Posted by: thebuffyrewatch | September 11, 2011

Robin’s Review: S3, E2 – Dead Man’s Party

Synopsis: The Scoobies welcome Buffy back with slightly less than open arms. Although they are glad to see her there is a lot tension and unspoken resentment. Buffy finds it hard to adjust and Principal Snyder still won’t let her return to school. Joyce invites the gang round for dinner and they turn it into a full blown party with a band. Meanwhile Joyce has brought a Nigerian mask into the house which unbeknownst to her contains the spirit of a zombie demon.

The Good: I do like that the writers show us the resentment that surrounds Buffy’s return. It definitely lends the story a layer of reality that other shows would have overlooked. There were times when it made for uncomfortable viewing (in a good way) as the weight of killing Angel (and not being able to talk about it) seemed to be breaking Buffy’s spirit.

Willow, Joyce and Giles all had strong moments reacting to Buffy’s return. Giles’ little moment of joy as he gathered tea for everyone was a lovely subtle moment. We also get some nice reminders of his past as a much harder man when he threatens Snyder and hotwires his car. Joyce is clearly trying hard to be understanding about the Slayer-stuff but just can’t quite get her head around it. On the one hand she naively suggests that the police would be pleased to have a super-hero to work with but on the other she tells Buffy that she has “made some bad choices.” She still doesn’t see quite how much Buffy’s life is not her own choice. Willow feels betrayed by Buffy not calling her. After we saw Willow’s fierce loyalty to her best friend grow last season this made perfect sense. It’s entirely down to Buffy that Willow is learning witchcraft and slaying vampires and she played her feelings of abandonment convincingly.

The zombie attack became serious enough that it made for an entertaining battle across the Summers household. I liked the extra detail of the mask being itself a source of great power. Suddenly it became clear why all the zombies were making a beeline for it.

The little moments of comedy were good as ever. I particularly liked one of the random party guys insisting that “that guy has to do a shot!” as Giles yelled down the phone at him. I also liked that another guy suggested that the party was for a girl who just got out of rehab. Yeah, because an alcohol-driven party is exactly what would be called for. Finally there’s nothing quite like irreverent Xander slapping Giles on the back and saying “One vote from the old guy for a smelly cheese night!”

The Bad: Zombies have of course become far more prevalent in 2011 than they were back in 1998. As a result these zombies have not aged well and look a bit flimsy. The makeup department on Buffy doesn’t have the best track record with monster makeup and this was not their finest hour. The metaphor of Buffy burying her feelings and the dead rising was a bit clumsy. It didn’t have the kind of clever mirroring that the show sometimes pulls off. I suspect part of the reason why it didn’t work is that the emotional arguments going on between the Scoobies felt so important that it was clear that no demon threat was going to get in the way of it. The zombies just felt like an excuse to avoid everyone actually having to explain their true feelings.

Speaking of which, ultimately I think I come down on the negative side when it comes to how the arguments were handled. Once everyone began yelling at Buffy at the party I thought things lost focus. I can understand Joyce’s emotions leading her to confront Buffy in front of her school friends but it was a very foolish thing to do. With so many witnesses around no one could actually talk about why Buffy had left or what responsibilities she left behind. I felt strongly that someone needed to bring up Angel. I appreciate that in that moment no one could but to not mention him at all left a big hole.

We have to remember where the characters were in “Becoming.” Giles had been tortured and Xander’s arm was broken. Willow had been injured too and then performed a spell where she presumably would have had a very unusual experience. All those events were traumatic mentally and physically and yet no one mentions them. No one asks her what happened to Angel, Spike, Drusilla or Acathla. Presumably Giles went back to the scene and had to have Acathla re-buried or destroyed?

More than just those details though, surely they all suspected that she had fled because of her feelings toward Angel? It felt weird that no one said that. Instead I thought Joyce and particularly Xander came across as unnecessarily preachy considering they were not willing to actually ask her why she left. From a television point of view I do understand that that would have been a lot of information to cram in but what we got was unsatisfying.

The Unknown: For the second episode in a row Angel appeared in Buffy’s dream. We don’t know what it means but what I do like about it is that it reinforces what is going on inside her head. He still clearly haunts her and she can’t bring herself to talk to anyone about what she had to do.

This is a small complaint but I wasn’t thrilled that Pam died and was then the one who put on the mask. For me it felt a little like the writers suggesting there should be something satisfying about seeing Buffy kill her. Yes Pam was an obnoxious character but she was intentionally so. The writers of Lost introduced several deliberately annoying characters only to kill them off and that flippant use of death rubs me the wrong way.

Best Moment: I did like the Willow-Buffy confrontation and various other moments. But I will give this one to Giles’ little smile of joy. No other character can quite appreciate the pressure on Buffy like he can. It was nice to show him being so happy to have her back and throughout the episode he was the only one who accurately understood how she felt.

The Bottom Line: This was a decent attempt to get us back to monster stories while also dealing with everyone’s emotions. However neither the emotional resolution nor the zombies were entirely convincing.

59/100

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