Ladyghosts of TV Past: Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Episode 2.18, “Killed by Death”

So this isn’t you being afraid of hospitals ’cause your friend died and you wanna conjure up a monster that you can fight so you can save everybody and not feel so helpless?

In the greater narrative arc of Season 2, it seems odd to follow up the emotional devastation of “Passion” with a throwaway episode like “Killed by Death.” I was ready to grit my teeth through this rewatch, as I recall hating this entry, but like many of Buffy’s one-shots, I found myself warming up to the story once things got going.

Our girl starts off the episode in a bad way, struggling through her patrol while being sick with the flu. One of the benefits of being the Slayer is a primo immune system, but the virus Buffy contracts seems to be a particular strong one. It takes a lot to take her down. The Scoobies try to convince her to go home and get some sleep, except that Jenny’s death still smells of fresh guilt and Buffy won’t hear of laying down on the job any longer.

Angelus, of course, shows up to pummel her for a few rounds. He even has her on the ropes until the Scoobies intervene with some handy crosses, after which Buffy passes out.

The gang carries her to Sunnydale General. Once Buffy is admitted, the episode is straightforward. While delirious with fever, Buffy sees a monster creeping through the halls of the hospital. Turns out the sick kids in the children’s ward seem him too ““ they call him Death and he seems to be preying on them. Per Monster of the Week rules, Buffy must track down and slay him.

We learn from Joyce that Buffy has hated hospitals ever since she saw a beloved cousin die in one. There’s several flashbacks to a little brown-haired, brown-eyed Buffy (pre-bleach and green contacts, apparently) interacting with her cousin Celia ““ they play superhero (Power Girl!) and Buffy visits the hospital. Celia dies a horrible, screaming death while Buffy watches her helplessly. I can’t blame anyone hating hospitals after watching that.

Joyce also offers condolences to Giles. Watching his face fold in on itself is so painful ““ it’s a moment that elevates the episode above filler.

Angelus, of course, pays a visit to the hospital. Xander is hanging around in the waiting area for just that reason:

Xander: Visiting hours are over.
Angelus: Well, I’m pretty much family.
Xander: Yeah. Why don’t you come back during the day? Oh, gee, no, I guess you can’t.
Angelus: If I decide to walk into Buffy’s room, do you think for one microsecond that you could stop me?
Xander: Maybe not. Maybe that security guard couldn’t either. Or those cops… or the orderlies… But I’m kinda curious to find out. You game?
Angelus: Buffy’s White Knight. You still love her. It must just eat you up that I got there first.
Xander: You’re gonna die. And I’m gonna be there.

The truth hurts, Xander. Now that Angelus is evil, Xander gets to look like a hero and gets to say stuff like “I hated him first,” and everyone else has to look embarrassed. But the truth is, Xander didn’t hate Angel because he thought he might go evil again. He hated Angel because Angel got there first. Xander’s proprietary jealousy is one of his least redeeming features.

During her first night in the hospital, Buffy notices a little girl walking by the door to her room. A second later a monster follows her, tipping his hat at her. She wakes up suddenly and wanders down to the children’s ward, where she discovers the little girl from her dream died in the night. (The scene plays out like an homage to the first Nightmare on Elm Street movie ““ even the victims’ first names are the same.) Two of the other children from the ward tell her that Death comes at night. Sounds like an investigative job for the Scooby Gang!

Suspicion is directed first at the doctor treating the kids, but since he’s swiftly murdered by an invisible force, it seems like he was a good guy. Luckily, Ryan, one of the kids, has drawn a picture of the monster, which gives the gang something to work with.

I don’t know what this says about me, but all the creepy little boys they use on this show all look alike to me ““ Ryan, the Anointed One, and that kid who’s in the coma from the first season are entirely interchangeable. And why is it always little boys? Weird.

The surprising duo of Cordelia and Giles discover the monster is called Der Kindestod (child death), who feeds off children’s life force and is only visible to the delirious. Buffy can’t see him now that she’s feeling better, which means she can’t kill him, and since she’s deduced that it’s also responsible for Celia’s death, this isn’t a villain she can let get away.

Buffy decides to reinfect herself with concentrated flu virus, provoke a fever, and then, you know, kill things. With Willow providing a distraction for the hospital staff and Xander literally keeping her on her feet, Buffy tracks Der Kindestod to the children’s ward. Except they’re not there, because the kids weren’t going to wait around for the monster to kill them and hightailed it to the basement to hide. I don’t know why the hospital put an unlocked access door to the basement inside a child’s hospital room, but much like the whole “reinfect with flu” thing, you just got to let some things slide.

There’s a creepy basement (more shades of “Nightmare”), some frightened kids, a monster, and the Slayer. Is there a moment where we don’t know how this will turn out? Der Kindestod can show off his gross eye ball tentacles all he likes, the Slayer is still going to snap his neck like a pencil.

Recovering at home, Buffy gets a letter from Ryan to thank her for saving him:

Published by

[E] Slay Belle

Slay Belle is an editor and the new writer mentor here at Persephone Magazine, where she writes about pop culture, Buffy, and her extreme love of Lifetime movies. She is also the editor of powderroom.jezebel.com. You can follow her on Twitter, @SlayBelle or email her at slay@persephonemagazine.com. She is awfully fond of unicorns and zombies, and will usually respond to any conversational volley that includes those topics.

7 thoughts on “Ladyghosts of TV Past: Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Episode 2.18, “Killed by Death””

  1. My theory is that the show made the “creepy lit­tle boys” characters boys to emphasize Buffy’s femaleness. Whedon’s whole shtick is that he turned the beautiful, blond girl being attacked in the alley into the superhero, so it fits that they would keep giving her chances to save boys and men.

    And yes, Der Kindertot is one of the scariest villains of the entire show. *Shudder*

  2. I liked this episode. But most of the Monster of the Week episodes hold a special place in my heart, much like the X-Files and the Supernatural one-off episodes. I love me some long story, but a nice change of pace is cool too.

    Supernatural riffed on this theme (episode 1.18) too but if I recall correctly the bad guy was the doctor. There was also ties to Sam and Dean’s childhood. Not as scary as Buffy though.

  3. Nope. Can’t do it. This is the one episode of Buffy that scared the shit out of me and the only one I have never re-watched (over and over and over, until the husband starts threatening divorce…). You know I love you, Slay, but I can’t even get through the recap on this one without freaking out. It is way, WAY too reminiscent of Freddy Krueger, and I can’t do Freddy. I, to this day, have recurring nightmares about Freddy. Thanks, older brothers, for making me watch the Nightmare on Elm Street movies at a totally inappropriate age (like 5 years old; seriously, where were my parents?!?!?), thus traumatizing me for life.

    I will be back next week for “I Only Have Eyes For You”. I miss you already!

    1. I miss you too!

      I’m a huge Nightmare on Elm Street fan, yet it was only when I watched the episode again that the comparison leaped out at me. And once I saw it, I couldn’t unsee it. I won’t go into details for you, but suffice to say, there’s a number of obvious riffs on the Elm Street movies. I can see how it would be upsetting.

      So, next week’s a date!

  4. OK – you may find this episode filler, but as someone who watched it at 10 and had to sleep in bed with her sisters for a week, filler it may be, but one of the best monsters of the series.

    I rewatched BtVS a few years ago with my roommate and told her about how scared I was at this but how it would probably be funny as an adult. Uh, no. Still find him terrifying. Also on my list of only really scary Buffy demons: The Gentlemen (4.10) and Gnarl (7.03 – very throwaway monster of the week but very terrifying “all aloneeeee” and the clicking. ugh.)

    1. I was in my early twenties when the episode first aired so I guess I missed some of the punch of it. I just remember being vaguely annoyed that I was sidetracked with a monster of the week episode after they just killed Jenny. (Yet I Only Have Eyes for You is a monster of the week and I adore that episode.)

      What struck me last night was how horrible Celia’s death scene was. The little girl actor playing Celia was totes convincing — she looked terrified.

      It’s interesting that you mentioned the Gentlemen and Gnarl as well because last night I was remarking to SlayBeau that those three monsters share a lot of physical characteristics. I think the look taps into a real cultural look of ‘horror’.

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