Covering from “Selfless” to “Conversations with Dead People,” in which I come to a most chilling realization.
Oh, God. I think…
I think this as good as the season gets.
After having been a regular presence for around half the show’s span at this point, Anya finally gets an episode pretty much all about her. It’s something of a salvage mission, a climax to her time as a vengeance demon again, and an attempt to give Anya some sort of through line after spending so long being defined mostly through Xander, and while it’s not wholly successful at that, I like the episode well enough, even if it isn’t the stone classic I’d have liked to see her get. “Selfless” gives us snapshots of moments through her millennia-long existence—her early halcyon days with Olaf, her meeting with D’Hoffryn, the height of her infamy, and her late halcyon days with Xander—scattered among her latest attempt to recapture her old flair for the vengeance game, and her growing regret and realization that she just can’t wreak bloody havoc anymore. Her conclusion at episode’s end is that she’s always simply rolled with whatever came her way, which doesn’t quite conform to what we see in the flashbacks, or, indeed, with what we’ve seen of Anya in the past. What the flashbacks do create, though, is a very effective portrait of someone who has always been a slightly odd and frequently misunderstood outcast, no matter where she is.
While the whole isn’t perfect, the little details make up for that (fitting, perhaps, for an Anya episode), like the close-up on Aud when Olaf casually mentions his time at the bar that doesn’t need to be commented upon to hint at something darker in her than just some well-justified suspicion, or the implication that Anya’s time as a human being with the Scoobs did make her a better person, but the real highlight is D’Hoffryn. Freed from being the wacky wedding guest bearing the oh so funny demon gift, here he’s properly impressive and dangerous for a powerful demon. Even after cutting short his grandiose entrance speech when Willow summons him (an homage to his joke in “Something Blue”), he doesn’t entirely drop his menacing air, and he maintains it for the rest of the episode. He even rightly points out that Anya hasn’t had any say in her own situation, and even though we certainly don’t give a shit about Hallifrek, his zapping her to undo the wish rather than Anya is an impressive move none-the-less, marking him as part of a long history of demons who one had best be very, very careful with their words around. As a capper, he delivers another “Beneath You, It Devours,” which, granted, in hindsight might as well just be “The Bad Guy Exists,” but at least it makes it clear D’Hoffryn is a player who knows what’s up. “Selfless” may not have achieved what it intended to do for Anya, but it righted D’Hoffryn pretty damn good.
Some things are unavoidably in season 7, however, even if they are minor enough I’m likely to take shit for noting them, but they also make a handy segue. I don’t have much of an issue with Buffy and Anya’s fight, though the conversation about its inevitability does little but highlight issues with how season 6 went down and Buffy should have mentioned the calculus she did on slaying Anya well before this. No, the real issue, though, is once the fight is done, the frat pigs presumably restored, Hallfrek dead, and Anya powerless, Buffy is still all scowls, sword at the ready.
Good thing, then, that “Him” opens with Buffy checking in on her friend Anya and making sure she’s ok. “Him” seems pretty unlikely to have a great many fans, rehashing “Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered” as it does, treading a little too far into “bitches be crazy” territory, and featuring some ill-considered attempts at edgy sexy humor that isn’t very funny, but I’ll admit, I find a few virtues in it. Primarily, the little bit where Spike keeps Buffy from firing a rocket launcher at Wood is really funny. I’m taking what I can get at this point.
While “Him” is mostly the ladies acting nuts, it does at least have to good sense to keep the focus on them—R.J. is too much of a nothing to carry anything, which is part of the joke after all—and this leads to another rather admirable thing about “Him.” I’m not willing to call this a full-blown trope, but often enough in the early days of the 21st century, gay characters would express that gender didn’t matter, it was love, mostly, it would seem, for the sake of explaining to we breeders in the audience. And, you know, Kinsey scale and all that, plenty of people do experience love that way, but plenty don’t, and while Willow deciding to cast a spell to switch R.J.’s gender is mostly played for laughs, it’s nice that the show takes her sexuality seriously and affirm that she is, even under the thrall of an enchanted letterman jacket, attracted to women.
Anyway, those, I fear, might be the season’s high points.
“Wait? What?” goes the clamor. “What about ‘Conversations with Death People?’”
“Conversations” absolutely does have a great many fans, and I remember thinking it was pretty good. This time, though? Eh.
The episode is divided in three, with Buffy, Willow, and Dawn all having encounters with deceased persons, and of these, Dawn’s is indisputably the best. Willow is hanging out in the college library when Cass, a character we sort of knew and Willow has only heard about arrives. They talk a bit about Willow and magic, Cass claims to have been in contact with Tara, and then abruptly Cass tells Willow she should kill herself. Yeah, the thing as Cass overplays its hand just a little. It’s stupid as hell. I know it was intended to be Amber Benson as Tara, and, you know, if it were, then this would have worked, but it’s not Tara. So this is what the mysterious It which is Beneath everyone Devouring considers a cunning plan and expert manipulation—posing as a stranger and telling your mark to kill themselves. Sadly, this will turn out to exactly be what the baddie of the season considers a cunning plan, we can get to that later.
As for Buffy, that’s the part of the episode I wager everyone remembers, she has a lengthy chat with a newly-turned vampire she went to high school with who is also a psychology student. Emphasis here is on “student,” because he mostly leads her on with some vapid, surface crap like “you have an inferiority complex about your superiority complex” and “are you going to kill me because I’m a vampire, or because you opened up?” It goes on for way too long, him obviously manipulating her and not saying anything new or insightful in the process. Buffy feels alone? You don’t say. Buffy carries a heavy burden? Huh, now that you mention it. Buffy has issues with relationships? Well I never. Of course, it has to go on for the entire episode, because he has to reveal that he was sired by Spike at the end. Doesn’t make the rest any less tedious.
Unquestionably the best part is Dawn’s lengthy homage to The Exorcist, which is a mode the show really hadn’t worked in before. Dawn’s spending a characteristically immature time at home, when it seems the spirit of Joyce tries to contact for help with some malign presence. It’s a nice and effective little story, done very well.
I remember “Conversations with Dead People” as one of the highlights of the season, if not the highlight. Revisiting it, I was deeply irritated, except when it was, of all people, Dawn battling the malign presence in her house. Now more than ever, I know fear. Before me, season 7 devours.
Oh yeah, Andrew and Jonathan come back to town, and a spectral Warren comes with Andrew, at least. My patience with the Trio, like Jonathan’s CG blood being spilled on an evil manhole cover, has not improved with age.