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The Big Damn Buffy Rewatch S03E18, “Earshot”

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In every generation, there is a chosen one. She alone would appreciate it if Netflix would stop getting rid of shows she likes. She will also recap every episode of Buffy The Vampire Slayer with an eye to the following themes:

  1. Sex is the real villain of the Buffy The Vampire Slayer universe.
  2. Giles is totally in love with Buffy.
  3. Joyce is a fucking terrible parent.
  4. Willow’s magic is utterly useless (this one won’t be an issue until season 2, when she gets a chance to become a witch)
  5. Xander is a textbook Nice Guy.
  6. The show isn’t as feminist as people claim.
  7. All the monsters look like wieners.
  8. If ambivalence to possible danger were an Olympic sport, Team Sunnydale would take the gold.
  9. Angel is a dick.
  10. Harmony is the strongest female character on the show.
  11. Team sports are portrayed in an extremely negative light.
  12. Some of this shit is racist as fuck.
  13. Science and technology are not to be trusted.
  14. Mental illness is stigmatized.
  15. Only Willow can use a computer.
  16. Buffy’s strength is flexible at the plot’s convenience.
  17. Cheap laughs and desperate grabs at plot plausibility are made through Xenophobia.
  18. Oz is the Anti-Xander
  19. Spike is capable of love despite his lack of soul
  20. Don’t freaking tell me the vampires don’t need to breathe because they’re constantly out of frickin’ breath.
  21. The foreshadowing on this show is freaking amazing.
  22. Smoking is evil.
  23. Despite praise for its positive portrayal of non-straight sexualities, some of this shit is homophobic as fuck.
  24. How do these kids know all these outdated references, anyway?
  25. Technology is used inconsistently as per its convenience in the script.
  26. Sunnydale residents are no longer shocked by supernatural attacks.
  27. Casual rape dismissal/victim blaming a-go-go
  28. Snyder believes Buffy is a demon or other evil entity.
  29. The Scoobies kind of help turn Jonathan into a bad guy.
  30. This show caters to the straight/bi female gaze like whoa.
  31. Sunnydale General is the worst hospital in the world.
  32. Faith is hyper-sexualized needlessly.
  33. Slut shame!
  34. The Watchers have no fucking clue what they’re doing.
  35. Vampire bites, even very brief ones, are 99.8% fatal.
  36. Economic inequality is humorized and oversimplified.

Have I missed any that were added in past recaps? Let me know in the comments.  Even though I might forget that you mentioned it.

WARNING: Some people have mentioned they’re watching along with me, and that’s awesome, but I’ve seen the entire series already and I’ll probably mention things that happen in later seasons. So… you know, take that under consideration, if you’re a person who can’t enjoy something if you know future details about it.

I’ve had people ask if these recaps will be suspended now that Buffy has left Netflix. The good news is no, I have other ways to watch. The bad news is, if it ever leaves Hulu, I might have to go back to changing DVDs and that’s just malarkey. But fear not. I have every season (and every season of Angel) on DVD. The resolution of the screencaps will likely be the only thing that suffers.

We open on Buffy running in terror from two demons. She falls to the ground, then reveals that this was an elaborate ruse to lure the demons into combat and spring the element of surprise on them.

Buffy: “You demons can’t resist a run-and-stumble, can you?”

She kills one of the mouthless ghouls and watches in dismay as the other escapes. So she doesn’t notice that the creature’s Rock ‘n Bowl-style blacklit blood splashed on her hand.

A small amount of glowing blue liquid splashed across the back of Buffy's hand.

The blood absorbs into Buffy’s skin without her noticing, which is not an ideal situation when you’re dealing with demons.

At Sunnydale High, Buffy tells Willow about the demons she fought the night before. Can you imagine having Buffy as a friend, though? “What did you do last night?” “I stayed in and watched TV and put off doing homework. What did you do?” “Epic demon battle.”

Willow: “I don’t like this whole ‘no mouth’ thing. It’s disquieting.”

Buffy: “Well, no mouth means no teeth. Unless they have them somewhere else.”

See why it’s so disquieting, Buffy?

Oz, Xander, and Giles are already researching the Ascension and coming up with jack and squat. Giles insists that the whole Angel/Faith plan wasn’t completely useless, Buffy scratches the back of her hand, and Wesley comes in and interrupts, all puffed up about being included in Official Council Business™.

Giles: “I was just filling Buffy in on my progress regarding the research of the Ascension.”

Wesley: “Oh? And what took up the rest of the minute?”

Get fucked, Weasel. You don’t look all that hard at work on the research.

Giles: “Touché. Of course my work is unofficial. I’m sure, however, with the resources of the Council at your disposal, you will have something to add.”

Followed by Wesley repeating exactly what Giles already told them, resulting in all the students getting up and leaving.

In the hallway, Buffy is still wondering if Angel was really into all that making out with Faith stuff because she’s not convinced he was faking it. Willow gives her exactly the same advice she always gives Buffy in these situations: talk to Angel and find out.

So, coming from a romance writer’s perspective, this is why the romantic tension between Buffy and Angel is so weak in season three: it’s all based on The Big Misunderstanding and a complete lack of communication. And it’s partially realistic; Buffy is a teen girl and therefore probably nervous about open dialogue in a relationship with a partner whose maturity and experience overwhelms her. We see over and over that she has a difficult time talking to Angel without qualifiers or apologizing for bringing stuff up. But while it’s realistic, it doesn’t exactly make for riveting relationship drama over a prolonged arc.

So, Xander has this hatred/enthusiastic fandom for Hogan, the student Willow is tutoring. His hate-on turns to genuine awe when Hogan and his bestie, Percy, wander by. I’m still sitting here like, how the fuck did a kid named Percy end up as the popular guy’s buddy? I don’t care how good he is at sports, Percy is not going to be friends with the star quarterback or something. Percy is going to be the kid getting swirlies. Anyway, Hogan invites Willow to watch his basketball game, because they’re in some kind of championship, and apparently all the Scoobies except for Buffy were already planning on going to this game together as a group activity that they didn’t mention to her. What the hell, guys?

So, Buffy feels slighted, but ultimately more concerned about her itchy demon blood hand. Giles looks up the demon and finds some alarming facts:

Giles: “It says it can infect the host.”

Buffy: “Infect? Infect? Giles!”

Giles: “Hmm?”

Buffy: “Infect?!”

I agree, Buffy, Giles is being way too casual about all of this. Especially since he goes on to say that yeah, you could get an aspect of the demon, but you could also be having a reaction to some fabric softener, so don’t worry about it. You live in Sunnydale, Giles. Do you really think it’s fabric softner? I’m giving you a #8, buddy.

Out in the courtyard, Cordelia and the cheerleaders are having an oddly specific pep rally. Like, they’ve written a cheer specifically about Hogan. It’s possible that my school was an anomaly, but I don’t remember any cheers that singled out one player like, fuck the team, this is the guy! But I also feel like maybe a lot of people who worked on this might possibly have not been real into high school sports? Maybe? Especially since #11 is such a big thing during the high school years of this show. You kind of get the impression that people who are writing this dialogue:

Buffy: “Is it me, or is this really lame?”

Oz: “I don’t know, I usually enjoy lameness and this is leaving me kind of cold.”

probably aren’t working against their own unpleasant high school experiences.

But I have such issues over this whole pep rally thing. I don’t want to make it take up the whole recap, but I have questions, okay? Like, the cheer the cheerleaders are doing is literally “H-O-G-A-N is Hogan! Go Hogan!” Like, what the hell kind of cheer is that? Yeah, spell outs are good cheers to get the crowd going, but anyone can just yell out letters in unison and be like, “That’s this thing I just spelled!” That’s like Tom Cullen in The Stand. And are they spelling out the names of all the athletes on the team? How long is this pep rally?!

Plus, the Sunnydale cheerleaders are a mess. Their uniforms are like, a sweater you can buy at target. They’re way too short when they raise their arms. And some of them don’t even have their hair pulled back. Where are their bows? Where’s the glitter eyeshadow and the school logo painted on their cheeks? This is a pep rally for a big game! We know this school has a pool, so there’s money in this district for sports. Why is no one spending any on the cheerleaders?

And what really grinds my muffin is that they’ve got Charisma Carpenter on the set, standing right there. She was a professional cheerleader. At what point do you not ask her, “Hey, is there anything we could do better?”

I’m not the only person, by the way, who thinks this whole thing is a ridiculous failure:

Willow: “Well, according to Freddy’s latest editorial, ‘the pep rally is a place for pseudo-prostitutes to provoke men into a sexual frenzy which, when thwarted, results in pointless athletic competition.'”

Who is running this school? Who lets a kid blithely call teenage girls “pseudo-prostitutes” in their school newspaper? What on Earth is happening at Sunnydale?

Willow: “The school paper is edging on depressing lately. Have you guys noticed that?”

Oz: “I don’t know. I always go straight to the obits.”

Oh, right. That.

Buffy doesn’t care about the pep rally or the quality of the student newspaper. She’s just worried she’s going to grow horns. Willow tries to reassure her by saying that she doesn’t think Giles is even doing a very good job being a Watcher lately. Having seen the entire show, this delights me on a “the characterization is so damn good and consistent” level. Willow is starting to view Giles as a fallible human being and not a guy who knows more by virtue of being a grown up. This just keeps escalating right up to their magic brawl at the end of season six.

But she does worry that Buffy might grow a demon penis.

After a few misogynist comments about how the cheerleaders are getting better because they can spell things now (#6), Xander notices that Wesley is checking Cordelia out. And it’s important:

Xander: “My god, he’s looking at her! He’s got his filthy adult, Pierce-Brosnan-y eyes all over my Cordy!”

THANK YOU! For god’s sake. Now, I guess one could argue that a relationship between Cordy and Wesley wouldn’t be a big deal because she’s eighteen and he’s really not in a position of authority over her, but…do we know that? It still hasn’t been established why it’s okay for Wesley to be hanging around on campus all the time. This is another example of #8 at work. Why are no adults concerned about a strange man being at the school all the time? Why isn’t this a topic of discussion in the teacher’s lounge? He’s not subtle, with his longing stares and frequent tie adjustments.

Later that night, Buffy walks home and gets startled by Angel. He’s out patrolling, too, but for Faith. He says he wants to keep Buffy safe, but she’s like, are you tracking Faith or are you tracking me, and he’s like, tracking you. Okay, but why? Why not just patrol with Buffy, rather than follow her around without telling her you’re there?

Anyway, Angel uses a different angle to reassure Buffy about the whole aspect-of-the-demon thing. P.S., trying to write Angel and angle in the same sentence is not easy for someone who is dyslexic, trust me. But he makes a good point: it’s possible that the demons just made up “aspect of the demon” as a rumor for PR, and demons are known to exaggerate. He also tells Buffy that he’ll love her even if she’s covered in slime, which isn’t as comforting as she would maybe like to hear.

But she does mention that it wouldn’t matter if she grew horns because no one would see her. She’s always walking around in the dark at night and not at a basketball game with her friends. So, this whole, “Hey, we forgot to mention we’re all going to the game and being normal teenagers who can opt out of demon shenanigans at any time” thing is really slighting Buffy. And it’s making me not like her friends a little bit. I want to mom them: “Don’t you guys think Buffy might feel a little left out? Even if you assume she’s busy with her Slayer duties, it would be nice of you to extend the invitation, anyway.”

God, I remember when I related to these characters. Now I’m like, “They need parents who are more actively involved in their lives. I better make myself that parent because this is totally my business.”

At school the next day, Willow, Xander, and Oz are excitedly recapping the highlights of the game when Buffy shows up and they all stop talking. Which is Buffy’s clue that they were talking about the game and they didn’t want to make her feel bad. But they continue to try to downplay it until Cordelia overhears and is like, excuse me, that was an amazing game, revealing that Buffy’s friends are all well-intentioned liars. Willow quickly tries to remind Buffy that saving the world and stuff is super important.

Then Xander looks off longingly at Cordelia, and doesn’t say:

Xander: “I wonder if she and Wesley have kissed.”

But Buffy hears it, anyway.

Buffy: “Really bugs you, huh?”

Xander: “What?”

Buffy: “Cordelia and Wesley. Smooching.”

Xander: “Man, you read my mind.”

And Buffy’s face goes like this:

Buffy is silently staring into middle distance with a low-key horrified expression.

After the commercial break, Buffy is walking through the halls and bumps into a kindly, soft-spoken teacher:

Mr. Beech: “Whoa there. You watch where you’re going now.”

Buffy: “I’m sorry, Mr. Beech, I will.”

Mr. Beech: (thinking) “Students. If we could just get rid of all the students…”

Buffy can hear the thoughts of anyone she passes, from the bitter nerd who’s sure his classmates are all going to end up in fast food jobs to the student who’s stressing about her French class and the kid who knows his pants are just a little too low. Unfortunately, she can also hear the thoughts of a guy who thinks she’s hot, which she likes, but who also wants to push her against a locker and have his way with her.

But while reading the thoughts of teenage boys is probably not the greatest gift a teenage girl can have, Buffy doesn’t seem too wigged out about it:

Buffy: “Is this the thing? The aspect thing? Because I gotta say, if it is, it is way better than a tail. I mean, I have a hard enough time as it is finding jeans that fit right–”

Giles: “Buffy, slow down. Just, um… I’m not even conviced that this is genuine mind reading. You’re most likely projecting your–”

Buffy: “When I walked in a few minutes ago you thought, ‘look at her shoes. If a fashion magazine told her to she’d wear cats strapped to her feet.'”

Can’t argue with that one, Giles. Also, meow, dude. No need to be…catty.

The opening title screen from CSI: Miami (picturing the Miami skyline at sunset), with "YEEEEEEAAAAAHHHHHH!" over it in big white block letters.

He thinks to himself that the demons are telepathic and that’s why they don’t need mouths, but when he tries to tell Buffy, she already knows. Because he thought it. And because Giles is a big old Watcher dork, he finds it interesting and not immediately terrifying. I’m sorry, Giles, but I am watching True Blood right now and let me tell you, Miss Sookie Stackhouse would not appreciate you finding this “astounding.” It is a living nightmare.

But I can forgive him because True Blood didn’t exist yet.

Giles says that this could be a real asset in all the demon fighting since Buffy would be able to anticipate an opponent’s moves and such, but Buffy thinks there are better applications for her new power. Like impressing her English teacher by reading the mind of another student (one who’s actually done the reading) during a class discussion. But she also hears:

Willow: (thinking) “Buffy did the reading? Buffy understood the reading?”

Wow, tell us how you really fell about your best friend.

But she also hears the thoughts of Freddy, the angry school newspaper columnist. Freddy is your standard-issue ’90s alternajerk, wearing all black and thinking everyone else is indoctrinated into some way of thought he’s been smart enough to resist. Or whatever guys like that think of themselves that makes them act that way.

Buffy plucks themes from the English teacher’s dissertation right from her head in order to impress the class, and it works. But it also gives Buffy a sad, because the teacher goes on to describe people having our own internal Iagos (from Othello) making us feel insecure about our partners. Cut to sad music and Buffy almost frying Angel when she strolls into his house unannounced. She’s gone over during Angel’s sleeping hours to randomly bring up Faith again, but this time she’s going to read Angel’s mind when she does it. Except, it doesn’t work, and Angel knows that she’s trying to read his mind. He tells her she’s not going to be able to read his thoughts and suggests that if she wants to know what he’s thinking, she could always ask him.

I have to give credit Angel here. I would flip out and tear someone a new one if they tried to read my thoughts, and he’s pretty calm about it. He tells Buffy he hated hurting her during the whole Faith plan, and the only person he loves is Buffy. He tells her again to just ask him about stuff in the future and warns her that reading minds might seem awesome, but there’s a fairly high chance that it’s going to suck.

In the library, the news has broken that Buffy can read minds. In what may be my favorite Cordelia scene of season three, we learn that reading Cordelia’s mind is not necessary:

Cordelia: (thinking) “I don’t see what this has to do with me.”

Cordelia: “I don’t see what this has to do with me.”

Willow tries to be a supportive friend, but inwardly she’s totally freaked out that Buffy won’t need to be friends with her anymore if she has yet another super power. When Buffy responds to the thoughts in Willow’s mind and not the words she’s saying out loud, it freaks everyone out.

Like Oz, for example:

Oz: (thinking) “I am my thoughts. If they exist in her, Buffy contains everything that is me and she becomes me. And I cease to exist.”

Oz: “Hmm.”

I’m not sure Oz is the guy whose thoughts I’d want to be reading. They seem like, too far above my pay grade. Xander’s thoughts are a little more common and panicky:

Xander: (thinking) “What am I gonna do? I think about sex all the time. Sex. Help. Four times five is thirty. Five times six is thirty-two. Naked girls. Naked women. Naked Buffy. Oh, stop me.”

Buffy: “God, Xander, is that all you think about?”

Xander: “Actually? Bye.”

Xander jumps up and runs out, hopefully to some kind of remedial math class. Wesley points out that now that everyone knows that Buffy can read their minds they’re going to be thinking the last thing they’d want her to hear. He tells them to use mental discipline, but as Giles explains that mental discipline, Wesley starts having some really creepy thoughts about Cordelia. And Buffy can hear them all.

Buffy has her chin propped on her hand and she's looking at Wesley with a smug little "I can read your thoughts" face.

(Please excuse the new shape/size of the screencaps. I’m watching on Hulu now, since the show has been removed from Netflix.)

Willow asks Buffy what her new ability is like, and Buffy is super excited about it. But then Oz’s thoughts interrupt her:

Oz: (thinking) “No one else exists, either. Buffy is all of us. We think, therefore she is.”

Willow (thinking): “She knows so much. She knows what Oz is thinking. I never know that! Before long, she’ll know him better than I do.”

Buffy: “No, don’t think that.”

Willow: “I can’t help it, Buffy. I’m sorry, I just can’t.”

I kind of wish there was a scene where Buffy pulls Willow aside and is like, “Nobody can handle what Oz is thinking. It’s for the best that you don’t have those questions inside your head.”

Willow and Oz get up and leave, and Buffy is upset that she’s got yet another special power that’s going to isolate her from the people who care about her. And also the people who don’t care about her:

Cordelia (thinking): “Whatever. I wonder when I can go.”

Cordelia: “Whatever. Can I go?”

Buffy leaves the library and walks through the hall hearing people’s thoughts. And it’s not as fun as it was before because there are more of them and they’re almost all resoundingly negative. In his office, Giles finds mention of another person who was afflicted with the same problem. Except that person is living in total isolation now, so they can’t contact him. And that doesn’t exactly bode well for our Slayer, because there’s no way to shut it off or shut it out. As Buffy struggles through the cafeteria, her brain overloaded by the noise of other people’s thoughts, she hears:

Disembodied, androgynous voice: “This time tomorrow, I’ll kill you all.”

Then a fucking Zyrtec commercial comes on because I’m recapping from Hulu hell.

When we return, Buffy is in such shock that she drops her lunch tray, to the sarcastic applause of the entire cafeteria. Which might be the most authentic high school experience I’ve ever seen in a television show. She looks around frantically, trying to figure out the source of the threat, but she’s overcome by all the mental voices and blacks out.

Buffy wakes up outside, on the grass, with Willow, Giles, Xander, Oz, and Cordelia standing over her.

Cordelia: “I told them not to move you. They probably severed your spinal cord.”

Wait, why did they move her? And why didn’t anyone stop them? “Hey, passed out student, we’ll deal with this. Nothing to see here, just gonna drag her limp, unconscious body outside and toss her on the lawn for some reason.” I mean, I understand why they would want to move her out of the cafeteria that’s currently full of thoughts, but how did they make it seem normal? And why didn’t any other school staff get involved? They have to fill out reports on shit like students passing out. And they probably should call Buffy’s mom.

Buffy tells them about the voice, which she can’t identify due to all the rage in the thought. Though her friends’ minds are creating a disoriented cacophony in her own, Buffy says she has to find the person who plans on killing the whole school.

And this is the part where we realize that this episode has not aged well.

Oz: “Are you sure they meant it?”

Xander: “Yeah, I mean who hasn’t just idly thought about taking out the whole place with a semi-automatic?”

Can you believe that there was a time when this plot worked? Not just the casual joke about wanting to shoot up your school, but the fact that Buffy has heard someone saying they’re going to kill everyone and it’s not being taken as a serious threat immediately? (#8) That’s not something that teens brush off these days (at least, my teen wouldn’t). There are just too many mass school shootings. This episode was filmed before the Columbine massacre. Shootings happened before then, but it just wasn’t something that entered into a lot of teen minds on a daily basis, the way it does now. It seemed like if you were getting shot at school, it was either during an altercation with another student or you were a bystander to an altercation. Nobody really planned on getting killed in a mass shooting until college, where it seemed like the bulk of these incidents were taking place.

Before Buffy takes Giles home to escape the sounds of thinking, she tells the gang to thoroughly investigate everyone who was in the cafeteria and also to check out that teacher who hates students. Giles promises her that everything will be all right, but she overhears him thinking that if they can’t cure her, she’ll go insane.

The Scoobies get to work profiling the other students, and the script does address the American phenomenon of school shootings:

Xander: “I’m still having trouble with the fact that one of us is just gonna gun everyone down for no reason.”

Cordelia: “Yeah, because that never happens in American high schools.”

Oz: “It’s bordering on trendy at this point.”

I wonder if they came back and reshot this scene to add those lines. Not because of any noticeable continuity issues, just because it was supposed to air the week after Columbine, and was delayed until just before the start of season four. It would be a good time to add commentary if it wasn’t there. It most likely was in there from the start, but it does make me curious.

At Buffy’s house, Joyce is bustling around getting pillows and blankets and generally fussing over Buffy. Why? Because remember what Wesley said about thinking the thing you’d least want Buffy to know?

Buffy: “You had sex with Giles? You had sex with Giles?”

Joyce: “It was the candy! We were teenagers!”

Buffy: “On the hood of a police car?”

Joyce: “I’ll be downstairs. You feel better.”

Buffy: “Twice?”

I’m having some difficulty fitting “twice” into the “Band Candy” timeline, but good job Jane Espenson for clearing up the “did they/didn’t they” thing fans had at the time.

Back at the library, Willow hands everyone lists of who to question and how to question them. Willow starts with Jonathan, the mopey dork everyone has teased mercilessly over the course of the series.

Willow: “We all have fantasies where we’re powerful and respected. Where people pay attention to us.”

Jonathan: “Maybe?”

Willow: “But sometimes the fantasy isn’t enough, is it, Jonathan? Sometimes we have to make it so people don’t ignore us. make them pay attention. You know what I’m talking about, don’t you?”

I guess if we’re taking the season four episode “Superstar” into account, then yes, Jonathan knows exactly what she’s talking about. But more on that later. Under the guise of an interview for the yearbook, Oz questions a basketball player. Cordelia tries the same tactic, but she’s not as good at it:

Cordelia: “Hi, Mr. Beech. I was just wondering, were you planning on killing a bunch of people tomorrow? Oh, it’s for the yearbook.”

Xander uses the opportunity to question some girls about what they like in guys and what their ideal date is. Because he’s Xander. (#5) When Oz goes to interview Freddy, the kid who runs the school newspaper, he can’t find him. Because Freddy is hiding under his desk to avoid Oz.

In the beginning, Buffy couldn’t hear thoughts unless she was in some kind of physical proximity to them, but that night she can hear everyone in the neighborhood. Giles and Wesley are in the library, hard at work on a cure that requires the heart of one of those mouthless demons. Cut to Angel murdering said demon. I feel like Angel gets to be a lot more helpful this season than he was in the first season. Maybe he’s just growing on me because I know he’ll be on his own show soon.

At school the next day, Willow questions Nancy, the girl Buffy was showing up in English class:

Nancy: “Do I often imagine classmates are spying on me or otherwise acting suspiciously?”

Willow: “Right.”

Nancy: “Not till just now.”

Touché, Nancy.

Xander handles Larry the Bully and tries to delicately broach the subject of what he assumes is Larry’s closeted sexuality that will inevitably drive him to shoot up the school. But Larry is out. In fact, Larry is worried about what he assumes is Xander’s closeted sexuality. Larry urges Xander to come out, possibly through a tasteful announcement in the school newspaper. So, Larry can probably be crossed off the list of suspects, because he’s pretty well adjusted and not really a bully anymore.

The only student suspect unaccounted for is Freddy the editor, who continually ducks Oz:

Xander: “We do have this, people. Today’s editorial, titled ‘Big Game Draws Mindless, Braindead Mob.’

Cordelia: “Does he mention the cheerleaders? Because we were on.”

Joyce is worried that her thoughts might be hurting Buffy, but Giles tells her that at this point Buffy can hear so many thoughts they’re indistinguishable from the others. Luckily, Angel arrives, shrouded in a blanket to protect him from the sun. It’s the same blanket that Spike uses later. I mean, it just is. There’s no arguing that it’s a different one. Yes, it was probably just more economical to go, “Oh, Spike needs a blanket mid-season four? Well, just grab the one Angel used for like two seconds in season three. Nobody will notice.”

But I noticed.

I noticed.

Even though I know there’s a practical reason, I’m going to headcanon that there is only one sun-proof blanket out there and all the vampires have to share it. They have to sign it out or something and pay a deposit.

So anyway, Angel brought the potion that’s needed to cure Buffy. He pours some into her mouth and it doesn’t seem to have any effect until she starts convulsing. At the school, we see Jonathan in the clocktower preparing to assemble a rifle. When we come back from commercial, Buffy wakes up surrounded by two watchers, a vampire, and a mom. Joyce asks Buffy if she can hear thoughts. She can’t. Awesome. But there’s still a murderer out there, and the gang thinks it’s probably Freddy. They finally corner him in his office:

Freddy: “You’re not here about the review?”

Oz: “Review?”

Freddy: “Yeah. Last Thursday?”

Oz: (reading) “‘Dingos At My Baby played their instruments as if they had plump Polish sausages taped to their fingers.'”

Freddy: “Sorry, man.”

Oz: “No, it’s fair.”

Can I just once again talk about how much I love Oz? He’s proud of his band and he likes doing it, but he accepts that they’re either not a good band, not the best band, or a band that not everyone is going to love, and then he just rolls with it. He does his own thing. I wish he had never left.

Freddy just thought they were coming to confront him for what he wrote about Dingos. He has no idea about any murder. But he seems pretty cool with the idea of a murder happening. He doesn’t freak out or anything. I’m just saying, keep an eye on that kid. Buffy starts laying out a plan to evacuate the school, but she’s interrupted when Cordelia finds a letter on Freddy’s desk:

Cordelia: “‘By this time tomorrow you’ll all know what I’ve done. I’m sure you understand that I had to do it, and although death is never easy, it’s the only way.’ God, doesn’t anyone write in to praise the cheerleaders? We are so unsung.”

Willow sees that Jonathan wrote the letter, and they split up to find him. He’s busily assembling his rifle (complete with scope) as they run around looking for him. Xander goes to the cafeteria and gets sidetracked by Jell-o, but Buffy spots Jonathan. She parkours her way up to the roof to the astonishment of all the students in the commons and crashes through the shutters into the clocktower. Jonathan tells her to stay away and points the gun at her as she tries to gently talk him down. But she’s not a crisis negotiator, so it’s not all smooth sailing:

Jonathan: “Stop doing that!”

Buffy: “Doing what?”

Jonathan: “Stop saying my name, like we’re friends. We’re not friends. You all think I’m an idiot. A short idiot.”

Buffy: “I don’t. I don’t think about you much at all. Nobody here really does. Bugs you, doesn’t it? You have all this pain, all these feelings and nobody’s really paying attention.”

Jonathan: “You think I just want attention?”

Buffy: “No, I think you’re up in the clocktower with a high powered rifle because you want to blend in.”

Buffy tries to tell him that her life sucks, too, but he doesn’t see how it could. She tells him that everyone is dealing with their own pain, and that’s why they don’t have time to notice his. Or anyone else’s, for that matter. Everyone is just walking around, absorbed in their own pain. She also says that she could have taken the gun away from him basically at any time. That’s true, so I guess it’s nice that she counselled him for free instead of just kicking his ass. He hands over the rifle and she unloads it.

Jonathan: “I just wanted it to stop.”

Buffy: “Yeah, well, mass murder? Not really doctor recommended for that kind of pain. Besides, prison? You know, it’s a lot like high school, except instead of noogies–”

I should have started a counter to keep track of the casual rape jokes in this series. (#6)

Jonathan: “What are you talking about?”

Buffy: “Actions? Having consequences? You know, stuff like that.”

Jonathan: “I-I wouldn’t ever hurt anybody. I came up here to kill myself.”


But let’s talk about this. First of all, I understand that in order to make it seem plausible that he would be committing a mass shooting, he needed a scary looking gun. But from a practical standpoint, how the fuck was he going to shoot himself with that rifle, and why the fuck did he need the scope? I mean, I understand that it’s theoretically possible to shoot oneself with a long gun, but would that have been his first pick? Second, I’m a little disturbed by this suicide coming on the heels of Willow’s little chat with him. Jonathan is clearly in the middle of a crisis, and having someone talk about finding ways to make people pay attention, make them not ignore us, etc. is really, really not helpful to someone with suicidal ideation, no matter what the motive behind that ideation is. Did the show just accidentally give us a scene where Willow helped another kid decide to kill himself? I wonder if that ever crossed any minds as they produced this script.

Xander strolls into the cafeteria kitchen lookin’ for some vittles, and he sees this:

The lunch lady is pouring rat poison into the food.

My favorite part about this scene is how freaking long it goes on, with Xander and the lunch lady freezing and staring at each other for whole seconds as she just keeps pouring the rat poison in. But then Xander runs and she grabs a big cleaver and chases him into the lunchroom proper, trying to kill him as he flips tables and warns people to stop eating. She’s about to bring the blade down when Buffy grabs her arm and stops her.

Holy shit, where’s Jonathan? Did Buffy just tell him, yeah, everyone in the whole world is in monumental pain all around you all the time and we’re all helplessly isolated in that pain and it lasts forever, then left him alone with the gun he intended to commit suicide with? Because that seems a tad irresponsible.

When the lunch lady starts babbling about the students being vermin who eat filth, Buffy decides she needs to incapacitate her. She beats her up and oh my god. Guys. The stunt double is so obvious here, it’s like they didn’t even try. They replaced the short, fat lunch lady with a tall, slender person wearing baggy clothes. It’s really brief and split second, and I’ll bet money it looked more convincing before the advent of high definition displays. Honestly, that kind of stuff only adds to a show’s charm for me. I love when my favorite things become time capsules.

The next day at school, Willow asks Buffy about how things are going with Angel, and everything seems okay again. Giles catches up to them and asks how Jonathan is. Buffy tells him that things aren’t going well; Jonathan’s parents freaked out and he got suspended. Which happens if you bring a gun to school, sure, but I feel like there should be a little more follow up here than Buffy being like, “I think he’s dealing.” Which is a direct quote. “I think he’s dealing.” Well, this kid brought a gun to school to kill himself, but the good news is that his parents are angry, he got suspended, and now he’s even more of a social outcast than before, but I’m sure he’ll be just fine.

Giles: “It’s good of you to check on him.”

Buffy: “Well, it’s nice to be able to help someone in a non-Slaying capacity. Except he’s starting to get that look. You know, like he’s gonna ask me to prom?”

Giles; “Well, it would probably be good for his self-esteem if you–”

Buffy: “Oh, come on! What am I, Saint Buffy? He’s like three feet tall!”

Yurgh. I know Buffy is supposed to be a shallow former popular kid with Cordelia-esque tendencies, but I really feel for Jonathan and I don’t like this comment.

Giles asks Buffy if she wants to train:

Buffy: “Sure. We can workout after school. You know, if you’re not too busy having sex with my mother.”

And then Giles walks into a tree. Roll credits.

Overall, this is a freakin’ great episode. The only thing I wish they would have done better was the handling of Jonathan’s suicide attempt. It feels way too serious to have a teen try to commit suicide, then just wave it away with, “Oh, he’s probably going to be fine.” It’s a heavy and too-realistic subject that needs a Very Special Episode™ to deal with it if it’s going to be addressed. Or at the very least, a better resolution that would assure us that Jonathan will be fine. Because spoiler alert, he’s not fine at all. This is one of those areas where I feel like #29 is in play; Buffy is involved now. She is a part of Jonathan’s story. While in real life it’s okay to distance ourselves from people once they’re no longer in immediate crisis (especially to protect our own mental health and energy), Buffy is the hero of a fictional story, and for that story to make sense and be satisfying, we have to know that she’s acting heroically not only with the monsters but with the others around her. We’re going to talk about this more when we get to “Superstar” next season, but overall I just wish we could have seen Buffy and Jonathan talking again, under better circumstances. That way we could be reassured he’s really okay, and it would have reinforced that Buffy isn’t just a hero for beating up monsters; she’s a hero because she’s a good person who cares about others.

But that one omission aside, this episode is soup and crackers, and should have won an Emmy just for the scene with Xander and the lunch lady and the rat poison.

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  1. Christina

    When I first saw this as a teen the concept that everyone was wrapped up in their own pain was really profound for me.

    April 14, 2017
  2. Torrin

    Like Christina, that line really made me stop and think differently about things. Teenage brains are so weird and at the time I was so self-centered that I don’t think I gave much thought that the popular kids had just as much crap to deal with as I did. It certainly changed the way I thought about people.

    Oh, and anytime you want to stop and extol of virtues of Oz, I’m game. He remains my favourite. Seth Green has a lifetime pass from me because Oz was just the best.

    April 14, 2017
  3. Portia

    Yay! So glad a new recap is up! This made my week (and possibly my month/year/life). I was seriously concerned that they might be history thanks to netflix.

    Anyway, thank you, Jenny, for the joy that these recaps bring. I wish I were rich so that I could pay you to churn out Buffy recaps around the clock.

    Also, the rat poison scene with the lunch lady and Xander is pure magic. I love this episode because it’s a good one-off diversion from the Faith/Mayor/Asenscion drama coming up (although as diversions go, they certainly picked a heavy topic).

    April 15, 2017
  4. Kim

    I think there’s a P-E-R-C-Y cheer at the pep rally too, that Willow claps at, so yes…Spelling out every player’s name one by one.

    April 15, 2017
  5. While I agree with you that Buffy’s comment about Jonathan when Giles suggests she accompany Jonathan to prom, is not okay, I hate the trope and real life idea that girls should date boys to make them feel better. Girls are not a (consolation) prize and film and tv keeps treating them as such. So much so that boys feel entitled to a girl’s ‘Yes’ in real life.

    April 15, 2017
    • JennyTrout

      Yeah, my issue is less with her not wanting to go on a date with him, more her using his height as an insult when he mentioned being taunted for his height specifically as one of the reasons he was going to kill himself. That’s the part that struck me as really uncool.

      April 17, 2017
      • Mel

        Totally agree, Jenny. As a short person (although for females it’s far more accepted) I really felt for Jonathon when she said that. Buffy’s no frickin’ giant either. But yeah, I can see Deidre’s point as well. Girls are not a consolation prize and to put that message across in any way shape or form is just perpetuating rape culture. The writers/editors should have discussed this in more detail before okaying the script.

        April 20, 2017
  6. GS

    Oh, my. That’s what everyone talkes about when they say teenagers need “involved parents”? I sure missed out on a lot of stuff when I was young…

    April 15, 2017
  7. Funny story, I know the guy who played Hogan. He was apparently supposed to be recurring, but the huge schedule change delaying the episode to a more appropriate time meant it wouldn’t have made sense for him to turn up as if he’d already been introduced. He was somewhere between delighted and weirded out when I showed him that Hogan reappears in one of the comics.

    April 15, 2017
    • RedHandedJill

      That’s awesome! And yes, I can see being weirded out by a comic book character modeled after you.

      April 17, 2017
  8. CleverSobriquet

    Oz: (thinking) “I am my thoughts. If they exist in her, Buffy contains everything that is me and she becomes me. And I cease to exist.”
    Oz: (thinking) “No one else exists, either. Buffy is all of us. We think, therefore she is.”

    Oz’s thoughts are actually one of my favorite parts of this episode, possibly my very favorite. Nonetheless, I think I can refute his argument. I have two ways of doing so (albeit, rather roughly at the moment, as I’m also making dinner right now):

    1. If we accept the premise that a person is their thoughts, then as long as their thoughts exist in Buffy, that person is a part of her. However, that does not mean that she *is* that person, or that said person ceases to exist. As a rough comparison, Buffy’s liver is a part of Buffy’s body; that does not mean that Buffy’s body is her liver, or that Buffy’s liver doesn’t exist. The people of Sunnydale still exist; they exist, incorporated, as parts of the Buffy Entity.

    2. I reject the premise that a person is their thoughts, and posit that a person is a combination of their thoughts, memories, attitudes, beliefs and emotions. Buffy does not have access to a person’s memories except for ones that they are actively thinking about at the moment. She also does not seem to take on their attitudes, she is clearly not compelled to share their beliefs, and she doesn’t appear to experience too much more of their emotion than she normally would. Therefore, everyone in Sunnydale still exists as an individual, not as part of the Buffy Entity.

    Oz is awesome, and I think it would be super-fun to debate with him on this sort of stuff. I’d love to hear his counter-arguments.

    Also, I agree with Deidre Dreams; girls should not feel obligated to date boys in order to make boys feel better about themselves. That just objectifies girls and treats their needs and desires as lesser.

    April 16, 2017
  9. Meadowphoenix

    I don’t know, I feel like “I don’t exist to sacrifice myself as a romantic object to someone I’m not attracted to” is a perfectly fine response to “maybe you could use a woman’s default state as a prop to men’s egos to help this depressed kid” which is fucking terrible advice even if buffy was attracted to him. I think “shortness is unattractive generally” was unnecessary, but the general sentiment isn’t.

    April 16, 2017
  10. Dipshit Kris
    Dipshit Kris

    Joyce and Giles have sex “as teenagers” > cute cheeky joke
    Buffy has sex as a teenager > FUCKING MURDERFEST APOCALYPSE

    Omg that shot of the cafeteria worker gets me every time – but the buzzkill feminist commie in me is like, “Where’s HER emotional resolution?! Has she not been brought to hate by inequality? Why do we give ourselves permission to laugh at the surprising meniality of her life? HER STRUGGLE SHALL NOT BE FORGOTTEN, COMRADES!!!” But yeah trying to have empathy for Buffy villains, comedic or otherwise, can be a thankless task. XD

    I’m with Deirdre and Meadow re: the prom bit. I interpreted that scene as at least as much a dig at Buffy for being shallow as a tasteless short joke. Pity dates are almost always gross – counterproductive for the pity-ee, who really needs to learn that who you’re wearing on your arm like a thing doesn’t make you who you are, and degrading and objectifying for the pitier. The show may not be asking us to decry Buffy’s refusal but I do think it wants us to accept Giles’s implication that a woman offering a romantic or sexual piece of herself as a form of charity is a noble and acceptable thing. This is all part ofthe same attitude that expects self-objectification and constant obliging affability and availability from women. Buffy (and all teen girls) has quite enough of her own self-care to catch up on without having to volunteer to be someone else’s prize in lieu of therapy.

    But yes, rant aside, you’re quite right that the short joke was in poor taste, especially in the suicide context. fwiw I often fancy short men, and certainly not out of pity! Out of hotness.

    First time I’ve commented on one of these but I’m consuming them voraciously! Thank you!!

    April 17, 2017
  11. I remember when I heard this episode had been rescheduled – I mean at the time we didn’t have Facebook or Twitter or Tumblr, so you know how it was finding information through dial-up in chat rooms and boards and IRC. There was all sorts of rumors that flew about why.

    I never really liked Jonathan. He was a noticeable background character who probably, in another life, would have been part of the Scoobies if they didn’t already have Xander as their token weirdo white teen boy. That said, this episode I felt so bad for him because yeah – having your pain ignored or actively shoved aside isn’t fun.

    In HS a friend of mine and I drew up a list of “People to Get Back At” during a school trip. To this day I don’t know his reasons (he was popular, was dating a popular girl, had good grades, decent family life and amazing musical talent), but I know mine centered on the fact I had been, at that point, bullied for three years almost non-stop and knew that other students and faculty basically ignored it because of who it was. The only teacher who HAD tried to do something for me suddenly found herself let go (it was only her second year so she didn’t have tenure) at the end of the semester. It felt important to me to remember those who actively turned a blind eye to what was going on.

    Even the friend I was writing the list with knew what was going on, but didn’t do more than vague instances of help.

    Of course then Columbine happened and things got heightened at my school (we were near a military base and most of the kids had access to guns at home because their parents were military) so if anyone had found that list I’m sure there would have been issues. But I well remember the feelings that Jonathan must have had and that Buffy describes.

    April 18, 2017
  12. Mel

    “I mean, I understand why they would want to move her out of the cafeteria that’s currently full of thoughts, but how did they make it seem normal? And why didn’t any other school staff get involved? They have to fill out reports on shit like students passing out. And they probably should call Buffy’s mom.” –
    The level of incompetency of the staff at Sunnydale High just astounds me. If this sort of thing had happened at my high school, even twenty years ago, there would have been incident reports and nobody would have been allowed to touch her except for teachers with Workplace Level 2 First Aid. And of course they would have called the student’s parents. In fact, she probably would have been taken to hospital for observation. But we’re living in TV land here, so all that goes out the window. Just because the show has supernatural elements doesn’t mean that the crew behind the show couldn’t have tried harder to emulate reality occasionally. Just lazy writing if you ask me.

    April 20, 2017
  13. Artemis

    Hoo boy. It is very strange reading this ON the anniversary of Columbine. I also remember this episode being rescheduled…actually, my most appalling thought while reading the recap is that going up to the clock tower with a rifle with a scope is “so old school.” But it’s seriously really disorienting to remember when stuff like this was a, like, semi-realistic episode of a TV show. By the time I graduated high school, saying Xander’s line about fantasizing about a school shooting would have earned him an automatic, mandatory 5 day suspension and a visit from the cops to search his house for guns.

    There definitely were school shootings in the news pre-Columbine, but they weren’t the sort of serious business they later became. I distinctly remember that there had been a recent handful all kind of treated as freaky one-offs. The reason I very clearly remember this is because 4/20/99 fell during spring break my freshman year of high school, but we still had play rehearsal. For our spring musical, Annie Get Your Gun. The prop guns had just come in that day, and we were all running around pretending to shoot each other with them and joking about school shooters…and then I got home from rehearsal and my dad was watching the live coverage from Columbine on CNN.

    April 20, 2017
  14. Lauren

    For the record, I’ve met Seth Green, and he’s the coolest in person. Even being an unsuccessful actor in LA has its moments!

    Also, the actor who played Jonathan is REALLY successful now, so I guess height doesn’t matter in the long run!

    I was thinking about Columbine too during this episode, and wondering if it aired around then, since I wasn’t watching during the original run. Thanks for giving context! It’s really hard to imagine an episode like this playing now without a LOT more sensitivity on all fronts.

    April 22, 2017
  15. Laina

    Huh, you know, good for Larry for getting himself to a good place.

    April 22, 2017
  16. Jemmy

    I’m not a fan of Cordelia, but I love her in this one. She very much says what she’s thinking, which I like. Oz was a great character and they should have kept him on, he was the best.

    I liked that they used a semi regular character with Jonathan for the person in this one. I think it gave it more impact than if they’d used a once off character. I had the same thoughts re the size of the gun, that’s not usually something you’d point at yourself, and if you can access a high powered rifle, surely there’s something smaller you can get to as well.

    Overall, despite the heavy subject, this is one of my favourites and leads into my favourite episode group for the show.

    April 25, 2017

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