“Listening to Fear”
Written by Jane Espenson
Directed by David Solomon
Buffy and Dawn are with Joyce in her hospital room. Dawn has opted to eat the hospital jell-o with her fingers rather than with a spoon. Gross. The doctor comes in. He has good news! Joyce is eligible for surgery, so that’ll happen in two days. Buffy plans to stay with her the whole time. The Scoobies will be patrolling for her.
Cut to the Scoobies struggling against some vampires. They’re all getting beat up. Then Willow manages to turn the tide by staking one of the vamps (both of whom seem to be unusually muscular chicks) and then the other one. Riley isn’t with them. That would be because he’s in a condemned building, letting a vamp chick bite his arm.
Willow arrives at the hospital with a fun care package for Joyce. Items include a beer hat for Joyce, a book about spells for Dawn (“about” being the operative word there; it doesn’t contain actual spells, but it does contain the history of some spells!), and a giant history book and a yoyo for Buffy. I’m really confused about that history book. Based on the dialogue, it seems to be for the history class they’re taking together, but wouldn’t Buffy have already bought all her class textbooks at the beginning of the semester? Is this just an optional textbook that she thought she wouldn’t need? Joyce goes a little funny while Willow and Buffy are talking about their history class. All three girls find that rather alarming. They decide to leave her alone to rest. The doctors did warn Buffy that Joyce’s tumor might make her say crazy things sometimes. But only until the operation.
The man who got brainsucked by Glory a few episodes ago is at the hospital now, and he’s very confused by Dawn. Ben the sexy intern comes over and Buffy introduces him to Willow. The mental ward is so overbooked now that the hospital is releasing the patients with families for out-patient care.
The camera pans over Sunnydale at night, then finds Willow and Tara camping out on a rooftop. They’re talking about stars. Willow knows all the constellations. Tara just makes up her own because the official ones seemed weird to her. Then there’s a meteor which crashes not far away.
Cut to the landing site, which has a trail of fire. And something is coming out of the meteor and crawling away. The crazy guy from the hospital is wandering in the woods nearby. Seems his family didn’t do a great job of watching him after all. The thing from the meteor jumps on him. It’s like a horrifying demonic roly-poly.
Now it’s making its way to the hospital. In her room, Joyce is upset about her call button not working. She’s out of it again. The doctor comes in. Buffy tells him Joyce wants to spend the time until the operation at home. He doesn’t think that’s wise, but Joyce’s social filter is very much down right now, so she gets all in his face. Buffy gives Dawn money to go get something from the vending machine so she won’t have to be around crazy Joyce. The doctor’s main concern about Joyce going home is that it would be a lot of work for Buffy. Buffy is very okay with that. Out in the hall, the creepy meteor monster is crawling on the ceiling above Dawn.
The rest of the Scoobies (including Riley this time, and also Anya and Tara) are looking for the meteor crash site. They notice that the meteor is hollow, and they think there might’ve been a creepy crawly inside. They find the dead crazy man. Willow recognizes him. They find a gross-smelling substance in his mouth. They want to figure out as much as they can about this alien monster without contacting Buffy. Riley stays by the man’s body to do a little more work there (everyone else would rather do book research). Once they all leave, he calls some government people and tries to get in touch with Graham.
A nurse is tucking in patients in the mental ward. The one who’s awake is very afraid of being left alone in there. She leaves and turns out the lights. The alien critter is definitely in there. It slithers up to that guy’s bed and spits a large quantity of liquid all over his face. He screams, but the nurse doesn’t react.
Buffy is just about finished checking Joyce out so they can take her home. And yeah, I’m starting to think Buffy must’ve learned how to drive offscreen at some point. The monster is watching them on their way out. They get home. Lights hurt Joyce’s eyes, so they turn them off. Buffy takes Joyce up to her room.
A helicopter flies in near the meteor crash site, where Riley is waiting. Graham and a squad of guys in tactical gear and black berets climb out. Riley tells them what he knows and Graham ribs him about how usually he’d turn to Buffy for help with this stuff. They check out the body. Apparently the stuff in the man’s throat isn’t toxic, just gross, and the cause of death appears to be that the man choked on it. Somehow, without leaving the site, Riley has learned all this and that the substance is a protein alkaloid. I’m pretty sure that’s not how crime scene investigation works.
Also apparently the substance is breaking down too quickly to track the critter with it. Again, how would Riley know that just based on the observations he could make at the scene in minimal lighting with no equipment? Riley thinks they can track it better by its radiation signature.
Buffy and Dawn are watching TV in the living room. The alien critter is in the house. It zeroes in on Joyce, who comes downstairs. Buffy hears something break in the kitchen and goes to investigate with Dawn. Joyce is in crazy mode again, which is not the best time to be cooking. She gets rather harsh with Buffy, but then snaps out of it. Buffy and Dawn take her upstairs. The alien critter is still lurking. Buffy and Dawn tuck Joyce in, and then Joyce goes back into crazy mode and freaks out at Dawn in much the same way other crazy people have been doing all season. Dawn runs away, and then Joyce is herself again. Buffy finds Dawn and assures her that Joyce only said that because she wasn’t herself. But Dawn has also noticed the pattern with other people, and it’s starting to get to her. Buffy promises it’s just about their craziness, not anything about Dawn herself. She tells Dawn not to listen.
Xander is looking at a model of the solar system and being annoyed that they’re at the university library for research. This meteor is the only one that’s landed recently. But Willow found something online about a meteor in Russia in the early 1900s. There have been other incidents over the centuries. Xander finds something in his book about people summoning a meteor to “quell” the madness caused by the moon. The dates of the meteor strikes Willow found match up to periods of strange epidemics of insanity that then abruptly ended. So the space critter is a queller demon, and it targets crazy people. These Quellers have to be summoned.
They call Riley, since they’re trying very hard not to bother Buffy. Which is very unfortunate. However, thanks to Riley, they now know that all the mental patients at the hospital have been killed by the Queller. Willow is worried Joyce might be eligible for Quelling. Riley thinks it’s fine, though, because he’s pretty sure they’ve cornered the Queller in the airducts. Wow, fail. Then he hangs up.
Joyce is ranting at her ceiling. Dawn can hear her through her wall and it’s freaking her out. Buffy is doing dishes down in the kitchen, and she turns on the most obnoxious music ever to drown out Joyce’s crazy talk. Or maybe it’s to drown out the sound of her sobs, which start pretty soon after she turns it on. Also, Joyce isn’t just ranting at the ceiling. She’s ranting at the Queller. She doesn’t appreciate the way it’s staring at her.
Graham traces the radiation signature out of the hospital, where it ends abruptly. Riley figures it hitched a ride on a car with a patient who checked out. Then he remembers about Buffy checking Joyce out.
The Queller jumps down on Joyce. It spits on her face. Dawn checks on her in time to see the Queller pinning her down and a shell of hardened mucous over her face. She knocks the Queller off with a coat rack, and Joyce manages to pull the mucous off her face. The Queller chases Dawn, who runs and yells for Buffy. Dawn barricades herself and Joyce inside Joyce’s room.
Buffy finally hears Dawn’s yells and comes running. After checking in on Joyce and Dawn, she gets tackled by the Queller and they tumble down the stairs together. Uh, Buffy, you can turn on the lights now. Joyce won’t get headaches from lights that aren’t in her room. There’s no reason to hunt the Queller in the dark. Spike suddenly emerges from the basement. What the hell was he doing there? Oh. Stealing pictures of Buffy. Okay then. The Queller tackles him. Then it jumps on Buffy. Spike tosses her a butcher knife and she stabs it to death. It makes a really freaky squeaky crying sound. I would be very happy if the Queller never showed up in the series again.
Riley and Graham’s squad storm the Summers house just when Spike has helped Buffy back to her feet. Riley asks Buffy if she’s okay, but instead of answering, Buffy runs up to check on Joyce and Dawn. They all hug.
Ben the sexy intern is leaving the hospital. Glory’s diseased-looking minion is sitting in the backseat of his car, waiting for him. Ben seems weirdly unsurprised to see him, but he tells him to get out. Minion guy calls him “sir.” Apparently Ben is the one who summoned the Queller in the first place, to clean up Glory’s mess. He’s been cleaning up Glory’s messes his whole life, and he’s not happy about it. He drives away.
Joyce is getting prepped for surgery while Buffy holds her hand. When the nurse leaves, she asks Buffy about Dawn. She remembers what she said to Dawn during her crazy episodes. She just knew that Dawn isn’t really hers. Buffy confirms it. Joyce still wants to take care of her, though, because she still feels like her daughter. She makes Buffy promise to take care of Dawn if anything happens to her. She hugs Buffy and asks what she’d do without her. Buffy seems to be wondering what she’d do without Joyce. The doctors wheel Joyce away to the operating room while Buffy and Dawn watch, the rest of the Scoobies in the waiting room behind them.
“Listening to Fear” is another one of S5’s solid episodes. The only reason it’s more memorable than most S5 episodes is because of how deeply unsettling the Queller is, particularly in the scene where it’s on the ceiling in Joyce’s room. Aside from the Queller itself, there’s really nothing in the episode that isn’t part of bigger arcs of the season. Riley is still letting vamp chicks bite him and now he’s turning to military allies instead of the Scoobies for help, Spike is still being a giant creeper, Joyce’s illness is progressing and taking some very uncomfortable detours, and we learn that Ben is somehow connected to Glory.
I really like that the Scoobies make such an effort in this episode to give Buffy time to be with Joyce and Dawn. Buffy usually ends up shouldering the bulk of Plot A along with Plot B, and even though she did end up having to kill the Queller herself (before anyone could tell her what they’d found out about it), it was good of them to try to make things easier for her. But, of course, that means that instead of worrying about things she can fight, she has to deal entirely with the one thing she can’t. She manages to be very strong when she’s in front of Joyce and Dawn, but then breaks down as soon as she’s alone in the kitchen. And that shot of her face when Joyce says she doesn’t know what she’d do without her is just heartbreaking.
Xander continues to be the only character besides Buffy who seems to be paying any attention to Riley. He tries to guilt trip Riley for missing patrol. I feel like he would’ve been justified in trying a little harder, because he, Willow, and Giles could have been seriously hurt, and it seems like Riley gave them no advance notice that he wouldn’t be there.
Willow and Tara’s stargazing scene is really cute, and I love that Willow is continuing to be kind of the third Summers sister. Of all the Scoobies, she’s the one who has the most scenes with the Summers ladies. I do think it’s kind of weird, though, that she isn’t really noticing how weird and distant Riley is getting.
Considering that the Queller is from outer space, I think Riley was pretty justified in calling in his government task force buddies to deal with it, but why not let the Scoobies know that was his plan? And first he takes out an entire vamp nest on his own, then he misses a patrol to get munched on by a vamp chick? Because it’s one thing for him to be reckless with his own safety, but another thing entirely for him to be reckless with the safety of others.
Anya is largely on the sidelines in this one, but it’s kind of interesting that as long as she’s been around, she’s never heard of Quellers. She doesn’t contribute anything to the research phase of the episode, which is kind of rare for her lately.
Dawn is a very smart girl. She’s spotted the pattern in the way crazy people react to her, and I don’t think Buffy fully convinced her that it was nothing to worry about. After all, Buffy herself once freaked out at Dawn and said she wasn’t her sister. The evidence is piling up that something weird is going on.
We knew from last time that Spike has made at least one trip to Buffy’s house to steal her stuff, but now it’s officially a pattern. Gross.
It’s been a long time since Giles went on patrol, and I’m pretty sure most of the times he went on patrol in the past were so that he could observe Buffy’s techniques and offer constructive criticism.
“I still don’t get why we had to come here to get info about a killer snot monster.”
“Because it’s a killer snot monster from outer space. ...I did not say that.”
The Watcher's Diary
In this blog, I'll be reviewing, analyzing, and generally fangirling over excellent television. Exhibit A: the Whedonverse.