2.18. Killed by Death
I know that a lot of people hate this episode, but it’s an OK little early seasons horror story with some nice moments between Buffy, her friends and her mom, although nothing particularly important happens and it could be taken out without the story suffering at all. Nothing puts it above average for BtVS but nothing puts it below either.
When Buffy comes down with flu, we learn she is scared of hospitals because of a childhood trauma when she saw her cousin Celia die in a hospital. It’s the first time we hear anything about any relatives of hers other than her parents. Being rushed to the hospital against her will (after Angel[us] used her condition to beat her about in the graveyard) proves to be a blessing in disguise as it allows her to investigate a series of suspicious deaths of children, not as natural as they seem.
One thing that might be somewhat problematic in this episode is how Angel(us)’s behavior fits with his overall behavior In season 2: here he wants to kill Buffy in the graveyard, using the fact when she’s less than 100% because she’s got a flu, and later comes to the hospital with the same intention, but in Passion
he didn’t try to kill her while she was sleeping, when he had an even better opportunity. What has changed? Has he grown tired of his mind games? Maybe he decided on the heat of the moment, since the first thing he did was try to kill Cordelia? Did he just want to scare Buffy, beat her up a bit, and/or drink a bit from her and therefore picked to attack her while three of her friends are there? Does he actually underrate her friends so much? Also interesting to think about, since he was going for the bite, was he going to just kill her or turn her into a vampire? Is this all just an excuse for the writers to have Xander save Buffy and make a point once more how her friends are important to her survival?
In any case, he is quite lame in this episode: he is much stronger than a regular human and should deal easily with Xander, but instead Xander manages to get him off Buffy and throw him around before making him run away by pulling a big cross at him. If I had an ”Angelus badass-o-meter”, he’d get a lot of negative points. We know that the cross doesn’t kill vampires but just burns itself in their flesh for a while (as the Master showed in Nightmares
, and we’ve seen Buffy’s crucifix burn itself into Angel’s skin when they kissed in Angel
, which didn’t bother him; and in season 7 and AtS season 5 we’ll see that Spike can handle huge crosses burning themselves into his skin without much problem), so on this occasion he comes off as a bit of a sissy who can’t take pain.
Xander also wins their standoff at the hospital, since it turns out Angel(us) doesn’t dare attack him and a bunch of orderlies and security guards (and that despite the fact that the orderlies and security guards have no idea about vampires and how to kill them). All Angel(us) can do is his classic tactic of saying crass things designed to hurt people where it stings most. In this case, that Xander still loves Buffy, which he doesn’t deny. This conversation calls back to their scene in Prophecy Girl
(“You’re in love with her” – “Aren’t you?”), when Angel-with-a-soul showed the first hint of ‘Angelus’-like behavior by mocking Xander as a “kid”. Here he mockingly calls Xander Buffy’s white knight and taunts him that it must bother him that “I got there first”. First?
Does he think Xander has a chance of “getting there” at all? That’s more than what Xander expects at this point, whatever feelings he might still have for Buffy I think he’s given up hope of a romantic relationship with her. (Although some moments in this episode and Phases make me think that perhaps the writers were still keeping Xander/Buffy open as an option.) Do I detect a hint of the same jealousy that Angel showed in Prophecy Girl
and Reptile Boy
? It’s also interesting he calls Xander on trying to be Buffy’s white knight, because back when Angel was souled and good he was constantly trying to be exactly that. He’s such an 18th century guy, someone should have told him that a) these days being a girl’s “first” isn’t considered the ultimate achievement for a guy, and b) Buffy isn’t your classic damsel. This moment certainly didn’t help make Xander hate Angel less, and I wonder if it played a part in his decision to lie to Buffy in Becoming II
Buffy is of course again the hero defeating the bad guy, but Xander gets a few badass moments as well, helping her, and the other Scoobies contribute, too, even Cordelia this time. Though assigning her to help Giles do the research turns out not to work that well, since she’s asking too many questions and annoying him. She’s better working in a duo with Xander and using her skills to distract a plain-looking security guard by flirting with him and stroking his ego (she’ll do the same with another security guard in AtS season 3 Waiting in the Wings
). Cordelia openly tells Xander she’s aware of his attraction to Buffy, but she seems not to be too bothered by it.Willow also successfully distracts another pair of security guards in her own way, proving that she’s a good liar/actress when needed, pretending convincingly to have a panic attack and shouting about her fear of frogs until Buffy can escape.
The Scoobies first suspect a doctor, but he gets killed by the monster and turns out to have been a good guy who was developing a vaccine against the illness. Buffy’s comment that it’s another person she was too late to save is a reminder of her feelings of guilt because of Jenny and another people who have died in the previous weeks. Or rather, that Angel killed, as Xander points out in a Captain Obvious moment (this time possibly a result of him not thinking much, unlike the last episode’s “I told you so” comments). Good for him that Cordelia is there to make him look tactful by comparison.
The story of this episode is centered on children and childhood. There are flashbacks of Buffy’s childhood; children are the victims; children are also the only ones who see the monster – who turns out to be the same one that killed Celia: Death itself, or rather, “der Kindestod” – German for Child’s Death. Children can see things adults can’t – der Kindestod is invisible to the adults - but fever helps Buffy see Kindestod. Rationality can hinder people from seeing what’s in front of them, just like Joyce doesn’t see what’s going on in Buffy’s life, and just like the majority of the population of Sunnydale is rationalizing every supernatural event they have witnessed. In this episode, for instance, Joyce doesn’t react to feverish Buffy talking about having to kill vampires (which might be a little strange since Normal Again
will establish that Buffy spent some time institutionalized because of her “delusions” about vampires), which Giles and Willow quickly try to explain to her and the orderlies as just a result of a feverish delusion (maybe that’s what Joyce told herself, but apparently she wasn’t bothered by Buffy still having the same delusion?)
Der Kindestod looks a bit like Freddie Krueger, with the addition of eyes that turn out to be long tentacles that it uses to strangle children, but Whedon has said it was actually inspired by something that freaked him out when he was a child. It’s funny that the Scoobies first react to Buffy telling them that deaths is a supernatural being the same way that most people would react to being told that vampires and demons exist, as if the idea is more out there than everything else that they’ve seen in Sunnydale. Maybe it’s because they think that death is a natural part of life. But the concept of the monster seems to be based on the feeling that there is something monstrous about the death of a child, the way that the death of an adult isn’t. In the end, though Kindestod gives Buffy a good scare, she defeats him easily and in a very banal way – by snapping its neck… which is probably a metaphor for the things that scare us as children but are easily dealt with when we start growing up. By defeating the monster that killed her cousin, Buffy solves her childhood trauma. But she has more than enough new traumas that will stay with her in the years to come.
Keeping with the theme of childhood, Willow mentions that she and Xander used to play doctor as children – which draws a funny look by Cordelia (a bit of foreshadowing for the season 3 storyline?) and prompts Xander to awkwardly explain that they were literally playing doctor, with Willow diagnosing him with different illnesses.
This is the first time we see Joyce act motherly not just to Buffy but to Xander and Willow, too. The final scene is one of the cutest early seasons’ scenes of the Scooby friendship – Buffy is exploiting her recent illness to the max, as Joyce is bringing her drinks and snacks and asking her what else she needs as she’s lounging in front of the TV, but Xander and Willow are enjoying the same treatment. Knowing what we know now about Xander’s and Willow’s home lives, it makes sense that they would enjoy hanging out at Buffy’s place and that they would appreciate Joyce even more since their own parents weren’t that caring. Some fans think that the way all the Scoobies treated the loss of Joyce as if she was their own family in The Body
was an exaggeration, but this is one of the scenes that helps prove otherwise.
The girl who plays child Buffy in flashbacks has brownish hair. So Buffy is a bottle blonde? I always thought she was supposed to be a natural blonde, despite SMG being a brunette (though her hair in season 1 was darker than in subsequent seasons).
Cordelia: So, this isn't you being afraid of hospitals ‘cause your friend died and you wanna conjure up a monster that you can fight so you can save everybody and not feel so helpless?
Giles: Cordelia, have you ever actually heard of tact?
Cordelia: Tact is just not saying true stuff. I'll pass.
Pop culture references:
Xander says Death is chess wiz, a reference to The Seventh Seal
. Boy, Xander does seem to know lots of different films, who would think he was a Bergman fan?! Maybe he just caught the film on TV…
Buffy and Xander are still referring to the soulless version of Buffy’s ex as “Angel”.
“Death and disease are the only things she can’t fight” says Giles. Just like The Puppet Show
played with the idea of Scoobies dealing with an ordinary human villain but then revealed the villain to be a demon, and just like Ted
played with the story of Buffy feeling guilty for accidentally having killed a human being but then revealed him to be a robot, Killed by Death
introduces this theme but then doesn’t follow through the premise, making Buffy’s opponent a supernatural monster after all, which allows her to beat him in her usual way, with violence. But this theme is going to be revisited in a big way in season 5.