Jan 27 2014 2:00pm

Buffy the Vampire Slayer Rewatch: Conversations with Live People. Mostly.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The Killer in Me, Willow

“The Killer in Me,” by Drew Z. Greenberg

This episode begins with Giles preparing to head out somewhere, all the while expressing concerns about whether the group will be okay in his absence. It turns out he’s taking the Potentials off to spirit quest with the First Slayer.

The point of it all, mostly, is that Giles is conspicuously not touching things—he has Dawn run a notebook out to Vi, while the Slayettes fight over who gets to drive the car. (Apparently Rupert’s California driver’s license is defunct.) He’s been not touching anything for awhile now, and when you’ve already seen this season once, it’s pretty obvious. If you haven’t, it’s been pretty elegantly done. As story elements go, it’s been noticeable, but not screaming in your face. (The style of this misdirection brings The Sixth Sense to mind, in my opinion).

After everyone’s gone, Buffy heads down to the basement, where Spike is chained up and enjoying the sweet silence that can only be generated by a lack of surplus teenagers in the house. He and she and we all get a break from Rona, Vi, and Amanda—where’s the downside?

Instead of falling into each other’s arms—I know, that’s not emotionally possible at this point—they explore the possibility that he’ll get all Firsty and slurp up one of the kids. But before things can stay dull, his Initiative chip starts firing in a big way.  Ouch, ouch, screech! Gosh, could it be that someone’s not done paying for their crimes?

Some ill-defined time later, Buffy and Willow consider what to do about this latest development. They know nothing about the Initiative chip or its specs. Having established that, Willow makes a nice soothing cup of tea for Kennedy, who claimed to be too flu-infested to go on any Potential expeditions. She claims to have her own mission, and asks for help.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The Killer in Me, Willow, Kennedy

Kennedy’s idea of a mission, as it happens, is taking everyone’s favorite briefly-evil red-haired witch on a date. To the Bronze, naturally! She interrogates Willow about her gayness and asks for her coming out story, all while attempting to be supremely cute. She’s facing an uphill battle here. I mean, I can appreciate the effort she’s putting in, but is there anyone—Willow, Scooby, fan—who wouldn’t rather just have Tara back?

That said, the striving to be adorable isn’t entirely failing.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The Killer in Me

Dating is more fun than what Buffy’s got on her plate, which is Spike marinated in agony and nosebleeds, with a soupcon of what sounds suspiciously like “This is hopeless; let me die.”  She phones out for assistance and ends up having one of those frustrating conversations, where the person on the other end of the line is pretending to be a confused florist. Come on, the Initiative. Just say: “Okay, honey, we’ll tell Riley. Is this an Apocalypse-level problem or more the mystical equivalent of a clogged toilet thing?”

Kennedy and Willow come home and start making out, and one thing the two of them have over WillTara, as a couple, is we don’t have to wait until they’re all but married before we see their lips lock. Women! Kissing! Except then Willow turns into Warren, which is a real comedowner. Who invited him?

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The Killer in Me, Warren

Kennedy’s confused, and says as much, and a muddled Willow looks in the mirror. She sees Warren, too, and reacts with predictable revulsion. When she bolts downstairs, to XandAnya and Dawn, Andrew freaks right out. It’s the First, right? A reasonable assumption, as it has been Warren before.

The scene then descends into random, slightly comic, chaos: Buffy walks in and punches Willow, proving that whatever has turned up in her living room this time, it isn’t the First. (And also, possibly, that she hasn’t truly absorbed the idea that the First isn’t corporeal.) Spike’s chip fires, again, so he moans and writhes on the floor. Andrew gives in to the urge to hug Willow by the boobs.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The Killer in Me, Warren, Andrew, Kennedy, Dawn, Xander

It’s all too much. Willow flees, claiming she’ll get it all fixed. Kennedy follows along, hoping to help.

On a good day, if there was such a thing on her planet anymore, Buffy might have assigned someone more competent experienced or competent to assist Willow. But instead she and Spike are headed back down to the old Initiative caverns, in search of knockout drugs and data on the chip.

The only ones without anything to do are XandAnya... at least until the phone rings. There’s a moment where Andrew’s hoping it’s one of his comic suppliers, and Xander expresses an interest in the LXG title he’s got on order. Anya snorts.

This is not the first time the two men have connected, momentarily, over their love for things fannish and geeky. They get each other’s pop culture references; they read and enjoy the same stuff. I find these interactions awkward, almost off-putting, but they’re no more accidental than Giles not having his driver’s license. Part of the point is to remind us that Andrew’s not obnoxious and worthy of derision because he’s a fan. No, fans are good. Xander is one! He’s worthy of derision because he’s a sniveler and a murderer.  

So, you know, fair enough.

But Xander’s fondness for comics, his ability to read Klingon, and his tendency to collect Babylon Five memorabilia has never been portrayed as his best quality. In fact, he’s got a bit of nerd shame over it: he catches himself whenever he and Andrew fall into this area of shared interest, and he looks self-conscious. Some of that may simply be about having anything in common with someone so fundamentally loathsome, but it predates his arrival at Chez Slay. And Anya doesn’t value it either: later, in the car, she dismisses the pair of them as “two big geeks.”

Xander has certainly done plenty to make Anya feel bad about herself, so maybe there’s an element of justice there. But I’m a little sad that of the two men, it’s Andrew who’s comfortable with his nerdy love of our culture, and Xander who feels a bit embarrassed.

Where are you all on this?

The phone call (Alyx said, getting back on point) is from that Watcher named Robson whom we saw getting attacked a few episodes ago. He tells Xander all about how he was attacked and then rescued by Giles. The worry, see, is that Giles is dead and the First is once again playing them. This should be an easy concern to dispel, but none of the Scoobies can remember Giles touching anything since he arrived.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The Killer in Me, Giles

Apparently he hasn’t eaten, put the toilet seat up (or down), or done anything useful or worthwhile during Potential-training besides, possibly, heckle.

The gang goes bolting off toward the desert in a panic, and to ice that cake we get a shot of Giles looking scary at a campfire. Did he perform the mystical hokey pokey that will let the pre-Slayers go on their quest, or did he send them to some kind of terrible doom? We don’t know! 

Willow’s destination, meanwhile, is the UC Sunnydale campus Wicca group. Wow, she is desperate indeed if she’s calling upon the lemon bundt people. To their credit, they’ve come a long way since her single day among them. And look who’s in the club—it’s Amy! She’s deeply apologetic about dosing Willow with magic way back when. She even tries to fix the Warren spell. Wow, Amy’s so nice now!

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The Killer in Me

The Warren within, however, is still a woman-hating jerk. When Amy fails, he slaps her.

This is bad. It means that Willow’s having taken on the appearance of Warren is just the beginning. She doesn’t just look like Tara’s murderer, she’s becoming him. This is deeply upsetting, of course. She runs, ditching Kennedy in the process.

Down in the Initiative tunnels, it’s turning out the army didn’t clean up after their final battle. There are monster bodies and dead soldiers everywhere. Stay classy, television armed forces. There’s at least one surviving monster too, and it grabs Buffy.

In the car headed for the desert, XandAnya, Dawn and Andrew are realizing they may be speeding toward the First with any actual plan for stopping it. This doesn’t keep them from going.

Left alone, Kennedy retraces her steps and finds Amy, who continues to sound wholesome and penitent for about a second. Then she slips up and refers to Kennedy as a Potential. Kennedy jumps on the clue and Amy’s nasty smirk returns.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The Killer in Me, Amy

(I’m not clear on who told Amy that Kennedy was a Potential. Is she working for the First, too?)

Down in the tunnels, the monster is beating on Buffy while Spike’s chip reduces him to dancing the headless chicken on the floor. The battle ends when the Initiative shows up—with matching outfits, firm jaws, and no gender diversity—and turns on the lights.

Warren, meanwhile, has run off and bought a gun.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The Killer in Me, Giles, Anya, Andrew, Xander, Dawn

Everything’s so tense! We need a comic break, don’t we? What if the Scoobies mob Giles to see if he’s corporeal? It’s sort of a puppy pile by the campfire: Dawn, XandAnya and—creepily—Andrew all verify for themselves that he’s among the living. Yay, Giles isn’t dead! It’s a bit of a cuddle moment and we’re all glad.

Down under the university, the Initative dudes tell Buffy they can repair or remove Spike’s chip. Riley has left the choice to Buffy. BtVS leaves us to wonder what she’ll decide. Except, of course, we can probably already figure that she’s not going to leave him on a leash.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The Killer in Me

In other news, Amy is still pretty wicked. She cast a penance hex on Willow. Kissing Kennedy triggered it because the spell is powered by Willow’s guilt, and so her unconscious chose the means by which she would be punished. 

“This is all about power,” Amy tells Kennedy, in a tone of profound smug. Really, though, it’s about competitiveness and self-pity. She’s jealous because Willow has all kinds of things she doesn’t, chief among them forgiving friends and immense magical abilities. Also, Willow killed her mystic juice dealer, which has to be a bit of a burn.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The Killer in Me, Kennedy, Warren

The encounter ends when Amy teleports Kennedy to the Summers backyard, just as Warren is reliving last season’s arrival there with a gun. The two of them go back and forth as Kennedy tries to reach Willow through the wall of Warren. She’s tied in a bitter ball of guilt that is all about having forgotten Tara, in a sense, by kissing Kennedy. She’s feeling bad about moving on.

It’s easy to understand. Alyson Hannigan and Adam Busch both really sell it. Did I ever mention that Busch is terrific as this utterly loathsome guy? 

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The Killer in Me, Willow, Kennedy

Kennedy decides that maybe a good way to sort out the hex is to kiss Willow again! Magic being what it is, it works: the spell breaks. The healing power of womanly love melts away the misogynist. And nobody even bothers to go back to Amy to say “Nyah Nyah, Nyah.”

A.M. Dellamonica has a book’s worth of fiction up here on! 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”!)

Or if you like, check out her sexy novelette, “Wild Things,” that ties into the world of her award winning novel Indigo Springs and its sequel, Blue Magic.

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Chris Nelly
1. Aeryl
If you follow the comics, you would know that Amy owes Willow for the fact that she's finally found love!

As far as how Amy knows? She's nosy. She's been keeping tabs on Willow since she got back from England, mystically, which is why she knows about Potentials. No one spies with good intentions.
2. GarrettC
Oh, actually, you know, I like this episode, too! I never noticed until this re-watch that it has an A, B, and C story, which seems unusual to me, and that none of them seem connected thematically, really, which also seems unusual. I mean, well, okay... I guess Willow and Spike are both suffering a form of penance, though reading the chip is "penance" feels like a stretch to me. They're both suffering, anyway, which is a broad connection at best--and which doesn't help tie in the Giles thing.

So, structurally, it's an odd episode. A bit of a mess, even.

But, again, the stakes are small. What's at stake here are the individuals. Alyson Hannigan, in my opinion, was never really better than during the climactic breakdown in this. God, the pain of letting go...

And the other story lines matter in ways we care about. We want Giles to be not-dead. We want Spike to be not-chipped. It's not the world ending, but the conflicts and choices made impact and affect individual lives. I like Buffy A LOT more when it's working on this level than when it's working on how The World Is Ending.

So, narrative kerfuffle that it might be, this episode gets my stamp of approval. Plus, assface. Haha. Assface.
gina gatto
5. gcatto
I have enjoyed Xander and Andrew's nerd bonding this season and also Xander's annoyance at it which I'd always read as him not wanting to have something in common with Andrew. That's not all it is though since you point out that Xander's nerd shame pre-exists this Andrew condition. So that makes it kinda sad, come on Xander it's ok, if Willow wore shirts with dolls stitched on to them well into season 6 then you can openly be a nerd!

I like Andrew in this season though, in fact when I go back and re-watch The Prom I'm happy that they weren't able to get Tucker back because then we wouldn't have Andrew.
Katharine Duckett
7. Katharine
@Owlay: We've already responded to this question, and it's not relevant to this thread. Please don't copy and paste comments, and make sure your comments address the content of the article on which you're commenting. Thanks.
Constance Sublette
8. Zorra
What. A. Frackin'. Mess.

The more we look at this season the more I'm getting to hate it.

Or maybe that's my broken elbow speaking.

Probably not.

Love, C.
9. Alex C.
"The Killer in Me" is a bit of an odd episode, in my opinion.

If I had to slap an alternative title on it, it would probably be "Wherein Plot Baggage from Past Seasons is Disposed of, in Minimalist Fashion".

That's essentially the core of my biggest problem with the episode, which I don't think is really a 'bad' one per se, but which isn't really effective either. I don't have any particular complaints with the way that the Willow/Warren/Kennedy plot played out - all three actors did a great job with the material they had - but it smacks of something that the writers came up with so that Willow's internal conflict about Tara's death and the things she did in response to it could be neatly tied up in the space of a single episode. As a result, the whole thing just fell flat emotionally to me.

Similarly, Spike's chip suddenly going haywire, so that something has to be done about it, felt a bit forced. However, I do think that the way that part of the episode ended was a fine testament to what a good job the writers did of resurrecting the Buffy/Spike relationship over the course of this season. We've come from "Beneath You", when she could barely stand to be in the same room as him, to this moment when there's no doubt at all for the audience which choice she's going to make, and the progression felt organic to the characters almost every step of the way.

I cannot say that I was a fan of the C-plot, 'Is Giles the First?'. The problem here is simple: despite all the efforts by the writers to play up the possibility, I never for a second doubted that it was going to turn out to be the real Giles in the end, and so there was zero tension over it. I also think that there were far better ways that the writers could have addressed the other characters' reaction to his standoffish behavior in this season, which later becomes quite important.

Some other positives from this episode, in my view:

This was probably the only episode in the entire season where Kennedy didn't aggravate me.

I loved the finish, ambiguous as it was, that was given to Amy's role in the show. She's made approximately one appearance per season, and in that span she's undergone a comlete character arc, from helpless victim of the show's very first Monster of the Week, to basically a miniature version of her mother. Great stuff.

Although he doesn't make an appearance, I thought that this was a great finish-point for Riley - making a demonstration of his complete trust in Buffy's judgement. Unlike his showing up in "As You Were" with a perfect wife in tow, this one didn't rankle.

Andrew continues to be as despicable as he is pathetic - and I continue to eagerly anticipate the moment when his presence in the season gets some wonderful payoff several episodes from now. (I would happily nominate "Storyteller" as one of the most underappreciated episodes of the show).
10. Dianthus
One thing I especially liked about this ep - in the DVD commentary, Greenberg said he wanted to show that Buffy trusted Spike, whereas before they'd just been telling us she did (or thought they were). Thank Heaven someone remembered this is a TV show, not a TV tell.
I also loved Buffy and Spike down in the Initiative lab. With those flashlights, and the creepy monster you couldn't quite see, it had a very X-Files vibe to me. I totally 'shipped Mulder and Scully back in the day (another hard-headed woman/soft-hearted man combo).
As for Willow turning into Warren, don't forget that Willow showed a bit of mysoginy herself the way in her s6 treatment of Tara. She and Warren both tried mind-control on their SO. Plus, Warren and Willow were both very intelligent but socially awkward. So there are some parallels btwn them.

I admit to a teeny bit of sympathy for Amy. When she went to Willow late in s6 and clearly in bad shape, Willow basically told her to get knotted.

I know "assface" from Waiting For Guffman ("I just hate you, and I hate your assface.") . Somehow I can't imagine Riley as the Waiting For Guffman type. Guess it's gotten wider use than I realized.

Forgot to mention from last week - the scene where Buffy (with Spike standing right beside her) tells the girls that vampires are animals; JM does such a perfect take at that.
11. Alex C.
@10. Dianthus -

Since Buffy and Spike only really began to (re)connect with each other in the episodes after "Conversations With Dead People", and Spike spent most of the subsequent episodes either tied-up or mind-controlled, I don't think that the writers were being in any way tardy by waiting until now to give the audience a solid demonstration of Buffy's newfound trust in him.

Agree on the X-Files vibe about the lab scenes. It's funny that you should mention Mulder/Scully - I've read more than a few people cite that particular 'ship as an analogue in making arguments for the Buffy/Spike relationship in S7, not least when it comes to the possibility of offscreen sex.

I think it's just about possible to read certain details in "Storyteller" as suggesting that Buffy and Spike became lovers again some time after "Get It Done", although this arguably clashes with what we see in "Touched". There is however, no question at all that they are strongly implied to be having sex again in "Chosen". All told, I would have preferred it if they'd just had it out in the open, but after "Seeing Red" it's somewhat understandable why the writers chose not to go there.

Also agree strongly on the Willow/Warren parallels.
12. Dianthus
Alyx, you're right. Amy is totally playing Faith to Willow's Buffy here. Good catch.

GarrettC., you're not alone in finding the smaller eps more relatable/enjoyable. I read a review in EW (IIRC) saying that the Apocalypse bits were always the weakest of any season.
13. Alex C.
I read a review in EW (IIRC) saying that the Apocalypse bits were always the weakest of any season.
Everyone is of course entitled to their own opinion, but that particular opinion is just weird, or reflects a very strange viewing of the show.

In S2, the main apocalyse was the central element of the "Becoming" two-parter, arguably the strongest episode(s) not just of that season, but of any of the seven seasons.

In S3, there were two apocalypses: one in "The Zeppo" - a highly praised episode by fans far and wide - and the Mayor's Ascension in "Graduation Day" - another fantastic two-parter.

In S4, the Big Bad might have been boring, but "Primeval" was a wonderful standalone episode, and a great part of that season.

In S5 you have "The Gift" - an episode that I would rank only just below "Becoming" as one of the best pieces the show ever produced.

In S7 the main plot is a bit shaky, but the actual apocalypse episode - "Chosen" is another gem, even if it's a bit more flawed than the other finales. And the main plot also led to episodes like "Get It Done" and "Touched" that aren't quite the best of the season, but are still pretty darn good.

The only season where I would agree that the big Apocalypse didn't represent a highlight of the show was S6. That aside though, if you cut out the apocalypses, you'd be depriving the show of many of its strongest episodes, not its weakest ones.

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