Buffyversed is a week by week, episode by episode, re-exploration of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Look for it every Friday on Goomba Stomp.
When it comes to a budget TV show that’s over 20 years old, modern viewers could certainly be forgiven for thinking the scare factor doesn’t really hold up. Heck, in a lot of cases they’re right, but “Killed By Death” is not one of them. Instead, it’s a genuinely chilling episode of television, anchored by a creepy premise, and some very imaginative creature design.
“Killed By Death” opens with a tired and achy Buffy patrolling the Sunnydale cemetery, as she so often does, only to be confronted by… her friends? Yep, this is the first time we see the Scooby gang out in full force, patrolling in Buffy’s stead. This will, of course, become a recurring notion as the series goes on, but it’s always fun to point out these little firsts.
Speaking of firsts, Buffy’s first love shows up to spoil the party in short order. Though her friends come to her aid, just before Angel manages to add another to his body count (RIP Jenny Calendar) Buffy passes out from exertion and finds herself in the hospital.
At this point it’s worth noting how sparingly a show like Buffy, with so much mortal peril, uses the hospital. It sets the hospital as a serious place, and makes the audience take it seriously when a character ends up there, unlike say, Smallville, a show where the line “so-and-so is lying in a hospital bed!” is spoken so regularly that it becomes a running joke.
Anyway, we’re getting off-point a touch, but that’s sort of all right, as this is kind of an off-point episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. That’s not to say that it’s bad, just that it sort of breaks from the mold of most of the episodes we’ve seen up until this point. Angel seems to be the central focus, then Buffy’s sickness takes precedent, and finally, we’re introduced to the monster-of-the-week about a third of the way into the episode.
So, who’s the monster then? Well, even though the kid-killing demon of “Killed By Death” is initially characterized as Death himself, it turns out he’s actually a creature called Der Kinderstod. In a premise that is not at all terrifying, and certainly didn’t keep the 12 year old version of this author up for nights on end, Der Kinderstod stalks hospitals at night and preys upon sickly children, literally sucking the life out of them as they rest.
However, Der Kinderstod is not the only monster to be worried about, as in the episodes best scene, Angel shows up to visit his ex-lover with some flowers. Here we have an all-time great moment for Xander, who manages to poker face Angel into leaving, after he threatens the vampire with all of the security forces the hospital can muster. The relief that Xander, and the audience, feels when Angel relents at last is palpable, and effective.
Getting back to the mainline, there’s a classic bait-and-switch with a suspicious doctor who always seems to be around when the sick kids bite it, and who seems to be trying an experimental flu therapy on them. Of course, the premise that he’s responsible goes out the window after he’s abruptly sliced and diced in the middle of the night by Der Kinderstod, who is actually kind of invisible, as if things weren’t bad enough.
Kind of, you say? Well, he’s only invisible to us normal folk. Ya see, if you’re feverish, or suffering from some other kind of body-trashing phenomena, you can totally watch him as he murders a fellow patient, or gets on top of you to draw your life force out while you scream in agony!
On that note, it turns out that the experience of watching this exact thing happen to her cousin, Celia, when she was 8, is the reason that Buffy has such a strong aversion to hospitals. Guess what? It also makes it… personal!
Since Buffy needs to be sick in order to fight Der Kinderstod, her and Willow concoct a plan to re-feverize Buffy with a dose of the virus from the hospitals sample fridge. Here Willow again proves her worth by making sure Buffy doesn’t literally kill herself with a 100% pure dose of the virus before she can even get out the door. Go science!
Finally, Buffy is ready to take on the child-killing bastard demon at last! Though she’s not up to the top of her game, she does manage to crack the creepy prick’s neck, right before he forehead-rapes her with his eyeball vines, and, oh-god, I’m gonna need therapy if I keep writing about this episode.
Hell, I’d be remiss, however, if I didn’t at least point out the chemistry between Buffy’s mother, Joyce, and her surrogate father, Giles. Will they? Won’t they? Who’s to say, but it’s certainly something worth keeping an eye on.
“Cristina Says,” is based on observations my fiancèe makes. This is my 4th time through the series, but Cristina is a first-time watcher with modern TV sensibilities.
“So what, everyone’s just a slayer now?” (In response to Xander, Willow and Cordy out patrolling by themselves. This is another one of those season 2 moments that is slowly expanding the usefulness of the Scooby gang, and even making them essential back-up for Buffy when she finds herself in a tight spot.)
“I think Xander just shit his pants.” (Commenting on Xander’s audible sigh of relief after just barely managing to scare Angel off.)
“Oh, she’s gonna inject the fever!” (I tell ya folks, my lady is getting pretty good at picking up on what Buffy is doing here and there, especially as the episodes add up.)
“Ohhh, he’s pretty creepy, huh?” (As 12 year old Mike would assure you, Der Kinderstod is absolutely creepy as hell.)
Whedonisms are a sort of term for (Buffy creator) Joss Whedon’s style of dialogue, and something we’re using as a catch-all for particularly fun or witty lines.
“My whole life just flashed before my eyes! …I gotta get me a life!” (Xander responds to almost being staked by a feverish Buffy.)
“Why don’t you come back during visiting hours? Oh, that’s right, you can’t!” (Xander manages a fantastic quip, even when being intimidated by a lovesick, homicidal vampire.)
“Buffy’s white knight. It must just eat you up that I got there first.” (Angel never misses a chance to twist the knife.)
“It’s traditional among… uh, people.” (Giles explains to Cordelia why they all brought gifts without having to talk about it first.)
“If he asks you to play chess, take a pass. The guy is a wiz!” (Xander responds to the fact that they might be facing Death himself with a Seventh Seal reference.)
“You sure didn’t!” (A nervously-grinning Cordelia assures Joyce that she most certainly didn’t walk in on a secret meeting.)
“Thought I might try violence.” (Buffy explains her last minute strategy to take out Der Kinderstod.)
We’re on a killer streak folks, because next week is the heart-breaker/love-taker of an episode: “I Only Have Eyes For You.” It’s a pretty great one, so be sure and pop back next Friday.