3.02. Dead Man’s Party
This is a not very exciting, but necessary episode that deals with the fallout from the last season before the real story of season 3 starts. Buffy is back home, not wanted for murder anymore since the police have eliminated her as a suspect in the meantime, but she’s still expelled from school and Snyder is refusing to let her back, and her relationships with her mother and her friends is still awkward and very strained. They’re all avoiding the talk about Buffy running away a few months before, and they’re trying too hard to pretend that everything is OK, until it all bursts out at the party organized in Buffy’s honor and they finally have a big shouting match in front of a lot of random people. I guess that could be as good a way to solve your problems as any?
Oh, and then zombies crash the party. Yes, this is the first zombie episode of the show. We’ve had vampires, werewolves, witches, a robot, an invisible person, a mummy, a Frankenstein’s monster, body snatchers (Bad Eggs
), so it figures we had to have zombies at some point.
Funniest moment of the episode: when in the middle of the big argument Xander says “You can’t just bury stuff Buffy. It’ll come right back up to get you” and we cut right to the zombies. So, I guess zombies are the metaphor for unresolved problems and consequences of being in denial.
The main plot involves some Nigerian mask that Joyce has brought from her gallery, which turns the dead person who wears it into the demon that even the zombies are scared of. Or something. It’s a rather silly plot, but the episode is not so bad, since it’s not so much about the supernatural plot but about the relationships between Buffy and her family and friends, and it has a lot of good dialogue.
We also meet one of Joyce’s friends, Pat from Joyce’s book club. Wait, Joyce has friends? Joyce goes to a book club? Joyce has a life outside being Buffy’s mom? Wow, that’s a rare occurrence on this show!
Pat, sadly, ends up dead, as one of the people killed by zombies, and then gets possessed by the demon, before it’s killed by Buffy. And that’s the first and the last time we meet one of Joyce’s friends – I’m pretty sure that the only other mention of her social life, apart from Ted, was when she started to date some guy called Brian off-screen.
So, Joyce is trying a bit too much to be an understanding mom to Buffy and to show she’s coping well with her being a Slayer, and in that attempt, goes to the other extreme and suggests things such as that Buffy could tell Snyder and the police that she’s a Slayer. (Little does Joyce know that Snyder already knows who she is.) She also tries her best to make Snyder change his mind, but, as much as it would’ve seemed that Snyder couldn’t be an even bigger jerk than he was before, he’s outdoing himself with his nasty comments about Buffy right in front of her mother and open admission that he enjoys keeping her out of school and dooming her future. Is Snyder a OTT evil character? Yes, but I don’t care, he’s really someone you love to hate… and in fact, I’ve known some high school teachers who were almost like that, minus being so honest about their hatred for their students, so he’s not even that much of an exaggeration.
In the end it takes Giles threatening Snyder to get him to change his mind. And coward that he is, Snyder doesn’t give in when Giles threatens to go to over the Mayor and even all the way to the Supreme Court – probably thinking Giles is bluffing – until Giles gets into the Ripper mode and threatens him physically. That ties up this dangling plotline – Buffy is admitted back to Sunnydale High.
In other news, Willow has a new look – a different haircut and less dorky outfits, reflecting the changes that she’s been going through, as she later tells Buffy when they finally start confiding in each other: dating Oz, studying magic, all the “scary life stuff”.
When the subject of Buffy’s absence comes up but everyone is skirting around it, the Scoobies say that they’ve been managing to kill 6 out 10 vampires while she was away. And I continue to find this ridiculous. There’s another reason why it’s good that the show ditched the “she alone can stand against the vampires and the forces of darkness” intro. Which never actually made sense, when you think about it – if there’s just one Slayer in the world, who takes cares of all those vampires around the world? There have to be many human demon-hunters, like those we meet later (Holtz, Gunn and his gang, Wood). But Xander, Willow and Oz aren’t skilled and experienced as those people, they just hung out with Buffy and occasionally helped her patrol, and they’re able to kill 60% of the vampires? Granted, those newly sired baby vamps don’t seem very dangerous, it’s only those older experienced ones that one has to fear. Maybe the show should’ve explicitly established, like True Blood did, that vampire strength grows with their age; that could explain Luke’s strength (yes, he was a big guy, but still), or the Master’s powers, or why Darla was at least as strong or stronger than Angel when they fought on AtS, despite their respective size and muscularity. In any case, it seems like the Slayer isn’t that indispensable if the Scoobies minus Buffy could take out over half of the regular vampires. (How lucky that there were no apocalyptic threats during the summer, eh? Though if there had been, I guess Faith would’ve quickly taken a trip to Sunnydale – but Buffy doesn’t know that.) This might be a sign that show has finished with the vampires as the main antagonists – after season 2, they’re increasingly treated either as a joke or as allies/lovers, while the Big Bad role was reserved for superpowerful demon politicians, hellgods, megawitches and other incredibly powerful opponents.
Hey, there’s another dream appearance by Angel! Except that this one really wasn’t that necessary but not saying anything particularly meaningful. It seems like an excuse to have Boreanaz in the episode. I wondered in my last review if there was anyone who was fooled into thinking he was in the main credits just for appearing in dreams and flashbacks – was that what they were trying to do?
Buffy is still feeling distant from her friends and wishing their relationship could be the same as it used to be, as seen in the scene where she takes out the framed photo of herself, Willow and Xander, and they decide to throw her a party – and instead of a quiet friendly gathering, they go for a big loud party with live music by Oz’s band Dingoes Ate My Baby, and lots and lots of people who don’t even know Buffy. There’s a cameo by Devon, Dingoes’ singer, and another cameo by Jonathan. The party, meant to cheer Buffy up, ends up depressing her all the more. Most of us have been to some dreadful party like that, where you’re supposed to be having fun but you feel alone in the crowd. It’s all the more ironic because it’s supposed to be Buffy’s party, but she feels isolated, with all her friends busy with their significant others (Xander and Cordy are particularly absorbed in their make-out session) and the majority of the party being completely unknown people, including one guy who tells his friend that he’s heard the party is for “some chick who got out of rehab”. And then the worst part, she overhears her mother telling Pat that things are in some ways worse with Buffy around than when she was away, and Buffy decides to leave again.
...Which prompts a series of big emotional confrontations – first between Buffy and Willow, which is actually a rather sweet scene since Willow tells Buffy how much she needed her best friend to talk about the changes she’s been going through. Then between Buffy and Joyce, with both of them pouring out their resentment at each other, Joyce for the way Buffy took off and never called, leaving her mom to worry if she was even alive, and Buffy for the way Joyce threw her out and told her not to come back. At which point there are already arguing in front of a large audience who seem to find it really gripping. Xander takes Joyce’s side and starts accusing Buffy of being irresponsible – and I have to say that Xander comes off as a first class jerk here, when he dismissively describes what Buffy went through with Angel as “boy trouble”. Really, Xander? Really? (Now I just can’t wait for Xander to fall for Anya and for her to go back to being a demon and kill some frat boys in season 7 so he’d finally start understanding some of what Buffy went through.) I think Cordelia is honestly trying to defend Buffy and trying to put things into perspective, but she’s tactless so she makes things even worse. This disaster is interrupted by zombies, and in the end it seems that the fight had a therapeutic effect and, for the most part, everyone is getting along much better. The last scene has Buffy and Willow humorously “insulting” each other, and if they’re able to joke about it, they’ve smoothed things over. But if I were Buffy, I don’t know if I could be OK with Xander at this point, to be honest. I’m not sure that Giles has really worked through his feelings about the events of season 2 – Buffy was particularly worried if he would be mad at her for abandoning her duty, but out of all her friends and family he was the only one she didn’t talk things through. He’s even more prone to “bury stuff” inside than she is. But both of them are better at showing love and loyalty through action, which Giles does when he takes care of the Snyder situation in his way.
I wonder what stories the party guests told about the party later, they might have thought words like “your boyfriend was a demon” weren’t meant literally, but the zombies are something much harder to rationalize. Maybe people at the Sunnydale High are starting to realize what Buffy is, since they seem to have an idea by the time of The Prom. It’s hard to say what the body count at the party was, but besides Pat there had to be a few dead students including the “rehab” guy.
Joyce (about the mask
): It cheers up the room.
Buffy: It's angry at the room, Mom. It wants the room to suffer.
Buffy: What about home schooling? You know, it's not just for scary religious people anymore.
Cordelia: Put yourself in Buffy's shoes for just a minute, okay? I'm Buffy, freak of nature, right? Naturally, I pick a freak for a boyfriend, and then he turns into Mr. Killing Spree, which is pretty much my fault...
Buffy: Cordy! Get out of my shoes!
Or, rather insults – there’s a lot of those this time – some of them serious, some humorous. Snyder gets two new nicknames – “His Ugliness” (Buffy) and “nasty little bigoted rodent man” (Joyce). I wonder how Armin Shimerman felt watching episodes with lines like those. In the last scene, Buffy and Willow friendly and jokingly compete in using all sorts of slurs for each other – Willow calls Buffy “runaway”, “quitter”, “bailer”, “delinquent”, “bad seed”, “freak”, and Buffy calls Willow “whiner”, “harpy”, “tramp” and “witch”….Wait, I get the other ones, but why “tramp”?
Xander’s first idea of what Buffy might have been doing while she was away is that she might have worked as as a prostitute. Really, Xander? Or maybe he was just joking. At least he doesn’t tell her to her face. This episode really doesn’t count as one of his shining moments.
Pop culture references:
“Dead Man’s Party” is a song from the album of the same title by Oingo Boingo
. The phrase is mentioned by Oz, who is just the guy who would know 1980s new wave bands. Joyce compares Buffy to a superhero (like Cordelia did in season 2). Xander enjoys feeling like a superhero while he’s killing vampires and calls himself Nighthawk. Cordelia says the outfits sucked and were like Rambo. Joyce is reading Deep End of the Ocean
for her book club. I haven’t read it, but according to the online summaries it’s about a kidnapped child that the parents find many years later. Now it makes sense why Joyce implied and it will be even harder for her to read what with the Buffy situation.
The Mayor is name-checked again. Snyder mocks Buffy, implying that the best future she can have is to work in fast food industry, and even says he can just imagine her with the hat. And this line just doesn’t sound the same anymore – when Buffy finds Xander patrolling, she says “Didn’t anyone warn you about playing with pointy sticks? It’s all fun and games until somebody loses and eye”. Ouch!