FEATURE: Buffy the Vampire Slayer - Dead Man's Party
Previously on Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Buffy skipped town and ran away to LA after saving the world, but killing Angel in the process. The Scoobies try to pick up where she left off, but struggle to cope without the Slayer. Buffy soon returns to Sunnydale and has to face up to everything she's missed.
Younger readers of this feature, I'm going to offer you a little advice. I'm sure the older readers will back me up here. If your friendship group is going through a tough time (with each other/because of exams/because the world just doesn't get you when you're 16), don't throw a party. And if you do throw a party, don't have alcohol. It's a recipe for disaster, frankly. You all bottle up your emotions because you're 16 and you don't really know what to do about them yet. You get irrationally angry at the smallest things because your body decides to throw a tonne of hormones at you. And then there's the whole being attracted to people and awkwardly attempting to fumble. Throw in a friendship group ready to fall apart and you could find yourself leaning on a doll house crying your eyes out for no apparent reason (been there). Or worse. You could have to fight off undead hordes.
Ok, maybe not that last bit.
Yet that is exactly what Buffy faces in Dead Man's Party; she returns from LA to find it really difficult to get back in with everyone after her time away. Her relationship with Joyce is fractured, not helped by the neighbourhood class-taking do-gooder, Pam. With her friends, it seems even worse. After the initial honeymoon period of all being back together, Buffy finds herself isolated further, even while her friends are attempting to throw a party with lots of people she doesn't actually know. Everyone starts arguing, but soon, zombies crash the party, activated by a Nigerian mask in Joyce's bedroom.
That feeling of being isolated from your loved ones is a situation that is achingly familiar; your friends are too busy doing their own thing and you feel too rude to try and interrupt. The scene at the party where Buffy asks Willow if everything is ok only to get what amounts to a brush-off makes me sad every single time. It's the perfect rendering of one of the worst conversations you can have as a teenage girl, especially when someone, who is obviously avoiding you, decides to lie. However, as with all arguments of this nature, Buffy too is at fault. When they all start yelling at each other, they all have perfectly legitimate reasons and, for once, they are all being entirely honest with each other.
Prior to this, the characters feel as if they're in a sort of limbo, much like they did in the previous episode. None of them are progressing because they can't until the status quo is restored. Buffy arriving brings it back into focus, but because everyone is determined to bury the emotions they are feeling, conversations with Buffy occur euphemistically. The second anyone gets close to actually be honest with her, they step back and cover it with humour or brush her off completely. Xander comes the closest, but even then it's only in the library with everyone else.
The party happens because nobody actually wants to talk to each other so they quickly arrive at the 'hey loud music = lack of talking' decision. Remember that first paragraph, guys? Yeah, that's what happens. Symbolically representing all of the squashed feelings, zombies crash the party and as is the tradition with the gang, they stop squabbling and unite to stop the undead menace. The whole zombie mask thing is really secondary to the character moments in this episode, but it doesn't stop the action from being top notch in a house-wide fight to the death with the dead. Also, Pam has to be one of the least sympathetic victims in Buffy history. You're better than Pam, Joyce.
It may be largely quite sad, but the episode is full of heartwarming moments too, like Buffy and Xander's hug once the zombies have been defeated or Willow and Buffy's insult exchange in the final scene. However, my absolute favourite has to be the scene in which Giles is making tea for everyone. As Xander and Buffy exchange silly banter, Giles has a private, emotional moment to himself in the kitchen, the relief etched across his face as he smiles at Buffy's return. Their relationship remains one of the most developed and interesting of the series and it's in these early moments, where it has progressed beyond the formative stages, demonstrate just how deep that bond goes.
Building on the success of Anne, Dead Man's Party is also one that has grown with meaning over time. When I first watched it, I had no comprehension of the emotional party disaster nor the emotional fallout that comes with your first big friendship row. Now, a little older and a little wiser, it's a wonderful depiction of some of the awful things friends can do to each other without saying much at all. Plus, Dingoes Ate My Baby/Four Star Mary play in this episode, so it's almost automatically great.
Quotes of the Week (can't decide so I'm cheating this time):
Oz: Well, a gathering is brie, mellow song stylings. Shindig - dip. Less mellow song stylings, perhaps a large amount of malt beverage. And hootenanny? Well, it's chock full of hoot, just a little bit of nanny.
Giles: "Have you seen my mask? Isn't it pretty? It raises the dead!" Americans...
Inventive Kill: Buffy uses the same shovel she used to bury Patches the cat to stab Demon Zombie Pam through the eyes.
Demonology 101: Although zombies were seen in the background during Nightmares, this is the first time that they have appeared in the 'verse as a fully fledged foe.
You can read Becky's look at previous episode, Anne, here.