Dead Man’s Party
Written by: Marti Noxon
Directed by: James Whitmore, Jr.
Air Date: Oct. 6, 1998

Its Buffy’s party and… she’ll… really, really hate it. That’s the bottom line. Buffy’s back from being away and meets her friends for the first time since she left at the end of the previous school year. And things are awk-waaard! With a capital Q. For Uncomfortable. This level of unease amongst the cast of characters is the central plot, but the show isn’t comfortable, yet, with just telling a story about the characters. So, you know, you have to throw some monsters into the mix. That’s where the mask comes in, and some zombies. This episode sucks because the zombies don’t make sense. Usually “BtVS” does a solid job of showcasing monsters that are, in some way, related to the issues the characters have to go through. But here? I just can’t figure it out. There’s no connection. Of course, this doesn’t matter to me, because both parts – the zombie aspect and the Buffy’s Back! aspect – are interesting apart. But its not enough.

Buffy’s reunion with everyone is stilted as fuck. She helps slay a vampire that her four friends – Willow, Xander, Cordelia, and Oz – are struggling with, and they are immediately awkward. They’re angry, yeah; she left for no reason that they are aware of, seeing as how she ditched before telling anyone what went down between her and Angel back in “Becoming: Part 2“… and she sure as hell hasn’t really talked about what happened to her in L.A. last episode (“Anne“). These people were her friends, and while they’re happy to have her back, they’re pissed that she left, and pissed that they still have no idea what happened to her, and they’re pissed that she still isn’t sharing. Key amongst those that are having a hard time are Giles and Buffy’s mom, Joyce. Giles, while thrilled to have her back, has been operating as a Watcher of the four others, and with Buffy unable to attend school and even be on campus, his ability to interact with her is now lessened to the point of near nonexistence. And Buffy’s mom? Well, she’s got a pseudo-lesbian relationship, a book club, and no care for kids her daughters age drinking in her own home. She’d had to move on. Buffy can’t deal.

This is one of those things that I appreciate about Buffy. Back in “Out of Sight, Out of Mind” Buffy had to deal with the concept of loneliness, and we got to experience her talking about it, as she experiences it, herself. Here we get to see it. And its not pretty. The Scooby gang avoids her, doesn’t talk to her (Willow even ditches her), and they throw a giant party in her honor, but no one has any clue what the party is for (some dude assumes Buffy got out of rehab). Her mom makes a half-drunken rant about things being harder now that she’s back, her friends are making out and not paying any attention to her, and no one at the party… in her house …says anything about her or to her. Its a damned shame, and one that drives her to start packing again. This leads to an amazing conversation between Buffy and Willow, showcasing all of the issues they have with her leaving and, also, her being back. Its touching, its real, and its painful. But then Buffy’s mom interrupts. And before Buffy and Joyce can have a (n extremely embarrassing) verbal throw down, the zombies show up. This is the problem with the episode, really. It has all this buildup to true emotion and opinions, but they’re halted by outside forces.

That’s the zombies, by the way. And they’re fun. Entertaining, even. While everyone else is enjoying a shitty party, Giles is trying to escape old-school horror tropes, like a car that won’t start, his keys being missing, his knowing the secrets to the zombies, and having the only real close calls of any of the characters. Its damned funny. When the zombies crash into the Summers house (again causing untold amounts of cash dollars in damage to that home), the action is immediate and intense. I mean, a zombie snaps a high schooler’s neck instantly. Joyce’s friend is killed and subsequently possessed by a demon mask. Its a bit of fun that reminds us that these people die. Of course, the show doesn’t really cover the fact that people were MURDERED IN THAT HOUSE… including someone Joyce was starting to know well. Its one of those things that makes me remember that this is a TV show, not to be taken seriously. This isn’t some drama. Its a horror-comedy. Its good at what it does. What it doesn’t do is sit around and deal with real issues. Like corpses all over that house.

“Dead Man’s Party” is kinda corny and hokey, and a weak “monster-of-the-week” concept, but the character moments are surefire and offer plenty of bang for your buck. Even though many of Buffy’s friends were over-the-top dicks (lookin’ at you, Xander), I felt their pain. Its regrettable that fighting zombies for ten minutes was all it took to get these guys back together, no questions asked. Its even more regrettable that these events seem to happen within two days of each other. More time with Buffy having to deal with gaining her friends trust back would have been deep development for her character. But what we get is fine, and to not dwell on this allows us more time to spend with the group as friends for the rest of the (incredibly stellar) season. So, on the one hand… the rapid-fire emotions are flinchingly distressing, but a welcome narrative choice. Marti Noxon milks the most out of these characters in her script, and does so like a pro. She’s my favorite script writer, by the way, aside from Joss himself.

Buffy’s back, her friends accept her, and Giles is ready to be her Watcher again after threatening Snyder into letting her come back to school. The stage is set for the rest of the season, truths to be told, lies to be uncovered, and loose threads from the previous season to get tied up (remember Kendra dying? That’ll be brought back up next episode). Season three is my second favorite of the bunch, behind season five, and we’ll get all the time in the world to see why. Getting through is acceptable bit of mediocrity is essential, because it sets the stage for what’s to come. I can’t fault it for that.

Episode Rating: 78

Additional Notes:
-I love Giles’ smile in the above picture. He has purpose, again
-Snyder’s comments regarding his power over Buffy are comical. Such a little worm, that guy is
-Joyce skillfully keeps her cool and never once lets drop any info about Buffy being a Slayer, even in a fit of rage. Good work, mom!
-Joyce calls Buffy a super hero. Cool
-“Night Hawk”
-Cordelia all over Xander?! Where was
my Cordelia when I was in high school!?!?
-“Guy by the dip” is Johnathan. That poor guy… yeesh