I see Dead Man’s Party as the second shoe dropping in the fallout over Buffy’s s2 finale decision to abandon slayerdom, Sunnydale, friends, and family without a word of warning or an attempt at communication over the summer. In last week’s Anne season opener, Buffy had to face herself; here she has to face the consequences of what she’s done to others. We understand Buffy’s selfishness in her flight, but now we have to address the act from everyone else’s perspectives.
I am given to understand that this episode is regarded as one of the worst by BtVS fans (and Sasha did not even create any figurines from it!), which I comprehend only too well: I recently discovered my personal list of worst BtVS episodes from my first viewing, and the very first episode in the series to make an appearance is Dead Man’s Party. However, I’m now calling that judgment into question. This is not a great episode by any means, but it does rescue the story from becoming all about Buffy brooding over Angel and wallowing in her guilt. Teenagers so often think that the world revolves around them, only to discover that it doesn’t – and that their choices have impacts on others that they might never have considered. Buffy, who’s already proven her personal strength with self-abnegation and acceptance of burdensome responsibility, still has more to learn about herself in relation to the lives of others.
I disagree that writer Marti Noxon has allowed wild character shifts here just to accommodate the direction of the story. Don’t Willow, Xander, and Joyce have just cause to feel upset and angry with Buffy for abandoning them? All three characters have borderline ugly moments at the party: Willow’s obvious avoidance and evasion, Xander’s almost explosive, very public denunciation, and Joyce’s demand for patience. They’re all valid reactions, and though especially Willow seems diverting from typical behavior, none feels false to me.
Maybe zombies awakened by a Nigerian death mask weren’t the way to go for complementing Buffy’s reintegration into Sunnydale. Last week’s demon Ken and his identity-obliterating underworld enslavement may have been somewhat clunky in execution, but it did dovetail with Buffy (and Lily) fleeing from/searching for a sense of self and a role in the world. The risen cadavers from this week are jokey – as is the entire party, complete with oafish guests, the worst of whom gets his neck snapped in the first wave of assault (perhaps his just comeuppance for calling Giles “Mr. Belvedere” on the telephone), but the overt silliness falls into conflict with rather than offsets the seriousness of Buffy’s awkward return and the lingering resentments that her absence provoked. Buffy’s reappearance in Sunnydale doesn’t mesh with the dead returning to maim, murder, maraud, and party-crash in the worst possible way. We could have used something lower key and perhaps more vaguely sinister, maybe a vengeful spirit that really requires placating rather than defeating – oh, but Marti Noxon already did this in I Only Have Eyes for You!
But perhaps the looniness of the zombie attack (I admit to enjoying the mayhem with Oz and Cordy emerging from the basement to defend themselves with ski poles) and the death mask possession of poor, ingratiating, highly dispatchable Pat comes as a tonal taste of what’s to come in s3, which will be far more playful and comical than s2. It will also be much tighter in terms of the seasonal story arc, which begins in earnest next week with the introduction of Faith. I think before making that (great!) leap forward, we needed to tie up the mess that Buffy left behind.
Principal Snyder makes two references to “the mayor” and I cannot be more excited! We got a couple of hints last season, but now Mayor Wilkins is really on the horizon and his appearance is highly anticipated!
Principal Snyder also gets a “tingle” just thinking about expelling Buffy. A note on my French audio/Spanish subtitle-viewing: “tingle” is translated as frissonner in French and estremecer in Spanish. I am intrigued how some of the comical word choices in BtVS dialogue get translated. I think a lot of the humor falls by the wayside. Case in point: “tingle” has some connotations of strange delight that just don’t seem to cross over to its semi-corresponding words in other languages.
Giles can hotwire cars in a split-second, a holdover skill from his Ripper days, I gather.
Who cleaned up after that party, especially the dead body of the oaf who answered Giles call? The entire first floor is wrecked and at least one corpse has to be taken care of. If the police were so concerned about the murder of the unknown Kendra, would their interest not be piqued by the death of a local at an out-of-control party? I know, Raúl, you have to let this shit go, and surprisingly, I can.
Willow has spent the summer working on her witchcraft! And now I know where this will lead us…
Buffy’s offing of the possessed Pat with a shovel planted into her eyes seemed rather brutal, and I’m not sure if our Slayer was more focused on the demon or on Pat!
The middling success of the Scoobies in vampire slaying provided some choice comedic moments, such as the gang reporting to Buffy on their summer slaying success rate, which Oz quietly corrects/downgrades Willow on. Plus, walkie-talkies and code names! Oz throwing weaponry at caddywampus at gravestones! Indignation at having to battle a vampire who’d been on the gymnastics team!