Killed by Death
Written by: Rob Des Hotel/ Dean Batali
Directed by: Daren Serafian
Air Date: March 3, 1998

How infuriating it must have been to watch these episodes when they aired, in sequential order, having to wait week after week for the next new one. Forget the summer breaks, or the holiday breaks, or sweeps, or any of those other waiting periods. I’m talking about going from one week to the next. Last week’s “Passion” would be giving into this week’s “Killed by Death” – a “by the numbers” “monster-of-the-week” episode that is as lame as the title itself. The monster, clearly a Freddy Krueger knock-off is interestingly creepy enough, and the way they shot the episode seemed a bit more artistic than normal, but that doesn’t stop a lackluster episode from being just that: lackluster.

For me, its the lame-ass ties to a cousin we’ve never heard about. The standard, go-to “BtVS” trope of killing off a character as soon as we meet them is one-upped, here, but having the character be long dead before we even hear about them. Buffy’s cousin was killed by this “Death” monster when she was a young girl, something we pick up on very quickly as audience members because Whedon and his crack team of writers have taught us to put two and two together to get four by this point. It takes the Scooby gang far longer to do what we accomplish before the end of the first act. Giving Buffy a personal stake in this matter doesn’t help garner sympathy or assist in us investing in her fears of hospitals; we don’t really care. This episode is just mindless filler to fluff out the end of a season that was on a roller coaster ride to awesomeness by this point. Now its like being stopped on that roller coaster for maintenance, right before a big loop: frustrating, boring, and kinda scary, but not as scary as it would have been if you’d been upside down in that loop when they pulled the brakes.

To say nothing good comes from this episode would be an out-and-out lie: there are some great character beats here. Xander’s interaction with Angel, for instance, is standout, as is Angel’s taunting of our hero. Xander gets a good final line, though: “You’re gonna die. And I’m gonna be there.” Its a good moment for Xander who has all the confidence in the world when an entire squadron of local law enforcement officers are standing directly behind him. I also really love Giles whining about having to work with Cordelia, especially after he’d just lectured her on tact (something she points out to him with good comic effect and timing. Cordy ain’t dumb, afterall). Best of all, a scene between two of my favorite characters this season – Giles and Joyce Summers – plays out in a touching but never romantic way. These two have their moment(s) later, but here they’re just adults trying to help each other cope with grief.

But for all of these great character moments, the episode has one glaring flaw that is impossible to miss. With all the music that I’ve bad mouthed throughout this re-watch, “Killed by Death” suffer from some of the most strange and ill-timed musical cues of the series to date. I don’t know who wrote these things or who decided what would work with the “creepy” setting and tone of the directing, but it didn’t work. Sometimes it pulled me out of the episode. Music should never do that. It should heighten the experience, not withdraw us from it.

This episode is a pain in my ass. Had it happened before “Passion” – and, of course, removed all reference to Jenny’s death – it would have worked better. But all of the good momentum building done in that episode is brought to a halt for one episode full of meaningless nothing. Cute moments and winks to the fans aside, a solid episode of “BtVS” needs to remember its place within the greater context of the entire season. If you’re moving toward and end, don’t step backward and sure as hell don’t make a lateral move, either. Otherwise you end up with wasted time, better suited for doing laundry and/or other things. As I was saying, its a wonder more people didn’t hate this show sometimes; watching on Netflix or on DVDs is one thing, because if the episode is lame, SURPRISE! you can just go to the next one. When these first aired, you had to wait a week for poop, coming off gold, then wait another week with lessened anticipation.

Lame.

Episode Rating: 58

Additional Notes:
-Buffy’s mom’s dismay at having to get three teenagers, two of whom are fully capable, snacks is a nice “mom” touch
-Cordelia’s phone conversation with Buffy is awesome and funny. Buffy simply doesn’t contemplate for a second that Cordy could have useful info
-Lame, stupid doctor subplots throughout
-How did Buffy and co. explain her pushing the doctor, avoiding the police, and coming back from rescuing small children? Without giving everything away?
-Giles tries amiably to cover for Buffy while she rants about vampires, suffering the effects of her fever
-I rather did enjoy the fight with Angel in the cemetery, though…

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