Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 7, Episode 7: Conversations with Dead People
Written by Jane Espenson, Drew Goddard, Marti Noxon (uncredited) & Joss Whedon (uncredited); Directed by Nick Marck
This is the closest Season 7 gets to an episode that is a genuine masterpiece, and the reason for that is that it is one of the few that attempts to do anything approaching an intelligent look at the issues raised in Season 6 and the themes of Season 7. Chiefly, we get to hear Buffy admitting what we’ve all known for a long time: that she has a superiority complex and thinks she’s better than her friends. The episode also manages to be genuinely unsettling in its depiction of the poltergeist that invades the Summers house and attacks Dawn, while the central concept of the episode - none of the main characters come into contact with each other (in fact, Xander and Anya aren’t even in it, making this the one episode out of the entire run of 144 that Nicholas Brendon missed) - is pretty nifty.
Still, there are some major problems. As good as the aforementioned poltergeist material is, it makes no sense in the grand scheme of things. Originally, I thought it was either the First preventing Joyce’s spirit from contacting Dawn, or indeed that the vision of Joyce was the first. Either way, her line to Dawn, “When it’s bad, Buffy won’t choose you. She’ll be against you,” is never followed up on. If it’s Joyce genuinely trying to warn Dawn, then it’s nonsensical enough, but if it’s actually the First, then the attacks make even less sense, since it is established that the First is incorporeal and can’t affect anything physically, which means that it would be impossible for it to smash up the house and give Dawn a thrashing.
The other big problem is the Willow material. I’ve seen the original script, and the plan was for Willow to be visited by what first appears to be the ghost of Tara, but eventually reveals itself to be the First, after failing to convince Willow to slash her own wrists. In the episode as it airs, Willow is visited by the First in the guise of Cassie (the girl from Help). Unfortunately, this makes little sense, as Willow never even met Cassie. And, if the First can appear in the guise of (and I quote) “any dead person it wants”, including Buffy (who has, after all, been dead twice), Spike and Drusilla (who are, after all, technically dead), the Mayor, Glory and so on, who not Tara?
There is of course a completely straightforward answer: Amber Benson flatly refused to have anything to do with an episode that would cause even more heartache to a community of fans already extremely uset by her character’s death. And this, more than anything, is perhaps the biggest scandal of Season 7. When the season ended, Joss Whedon, confronted in an interview with IGN about various problems with the season, came up with a grand story about how his original plan was that Tara was eventually going to be resurrected and return to Willow and everyone would be all smiles and he cried every time he pitched the story because it was so heartwarming… but then that horrible Amber Benson refused to do it. As it happens, though, Amber tells a completely different story, saying that Whedon never once mentioned a happy ending to her, and that she was under the impression that he wanted to appear as the First and only as the First, something that she wasn’t prepared to do to her fans. (And I can’t say I’m surprised. She of all the cast and crew members seemed to be the one who most “got” the social significance of the role she played - although, given that at least one lesbian viewer told her that she didn’t commit suicide “because of Willow and Tara”, it would take a very dim person not to get it.)
Here the vindictiveness of Whedon really comes out, as he did his absolute best to make her out to be the bad guy, pulling his usual “tortured artist” schtick, when, as has been pointed out numerous times, if he hadn’t made the decision to kill off Tara in the first place, the whole sorry situation could have been avoided. He behaved in a similar way with Charisma Carpenter on Angel, deciding not to renew her contract after she got pregnant and therefore required his precious artistic vision for the fourth season to be altered (although, given that they seemed to be making that season up as they went along, I suspect that he was once again looking for someone other than himself to blame for its shortcomings). Then again, it’s always someone else’s fault with this guy: apparently Alien: Resurrection’s problems are Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s fault, the Buffy movie sucked because of Donald Sutherland, and so on and so forth.
Am I rambling? Sorry.
Oh yeah, and one other thing I forgot: Andrew kills Jonathan in this episode. That’s right, murders him in cold blood. And yet somehow, despite knowing this, Buffy and co are more than happy to let him hang about in their house for the rest of the season.
Overall rating: 8/10.
Next time: Sleeper.