Fear, Itself

Story by Joss Whedon and David Greenwalt
Teleplay by David Greenwalt
Directed by Vern Gillum

Perri's Review | SunSpeak

Perri's Review

Oh dear. Be prepared to be spooked, grossed out, and severely injured due to laughing your head off!

The night before Halloween finds Xander staring disconsolently at his jack o'lantern, as Oz and Willow offer critiques and Buffy contemplates life in a bowl of pumpkin guts. She's depressed over Parker the Poophead; Xander is a little put-out that the others made plans to attend a frat party without him. This is quickly remedied, but Buffy is still bummed; she leaves, with the guys staring after her in sympathy. The walk back to campus is enlivened by a 'demon attack'; Buffy responds appropriately, and the enraged Trick or Treater takes off, leaving Buffy to stare after him, wondering what is wrong with her.

The next morning, Willow and Buffy hit the caf, and it's Willow's turn to be depressed, worrying she has plateau'd in her quest to become a full-fledged witch. Oz arrives in time to express both concern (about uncontrolled power) and support, and Buffy bails when she spots Parker laughing across the room. When Willow follows to express support, Buffy pleads needing to patrol and heads to Giles' to get him to back her up. Giles, however, has decided to get into the spirit of things and meets her at the door with a bowl of candy, a serape and a really scary sombrero. With fringe. He also refuses to back her up on patrolling, since Halloween is traditionally dead in the supernatural sense.

At the frat house, two guys decorate their house with the intent of scaring every girl in the place into their arms. While their sound system sucks (and they call Oz to remedy it), their taste in mystical symbols can't be beaten; the one they pull out of an old book to paint on the floor is more than sufficiently spooky.

Xander, meanwhile, gets an unexpected guest in the form of Anya; it's been a week since they "copulated" and she wants to know what the score is since he hasn't called. They establish that Xander is going to believe what Anya tells him, especially when she says that she's over him, and he invites Anya along to the party as his date. She heads off to find something scary costume-wise, and Buffy finds something scary professor-wise when she beards Professor Walsh in her den and gets raked over the coals for missing class. Riley offers a certain amount of sympathy and support, telling Buffy to work on her priorities -- and to go out and have some fun for Halloween.

Oz and Xander arrive at the frat house with the requested sound system as the boys finish painting their symbol; Oz hurts himself stripping wire and drops of his blood fall on the symbol, which ripples ominously and mystically.

Buffy, resigned to partying, heads for home and retrieves her old Red Ridinghood costume, which her mother obligingly alters. They share a moment of nostalgia, and another moment of sadness, as Buffy mopes over not seeing her father; she's sensing a pattern of losing people she loves. Joyce offers sympathy and support, but Buffy remains unconvinced that she's not right.

Campus is swinging as the Slayerettes head for fun (and run into Commando Boys along the way, one of whom seems to recognize Buffy), but the frat party is heading for disaster. Clue on: those peeled grape eyeballs turn into real eyeballs. The screaming begins, and so does the bleeding, as the haunted house comes to life. The partygoers try to bail, with a notable lack of success -- one boy breaks his neck falling down the steps. A spectral voice rasps, "Release me"...

The Slayerettes arrive at the haunted house to find it nearly empty, and less than scary (except for the spring-loaded plastic skeleton that lunges out to stab Xander, who ducks in time). Willow, however, doesn't manage to avoid the spider that jumps on her shoulder. Then Buffy finds real blood on the floor, and the bats show up to play. When the formerly-live bats turn out to be plastic, the Fearsome Foursome begins to realize that Something Is Wrong. Anya, however, cheerfully striding along outside in her bunny suit, has no idea something is wrong -- until she arrives at the frat house and can't find a door. In an upstairs window, a terrified girl pounds and screams for help, then it vanishes. The window, that is. Immediately frightened for Xander, she runs for help.

When their walking around the house leaves them back where they started, the Slayerettes start getting seriously wigged. Xander finds himself being ignored as they hear something; Buffy opens a fake coffin to reveal a terrified Chaz, one of our happy frat-boy symbol painters. "It's alive," is all he can stutter out -- as a fake skeleton wakes up and attacks Buffy. She takes it down and it collapses back into plastic, leaving a hole in Buffy's cloak, and back. When they realize doors are disappearing, Buffy orders the other out of the house and to go find help. Willow protests vehemently, claiming she can find a travelers' guide spell to help them. Buffy equally vehemently objects, Willow takes it personally and goes storming off with Oz in hot pursuit. And, when Xander tries to calm Buffy down, realizes she's not hearing him. Or seeing him. Or being aware of his existence.

Anya has beaten them to finding help, at any rate; she tracks down a depressed and un-trick-or-treated Giles and fills him in on the situation. Back at the house, Willow and Oz are separated when he begins to wolf out, freaking him to the extreme; he lashes out at Willow, then runs, winding up hiding in a bathtub and trying to will himself out of the change. Willow tries her traveler's spell to find a guide, and it works -- then works overtime and she finds herself attacked by a swarm of magical constructs. Alerted by Willow's shouts, Buffy tries to trace her -- and falls through the floor into the basement.

"All alone," comes the voice from the darkness. The frat boy who broke his neck is suddenly mobile; he first taunts Buffy with her earlier thoughts, about everyone abandoning her and wondering why she bothers, then watches as arms pop out of the floor to attack the Slayer. Yup, it's zombies, and they're looking for lunch -- as Giles starts looking for a door in. Anya hovers anxiously until he announces they will have to create a door -- and pulls out a chainsaw. Needless to say, zombies are no match for the Buffster; she escapes through a door and is abruptly back upstairs -- with a non-wolf Oz, an unattacked Willow and a bitter Xander, who is thrilled to discover everyone acknowledging his existence again.

They were led to this room, Buffy quickly concludes, walking over to study the symbol on the floor. The sourcebook, Willow discovers, is Gaelic -- the spell for summoning a demon called Gachnar. The demon is trying to manifest by feeding off their fear, and succeeding fairly well. One more fear appears to have come to life when something starts tearing at the walls and a chainsaw-wielding manic comes in-- oh, no, wait, it's Giles. Followed by Anya, who immediately gloms onto Xander in relief. The walls have closed behind them, Giles reports, there's still no way out.

He concludes, big surprise, that they can't allow Gachnar to be released, and the picture in the book seems to back this up. Buffy tries to break it by destroying the symbol, which is, unfortunately, the way to release him immediately. Lights and noise begin to rumble from beneath the floor as a raging howl surrounds them. Gachnar slowly rises from the floor and draws himself to his full, awesome height -- of about five inches.

The Slayerettes, to say the least, are unimpressed. Fear vanishes in general hilarity over the "cute little fear demon"; despite Gachnar's best efforts at instilling horror, Buffy's foot ends his reign of terror in one fell 'squish'. Gachnar duly disposed of, the Slayerettes end their night by descending on Giles' house and his Halloween candy. A disgusted Giles watches them, then curses at the inscription below Gachnar's picture and brings it to Buffy, translating it as scary music swells.

"Actual size."

Last Halloween, everyone apparently stayed home and watched scary movies since this would have been Xander's second annual screening.

Commando Boys were patrolling the campus on Halloween night; looks like they didn't get the memo about lack of demon activity that night.

Somewhere along the way, Joyce got filled in about Ted's real identity. May we assume she's up to date on everything else, too?

Anya and Xander have sort of had their first official date (not counting prom).

Okay, yeah, I feel for Buffy. She's at the point where she can almost convince herself that everything she loves is going to leave. Angel, her father, Parker in his own special way (kill him, please!) -- even Xander is starting to become more distant, Giles has flat-out told her she has to stand on her own.... it's ahard p;lace to be, and gets harder with an absolute betrayal like Parker's (I'm talking her perception, no one else's, although I still think he's pond scum). It's easy to get the point where the hurt of losing someone just seems to outweigh any benefit, but Gachnar actually helps -- by making her confront her fear of abandonment, and then showing how silly it is by his own example, he drop-kicks her out of her funk, and her friends are right there to keep her from falling back down. Which is not to say she's not still going to be depresso periodically -- she's earned that.

Xander's family continues to get worse and worse. So, we've got at least his mom and his Uncle Rory drinking either constantly, or saving it all up for special occasions. < sigh > And now the Slayerettes are starting to get more and more distant, due more to lack of common interests (as Anya so tactfully pointed out) than any deliberate acts. He's still finding his way to stay in the group (lurking on campus, coming to parties, helping Oz and, of course, slaying), but, judging from the fear of being forgotten that manifested in the house, he's building up some major issues that are going to have to be dealt with. Preferably while he's wearing that tux. :)

Speaking of Anya, I'm starting to think she and Xander may actually be made for each other. Knocking and tactlessness aside (what is it with Xander and women who haven't got that particular definition?), Anya is straightforward (now that she's figured out games don't work) and who puts Xander right smack dab in the center of her universe. Which is a first for him (with the exception Willow pre-Oz) and is going to be really great for his ego as long as she doesn't turn into stalker chick. Meanwhile, she's definitely getting better at playing well with others -- she went to the party and she went to Giles for help -- and her grip on human interactions improves daily. Now, we've got to teach her about something besides sex.

You tend to forget Oz has issues until something like this, when the thought of turning scares him spitless. Obviously, judging from his speech to Willow in the cafeteria, he is not nearly as blase about wolfness as he generally lets himself look; he's scared both of the uncontrollability of the power, and if its ability to hurt others, particularly Willow. He's got such a good grip on that fear that it might actuall ybe bad; repression comes out at bad moment, like right in the middle of a haunted house.

Willow, Willow, Willow.. Sweetie, you are a sidekick. Until you are a strong enough witch in your own right to not need the Slayer saving your neck every three seconds, you're a sidekick, whose function is to ask questions and get taken hostage. Well, okay, not quite that extreme... but she's right. The magic has grown to be her strongest contribution to the Slayerette team, and it's not something she can control yet. She is, quite healthily, as afraid of the magic as she is fascinated by it; I hope that trend continues as she keeps studying. A cautious witch is a live witch.

One of the best Joyce character moments so far lasts about three minutes in this ep, and Kristine Sutherland makes the most of all of them. You don't stop to think about what a hard time joyce has had in the last few years -- a divorce which radically changed her lifestyle, having to cope with being single and running her business, moving to a new town and having to make new friends when she's changed so much she doesn't even know herself... she would have been in bad shape even without the Buffster keeping her up at night. She's actually a very strong lady to have survived all of her disasters -- natural and supernatural -- and come out still relatively sane and healthy, and able to give her daughter the kind of TLC and emotional support she desperately needs. One thing I did notice, too -- while she obviously doesn't include Giles as anything reselmbing a relationship, she did make sure to mention him as one of the people who care a lot about buffy and whom she can depend on. That's quite a step for Joyce "I blame you" Summers to have taken. Very cool.

I love Giles, and he really is enjoying being a free man for about the first time in his life. Telling the Watcher Council to go to hell, first on his own behalf, then on Buffy's -- is incredibly liberating for him; even when he was busy rebelling and being Ripper, they were still controlling his actions in a way. But now, he's free to do things like wear a silly costume and enjoy the hell out of Halloween, or wander around with a chainsaw in a bag. I approve of this. Although the sombrero was really scary. I've got to say that I'm loving Riley . His pep talk to Buffy was really well done -- and more that a bit 'older and wiser' in tone, which is going to make things intersting later -- and his sense of humor continues to make me very happy. This is what Owen was missing, way back in first season; the boy had no sense of his own absurdity. If Joss is trying to make us accept a new man in Buffy's life, he's doing damned well; now, we have to find out why he's stalking around campus in commando gear (yes, I agree that he's one of them).

Professor Walsh is a bitch, and I mean that in a semi-complimentary way, although she shouldn't have whaled on someone as obviously depressed as Buffy; that's a not a good psychologist-like way to do things. :P Whether she's more than just a bitch remains to be seen.

Best Moments:
Oz's 'supportive' talk to Willow. Wow, I love this guy.

Buffy seeing Giles in "costume". < snicker > I was right there with her, although he was really adorable.

Anay's visit to Xander. Copulated? Geeez.... But their relationship continues to get stranger and cuter... and funnier.

The costumes in the hall of the dorm. The lobster and present, Ru Paul, Death on the cell phone... a really great few moments of incongruety and fun stuff.

Willow and Oz's costumes. Oz's deadpan flashing of his name tag made me laugh so hard I completely missed Xander's answering, and equally hilarious, riff.

Riley's pep talk to Buffy. I love this guy.

"Me Casio es su Casio." ROTFL!

Oz in the bathtub. Ouch. Ouchouchouch.

Giles and the chain saw!!! Thank you kindly for the nod to Army of Darkness -- ASH as Ash!

Anya making it into the room and instantly hugging Xander. Soooo cute, bunny costume and all.

Gachnar's impressive appearance. < snerk > "Fear me!" And Giles' "No, it's.. jsut tacky." was perfect beyond words! A great twist ending!

"Actual size." < snerk > 'Nuff said.

Questions and Comments:
So, was that Riley leading the Commando Boys?

Someone in SunSpeak says it betetr than I can, but the entire episode was a beautiful pointy point. All that build-up, all that disgusting fear and terror... and when they reached the source, all they had to do was face him and they could squash him like one of those peeled grapes. Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5. Gory, scary, lovely subtle character work, and one of the funniest episodes yet, with an ending matched only by Giles walking into a tree.


"Sometimes in life, it's the small things that bring a smile to your face, joy in your heart, and laughter out loud in your living room. I still think Buffy getting wigged by Giles is scary. And this episode had tension until the end. The best ending ever." -- Karen

"Have you seen how creatures of the night conduct themselves and often dress? Three words to the creatures of the night who feel Halloween is too crass: Pot. Kettle. Black."
"Y'know, that struck me as a bit of festive flippancy on Giles' part...especially in light of the odd look he gave Buffy when she made much the same comment in "Halloween". Methinks mayhaps there's more to it...whether or not Giles and his library know exactly *what*." -- Deb and Valerie

"Poor OZ!!!! It's been a while since we've seen him do the change or really heard about it and when it started and he was SOOOOOO scared and freaking, I must admit I was right there with him. Willow, I was less sort of concerned about. Not that I didn't have a smidgen of Willow-worry...I did. Just not as much as I had about Oz. I was moved to threaten Joss in abstenia that if he didn't make Oz's pain go away, I'd help him realize a few of his own choice fears." -- Deb

"OK, guys in fatigues - I am not saying they are and I'm not saying they aren't from the Watchers Council but I am thinking --Hey, these guys know who and what Buffy is...and they aren't loving the fact that they just ran into her."
"Unless one of them was *Riley* and working for the professor and that's why he knew who Buffy was....."
"As I was watching for the second time last night, when the NATO-guys showed up I suddenly sat up and started yelling, "It's Riley! That's Riley!!" I _swear_ that taller fellow is Riley - right height, right build, and _he_ was the one who seemend to recognize Buffy. I'll bet he was thinking, "Oh, good, she *did* decide to go out tonight." -- Deb, Mary Beth, Maureen

"Okay, when people said they wanted to see Giles in tassles, I don't think that's what they had in mind." -- Beth

"Giles needs a life in the worst way" -- MB

"This roomie moment brought to you by the makers of Oxy-Gen... for those moments when you've laughed just a little toooo hard." -- Mary Beth

"He scratched her.... but not only do I think it's just a bite from a werewolf that makes you a werewolf (transfer of saliva) but also, I don't know that it *really* happened, you know? The spiders and bats all turned fake so... the scratches may not be real? Did Buffy's wound go away? Did the guy at the bottom of the stairs stay dead? Kinda confusing. A *great* episode.... but that one hole is bugging me." -- Mary Beth

"Somewhere in a Motel-6 there is a lamp missing its shade." -- Chris

"You know, I loved this bit not just because it was silly/funny --- which it was--- but because they had Giles being kind of out-of-it again. Granted, I love it when he's a cool guy, but I fell for him first because he *wasn't* entirely clueful. To have him getting _way_ too into the spirit of Halloween and hoping for Trick-or-Treaters just seems appropriate and wonderfully transplanted-Brit and Giles. I just want to hug him. Except when he has the chainsaw. Oh, God. *laughing again* Tool time! It's... tool time! The look on Giles's *face* when he fired up that bad boy--- stand back, Ash! The Army of Darkness has a new threat, and he can actually read the Latin and probably pronounce "Klatuu barata nikto." Plus, Xander looking like Giles-with-a-chainsaw might be one of his fears made manifest (and hey, why not? Anyone with sense would get that Friday the 13th flash for a second). Does it make me a sick, sick person that I was fanning myself when he was swinging that around? It's just all too damn Freudian. I need help." -- Chris

"[Anya] just looked way too cute in that costume. And I love that she's so straightforwardly worried about Xander, and no one else. That door opens and she *gloms* onto him. *snerk* I want to see more of these two! That "dateliness" bit was sweeeet! And at least Xander's being open about dating her--- which is a step forward since hiding in the closet with Cordy. He _can_ be taught. Eventually." -- Chris

"I could get all analytical and deep about fear and the size of fear and other things... but none of it matters compared to the giggle-fit I had when that thing squeaked "Fear me! Fear me!!!!" *dying*! "Actual size shown!" ROTFLMAO....ohhhhh, boy oh boy.... They completely suckered me in! This was priceless! The best surprise moment we've had all season." -- Chris

"I vote for something mundane and practical: There are just too many people out after dark to lurk about properly. Also, anyone you try to jump out and terrorize within an inch of their lives is gonna respond "Hey, man. Nice costume!" It's just bad for the demony ego." -- Dianne on the Halloween issue

"Wow. Oz has a character. Every now and again it pops out and is something other than Unflappable Guy. Something happening to Willow is pretty much the only thing that makes him non-Unflappable Guy. Or, well, the whole werewolf thing that made me whimper lots. I forgot how horrible Oz-torture is. (Considering how much of it I did in Shadowland, I should know.) THere's something just *wrong* about torturing Oz. " -- Lizbet

"I really, really like Riley. I did in The Freshman, and I like him again now. He's got the certain Owenocity without the whatever-is-in-Owenocity-that-makes-me-ill. He's low-key, supportive, and *normal*. Which means that he's going to have fun entering the thundering looney bin that is Buffy's life." -- Lizbet

"And, by the way, Willow learned Gaelic... when?"
"Ummmmm...waking Angel up during the day and getting him to translate spells for her when he was too sleep-deprived to protest?" -- Lizbet and Valerie

"So glad to see the gang hanging out... in Xander's place... just... being buds. I think they're finding more ways to maintain the friendship and team atmosphere. It's sad they forgot to tell him about the party, but they didn't hesitate to include him. I hope he finds some purpose soon, but with his Anya scenes and more times of the gang hanging out like this, I'll be happy. For a while." -- Mary Beth

"Anyway, back to the Buffy track. She had her heart ripped out. She started school and made a big oops -- one that I thought was perfectly in character and fitting for her state of mind -- and so she's down again. Seeing her blow the Parker thing off completely, while less annoying, wouldn't quite ring true for her character. She's a Slayer, but she has issues. I have no doubt that she'll work through it and bounce back. But she's always going to have issues. So she's always going to get a bit mopey when they rear their ugly head. ::shrug:: At least they write her consistently? On the other other hand (I'm borrowing one of Beth's... ), some character growth would be nice. She could start bouncing back a bit more quickly from these painful experiences. On the other other other hand (yes, roomie is now handless, but her hands don't roam, so we're safe...), her painful experiences are magnified by her Slayerness. She's so good at Slaying and she's just so *bad* at real life. And... did I have a point? I don't think so either." -- Mary Beth

"And Willow... she's really coming into her own and still wants Buffy (and everyone) to see her as an equal... not just research gal. So that was a fear that got her away from her, but Oz stuck with her. So.. his wolfiness not only separated them, but notice that her "Oz don't leave me" scream echoed throughout the house. Think she's deeply afraid that the wolf thing will get to them eventually? They do a good job of repressing it. usually." -- Mary Beth

"When do you think Xander actually turned invisible... cuz on the 2nd viewing, he was saying lots of stuff that wasn't being heard for awhile. Or... was it that lack of response that triggered his fear and then made him disappear? Interesting.... But he didn't have much of another scare after that--aside from the rather cheap scare of the talking head, which is the kind of thing Xander is always *joking* about being afraid of. I wonder if that's telling.... he really is fearless beyond being left out by his friends. Interesting.... " -- Mary Beth

"But that the fear demon was so itty bitty was perfect!! We all make a big huge deal of our fears.... and then... it turns out there really isn't much to them after all. We magnify them to the point of excruciating personal torment, when, in reality, they're all in our heads. We have nothing to fear, but fear itself. Whoo hoo!! The perfect Buffy makes one of it's funniest moments extremely pointy. I love it!!" -- Mary Beth

"And apropos of no previous postage... Very amused by the Jewish witch dressing as Joan of Arc. Slightly afraid that I pegged her as such before she explained." -- Valerie

"That Oz bathtub scene.... *ow*ow*ow*ow*ow* I was right there, curled up, rocking, ready to cry for him. *ow*ow*ow* SO shocking and painful because it was OZ.... Mr. Unemotional. Scared! In Pain! Did I mention *OW*???
"I'll see that OW! and raise you a < whimper >. So did not expect that from Oz! But I think much of that fear wasn't even so much from the unexpected changing, but from the fact that his changing in a time & place where he couldn't be restrained was putting his friends in danger. He was wigging about the danger to his Willow as much as anything. Which just tells you what it is that pushes Oz's buttons! He's not laconic-guy when it comes to his honey! Which is just making me _really_ wonder how much werewolves are like wolves - wolves mate for life, y'know..." -- Mary Beth and Maureen

"So that definitely brings up questions in my mind about what exactly Dr. Walsh is up to... hmmm... She's a Psych professor, right? The psychology of demons of the night??"
"Or maybe a Psych_O_ professor. Okay, okay. But yeah, what does psych have to do with all the demon stuff. Maybe she's writing a paper on the psychology of demon management? Kinda brings a whole new light to the 'publish or perish' rigamarole for college profs, don't it?" -- Maureen and Julie

"Between last week's Spikey goodness and this week's giggly goodness, oxygen deprivation is becoming a new state of being." -- Leslie

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