Shiny Shelf

Buffy The Vampire Slayer: Conversations with Dead People

By Jim Smith on 25 November 2002

WARNING! Contains spoilers!

Big things are afoot in Sunnydale, someone’s playing a sick and complex game and it’s not going to end nicely. Remember, from beneath you it devours.

‘Conversations with Dead People’ isn’t, as Buffy herself once observed of another situation entirely, exactly ‘hugs and puppies’. Both Anya and Xander are noticeable only by their absence in an episode that adopts the unusual dramatic technique of keeping the remaining Scoobies (that’s Buffy, Dawn, Willow and Spike to those of you not paying attention at the back) apart for the duration and pitching them individually into conversations with, er, dead people.

Poor Dawnie gets thrown head-first into a Hideo Nakata-influenced horror tale, which seems to involve her Mother trying to give her a message from beyond the grave while a demon tries to prevent her from doing so. It’s good stuff, scary stuff. Pinching such techniques as the nearly-subliminal flash from the acknowledged master of contemporary horror is a good way to go when seeking to scare the bejesus out of your audiences, and there are some very effective shock-moments here.

Willow finds herself visited by ‘kooky’ Cassie from three episodes ago. You remember the cute hippie-chick with the precognitive powers from 7.04, ‘Help’, don’t you? Course you do. Apparently the script had Willow visited by Tara, an option which is on the surface better, although there’s something creepy and tragic about Willow being given messages from her dead girlfriend by another ghost who insists that it’s Willow’s cold-blooded murder of Warren back in ‘Villains’ that prevents Tara from visiting her. You have to wonder what Amber Benson’s agent was playing at that prevented everyone’s favourite dead witch from returning here, I mean was she too busy walking her parents dog or something? In the end it turns out that not only isn’t this Tara, it isn’t actually Cassie either. Of which more in a bit.

Meanwhile, the two survivors of the Troika are back from Mexico with a mission to complete at the new Sunnydale High. Is that really Warren talking to Andrew, or just the shape-shifting Big Bad that was torturing Spike back in ‘Lessons’? This is getting interesting, people.

In another plot thread, Buffy is on patrol when she runs into a newly vamped old school friend who is played by a guy who comes across like a young Bill Murray; they fight and talk he tells her he majored in psyche, and he winds up psychoanalysing her, poor girl.

Spike meets a nice looking blonde in a bar, and while we don’t hear what they say to each other they seem to be having a good time; seem to be that is, until Spike rips her throat out and drinks her blood, cut to Buffy freaking as the vampire-psyche-student tells her that Spike was his sire. Appalled, she dusts our therapeutic vamp.

Now, hangabout, the juxtaposition of Spike feeding off some poor unfortunate girl with Buffy’s pained, agonised expression as she dusts the Not-Bill-Murray vamp is fantastic, terrifying stuff, but what was that about the Not-Cassie that visited Willow? There’s something afoot, or rather beneath our feet, something that’s trying to drive Buffy’s gang apart, using Tara against Willow, Joyce against Dawn and Spike against… himself?

The first part of a two- (some reports say three-) parter the smart thing about ‘Conversations…’ is that it pretends to be a Mexican ‘Day of the Dead’ thing, like that Neil Gaimen scripted episode of ‘Babylon 5′ (hence the date being reiterated at the beginning of the episode), an instalment brimful of prophecy and portent, but it’s actually nothing of the sort. It’s a collection of twists and lies – but what twists, what lies! If Tara’s message is a lie, then Joyce’s might be as well. So what about what the vampire says to Buffy, is that true – and if so how? And if it’s a lie, then why that lie and why now?

Immaculately played, with more questions than answers and an ending that leaves you unsettled and desperate for the next episode and some kind of emotional closure.

Great stuff.

Line Break

Tags: , ,

Comments are closed.