Listening to Fear

Written by Rebecca Rand Kirshner
Directed by David Solomon

Perri's Review | SunSpeak

Perri's Review

Just when you thought Buffy's life couldn't possibly suck more, Joss turns up the angst!

The Summers women are having a quiet dinner together -- consisting of hospital food, unfortunately. As Dawn eats Jell-O with her fingers and regales her family with details of gelatin, Joyce's doctor shows up to tell them her surgery is scheduled for two days away. But the waiting is driving Joyce up the wall, and she's worried about Buffy not being able to patrol. But the Scooby Gang is on the job... and getting their butts kicked. Willow gleefully emerges with two stakings to her credit and Xander and Giles are just relieved to be in one piece. They'd be more relieved if Riley had shown up, but as it turns out, he had a date on the other side of town -- he's getting sucked on by a vampire chick and he's not fighting. And can I just say, Ew.

The tedium at the hospital is broken up by Willow's arrival with presents for all concerned -- a beer hat for Joyce ("Somehow, when I was in the store, this seemed like the most important idea, and now there's the whole part where I'm crazy."), a spell book (non-dangerous variety) for Dawn, and homework for Buffy, who's been missing classes by the dozen. But not even a 'tiny Jewish Santa' can make things better; Joyce's tumor is starting to affect her moods, and to make her say weird things without knowing it. As Buffy reassures Dawn after one outburst, they get stopped in the hall by one of Glory's victims. He advances on Dawn, declaring that "there's nothing there". Buffy hustles the upset Dawn away. Intern Ben wanders over to check out the sitch, and tells the girls that Crazy Dude is being sent home, since the Sunnydale mental wards are full to overflowing.

Willow heads back home, and winds up on the roof stargazing with Tara. Several minutes of serious snuggling and cuteness, as Tara points out 'her' constellations, are abruptly ended when a shooting star becomes a flaming meteor, heading straight for Sunnydale. Fortunately, they're not at the landing site, when the burning meteor breaks open and the Ick from Another World (I can't describe it better; combine a snake with a roly-poly and a particularly ugly hairless monkey, add a generous helping of slime and CGI, and you'll get the idea) emerges. It only has to look around for a moment before a target comes into sight -- the crazy dude from the hospital has apparently slipped his leash, and is walking along in the woods. Until he meets the Ick....

At Sunnydale General, someone is wheeled in on a gurney, Intern Ben in attendance, and the Ick crawls along the ceiling after. In Joyce's room, everyone has gotten a terminal case of cabin fever; after fairly involved negotiations, and not a little yelling from an upset Joyce, Buffy manages to get permission to take her mom home until it's time for the surgery. "You won't get a lot of sleep," the doctor warns, and Buffy shrugs. "I'm not much of a sleep person."

Meanwhile, the Scooby Gang tramps through the woods in search of the UFO, and locate the shell of the meteorite. The hollowness leads to the natural (for Sunnydale) conclusion that something slithered out to do bad things (although the slithering part is under debate). A quick search provides no clues, only the dead body of the Otherworldly Ick's first victim, whom Willow recognizes. He apparently choked on some kind of disgusting (and hugely smelly) slime. Everyone freaks quickly, then passes on hunting -- and on calling Buffy -- and heads for home to do research. Only Riley stays behind, lying about wanting to examine the crime scene. And as soon as the Scooby Gang is out of sight, he whips out his cell phone and calls The Initiative.

And in the hospital mental ward, a nurse relaxes at her desk, ignoring the ramblings and shouts of the patients in the room behind her -- as the Ick from the Black Lagoon creeps across the ceiling towards his strapped-down buffet.... And a groggy, rambling Joyce is released from the hospital with a long list of medications and schedules as the Ick watches from the ventilation shafts. They make it home in one piece and Joyce heads directly for bed, both girls hovering around her. One by one, the lights in the house go dark.

Next to the quarry where the meteorite landed, Riley stands waiting as a military helicopter lands; it's the Initiative team, lead by an uptight major and a snarky Graham. Riley breaks it to them that they're looking for an ET, which predictably thrills them, but Riley has already figured out how to track it -- the Initiative goons breaks out the Geiger counters to look for trace radiation. They're search would be a helluva lot shorter if they knew that the Ick in question was prowling around the Summers house -- as is a disoriented Joyce, who tries to make breakfast for the girls even though it's the middle of the night. The girls get her back to bed, as something rustles inside the basement door.... Joyce suddenly bolts awake as Dawn tries to tuck her in, staring at the girl in confusion and fear. "You thing! Get away from me. You're nothing, you're a shadow. I don't know who you are, how you got here!" Joyce forgets her words as soon as she says them, but Dawn has heard enough; when Buffy finds her, sitting in the dark in her room, as she ca says is, "She hates me." Too many people have been telling Dawn she's not real lately; Buffy tries to reassure her, lying through her teeth, and is only mostly successful.

Meanwhile, the gang has broken into the university library to get at the better collection of astronomy references. They trace a series of hollow meteor crashes back to the 12th center, to the "Queller" impact. Xander makes the connection, to an old superstition, a ritual that would call meteors to quell madmen -- apparently successfully, judging from the records of insanity epics that Willow tracks. The question is -- who summoned it? They pass the information on to Riley, standing over corpses at Sunnydale Memorial, but he assures them that Joyce is safe, since she was released earlier.

And wow are the girls regretting it. "Why are you staring at me like that?" she demands of the ceiling, in a rambling, agitated monologue that ranges from tennis to the front gates, to begging something not to stare at her. Dawn shoves a pillow over her head and Buffy, doing the dishes, cranks up a Latin music station to drown out her mother's crazed ramblings, then breaks down in desperate sobs over the sink. And Joyce continues to talk to the ceiling ("Stop staring at me, I don't like it!) -- and the Interstellar Ick crouches there above her, staring back down.

The Initiative and their Geiger counters are all over the parking lot, but only manage to figure out that the Ick hitched a ride on someone's car. Riley may be going psycho, but he's still thinking; he heads for the Summers at a dead run. But not soon enough; the Ick has had enough, and jumps down for the ceiling to attack Joyce with the slime. He scream brings Dawn running; the girl attacks the Ick with a coat rack, and manages to barricade them both into the room after the Ick chases her, screaming for Buffy the whole way. Buffy finally hears and comes running, ready to hunt. But the Ick finds her first, and fighting ensues, sending them both tumbling down the stairs. The Ick breaks free as soon as they hit, disappearing into the shadows. Grabbing a knife from the kitchen, Buffy searches the dark house for it; she throws open the basement door and confronts -- Spike. He claims he was stealing to support himself, Buffy spots the pictures of her in his hand, and the Ick jumps Spike from the shadows. It manages to accidentally kick the knife from Buffy's hand, then changes targets and attacks her. As she fights it off and makes it back to her feet, Spike races across the room to retrieve the knife. He makes a quick toss to Buffy, and, as the Ick knocks her over again, she manages to stab it to death.

Spike helps the exhausted Slayer to her feet just as the Initiative slams into the house. Riley leads the charge, but Buffy goes right past him to check on her family. "You just missed a real nice time," Spike comments to a chagrined Riley, as Buffy cradles her mother and sister close.

Across town, Intern Ben emerges from the hospital into the night, and heads for his car. As he gets in and slams the door, a voice speaks up from the back seat. "It's strange," says Glory's henchman Dreg. "A body might ask what exactly it is you think you're doing." Ben doesn't look even slightly surprised, just tells Dreg to "Get out."

"Sir, forgive me," Dreg abases himself, obeying. "I just want to know -- why summon the Queller?"

"Why do you think," Ben responds angrily. "Because I'm cleaning up Glory's messes, just like I've done my whole damn life." He slams the car into gear and tears off.

The next morning, Buffy hovers over her mom as the last of the shots are administered. Joyce takes the moment to ask Buffy something very serious -- it seems she remembers some things from her tumor-induced fugue, and one of those things is the clear knowledge that Dawn is not her daughter. Buffy hesitates, then admits the truth. Joyce absorbs the knowledge. "She does belong to us, though?" Joyce asks.

"Yes, she does," Buffy agrees instantly.

"And she's important to the world. Precious. Just like you are."


"Then we have to take care of her," Joyce decides, determined. "No matter what she is, she still feels like my daughter. I have to know that you'll take care of her, that you'll keep her safe, that you'll love her like I love you." Buffy quietly promises; relieved despite her fear, Joyce embraces her.

The entire Scooby Gang is on hand to lend their support, as Joyce is wheeled away from her daughters into the operating room....

Ben is somehow connected to Glory; he called down a Queller demon to "clean up her messes."

Riley is letting himself become vampire munchies for no apparent reason.

Joyce is about to head into surgery for the tumor. She knows now that Dawn isn't her real daughter, but made Buffy promise to protect her, regardless.

Not much, really. Tara and Willow continue to be cute, Riley and Buffy seem to be drifting every further apart. Spike continues to be Stalker Boy.

The more I think about it, the more convinced I am that, far from being Buffy's weakness right now, Dawn is her saving grace. If she had to cope with her mother alone, she'd be a quivering mass of jelly in Giles's or Riley's arms by now, judging from what we saw last season. But with Dawn right there, needing her big sister functioning and dealing, Buffy is managing to keep it together, exhibiting a kind of determined strength I would never have believed a year ago. It's a wonderful thing to see, let me tell you; this is the Buffy we loved to begin with.

And poor Dawn -- how many times can you hear someone, even crazy people, tell you you'r enothing befor eyou start to believe it. When she's getting it from her sister (a few episodes ago) and not from Joyce.... the kid's having a rough time of it. But, like Buffy, she's coming through and hanging in there. She dealt with the Ick almsot perfectly (I would have strarted screaming for Buffy a wee bit earlier), but she had guts to take it on with a coat rack, then lure it out of the room. A helluva performance from the girl we dismissed as a brat early on.

Wow, it's hard to be Joyce right now, but the lady keeps impressing me more. Dealing with the fear and pain of the tumor with grace and humor (when she's coherent), and, even more impressively, accepting Dawn as her own, as her responsibility, even when she knows full well that Dwn isn't her daughter. Compare this Joyce with the Joyce who freaked out at the very concept at the end of Beginning 2 (and still hadn't chilled by the end of the summer), and marvel at the difference. Sort of makes it clear where Buffy gets those guts.

Meanwhile, left to their own dvices, the Scooby Gang (minus Riley), is dealing impressively with situations on their own. Mind you, a quick phone call to fill Buffy in would have abeen a good idea, but hindsight and all that... Everyone makes their own contribution -- Giles guiding them to the university library, Willow and Xander putting together the facts (and how cool is it that Xander really has become Research Boy?!?), Anya and Tara lending moral support (and comic relief) as needed. I'm delighted by both of those two, by the way; Kiki pointed out how much Anya has been turning to Giles lately and she's right. Anya hovers right next to him the entire time they're investigating the asteroid, and she's even beginning to pick up some of his phrasing; the whole "fluffy lamb" riff was pure sardonic Giles. And Tara is continuing the process of emerging from her shell, coming out with quick, if mild, wisecracks and making Willow laugh when it's needed. Love these two; their character developement was a long time coming, but it's finally happening.

I still don't feel equipped to comment on the mass of psychological glitches that currently encompass Riley's twisted psyche, but he's scaring me more and more. For some reason, I keep drawing the parallel between him allowing himself to be vampire munchies to the 'cutting' disorder -- deliberately harming yourself to focus on external pain instead of the internal kind. What, exactly, Riley's getting from that I have no idea, and I'm pretty sure I don't want to know. The only time he really seemed to come into his own was investigating, first with the Scoobies, then with the Initiative. Which cannot be considered a good sign for his future in Sunnydale. And don't get me started on charging to the rescue without even bothering to *call* Buffy en route to warn her. White Knight Complex much?

Oh, God, how cute is Spike? A quick "James must get paid this week" scene, and he makes the most of it, switching instantly from doing the stalker thing, to efficiently helping Buffy in the fight (oh, that was a *nice* toss!), to snarking at Riley (with lots of justification this time, too). The brief little moments of him and Buffy working together -- the aforementioned nice toss, lending the quick hand to get to her feet -- were just gorgeous, and almost makes you beleive all those Buffy/Spike shippers out there. Violence always brings out the best in our boy... < shudder >

And Ben.... Doncha love it when you're right? As we all suspected, there's more to him than meets the eye; he's not a person, he's a Glory-type entity, and I'm willing to bet significant amounts of money he's her brother, either older or younger -- only brothers can produce that particular disgusted tone of voice. The question remains, is he good, bad or neutral? Calling the Queller demon to kill the mental patients kind of takes him out of the strictly benevolent category, but we've seen other 'good' guys who could care less about humanity as individuals -- the Oracles in Los Angeles come immediately to mind. Whichever, he's defiitely powerful, judging from Dreg's kowtowing. But when it comes down to it, will he help Glory or the Slayer? (I gotta admit, I'm hoping he comes down on the side of good and yes, my reasons *are* purely hormonal. Massive cuteness.)

Best Moments:
Dawn's ramble about gelatin and Buffy's wry, "You're the one who insisted on teaching her to talk." to Joyce. The chemistry between these three just keeps getting better.

Xander, Willow and Giles slaying. These three are surviving on sheer stubborness and experience at this point. Xander's panicked "Human chest!" was particularly hysterical.

Willow as Santa Claus. < snerk >

Tara and Willow stargazing. Those two are just too cute for words, you know?

The Scooby Gang investigating the meteor. Everyone, including Riley, gets some good lines, and the line between suspense and humor is perfectly drawn.

Buffy comforting Dawn after Joyce's outburst. Entirely aside from Kristine Sutherland's amazing performance, it's great watching the ties betwee Buffy and Dawn become almost visible.

And the giggles continue with the research party! Again, I love how proficient Xander and Willow have become at putting together the information.

Spike. 'Nuff said.

Ben and Dreg's short scene. A really good job of getting across the maximum amount of information with no fuss, no muss, no exposition. Very cool.

Joyce confronting Buffy about Dawn. Have I raved enough yet about Kristine's performance?

The final shot of Joyce being wheeled into the OR, with the Scooby Gang clustered behind Buffy and Dawn. < sniffle > Very impressive.

Questions and Comments:
So, how exactly did the Summers women get home from the hospital? Joyce is in no condition to drive, Dawn is too young, and Buffy can't. I fear for the trees and streetsigns of Sunnydale....

Rating: 4 out of 5, pretty much the consistent rating this season. Very much a set-up episode, but well done. Kristine Sutherland's performance continues to be impressive as hell, and everyone else is turning in solid work, including the director and writer.


"Ben has to be Glory's brother. I know that tone of voice. I've *used* that tone of voice. That was an older sibling talking about a younger one, or a less competent one, at least. Ha! Glad to see that his inclusion in eps was pointy, like we guessed, but I hadn't gone here--- very cool! Good surprise. Although, whether he's good, evil, somewhere-in-between--- is a good question. What was he trying to accomplish by killing the people Glory made crazy? Keeping her from finding out they can see Dawn-as-key, or or just trying to cover her tracks? And he has *got* to know Buffy's the Slayer... right? I mean, he's seen enough by now... then again, hard to tell..." -- Chris

"I want to choke Riley. Talk about *stupid* --- I thought last week was a one-time thing, at least. But this... being a chew-toy habit--- oy! And not showing up for patrol-- *smack*. And then, in the arms of the Initiative, he's fine. I don't want to smack him for that so much... except that I can see where this is going, and it's going to hurt Buffy. Again. He's feeling useless. The Initiative makes him feel a part of something. Okay, fine. But he won't be able to take the pressure or censure of the organization about Buffy, or the distinction in his head between "us" and "them" --- and he's gonna dump her. I could just shake him." -- Chris

"And I'm *so* glad Buffy didn't lie to Joyce about Dawn. That would've been a huge mistake. I'm liking Buffy so much more this season than last, when she's sucking up difficulties and trying to deal and hurting so much." -- Chris

"I was pouting near the end, going, "no James-gets-paid-this-week scene? Aww..." and then he came out of the basement. Yay! And may I say, he looks really, really good by moonlight? //fan, fan// Plus, the throwing the knife to Buffy was very cool... and he got in a good snark at Riley. (Who should've called, the doof! He should've called before charging in like Hero Boy! And I'll be he forgets to call the Scoobies, too....)" -- Chris

"...How PROFOUNDLY wigworthy was that open-ended Riley-getting-slurped scene at the top of the ep? They could have at least had the courtesy to put him in the sunlight at some point afterward, but I don't think they did. (Since I was watching the tape immediately after driving home this afternoon, I'm not positive of that, but I don't think they did.) My first thought was "Okay, how much further can he push this envelope before he loses the ability to judge when the stake needs to happen?" Almost immediately following that was "Oh, God/dess, what if he already *did*?" He's been playing everything so close to the chest lately, he could get away with it. For weeks. With no difficulty at all. He might already be. *shakes head* Forget it. Sleeping tonight is a lost cause. ~meep~ "
"Oh, thanks a *lot*, Val! Meeep! //shudder// I want someone to kick his ass. Preferably Xander, but I'll settle for Giles. Or Spike. If he keeps this up, it may have to be Spike, though he won't want to--- any kind of unmeaning-to-be-helpful thing would be okay with me." -- Valerie and Kiki

"Riley...boy was I on a track worring about him last season should he think Buffy didn't want/need him. I think he's breaking Faith's self-destruct record. Eeee. And calling the government on the QT. Hmmmm. It may be for the best for him. Then again, remembering the idea behind the Initiative, maybe not. Whichever, this boy needs to be needed."
"Yeah, that about sums it up. His self-esteem is tied into getting stuff done. Without that, his ego has taken a hammering. But watching him do this--- has *not* been fun. If he needs the Initiative to pull out of it, fine... but this chew toy thing has got to stop." -- Julie and Kiki

"Joyce & her brain tumor...*sigh* looks like she's going. Either that or Joss is gonna have to hide from all the people he's leading up the garden path. Again."
"They could milk this for a *long* time without killing her off, you know. My guess is that the surgery will be only partially successful, and she'll need chemo and radiation treatment... and then maybe she'll go into remission for a while... but they can always worry that it'll come back later. (Again, like Scully on X-Files--- Dawn-the-character has been trying to tell me about watching that show in order to know how to deal with her mom. I'm trying to ignore her.) " -- Julie and Kiki

"Just what will Buffy do if she dies? I think having "little sister" to take care of will probably will help the most in stopping her from self destructing. Yep, Spike's little talk about the death wish stuff is looming...Joyce is Buffy's strongest link to life. Cut that & the Scooby gang has it's job cut out for it and then some. " -- Julie

"Just rewatched Buffy, and very nearly had myself convinced that Riley *was* a vampire after that #&$%@!! teaser. Then, in the last two minutes, he was at the hospital as Joyce was being taken for surgery, which was scheduled at 10 a.m. I am *ridiculously* relieved. Now all I have to worry about is that they'll get us used to seeing open-ended chew-toy shots, followed by mostly seeing him only at night, and *then* pull it on us. They're that devious. They are." -- Valerie

"Oh! Reminds me. The major who showed up with the Commandos? Was also Donnie Pfaster on the X-Files, one of their more loathsome serial killers who Scully took out during his return engagement last season (three bullets to the head, if I remember right). I knew there was a good reason not to like the guy. Still, at least they were efficient. I'm feeling like Riley just doesn't want to try if he's not in a group with a uniform. Grr." -- Kiki

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