You all know we’re into some of the best of the Buffy the Vampire Slayer material now with this rewatch. We’re gasping for air after “Becoming,” and Faith, the Mayor, and all the goodies that make up the Season Three story arc are ahead. It’s fun ahoy, and I hope you’re all enjoying the ride.
“Anne” and “Dead Man’s Party” are the intertwined and bloody thread that tie these two phases of the Slayer’s journey together.
The former is essentially a quick snapshot of Buffy’s senior year “What I Did on My Summer Slaycation” essay. Which was, in no particular order: wait tables, mourn Angel, and rigorously avoid monster-hunting.
As the episode opens, the hiding out is working out for her, if in an short-term, barely sustainable, poverty-stricken kind of way. She’s got a steady gig, access to pie, and most importantly an apartment, a quiet hidey-hole in which to feel really bad about slaughtering the love of her life for the best of reasons.
It can’t last, naturally, what with L.A. being just as demon-infested as Sunnydale.
“Anne” brings us our second sighting of Lily, nee Chantarelle, formerly a vampire-worshipping Goth girl who Buffy saved back in Sunnydale in “Lie to Me.” She’s living rough with her one true love, or maybe her latest true love. When Ricky goes missing, she turns to the Slayer for help.
Reluctantly, Buffy noses into the disappearance. Soon she’s found a burned out, super-aged, mega-dead Ricky in one of the local kids’ squats. From there she bread-crumbs her way through the clues until she finds that the neighborhood blood donor operation is telling the youth outreach guy which of the homeless kids are healthiest.
Lily doesn’t do well with the news of Ricky’s demise, which makes her great bait for the demon Ken. He’s recruiting healthy kids nobody will miss for a life of labour and torment, and he flings both girls into the pit. This turns out to be a terrible shame for Ken, because the consequence of that little choice is first, Buffy liberates those slaves who still have enough ego to fight back, and then, she seriously kills him.
(“Hey Ken. Wanna see my impression of Gandhi?” Eee!!)
At first glance, the message of “Anne” might seem like “youth homelessness is a terrible social problem and we should deal with it!” or “Kids, don’t run away from home,” or even “Seriously, stay far away from your community health care provider and/or youth outreach human.” Well, it is actually the middle one, more or less: the upshot of this uncharacteristically preachy story is that you can’t run away from, deny, or otherwise vanish your problems. Wherever you go, you’re the same person, with the same great power and the same responsibilities.
So, after Buffy’s beaten the pulp out of Ken and freed a handful of teens to resume their lives of miserable eking, she gives away her job and apartment and her nametag and makes her way back to Sunnydale. It’s autumn, after all, and the annual vampire migration is already underway. Plus it’s senior year!
While all that’s going on, the Scoobies are doing their best to kill as many vamps as they can (which is not very many) and wondering where she is. Giles is searching hard, doggedly, loyally. Joyce is sniping from the sidelines.
In “Dead Man’s Party,” Buffy comes back, and the gang doesn’t know what to do with her.
Okay, that’s not entirely true. Giles knows. He welcomes her home, gives her space, and overflows with joy on his own time, in one of his best Brit quiet moments. All this despite Jenny’s death and the tortured-by-Angelus thing, which combined make him the guy most entitled to an emo meltdown. But no—in “Dead Man’s Party,” Giles is a rock. A funny, Yankee-mocking, zombie-fighting, put my Slayer first rock.
With the others, it’s awkward from the beginning and goes downhill. Joyce doesn’t want to cop to being tense about Buffy’s ever leaving her sight again, and then the friends are caught, mid-combat, and do their best to enthuse at the sight of her. Principal Snyder’s happy, but only because he thinks he can keep her out of school through gloating and intimidation.
Willow, Xander and Joyce all avoid the issue, and claim everything’s okay. It’s sad, isn’t it, when Principal Snyder is more open about his feelings than the gang?
Part of the awkwardness, of course, is that the Scoobies have filled up the places in their lives that Buffy used to occupy. Both Willow and Xander are very engaged in dating, and Joyce turns out to have caught a lingering case of Awful Friend.
All of this would be unbearably dramatic but thankfully, because this is all taking place on a Hellmouth, there’s also a dead cat in the Summers basement. Even better, it soon becomes undead. Whew! Joyce has picked up a Nigerian zombie mask which is animating the deceased. It’s drawing them to Chez Slayer, just in time for a dinner party which has been transformed, through the awesome power of passive-aggressive avoidance, into a full-on hootenanny.
Buffy tries. She gives communicating with Willow a shot, doesn’t buy into the ’I can’t hear you thing,’ tries again, and gets thoroughly, quietly, sweetly blown off. From there she bounces into Joyce being honest with her icky new BFF about the difficulties of her life.
Concluding that she’s neither wanted nor needed, Buffy commences packing. Fortunately for everyone who might otherwise have gotten eaten in the finale, the walking dead are by now strolling toward the party.
I give credit to Willow for opening up when she sees Buffy is leaving. There’s a second where it looks like honesty might happen and things could all come out okay. But then Joyce shows and the throwdown begins.
For me, this may be the most painful and unfair-seeming of the pile-on-Buffy fights. The gang appears to have learned very little from last year’s Apocalypse, and they’re mighty ungrateful, if you want my opinion, about having their shiny white butts saved along with the rest of the world. Hey gang: losing your fellow slayer, being accused of murder, getting kicked out of school and your damned house and having to kill your boyfriend? That just seems like a whole lot to deal with. Can they really not cut Buffy a break? Seriously? Did they have to just keep laying into her until she’s crying and begging them to stop?
And I know, I’ve already complained a fair deal about Joyce through this particular series of emotional changes and thinly veiled coming-out storyline. The good news is this is pretty much where she bottoms out for me. It’s the pit—it’s the point where I almost can’t forgive her. But from here on in, I do slowly make my way back onto the Team Joyce Float in the Sunnydale Civic Parade.
But come on. You give your kid the boot, and she goes. This is her fault because... wait, I’m unclear. Oh, and in “Anne” it was Giles’s fault!
I’m just saying. Take a little responsibility, please. “I’m not perfect, nyah nyah,” doesn’t really cut it when you’re the one who’s supposed to be the grownup.
That said and to be fair to all these lovely imaginary friends of ours, I’m not sure the actual Scooby fight in “Dead Man’s Party” is the best-written argument in the history of the Buffyverse. Xander’s position is especially tenuous, what with his having succeeded in remote-murdering Angel. Buffy could have used one line more than “You don’t know what I’ve been through.”
(Jonathan’s contribution to the whole thing shines. If I was scoring this episode, it would be Gold for Giles, Silver for Willow, Bronze for Jonathan. Maybe Miss Congeniality for Oz.)
Fortunately, zombie violence works its usual healing magic, making everything better, except possibly Joyce’s insurance premiums. There’s undead wrestling, and the Awful Friend goes up in a poof, without even leaving a lingering slime trail.
And the episode ends with Buffy-Willow (Buffillow?) Rebonding and Cuteness, which I do like, very much indeed.
Next time, we get us some Faith!
A.M. Dellamonica has a short story up here on Tor.com — an urban fantasy about a baby werewolf, “The Cage” which made the Locus Recommended Reading List for 2010. She also has a second story up here called “Among the Silvering Herd.”