Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Conversations with Dead People   Rewatch 
April 6, 2016 8:49 PM - Season 7, Episode 7 - Subscribe

Buffy gets psychoanalyzed by a vamp. Cassie appears to Willow, claiming to be a go-between for Tara. Dawn is haunted home alone. Andrew leads Jonathan to a sacrifice.
posted by yellowbinder (24 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
Jonathan Mark Woodward also known as Holden graduated from NYU's acting program in'98 just one year AFTER I did. He appeared as Holden Webster in this episode, as Knox in the fifth season of the series Angel, and as Tracey in the Firefly episode "The Message". All three characters appear friendly or helpful when first introduced, but are eventually killed by the series' protagonists. He is one of the few actors to appear in all three shows.
posted by miss-lapin at 9:37 PM on April 6, 2016 [4 favorites]


Ha, yes I somehow forgot that he went on to play scientist guy in Angel, leading to one of my least favourite plot developments in Angel. Which would probably be unfair to spoil here, so I won't, but suffice to say that I feel like Angel as a show seemed to work to undo any work on feminism Buffy attempted....

This is a really good episode, no doubt, but it's really coloured for me by knowing how this season will play out. Each of the seperate plotlines are very good, but I'm not sure any of them necessarily stand up. Because each one is a promise for the season.

1)Buffy's examination by Holden is meant to inform her character arc (and also set up the Spike story)
2)Dawn's arc is informed by an unclear message from her mother
3)The First speaks directly to Willow and warns her of what's to come.
4)There's also the Jonathan/Andrew stuff and the Spike stuff, but both of those are plotty rather than character driven and are a bit less interesting.

1)Is probably the best section in retrospect, although I'm not sure I totally agree with Holden's analysis. I also get the feeling that this episode and Help are meant to give us a picture of a Buffy still searching for a purpose and meaning, someone who wants to help but is worried that she might make things worse. These episodes actually seem to conflict directly with how Buffy will start acting when the potentials arrive, and this frustrates me.

The actual conversation is witty, engaging and insightful, with nicely paced action and dialogue. As a piece of television on it's own, it's great, it's just in retrospect.

2)ARGGHHHHHH. The writers have "confirmed" that Joyce is actually the first here. But that makes no damn sense. It's really clear that at this point, this was meant to mean something. It turns up in flashbacks for a few episodes, and they even reinforce it with Joyce visiting Buffy in her dreams in Bring on the Night. Why have the beast poltergeist thing too if this was just the First playing games? If the First could do this, why wouldn't it do it more?

Again, the actual segment is great, really spooky (that flash of Joyce on the couch, then the creature. Wow!), and I love Dawn in it. This is Dawn actually getting to be a hero again, resolving the problem all on her own. Nifty!

3)This isn't so bad, but this annoys me in the way that BSG annoyed me, in that the First insists she has plan, and it soon becomes clear that she does not. This was the last season of the show, and it is infuriating to me that they clearly did not plot it out. Why does the First need Buffy and Spike alive? This is never explained adequately.

Again, this sequence is good, and it's nice to give Willow an opportunity to miss Tara again.

4)This last sequence, again, MAKES NO SENSE. Why does the First need to get Jonathan and Andrew all the way back from mexico to open the seal, when the bringers are already here? For that matter, why not influence one of the many demons or even sociopaths in the area to do it rather than weak willed Andrew?And HOW DID THE FIRST NOT KNOW THAT JONATHAN DIDN'T HAVE ENOUGH BLOOD? This kind of stuff makes the First look like a goddamn moron, which would be keeping with it's appearance in Season 3. Listen, if you want your primordal evil to be a threat, maybe don't have it work through Andrew. And, remarkably, don't make is so that Andrew could resist the First's lure. This implies that the First is a less effective evil manipulator than Warren, for goddsake!

So yeah, a great episode, but hampered by it's future.

-"It eats you, starting with your bottom"
-"Anchovies, anchovies, you're so delicious, you're my favourite of all the fishes!" I love Dawn's home alone act
-Scott Hope called Buffy gay. Fun call back
-"Not exactly like you have a patent on bad relationships." "Wouldn't it be cool if I did?"
-"Buffy, I'm here to kill you, not judge you."
-I do love Jonathan's goodbye speech.
-There seems to be some confusion about why Amber Benson didn't come back for this episode. Initially, Whedon said he'd wanted her to appear instead of Cassie, and Benson said she didn't want to do that to the fans. Which I kind of love, as it implies such a deep affection for those young fans who were really inspired by Willow and Tara's relationship. I don't think drama can necessarily engage with that if it wants to remain a strong drama, but I do sympathise with that attitude.

Later, at a con, Whedon suggested that he wanted to have Buffy make a wish which would resurrect Tara. This is... interesting. Benson never seems to have known about this plan, and the way the show is plotted seems to indicate that this was dropped pretty early on. Maybe this couldn't happen due to contractual disputes, or maybe Whedon made this up after the fact to make everyone stop asking him about why he killed Tara.
posted by Cannon Fodder at 12:44 AM on April 7, 2016 [1 favorite]


I always just assumed that with both the First and with BSG that when you hear "... and they have a plan" you are supposed to imagine a voice just barely whispering in the wind, following up with and it's super dumb.
posted by phearlez at 8:24 AM on April 7, 2016 [4 favorites]


Holden is my all-time favorite one-off BtVS character and I was genuinely sad that Buffy staked him. I'm still waiting for Woodward to show up for a cameo in Agents of SHIELD.
posted by nicebookrack at 10:33 AM on April 7, 2016 [4 favorites]


I will forever be grateful to Amber Benson for declining that cameo (that's the story she still tells about it, so I am willing to assume it's true.) And Cassie worked super well in the role anyway, with way less unnecessary rage on my part.
posted by restless_nomad at 11:22 AM on April 7, 2016 [1 favorite]


I will forever be grateful to Amber Benson for declining that cameo (that's the story she still tells about it, so I am willing to assume it's true.)

Did they ever address it in the text? Ever since I heard she turned it down, I wanted the First to have said something like "I can appear as any dead person... well, except some of the very best ones..."
posted by Etrigan at 11:26 AM on April 7, 2016


The First claimed that Willow couldn't see Tara because she had been bad, which worked fine for me as evil emotional manipulation.
posted by restless_nomad at 11:34 AM on April 7, 2016 [1 favorite]


Like Cannon Fodder, I have issues that it wasn't actually Joyce that appeared to Dawn but the First. Because ... why? What was the point of all of that? And it goes into one my major issues with Buffy -- as many evil creatures we see, we never see corresponding good ones. Why couldn't it be the spirit of Joyce finding a way to connect with her daughter? It just feels cruel that Joyce was the First.

I like Willow's portion a lot -- good acting from both the actresses and they had a surprising chemistry in those scenes. (I am also glad it wasn't Tara because that would've just been terrible -- see the Joyce comment above.)

I like this episode in that it seems to be a turning point in the season -- where they get serious about moving toward the end. Of course, then it treads a lot of water for a while and kind of makes a mess of the promises this episode made. But I remember watching it and feeling really excited about where the last season of Buffy was going to go.

I still enjoy watching this again, though. It's one of the few season 7 episodes that I have a lot of affection for.
posted by darksong at 3:57 PM on April 7, 2016 [2 favorites]


While I get why Benson declined, I feel like this season was much the worse for it. If the First had had Tara's face that would have been really chilling and wrong, it would have been an awful mockery of the grief the Scoobs were feeling. As it was, the First popped between different faces and eventually kind of settled on Buffy's, and that was sort of fun but it just didn't have that OH HELL NO power that an evil Tara would've had. (Of course, had they gone that way it would have probably been Willow who would ultimately take the First down. She would be the one who'd suffer the most from the First using Tara's face, and we'd aching for her to put a stop to that shit!)
posted by Ursula Hitler at 8:22 PM on April 7, 2016 [1 favorite]


Having Joyce be the full-time face of The First might have been pretty interesting as well.
posted by skewed at 8:26 PM on April 7, 2016 [3 favorites]


I don't know, maybe the best way to handle it would be for the First to appear as the person who would be most hurtful to each character. So, Willow would see Tara, Buffy and Dawn would see their mom, maybe Giles would see Jenny and Spike would see his mother. I don't know who Anya and Xander would see. (Maybe Anya could see her original self, the innocent girl she'd been way back when she was mortal. She's "dead", and that would seem to fit some of the angst Anya wrestles with this season.)

This last season was wildly uneven, but something like that could have made the First a much more vivid presence and pulled everything together. That initial reveal where the First appears as all the old villains from the show was fantastic, but the character kind of peaked there. If this entity is supposed to be the evil in everyone, they really needed to break out the Rolodex and call in some old guest stars. The final season would be a great time for that kind of stuff.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 9:16 PM on April 7, 2016 [3 favorites]


I don't know, maybe the best way to handle it would be for the First to appear as the person who would be most hurtful to each character. So, Willow would see Tara, Buffy and Dawn would see their mom, maybe Giles would see Jenny and Spike would see his mother. I don't know who Anya and Xander would see. (Maybe Anya could see her original self, the innocent girl she'd been way back when she was mortal. She's "dead", and that would seem to fit some of the angst Anya wrestles with this season.)

If the show had gone that way, and I agree it would have been better, they'd have had to go Jesse for Xander. How amazing would that call back be? I think their choices were primarily due to casting and budgetary issues, I imagine it was certainly a lot cheaper to have the First played by their lead actress, even it became a bit dull.

And yeah, I agree that dramatically speaking, having Amber Benson play the first would have been pretty great (I have no idea of Amber Benson's range, so that would have been interesting to see). But I do have sympathy for the idea that for a non insignificant portion of fans, they had a genuine emotional attachment to Tara and Willow, and it's really sweet that Benson thought about them.
posted by Cannon Fodder at 5:55 AM on April 8, 2016


Like Cannon Fodder, I have issues that it wasn't actually Joyce that appeared to Dawn but the First. Because ... why? What was the point of all of that? And it goes into one my major issues with Buffy -- as many evil creatures we see, we never see corresponding good ones.

The evil that men do lives after them gets first billing and a lot of attention; the good is oft interred with their bones just trying to stay out of the way, chilling and off the radar.

I always assumed the good things were like Clem; trying to stay mostly out of the way and unnoticed by people who would fear and kill them if they knew what they really were. Clem, by virtue of his appearance, didn't have that option but anyone who could 'pass' would. And would likely stay way TF away from a place like the hellmouth.
posted by phearlez at 6:41 AM on April 8, 2016 [1 favorite]


I think their choices were primarily due to casting and budgetary issues, I imagine it was certainly a lot cheaper to have the First played by their lead actress, even it became a bit dull.

But it didn't have to be dull! The First could've appeared as multiple central 'living' characters incuding Spike, maybe Anya, and most vitally, Buffy. Why wasn't the First constantly trying to sow discord by interacting with other characters as Buffy or Spike rather than cartoonishly threatening?

IIRC, the First only appears to a character pretending to actually be a 'living' loved three times: as Buffy to Spike, and as Chloe and Eve. I will not deny that the impersonations of Chloe and Eve are effectively chilling, but they get at my problem with the First. It's interested in using its ambiguous powers to intimidate, not for strategic reasons.

I mean, think of the hugely controversial scene we'll get in Empty Places. It would have made a lot more sense for the Scoobies and Potentials to distrust Buffy and kick her out if their relationships with her had been subtly manipulated and damaged by First!Buffy. Imagine First!Buffy just barely implying that Willow will go dark again, or that she wished Anya had stayed dead in Sleepless, or that she's ready to sacrifice Dawn. Imaging the Potentials trust Faith over her not because Faith takes them dancing but because First!Buffy is constantly confusing them and endangering them in battle situations.

(I headcanon that this really happened, so that Empty Places doesn't seem as wildly unfair and out of character to me.)

The whole season is just poorly planned. It views like a rough first draft - at the end of it I wanted to take them all, sit them back down at the writer's table, and say, "Good themes, some great moments, but you really need to restructure this thing. Let's try again."
posted by galaxy rise at 9:17 AM on April 8, 2016 [3 favorites]


Okay, okay, okay, I figured it out. In the alternate universe where the last season of Buffy is properly plotted out, the First appears primarily as: Giles! That's because Giles dies heroically (preferably in the previous season), tells Buffy how he is so proud of her, and how he can die peacefully knowing that she has become the person that he always believed she would, etc. Then he shows up as the First in season 7 and proceeds to undermine all that.

The audience comes out the big winner because we miss season 7 Giles, who the writers couldn't figure out much to do with beyond recycle earlier conflicts with Buffy, plus we get to see Anthony Stewart Head play a real bad-guy, which I'm sure he would have been great at.
posted by skewed at 6:57 PM on April 8, 2016 [3 favorites]


I kind of wish Giles was the First in this season, it would have been great, and avoided the whole "Hey huh none of us touched Giles in three episodes" thing later on.

So yeah I was curious about how I would feel about this one having loved it on first watch and not so much later. Now it has good stuff but I'm still overall pretty meh on it. I think you all hit it on the head, it's a very anticipatory episode, spooky First rattling chains. That's great when it's new and threatening, but once you know the morass of the endgame it just doesn't hold as much power.

Buffy's psychoanalysis was fantastic and really made sense of the character and her actions. Woodward began to grate on me by the end of his transit through the Whedonverse, but he does a great job here. Also love Jonathan concluding his arc from a loser no one cares about to... a loser who cares? It is a noble moment for a character who despite a comic presence flirted with real selfish darkness.
posted by yellowbinder at 8:57 PM on April 8, 2016 [3 favorites]


Why wasn't the First constantly trying to sow discord by interacting with other characters as Buffy or Spike rather than cartoonishly threatening?

My personal fan theory? In fantasy, older stuff is usually *more* powerful. Ancient dragons, tomes, wizards, vampires, etc. all get better with age in the fashion of wine or cheese. By fantasy genre logic, The First should be the most powerful evil force in the whole universe.

I think in this case, The First was actually first in the tech sense though: it feels like The First is more the beta version of things like Illyria or the Wolf, the Ram and the Hart. It displayed significantly less power, sophistication or planning than any of them. I know authorial intent flips the other way, but I'm not really swayed.
posted by mordax at 11:46 AM on April 9, 2016 [1 favorite]


I think it's a sad sign of just how uneven this final season was, that we're still spinning ideas for how to improve it all these years later.

I'm trying to remember, were the First's goals just to become corporeal and destroy everything? Reading this thread, I was thinking it might have been interesting if the threat had been that when the First came to Earth it wouldn't destroy it, but it would eliminate the goodness in everything. So everybody everywhere would be totally evil, forever. Buffy would be faced with the prospect of becoming her very worst self and watching her friends and her sister become monsters too. It'd be worse than oblivion, really. A few nightmare visions of that could have been really scary, or the First could have turned a few good people evil so we'd see how awful it was.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 8:46 PM on April 10, 2016 [2 favorites]


Yeah I have no idea what the First's goals are either. I guess we'll see.

From wikipedia:

"Buffy's death(s) at the end of season 5 and subsequent resurrection caused an irregularity, or glitch, in the Slayer line that the First realizes and uses to eliminate the Slayer line forever. The First planned to use this glitch and kill the two Slayers (Buffy and Faith) and all the Potential Slayers thus tipping the balance of good and evil completely off tilt. All of this is part of the First's master plan to become all powerful and enter into the hearts, minds and souls of every single man, woman and child on Earth."

I don't remember the glitch thing either but I've seen it mentioned so I guess it is in the main text somewhere. My memories of the latter 60% of this season are spotty at best - ugh Kennedy, Dawn you ARE extraordinary, Vulcan fight, cookie dough. That's about it.
posted by yellowbinder at 8:49 AM on April 11, 2016


I'm now on Storyteller on my rewatch, so I'm not quite there yet, but there are two planks to the First Evil's plan

1)Kill all the slayers
2)Breed/Grow ubervamps in hell, and when they outnumber the number of mortals on earth, the First will be able to walk the earth.

This isn't stated for a few episodes, so I might be misremembering, but it seems that the First's plan all along was just to wait until it had enough vampires, and then it would win. Which rather makes one wonder as to why part one was at all necessary. I could be having a brain fart here, as I haven't finished my rewatch yet, but I believe this is the case.

The whole glitch thing is brought up by the eye of boreoxis who will turn up soon and never be mentioned ever again. God this season was SO badly plotted.
posted by Cannon Fodder at 9:32 AM on April 11, 2016 [1 favorite]


Okay but then what do the ubervamps eat once the humans are gone?
posted by Pope Guilty at 11:00 AM on April 11, 2016


This is disruption. "What comes next" is for someone else to figure out.
posted by Etrigan at 11:10 AM on April 11, 2016 [3 favorites]


I'm now on Storyteller on my rewatch, so I'm not quite there yet, but there are two planks to the First Evil's plan

1)Kill all the slayers
2)Breed/Grow ubervamps in hell, and when they outnumber the number of mortals on earth, the First will be able to walk the earth.


Yeah, that was just so... *weird* to me, both at the time and in retrospect. Like...

1) Glory was all, "I'm so ashamed I was even tangling with a Vampire Slayer." In the cosmic scheme of things, Buffy's nowhere near top of the food chain. This felt even clearer watching Angel concurrently - Buffy's the Slayer, but only a champion. Her line shouldn't matter too much to godlike beings - even the source of her power, (a demon), isn't all *that* big a deal in the big picture.

2) I felt like the Turok-Han were way less imposing than the three headed *thing* that popped out of the Hellmouth a couple times in earlier seasons (Prophecy Girl, the Zeppo), and that came at the command of someone as low on the totem pole as The Master. I mean, he wasn't even the worst guy in *town* during his time as Big Bad, and he had scarier critters at his disposal.

Plus, the First doesn't really fit into the hierarchy of critters posited everywhere else in the Buffyverse - it doesn't come across as a Power That Was, it wasn't interred in the Deeper Well. It's not a Pure Demon like the Mayor tried to become. It's sorta... ghosty and helpless, like maybe the shadow of something else.

I was thinking it might have been interesting if the threat had been that when the First came to Earth it wouldn't destroy it, but it would eliminate the goodness in everything.

That would've been a great way to handle the whole threat, actually - emphasizing that the First *cannot* do physical violence, then making so many plots about physical violence is a lot of how this season felt weak to me. If the threat had been existential, a shift in the fabric of the world, it would've both felt like the worst thing that had ever happened, and it would've contrasted nicely with concurrent events on Angel.

I think it's a sad sign of just how uneven this final season was, that we're still spinning ideas for how to improve it all these years later.

So true.
posted by mordax at 12:37 PM on April 11, 2016


This is disruption. "What comes next" is for someone else to figure out.

Now I'm imagining The First being overthrown by the Ubervamps after the Great Blood Riots. Perhaps they'd then set up some sort of collective blood farming system.
posted by yellowbinder at 7:21 PM on April 11, 2016


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