Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Classics: BtVS 7:7 - Conversations with Dead People

Overall Rating: 9.7

This episode had a brilliant and compelling structure and played on our lead characters' fears and dreams in the darkest ways.

Plot Synopsis:

The all-knowing Wikipedia has the goods.

The Skinny:

Evil can influence the world (for the worse) in many varied ways - whispering doubts about our loved ones into our ears or convincing us to listen to our darker instincts or tricking us with false promises of happiness and glory.  It is logical that the first evil should use all of those tools to achieve some inglorious outcome and this episode manages to establish all of it simultaneously (and very effectively), weaving five (!) stories into one tapestry that can only be described as chilling.  Suitably, the story begins and ends with Spike - an instrument of evil with a reluctantly acquired soul - trolling the bronze for a victim and finishing her off in an abandoned house just outside of town.  Those are the only two scenes in which Spike appears, and yet he is the episode's perfect symbol for the coming evil - his good intentions twisted by an unseen force with the power to influence demons (BtVS's representations of the evil in real humans).

Meanwhile, "The First" was busy attacking the Slayer's closest friends and family.  For Dawn, he had a special little game in which he convinced her that her dead mother was trying to contact her but being stopped by an evil spirit.  After significant "spirit theater," in which Dawn was the star attraction (doing "magic" to drive off the evil spirit - poor inexperienced Dawn!), the spirit of Joyce emerges, only to tell her before she vanished that her sister would not choose her when the end came, but would instead side against her.  This, needless to say, leaves Dawn terrified - doubt successfully sowed in her impressionable mind.  The First knows exactly what game to play to reach its target.

And with Willow, there was a much colder game in the offing.  Appearing as the spirit of Willow's former lover (or that's how it was in the original script, if only Amber Benson had been available), The First tries to convince Willow first that her magical abilities are too dangerous to ever be used again (against Giles' advice)  because she would some day lose control and kill her friends (precisely Willow's greatest fear), and then that the only solution would be for Willow to commit suicide (to protect her friends and rejoin her former lover in the afterlife).  That voice that whispers to us that we would be better off dead - that great evil that plays on self-doubt and fear - is very familiar to me thanks to recent events with a friend of mine.

Not satisfied, The First, did his best to bring about the greatest evil he could muster - the opening of the hellmouth.  This time, its target was Andrew - the most impressionable and least self-actualized of the Trio and Warren's biggest devotee (not because he approved of Warren's choices deep down, but because he wanted so desperately to belong and to follow orders that he latched onto the first leader he could find - and there is significant evidence that Andrew made all of these choices due to his ambiguous sexual orientation and the reprisal he feared for admitting to it).  Disguised as Warren, The First convinces Andrew to murder his only friend over the hellmouth, setting into motion a chain of events that will come to a head later this season in another feature episode.  At first, the return of the Duo seems like an ordinary story, but it's all carefully orchestrated by The First.

And then...there's Buffy facing perhaps the greatest evil of all...a student of psychology.  (NOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!)  I kid...but in all seriousness, Buffy spends the episode becoming conscious of her tendency toward self-aggrandizement (a superiority complex about which she feels so bad that she can't get close to men).  It's open for debate whether this was an honest occurrence (Buffy just happens to do battle with a really chatty vamp) or whether The First, who has the capacity to influence demons, chose this vehicle to weaken the Slayer (and perhaps to get the drop on her)...I choose to believe the latter.  I mean, how often does a vampire get that chatty while fighting for his life against a Slayer?  BUT...either way, this encounter reflects the insidious nature of evil - speaking TRUTH to convince us we aren't worthy of fighting evil.  For we are all fallen - none of us is Jesus Christ...none of us is without flaws that could be exploited by evil, and none of us can claim to be the perfect champions of righteousness.

This is such a brilliant deconstruction of evil in one neat little package that it's best to just stand back and admire it.  Well done, Jane Espenson!

Writing: 10.0

Nothing else is to be said about this but to stand and applaud.  Espenson obviously has a pitch-perfect understanding of the biblical interpretation of evil.

Acting: 9.0

There are a few off-beat moments, especially from SMG and the vamp she was fighting (who unfortunately got more screen time than anyone else since she plays the title character).  The performance, though imperfect, are nonetheless effective overall, especially the scenes involving Hannigan and Azura Skye.  I really loved how Skye attempted to duplicate some of Tara's mannerisms and inflections when speaking for her to give the interactions added closeness.

Message: 10.0

See above commentary on evil in its many twisted forms.  Somehow, the image of Cassie twisting with an evil smile and then forming some demonic visage before popping out of the world seems to befit The First's entire MO this week.  Something beautiful and true can be so easily twisted into something terrible if only we let it.

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