“Conversations with Dead People” “November 12, 2002″ “8:01PM.” This is one of only two Buffy episodes to present its title and the only one to fix itself to a specific date and time. Like most great tricks, this one’s incredibly simple and in a few unremarkable seconds it buys the episode all the slack it needs to take us far off Buffy’s beaten path. The show’s been fighting it’s established patterns for a while now, with mixed results as the drive to feel fresh fights the drive to feel like Buffy. This episode’s opening is a truly elegant solution as it deftly resets our expectations and lets us enjoy the story for what it is rather than what we think it should be.
Had we not seen the title at the top of the episode, we likely would’ve spent much of it waiting for the various threads to come together; the Scoobies have respective supernatural encounters, get together for some exposition, and then solve whatever problem’s been presented. Instead, we’ve got the patience to recognise that the encounters themselves are the story and not worry about what comes next.
Ironically, setting up a clean slate for the audience is what finally allows the series to grapple with its past in a meaningful fashion. I noted in the last review that Buffy isn’t particularly good at leveraging its own history, offering little more than references that don’t change anything or meta-narrative that’s too clever for its own good. Here, we see four characters engaging with their past in a (mostly) meaningful way and the result is to finally make Buffy feel mature in its seventh season rather than tired.
Buffy’s long overdue therapy session rehashes events we’re all very familiar with but, strung together, the go a long way to explaining why she consistently tries to isolate herself, even as the world keeps telling her that she’s not alone. Tears for Tara are also long overdue and it’s satisfying (in a sad way) to see Willow grieve without the attendant apocalypse. Of course, the realisation that she’s not actually talking to Tara strips all sweetness from the conversation and makes for an excellently creepy moment. We’ve had plenty of talk this season about Willow’s need to control herself, but tying that need to a warning from “Tara” finally adds the necessary weight.
Dawn’s story also gets elevated by being tied to the departed. We haven’t really thought of Joyce in years, but she’s still enough to give the youngest Summers some pathos in what’s, in my opinion, Dawn’s best outing. The haunting’s pretty creepy in its own right, but its the fact that we also want to see Joyce again that firmly aligns us with Dawn and makes the ultimate message all the more disturbing.
Finally, we get a wholesale blast from the past in an (almost) reunited trio. They’re as funny as ever, certainly, but Jonathan takes us even further back by reminiscing about Sunnydale High. He barely qualified as a recurring character in those days, but he does a far better job putting Highschool in its proper context than Buffy’s adventures in counselling ever could. He also brings his own arc to a meaningful conclusion just in time to take a knife to the gut. Damn you Whedon.
Jonathan Woodward begins his Whedon hat trick here. You just can’t trust that guy.
Both Jonathan and Andrew deliver gold with almost every line, but its Warren who really steals the show. He gets in on the humour, but Adam Busch cranks up the creep factor by just one notch to leave no doubt he’s the villain. The moment where Jonathan sees him is really fantastic.
Oh yeah, a Spike’s killing people again. Given the non-direction that subplot takes, it’s hard for me to get excited about it.
Cassie’s all mouth exit? Still bad after all theses years. FX101: do it right or don’t do it at all.