“Conversations With Dead People” (season 7, episode 7; original airdate 11/12/02)
It’s clear from the opening of “Conversations With Dead People” that this is going to be an unusual one. We get the title of the episode up top, and the date and the time in which its events occur. And then we get a little montage—the kind that usually ends a “very special Buffy”—set to a song by Angie Hart and Joss Whedon that prominently features the lyric, “Can I spend the night alone?” The beginning ends with Buffy in a graveyard, watching a vampire emerge from a grave. “Here we go,” she whispers.
I generally like it when Buffy tries something different with its storytelling, and “Conversations With Dead People” is no exception. I loved this episode. I loved the structure—which has Willow, Dawn, Buffy, Spike, and a returned Jonathan and Andrew all starring in their own intercut vignettes—and I loved the premise, which shows how easy it is for our heroes to get confused when they’re working in isolation. They can spend the night alone. But it doesn’t always go so well.
Here are the vignettes:
Willow. At the UCSD library, Willow is visited by a being that appears at first to be the ghost of Cassie, the high-schooler who died despite the Scoobies’ best efforts several weeks ago. But Ghost Cassie claims to be speaking on behalf of Tara, insisting—rather cruelly—that Willow isn’t allowed to see Tara because she killed people. Then Ghost Cassie begins working on Willow’s will, delivering the message that her magic is too big to control, and that if Willow doesn’t quit cold turkey, “You’re gonna kill everybody.” The thing is, this actually sounds like something Tara might say. But it runs counter to what Willow has heard from Giles and the coven, especially when Ghost Cassie suggests that Willow kill herself and join Tara in the great beyond. So Willow angrily demands, “Who are you?” and Ghost Cassie reveals herself—itself?—to be something else entirely. She/it claims to be the one that is going to devour from beneath, as some kind of ultimate expression of amorality prior to leaving this plane. Then a disgusting beastie bursts out of the thing’s mouth and vanishes. Creepsville.
Dawn. While at home doing typical teenage stuff—like microwaving a marshmallow—Dawn starts hearing strange thumps and unexplained music. The sound gradually drives her nuts, until she starts smashing up the house trying to get rid of it. Finally, she determines that it’s the ghost of her mother, trying to reach her from the afterlife. The Mom-knocking is genuinely unpleasant, as are the images Dawn keeps seeing of Joyce being choked by a demon. In fact he whole vignette is violent and disturbing, right down to Dawn shrieking, “I cast you out!” and seemingly getting rid of the visitation in a spray of blood. I say “seemingly” because when it’s all over, Ghost Joyce—or whatever this thing is—warns Dawn of terrible times to come, and says, “When it’s bad, Buffy won’t choose you.” Is this a genuine warning, or more seeds of dissension from our Big Bad?
Buffy. In a very snappy sequence—written by Whedon personally, according to what I’ve read—Buffy encounters the vampire version of Holden Webster, an old Sunnydale classmate. The two of them catch up about his time at Dartmouth, where he’s gotten really into Tae Kwan Do, and she tells him about her life as The Slayer, which resolves a few lingering high school mysteries. (Holden says that everyone assumed that Buffy was either “dating some old guy” or “heavy religious.” One of those is actually true.) The whole vignette features great dialogue and a great performance from Jonathan Woodward as Holden, who really seems to relish the changes in his life (or, um, death). He’s strong now, and feels “like I’m connected to a powerful, all-consuming evil.” He and Buffy fight a little, and then he uses his psychology degree to get her to admit her troubles with relationships. “I think you’re confusing me because you’re evil,” she says, but in fact Holden clarifies a few things for her, helping her to understand that in vampire culture, sex and death and love and pain are all the same thing. He also tells her, just before she kills him, that he was sired by Spike.
Spike. In Spike’s vignette, he kills a lady. Uh-oh.
Jonathan & Andrew. As funny and poignant as the Buffy/Holden “conversation” is, it has nothing on the return of Jonathan and Andrew (reportedly written by Drew Goddard), who come back to Sunnydale in search of an important artifact, though they plan to “keep it lo-pro.” Jonathan is nervous, because the last time he and his pals were in Sunndale, “33.3-barred% of us were flayed alive.” Andrew, though, is happy to be out of Mexico, where “everyone spoke Mexicoan.” He’s also happy because he’s being secretly guided by what appears to be the ghost of Warren. (But who can tell about these things anymore?) So while Jonathan’s dreaming of helping Buffy save the world so that they can “join her gang and possibly hang out at her house,” and is insisting that he harbors no grudges anymore because “time goes by and everything washes away,” Andrew is executing a plan that ends with him executing Jonathan, right on top of the Hellmouth, while delivering a speech about how nobody cares about him. Cruelsville.
It’s that mix of the grim and the goofy in the Jonathan and Andrew sequences—the latter exemplified by the two of them saying “check” over and over into their walkie talkies as they split up at Sunnydale High—that made “Conversations With Dead People” a real treat for me. Such an eclectic mix of tones and styles in this episode, and such a compelling set up for the series’ final arc. It works on a grand scale by emphasizing the small: like that little throwaway moment—possibly foreshadowing—of Buffy insisting to Holden that she’s “connected to a lot of people” while her cell phone rings, unanswered.
“Apocalypse, Nowish” (season 4, episode 7; original airdate 11/17/02)
Dire Portent Week continues with “Apocalypse, Nowish,” an Angel episode that—like “Conversations With Dead People”—sets up the darkness to come, and the darkness that’s already here. (And does so in far drearier fashion, in my opinion. More on that in a moment.)
Even the animals of Los Angeles can tell something’s not quite right in the city. When Fred and Gunn go to investigate a possible demonic infestation, they discover a bathroom full of rats, racing out of every available pipe. Later, back at the Hyperion, Gunn sees a flock of sparrows kill themselves by flying straight into the hotel’s windows at full force. It’s all very unsettling to Gunn, especially given the way that Fred’s been unresponsive to his boyfriend-ly overtures ever since he killed her evil mentor. Everything’s just… sad right now.
It’s sad for Cordelia too, who’s worrying her new roommate Connor with her bad dreams and miserable moods. Connor’s bothered enough about it to call on Angel—and bothered enough to call him “Dad” while asking for help—and though Angel can’t brighten Cordelia’s spirits, he does calm her down. (“How do you that?” she sighs. “Make everything feel like it’s not spiraling apart?”) But then her calm is shattered when she starts convulsing, saying that the terrible, world-beating demon she’s seen in her visions is coming right this moment. In fact, he rises out of the ground in the very spot where Connor was born. (From beneath them, it devours?)
The demon—still nameless as of this episode, near as I could tell—easily manhandles Angel and company, then heads off to parts unknown. So Angel gathers Lorne, Gunn and Wes (back in the fold at last!) to “figure out what all this means, and then do something large and violent.” They piece together the documents that Wolfram & Hart had assembled from Cordelia’s vision—or rather Lorne’s extraction of Cordelia’s vision—and add it to the pattern of calls they’ve been receiving lately from clients. Taken together, it makes a big X—or “eye of fire”—right over a trendy bar called Sky Temple. The gang arrives at the bar to find the demon standing in the center of a ring of corpses. The beast promptly stabs Angel in the neck and flings him aside. (Still hard to kill, this thing.)
I mentioned that I found “Apocalypse, Nowish” to be a little drearier than “Conversations With Dead People,” and the big fight scene at Sky Temple is a case-in-point. On the one hand, you’ve got Wesley going all John Woo with his guns, which is awesome. But the rest of the action sequence seemed too slow and too rote to me, and I’m not all that excited about the villain either: a classic Hellspawn with horns and cloven hooves (kind of like Trigon from The New Teen Titans, but with fewer eyes). Unlike the classic Buffy/Angel bad guys, this demon doesn’t talk much, which means he—it?—doesn’t have any personality, as of yet.
But my bigger problem with this episode is the way it leads up to a moment where Connor and Cordelia fall into each other’s arms and start smooching. Besides the overall ickiness of it, I find the emphasis on Connor and Cordelia to be kind of… well, I don’t want to say “random,” because both characters have figured prominently over the last couple of episodes, so instead I’ll just say “forced.” I have a hard time caring about this demon’s possible connection to Connor’s birth, and I have a hard time believing Cordelia’s affection for Connor deepening in this way.
That said, “Apocalypse, Nowish” ends with a chilling image of fire raining from the sky, and given that this coming devastation appears to be happening without Wolfram & Hart’s involvement or approval, I foresee a classic Angel triangulation of heroes and villains coming in the weeks ahead: Angel Investigations vs. W&H vs. Unspecified Awfulness. In other words, Angel looks like it’s about to get into one of those lengthy, breathlessly action-packed arcs that I love so much.
Here we go.
- I found the use of an on-screen title at the start of “Conversations With Dead People” interesting. It was a way of indicating that this was a “very special episode,” but I wonder, was it also so that when we see Warren, Cassie, etc., we’re meant to know right away that they’re ghosts (or whatever)?
- Andrew’s Spanish-to-English translation of the prophecy—“It eats you, starting with your bottom”—is even more horrifying than the original.
- Ghost Warren plays along with Andrew’s Empire Strikes Back quoting, answering his, “That boy is our last hope,” with, “No, there is another.” When Andrew asks who the other might be, Ghost Warren says, “No, I was just going with it. It was a thing. He’s our last hope”
- Dawn doesn’t worry when she gets pizza sauce on Buffy’s clothes, because “she’ll think it’s blood.”
- Dawn thinks she’s watching the same old horror movie on TV as her friend Kit, until she says, “He’s clearly a psychopath. Is so! What? That is not Tom Hanks. What channel are you on?”
- “Crazy Jay” from Sunnydale High turned out to be actually crazy, according to Holden. Also, Buffy’s short-lived boyfriend Scott Hope came out as gay, after insisting for years that Buffy was the gay one.
- Buffy doesn’t have the patent on bad relationships. “But wouldn’t it be cool if I did?”
- A familiar criticism from Buffy toward Holden: “This is insane troll logic.”
- Holden: “Oh my God! Well, not my God because I defy him and all of his works.”
- A couple of funny one-sided phone conversations from Lorne, talking to clients: “And they came out of your what? Did they get up there themselves or is this part of a, y’know, a thing?” And: “No, that certainly doesn’t sound normal for a boy his age. We’ll send someone out as soon as we can. Just… don’t poke it.”
- Even in Cordelia’s dreams, Connor is a junk-food junkie. Chocodiles!
- Cordelia says that while she was a higher being, she felt what it was like for Angelus’ victims, and she felt what it was like to be Angelus as well. The whole experience shook her up so much that she can’t be with Angel, even though she says she loves him. Since I’m pretty indifferent to their potential relationship, this doesn’t really bother me—unless it becomes a recurring topic week to week, in which case yeesh.
- Lilah may be a formidable foe for Angel, but Gavin is not. He gives up pretty much all the info he needs after just a little light torture.
- Unintentional aptness from Fred’s waitress, who worries that if Fred drinks too much coffee she’ll “vibrate into another dimension.”
- Lilah is very mean doing her Fred impression for Wesley—“One day if I pray hard enough and eat all my vegetables, I just might have hips!”—but it’s effective. Wesley even asks her to keep her glasses on while they go at it.
- Another break next week. Sorry to have so many gaps so early, but life (and summer vacation) intervenes. Back in two weeks with double Buffy.