Saturday, February 26, 2011

Buffy Blog: "Killed by Death"

“Killed by Death” is the first of several Buffy fairy tale episodes. Season three’s “Gingerbread” and season four’s “Hush” are others. I love them all.

“Killed by Death”, written by Rob DesHotel and Dean Batali and directed by Deran Sarafian, finds Angelus still stalking Buffy and finds our superhero sick (does Superman, Spider-Man, and Wonder Woman ever get sick?). In the teaser Angelus and Buffy fight yet again and as the fight progresses Angelus is able to get the upper hand. Just as it looks as though he is going to bite Buffy Willow, Xander, and Angel who are patrolling so a sick Buffy can rest—she isn’t—appear and saves Buffy from the evil Angelus. A Slayer with family and friends who have her back is one of the series themes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

With Buffy saved from Angelus our Slayer fades before another attack this one from the flu. The Scoobies rush a delirious (“out of it”) Buffy to the hospital where she is admitted. We learn something about our beloved superhero when she is being wheeled into her hospital room with the Scoobies and Joyce, who has arrived at the hospital. Buffy doesn’t like hospitals. In the course of the episode we learn why. When Buffy was eight her cousin Celia, a cousin with whom she was close and who she used to rescue while playing Power Girl, Buffy, of course, was Power Girl, died in the hospital. Another thing we learn as “Killed by Death” unfolds is that Celia was killed by “Death”, by “Der Kindestod” (“Child Death”), the demon who sucks the life out of children who is the monster of the week in “Killed by Death”.

That Buffy hates hospitals is not the only thing we learn about our Slayer during the course of “Killed by Death”. We also learn that Buffy was already feeling her Slayer power at least by the age of eight. We learn that blaming herself for the deaths of others, others she thought she should have been there to save, is not something new for Buffy. Buffy has not forgiven herself for Celia’s death and Buffy’s sense of failure gets even worse when she learns that it was “Der Kindestod” who killed Celia in front of her very eyes. Buffy also blames herself for the death of Dr. Backer, the doctor killed by death, in this episode, “Yet another person I wasn't in time to save”, she says. Buffy’s psychological damage will be a major theme of the show through to its end. Speaking of Buffy’s psychology Giles wonders once again whether Buffy is personalizing things she can’t fight turning death and disease in the process into the figure of “Der Kinderstod” so she can relieve her guilt.

There are several scenes I really like in “Killed by Death”. I love the wonderful scene between Xander and Angel in the hospital at the beginning of act two. Xander, who Angelus calls Buffy’s “white knight”, does “security duty” (soldier guy makes his appearance again), and confronts Angelus, who brings flowers to a sick Buffy presumably meaning to kill her while delivering them to our Slayer. “ANGLE: A BOUQUET OF FLOWERS as someone enters from the outside carrying them.It's Angel. He saunters past the reception desk -- only to have Xander step in his path. XANDER: Visiting hours are over. ANGEL: Well, I'm pretty much family. XANDER: Why don't you come back during the day...Or, gee, no. I guess you can't. ANGEL: If I decide to walk into Buffy's room do you think for one microsecond that you could stop me? XANDER: Maybe not. Maybe that security guard couldn't either -- or those cops. Or all the orderlies... I'm kind of curious to find out. You game? ANGEL: Buffy's white knight. You still love her. It must just eat you up that I got there first. Xander clenches his jaw against the truth of it. XANDER: You're gonna die. I'm gonna be there. Angel smiles, hands Xander the flowers. ANGEL: Tell her I stopped by. He exits, Xander suddenly shaky with released fear and tension”. I love this scene because it is a microcosm of so much that has happened in Buffy up to this point: Xander’s jealousy when it comes to Angel, Xander’s love for Buffy, Xander’s willingness to protect Buffy even in the face of someone far stronger than he is, the competition between Xander and Angel for Buffy’s love, Angelus’s penchant for cutting wit, and Angelus’s obsessiveness (be this obsessiveness love or hate) when it comes to Buffy. The scene is frightening, witty, full of terror, painful, and heroic all at the same time.

I love the scene where Cordelia brings donuts (this is not the last time Xander will get his donut fix on literally or figuratively) and coffee to Xander at the hospital while Xander is on “security duty”. Nothing is said. Everything is done though expression and action. But, in this instance, expression and action are everything and we learn through it just how much Cordelia cares for Xander.

And I love the direction and the music in “Killed by Death”. “Killed by Death”, befitting a episode that has a lot of the fairy tale in it, has an expressionist noir vibe right out of the German 1920 noir expressionist film Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari (The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari) with its expressionist somnambulant and the expressionist vampire shadow world of the 1922 German film Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens (Nosferatu, a Symphony of Horror). Like its noir expressionist forbearers “Killed by Death” is full of night shadows, creepy haunts, watery basements, and horrible monsters of the nightmarish imagination (here are those nightmares again) that kill helpless children in a quite creepy and frightening way. Buffy adds creepy green hues into the black and white expressionist mix. The score by Shawn Clement and Sean Murray with its fairy tale expressionist creepiness underlines the expressionism of the cinematography and mise-en-scene.

Cultural Relativism: Giles brings a sick Buffy grapes, a British custom.

Cultural References: Xander references Ingmar Bergman’s famous film Det sjunde inseglet (The Seventh Seal) where death plays chess with a knight. Someone, Whedon?, has been watching his Bergman. Angelus whistles the final movement of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony when he enters the hospital to visit a sick Buffy. Is this a reference to A Clockwork Orange, an Anthony Burgess book and Stanley Kubrick film in which Beethoven’s Ninth was a favourite of its vicious and brutal anti-hero Alex? Buffy calls Willow “Sherlock” referencing Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous detective Sherlock Holmes.

LOL: Cordy telling Xander that she has seem him watching Buffy’s “back”, i.e., derriere, and telling him he can now watch her “back” as she walks away. This being Xander he does. I love how he tips his head down so he can check out Cordy’s “butt”. Cordy is, of course, making a pun here. Xander has Buffy’s back and is watching her “back”. Willow references her fear of frogs again. Willow’s phoba made its first appearance in “What’s My Line”.

The Chorus: I love Cordy the forthright, the Cordy who tells Giles after he asks her whether she knows what tact is that “Tact is just not saying true stuff. I think that I, in many ways, am like Cordy. This is probably not a good social thing but hey.

Foreshadowings: In “Killed by Death” Giles notes that small children see things adults can’t. In the next fairy tale episode the adult Joyce will see small children (the avatars of a monster) others can’t.

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