This week on Buffy and the Art of Story: Killed By Death (Season 2 Episode 18 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer).
This podcast episode covers (1) what causes this episode's slower pace; (2) whether the flashbacks are needed; (3) fuzzy major plot turns in unusual places; (4) just-in-time backstory; and (5) very subtle advances in the season 2 arc.
As always, the discussion is spoiler-free, except at the end (with plenty of warning).
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Episode Transcript for Killed By Death
Hello and welcome to Buffy and the Art of Story Season Two. If you love Buffy the Vampire Slayer and you love creating stories – or just taking them apart to see how they work – you’re in the right place.
I am Lisa M Lilly, author of the Awakening supernatural thriller series and the Q.C. Davis mysteries and founder of WritingAsASecondCareer.com
Today we're talking about Season Two Episode Eighteen Killed By Death.
In particular, I'll cover:
- why the pace in this episode feels slower than usual;
- the use of flashbacks;
- some fuzzy major plot turns; and
- the very subtle advances in the Season Two series arc.
As always, there will be no Spoilers except at the end to talk about foreshadowing, but I’ll give you plenty of warning.
Okay, let's dive into the Hellmouth.
Killed By Death was written by Rob DesHotel and Dean Vitali and directed by Darren Serafini.
We start with conflict. Buffy climbs over stone wall into the graveyard. And she is coughing as she does. She stumbles when she lands on the ground and puts her hand to her head, clearly feeling ill but struggling to patrol anyway.
As she moves around the tombstone she almost stakes Xander.
Xander: Damn Buffy. My whole life flashed before my eyes. I gotta get me a life.
Cordelia and Willow are with him. Willow scolds Buffy for being out patrolling when she is so sick.
Cordelia: Half the school is out with the flu and we’re all concerned about how gross you look.
Buffy says she needs to patrol. She's not going to let Angel kill even one more person.
From behind her Angel says, “Oh, come on, just one more.” And he runs for Cordelia and knocks her down. Buffy pulls him off of Cordelia. They fight. She is struggling, but she does get some good punches and kicks in.
Angel, though, says her being off her game kind of takes the fun out of it. Then he hits her really hard says, “Nope, still fun.”
The Fight Goes On
The others join in and help fend Angel off. Buffy is angry at them, insisting she is fine and then she collapses,
We go to credits. When we get back, Willow, Xander, and Cordelia are bringing Buffy in to the emergency room. The doctors whisk her away after saying she has a high-grade fever and possible fractures.
Willow says to Xander to call Giles and tell him what happened.
Willow (to Cordelia): Call Buffy's mom and tell her – not what happened. Just get her here.
In the next scene, Giles paces and cleans his glasses as they wait in the emergency room waiting area. Joyce appears, very worried. The doctor comes out and says that Buffy has stabilized, but the doctor wants to keep her here a few days to heal.
Story Spark In Killed By Death
This is about 5 minutes in. Usually a little before this, we see our Story Spark or Inciting Incident. It comes about 10% through any story and sets our main plot in motion.
Here, the main plot will be Buffy defeating a monster that is killing children in the hospital. So the fact that she now must stay in the hospital is what sets that plot moving.
The episodes are about 42 to 44 minutes long. So at 5 minutes this is a little bit late but around in the range where we usually see that spark.
Buffy Doesn’t Love The Hospital
Everyone walks along with Buffy's gurney as she's being wheeled to a room. She gets agitated when she hears she has to stay in the hospital. She's a bit delusional from the fever.
Which is a good thing because she starts raving about getting the vampires. Giles reassures her and says, “I'll take care of those vampires.” And then he tells Joyce it's best to humor her.
The hospital hallway, like so many places in Sunnydale, is dimly lit. We will see a lot of dark rooms and hallways in this episode.
Xander is really shaken by seeing Buffy scared. He says he's never seen that before. Joyce explains that when Buffy was a little girl her cousin Celia (who we've never heard about before) died in the hospital. Buffy was alone with her when it happened.
Back Story, Lack Of Conflict, And Flashbacks
This tells us almost everything we need to know about this back story. And in my view, it makes the later flashbacks for the most part unnecessary.
This also stands out to me because usually the show is so good at getting exposition in through conflict that's compelling and interesting by itself. Here we have a little bit of conflict because Xander is shaken. Then of course Joyce is worried about Buffy.
But it's not a conflict between Joyce and Xander.
So it does feel more like just handing us information. It's very quick, though, so I think that generally it works.
The other thing about this mention of Celia, this is an example of how sometimes you need to backfill back story. Back story maybe you didn't you didn't think about in advance as you were setting up your story. Particularly if it's a series, whether TV or novels or movies. And so you add in something when you need it.
Generally, an audience or readers will go with that as long as you're not contradicting anything from the past. It helps, though, if there is, if you can tie that new back story to something that we've heard about before.
Here, for example, if we knew there was some sort of tragedy in Buffy's family’s past, but we haven't really gotten it.
Wouldn’t Buffy Have Mentioned This Before?
Also, this is such a big thing to be – I think we find out later she's about ten years old. To have watched your cousin of your age die when you were ten is so traumatic.
It seems like something that Buffy might have alluded to somewhere along the way. Especially because being the Slayer is so much about death and saving people. So this feels a little bit clunky to me. And maybe it only stands out because the show is so overall well written that when you get these moments that aren't quite as elegant it sticks out.
Does Joyce Wonder Why Giles Is There?
Joyce now says she needs to go call Buffy's dad. Giles takes her to show her where the phone is. (This is before cell phones were very common.) Joyce tells Giles she really appreciates how he looks out for Buffy.
I think it's not an accident that she says this as she's going to call Buffy's dad, who we have not seen since Season One. Or actually I think we saw him in the pilot of Season Two when he brought Buffy back. She spent the summer with him.
But since then we haven't seen him. I'm not even sure he's been mentioned since then. And I think this linking of him, Though it's fairly subtle, helps us believe that Joyce is grateful for Giles presence in Buffy's life. As opposed to wondering why is the high school librarian at the hospital before she is when her daughter is brought to the emergency room?
Joyce And Giles Bond
Joyce also tells Giles she was sorry to hear about Ms. Calendar. That Buffy told her the two of them were close.
I really like this moment. As in the previous one, we get exposition, but this one feels more genuine.
For one thing, Joyce is feeling awkward. She says, “I don't know if I should say anything, but Buffy told me.” And she tells him Buffy's been so down since it happened and Buffy never gets sick. So we know this probably is part of what has made Buffy vulnerable.
And even though Joyce is giving us information here, I like the little bit of tension. Her sort of uncertainty. Should she raise this with Giles at all? And his response. He appreciates that Joyce said something to him about it.
Reminders In Killed By Death
And this reminds our audience why Buffy is so concerned about missing even one day of patrolling and allowing Angel to kill even one more person.
These types of reminders are helpful to do when you're telling a longer story. In a short story you probably wouldn't do that. But in a novel, if you haven't visited with certain characters in quite a while, or something happened very early in the novel (maybe in a prologue) and you're halfway through and it hasn't been referenced before, it's nice to throw in something to help the reader remember it.
I feel like that is what the show was doing here along with showing this developing relationship between Joyce and Giles.
We switch to Willow and Xander who are worrying that Angel could attack Buffy while she's in the hospital because it's a public building. So he can come in any time.
Freddy Kruger-like Killer
We then switch to nighttime. So we raised this issue of Buffy's added vulnerability. She is sleeping hooked to an IV drip. Her arm is in a splint. She opens her eyes and a little boy pauses in her doorway. He looks at her, then walks on.
Another man follows.
He has long curly hair, a hooked nose, a bowler hat. And he looks a lot like Freddy Kruger from the Nightmare on Elm Street series. Which I have never seen. Seems kind of amazing, given that I do enjoy Buffy so much and horror. But I've not watched that series.
So if I miss any other allusions to it, sorry about that.
First Flashback In Killed By Death
Buffy gets out of bed and start walking in the hall. The hall spins a bit and the colors fade. So now we’re in a black-and-white scene. We see little girl walking through the hospital hall and into a room with a curtained bed.
This is the first of the flashbacks that I'm not sure adds anything.
Because we already know that Buffy as a little girl was in the hospital and saw her cousin die. I think it might've been more interesting if we hadn't gotten that exposition from Joyce. Because now we would see this scene and we wouldn't know for sure that that was Buffy as a little girl.
And we might think it is part of just the strange happenings at the hospital. Adding some mystery and giving us as an audience something to figure out. In a way, to be more engaged with the story.
Moving Toward A One-Quarter Twist (Or Two)
Next we see Buffy in her hospital bed again. The time clock is the same as it was before she saw the little boy. So we know at one point or another in this she has been dreaming.
We’re about 10.5 minutes into the story. So we are nearing the one quarter mark through the episode in terms of timing. Usually around here we will see the first major plot turn that comes from outside the protagonist and spins the story in a new direction.
Here, Buffy is yet again walking the halls. She sees orderlies take a body out under a sheet. One of them says he hates it when they lose the young ones.
At about 12 minutes in, Buffy is peering into the room. Two doctors are arguing about the treatment of the children. The male doctor – who we’ll find out later is Dr. Backer – tells the woman doctor to take it up with the board if she doesn't like his methods. She says that she has.
Now It’s Supernatural
At almost 12.5 minutes in, a little boy and girl come up behind Buffy. The boy, who we’ll learn is named Ryan, says to Buffy, “He comes at night. The grown-ups can't see him.”
He tells Buffy that he was with Tina and then Tina died. Buffy asks who he is and the boys says, “Death.”
And we go to a commercial. So that's a great hook into the commercial.
As far as the plot turn, I think maybe that whole sequence is the plot turn. Because this is where we find out that probably there is something supernatural that is causing the children's deaths.
Or perhaps it's the doctors. But something more than simply a bad flu.
When we come back from the commercial, Xander is sitting outside Buffy's room. Angel comes through the hallway. He is holding some white roses.
Xander stands in his way. Angel taunts him, saying Xander couldn't stop him if he wants to go into Buffy's room.
And Xander says maybe not, but there's a security guard over there and cops and orderlies. Together they might be able to stop Angel. Angel calls Xander Buffy's white knight, and says Xander still loves Buffy.
He leans very close and whispers into Xander's ear: “It must just eat you up that I got there first.”
Xander: You're gonna die. And I'm gonna be there.
Angel slaps the white roses against Xander's chest and leaves. Xander lets out a breath, very shaky, and sits. Which shows us how tense and frightened he was in that confrontation.
As far as why Angel leaves, I don't believe that even the orderlies and Xander and the cops could stop Angel. But I think we've seen that, one, he wants to terrorize her. He doesn't necessarily want to kill her yet.
And also I feel like what we've seen of him, when he does kill her he wants it to be a very emotional dramatic moment for her. Not in the midst of a bunch of chaos with all kinds of people around.
So I buy that Angel would leave.
We are back in black-and-white. Buffy as a little girl is playing superhero with her cousin Celia. After declaring that she is Power Girl, Buffy saves Celia, who is buried under a bunch of pillows.
This flashback doesn't move our story forward. So it is definitely one that is not necessary to the plot. But it is really fun to see little girl Buffy as Power Girl. And it does add to the character development in that we see that Buffy and her cousin had fun together and were close.
It also adds to my view, along with the next part of the flashback, that this might've been a more intriguing episode to watch if we didn't already know that back story.
Because next we see Buffy approach the hospital bed where Celia sleeps. If we hadn't already known that Buffy watched Celia die, this could be really engaging.
As it is, this flashback of Buffy going up to this bed, for me it just slows down our story.
Buffy Healed Fast
Buffy wakes up. It's morning. She's much more perky. The doctor tells her that her fever went down. She’s surprised to see the swelling on Buffy's wrist is gone. Buffy is ready to leave the hospital.
The doctor tells her she needs to stay another day to be sure the fever is really gone.
Buffy asks about kids dying, but Giles comes in along with Cordelia, Willow, and Xander. The doctor leaves.
Xander has brought balloons. Willow brings Buffy her homework. Which doesn't make Buffy really happy until Willow says that she did the homework for her. Then she steps back and everyone kind of looks at Cordelia, who is empty-handed.
Cordelia: Nobody told me I was supposed to bring a gift. I was out of the loop on gifts.
Giles: It's traditional among – people.
They take Buffy for a walk outside. She tells them about Dr. Backer and his experimental treatments. And that a little girl, Tina, died and Ryan said he saw Death.
The others are a bit skeptical that there's anything unusual going on given that the flu is going around and it's really bad. This scene seems slow to me. Much of what Buffy is saying to them we have already seen. It’s not typical for Buffy to recap information [the audience knows] from the same episode.
Yes, we get some of those reminders through conflict, such as the reminder about Jenny. But that's a reminder about what happened in a previous episode.
There is some conflict in that the others are pushing back against Buffy's theory. And we do get some of my favorite dialogue. Cordelia points out the Buffy might just be looking for a monster to fight because that's easier than dealing with her feelings about her cousin's death in the hospital.
Giles: Have you ever actually heard of tact?
Cordelia: Tact is just not saying true stuff. I’ll pass.
Buffy says that Ryan is afraid of something. As long as she's forced to stay here, she's going to find out what it is. So the others, though still skeptical, offer to help.
Sneaking Around In Killed By Death
Cordelia and Xander sneak into the records room. They split up to look around. A security guard comes in and confronts Cordelia.
At the library. Giles tells Willow that Cordelia might be tactless but right. Death and disease might be the only things Buffy can't fight. And she might really need a defeatable opponent, especially after what happened to Jenny.
But Willow says on the “we live on the Hellmouth side” the kids might have seen something real. Giles says sometimes children do see something adults miss – the true selves of adults. Their hidden faces.
They start researching Dr. Backer.
Dr. Backer Understands
Cordelia is flirting with the security guard to keep him distracted while Xander keeps looking around. And she is getting information because she says to the guard, “I bet you see a lot of tragedy, like that little girl who died.”
And he says, “Dr. Backer understands the truth about children, that sometimes they die.”
Xander drops something. The guard is about to go check out the sound but Cordelia, clearly struggling for something to say but making it sound very natural, tells him he has the most perfect nose she's ever seen. He must work out.
Xander sneaks out. When she follows, he is jealous of her flirting. She calls him on it though when he says he needs to stay at the hospital to protect Buffy. And she says, “Oh, your obsession with protecting Buffy. Have I told you how attractive that's not?”
We are now approaching the Midpoint of the episode.
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Nearing The Midpoint Of Killed By Death
So we are 22 minutes in.
This is where we should see a major reversal for our protagonist or a strong commitment by the protagonist or both. Neither feels all that strong here, although we will see a reversal and a commitment later. This is another reason the story for me doesn't have that much momentum.
I said last week that this wasn't one of my favorite episodes. And I did not remember where the particular plot points happened or why that was. Now that I'm looking at it, I do think it is part of why the episode lags.
Buffy is looking stronger. She walks down another dim hallway and goes to the play area in the children's ward.
Ryan is drawing a picture of the scary guy Buffy saw. And Ryan says he'll come again tonight.
A Less-Than-Strong Commitment
At 23 minutes in Buffy says she believes him. They both know there are real monsters and she's not going to let this one hurt him. Or any of the kids. So this is a commitment on Buffy's part to protect Ryan and the kids went kid.
So it’s less powerful for me in that it doesn't feel like throwing caution to the wind, the full commitment to the quest. Because Buffy – that's what she does. She protects people. So it doesn't feel like a big moment. Or it doesn't feel like something that really propels the story forward.
It more just feels like, yeah, that's what Buffy does.
Controversy And Backer
At the library again, Willow finds Dr. Backer's records. He's been sanctioned for risky procedures and controversial treatments.
We go back to a very dark hospital. The doctor is in his office. He's checking test tubes in his refrigerator as he whispers to himself. Then he makes notes in a journal.
This is another scene that – perhaps we need it so that later we know this is Dr. Backer's office. But I don't know that we do [need it]. I don't know that it really adds anything, given what Willow just told us.
Xander is dozing in the hall outside Buffy's room. Cordelia brings a bag of Krispy Kreme donuts and coffee and sits with him. I like this moment. There isn't dialogue, but I feel like there is this shift just in the way the scene is directed and acted. We get the sense that despite a bit of an argument earlier, Cordelia is there for Xander. She is also concerned about Buffy and understands the need for someone to be there.
Something Kills Dr. Backer
Dr. Backer starts to inject one of the kids when something invisible starts hitting him and slashing him. Ryan watches as Backer's killed. We see it in shadow on the wall.
At 26.5 minutes in, Buffy gets to the door of the children's ward, just as backer is being thrown out of it. And invisible being knocks Buffy out of the way and drags the doctor off down the hall.
A Major Turn
Now this seems like a major reversal for Buffy. But it's past the Midpoint where I feel like we really needed that stronger push. It also could be the next major plot turn. That usually comes about three quarters through the episode and comes from the protagonist's commitment at the Midpoint, but turns the story in another new direction.
Because here, it is the first time Buffy gets a look at the monster, even though he is invisible. She sees part of what the monster does, and it knocks into her.
But were early for that Three-Quarter Turn. The episode is about 43 minutes long. So we would normally see that around 30-31 minutes, we will see another turn there.
So I don't feel like this moment is it.
What Ryan Sees
The thing that kind of bothers me in this episode is Ryan watched this monster kill a doctor. I know he already saw it kill a little girl. We didn't see that the we heard about it.
Now we have seen this. And it is just so traumatic and there isn't much of an acknowledgment of that. That's what I see as truly the major reversal there. Buffy has not been able to protect Ryan from seeing this monster kill the doctor. The doctor who it turns out was trying to help him.
In Buffy's hospital room the next day Giles tells her that Tina's records show that she improved after getting the flu but then deteriorated suddenly. And he and Willow think it's because of Dr. Backer and his questionable methods. But Buffy tells them the monster killed Backer.
More Repeated Exposition
So again we have Giles telling Buffy – I think the info on Tina's records is new but the part about Dr. Backer's methods is not. And then we have Buffy telling Giles something that we just saw. That the monster killed Backer.
I’m not sure how you would do this scene without that. They both need to convey that information to the other. But it's another thing that usually the show does so well. And here it feels slow.
There is a really nice moment though where Buffy shows Giles Ryan's crayon drawing of the monster. Giles looks really troubled. And he takes off his glasses and says, “This is your work?”
Buffy says no it's Ryan's.
Joyce Interrupts A Secret Meeting
They're trying to figure out why the kids see the monster and Buffy doesn't, except for that one time when she was delirious with fever. At that moment Joyce walks in. They all look very serious, and she says she hopes she didn't interrupt a secret meeting.
Cordelia says, “You sure didn't” – far too adamantly.
Joyce has good news. The doctor says Buffy can go home. She is understandably puzzled when now Buffy doesn't want to when before she'd been so insistent on going home.
Buffy claims she doesn't feel quite well again. Joyce says she'll go talk to the doctor.
More Possible Midpoint Commitments
So this is 28 minutes in. This, too, could be a great Midpoint Commitment for Buffy. Because despite her fear of hospitals and how insistent she was on leaving even when she was delirious, she is staying.
I would've liked that as well as the Midpoint Commitment. It shows us how much it means to her to protect these kids.
After Joyce is gone, Buffy asks Giles to do some more research and figure out what this monster is. Buffy then says:
Buffy: I'll check Backer's office. See if I can find any Post Its say “why a monster might want me dead.”
She asks Willow to come with her because Willow will better know what the medical terms might mean.
Xander says he'll stay on sentry duty and that Cordelia should help Giles research.
Giles looks distressed and says, “Why do I have to have –”
And he cuts off as Cordelia stares at him and he backpedals and says good thinking, he can use a research assistant. But she is not fooled.
Cordelia: Let's go, tact guy.
At a little after thirty minutes, Willow and Buffy break into Backer's office. Willow finds his notes and says Backer was trying to give the kids controlled doses of the virus and raise their temperatures to burn it out of them.
We see Buffy looking at the test tubes in the refrigerator. This covers everything we saw in that scene with Backer in his office looking at the test tubes and making notes. Which is another reason why the episode feels like it has filler in it and feels slow.
This is something I try to do when I revise. Personally, I think it is better to eliminate a scene that covers the same ground unless there's something of great emotional or character significance in revisiting it.
Cordelia Aggravates Giles
We switch back to the library. Another really fun moment. Cordelia is looking through the books across from Giles as he also is researching. But she keeps interrupting and asking well, what does this demon do.
And Giles explains it, and she says what does that one do. And he explains that, looking irritated. The third time she says “what does this one do?” Giles has had it.
Giles: It asks endless questions of those with whom it's supposed to be working so that nothing ever gets done.
Cordelia: Boy, there's a demon for everything.
Giles slams his book shut walks away from the table and says he's not sure they'll ever find the monster since it's invisible to adults. This is such a nice moment. One, just for the dialogue. But also because we see Giles’s frustration and irritation. Not just in snapping at Cordelia but in his motions. Slamming the book, walking away from the table.
I like that he says they may never find this and why, because it shows us that, yes, he is irritated with Cordelia. But what he is really worried about and angry about is their not being anywhere. And that it is unusual for them to get nowhere.
Cordelia Finds The Demon At The Three-Quarter Turn
At about 32 minutes in Cordelia says, “Well, it's not in here and closes her book. Then we see the front cover. It has a drawing of the monster.
By timing this is the Three-Quarter Turn or three-quarter mark at least in the story. And in a way it arose out of the Midpoint where Buffy told Ryan she'd protect the kids. It does turn the story in a sense. Now Cordelia will tell Buffy what the monster is and what it does.
But it doesn't feel like much of the major plot turn because we already knew there was a monster. We already knew it killed the kids and Dr. Backer. And we knew what it looked like. So it doesn't feel like a new direction when Cordelia calls Buffy and starts talking about the monster.
Buffy says, “Who is this?”
Cordelia persists and tells her the monster is called Der Kindestod and the name means child's death. It feeds on children by sucking the life out of them. And that it's basically looking at the children's ward as an all-you-can-eat kind of thing.
When Giles gets on the phone, he tells her it gorges by sitting on the prey, pinning it down, and it must be horrifying.
One More Flashback
Buffy then flashes back to Celia's death and Celia screaming with her hands up as if to push something off of her. So this flashback does move our story forward. Buffy freezes and it's hitting her that this monster is what killed Celia.
Again, if we hadn't known about Celia's death, this would've been a really neat moment. All those flashbacks we as the audience would've put together. Oh, this is why we keep seeing these little girls in the hospitals.
I think I’d really enjoy that. And I would be so curious to know whether there was a version of the script where Joyce didn't give that exposition.
And whether someone came back and looked at it and decided that maybe it would be too hard for the audience to put together the pieces.
So we’re 34 minutes in and Buffy says, “It killed Celia, and I have to defeat it.”
This could be that Three-Quarter plot turn. It’s a tiny bit late, but it does spin the story in the sense of now Buffy has this personal reason to kill the monster.
The reason that also doesn't quite work for me as a turn is because, again, Buffy who is still going to go kill the monster. Maybe this makes her more committed to it. But if that's the case that would've been a great Midpoint Commitment. Because Buffy would have this personal stake in it so.
Willow reassures her she’ll defeat the monster, but they aren't sure how Buffy can do that when she can't see it.
Buffy says she only saw when she was crazed with fever. Then it hits her. That's why Celia saw it and why Ryan saw it.
So it's not about children and adults. It's about who has the fever.
The Three-Quarter Turn In Killed By Death
This is a bit of a turn, and in fact this probably is the Three-Quarter Turn. Now Buffy knows it's the fever that makes people see the monster. And this is what propels her forward from this point on.
Buffy could have had this realization back when she first mentioned how she only saw the monster when she had a fever and either the doctor or Joyce came in and interrupted.
So this realization, it doesn't really grow out of anything. Yes, now she had the flashback to Celia and she realizes Celia was probably seeing that monster on her.
But for me, that just doesn't feel like enough of a difference that Buffy wouldn't have made that connection earlier (between having the fever and seeing the monster). The only reason she didn't is we had someone happen to walk in and interrupt her.
Delaying Your Protagonist’s Light Bulb Moment
So that's an example of simply delaying Buffy’s realization for chance reasons. That can work very early on in your story. If it's a tiny hint of an idea, then something derails the protagonist to go do something else, that is very typical in a mystery.
It works early on because the protagonist doesn't know enough yet to know what’s significant and neither does the reader. So you can weave in these little clues, and it makes sense the protagonist doesn't put the pieces together.
But the fever and seeing the monster, that discussion happened the first time well into the episode. They already knew that that was an important thing, so it feels artificial that it was simply delayed. And that makes it less dramatic.
Here, when Buffy does put those pieces together, the rest of the episode is more dramatic.
Buffy Takes Action
Buffy now takes a really significant action. She and Willow go back to Dr. Backer's office. Buffy drinks some of that serum to make herself sick again, Willow says can you fight with the fever and Buffy says she'll find out. She starts feeling weak and sick almost immediately.
This too, could've made a nice Midpoint Commitment. But we would've had half an episode to go with Buffy so sick. But it truly is a throwing of caution to the wind. We saw that she could not fight very well with that fever against Angel, and now she is making herself that sick again.
We don't do a ton with it because there isn't a lot of episode left.
The Empty Children’s Ward
So Buffy made herself really sick. They went to the children's ward, and all the kids were gone. And we cut to commercial.
So that was another good hook before the commercial. Where did the children go?
When we come back, we see a quick scene with the kids running through a basement hallway. Buffy is looking at that empty ward and the monster fades into view. He, too, was looking around the ward. He doesn't see any kids.
But he does see Buffy watching him. He laughs and tips his hat to her, then exits through a door labeled basement access. So we know that he has figured out where the kids must've gone.
Buffy Breaks Away
Buffy's doctor comes around the corner as Buffy is trying to get into the ward. I guess the door is locked. The doctor sees how ill Buffy is and tries to take her back to her room. Buffy and Willow break away.
The doctor has called for Security. In another hallway, security guards stop Willow and Buffy. Buffy gives Willow a desperate look. Willow starts brushing at her legs frantically and shouting about frogs as if she's trying to get them off of her.
This is the moment I mentioned in a previous episode where Willow fell asleep in the library and woke up, very startled, talking about tadpoles. Giles told where she was and asked about the tadpoles. And she said she had frog fear. It’s a nice thing that Willow make use of that.
The guards fall for it and surround Willow. Buffy runs off.
Obstacles For The Protagonist
As much as I love this moment, I feel like these scenes with the doctor and the security guards — yes, we need barriers in our protagonist’s way. So it shouldn't be easy for the protagonist to accomplish pretty much anything in a story. There should be obstacles.
But these obstacles aren't arising out of the antagonist. The monster doesn't send the doctor there or the security guards. (It would seem very unmonsterlike if he did.) It's not supernatural, and the hospital itself is not the villain here, though that could also be an interesting story.
And so these obstacles to me don't feel as strong as the ones we usually see in Buffy.
That being said I do love the teamwork aspect. I love how smart Willow is and how quickly she acts.
The Climax Of Killed By Death
Buffy runs or staggers around the corner and finds Xander. He helps her down to the basement, partly supporting her. On the way down he says, “You don't how to kill this thing.” Buffy says, “I thought I might try violence.” and Xander says, “Solid call.”
So now we are at our Climax. About 38 minutes 40 seconds in the monster is attacking Ryan. All the kids are screaming. And we will hear kids screaming for pretty much all of the climax.
Which is another somewhat on Buffy -like thing. Usually we don't have all the screaming. To me it feels a bit like the laugh track in the sitcom that it's telling us, oh, you should laugh there. And this is saying you should be really afraid.
Be Not Afraid
Here, for whatever reason, I'm not.
Maybe because I don't in any way think that this is going to end with the monster killing more kids. But it is holding Ryan down. Its eyes pop out. They are almost like corkscrews that go down towards Ryan and then clamp onto his forehead. So I guess that isn't exactly a corkscrew. But both of them look that way spiraling down.
Ryan is crying and screaming and holding up his hands the way Celia did in Buffy's flashback.
Buffy is able to get the monster off of Ryan. But she is struggling to fight it because she so sick. Xander herds the kids out of the way. And he stays to watch Buffy fight. All he sees is Buffy fighting because the monster is invisible to him.
It gets Buffy. And we are in her point of view again. Its eyes pop out and are spiraling down toward her. And she finally reaches up and snaps his neck.
Xander at first asks if she's okay, and then asks if the monster's dead. Because he heard something snap. And Buffy says that would be his neck.
Xander’s holding her up as they walk out of the basement. He says, “You're not going to yak on me are you?”
We have moved to the Falling Action where the loose ends in the story are tied up.
There aren't a lot of loose ends here, but this Falling Action is pretty fun. Buffy, Willow, and Xander are all in Buffy's bedroom. They’re lying on her bed watching TV. Buffy is still recovering a bit and Joyce brings her sandwiches with the crusts cut off just like Buffy likes. But it turns out not quite the right peanut butter. She wants crunchy and I think a different kind of jelly maybe.
Joyce Takes Care Of Buffy, Willow, And Xander
Xander and Willow ask for drink refills and chips. Joyce claims there are no more cheesy chips but Xander tells her there are. They’re hidden behind some other things in the cabinet. She says she’ll go get them.
Joyce is really good-humored about this. She has a lot of patience with all three of them.
When she comes back she tells Buffy that Ryan sent her something. Buffy opens the envelope and inside is a drawing of her killing the monster. Joyce looks rather bemused and says, “Oh, he drew you a picture. How nice.”
And that is the end of the episode.
The Monster Of The Week
Killed By Death is the very definition of a monster of the week episode. We've had those before in Buffy, but I feel like usually they have a little bit more in the way of plot or character development.
Here, Angel doesn't really step up his harassment of Buffy, though he does goad Xander at one point. Buffy says Angel put her in the hospital. I feel like that is clearly not the case. She's in the hospital because of the flu. It seems pretty obvious she would've collapsed anyway. She was so sick I think fighting any vampire or demon would've put her in the hospital.
There are, though, those great moments in this episode. And it does in some very small subtle ways advance our plot and foreshadow the season. So I will talk about that in the spoiler section.
There's also no DVD commentary. I did see something interesting. The IMDB movie connections page. I'll put a link in the show notes to it. It says Joss Whedon modeled the monster after Freddy Krueger, Nosferatu, and the bogeyman. So we’ll have to have to look at some photos of both Freddy Kruger and Nosferatu side-by-side and just see what elements I see from Nosferatu there.
It also mentions that a line of dialogue references the most famous scene in The Invisible Man when Xander acknowledges that he won't be much help in a fight against the monster because he can't see it. He adds that, “If I see a floating pipe and a smoking jacket, he's dropped.”
There's also a reference to the 1957 movie The Seventh Seal. Curiously, since I didn't see the Nightmare On Elm Street movies, I did see The Seventh Seal. The University of Chicago ran it as part of either a class or a film festival.
It is about a character grappling with Death with capital D. And that is a reference in dialogue because in that movie the protagonist plays chess with Death. Xander has a line where the he and it refers to Death and says, “If he asks you to play chess, don't even do it, the guys like a whiz.”
That is it for this episode other than Spoilers, which I hope you'll stick around for. If you don't thank you so much for listening. I hope you will come back next Monday for I Only Have Eyes For You.
And we are back for Spoilers.
Xander/ Angel Issues
When Xander says to Angel, “You're gonna die. And I'm gonna be there.”
I can't help feeling that this moment might be part of why in the Season Two finale Xander chooses not to tell Buffy that Willow is doing the spell to give Angel back his soul. She has the sword. She is about to go into battle with Angel. And Xander almost tells her about Willow doing the spell. Then he doesn't and instead says, “Kick his ass.”
Or tells her that that's what Willow said. Which is worse.
So maybe this interchange with Angel is part of why Xander doesn't tell her that. Xander really wants her to kill Angel and for him to be there. Now, he won't be there but I feel like be there in spirit.
However, I do think Xander has other and better motives about that, and I'll talk about that when we get to the episode.
Joyce Appreciates Giles
Another moment here that I never noticed before in terms of foreshadowing:
That moment when Joyce tells Giles how much she appreciates him looking out for Buffy. And maybe it's less foreshadowing and more that it adds a layer to the Season Three pilot when Joyce expresses anger at Giles. And says she blames him for Buffy running away because he had all this influence on Buffy's life, and he knew about this whole part of her life being a Slayer, and he did not tell Joyce about it.
The drawing that Ryan sends the end of the episode and the fact that Joyce sees it is one of those subtle moments that I feel like does advance our season plot. Because Joyce sees this drawing of Buffy. I think it's with her foot on the monster. And she clearly killed it. that I think contributes a bit to our finale of the season when Joyce sees Buffy dust a vampire right in front of her.
We were told in the beginning, and we've seen over and over, that even when people in Sunnydale see vampire attack someone, or see Buffy kill a vampire, they find a way to rationalize it.
And we know that's what Joyce has been doing.
Joyce Starts To See?
But that is getting gradually whittled away as we go through the season. Joyce must be asking somewhere in her mind why this little kid would draw this. So that when she does finally see Buffy dust a vampire, I feel like having seen this drawing has opened her mind a bit. And instead of rationalizing it away she is finally willing to listen when Buffy tells her she's a Vampire Slayer and what that is.
She still definitely has trouble with it and pushes back against it. But it makes it much more believable that she doesn't do the rationalizing and forgetting.
Angel’s Heart’s Not In The Fight
Finally, when Buffy and Angel fight in the graveyard, it foreshadows the fight that they'll have in part one of Becoming. Where Angel doesn't seem to be giving it his all. Buffy is a bit slow to realize that and definitely slow to grasp the reason for it.
And I feel like this scene at the beginning of this episode lays the groundwork for that. Because Angel, he probably could have killed her when she had the flu.
Yes, the others also gang up on him and hold out crosses. But if he wanted to end it there, it seems pretty certain that Angel could have done it. If he backed off and waited a few moments until Buffy collapsed. But he didn't. Because Angel isn't ready to kill Buffy yet.
And Buffy I think absorbs this. So when she is fighting Angel the first time in the finale it’s much more believable that it takes her a bit to realize that there is reason that he is stalling.
So that is it for Killed By Death.
I hope you will come back next Monday for I Only Have Eyes For You, the episode where both Angel and Buffy are taken over by ghosts.
Music for this episode was composed and performed by Robert Newcastle. The podcast Buffy and the Art of Story is a production of Spiny Woman LLC copyright 2020.