Revisiting Buffy season 7 – episode 7

Conversations with Dead People is one of the most highly acclaimed episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Will it manage to win Sarah back over?

Previously on Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Tara died, Warren was flayed, Andrew and Jonathan fled to Mexico, Spike got his soul back, Cassie died, and from beneath you, it devours.

This episode opens with a title card, and a date: November 12th, 2002, 8:01pm. As far as I can remember, that’s the only time that’s ever happened, as if to flag up how special this episode is supposed to be. It is, at least, several hundred times better than last week’s mess of an episode, which is ironic, since Conversations with Dead People was written by four different people, each taking on a section of a really bizarrely structured episode.

We open in The Bronze, again, where Angie Hart is playing “Blue”, a song that is a little too poignant and knowing for my taste. We see Buffy patrolling the graveyard, Willow sitting alone in the library, Dawn getting home to an empty house, and then, as a vampire’s arm reaches out of his grave, Buffy says “Here we go” and the credits roll. They really, seriously, need to stop doing that cut-away thing. It’s infuriating; even when it’s done well, I don’t like it, because it’s been done badly so many times already. Does that make sense? Let’s pretend it does.

Post-credits, Andrew and Jonathan, the remaining two-thirds of the geek trio that unsuccessfully menaced Buffy in season 6, are rolling back into town. Even they, the most out-of-the-loop characters in the whole show, are in on the First Evil thing, though Andrew mistranslates the First’s slogan as “it eats you, starting with your bottom”. Hee.

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Chez Buffy, Dawn is getting into all sorts of mischief: stealing Buffy’s clothes, eating pizza despite specific instructions not to, blowing holes in the living room wall with a crossbow, talking to her friend Kit on the phone (though Kit has been completely absent for 5 episodes) and watching horror movies on TV. Before long, though, her fun is spoiled by spooky banging noises. Then all the electronics in the house start going screwy. Dawn sensibly takes an axe to them, but is taken aback when her dead mother appears sprawled on the sofa in exactly the position we last saw her. When Buffy discovered that she was dead. Ouch.

Speaking of Buffy, that vampire in the graveyard turns out to be someone she went to school with, though she doesn’t actually remember him. They spend some time spouting continuity porn – sorry, “catching up” – before it emerges that he was a psychology major at university, and is very interested in discussing Buffy’s intimacy issues. In between bouts of smacking her in the face and attempting to bite her, naturally.

At the library, Willow is visited by Cassie from Help who, er, is supposed to be dead. Cassie tells Willow that she’s been sent to talk to her by Tara, and there’s some really adorable stuff where Tara allegedly says she still sings to Willow, and Willow cries and pours her heart out to Tara, with Cassie mediating. It’s adorable for as long as you can convince yourself not to think about it, anyway.

Meanwhile, Andrew and Jonathan break into the school, searching for something called the Seal of Danzalthar which is apparently located in the school basement. The plan initially seems to be to find it, destroy it, and then go tell Buffy that they’ve saved the world in an attempt to make friends with her, but the spectre of dead Warren seems to have other ideas…

Cassie tells Willow that she can’t see Tara herself because she killed people, and those are the rules. Um, right. Well, actually, Amber Benson was supposed to be in this episode, but Benson either wasn’t available, or wasn’t willing to cast her character in that light, depending on whom you believe. And it’s a shame, really, that once the writers knew they weren’t going to be able to show Tara, they didn’t think of an alternative dead person to come and talk to Willow, because I’m really not sure that Cassie works. Don’t get me wrong, I love Azura Skye, and she does creepy exceedingly well, but Willow never met Cassie when she was alive, and never had any real connection with her, so why not get someone else? Regardless, Cassie tells Willow that Tara can see her path, and is warning her that she’s going to lose control again – that if she ever uses magic again, she’ll become addicted, and kill again. The only way forward, apparently, is to never use magic ever again, despite Giles’ warnings about going cold turkey.

We get a very short scene of Spike at the Bronze, apparently chatting up a mystery blonde, before we’re back with Dawn. Something is growling from the darkness, and then there’s another glimpse of dead Joyce on the sofa again, this time being preyed upon by a scaly blue monster, and some pretty standard poltergeist activity going on. Dawn starts going a spell (does she have magical abilities, then?) to ward off the monster…

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…and over at the school, Andrew and Jonathan have found and dug up the Seal of Danzalthar. Jonathan chats for a bit about how much he misses everyone he went to school with, and how much he really cares about them, and generally is a really really nice person in order to make it more shocking when Andrew stabs him dead and uses his blood to activate the seal. Uh oh!

Buffy and the vampire, who is apparently called Holden Webster, as unlikely as that sounds, are having a bit of a breakthrough: it turns out Buffy has a superiority complex about being the Slayer, but then feels guilty about thinking she’s better than everyone else, so she has an inferiority complex about having a superiority complex. Also, she avoids intimacy because her dad cheated on her mother. Or something. Just as Buffy is about to stake him, Holden reveals something that’s actually interesting, rather than just sub-Freudian ramblings: he was recently sired by Spike. The same Spike who’s supposed to be physically incapable of harming humans, and who was, last episode, moved into Xander’s spare bedroom. Nice going, Buffy.

There’s a quick scene where Spike bites the mystery blonde he met at the Bronze, before we cut back to Dawn, who’s finally managed to drive out the demon in the house. A glowing, angelic Joyce appears to her then, telling her that Buffy won’t save her from what’s coming – that, actually, when the time comes, Buffy will side against Dawn. Which, okay, doesn’t sound very good, but considering the trouble Buffy’s liable to land you in when she is on your side, that might actually be for the best. I’m just saying.

Back in the library, Cassie encourages Willow to kill herself in order to avoid going mad and killing everyone else, which finally tips Willow off that something’s wrong. “Cassie” reveals herself to be a manifestation of The First when Willow quotes “from beneath you, it devours” and Cassie corrects her: “Not ‘it’. Me.” And then she turns herself inside out using a cunning bit of CGI.

The implication, then, is that the First has been messing around with everyone – appearing to Andrew as Warren, appearing to Willow as Cassie, and appearing to Dawn as her mother. (Buffy’s chat with the vampire seems to have just been a coincidence.) I’m… disappointed. I remembered this episode being good, possibly the season highlight, and while it’s been very deliberately crafted in order to be a standout episode, it isn’t really all that great. I mean, it’s better than the super formulaic Monster of the Week episodes, but it’s kind of pretentious, and the Cassie thing is really bugging me now. Oh dear. When I started this project, I was sort of hoping to discover that actually, Buffy’s seventh season was really good and well written and clever and all the rest of it, but actually I hate it just as much this time round. If not more.