Buffy the Vampire Slayer - Conversations With Dead People

Summary

A band is setting up. A title "Conversations With Dead People" is displayed. The date, November 12, 2002, and the time, 8:01 PM, are displayed. The music starts. We see Buffy walking through a cemetery, Spike sitting in a bar, Willow studying in the library, and Dawn coming home. There is note for Dawn saying Buffy and Willow will be out late and leaving her money with an order not to get pizza. In the cemetery, Buffy watches as a hand comes out of a grave.

Andrew and Jonathan are in a car returning from Mexico. Andrew didn't like it there. He couldn't learn the language (despite having learnt Klingon in 2.5 weeks) and he kept having nightmares. So has Jonathan who says something in a foreign language which Andrew translates as "It eats you, starting with your bottom." They talk about making it right. They enter Sunnydale.

Buffy is fighting the vampire. Dawn is eating a pizza, with anchovies. She then picks up a dress and gets sauce on it. She plays with Buffy's weapons. She makes a hole in the wall with the crossbow and tries to hide it with a plant. She turns on some salsa music and dances to it. She puts a marshmallow in the microwave and turns it on. She hears a thumping noise. Cassie, the girl who died in Help, turns up in the library and starts talking to Willow. Willow recognizes her from her picture. Cassie says Tara sent her. Dawn is watching tv and talking to her friend Kit on the phone. They are talking about the movie on tv, but it seems they are watching different channels. The thumping starts again. The door opens and there seems to be a storm. Dawn pushes it shut. She discovers she can't turn off the tv, even when she pulls the plug.

Buffy and the vampire are fighting. He suddenly recognizes her and stops fighting. He introduces himself as Holden Webster and says they went to school together. She doesn't remember him. All the electronics in the house are playing. Dawn starts smashing them. There are explosions and breaking glass and we hear Joyce's voice calling Dawn.

Buffy finally seems to remember Holden, or at least pretends to. He tells her he's been studying tae kwon do and majoring in psych. He took a year off to work at Sunnydale mental hospital. He tells her crazy Jay from school really was crazy. His face changes to human. He tells her he feels connected to an all consuming evil and asks about her. She explains about being the slayer. He says that explains a lot. There were rumours about her. Some thought she was dating a really older guy, some that she was deeply religious, and Scott said she was gay. Buffy is upset, since she dated Scott. Holden says Scott said that about every girl he broke up with and that he just came out himself. She says she really knows how to pick them. He begins to harp on the fact she said she wasn't connected. While they talk, Dawn tries to call her but she doesn't hear the cell which fell to the ground. As Dawn tries to make contact, we momentarily see Joyce's body on the couch behind her (lying as it did in The Body). The lights go out and when they come on the furniture has been moved and there is writing on the wall (mother's milk is red today). They go off again and come on with things changed back. Dawn screams. She tries to work out a code with the thumping - once for yes and twice for no. She asks if it's her mother. Yes. She asks if Joyce is ok. No. She asks if Joyce is alone. No. The house starts shaking as if there were an earthquake.

Andrew and Jonathan break into the school. Jonathan wants to get Buffy and tell her everything they know about the evil Danzathar (or at least that's what the closed captions said - it was hard to make out). Andrew says they need proof or she won't believe them and they'll end up in jail. Andrew says if they defeat the evil Buffy will accept them as part of her gang and they'll be able to hang out at her house. He says they should find the principal's office and work their way down from there. Jonathan suggests they split up and they check communications. As he leaves, Jonathan asks if Andrew really thinks they'll be allowed to join the gang. When he's gone, Warren appears to Andrew. Apparently, Andrew has been drawn there by Warren who says getting killed was part of the master plan. They quote from Star Wars and Warren says when Jonathan does what they need they'll both be like gods.

Cassie tells Willow Tara can't appear to her because of the murders. Willow talks to Tara and Cassie says Tara is crying and that she misses Willow. Willow talks about how much missing Tara hurts. Cut to a woman sitting down next to Spike. Cut to Holden psychoanalyzing Buffy on her failed relationships. She denies she's afraid to commit. He starts talking about being evil and how they'll be fighting to the death soon. She's sad because she knows she'll slay him. He thinks he has a chance, but she says she can't let him leave. He says she has a superiority complex and asks who was responsible for her parents' divorce. She says her father cheated. He asks of all her doomed relationships, who was responsible for that. He says she felt superior to them all. She gets mad at him. He says being the chosen one has given her a superiority complex and she says the reverse is true. She starts alluding to the things she's done. As she's talking, he grabs a monument, hits her in the head, puts on his vampire face, and goes to bite her. They fight.

Dawn hears heavy breathing. There's a flash and we see Joyce. Dawn walks toward her and we see Joyce being strangled by some monstrous being. The monster attacks her. She goes to flee, but when the monster orders her out she returns. Andrew and Jonathan are in the high school basement. Andrew sees Warren and realizes they are in the right place. They enter a room and start breaking through the floor. Buffy is fighting Holden. They start talking again and Buffy says vampires combine sex and pain and death. Holden says it's a guy thing, but she says it's different with vampires. Holden offers her a deal. They can fight to the death, but he gets to ask a question and if he's right she answers him without any subterfuge. The question: was her last relationship with a vampire.

Spike is walking with the girl from the bar. Willow is talking to Cassie who says that if she doesn't stop using magic entirely she will kill everybody. Andrew and Jonathan are digging up the basement. Jonathan says he hopes Buffy will know how to destroy it. He suddenly shouts out 36-19-27, his locker combination which he finally remembered. Andrew says they've spent years trying to forget high school, why is he trying to remember. Jonathan says he misses it. That somehow all the bad times have been washed away and he just misses everyone and wants to talk to them and wonders where they are. Andrew looks past him at Warren. He says they don't want to talk to him. That they aren't thinking of him. Jonathan says he still cares about them and that's why he's there. The camera pulls back to reveal a mystical symbol they've uncovered.

Dawn has a book of spells and is attempting to work one which will cast out the demon which is stopping her mother from talking to her. The house gets trashed even more. Buffy tells Holden that Spike loved her. She says she didn't want to be loved. She says she doesn't deserve to be loved. That the ones who love her don't count because they haven't been through what she has been through as the slayer. She says she feels superior to them. Holden says she does have a superiority complex and has an inferiority complex about having it. He tells her it adds up to her being alone and everyone is alone until they die. She thanks him for listening and mentions Spike. He's startled. Cut to Spike and the girl.

Dawn succeeds in casting out the demon. There is a light and Joyce appears. Cassie tells Willow she must stop magic completely, not do so much as single spell. Willow says she isn't strong enough to do that. Cassie says there is another way. A way she could see Tara again. Willow realizes Cassie is telling her to commit suicide. She asks who she is. Holden reveals Spike sired him. Cut to Spike biting the girl. Cut to Joyce telling Dawn that when things get bad Buffy will be against her. Cut to Andrew stabbing Jonathan. Cut to Cassie realizing the suicide thing was going too far. She says the coming year will reveal what pain is really about. She says she's done with the good/evil balance. She reveals she's the thing which will do the devouring. Cut to Dawn crying amidst the debris. Cut to Jonathan falling on the mystical symbol and bleeding all over it. Cut to Spike tossing aside the dead girl. Cut to Buffy slaying Holden.

Analysis

I'm guessing it will take months to puzzle our way through this episode. What part of the conversations was true? Which of the dead beings was acting freely and which was being manipulated by the big evil? Were the dead people we saw really those people or manifestations? Can the evil project images of the dead, control the spirits of the dead, control dead bodies, or maybe all or some of those things? We've got 5 dead people conversations to consider: Buffy and Holden, Willow and Cassie, Dawn and Joyce, Andrew and Warren, and unnamed and now dead girl and Spike.

Holden brings out the relationship issues which have always plagued Buffy. He creates a long string of these stretching from her parents' divorce through her failed relationships with men and vampires. He gets her to become introspective. To think about her attitude toward others which, by virtue of being the slayer, must be superior. Buffy has always had to accept that she stands alone, that she must make decisions others cannot help her with or understand. This came up most recently in Selfless [Anya], when she said "There's only me. I am the law." It's bad enough when she has to think this way about killing her friends - something she faced with Angel, Willow, Anya, and will likely soon face with Spike - but Holden makes her realize that she thinks this way about relationships. She admits that she cannot accept love because the opinions of those who love her don't count. They are beneath her, in a rather scary parallel to the season's tagline.

Buffy is afraid of being alone. Her strength has always come from her friendships - perhaps made most obvious in Primeval when the gang mystically joined together to help her destroy Adam. But emotionally she is always distant, more so since her resurrection. This is a point which the others have made, talking about how she withdraws and doesn't include them. Holden argues that Buffy starts with the belief that all relationships are doomed and so doesn't work to preserve them and doesn't invest much energy in them. His hoped for killing stroke comes when he says we are all alone until we die. He hopes to make Buffy sink into despair and actually want to die. This parallels what Spike told her in Fool For Love about every slayer having a death wish.

Cassie is the perfect person to talk to Willow. She's a Sylvia Plath influenced girl. She plays to Willow's key characteristics: intellectualism, depression, and romanticism. By constantly referencing Tara's lines - the singing, the Amazons, the need to stop using magic - she gets past Willow's initial defenses. Willow would be suspicious of a normal spirit appearing to her. But one which seems to speak with Tara's voice and which says things Tara might have said is believable.

Cassie starts off cleverly by working on Willow's guilt. She says Tara can't speak to her directly because of Willow's sin. In Lessons, Willow talked about her expectation of punishment. Not being able to talk to Tara suitably fits that category. So Willow starts off with the assumption she is bad and is being punished. Cassie takes it to the next step, Willow is a threat to her friends. If she continues to use magic, she'll kill them all. This echoes warnings from the previous season and again ties in with Willow's actual history. She remembers that Giles said not using magic was as bad as using it too much, but Cassie is able to counter this by saying things are clearer on the other side. But Cassie over plays her hand. She has Willow convinced Tara is contacting her through Cassie. She has her convinced she's guilty and must stop using magic. But she takes it one step too far. She tries to get Willow to kill herself. Willow knows this is something Tara would never want her to do. The spell is broken and Willow confronts Cassie.

Something very strange happens at this point. Cassie doesn't try to cover up. She admits what she is. She confronts Willow head on. She's completely unafraid. In fact, you get the feeling this has all been a game and she really doesn't care that she failed to convince Willow. I have to wonder, given this surprising turn of events, whether the attacks on Willow, Dawn, and Buffy weren't just a way of keeping them occupied so the important act - the attack on Jonathan - could happen uninterrupted.

The attack on Dawn is confusing, even after all we've seen. Was Joyce ever really there? My guess is no. That Joyce was a projection like Cassie. That the whole scenario with an evil demon attempting to stop Joyce from talking to Dawn was simply a way of getting Dawn to believe. Just as having Cassie pretend she was relaying Tara's words was a way of getting past Willow's skepticism. Dawn might not believe a manifestation of her mother. But a manifestation which she had to struggle to get access to and which some demonic force seemed to be repressing is far more believable. Of course, there is the outside chance that really was Joyce and as is often the case with messages from the dead her words are factually correct but not really true. In a sense, it doesn't matter. It has succeeded in disconcerting Dawn and that's what the evil wanted.

The key thing is for Dawn to tell Buffy and Willow what happened. Everything that happened. Obviously, she'll have to explain how the place got trashed. But will she tell them all that Joyce said. Or will she hold back, thinking that keeping that knowledge to herself will either give her power or save the others pain. Presumably Willow will tell them about her encounter with evil, but she might tell Buffy and not Dawn. And Buffy is likely to keep her encounter entirely to herself.

The stooges always seemed played for laughs to me, until the very end. And even then, Andrew and Jonathan were still pretty much on the light side. Neither of them seemed genuinely evil. Jonathan seemed a basically decent guy in over his head. Of course, we know more about him than about the others. We know he was suicidal in high school (from Earshot) and that he desperately wants to be a beloved hero (from Superstar). We know he really tries to do the right thing (from Seeing Red and Two to Go/Grave). We know he really likes Buffy. He wants to be part of her gang. He wants to help her.

Andrew is a very different character. He seems driven by his twisted love for Warren. A love which is characterized by evil actions, unlike Willow's love for Tara. These two homosexual loves are used by the evil. In Andrew's case, there is a direct appeal to evil actions like murder. And Andrew is quick to do it. In Willow's case, when the subtle call to suicide is made she immediately knows it is not Tara saying this. It's interesting that a show which has had the most normal of gay relationships manages to have these two different takes on homosexuality. In the one case, it's a positive and loving thing which makes the person stronger. In the other, it's sick and twisted and opens the person up to evil. The point is that it has to do with the person and not the nature of the relationship.

The scene in which Jonathan talks about missing high school was beautiful. It was a great description of how the passage of time turns what seem to be the worst years of your life into the best. How the people who were your mortal enemies suddenly become people you'd like to meet and talk to again. How you care about people who you never cared for and who never noticed you existed. Jonathan has grown up. He has moved past the anger and pain of the teen years. He's an adult now. Andrew isn't. He's still stuck in that time, stuck in the pain and the adolescent angst. And that's what the evil looks for. He's the perfect victim and he begins his victimization by killing.

It isn't clear whether that was really Spike or a projection. But I think it really was Spike and the evil, which seemed to be speaking through Holden, is capable of controlling the dead as well as projecting images of them. So Spike is doing the work of the evil, maybe just killing and maybe making an army of the dead. But the real issue is how Buffy and the gang will deal with this. Will she slay Spike or will she let him live. If he is killing people, slaying him seems the thing to do. But if he has a soul, can she legitimately do that. Her role is to slay demons. But demons with a soul are a different kettle of fish. And Buffy has learnt to be careful about slaying without thinking. She has learnt the difference between being the slayer and being a killer.

I think this season we are seeing each of these characters facing certain moral decisions, being forced to choose between good and evil - though in somewhat more complex equations. Dawn is facing the questions all teenagers face. She has to decide where her life is headed and what her loyalties are. She has to decide whether she is going to dedicate her life to fighting evil, the way Buffy has, or take an easier and happier route. Willow has to figure out how to use or not use magic and how that determines who and what she is. Buffy has to figure out, as always, how to reconcile her calling (that's what she tells Holden it is) with her desire to lead a more or less normal life. Spike, who interestingly has no dialogue in an episode about conversations, has to decide whether he's a demon with a soul or a human with a demon inside.

It's interesting that Xander and Anya don't even appear in this episode. This could be an oversight on the part of the evil or maybe they'll be dealt with at a later date. Or maybe they've already had their conversations and already made their decisions. While Anya hasn't opted to be good, she's certainly decided not to be a demon. Knowing that it's a bad time to be one of the good guys, she still sided with Buffy in the end. Xander seems to be showing again the quality we saw in The Prom when he bought the dress for Cordelia. He's coming to understand how to be friends with people who were once lovers. Maybe that maturation in both of them made them bad candidates for the evil's manifestations. At least right now. Or maybe they just weren't seen as important enough to bother with.

The attack on each of the living was similar in structure. The person was put into an emotional state by being made to recall unhappy experiences - the deaths of Joyce and Tara and Buffy's failed relationships as well as her parents' divorce. Once unsettled by these thoughts, there was an attempt to infiltrate the thought processes of each woman. Holden tried to make Buffy feel responsible for her failed relationships, undermining her generally weak self confidence and building on the despair which has been a strong part of her personality since her return from Heaven. Thus weakened, Holden hopes to kill her. Cassie tries to get Willow to commit suicide by playing on her sense of guilt and despair. She tries to convince her she can never be happy, never use her powers, never help her friends, never see Tara again. The Joyce monster tries to get Dawn to fear and resent Buffy, feelings we've already seen in embryonic form in her.

Some quick final thoughts. The episode reminded me of the movie Thirteen Conversations About One Thing, a great movie you should see if you haven't. The parallel is stylistic, not literal, so don't expect a fantasy or sf film. I'm guessing Amber Benson was supposed to reprise her character of Tara in this episode and the substitution of Cassie from Help was done late in the day due to her unavailability. It may actually have worked better. Dawn is wrong, anchovies are not delicious. I really liked Dawn fooling around while home alone. It seemed incredibly real. It also showed one of the great strengths of the series, the ability to blend humour with drama. I was glad to see a reference to Kit who has been missing since Lessons. I hope she turns up again. Unless I'm misremembering, and I do that a lot, Dawn's "Mom mommy" line is the same thing Buffy said when she found Joyce's body at the end of I Was Made to Love You. Is Holden Webster a Catcher in the Rye reference? The nemesis line was clearly intended to remind us of the similar line with the stooges. This season, I've noticed a lot of references to Fool For Love, the episode where the "You're beneath me" line was first uttered which eerily mirrors the tagline of this season. Is this the first time the episode title was displayed. And how many episodes have had a date clearly indicated (other than the Thanksgiving and Hallowe'en episodes). You've got to love the effect of Cassie devouring herself.

Lines of the week:

"It eats you, starting with your bottom." - Andrew not getting the translation exactly right.

"We're gonna make it right." - Jonathan meaning it.

"We're outlaws with hearts of gold." - Andrew lying.

"Mom. Mommy." - Dawn reminding me of Buffy.

"I'm here to kill you. Not to judge you." - Holden being really superior.

"Nothing solid." - Buffy on proof of the existence of God.

"I miss them all." - Jonathan on how he feels about the people from high school.

"They don't want to talk to you." - Andrew trying to break Jonathan.

"Well, I still care about them. That's why I'm here." - Jonathan being stronger than anyone gave him credit for.

"I didn't wanna be loved." - Buffy on why she rejected Spike.

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