi…Just when I thought I’d get through this without pissing anyone off. LOLCUTE.) (K: I’m actually kind of proud of the fact that we can still find reasons to rant about Spike in an episode in which he has NO LINES WHATSOEVER.) (L: It’s a talent, really.) (S: I’m less talking Spike than about particular arguments I was forced to have until I wanted to gouge my eyeballs out, generally prompted by the HORROR of failing to mention/flail about him. Some days I’m more relaxed about that trauma than others.) Holden tells Buffy that there’s nothing wrong with her and hits her over the head with a piece of a tombstone. After a Not Break, they fight and Buffy’s extra-pissed. Because of nonsensical reasons, they end up diving right through a stained glass window.
Chez Summers. There are flashes of lighting only happening in/around the house and in those flickers of light, Dawn can see a corpse-like Joyce on the couch. GUYS THIS IS TERRIFYING AND IDK HOW I’M GOING TO SLEEP TONIGHT. She also sees a demon that’s black and almost slimy looking, sitting on top of Joyce, choking her. Dawn gets her own terrifying voice on, ordering the thing to back the fuck off so Joyce can talk. OK, Dawnie, you work that crazy voice. Dawn goes looking for the ax, which flies through the air, almost taking her head off. The door blows open and the demonic voice orders her to get out, but Dawn shuts the door and shouts, “NO!” instead. WHY? JUST GET OUT. DON’T BE A HERO! Sorry, sorry, another of the million reasons why we could only blog our way through Sunnydale.
K: True. I would be out that door in two seconds flat to round up people who actually know what the fuck they’re doing. BUT. As I said before, I love that Dawn is now sufficiently a member of the Scoobies that she stays to fight on her own, rather than relying on everyone else. You know?
Sweeney: I do. I’m getting to that, swearsies. Patience. (But obvs TEAM DAWN FLAG!)
“She’s my mother. I’m staying.” Flash of dead, white-eyed Joyce that will haunt me forever.
New Sunnydale High School. The boys are in The Basement of Don’t Go In There 2.0 and have gone in a big circle. Andrew spots a very dead looking Warren standing in front of a door. It reminds me of Donnie Darko, though I imagine everyone will have a mental reference of choice here, probably older and more accurate ones too. (K: SNARK LADY MINDMELD. Seriously, all I could think of was Donnie Darko.) Andrew assures Jonathan that it’s totes through that door. Inside, Jonathan agrees and Andrew starts digging.
Inside the mausoleum they’ve just tumbled into, Buffy again gets Psych 101’d into letting Holden up, though she has him poised for the kill. He says he has no cares or worries, besides whether some hot girl attended his funeral. Buffy makes a comment about how she “knows” that sex and death and pain are all the same damn thing to vampires. Holden OMGs over this (sidebarring on whether or not the Buffyverse is concrete on the existence of God) and asks if her last relationship was with a vampire.
Elsewhere, said vampire is walking through a neighborhood with the woman from the bar.
UC Sunnydale Library. Willow goes on to talk about how she lost herself after Tara, above and beyond acceptable responses to grieving. Cassie says that it was the power, but Willow says that the power is in her. Cassie says that things are clearer where she and Tara are and Willow has to just stop and never use it ever again. Giles told Willow that it’s not quite that simple, but she’s going to be OK. “She says…you’re not gonna be OK. You’re going to kill everybody.” Zoomy cameraman gets all up in Willow’s horrified face.
Basement of Don’t Go In There 2.0, they’re still digging, only now they’re close. Jonathan excitedly remembers his locker number. Then he starts to go on and wax nostalgic about how much he misses high school and all the people he knew there. Andrew, who is less nostalgic, sees Warren standing behind Jonathan and says that none of those people want to talk to Jonathan or even care about him. Without even a hint of defensiveness (and only a touch of the sadness you’d expect) Jonathan responds, “Well I still care about them. That’s why I’m here.” Yup, that’s some awkward-hug-worthy shit right there, Jonathan. I CARE ABOUT YOU TOO. The cameraman pans up so we can see just how horrifying and demonic looking the thing they’re digging up is.
Chez Summers. Dawn is getting her magic on, determined to cast the thing out so that her mother can talk to her. Dawnie, this magic might be – as Giles might say – a bit above your pay grade. She gets thrashed about the room and a slice across her cheek for her trouble, but she keeps on keeping on, because Dawn is becoming such a little badass in her own right. (K: FOUR FOR YOU, DAWNIE)
Psych 101 w/ Dead People. Buffy’s talking more about her relationship with Spike, and she talks about how she didn’t want to be loved – she wanted to be punished and hurt, like she thought she deserved. She says she feels lower than anyone. (Which, again, someone feeling so low and worthless that they want to be hurt doesn’t exonerate others from hurting them. Tra la la la la #unpopularopinions) She adds that none of her friends and family have ever been through what she’s been through, being the Slayer and, as such, sometimes feels better than them. She says it doesn’t make sense, but he says it all just adds up to her feeling alone. That, however, is their cue to get with the fighting. Buffy thanks him for listening, and starts to say something about “that stuff with Spike,” and Holden’s ears perk up at the mention of Spike’s name.
Elsewhere, he and the blonde are arriving at her apartment.
Chez Summers, Dawn continues to cast her spell, even as the room is being destroyed and her face is covered in blood. The howling finally stops and she collapses to the floor. She gets up, then, to find her glowing, angelic mother standing over her.
UC Sunnydale Library. Cassie says that she’s there because she and Tara wanted to warn Willow, and basically that even so much as one spell would be enough to set her down the Kill Everyone Around Her path. Willow is panicking, because she’s not sure that’s possible, especially since Giles said that wasn’t the best idea. Her repeated mentioning of Giles is giving me feels, both because he’s absent and because she sounds like a much younger Willow with the deferential way she speaks about his advice. (K: I hadn’t thought about that. BRB, HAVING FEELS.) Cassie says that there is one thing that Willow could do and it would allow her to see Tara and not speak through Cassie. “It’s not that bad. Really. It’s just like going to sleep.” Willow gets SRSBSNS, older-seen-some-shit!Willow face and stands up, demanding to know who Cassie really is.
We get quick cuts of Holden informing Buffy that Spike is the one that sired him, just as he bites the woman’s neck.
Chez Summers. Glowy Joyce is telling Dawn that things are coming. “I love you and I love Buffy, but she won’t be there for you. When it’s bad, Buffy won’t choose you – she’ll be against you.” With that, Joyce disappears and Dawn cries out to her not to go, and is left sobbing and battered in the ruins of the house. (K: Somewhere off in the distance, Xander senses the damage to Chez Summers and rubs his hands with glee. #randomheadcanon)
Basement of Don’t Go In There 2.0, with Warren standing behind him, Andrew stabs Jonathan in the stomach. WHY, ANDREW, WHY?
Lor: AW MAN. REALLY RIGHT NOW? Why? Because Jonathan showed character growth and seemingly learned his lesson. THANKS, JOSS.
Sweeney: Library. Cassie says that the suicide push was apparently a step too far, though she shrugs that Willow seemed like easy pickings. She goes on to taunt Willow about a hypothetical suicide scenario and it’s ghastly and horrifying (you know, how discussing the potential suicide of a character should be). Cassie gets all up in Willow’s face, telling her that she doesn’t yet know anything about pain, and what’s coming will make the last year seem easy. (PLEASE GOD NO.) “The whole good-versus-evil, balancing-the-scales thing? I’m over it. I’m done with the mortal coil. But believe me: I’m going for a big finish.” Willow responds with the big S7 quotable, “From beneath you it devours,” Cassie corrects that it’s not it but her, and then turns into some insane self-consuming demon and disappears.
Sweeney: The song from the beginning picks back up again as we watch Jonathan bleed out, filling the metallic demonic-symbol-emblazoned thing they’ve unearthed. Spike finishes his siring/snack. Buffy stakes Holden. “Can I spend the night alone?” finishes the song. End credits.
GUYS! YOU LIKED THE EPISODE AND I LIKED THE EPISODE! Remember when that was a thing we all did? All of us, hanging out, liking stuff together? Good times, man. Good times.
So let’s discuss. We had a minor but wonderfully effective format tweak – we covered one fairly cohesive narrative by showing five completely distinct, non-overlapping stories. (All featuring “conversations with dead people” though we didn’t really see the conversation Spike was having.) I loved the slightly different pacing of the different stories, as well. They featured slightly different high and low moments but all came to something climactic – and yet still distinct – at the same time. Aside from the obvious reasons I appreciated the silence of Spike’s story, it actually worked really well to set up the delayed reveal for its purpose. We always jumped to him when some other lines of dialogue seemed to match what we were watching with him. It was a nice, subtle bit of misdirection.
Buffy rehashed some of the isolation themes we’ve already delved into a little bit with her depression, but this time with greater emphasis on her status as The Slayer as the cause for that isolation. She’s died twice. She is the law. She will always be set apart. It’s unsettling because there’s this feeling of, “BUT WE ALREADY DID A WHOLE SEASON OF BUFFY’S CUT OFF,” but at the same time, her points are very real and valid. It’s noteworthy, though, that she’s become so self-aware on that front.
The Dawn bits were truly nightmare-worthy and also showed us how strong she has become. There were a few moments where she was bordering on raising-my-mom-as-a-zombie insane, and obviously my personal inclination was to say, “GREAT! LEAVING NOW!” to the demonic voice, but I loved seeing her hold strong and finish the spell. As with the entirety of this episode, there’s a lot of, “What does this all mean?” stuff to be resolved later, but within the space of this one, I appreciated seeing her strength.
Willow’s conversation successfully got all under her skin and played at her insecurities, but I love that instant recognition, at the mere suggestion of suicide, that under no circumstances would Tara suggest such a thing. And I know that the original plan had been for Tara to fill that role, and the hasty explanation for her absence was kind of silly, but Azure Skye did a fantastic job (again.)
The Andrew/Jonathan opening schtick was easily the weakest part of the episode for me. There’s a certain nostalgia factor to having them return, specifically in this very meta sense that they are the comic relief nostalgia tucked in with some very heavy, dark nostalgia. The high school callbacks during Buffy’s conversation achieved that more effectively, IMHO. However, it was ultimately brought around to a really nice place; I never thought I’d say it, but the arrival of Warren was sort of the upswing moment. I love everything they did with Jonathan here. His little arc really is fantastic – from the boy who made a million random appearances before feeling so invisible he was ready to commit a dramatic suicide, to the magically gifted 21-year-old who has seen some shit and is digging up a basement because he wants to set things right and because he truly cares about other people. We’ve watched him struggle with his identity and wishes to stand out and be noticed. Now he really just wanted to belong, but was content to just know that he’s done good. The best part in all of this is that Jonathan’s arc felt fairly seamless. He’s a character that really did just get used and abused by the writers as-they-needed him, but nothing about that flow feels inconsistent to me. And of course he dies in this episode that works so hard to establish why he’s lovable. I’m a little torn on my thoughts/feels on that part.
That’s a really long-winded way of saying that this was every bit as flail-worthy as everyone promised. Let’s drink to that.
K: I totally agree with everything you said about Jonathan. I’ve kind of been on Team Feels where Jonathan’s concerned pretty much from the get-go as a result of the whole abused-by-the-writers thing. And it makes me sad panda that his story ends like this. BUT STILL. I LOVED THIS EPISODE. REMEMBER WHEN THAT WAS A THING THAT I DID??? It was pretty much a perfect blend of serious, amusing, feelsy, and absolutely fucking terrifying. There were so many hints back to previous seasons and previous episodes – which seems to be what season 7 does best – and constant reminders of how far these characters have come. Especially Dawn. Sure, staying in the house might not be the best decision. But she’s fully embracing her Junior Watcher role, and I LOVE IT. Although I didn’t miss her screaming…
Lor: As a first time watcher, this episode seemed to really swing things into gear for the season. “Here we go,” says Buffy in the teaser, and we finally get a taste of what the evil in the basement is planning, besides whispering crazy nothings into Spike’s ear. What a great episode for fans of character progression. This is Buffy, take her of leave her. The Slayer, all alone even when she isn’t, inferior about her superiority complex, either unwilling or unable to connect, but always, always trying.
There’s a lot that I suspect here, that I won’t know for sure, but since Cassie was not really Cassie, I fear Joyce was not really Joyce, but that seed of doubt was firmly planted in our little Dawnie. I hope she’s able to see past it, like Willow did, but I’m not confident. Dawn is younger, has seen less, and got to see her dead mother bathed in white. Shit’s rough.
I don’t get what Spike was doing here. I know we saw him bite a woman, but chip, anyone?
This really did make me look forward to how this season will progress and how ultimately this story will end.
Next time: Is Spike really behind a series of disappearances throughout Sunnydale? Find out in S07 E08 – Sleeper.