This is a great episode, which dips into the show's past - not in a gratuitous way, but for a reason.
Willow, Buffy, Spike and Dawn all see or are contacted by people that no longer tread Sunnydale’s mortal coil. Yet rather than this providing an excuse for some overblown soul-searching, their visions provide insight and humour.
The episode also goes back to the show’s roots – exploring the subject matter of traditional high school comedies but with a horror twist. Dawn’s rather refreshing teenage behaviour – kicking back, apeing her elder sister’s slaying techniques and in the process trashing the house is a joy. Ditto Buffy’s novel counselling session, a nice bit of role reversal with Buffy on the grave/couch.
But while such moments provide humour, the episode has a darker side. Willow’s message from Tara may be genuinely touching, but is also very disturbing, with its warning that the use of any kind of magic will result in the death of people she loves. As is Dawn’s message from her mother that Buffy will one day betray her...
If Conversations With Dead People were a car, it would be a luxury Rolls–Royce - with a somewhat flat rear tyre.
Joss Whedon’s Buffy/Holden dialogue beautifully plays upon the show’s frequent trivialisation of Buffy’s foes; the horror aspects being almost an unwelcome distraction from the psychoanalytic sparring between the Slayer and her new nemesis.
Meanwhile, back at Revello Drive’s most redecorated property, a monstrous creature is wrecking the place. But that’s enough about Dawn. A truly chilling encounter with an ethereal Joyce marks a memorable, yet cryptic, reappearance by Kristine Sutherland.
More deep joy comes in the form of the evil Troika (now a duo); back from across the border and, in part, eager to make amends. An acquired taste during season six, I now find myself ever more delighted to see Warren, Jonathan, and particularly Andrew back on screen. Tom Lenk is one to watch, mark my words.
The previously-mentioned flat tyre is an awkward encounter, hastily assembled` when Amber Benson refused to turn Tara evil for season seven. Delightful as Azure Skye’s Cassie is, this "Tara can’t come to the Ouija Board right now" contrivance can't hope to compensate for the resonance of a proper one-on-one Willow/Tara scene.
As a series, Buffy's always set the bar amazingly high in terms of standards. But some episodes out-jump the rest with their elegance, power or innovation. Conversations is on that level for me.
There's so much atmosphere injected here by director Nick Marck - the attack on Dawn is especially tense and creepy - given that he has so many mood swings to juggle with. Conversations' format of overlapping, deep-impact encounters is a really winning one.
Buffy's challenging on/off fight with the relaxed, wise-cracking Holden yields so many gems it's a pity he has to be dusted. Willow's naturally tearful reaction to someone apparently speaking for Tara is beautifully judged too by both Alyson Hannigan and Azura Skye.
It's a shame that Amber Benson wasn't present in person, but apart from that - and a tendency to feel static in some passages - these conversations are bang on target.