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The Big Damn Buffy Rewatch S02E18, “Killed By Death”

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In every generation there is a chosen one. She alone wants to track down whoever is responsible for programming Microsoft Word and slash their tires. She will also recap every episode of Buffy The Vampire Slayer with an eye to the following themes:

  1. Sex is the real villain of the Buffy The Vampire Slayer universe.
  2. Giles is totally in love with Buffy.
  3. Joyce is a fucking terrible parent.
  4. Willow’s magic is utterly useless (this one won’t be an issue until season 2, when she gets a chance to become a witch)
  5. Xander is a textbook Nice Guy.
  6. The show isn’t as feminist as people claim.
  7. All the monsters look like wieners.
  8. If ambivalence to possible danger were an Olympic sport, Team Sunnydale would take the gold.
  9. Angel is a dick.
  10. Harmony is the strongest female character on the show.
  11. Team sports are portrayed in an extremely negative light.
  12. Some of this shit is racist as fuck.
  13. Science and technology are not to be trusted.
  14. Mental illness is stigmatized.
  15. Only Willow can use a computer.
  16. Buffy’s strength is flexible at the plot’s convenience.
  17. Cheap laughs and desperate grabs at plot plausibility are made through Xenophobia.
  18. Oz is the Anti-Xander
  19. Spike is capable of love despite his lack of soul
  20. Don’t freaking tell me the vampires don’t need to breathe because they’re constantly out of frickin’ breath.
  21. The foreshadowing on this show is freaking amazing.
  22. Smoking is evil.
  23. Despite praise for its positive portrayal of non-straight sexualities, some of this shit is homophobic as fuck.
  24. How do these kids know all these outdated references, anyway?
  25. Technology is used inconsistently as per its convenience in the script.

Have I missed any that were added in past recaps? Let me know in the comments.  Even though I might forget that you mentioned it.

WARNING: Some people have mentioned they’re watching along with me, and that’s awesome, but I’ve seen the entire series already and I’ll probably mention things that happen in later seasons. So… you know, take that under consideration, if you’re a person who can’t enjoy something if you know future details about it. 

CONTENT WARNING: CHILD DEATH

The episode opens with Buffy climbing over a stone wall, into the cemetery. She’s sniffling and coughing, but somehow manages to sneak up on something at the old Alpert crypt. She leaps around the corner and:

Buffy startling Willow, Xander, and Cordelia

Willow, Xander, and Cordelia want to know why Buffy is out patrolling when she’s so sick:

Cordelia: “Half the school is out with this flu. It’s a serious deal, Buffy. We’re all concerned about how gross you look.”

But Buffy is afraid that if she takes a sick day, more people are going to get killed, and probably by Angel. And she’s not going to let that happen.

But that’s the exact minute Angel does show up, and Buffy can barely fight him. He’s beating the crap out of her, and nearly kills her, when the Scoobies jump in and flash crosses at him. Angel retreats, and Buffy collapses.

After the opening credits, they rush Buffy into the ER, where she’s whisked away with a lot of medical jargon. When Joyce arrives, Giles tells her that Buffy is still in the emergency room. I’m giving her a pass on wondering what the hell her kid’s librarian is doing at the hospital with her in the middle of the night, since Joyce is worried that her daughter might be dying. The doctor comes out and tells Joyce that Buffy will be fine, but she needs to stay in the hospital for a few days. But when they try to wheel Buffy to a patient room, she flips out, fighting and begging Giles to tell them that she has to go home and fight the vampires.

The Scoobies make excuses for the vampire talk by saying Buffy has a high fever, etc. Which is again, another time I’ll give anyone a pass on #8. People say loopy things when they have high fevers. For example, I once had an incredibly high fever from the flu and saw my coat hanging over a chair, and I was convinced it was Spike’s coat that he’d left behind in our house somehow. Spike. From this show. So people get real wacky from fevers.

Xander mentions that he’s not used to seeing Buffy so scared, and Joyce drives the Naked Exposition Train right into Convenientown Junction:

Joyce: “She just hates hospitals. Ever since she was a little girl.”

Willow: “What happened?”

Joyce: “When she was eight, her cousin Celia died in a hospital. Buffy was alone with her at the time.”

This is something that happens on pretty much every television show at least once. Someone says they hate hospitals, and it’s always because they had a relative die in one. I feel like hating hospitals is pretty much a universal experience, right? Nobody likes to be in the hospital. I get that for the purposes of this specific episode, Buffy has to have some experience with child death, but this could have been set up a bit more artfully than just, “Oh yeah, she hates hospitals because of this childhood trauma I’ll just tell you all about like it’s no big, even though I myself would have also been affected by my niece dying, possibly with some added burden of survivor’s guilt by proxy because my child lived and my sibling or sibling-in-law’s didn’t.” But more on this clumsy bit of structure later.

Joyce says she’s going to go call Buffy’s father, and Giles tells her he knows where the payphone is. As they walk, Joyce thanks him for looking out for Buffy, and goes on to say that she’s sorry about Ms. Calendar. So, here’s where my patience stops and #8 comes in. Joyce is not only fully aware that Giles hangs out with her daughter and her daughter’s friends on the regular, but that these kids know enough about this grown man’s love life that she’s aware these two teachers were dating. And this doesn’t ring any alarm bells?

I kind of wonder if the reason they wrote Joyce as admiring what should be creepy behavior on Giles’s part is because they were trying to leave some suggestion of a romance between them open later in the series. In “Band Candy” we know they hook up, but nothing ever comes of it. Whatever the reason, the way it’s written in the first two seasons, before Joyce knows Buffy is a Slayer, makes Joyce seem like the most oblivious parent alive.

Willow, Xander, and Cordelia are worried about Angel coming to the hospital to attack Buffy. Well, Cordelia is more worried about Buffy getting botched plastic surgery for a thing on her face that only Cordelia can see. But both are probably valid concerns, right? Even if we don’t notice the thing Cordelia is talking about.

In the middle of the night, Buffy wakes to find a little kid standing outside her door. He’s like, a little Omen-looking kid, but if you think he’s creepy, the guy who comes along next is so much worse:

a man walking past Buffy's door. He's wearing all black with a black bowler hat, and has a cadaverous face with an eerie grin.
This hospital needs a more selective candy striping program.

Because Buffy is the Slayer, she has to get up and follow the monster. It’s what she does. Mysteriously, there is a bag with an IV drip beside her bed, but when Buffy stands, she doesn’t have an IV. There’s a janitor in the hallway who sees a patient shambling feverishly and does nothing (a big no-no in every medical facility I’ve worked in), and BAM, Buffy wanders into a flashback.

A little girl who is supposed to be Buffy, but who looks nothing like Buffy at all.

Is this a flashback from someone else’s life? Because they couldn’t have gotten a kid who looks less like she could grow up to be Sarah Michelle Gellar if they tried.

Anyway, the whole “seeing the creepy dude and getting out of bed thing” was just a dream. Buffy wakes up,  and this time she actually does have an IV, which she pulls out because, you know, what ever, who needs fluids when they’re hospitalized for the flu? This time when she shambles feverishly from her room, past the janitor who does nothing, there’s this dude lurking creepily:

Security guard lurking creepily in the hallway like some kind of weird pervert.

And he’s a security guard, so that puts me right at ease.

As Buffy makes her way through the hospital, visibly confused and sweaty, dressed in a hospital gown and a robe, she passes two orderlies pushing a covered body on a gurney. One of them remarks that they hate to lose the young ones. Okay, but there’s a teenage girl who is clearly a patient wandering the halls in the middle of the night. Maybe you want to stop and do something about that?

This hospital is another place where Sunnydale is racking up points in the #8 column like whoa.

Buffy stumbles upon a hushed conversation between two doctors, who are arguing over whether or not a treatment they’re using is safe or effective. When Buffy turns around, two little kids (one of them the boy she’d seen in the hallway) are waiting for her. The little boy says:

Little Boy: “He comes at night. The grownups don’t see him. He was with Tina. He’ll come back for us.”

Buffy asks the boy who he’s talking about, and he tells her it’s death.

Cut to the waiting room, where Xander is sitting, probably on guard in case Angel comes, because that’s exactly what happens. Angel saunters in with a bouquet of roses, and Xander gets in his face and tells him visiting hours are over:

Xander: “Why don’t you come back during the day. Oh, gee, no. I guess you can’t.”

Angel asks if Xander thinks he can stop him, and Xander is pretty realistic about it. But he points out that cops, security guards, and orderlies are all around and would probably notice some shit like a vampire tearing a person to pieces. Angel decides to go another route, taunting Xander about the fact that he still loves Buffy, but Angel got in her pants. Xander doesn’t take the bait, and Angel leaves.

This is a scene where I really love Xander. He knows full well that Angel could kill him, even with all of these people around, but he protects Buffy anyway. And that’s not because he’s trying to prove himself to her. None of the other Scoobies are there to see the confrontation, so there’s no one to tally the points. His only interest is in protecting Buffy the way she has protected him over and over again, and that interest is totally selfless. Congrats on the character growth, Xander.

In another flashback, Buffy is playing superhero with her cousin. That’s a nice touch, that Buffy played at being a superhero before she was one. It’s a scene that’s meant to show us that she was close to her cousin, but it does double duty here. While the writers could have easily reinforced Buffy’s desire for a “normal” life by showing her playing house or something, they show us that deep down, Buffy has always had this heroic instinct.

I bet if Buffy hadn’t been a Slayer, she would have grown up to be a firefighter. Can you imagine present-day Sarah Michelle Gellar all muscular and wearing fire fighter gear? Like, maybe just the pants, not the jacket. But with the suspenders. And a really tight tank top. And she’s sweaty and dirty because she’s just been saving lives, and it’s really hot and she’s pouring a bottle of water over her head.

That’s just something I think about sometimes.

Anyway, the flashback cuts to her seeing her cousin Celia lying in a hospital bed, then Buffy wakes up, and she’s wearing like, all the jewelry in the world:

Buffy, with four rings on her fingers.

Even though you can’t see it in this shot, she’s also got on a necklace and earrings. Maybe all hospitals have different policies, but the one I worked at (and was once hospitalized in) would have taken her jewelry and sent it home with Joyce. Why? Because people accuse nurses of stealing shit literally all the time, and it makes everyone’s life easier if that stuff goes home.

One of the doctors from the argument the night before, the one who was stridently anti-nefarious-treatment, is there to check on Buffy. She’s amazed to find that all of the injuries Buffy sustained while fighting Angel are healed. Buffy can’t go home yet, because the virus she has is a bad one. She asks the doctor if it’s the same thing all the children have, but she doesn’t answer, and that’s when the Scoobies show up anyway.

Okay, I’m dying to know if a certain bit of dialogued here is ad-libbed. Xander comes in carrying balloons, and this happens:

Xander: “Flowers for milady.”

Buffy: “I think they call those balloons.”

Xander: “Yeah, stick them in water, maybe they’ll grow.”

The reason I wonder if it’s ad-libbed is because after he says it, there’s a weird pause where no one says anything before Buffy points out that they’re balloons.

Also, I would be wholly remiss if I didn’t point out that Xander is a “Milady” guy. #5 just got to a whole new level.

Willow brought Buffy some homework, but Buffy isn’t as excited about it as Willow is. Buffy wanted chocolate. Then Willow mentions casually that she’s already done all the homework. Willow is a good friend. Giles brought grapes. Cordelia brought nothing, but here’s the thing: she’s actually angry that she showed up without a gift while everyone else brought something. That means that Cordelia actually cares about Buffy’s feelings and is upset when it seems as though she cares less than the others. Cordelia is also growing!

Everybody goes for a walk, where Buffy fills them in on what happened the night before. She tells them everything, from the sick kids being experimented on to the scary hallway corpse man, and the whole thing about the kids seeing Death. And Cordelia proves super insightful, out of the blue:

Cordelia: “So this isn’t about you being afraid of hospitals ’cause your friend died and you want to conjure up a monster that you can fight so you can save everybody and not feel so helpless?”

Giles: “Cordelia, have you actually ever heard of tact?”

Cordelia: “Tact is just not saying true stuff. I’ll pass.”

Nothing Cordelia is saying here is wrong. Even though we know that since it’s a monster show, Buffy is totally not making it up, Cordy delivers that very possible scenario like a pro. And don’t we all wish we could be like her, just saying everything that came to mind, just because?

Buffy wants to check it out more, but since she’s still sick, she can’t really make with the Mystery Machine. Instead, Xander and Cordelia have to sneak through the hospital’s records and find out what the little girl died from the night before. They go to a room full of cabinets with manilla folders in them. They start poking around and are promptly caught by a guard.

You know what would have probably worked better? If they’d sent Willow in to hack the hospital’s computers. This is a really interesting part, and let me tell you why. You may or may not recall that there was this really odd period of time in the late 90’s, early 00’s where a lot of stuff was becoming the domain of the computer, but other things still hadn’t quite caught up. Fiction is one of these places. See, take Sunnydale High’s library, for instance. It still has a card catalogue. But at the time, a lot of high schools had their catalogs on local computer data bases. The computer is only used at times when it’s convenient to the plot; they need Xander and Cordelia to be caught by a security guard so that they can have a big, jealous confrontation later, so no one thinks to even check the hospital’s computer system (which I guarantee they have in 1997). The same stuff goes down in season five, after Willow digitizes all of Giles’s Watcher books. They never look anything up on the computer after that happens, and the entire “scanned books” thing never really comes up ever again. They all need something to do in the Eureka! expositions scenes, and a nice round table full of books is way more interesting than Willow sitting at a computer and reading things off. So, welcome to #25: Technology is used inconsistently as per its convenience in the script.

Back at the library, Giles isn’t that excited about the idea of researching the whole “kids seeing death” thing. He thinks Cordelia has a point; with Jenny’s recent death, Buffy might be looking for a way to defeat the very concept of mortality. Willow points out that they still live on the Hellmouth, and therefore they should look into all the possibilities. They try to remember if they’ve ever heard of a monster that only children can see. Giles suggests that maybe what’s happening is that the children are seeing an adult’s true self. You know, just like the episode with the little league kid in season one.

It’s weird how they forgot about that.

Willow and Giles decide to look up doctor Backer, the dude behind the experimental treatments.

Back at the hospital, Cordelia is flirting with the security guard in order to distract him while Xander sneaks out. And while she is, admittedly, all the fuck over this dude, calling him sexy and brave and shit, she’s doing it so Xander can sneak out. When she meets up with him later, he’s pretty friggin’ ungrateful, considering that his girlfriend just had to invite unwanted advances and shit to save his ass. She asks him if he’s jealous, and he denies it. He tells her to take the file they stole to Giles, and she asks why Xander isn’t coming:

Cordelia: “Oh right, your obsession with protecting Buffy. Have I told you how attractive that’s not?”

Xander: “Cordelia, someone’s got to watch her back.”

Cordelia: “Yeah, well I’ve seen you watch her back.”

Xander: “What’s that supposed to mean?”

Cordelia: “Well, I was using the phrase ‘watch her back’ as a euphemism for looking at her butt. You know, sort of a pun.”

In this scene, Cordelia is both clearly pleased that she’s made Xander jealous, and still unhappy that her boyfriend is in love with someone else. Charisma Carpenter is underrated as an actress. This scene is flawless, and it’s not the writing. I mean, as far as dialogue and story goes, this is probably the weakest episode of the season. But she manages to say so much about her character in the few lines she has in this scene that it’s god damn breathtaking.

Like, imagine if she were wearing the fire fighter outfit, okay? And like, maybe she and SMG fire fighter are stripping off their gear back at the fire house. Maybe somebody gets pushed up against the truck, you know? Or accidentally gets their hands tied above their heads to the pole. And CC fire fighter has a really butch haircut, like maybe half her head buzzed or something.

Look, if this episode were more interesting, I wouldn’t have to be writing hardcore girl-on-girl fire fighter erotica in my head, okay?

Later that night, Buffy is free roaming the hospital without any questions asked of her (Sunnydale General, what the fuck?) where she finds the little boy who said the creepy death thing. He’s doing some late night coloring, and he’s drawing a picture of the exact scary guy Buffy saw in her dream. She promises the kid that she’ll protect all of them, because she fights monsters. And then the kid goes:

Little Boy: “You can’t fight Death.”

That’s a fucking solid line to have a kid deliver.

Back at the library, Willow is all sorts of hacked into the hospital’s personnel files. Hey! The hospital has computer files. Which means the scene that we just saw with Cordelia and Xander was completely manufactured just to fill time and give them something to do! In reality, the conversation should have gone something like this: “We can sneak into the records and steal the file!” “No, that’s a bad idea, why don’t we just have Willow hack it?” “Hey, that’s much better, this way no one will get caught.” SCENE. So, like I said before: #25.

Doctor Backer has some dubious charges on his file:

Willow's laptop screen, displaying Dr. Backer's records, which I will detail below.

 

If you can’t read the stuff on that screen, this is what’s in his file:

  • Reprimands for controversial experiments
  • Censure for risky procedures
  • Court actions: malpractice suit
  • Abuse of laboratory services
  • Improper use of NIH funds
  • State board ethics violations: cloning
  • DEA investigations schedule IV drug abuses.

My first reaction to this list was “Wow, all that and only one malpractice suit?” my second was, “How the fuck is this guy still employed? How has he not lost his license.” Seriously, I realize they had to make him look like a bad guy, but this dick is a super villain. And it’s beyond unrealistic; a doctor at a small local hospital is somehow going to have access to cloning experiments?

The class IV drug abuses? That’s a pretty legit charge. Those are less seriously addictive than stuff like Oxy or Vicodin, but it’s stuff that still gets abused. Xanax, for example, Versed, Valium, a lot of benzos are classed IV, and a lot of people abuse those.

Anyway, this dude should not still be employed. #8, Sunnydale. Get your shit together.

Dr. Backer is in his office, reading something that was clearly printed on a dot matrix printer. Man, those were something. He’s really intense about his work, muttering to himself and all.

Xander is still at the hospital waiting, and Cordelia returns with donuts and coffee for him, but she doesn’t say anything. And he doesn’t even thank her for the donuts, because apparently Krispy Kreme doesn’t fix emotional wounds in the Buffyverse.

That’s possibly the most unrealistic thing on the show. Even beyond the vampires.

Buffy, again, still just roaming around the hospital with her deadly illness, follows Dr. Backer into the pediatric ward, where he injects something into a kid’s IV. He hears an ominous giggle, then he’s attacked by something he can’t see:

Dr. Backer's lab coat, with bloody claw marks through it.

As the little boy from before (does he have a name? I’ve never caught his name watching this) watches, the invisible thing shreds Dr. Backer and throws him into the hallway. Invisible thing shoves Buffy into a wall and drags Dr. Backer’s lifeless, bloodied corpse down the hallway and into a commercial break.

The next morning, the Scoobies come back. Giles tells Buffy that Tina, the dead girl, died from her fever, but only after showing improvement. They also tell Buffy about Dr. Backer’s dubious professional record:

Buffy: “It wasn’t Backer. He was clean.”

Cordelia: “What do you mean ‘clean’?”

Xander: “What do you mean ‘was’?”

Buffy tells them what happened, and shows them the drawing the little boy made:

A crayon drawing of a creepy big-headed guy with lots of lower jaw teeth, a crooked nose, and white eyes.

and then Giles asks:

Giles: “This is your work?”

Buffy: “No. One of the kids.”

Buffy looking thoroughly insulted.

I love how disgusted Buffy looks at the idea that she only draws as good as a child. What’s even funnier is that Giles sounds impressed by the drawing. In season four and season seven we see how shabby Giles’s art skills are, so he might have actually been thinking, “Wow, this is a really good crayon drawing of a monster. Way to go, Buffy.”

PS. this is what I would call character continuity.

Giles wonders why only the children can see the monster, but Cordelia points out that Buffy saw it. Buffy says she was delirious from her fever, and they’re almost there with the conclusion they’ll inevitably come to, but Joyce arrives, stopping all the action.

Joyce: “Ooh, looks like I interrupted a secret meeting.”

Cordelia: “You sure didn’t!”

Joyce tells Buffy that the doctor is going to discharge her, but Buffy has to stay because, you know. Child murdering monster. They all convince Joyce that Buffy isn’t well enough to go home, and after Joyce leaves, they go back into planning mode. Giles is going to try to find the monster in his books, using the drawing as a guide. Buffy is going to sneak around Dr. Backer’s office, because why not, nobody notices patients doing anything they’re not supposed to in this hospital, anyway. She mentions that she won’t know what she’s looking for, and asks Willow for help:

Buffy: “Course if I find anything I won’t know what it means so…Will?”

Willow: “Oh yeah, I’m good at medical stuff. Xander and I used to play doctor all the time.”

I don’t know how international the phrase “play doctor” is, so just to briefly explain, it’s a euphemism for mild sexual exploration in young children of the same age group. Or that’s what we say it is, but I guess I was out of the loop, because when I played doctor with kids my age, we always did surgery. Vague, nebulous sort of surgeries where we would lay on the ground and pull up our shirts and stick out our tummies while someone else pretended to cut us open. I don’t remember any touchy naughty stuff going on.

Anyway, that was apparently Willow and Xander’s experience, too. Xander explains that their version of doctor involved Willow diagnosing him with random diseases. Which, okay. Hang on. We know that Willow is smart. We know that she’s good with computers and school. But how is she “good at medical stuff?” It’s not like medicine is something you just pick up by being smart.

Once again, Xander and is going to stay at the hospital to watch out for Angel, and he tells Cordelia to go with Giles to the library. Giles whines about having to take Cordelia with him, right in front of her, which isn’t very nice, Giles. You’re better than this.

Later that night, the little boy is trying to sneak out of his room, but hides when a security guard comes. Meanwhile, Buffy and Willow are breaking into Doctor Backer’s office. They find his research on the kids, and he wasn’t doing anything sinister. He was just trying to raise the children’s temperatures to burn the sickness out of them. Whatever the monster is, it stopped him from doing that.

Back at the library, Cordelia is annoying the everliving fuck out of Giles as they look through a bunch of books:

Cordelia: “Ew. What does this do?”

Giles: “What?”

Cordelia: “What does this do?”

Giles: “Uh..it uh, extracts vital organs to replenish its own mutating cells.”

Cordelia: “Wow. What does this one do?”

Giles: “Um, it elongates its mouth to, uh, engulf its victims head with its incisors.”

Cordelia: “Ouch. Wait, what does this one do?”

Giles: “It asks endless questions of those with whom it’s supposed to be working so that nothing is getting done.”

Cordelia: “Boy, there’s a demon for everything.”

I like this scene, not just because it’s always fun to see Giles get so frustrated with the teens that he’s on the verge of losing his damn mind, but because it shows us that Cordelia is starting to become more fully integrated into the group. In the past, she’s said she doesn’t want anything to do with all the monster nonsense, but here she’s curious and eager to learn. Maybe if there wasn’t a time limit having to do with dead kids hanging over their heads, Giles wouldn’t be so frustrated about it, but I’m glad that he is, because he plays with his hair and I’m a big fan of that.

Giles says that their research could be hopeless, since only a few people know what the monster looks like. Disheartened, Cordelia closes the book she’s been reading and boom:

The cover of the book, with the exact monster they're looking for painted on it.

 

Cordelia calls Buffy and tells her that the monster is der Kindestod, or “child death.” But Buffy doesn’t want to talk to Cordelia, she wants to talk to Giles. Cordelia asserts that she found the monster, and she knows the details. Cordy is getting treated pretty badly by this episode. First, she has to flirt with a gross security guard to save Xander’s bacon, then he treats her like shit for doing that. Then Giles is like, why do I have to take Cordelia with me, and now Buffy is like, hey, you’re too dumb to regurgitate what you just read in that book.

I’m glad she’s sticking up for herself.

Cordelia explains to Buffy that der Kindestod sucks the life out of the children and makes it look like they were sick all along. Der Kindestod killed Dr. Backer because he was interrupting the food source. When Giles shows Cordelia a picture of what it looks like when the monster feeds, she freaks out and wants to know why they “drag” her into their monster fighting. But we already know from the previous scene that deep down, she secretly likes it.

Der Kindestod sits on its victim and immobilizes them. Giles editorializes that it’s pretty terrifying, which, thanks, Giles. We all need to imagine little sick kids dying in terror. Buffy didn’t really need to imagine it, either, because she has experience with the monster, herself. She flashes back to the day her cousin Celia died:

Celia in her hospital bed, screaming, with her hands up as though she's trying to push something away

 

So, Buffy knows exactly what’s up with der Kindestod.

Buffy realizes that the only way she can see the monster is by having a high fever. She and Willow sneak into Dr. Backer’s office again. They find the virus just sitting in there in a refrigerator. Like, literally, a refrigerator. There’s a bottled water in there. Buffy’s about to chug a vial of sickness, when Willow stops her and says its 100% pure and will kill her instantly. How did Willow know this, and why would a 100% potent and alive disease be stored in a refrigerator in someone’s apparently easy-to-break-into office? What is this nonsense?

Willow says she needs to dilute the disease, so she grabs the bottled water and puts a few drops of the virus into it. Are you serious with this?

Buffy immediately develops the sickness and can suddenly see der Kindestod, but the kids are missing. They’re running through some kind of utility corridor, because the unlocked door to the hospital basement is in the pediatric ward.

This episode is high in the running for “stupidest Buffy episode ever”. Maybe when I reach the end of these recaps in ten years, I’ll do a definitive ranking of the worst ones. This will be near the top.

For the first time since Buffy has been admitted to the hospital, someone notices that she’s roaming the halls. This time, it’s her doctor, who tries to get her back to bed. But Buffy shoves her aside and makes a run for it, while the doctor calls for security. When the security guards come, Willow pretends to be hallucinating, screaming about frogs all over her. This gives Buffy a chance to run away and find Xander in the waiting room. She tells him they need to get to the basement.

Cut to the basement. The kids are sneaking around, trying to hide from the monster, but he finds them and HOLY FUCKING CHRIST WHY WOULD ANYONE THINK THIS THING UP?!

kindestod

Buffy rushes in and saves the kid, and proves she’s not too ill to pun:

Buffy: “You make me sick.”

Get it? Because hospital.

Xander gets the kids to safety while Buffy fights the monster. But how are you actually going to kill death? Xander just sees Buffy fighting nothing, but nothing throws her down and tries to pull his weird eye sucker thing on her, but she snaps his neck and he’s dead.

That’s it. That’s all Buffy has to do to kill this big bad monster that eats children and nobody can see. She just has to break his neck after a very short fight scene.

The next scene opens with Joyce bringing Buffy a sandwich and some juice. Then the shot pans out to reveal Xander laying next to her on the bed, and Willow sitting beside it.

Let me talk a minute about the whole “platonic friends can lay around in bed together” thing. Platonic friends? Can absolutely lay around in bed together. But Xander is doing this even though he A) has feelings that aren’t platonic for Buffy, and B) knows that his absent girlfriend would be extremely uncomfortable with him doing so. #5, Xander. If the grass is greener across the fence from Cordelia, it’s time to break up with her, rather than waiting for something better to come along.

The kids all make demands of Joyce like she’s a waitress, which she is very patient about, and then she remembers that Buffy has some mail. It’s from Ryan, the boy from the hospital. Is this the first time we’re hearing his name? I can’t remember and I’m not going to go rewatch this one to find out. Buffy opens the envelope to reveal a picture he’s drawn for her:

A crayon drawing of Buffy standing above the half-decapitated corpse of der Kindestod

Joyce: “Oh, he drew you a picture. How…nice.”

Okay, let me level with you: I don’t like this episode. Not because it’s poorly written, not because kids die, not because it’s super boring and formulaic. I mean, it is all of those things. But I dislike it because it does not live up to the promise of “Passion,” its predecessor, nor can it hold a candle to “I Only Have Eyes For You,” its successor. This was a run-of-the-mill monster-of-the-week episode that would have been grea earlier in the season (minus the infuriatingly inaccurate medical science parts), but feels like filler here. The only thing I really enjoy about this episode is the character development we see from Cordelia, and Charisma Carpenter’s spot-on delivery.

But the next episode is one of my favorites and I can’t wait to write about it and tell you how awesome it is. Unless it’s not as awesome upon rewatch and I end up eating a pint of ice cream and crying about the unfairness of nostalgia.

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38 Comments

  1. Sarah P.
    Sarah P.

    I’m really terrified of reading these, because I absolutely adore Buffy and I don’t know if I can handle having all of it’s warts pointed out to me. But the thing about BTVS is that even in the absolute worst episodes of all time – and I’m looking at you, Where the Wild Things Are (and of all the unforgivable things Joss Whedon has done using the title of my favorite children’s book for this episode is probably the worst) – there’s still something awesome enough about it that I find myself watching it again anyway.

    In Where the Wild Things Are, it’s Giles singing. In case you weren’t sure.

    July 24, 2015
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    • Sarah P.
      Sarah P.

      p.s. I’m kicking myself for putting an apostrophe in “its warts”. Because I know better and because it’s one of my biggest pet peeves.

      July 25, 2015
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  2. Melodie
    Melodie

    “I don’t know how international the phrase “play doctor” is, so just to briefly explain, it’s a euphemism for mild sexual exploration in young children of the same age group. Or that’s what we say it is, but I guess I was out of the loop, because when I played doctor with kids my age, we always did surgery. Vague, nebulous sort of surgeries where we would lay on the ground and pull up our shirts and stick out our tummies while someone else pretended to cut us open. I don’t remember any touchy naughty stuff going on.”

    Thank you! This has always bugged me. I had a best friend who was a boy when I was little too and we never played doctor that way. If I did play doctor it was because I had a little fisher price doctor’s kit with a stethoscope, needle, ear/eye looker thing, and blood pressure detector and I’d use it on my stuffed animals. Mainly the stethoscope because that was my favourite, I’d use it to listen to my mother’s heart beat sometimes because that one actually did kind of work whereas the others were just for show.

    Anyway, my point is that when I heard that “playing doctor” was this supposed universal phrase for “checking each other’s naked bodies/private parts out” I was absolutely confused. I never got that inclination as a child.

    July 24, 2015
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    • Ilex
      Ilex

      Me, too, about “playing doctor.” I also learned the euphemism as an adult.

      Where would most kids even get the idea that playing doctor would mean sexual exploration? My childhood doctor certainly never wanted to look at my privates (even when I got a yeast infection as a teen, he let me just describe the symptoms and then prescribed medication, back in the bad old days before it was available OTC). So is “playing doctor” a phrase adults use to describe curious children — but children don’t use it?

      July 25, 2015
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    • Meaghen
      Meaghen

      TBH, I think it’s more one of those things everyone says rather than does. Like it’s so easily made into a euphemism that the common turn of speech is to use it as one.

      July 25, 2015
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      • Alison
        Alison

        Ummmm… I totally played doctor with my friends. Like, looking at each other naked and stuff. Only with my girl friends, though.

        July 26, 2015
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  3. Chelsie
    Chelsie

    I forgot about this episode because it was so bland the first time around. Writing these recaps must be extra-fun when the episode is a good one, and an extra-drag when it’s a bad one. Thank you for soldiering on!

    I don’t understand why Buffy’s superpowers don’t protect her from the flu. If she can heal very quickly, then her body ought to be able to kick a virus’ ass quickly too, right?

    July 24, 2015
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  4. Kelsey
    Kelsey

    Fun Buffy Trivia:

    First, this episode was originally supposed to be in season 1. Then they wanted to put it in before Angel went bad. So… you’re not wrong about the awkward timing of it.

    Second, Joss Whedon designed the monster himself, either as a combination of Freddy Krueger, Nosferatu, and the boogeyman, or “based on a ‘this thing creeped me out as a kid’ thing'” (conflicting sources).

    July 24, 2015
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  5. Huh, I always liked this episode. Partly because the Kindertod is a creepy monster, but mostly because the whole thing has a bit of a fever-dream feel to it that I like in horror.

    You are spot on about all the problems with the writing though, as always!

    Also: “Uh..it uh, extracts vital organs to replenish its own mutating cells.” So it’s an X-Files monster of the week?

    July 24, 2015
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  6. Alison
    Alison

    There’s also character continuity with Willow pretending to hallucinate frogs. In a later episode, we see her talking in her sleep about tadpoles, and there’s another episode where she says something about being afraid of frogs.

    July 24, 2015
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  7. Em
    Em

    I agree that this feels like a filler episode. Maybe if it had been at any other point in the show, and not in the middle of the whole Evil!Angel arc it would have felt a bit better. If nothing else, that monster is incredibly creepy though.

    And um… Am I the only one who suddenly wants to read a firefighter story?

    July 24, 2015
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    • Amber
      Amber

      No. No you aren’t.

      *fans self*

      July 24, 2015
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    • Lieke
      Lieke

      Nope. Me too.

      July 26, 2015
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  8. X.
    X.

    Whenever I played doctor as a kid, too, it was exactly that: pretending to be a doctor, like with a fake stethoscope and diagnosing outlandish illnesses and pretending to do dramatic surgeries and stuff. I never heard that euphemism until I was in college.

    July 24, 2015
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  9. Laina
    Laina

    I… actually really love this episode. *shrugs*

    I once had the worst fever of my life (like, my head was splitting apart, couldn’t stop shaking, threw up in my hair when I started crying, just it was bad) and it was the day before Halloween, and Monster House was on and I had my TV on.

    I don’t know WHAT I dreamed/hallucinated, but that movie still freaks me out.

    July 24, 2015
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  10. MrsArkban
    MrsArkban

    I think I prefer your hardcore girl-on-girl fire fighter erotica too, but that’s because der Kindestod freaks me out (and now that I have kids, I’m even more freaked out).

    Kelsey: that explains why this one always felt so random to me

    July 24, 2015
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  11. MrsArkban
    MrsArkban

    I wold also prefer to read your hardcore girl-on-girl fire fighter erotica. I mean, who wouldn’t want to read that?

    But der Kindestod freaks me the fuck out and that was before I had kids of my own.

    Kelsey: that explains the random feel I always thought this had

    July 24, 2015
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  12. Noma9
    Noma9

    This episode gets me all panicky. The way that der Kindestod does his thing reminds me a lot of sleep paralysis, which is something I struggled with constantly as a child and teen. The heaviness, the fear, the hallucinations–all part of sleep paralysis. Do not like.

    July 25, 2015
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  13. Laura
    Laura

    ”You may or may not recall that there was this really odd period of time in the late 90′s, early 00′s where a lot of stuff was becoming the domain of the computer, but other things still hadn’t quite caught up.”

    Fun fact: electronic medical records were one of those things that weren’t caught up at that time. It may very well be that the hospital had computers for employees to use for research, a hospital website, even software for billing, schedules, and staffing, but patients’ charts? Probably not. Healthcare (the patient facing side anyway) was really slow to jump on the IT bandwagon for a lot of reasons I won’t bore you with, but it actually doesn’t strike me as odd that they had to dig through paper charts to find COD but didn’t have to in order to find an employee file. Even if the doctors were typing/dictating their notes, they were probably printing them out as a physical copy that got stored in a physical chart.

    There are still hospitals today that haven’t fully integrated computers and use paper charting for part, or all, of their main record keeping. Granted the ones with no electronic charting are quickly becoming much fewer and further between.

    But that’s the only thing I’ll add in defense of this episode. The tech use as it’s convient is still an issue in BTVS overall – kind of like Buffy’s strength/slayer “powers” being flexible to make her weak when needed. Good point Chelsie. And despite Buffy’s supposedly great immune system she’s the ONLY one who gets sick!? All the normal folks got exposed to her and the kids and not one of them caught it? I call shenanigans.

    And holy crap, #3 and #8 on that photo only meriting a “How… nice.” The Scoobies are excluded cause they know what it’s about, but anyone not in the know? A kid drawing that picture would raise a BIG red flag on their psychological well being. Not only should Joyce be worried that that drawing got sent to her kid, but I imagine universal momness would have her worried for the kid that drew it as well. That shit needs to be reported to someone! And who helped that kid mail it!? Why didn’t they question the subject matter!? WTF Sunnydale?

    July 25, 2015
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  14. H2
    H2

    The ‘creepy security guard’ is Willie Garson – who is far less creepy as Mozzie over on White Collar. =)

    I would definitely slot this one near the bottom of my BtVS episode ranking list.

    July 25, 2015
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    • I would definitely read crossover fanfic in which young Mozzie was running a scheme on the gullible citizens of Sunnydale to raise a stake to make it to New York… 😀

      July 26, 2015
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  15. And now I really, really want you to write a hardcore lesbian firefighter romance.

    July 25, 2015
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    • elsa
      elsa

      It would make a great meta-story if it was written as a book that Sophie and/or Neil were reading in one of The Boss books…

      July 25, 2015
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  16. Jo
    Jo

    I join everyone saying they want to read the girl-on-girl firefighter porn.

    This episode frustrates me because it could have spent a lot less time on Cordelia and Xander’s relationship’s issues (which I believe have been more than sufficiently established by this point) and more on the creepy monster they spent so much time building up. You already brought up how anti-climatic that fighting scene felt, and I think it could’ve greatly been improved if, for example, the Kidestod could only be killed by a certain weapon and we’d have Giles and Cordelia rushing to the hospital to give it to Buffy. It would have added to the tension.

    Also, could have meant more Buffy and Cordy interaction and therefore more fodder for the Lesbian Firefighters AU fic.

    July 25, 2015
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  17. Ilex
    Ilex

    Also, Jen, I am all for you tracking down the MS Word programmers and slashing all their tires. I loved Word 2003. But since being forced onto Word 2010 at work, I do nothing but curse the crap programming every day. And I can only assume that whatever the next “upgrade” is will only be worse.

    July 25, 2015
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  18. Jane
    Jane

    I still think Inca Mummy Girl is the worst of Season 2, but this does come pretty close. I think Killed By Death’s placement is worse, but at least the gang is less profoundly stupid.

    Are you no longer updating the Big Damn Buffy Rewatch episode page? http://jennytrout.com/?page_id=5723 There’s nothing listed there after Bad Eggs, so it’s fairly difficult to find your Buffy recaps after that one.

    I am unreasonably excited for I Only Have Eyes For You, because that is easily one of my favorite Buffy episodes.

    July 25, 2015
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    • JennyTrout
      JennyTrout

      I’m still updating it. I’m just lazy af.

      July 25, 2015
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  19. Anon123
    Anon123

    “She alone wants to track down whoever is responsible for programming Microsoft Word and slash their tires.”

    Jenny, you don’t have to be alone in this anymore! If this is your calling, I’ll be your first Scoobie!

    As for, “Look, if this episode were more interesting, I wouldn’t have to be writing hardcore girl-on-girl fire fighter erotica in my head, okay?”…

    I actually found this episode really creepy and at times, pretty funny, too. I jumped into Buffy where your recaps left off a couple months back, and this episode was the first to give me any real feels of any kind. But I also like the firefighters, so carry on. 😉

    You’re not wrong about those Krispy Kremes, though.

    July 25, 2015
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  20. Meredith
    Meredith

    In Xander’s defense, there were the three of them lying in bed watching tv with the door open with Joyce coming in and out. Not that he doesn’t display Nice Guy qualities, but I don’t think this is one of them.

    July 25, 2015
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  21. What I liked about this episode is that it’s one of few episodes in American TV which not only uses German words but gets them right. Like, I was really annoyed by “das Sound Machine” in Pitch Perfect II because that’s the wrong article and you only have to ask one German-speaking person to clear that up?? In this Buffy episode, the story doesn’t even hinge on me believing that anyone is really German, and it’s still better at German grammar. Thumbs up. (Arguably, “Kindestod” sounds slightly old-fashioned and you’d shorten it to “Kindstod”, but it’s not wrong. Also it’s from an old-timey book so there.)

    July 26, 2015
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    • Lia
      Lia

      In defense of “Das Sound Machine” yes the correct German article would be “die” but read that from an English speaker point of view, it would totally be like “Stirb Sound Machine”. In my opinion they deliberately took the false German article.

      July 27, 2015
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      • I don’t agree because a) you rarely, if ever, see it written down and it’s not a problem if you pronounce it correctly (that is “dee”, not “die”) and b) they could have chosen to call it “the Sound Machine” or the [whatever sounds German to American ears]. Buuut all of that is only a minor point because that mid-nineties goth/Rammstein attire was really weird (weird as in: no one wears stuff like that today, not even gothics). In other words, they would have had to change a lot to make the “Germans” convincing.

        July 27, 2015
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    • Vivi
      Vivi

      Oh, very much agreed. Can we get the script-editor responsible for checking the gratuitous German on Buffy on the writing team for “Grimm”, pretty please? Half of the monsters there have German names, and most of them are grammatically wrong, to say nothing of the actors’ butchering of the pronounciation (excepting one or two expat actors in minor roles).

      August 5, 2015
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  22. Quint&Jessel, Sea of Azof, Bly, UK
    Quint&Jessel, Sea of Azof, Bly, UK

    I dunno, Jenny, AFA hospitals keeping track of patients. After one surgery, I was being wheeled up to my room, but the attendant stopped to wander off a little ways and chat with a nurse. I got tired of lying on the cot-thing, and got up and walked (holding my IV) to my room and got into bed. A bit later, I heard a commotion down the hall and vaguely wondered what it was. After a couple of minutes, the attendant and the nurse burst into my room, stopped short (Thank you, Frank!), and one of them said, “Oh, God, there you are!”

    So, you know. Couldn’t keep track of a patient out of the OR.

    July 26, 2015
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  23. Courtney
    Courtney

    Funny story– when I was a kid my parents used to play Dr. Mario, a videogame, pretty regularly. One night a friend’s mom was driving me home and when we pulled up to the house it was pretty dark, but I could see that the TV was on and that my parents were playing Nintendo. My friend’s mom asked me, “hmm, are your parents home?” I said, “Oh yeah, they’re just in the living room playing Doctor.” And I got out of the car without paying any attention to her dumbfounded expression.

    July 27, 2015
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  24. Goldberry
    Goldberry

    I’m so excited I just caught up with you on watching these! It is going to make this show so much better…

    July 31, 2015
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  25. I, um, also played “Doctor” as a kid by…cracking out the Fisher Price doctor kit and like, doling out plastic band-aids and stuff. If my friends were playing a different version of “Doctor,” they definitely weren’t playing it with me.

    September 22, 2015
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  26. Sten
    Sten

    More muscled up girl-on-girl kinky firefighter action would make me the happiest. The very happiest.

    October 10, 2015
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