It always bothers me in Buffy when characters are so extraordinarily thick with regard to what's causing the supernatural problem du jour. Even after the undead cat appears, nobody seems to suspect that the primitive mask on the wall is responsible, despite Buffy commenting on its creepiness multiple times. It's like "Puppet Show." It was crazy how long it took Buffy to figure out that the puppet was alive. Either way, even given their failure to link the mask with the supernatural problem, throwing a large party in a house where an undead cat was recently found? But I digress...
"We should figure out what kinda deal this is. I mean, is it a gathering, a shindig or a hootenanny?"
As I mentioned in my review of "Anne," "Dead Man's Party" has to fulfil some of the functions of the season premiere, re-integrating Buffy into the world of Sunnydale. We're told that all charges against Buffy have been dropped (again) but it's never explained exactly why. After all, Buffy did flee the scene of the crime and leave town for three months. It's obvious to us as viewers that Buffy didn't murder Kendra, but I don't see why that would be obvious to the police.
Either way, Buffy's return is fraught with uncertainty: while "When She Was Bad" had Buffy thinking she no longer needed her friends, here in "Dead Man's Party" it's all about thinking that they don't need her, what with their team Slaying operation and her mom being looked after by an obnoxious neighbor lady. By the end of the episode the charactersd have settled into standard argument mode: Willow plays the hurt card, Xander is bitter and way too harsh, Cordelia is blunt and misses the point, and Joyce blames Buffy for her own bad parenting. It drags on a bit, so the action is welcome, but it also relieves the tension so completely that these issues are never really sorted through.
Ah well. In any case, the mask and the zombies don't really matter much. They're just thrown in to complicate the characters' attempts to work through their issues. Which is perfectly fine by me.
- I've often thought that as the third season goes on Oz becomes less and less relevant to the show, and I've usually chalked this up to the writers not knowing precisely what to do with him in the long term (you may recall that he was originally intended only to appear in a couple of episodes before being killed off). But in this episode it seems like the writers are deliberately undercutting his usefulness: first in his botched attempt to break up the shouting match and then in his attempt to deliver information to Buffy about the demon's weak point being its eyes (which she's already figured out). If this is the case, then I wonder why. For comedic effect?
- As for Giles, we're starting to see a side of him that we didn't think he had (anymore) as he ensures Buffy's re-admittance to Sunnydale high by strongarming Snyder (first figuratively, then literally). And of course, the reason this is believable is because Joss likes to put Giles through the wringer (figuratively again), so it's reasonable (and enjoyable) to watch his arc progress this way.