Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Dead Man’s Party

For the second episode in a row, the writers of Buffy deal with the metaphorical by translating it into the literal. Last week we had the idea of children being forced to grow up fast, represented by literal accelerated ageing. This week, the metaphor is put into words by Xander: “You can’t just bury stuff, Buffy. It will come right back up to get you.” Writer Marti Noxon gives us the literal representation of the “burying stuff” metaphor when a cat digs its way out of its grave in zombified form, shortly followed by a whole bunch of dead bodies.

As is so often the case with Buffy, the fantasy element is by far the least interesting aspect of the episode. A zombie attack is nothing new, and just serves to provide a crowd of attackers that are the call to action for Buffy, much like the underworld kidnappers of Anne. For a series that features a slayer of monsters, this actually represents the restoration of normality, and helps Buffy and her friends on their road to healing emotionally, in the fallout from Buffy’s absence and return. But it’s the emotional conflict that is the really interesting aspect of the episode.

None of this is easy to watch, but that’s important. This is a series that never shies away from showing us the messiness of relationships when something goes wrong. Buffy returns to find that people have moved on just a little bit without her, and she can’t quite pick up exactly where she left off. They are also avoiding talking about their feelings, and that’s a problem in particular for Willow and Joyce. Giles is the counterbalance. He’s grown up enough to deal. I loved the little emotional moment where he is making tea for Buffy and her friends and a smile comes over his face and he seems to be welling up. He understands what Buffy has been through, and he is just delighted to have her back in his life. He doesn’t need to throw recriminations at her. Giles is very much the rock in Buffy’s life.

Joyce, on the other hand, is not. One minute she is lecturing Buffy about living with the consequences of making bad choices (choices like, what… her boyfriend turning into a monster? Getting kicked out of school because she was saving the world? Choices like that?) and the next second she’s calling her a “superhero”. Make your mind up, mother of the year. She still can’t understand that any teenager would have taken her words literally when she kicked her out of her own home, and passes that off as an example of a mother not being perfect. Well, there’s imperfect, and then there’s abject failure of her basic duty of care to her own daughter. Just in case Buffy was in any doubt she isn’t wanted in her home, Joyce allows herself to be overheard saying this:

“Having Buffy home, I thought it was going to make it all better, but in some ways it’s almost worse.”

No wonder she goes off to pack her bags again, and then she is painted as the bad guy for doing so. It’s nasty stuff, and a big failing of Noxon’s script is that there is not enough push back against the injustice. Giles should have been the counterbalance, the one person who understands. That could even have been Xander, who instead puts in the boot, but the only person who tries to make things better is Cordelia, who says all the wrong things. Meanwhile, Willow’s complaint has a hint of selfishness about it:

“I know you’re going through stuff. So am I.”

Yeah, well there’s adapting to life with a new boyfriend, and then there’s having to kill your boyfriend to save the world, getting kicked out of school and thrown out of your own home by your cow of a mother. Not quite the same thing, is it. Thank God for Giles, who succeeds where Joyce fails, accepting Buffy back with the simple, unconditional love that Joyce fails to display, and then deals with Snyder in his own special way when Joyce’s hollow threats failed. It’s always fun when Giles’ badass side comes out, but he’s everything a parental figure should be: caring and protective. When Buffy came back to Sunnydale, she made one big mistake. She showed up at the door of the wrong parental figure.   RP

The view from the Sunnydale Press…

The title should have given it away, but this isn’t the first time I’ve missed what was right in front of me.  (Phases was another that I just failed to see the bleeding obvious!)  Dead Man’s Party features zombies as the main villain and they are notoriously slow moving.  Unsurprisingly, like the monster, this is a slow episode for the bulk of the story, which is still a bit of a letdown, but rather than knock it, I have to praise it for that.  One of the biggest failings of Star Trek was that they rarely (if ever) had connectivity; there was no time to reflect on actions from one story to another.  (And trust me, I have never missed any Star Trek episode, so it’s not like I’m not a fan!)  So I’m assuming Whedon knew that the stories would have to slow down sometimes to reflect on the lives of the characters.  Maybe with a 22 episode season that’s easier to do, but it’s a risk, yet Dead Man’s Party actually does that very well.  While the show has been busy investigating real life teen troubles (and branching out into social woes this season), we needed an episode that showed us an oft-overlooked issue: consequences.  Looks like my prediction at the end of the last episode might have been right! 

Buffy had been gone from her home for some time (basically all summer) before returning at the end of Anne, the first episode of this season.  That sort of action has consequences.  Her mom is understandably upset with her.  Her friends are happy to have her back but are equally upset and there’s a tension there.  Buffy is having a hard time dealing with it but they have every right to be upset and the show makes sure to show that in all its unpleasant detail.  Although I can’t say it was without issue, because come on, it was a bit silly to have it out in the living room with everyone from the neighborhood in the room with them.  I realize that emotions sometimes run hot but Buffy actually leaves the privacy of one room to have the argument in front of everyone; of course that wasn’t going to be smooth.  I was at least glad to see some of the people leave the house!  But that’s not the only silliness in this episode; in fact that might get more of a pass than other things.  For instance, this episode is about consequences; that’s actually the very plot point!  Yet, when the spell is broken after the episodes main baddie is shoveled in the face, all the zombies vanish in a puff of smoke.  Fine, but where are all the dead bodies that should be littered around Buffy’s house??  We know at least one dude had his neck snapped.  Ok, presumable all the dead bodies became zombies, all of which went up in a puff of smoke, which is damned convenient but that means there’s going to be a lot of missing persons cases and they will all center around the party where those people were last seen: Buffy Summer’s house.  So the big question in my mind is: will they brush all of this under the carpet?  I’d make a dig about the show ignoring that as I would fully expect a network series to do but this show has surprised me enough that I realize maybe it will be covered in the next episode.  If not, I think it’s too big a consequence to have in an episode about consequences if it’s going to be ignored.  Do that with an episode that isn’t about the consequences of our actions, would ya?   At the very least, Buffy’s house is in shambles: the front window and back door are gone and the front door was made of balsa wood to begin with so, looks like Buffy’s home might be off screen for several episodes now.  I am dying to see how they address that in the next story! 

“Don’t you like anything normal?”  Don’t feel bad, Buffy!  I get asked that a lot too.  But one thing I like a lot is the cast.  Yes, it’s a slow episode with a lot of dialogue without much action until the last few minutes, but you can’t hold it against the main characters; every scene with them in it is wonderful.  As a viewer, you feel for Buffy.  She’s carrying around a heavy load knowing she killed Angel just as he was cured.  She’s lost and trying to find her way.  This gives added poignancy to Joyce’s words about the dead cat: “goodbye stray cat that lost its way…”  That was Buffy until this episode where her house gets turned into “the hellmouth petting zoo”.  It’s not just Buffy though.  Cordelia’s “I’m the dip” had me laughing out loud especially coupled with Xander’s comments (they are a great couple) and I really started to consider Willow who is dating a werewolf and practicing black magic.  I hope that leads somewhere too!  The only character I don’t like is the one we’re meant to hate: Principal “Quark” Snyder.  I wonder: would a principal actually get away with speaking to a student, or her mother, the way he does?  And my absolute favorite moment of the episode was watching Giles actually threaten him.  “Would you like me to convince you?”  Oh, that was wonderful and bumped Giles up several rungs on any coolness chart.  Ironically, it also got me thinking how fortuitous it was that Giles worked at the very school Buffy was going to.  Probably pays to just accept it and move on.  So Season Three is off to an interesting start.  

Speaking of Snyder, we’re given yet another hint that there’s something going on with him and the mayor when Joyce says something about going “all the way to the mayor”.  I have faith that that line from last season is building to something interesting.  At least I hope it is.  But with the writing being as good as it’s been recently, even barring some oversights, maybe it will just be an elaborate trick!   ML

Read next in the Junkyard… Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Faith, Hope & Trick

About Roger Pocock

Co-writer on junkyard.blog. Author of windowsintohistory.wordpress.com. Editor of frontiersmenhistorian.info
This entry was posted in Entertainment, Reviews, Television and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Dead Man’s Party

  1. Another overly late comment, but just wanted to agree that Giles was awesome when he threatened Snyder (big fan of his Ripper side). Buffy’s friends kind of sucked, though (more judginess from Xander). Also wanted to clarify that Giles isn’t “conveniently” at Buffy’s school– he was installed there by the Watchers’ Council, because they knew the Slayer was heading there. Looking forward to your next review– when I manage to get there…

    Liked by 2 people

    • Roger Pocock says:

      True – the idea that Giles would be there by chance rather than in preparation for Buffy’s arrival is a really odd assumption from Mike, but even if it were somehow a coincidence it still wouldn’t really be anything to complain about, being as the school is sitting on top of the hellmouth. It’s the place to go if you want to fight evil, whether that fighting is with stakes or old books.

      Liked by 2 people

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