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Buffy Episode 7.7 Conversations With Dead People
AirDate: 12th Nov 02

I’ve said previously that I absolutely loved Season 5. Aside from all the killer one-off episodes (Buffy vs Dracula, Fool For Love, Checkpoint, The Body, The Body, THE BODY!!), we got carried through a tumultuous roller coaster adventure that had terrible pitfalls (Glory sucking Tara’s brain was a heartbreaker), ovation-worthy triumphs (Four words: “I owe you pain”), thrilling battles (remember the Knights of Byzantium attacking the bus as the gang fled Sunnydale?), and as huge a conclusion as we’ve seen yet (sorry, I still think it was more powerful than Dark Willow’s Day Out). But mainly I liked it for the fact that it felt bigger than the usual confines of the show. It was an epic adventure that forced the Scoobs out of their usual world and into what was essentially WAR, complete with 3 separate factions (Glory & her minions, The Scoobs, and the Knights). While I loved the idea of Willow as Big Bad, Season 6 would have been better if the actual explosive climax didn’t begin and end over 4 episodes (with the last two happening in the same night).

Why am I reminiscing about Season 5? Because I feel like we’re in store for another barnburner of that level. I don’t think Season 7 (possibly the last, but we all know there are still so many variables that it’s not worth getting into) is going to be one of those years where things stop and start and we get only hints and red herrings through the majority of the season. This is shaping up to be the kind of tale where things are going to get very wild very soon, and we’re once again going to see our beloved heroes thrown into a crisis that they can’t handle. All of the chill-inducing trash talk Morphy was laying on Willow in the library implies that we’re going to be witnessing something bigger than one guy stitched together from parts of different demons, or a grieving witch who can be talked out of her plan at the last minute. This is an enemy that’s ancient, so powerful that everyone who’s even remotely connected to the supernatural is nervous, and obviously able to hit all of us right where we live.

Which is exactly what it did to Dawn. Her evening started out pretty smooth, ordering pizza, then a little impromptu mambo, and finally shooting the breeze on the phone with Kit (yay Kit!). Until a whole other kind of breeze came shooting into the house, bringing with it a nasty emphysema demon and the first (apparent) visit from Mom since Dawnie momentarily raised her from the grave in ‘Forever’. This was some of the scariest stuff ever to occur on Buffy (my friend Catherine the ‘fraidy-cat said she kept turning away from the television, but still watched its reflection in her front window), and the intensity of Dawn’s ordeal, as well as the excellent separate storylines of the other characters featured in the episode, are major feathers in the caps of both veteran Jane Espenson and the 2-for-2 boy wonder, Drew Goddard.

Drew Goddard!! On behalf of myself and everyone I know who watches Buffy, WE LOVE YOU! Stay with us forever and, if you ever move to a different show, make sure we know where you’re going. Your work not only shows brilliance and an ability to deftly balance humour and drama, but your perfect sense of how these characters think and feel clearly indicates that you’re a big fan of the series, not just someone who got handed the job and a few videotapes. No offense, Jane – you’re great too, but we’ve come to expect quality from your scripts. Drew’s the new kid on the block and the talk of the town.

‘Conversations with Dead People’ (okay, not the slickest title ever, but it’ll do) also gets added to the list of Buffy episodes that stand out as being wholly unique from everything they’d one before with this series. Dream episode, silent episode, Jonathon-as-god episode, musical episode, and now we’ve had one with the ingenious structure of having 4 completely separate storylines and, for the first time ever, none of the main characters ever come face to face. Throw in the fact that Spike’s whole thread was completely without dialogue, and we have an even more fascinating installment to the season.

What’s the deal with Spike anyway?!? It seemed like such a heartwarming story, as he sat in the Bronze and made nice with an unnamed barfly. I imagined they sat there and traded tales of their broken hearts (although Spike was probably a touch vague on some of his personal details), before he walked her home. His hesitation at her front door made me think he was going to be a perfect gentleman and just say goodnight, and then WHAMMO!! Instead of going upstairs for a drink, he managed to find one right there on the step. So what should we take from this major twist? There are a few likely possibilities, I’d say.

  1. Morphy has removed or neutralized Spike’s chip, and Spike is either out feeding because he CAN, or because he’s being controlled by our Big, Big Bad.
  2. The chip hasn’t been an issue since he got his soul back, and he’s been keeping that fact from Buffy and the others because he’s afraid they’ll trust him even less than they do now. The only time I can remember him harming a human so far this season was when he speared poor Ronnie. At that moment, he definitely reacted in the usual grab-the-skull-and-scream fashion, but was that only because Buffy was watching? I checked the scene again, and there may actually have been a weird instant of hesitation, but it could just be my imagination. Regardless of the chip, though, we KNOW he has a soul and he’s demonstrated his desire to do right by people. So why the attack on an innocent? Unless…
  3. That wasn’t Spike. As his nickname implies, Morphy can appear as anyone he wants (I’m being gender-specific only because it’s a pain in the ass to keep it open), so it’s entirely possible that he’s out and about as Spike, for any number of reasons – possibly to wreck Spike’s good (*cough*) reputation in the eyes of the Scoobs.

Number three also seems likely because Morphy’s intention in this episode seemed to be to get Dawn and Willow alone and use the representations of lost loved ones to convince them NOT to employ their greatest assets in the coming storm – Willow’s being her magicks, and Dawn’s her sisterly bond and unshakeable trust in Buffy. This is a Big Bad that can get right up inside the inner circle in order to divide them. From beneath you it devours. Or, as Jonathon & Andrew put it…

“It eats you, starting with your bottom.” Hilarious! It was an excellent surprise to see these two tearing into town in their beat-up El Camino, intent on uncovering the secret of the evil that had been haunting their dreams. Jonathon figured the goal was using the information to help Buffy, thereby bringing them a little closer to redemption, but poor Andrew was already a slave to a higher (or lower, as it were) power. The scenes with Warren hovering around them and leading them ever closer to the heart of darkness were almost as scary as Dawn’s ordeal. Adam Busch, you can be one creepy dude when you want to be.

So now I need to tackle the subject that pains my heart when I think about it:

They killed Jonathon.

Who did? Andrew did. Warren did (if not this week, then starting last year). Morphy did. Drew & Jane did. JOSS did. I hold each and every one of you responsible for the death of one of my all time favourite Buffy characters. A man who’s been down since day one, as both a mainstay in high school hallways and frat party crowd scenes, but also a key figure in many, many great scenes and episodes. As I said recently in an email to a reader, you could piece together one hell of an entertaining Jonathon highlight reel. I couldn’t possibly pull a complete list out just from memory, but think of ‘Earshot’, ‘Inca Mummy Girl’, ‘Bad Eggs’, ‘Go Fish’, and of course he was the person who presented Buffy with the Class Protector award in ‘The Prom’ – still one of my all time favourite moments in the history of the show and a never-fail tear jerker. ‘Superstar’ is also a classic and one of the funniest episodes ever, and Jonathon was a huge part of why Season 6 was great (and despite any criticism, my own included, it WAS still great). His final scene focused on his good heart, and how he bears no malice toward any of the people who rejected, ignored, or belittled him in high school. The speech was beautifully written, and it was a fitting farewell. So goodbye, little buddy. Thanks for all the constipated grimaces and neurotic panic attacks. You will be missed.

He’s gonna stay dead, right? Sometimes people on this show stay dead. Right?

Someone who IS apparently going to stay dead is Tara. By now it’s pretty common knowledge that Joss had a plan to work Amber Benson back into the show in some capacity, but at the 11th hour her agent couldn’t come to terms with the network brass, so that idea went down the tubes. It’s been discussed this week how much more effective Willow’s scene in the library would have been if she’d actually been face-to-face with Tara, but in no way do I want to downplay the power of what we actually ended up with. It was great to see “Cassie” again so soon, and the heartstrings still got a good tuggin’ as we saw Willow opening up about how lost she feels without her one & only. Call me a masochist, but I’m still looking for more time devoted to Willow dealing with Tara’s death, and in that sense the first three quarters of the library scene did a lot to satisfy that need. But when the façade dropped and Willow knew that she wasn’t communicating with Tara, I could have climbed up on the sense of dread pervading my living room and jumped off it, it was just that solid. The compassion on Cassie’s face turned to a malicious sneer, and for the first time since 7.1 we had the sense that we were hearing from the actual mind behind the whole bottom-eating evil, and it was absolutely chilling. “You don’t know hurt. This last year is gonna seem like cake after what I put your friends through, and i'm not a fan of easy death. Fact is, the whole good vs 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.

”What in Hell’s Half-Acre IS this thing? The devil? The living embodiment of the Hellmouth? Evil itself? Aaron Carter?!? Let me finally get around to Buffy’s session with her undead shrink, then I’ll share some insight into demonology that Ellen sent in.

How great was Jonathon M. Woodward in the role of recently vamped psych student Holden Webster (note to all writers everywhere – we know where you got the name Holden, and it’s now been borrowed a few too many times)? He was funny and absolutely charming, and I honestly thought for a while that we were witnessing the debut of an excellent new recurring character. He could have stuck around as Dr. Melfi to Buffy’s Tony Soprano – someone she could keep coming back to so she could address the issues and feelings that she doesn’t feel ready to discuss with her friends. We definitely learned a lot about what’s been making Buffy tick for the past year, including her thoughts on Spike (who apparently sired Holden). These scenes reminded me a little of Buffy & Spike’s conversation in ‘Fool For Love’ – a truce between enemies, just long enough for them to share some honesty and genuine insight (with intermittent bouts of fisticuffs, of course). Holden’s chief contribution was isolating Buffy’s main issue and summing it up very succinctly – deep down she feels superior to everyone around her, but her guilt about that has given her an inferiority complex. Wow.

So while Buffy’s portion of the episode wasn’t scary, it was still powerful and extremely important. It was one of a few episodes since her return from Heaven, along with ‘OMWF’, ‘Dead Things’, and ‘Normal Again’, where we got to hear how Buffy REALLY feels – not just in terms of how she’s the Slayer and that overrules everything else, but about the inner fears and insecurities that fester behind the badge. Inside the Slayer there’s a young woman who’s dealing with the same issues that we all face, and the scenes where that woman is allowed to surface are always extremely touching – both for the way they’re written and SMG’s skill as an actor. It must be tough to face your frailty when the whole world is depending on your strength, and she really conveys this struggle beautifully.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Dawn successfully managed to shove out the demon that she assumed was preventing her from communicating with Joyce. Her victory came at the expense of a whole mess of mess, though. At this point I had to wonder – don’t these people have neighbors? Their house just about caved in, the picture windows blew out, it probably sounded like the end of the world, and how much do you want to bet that it’ll all get cleaned up and repaired (thanks to Contractor Guy – The Guy With The Money) without a single person from the neighborhood stopping by to say, “I heard a noise – is everything all right?”

But I’m jumping ahead of myself (again!). Once things quieted down, Dawn got what she was after – some face time with her mom. Oh, Joyce. That quick flashback from ‘Bewitched, Bothered & Bewildered’ last week reminded me how much I miss you, but this was too much. Dawn & I were both speechless and wide-eyed as Joyce appeared, bathed in light and looking all heavenly. It was easy to think, based on her entrance, that this wasn’t Morphy, but the real Joyce – back for a moment to warn Dawn about the days to come.

And here’s the thing I can’t stop thinking about: What if it WAS the real Joyce, and she was there to honestly warn Dawn to prepare herself for betrayal? It’s not like she showed up and said, “Hi Dawnie – Mommy wants you to shoot Xander in the head with the crossbow and then slash your wrists, okay?” What if it was really Joyce, reminding her daughter that she loved her, and feeling awful about the knowledge she possessed? It’s easy to say that it was still just Morphy trying to drive another wedge between the Scoobs, but I haven’t been able to rule out the far more unsettling possibility.

As promised, here’s the fruits of research done by Ellen, who, judging by the thought put into her emails, is either a genius or a conspiracy-theory lunatic (I’m just kidding, Ellen – you’re the best).

Okay. The seal that Jonathon and Andrew uncovered in the Sunnydale High basement was a goat-head in a reversed pentagram. This symbol can be identified as the seal of Baphomet (not the name J & A gave it, but bear with us). Originally ascribed to the Knights Templar, it was adopted by the Church of Satan in 1966. The one noteworthy adjustment to the image here was that it had signs of the zodiac around it, instead of the Hebrew letters that spell Leviathan (Leviathan being the name commonly associated with a biblical beast that devours you, um, from beneath, but usually in the ocean). This seal is also associated with the goat of Mendes, Mendes being a city in ancient Egypt where fertility worship of Ba'al was practiced.

Ba'al, in his deified form, is known as Nimrod, the Sun God. Ellen found reference to biblical passages referencing Nimrod: A mighty hunter before the Lord, and they also suggest that it was not wild beasts that Nimrod was hunting, but men. Having hunted them he would enslave them and have a tyrannical hold over them -- much like a vampire turning out sires. By Holden’s admission, we know that Spike is out and siring (assuming again that it’s actually Spike, and not an imposter). Now, if you’re open to the idea that Joss and his writers are feeding us tiny hints even when we have almost no chance of catching them, check this out: At the beginning of "Him", when Buffy moved Spike into Xander’s apartment, Xander was of course all too ready to insult Spike. He always has been, right? It’s not like they’re friends. But of all the words he could have used to bash our William with (and you KNOW the X-Man has quite a vocabulary of clever putdowns), what was his name of choice this time?


Cool, huh? Ellen, I’m going to leave out the Thanatos angle for the time being, both for reasons of space and because, as you said, it felt like a bit more of a stretch than this stuff. But thanks for the extra effort.

Take care, everybody.

PS – Note to Sue, whose email address begins suetj@: I tried twice to answer your email, and both times it got bounced back, saying that your server rejected MY address. So thanks for writing, and don’t think I didn’t appreciate it.

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