I knew that eventually I’d come to an episode that I didn’t care for in my first viewing and that my second swipe at the series would fail to change my opinion about. That moment has arrived with Killed by Death. I admit that I’m a bit surprised and mildly disappointed since I have cultivated an appreciation for other recalled duds like I, Robot… You, Jane; The Pack; and Teacher’s Pet. None of these s1 eps ranks as a favorite for me, but I saw them in a different light on round #2 when taken into account with the series as a whole, especially in building up the characters of Willow and Xander. In s2, I wasn’t wild about Ted or Inca Mummy Girl in either of my viewings, but I still found some mild entertainment in them. One thing that ties all of the aforementioned episodes together is their monster-of-the-week focus that pulls away from the seasonal arcs.
Killed by Death follows the same pattern, but its sharp swerve away from the events of the preceding Passion leaves me feeling cheated and even resentful. Passion pulled the rug out from under me, so I expect to be crawling around the floor during Killed by Death. Instead, I find myself inexplicably standing on my two feet with scarcely a nod to the catastrophic turns of last week, aside from Joyce’s awkward expression of sympathy about Miss Carpenter to Giles at the hospital.
Whedon and Co. do have a rhythm. They followed the s2 stark game-changer of Innocence with the far lighter Phases and then the borderline zany Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered. Yet Innocence, though it forces the series into a tunnel of darkness with no real return, doesn’t leave the open wound that Passion does, and when I come back to Buffy after the anguish of last week, any escape from the gloom rings false. I demand no reprieve this time. “Life goes on,” so says the creed. But in reality, it doesn’t go on the same. Are we in the mourning stage of Denial?
Killed by Death STRENGTHS:
Der Kindestod: While I don’t particularly like the episode as a stand-alone and I rather hate it in terms of continuity, it does hold my attention, primarily with its demon, der Kindestod, an obvious nod to Freddy Krueger, Wes Craven’s villain from the Nightmare on Elm Street series. The Kindestod’s general look with the hat and the long claws and his M.O. of stalking children, especially in dark basements, point right to the 1980s horror fixture, and for good reason. Freddy Krueger is as recognizable to the Buffy audience (or was, in 1998) as Frankenstein or The Mummy or even The Wolf Man – all of whom have already been given their due by Whedon: Some Assembly Required, Inca Mummy Girl, and Phases, respectively. Now Freddy Krueger joins that pantheon! Note: while the Kindestod owes a lot to Freddy Krueger, he also also provides a template for the Gentlemen, who we’ll meet years later in Hush.
The creepy hospital: Hospitals earn their spot as hotspots of horror just for their everlasting proximity to dread and death, and the cinematography here doesn’t disappoint, especially when Buffy wanders the halls as the lights flicker overhead. We almost didn’t need a monster! (See next point.)
Cordelia’s lack of tact: Cordy’s pronouncement that Buffy’s suspicions of nefariousness underfoot in the hospital are merely manifestations of her deep desire to have something to defeat following her failure to bring down Angelus.
Great insight. Pity that that the writers didn’t just go with that for the story this week. It’s one rare instance where I would have welcomed the “it was all in her mind” trope.
Buffy vs. Angelus: The opening fight is violent and vicious, with Angel pummeling Buffy left and right. I don’t recall her ever taking a beating like this, but then she’s never had the flu while on patrol either. This was the first time that I’ve felt strangely uncomfortable during a fight scene in the show.
Xander vs. Angelus: Their mutual dislike finally gets articulated face to face. Angelus is appropriately hateful and Xander won’t stand down. I enjoyed their confrontation shot in profile, and perhaps Xander is the best of the Scoobies to have it since he had the least to do with last week’s Angelus story.
Flop Ending: They fucking set us up for one of the adults in the hospital to be the Kindestod, and then it was no one! First, we’re supposed to suspect the elderly renegade doctor who gets slashed to death by the demon. We’ve also got the nebbish security guard and the caring doctor who treats Buffy. There’s even an endlessly mopping, always out-of-focus janitor in the hallways with the flickering lights. Finally Buffy vanquishes the Kindestod, and… nothing. No adult had been hiding in plain sight. Not that I really cared at this point. They sure didn’t.
The Kids: Their escape into the bowels of the basement worked until it gave way to non-stop, mechanical shrieking. Honestly, these kids taken into account with The Anointed One from s1 and the comatose Billy from Nightmares suggest that the showrunners should beware of any characters younger than high school age. Children just aren’t their forte.
Buffy’s Flashbacks: Related to the above problem with kids, the flashbacks from Buffy’s childhood and her witnessing the death of her cousin stop the already weak episode dead in its tracks. Say, if we didn’t get any flashbacks for Giles and Ethan Rayne in the far superior (but still not great) The Dark Age, then we sure don’t need them here. These flashbacks have no consequence in future episodes and really very little in this one.
The Acting: It feels strangely disjointed here in the group scenes, above all in the opening fight when Xander, Cordy, and Willow talk to Buffy in the cemetery. Their timing is all off, and when the artifice of the dialogue is exposed, suddenly the set looks cheap and everything feels hackneyed. The episode never recovers from this misstep before the beginning credits even roll.