In the eighteenth episode of the second season of Buffy The Vampire Slayer, a flu virus puts Buffy in the hospital, where she must deal with her own phobia of the place while battling an invisible demon. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Buffy.
I really love single-setting thrillers and horror movies. There’s something about using every detail in a solitary place for maximum terror, so it was a pleasure to see Buffy have an episode that takes place in a hospital. It’s a common setting trope for horror because for a lot of us, it’s an inherently spooky place. I don’t have a fear of them like Buffy does in this episode, but I definitely don’t like them. I have some negative memories associated with them from when my mother had lung cancer, and when other friends spend extended lengths of time in them. But what “Killed By Death” does effectively is use the numerous corridors and the contrasting light and darkness to give us a story that is especially disturbing after “Passion.”
Death is on our minds. It’s on the minds of all the characters. And for an episode that’s only loosely serial when compared to the others, this story fits in well after the death of Jenny Calendar. It’s like a constant reminder to Buffy (as Giles points out) that death is the one thing that Buffy can’t really stop. (Ugh my heart shattered when he said that.) Like Giles, this story also has a very personal spin for herself. In this case, we learn in flashback that Buffy lost her cousin while she was in a hospital, and it’s a traumatizing moment for her. (Also: BUFFY AS A CHILD OMG!!!!) Of course, there’s another reason for Buffy to hate being confined to a bed: Angel is becoming desperate to kill her.
I just love how there are so many factors going into the motivations of the characters here and the episode never feels convoluted. Plus, for an episode about a demon who eats children’s souls, there are a lot of genuinely funny bits of dialogue from all the characters, Cordelia in particular. Still, this is an unsettling story, and I was 100% creeped out when that demon first walks by Buffy’s room. WHAT IS THAT THING. WHY IS ITS MOUTH SO HIDEOUS OH MY GOD. As we learn more about it, particularly the detail that only children can see it, I actually tried to figure this episode out. At first, I thought the security guard was actually the demon, that Dr. Backer was just a red herring. (Also, Willie Garson is in one of my favorite episodes of The X-Files, “The Goldberg Variation.”) Truthfully, I never suspected the doctor once. SEE I AM STARTING TO CATCH ON, I SWEAR.
While I did like the episode, some of it just wasn’t that interesting to me. The threat of Angel basically disappeared by about the halfway mark, though I did like Xander’s little face-to-face moment with Angel. See, Xander, this is how you defend Buffy and make me feel all fluffy inside at the same time. I didn’t really get the entire flirting scene with the security; it only really existed to set up the conversation Cordelia and Xander have about one another’s jealousy. Which, for the record, is actually the best part of the whole episode. Ugh, I just love character development between these two! It was nice to see Cordelia call out Xander for his creepy obsession, and it was nice that Xander could (sort of) get Cordelia to admit that she likes him enough to even be jealous. It’s a step forward, isn’t it?
I suppose I wasn’t really into the episode until Dr. Backer was attacked. It is a brilliant choice not to show us the demon at all, to give us Buffy’s perspective and have an “invisible” attacker go after him. It’s actually done really well, and it’s horrifying. Plus, it was nice to get all of the fringe theories out of the way: this thing is real, Buffy has proof, and now they just need to go after it. This gives us another one of my favorite scenes from “Killed by Death”: Cordelia doing research with Giles. She straddles this line of being utterly oblivious and then being more honest than anyone else in the room. The ongoing joke about Cordelia’s tact (and lack of it) is both funny and such an accurate depiction of her character. Yes, she can be rude, presumptive, and mean, but she has this biting sense of reality that she’s not afraid to vocalize.
Oh, right, and then Buffy realizes that the Kindestod killed her friend. Holy awkward. Also, the child actors are really good at screaming in this episode, just so you know. Also, Willow pretending to have frogs all over her is brilliant. Also, I love you Willow.
Even at this point of the episode though, I would have rated this episode probably a B-. It was solid enough to be above average, but it was never fully creepy. The humorous moments were done well, and a story about a demon who kills children is kind of disturbing. Having Buffy willingly get herself sick in order to see a demon is kind of neat, too. It honestly took the Kindestod trying to feed on Ryan for me to just LOSE MY SHIT. What are its eyes doing? YOU DIDN’T TELL ME THAT WAS HOW IT FED. I DID NOT FUCKING SIGN UP FOR THIS SHIT, GET THAT SHIT OUT OF HERE. Sweet baby Buffy, that is seriously one of the most awful things I can imagine. WHY DO ITS EYES COME OUT OF THEIR SOCKETS SO HELP ME RIGHT NOW.
I don’t have a whole lot to say about this episode. It’s fun. It’s got a fantastic ending, with Joyce waiting on the three Scoobies, and that hilarious drawing that Ryan drew her. I don’t think this is groundbreaking television (and anything that came after “Passion” would suffer from that distinction), but I had a good time.