“Conversations with Dead People,” by Jane Espenson and Drew Goddard
Angie Hart is singing at at the Bronze, providing moody background music as we check in with a few—but not all—of the Scoobies. Mere meters from the emo-music, at the bar, Spike nurses a beer. Elsewhere, Buffy hunts vampires in a cemetery, Willow studies in a library (showing an unusual lack of zest for what was formerly one of her all-time favorite activities) and Dawn arrives home to a “sorry we’re gone, don’t eat pizza,” note. Affixed to which is pizza money.
As the montage wraps up, Buffy finds a fresh grave. A hand claws at the air: someone’s trying to get out. “Here we go,” she says.
Elsewhere, Jonathan and Andrew are driving back to Sunnydale. Andrew has a plan, which partly involves being back in town so he doesn’t have to master Mexicoan, a language he finds more difficult than Klingon. More to the point the semi-evil duo are having nightmares, and their dreams feature a Spanish variation on the lately trending evil slogan: “From Beneath You, it Devours.” Yes, the First’s reach does extend beyond national borders.
Of course, we’ve seen its minions dispatching Potentials all over the world, so that isn’t really news.
As they pass the Welcome to Sunnydale sign, which is still currently upright, we see Buffy and the vampire punching each other in fine mortal enemy form. Dawn, meanwhile, is being uncharacteristically adorable as she tries to entertain herself with forbidden pizza and microwaved marshmallows. Later, she moves on to playing with her sister’s clothes and weapons.
Elsewhere, in my version of events, Anya is taking a flamenco class and Xander is having a rare SAT-phone catch-up with Riley, the two of them having agreed previously that they need more man-friends.
Everything seems to be moving at rather a slow—for BtVS, anyway—pace when Cassie Newton, the doomed, dead kid from “Help,” appears in the UC Library. She says Tara asked her to come have a chat, which more or less ensures that she has Willow’s full attention.
Still pretty low-key, right? This episode is terrific in the way it notches up the intensity in itsy bitsy increments. Back at the house, Dawn is on the phone with a friend, watching TV, when she hears a thumping noise. The front door blows open, and then sound comes blasting through the formerly muted television. Even when she unplugs it, the monster movie soundtrack continues to play. Finally Dawn takes the axe to all the household electronics. The microwave explodes, and she gets glass in her feet. She’s about to start on the portable boombox when it speaks with the voice of Joyce.
The disposable vampire of the week, Holden “Webs” Webster, is making out better than the usual newborn vamp in the graveyard fight against Buffy. When he recognizes her, he decides he wants to catch up. This is tougher than he thinks because it takes a good long while to get her to recognize him at all, but they do finally fall into a bit of chit-chat. He’s been taking psychology at university, and pounces on a comment of hers about not being overly connected. To evil, she meant, but the guy is obviously an extrovert, and it’s a conversational in, so he pursues it.
An interruption at this point might have been welcome, and Dawn is trying to phone, but Buffy dropped her cell phone in the fight. Instead of trying Willow, Xander, or Anya, Dawn tries to get the radio to talk like Mom again. As she does, we see an uber-creepy shot of Joyce, dead on the couch.
This portion of the three-pronged storyline is, if you ask me, genuinely spooky.
But everyone’s having a crummy night, in their own way. Willow learns she can’t talk to Tara directly because of the whole flaying of Warren thing. Buffy gets amateur therapy, and Dawn gets terrorized by, as far as she can tell, the ghost of her dead mother. She refuses to flee in terror, though, instead working out a code for the thumps that continue to wham their way from the house. Once for yes, twice for no. Is that you, Joyce? One thump. Is there a scary, slavering home-destroying beast with you? Two thumps.
Jonathan and Andrew have by now Mission Impossibled their way into the high school. Wasn’t the old school perpetually unlocked? Robin Wood must like to keep his hatches battened. The ex-villains are looking for proof that the school contains something called the Seal of Danthazar. The plan is to alert the Slayer to the danger it presents, help her destroy it, and thereby become Scoobies. This may be a rather flimsy and unrealistic hope, but Andrew dangles the possibility in front of Jonathan, like a Snickers bar.
They split up, and when Jonathan is out of sight, Warren appears. He and Andrew are up to something. Business as usual, in other words. It’s only a shocker because of Warren’s terminal exfoliation at Willow’s hands.
Speaking of Willow, she’s telling Tara, via Cassie, all about her grief, and how it’s not getting better. The reply? She’s strong like an Amazon. Buck up, in other words. Buffy’s also spilling some gut, telling Webs about her romantic failures, her father’s contribution to her parents’ divorce, and putting up with guff about whether she has an superiority complex.
She tells him about behaving badly toward a guy, meaning Spike, and when her guard’s down Webs smashes her with a statue and tries to eat her.
(Speaking of Spike, he’s quietly having his drinkie when a blond joins him at the bar.)
Back at the Summers house, the thing that is menacing Joyce tries to scare Dawn right out of the building. This storyline features a BtVS rarity: not only is it tightly written and scaretastic, but Dawn is rather awesome. She refuses to abandon Mom’s ghost. More than that, she cracks open the magic books and gets her spell on.
As Jonathan and Andrew root around in the ever-changing high school basement, looking for the seal, Warren points the way. They reach the spot and start digging.
Webs is digging too, in the psyche of the Slayer. He strikes a deal with Buffy that leads to her talking, even more honestly, about Spike. The idea is that after she’s unburdened herself about her remoteness from her friends and her vampire-dating ways, the two of them can fight to the death without unnecessary emotional distractions.
The mention of Spike gives us a chance to see him walking home with the blonde he picked up. Did anyone wonder: what’s he doing picking up women in a bar?
Over at the UC Library, Willow asks if Tara knows about the flaying of Warren. She knows, all right. The power is bigger than Willow, Cassie says, more than she can manage. She declares Willow has to stop using magic altogether unless she wants to kill everyone.
Hey, wait! Giles said quitting’s not the answer!
(Oh, yeah. And Anya is hanging out with Hallie, who’s hinting strongly that she should liquidate her investment portfolio. Xander… who would Xander get? A visit from Dead Gay Larry might be interesting. I don’t want to have to go back all the way to Jesse.)
By now, JonAndrew have the seal uncovered. Jonathan is expressing his nostalgia for high school, and for the people he attended with. Andrew, meanwhile, can still see Warren and is bugging out a little. He breaks into a mean “nobody cares about you” monologue that seems a little driven by stress.
But Jonathan is in some kind of peaceful place, emotionally. He says he still cares about the people of Sunnydale. Don’t go being at peace, Jonathan! It’s almost as hazardous as getting back together with Rupert or Willow after a romantic estrangement.
Dawn has got up the components for a spell to get rid of the thing keeping Joyce from talking to her. It is not impressed, and continues to beat the house to splinters, and her too. It’s doing everything in its power to stop her.
Buffy, down in the boneyard, keeps opening up to Webs, talking about all the badness with Spike and her general feelings of unworthiness and isolation.
Everybody feels alone, he says, because everybody is.
They’re about to fight when she names the “he” she’s been talking about all night. She never actually said Spike’s name, you see. And Webs is all like: “I know him. He’s my vampire Yoda!”
Soully Spike? Eating and siring? What about the chip? Never! He wouldn’t! Oh, wait. There he is, eating the blond on her own front porch.
Dawn’s spell is successful, and Joyce turns up in a glowing white nightgown and a beatific smile. (I’m kind of seeing a credit card commercial here, where they tot up the cost of all the things busted: TV, stereo, microwave, couch, fridge, stove, walls, ceiling, plumbing. Visitation from your dead mom? Priceless!)
Willow, meanwhile, is quizzing Cassie about how can she quit magic, in defiance of what Giles and the coven in England have taught her. Cassie, like any death-obsessed poetry-writing would-be-Goth teen, suggests suicide. This is taking it too far. Holy moley, Willow thinks, could there be some lying and villainy afoot?
I suppose a reason Anya isn’t in this episode, besides time constraints, is that she would start asking the hard questions much sooner.
Dawn, for example, believes Joyce when she says: “When it’s bad, Buffy won’t choose you. She’ll be against you.”
Cassie and Willow are squaring off now: Willow asks who she works for and gets a threatening monologue, little in the way of useful info, and a creepy special effect as Cassie’s face slides in two different directions. We see a maw and she vanishes into it.
Isn’t it interesting that the big villains come looking for Willow now? How far we’ve all come from the days when everything was all, “Really? There’s a slayer in town? Let’s kill her so she can’t mess up our plans or our outfits.”
Spike throws away the blond, having had a good nosh. Buffy, noting that her hour is up, reduces Webs to dust. If he’d had a different sire, it might have been worth it to chain him up and have him take a stab at offering therapy to the Gibbering William version of Spike, but the conflict of interest and monster on monster dynamics would be pretty hard to get past on both sides.
Down in Spike’s former digs, Andrew stabs Jonathan, feeding the seal with his blood. Goodbye, Jonathan! I adored pretty much every frame of you on this show, and I love that Danny Strong is winning Emmy awards and penning Hunger Games movies now.
As for you, Andrew, we’ll just have to hope you suffer later. Or, better yet, sooner.
Next: Spike is multi-faceted, okay? And, also, possibly, brainwashed.
A.M. Dellamonica has a book’s worth of fiction up here on Tor.com! Her ‘baby werewolf has two mommies,’ story, “The Cage,” made the Locus Recommended Reading List for 2010. There’s also “Among the Silvering Herd,” the first of a series of stories called The Gales. (Watch for the second of The Gales, “The Ugly Woman of Castello di Putti”!)