Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Buffy Blog; "Dead Man's Party"

Written by Marti Noxon and directed by James Whitmore Jnr. “Dead Man’s Party”, Buffy the Vampire Slayer doing zombies, takes its title from a song by Danny Elfman’s band, “Oingo Boingo” called, surprise, surprise, “Dead Man’s Party”. As I was watching this episode for probably for the sixth or seventh time I couldn’t help but think about that Oingo Boingo song as well as what is probably the most famous zombie movie of my generation, George Romero’s infamous black and white “Night of the Living Dead” from 1968, a low budget flick that would stimulate a revival of the zombie horror film in Hollywood and beyond afterwards.

One of the things I really loved about Buffy when I first started watching it was that the series had a memory. “Dead Man’s Party” is, like the films of the great French director Alain Resnais, haunted by memory. It is haunted by the memory of Joyce’s kicking of Buffy out of the house. It is haunted by the memory of Buffy leaving Sunnydale for the Scoobies know not where because throughout this episode Buffy is loath to discuss where she went. It is haunted by Buffy’s memories of killing Angel. It is haunted by the memory that Buffy has been kicked out of school. It is haunted by the memory of and the reality of Principal Snyder’s hatred (why? We will see) for the Slayer. And it is haunted by recent memories of which Buffy has no part: the relationship between Joyce and Pat and the recent memories of the Scoobies sans Buffy fighting, more successfully than in “Anne” if Oz is to be believed, the things that go bump in the Buffy night.

As is often the case with Buffy (and the work of Joss Whedon in general) there is a striking degree of realism in this ostensibly fantasy show. “Dead Man’s Party” begins just a few hours after Buffy shows up at the door of her home and Joyce welcomes her back. Night has fallen and Buffy decides to go in search of the other Scoobies. Buffy runs into Xander “Nighthawk” Harris first and shortly thereafter the rest of the Scooby Gang in full vampire killing battle mode. At first the Scoobies are genuinely glad to see Buffy. But soon it is clear that with Buffy away the other Scoobies and in particular Xander and Cordelia and Willow and Oz have grown tighter. Buffy increasingly feels like a fifth wheel. There is also an undercurrent of Scooby discomfort and anger at Buffy that appears first in Xander’s “Mad cause you ran away…” speech to Buffy as the Scoobies stand in front of Giles’s door so they can show the Watcher that the Slayer has returned. This discomfort with and anger at Buffy emerges, as we will see, from Scooby repression as “Dead Man’s Party” plays out.

Something else that emerges in the course of “Dead Man’s Party” is that the Nigerian ceremonial mask that Joyce has bought and nailed up on her bedroom wall is, as Giles eventually discovers, raising the dead. Masks, not surprisingly, are a central aspect of “Dead Man’s Party”. It is the Nigerian mask that turns out to be the reason Sunnydale is beset by zombies. All of the Scoobies, save Giles, are masking or hiding, at least in the early part of the episode, their discomfort and anger at Buffy. Giles is described in the script as having his “mask” fall away and having to fight back tears while he is in the kitchen preparing snacks for the Scoobies after he learns that Buffy is back. And Cordelia in true Cordy fashion, confuses mask as in Nigerian mask with mask as in make-up mask. So Cordy.

It is the welcome back Buffy hootenanny (I love Oz’s speech about the differences between “gathering”, “shindig”, and “hootenanny”) the Scoobies give at Buffy’s house, so to avoid talking about the discomfort and anger they have toward Buffy, that brings the realist emotional and the fantasy zombie threads in “Dead Man’s Party” together. It is at Buffy’s hootenanny that the discomfort and anger really comes out. Willow is avoiding Buffy and when Buffy confronts her on it she says she can’t hear because the band (Dingoes Ate My Baby, of course, the band Willow’s boyfriend is in) is too loud and then, when Buffy pulls her into the dining room, claims that she is not trying to avoid talking to Buffy. Xander and Cordy are in full public display of affection mode and as a result avoiding Buffy. Joyce is in the kitchen talking to her new friend Pat telling her, in a snatch of conversation Buffy happens to catch out of context, that Buffy’s return has not really improved things as she expected it would.

Buffy feeling like a fifth wheel and feeling hurt heads upstairs and starts packing unsure what to do. Willow comes into Buffy’s bedroom and seeing her packing tells Buffy how angry she was and is that while she was experiencing the modern day horrors of dating, dating a werewolf, and being a novice witch her best friend, Buffy, was not there so she could talk to her about them. Buffy feeling attacked tells Willow that she does not know what she, Buffy, went through referring, of course to the end of “Becoming” when she had to kill Angel. Soon Joyce comes upstairs as well and seeing Buffy’s packed bag tells her in a loud and angry voice to explain herself.

Buffy feeling attacked heads downstairs. Willow and Joyce follow her. Buffy and Joyce continues to argue in the living room. Joyce, somewhat drunk on schnapps, tells Buffy that she doesn’t know how much pain Buffy caused her when she was away during the entire summer. Buffy responds by reminding Joyce that it was she, Joyce, who told Buffy not to come back if she left the house to “save the world”. Soon Xander joins in. Xander in a holier than thou fashion (he gets this way far too often) tells Buffy how she hurt Joyce and how she needs to talk about what she is repressing. Buffy responds by saying “What's the point? There was nothing anyone could do. I just had to deal on my own”. Xander responds by telling Buffy, “And you see how well that went. You can't just bury stuff, Buffy! It'll come right back up to get you...”. As Xander says his final words the zombies attack right on cue.

The zombie attack on 1630 Revello Drive does what all the talking and arguing couldn’t: it unites the Scoobies and Joyce as they go into full battle mode. In short order the Scoobies and Joyce win the battle. Buffy realizes the Nigerian mask is the monster of the week and forces a shovel into Pat’s eyes—Pat, killed by a zombie puts the mask on and becomes the object of worship for the other zombies—putting an end to the zombie threat.

But wait there is a more “realistic" threat to Buffy that remains: Principal Snyder has no intention of letting Buffy return to school. It is Ripper who tries to do something about this. In the final act of “Dead Man’s Party” Giles goes into Snyder’s office urging him to reinstate Buffy. When he refuses Ripper re-emerges to threaten Snyder slamming him up against a wall asking him if this has convinced Snyder to allow Buffy back into Sunnydale High School. We will see if it did shortly.

In the final scene of “Dead Man’s Party” Willow and Buffy finally meet at the Espresso Pump café (the first time we see this set on the Mutant Enemy lot)—the first meeting didn’t take place because Willow was in full avoidance mode earlier in the episode. Buffy and Willow go after each other in a whinge off with Willow calling Buffy a “quitter”, “bailer”, “delinquent” and “bad seed” and Buffy calling Willow a “whiner”, “harpy”, “tramp”, and “witch”. Talking, as we will find out, proves, at least in this case, to be exactly the cure needed for Buffy’s and Willow’s relationship. Grr. Argh.

LOL: Buffy asking Jonathan during the living room argument between the Scoobies, Joyce, and Buffy if he wants to weigh in on blaming Buffy. He says “No thanks. “I’m good”.

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