Written by David Fury
Directed by Tucker Gates
The gang (sans Giles) is hanging in Xander’s basement, where Xander is not doing a great job of carving his Jack-o-Lantern. It looks pretty unimaginative. Buffy is still very mopey. Xander has just as much success with arranging their Halloween movie night as he does with his Jack-o-Lantern. He got Fantasia instead of Phantasm. Come on, man, they don’t even start with the same letter. Even if he had gotten the right movie, though, they’re actually planning on going to a frat Halloween party. Nobody informed Xander of this fact, and he feels very left out. He agrees instantly when they extend an invitation to him. Buffy heads out. Everyone else is sad that she’s sad, and they’re very annoyed at Parker.
Buffy walks alone through the center of town, where a demon jumps out at her. She promptly punches it in the face, but then it turns out to just be a dude in a demon mask, ‘cause, Halloween. Oops. (Wait, who goes around wearing demon masks before actual Halloween? Because it’s not actual Halloween yet. Weirdo.)
Willow is telling Buffy about her witchcraft progress, which has plateaued lately. Buffy’s wearing a very pretty shirt.
Willow wants Buffy’s encouragement about pushing farther with the magic, not her words of caution, but Buffy’s not in an encouraging mood. Oz too would prefer Willow to be careful. Willow feels betrayed by this attitude, but that doesn’t stop Oz from worrying. As a werewolf, he knows how scary and uncontrollable power can be, but he’ll have her back whatever she decides to do. She likes that. Nearby, Parker is at a table laughing with some friends, and that ruins whatever glimmer of non-misery Buffy had managed to achieve. She puts her food back on the cafeteria counter and bolts. Willow follows her and tries to get her thinking positive thoughts about potential love interests at the party. Buffy doesn’t feel like being pushed towards another relationship, though. Also she thinks she’ll be too busy patrolling to do anything fun for Halloween anyway.
She goes to Giles’s flat to verify this, and she finds him wearing a tasseled sombrero and a poncho, holding a giant bowl of candy for trick-or-treaters. Buffy has never been more bewildered in her life, but wait, there’s more! When she comes inside, she sees that his flat is covered in Halloween decorations, including a cheesy animatronic Frankenstein’s monster dangling from the ceiling, which makes Giles super happy.
Eventually he shifts more into patterns of behavior she’s comfortable with, removing the sombrero. (Nooooooo. Let the man have his fun. It’s adorable.) Now that he’s not a Watcher anymore, he has time to enjoy the holiday. He’s reasonably certain that there won’t be anything supernatural to worry about.
Since this is a Joss Whedon show, lines like that are always ironic transitions, which means that something supernatural is going to spring up from whatever’s happening in this next scene at the frat house where the Halloween party will be. Frat guys are setting things up. I can’t figure out what’s going on with this guy’s hair, but it looks super weird. Also he has extremely translucent, grayish eyebrows.
The other guy found a mystical-looking symbol to include as part of the decorations. He must not have been in Sunnydale long, if he thinks that’s going to end well.
Anya shows up at Xander’s basement again. Her hair looks to be a slightly lighter shade of brown, and a little shorter. Does that mean Anya will be taking over for Oz as the character with chameleon hair? His hasn’t changed colors all season. She’s annoyed that Xander hasn’t called her. Xander’s confused, because she said she was over him. She’s not good at sending subtle signals, and he’s not good at picking up on them. Bluntness is better all around. He admits that he likes seeing her. She smiles, very pleased. She wants to go out with him. She doesn’t get why he’s friends with Buffy, Willow, and Oz, though. He invites her to the party, and she wants him to be clear: are they dating? Yes. This pleases her too. He tells her to dress up as something scary. She doesn’t know what to wear, but he’s confident she can draw on her eleven centuries of demonic wish-granting to come up with an idea.
Buffy tries to get make-up psych work from Professor Walsh, but Professor Walsh is not overflowing with sympathy. She leaves. Riley tries to tell Buffy that things are just hard because it’s her freshman year. She shouldn’t be so hard on herself; she should have fun. It’s a fairly sweet interaction. Buffy leaves feeling slightly heartened.
The frat guys are finishing up their decorations, and Oz is setting up a better sound system for them, with Xander’s help. Xander notices the creepy symbol they’re painting on the floor, then notices that they have grapes. Of the two, he’s more interested in the grapes. Oz finishes the sound system, but it’s not quite perfect. He goes to trim the wire and cuts his finger a little. He shakes his hand, and a couple of droplets of blood fall on the creepy symbol, which vibrates with mystical energy, turning a plastic spider into a real tarantula. Somehow, they all fail to notice this.
Buffy went home to get Joyce’s help adjusting her old Little Red Riding Hood costume. Joyce can sew! Cool. She gets all nostalgic when she sees Buffy wearing it, and they talk about past Halloweens Buffy shared with her dad. Who hasn’t been spending much time with Buffy at all in for the last couple of years. Buffy is feeling kind of jaded about getting close to people, what with Hank’s aloofness, Angel leaving, and Parker using her and discarding her. Joyce knows how that feels, but she assures Buffy that it’s important to not become too jaded. After her divorce from Hank, it took her a while before she felt like being sociable again, but now she has good friends and is fairly happy. Buffy can make it too. She doesn’t need to be afraid.
Halloween time! People are TP-ing houses and campus buildings like crazy. Willow is talking to Oz (I think) on the phone while getting dressed in a Joan of Arc costume that has better production value than the Nottingham guards’ armor in BBC’s Robin Hood series.
Willow says something very telling: “We will force fun upon [Buffy].” You cannot force someone to have fun, Willow, and trying usually backfires. She heads out, and she passes a couple arguing in the hall. The girl is dressed as a giant present, and the guy is dressed as a lobster.
The party is on at the frat house. The bowl of peeled grapes (which is supposed to feel like eyeballs) actually turns into eyeballs. Uh oh.
Buffy’s in her Red Riding Hood outfit, which is very cute. Her basket is full of weapons. Xander is dressed in a tux, hoping to become James Bond if they get turned into their costumes again. Willow and Oz join them. Oz’s costume consists of a nametag that says “God” on it. He’s basically an accessory to Willow’s Joan of Arc costume.
Some of the soldier guys we’ve been seeing around emerge from some shrubbery. They assume they’re just more costume-wearing people. Buffy feels slightly bummed because now that Xander has Anya as his date, she’s the fifth wheel.
The party has dissolved into complete chaos, and it looks like there has already been at least one casualty. A girl dressed as a princess is dead and bloody on a couch. Oh, wait. Worse. She’s a zombie now. And if you’re watching really closely, you’ll notice this single frame of creepiness slotted in there.
The guy with the bizarrely stiff-looking hair trips as he’s fleeing down the stairs, and he breaks his neck.
The gang comes inside, and they start going through the haunted house maze. Buffy is unimpressed. Willow gets caught in cobwebs, and a plastic skeleton pops out at Xander. The first sign of actual creepiness is that tarantula from before showing up on Willow’s shoulder. Oz immediately gets rid of it. There’s also a blood stain on the floor. And BATS all over the ceiling. They swarm all around them, then vanish. Oz picks one of them up. It’s rubber again. A scary voice shouts “RELEASE ME.” This is definitely bad news.
Anya is wearing a bunny outfit. She comes to the frat house, but the door is gone. She’s annoyed. She walks back out onto the lawn and sees one of the windows suddenly brick over while a girl screams on the other side of it.
The scary house is getting more and more maze-like. Leaving would probably be a good idea, except…maze-like. They find a very traumatized guy in the fetal position in a closet. That plastic skeleton from earlier turns into a much more realistic, and animated, skeleton, then stabs Buffy. It didn’t get her too bad, and she kicks it so solidly that it turns back into plastic. The closet door where that kid was cowering vanishes. Buffy wants to send them to find Giles while she makes her way up to the trapped partiers.
There’s a knock on Giles’s door. He seems to have not had much trick-or-treat traffic so far, because he’s sitting at his desk, eating his candy, and looking vaguely forlorn in his hilarious sombrero. The person at the door is Anya! Who wants his help saving Xander. If he saves Buffy, Willow, and Oz, that’s fine, just as long as he makes sure he saves Xander. She’s very anxious and impatient.
Willow is indignant that Buffy is trying to send her to safety. She wants to do a guiding spell to help them find their way. Buffy doesn’t want her to risk it. Willow doesn’t appreciate being treated like a sidekick. She storms off, and Oz follows her. The whole time, Xander has been trying to offer his support, but nobody has been paying attention to him. Now it becomes clear that they can’t pay attention to him for supernatural reasons. The magic of the house has cloaked him from them.
Willow is ranting to Oz about how she’s a capable witch, dangit! Oz looks at his hands, which are clawed and furry. His transformation continues. Willow thinks they can just find something to restrain him, but he wants to run away so he won’t hurt her. He ends up accidentally clawing her hand, then bolts. Her cries of “Don’t leave me!” echo through the halls. Man sometimes I hate foreshadowing.
A gross bloody prop head freaks Xander out, and he keeps running. Oz is now curled up in a bathtub, wiling himself not to transform the rest of the way. Buffy is prowling slowly, aiming her crossbow at anything that makes a sound. Willow is sitting on a table, doing the guiding spell. At first, it seems to work, and she conjures a little firefly-like light. But then it splits into a swarm of lights that swirl all around her. She yells for help, and some of them go into her mouth. She tries to run away, and they follow her.
Buffy hears her yelling and tries to help her, but she ends up falling to the basement instead. Luckily, she didn’t break any bones. Broken neck guy tells Buffy how alone she is, until now! Hands burst out of the gravely floor (Uh, why isn’t the floor solid? Does this house not have a foundation?) and grab her. Zombies are digging their way out.
Anya and Giles have arrived at the frat house. Giles isn’t deterred by the lack of a front door, because he brought a chainsaw. Even Tony Head can't seem to entirely stop himself from grinning. The moment is just too awesome.
It’s Giles’s ability to go from dork in a sombrero to badass with a chainsaw in the space of a single episode that makes him one of my favorite characters.
Buffy escapes the zombies and goes through a door…which leads directly from the basement to the attic. Where she finds Oz cowering, Willow swiping at the swarm (which is now gone), and Xander muttering to himself. Yay, they’re all back together! But, bad. They’re together exactly where the evil thing wants them. Xander finds the book with the symbol the frat guys painted. The book is in Gaelic, and for some reason, Willow knows enough Gaelic to translate some of it. How the crap did she gain a working knowledge of Gaelic? That’s not one of the languages American high schools typically offer, and I’ve never seen it on a college course catalogue either. The frat guys accidentally started the spell, and now everyone’s fear is driving the spell’s loading bar up to 100%. If it finishes, then Gaknar, the fear demon, will manifest. They just have to get out before that happens.
They head for the door, and Giles bursts in, still carrying the chainsaw. Anya hugs Xander in relief. Willow hands Giles the book. He shows Buffy a picture of the demon. They should make sure the spell can’t complete. Buffy pulls up some of the floorboards under the creepy symbol. Which was a bad move. Now the spell is automatically complete. The Fear demon emerges! He looks very scary…except that he’s only four inches tall. He even has a little chipmunk-y voice. Nobody is remotely afraid. Giles tells her she should still slay it, so she stomps it.
They all (including Anya) go to Giles’s flat and pig out on his candy. Xander questions Anya about her “scary” costume. What? She’s afraid of bunnies, okay. Deal with it. Turns out, under that picture Giles showed Buffy of Gaknar, it says “actual size” in Gaelic. *snort*
“Fear, Itself” is a lot of fun, and like “Halloween,” it uses some fairly standard tropes of the holiday to delve into the psyches of several main characters. Last time, it was using the “we all turn into our costumes” trope to explore the conflicting extremes in the lives of Giles, Buffy, Xander, and Willow. This time, we get the “actually haunted house” trope as a way to explore the fears and insecurities of Buffy, Xander, Willow, and Oz. The joke at the end is not only hilarious, it’s thematically brilliant. Fear can only control us if we let it. If we take a step back, we might realize that our problems aren’t nearly as big as we thought they were. Halloween episodes seem to provide writers with especially fun ways to frame character development.
Buffy is (not without reason) developing abandonment issues, which are fun to add on top of feeling isolated and alienated because she’s the Slayer. I really love the moment with Joyce. It’s one of Joyce’s best mom moments, and it’s really nice to see Buffy opening up to her like that. I think Joyce’s advice is why Buffy seems less shaken up by the haunted house’s influence than the others are. She’s already received some emotional fortification against her fears, so she’s better prepared to handle it when they attack her in force.
Xander is back to feeling like a useless burden on his more capable friends. His arc in this episode feels like a more thoughtful version of what he goes through in “The Zeppo.” His friends are now not only more skilled and capable than he; they’re moving on with their lives, while he’s stuck in his parents’ basement. He wants to be valued and to have a purpose, but he doesn’t know how to make that happen. Anya seems to value him, though, and that’s something. I think that’s why he brings her back to Giles’s flat at the end. She doesn’t think he’s worthless, so he thinks she’s worth including in the group.
Willow’s desire to push forward with her witchcraft masks how afraid she is that she’ll never make any progress. She’s such a genius at everything else she does that she can’t accept that it might take actual time for her to master this very dangerous craft. The guiding spell turning into a swarm of angry firefly lights is the biggest negative onscreen consequence her magic has had so far, but since it was all part of the fear demon’s influence, I don’t think she’s learned caution as a result. Also, we get yet another example of her inability to give Buffy time to heal. I’ve had people try to force me to cheer up before, and all it accomplishes is to make me angry and annoyed on top of whatever sad feelings I already had. Someone needs to explain that to Willow, because Buffy is a bit too considerate of everyone else’s feelings to do it herself.
Oz may have a super chill exterior 90% of the time, but this episode shows us just how terrified he is of that crumbling away. He gives an impression of control that he doesn’t actually feel. The wolf is in there, wild and untamed. When it starts coming out in the haunted house, his instinct is not to turn to someone else for help, it’s to get himself as far away from the people he cares about as possible. And oh boy is that not a habit he breaks by the end of the episode.
Much like in “Halloween,” we get a glorious display in “Fear, Itself” of the many sides of Giles. He’s not just a stuffy librarian; sometimes he can be a geek who reacts with childish delight to Halloween decorations, and other times he can be a ruthless, unstoppable force who will do anything to protect Buffy. I love it. There was no need to see how Giles reacted to the influence of the haunted house. We already know that Giles turns fear into action. He’s rarely afraid for himself, but he’s frequently afraid for Buffy, and he always does something about it.
“Mi Casio es su Casio.”
“If we close our eyes and say it’s a dream, it’ll stab us to death. These things are real!”
The Watcher's Diary
In this blog, I'll be reviewing, analyzing, and generally fangirling over excellent television. Exhibit A: the Whedonverse.