Buffy is battling two mouthless demons. One throws a knife at her which she catches and uses to stab and kill the other. But the second demon escapes. Some of the blood of the dead demon gets on Buffy's hand. The next day, Buffy and Willow join Xander and Oz in the library to be briefed by Giles who has been researching the ascension. After a feeble attempt at making it look like he has made progress, he admits he has learnt nothing. Buffy is upset because she feels Angel pretending to be evil and seduced by Faith (in Enemies) was for nothing. Giles says it did bring Faith's treachery into the open. Buffy starts scratching her hand where the demon blood was. Wesley comes in and when it is clear he knows no more than Giles, despite having the advantage of the council helping him, the gang all leave.
Buffy admits to Willow she is upset over Angel kissing Faith and pretending to be in love with her. Willow says she should ask him about it. Hogan Martin, the school basketball star, comes in with Percy (who Willow started tutoring in Dopplegangland). Xander is clearly jealous of Hogan's popularity. But he's thrilled when Hogan says hi to him. Willow tells Buffy they are all going to the game, only Buffy has to patrol. Her hand is still bothering her and when she tells Giles about it, he discovers that the demon she killed has the power to infect people with an aspect of the demon. They have no idea what that is, but Buffy is worried she will start to look like a demon.
At the pep rally, Cordelia is one of the cheerleaders. Willow reads from the school paper which calls the cheerleaders pseudo prostitutes. She thinks the paper is depressing, Oz says he always skips straights to the obits. Buffy starts checking to see if she is growing horns. Willow tries to comfort her. Xander tells Oz that he doesn't think Cordelia is any more attractive than any of the other cheerleaders, but he gets upset when he sees Wesley looking at her. Oz concludes Xander is a very complicated man.
That night, Buffy meets Angel while on patrol. He is worried about her because of Faith turning evil. But Buffy just gets upset at any mention of Faith. She tells him about the aspect of the demon and he says demons sometimes exaggerate their powers. She is not reassured. Angel says he would love her even if she were covered in slime.
The next day Willow, Oz, and Xander are in the lounge talking about the game. They quickly stop when Buffy comes in. They try to pretend the game was dull, but Cordelia comes in and says how exciting it was and she still has knee marks on her back, from the pyramid. Buffy reads Xander's mind, about wondering whether Cordelia and Wesley have kissed. Suddenly she realizes what she has done and what her aspect of the demon is.
As Buffy walks down the hall, she reads the thoughts of the people in it. A teacher, Mr. Beach, wants to get rid of all the students. A boy dreams of being a software billionaire. A girl regrets having taken French thinking it would be easy. A boy worries his pants will fall off. Another boy thinks how beautiful Buffy is. She stops and preens but hurries off when he starts thinking about shoving her against the wall. Giles doesn't believe her until she reads his mind, he's thinking if a fashion magazine told her to she'd strap cats to her feet. He realizes the mouthless demons are telepathic.
In class, Buffy uses her new power to reveal an astounding understanding of Othello. She surprises her teacher as well as the other students, especially Willow and Xander. And Nancy Doyle, clearly the bright student in the class, is really jealous. She has some brilliant insights which she pulls from her teacher's mind. The teacher makes the point that everyone is a little like Iago, that we cannot see what is in other's hearts and always worry about what others may feel or think about us.
Buffy goes to Angel's and tries to get him to think about Faith. He realizes what she is doing and says she cannot read his mind. He says it's the same thing as a vampire's lack of reflection in a mirror, the thoughts are there but they create no image in her mind. He realizes she got her aspect of the demon. He tells her he hated having to pretend to love Faith and watching Buffy suffer. She says Faith has the 'bad girl' thing going for her and Angel says he's had dozens of bad girls, he's past that. He says in 243 years he's loved one person, Buffy. He tells Buffy to be careful of her power, that things that seem good may be bad. Like immortality, something he's been dying to get rid of. She says that's funny, deadpan Angel says he's a funny guy.
In the library, Buffy's new power is revealed to the gang. Willow worries that Buffy won't need her anymore. Oz thinks that if Buffy has his thoughts, she is him. Xander can only think of sex and naked girls. When Buffy points this out, he runs from the room. Giles also quickly walks away. Wesley notes that everyone will probably be thinking of exactly the thing they don't want Buffy to know. He says they need mental discipline. He immediately starts thinking of Cordelia and when he sees Buffy looking at him leaves the room. Oz begins to wonder if Buffy will have everyone's thoughts and only she will exist. Willow fears Buffy will soon understand Oz better than she does. Upset, she runs out. Oz follows her. Buffy leaves.
In the hall, she hears all the fears of the students about her. Fears of being ugly, of being the last virgin, of being fat. She even hears Mr. Beach still wanting to get rid of the students. She hears Nancy Doyle thinking she hates Buffy. Meanwhile, Wesley and Giles discover a man in Ecuador developed the same power. He is in permanent seclusion. He cannot shut off the power and cannot bear to be around people and their thoughts. In the cafeteria, Buffy is surrounded by the thoughts of the students. Jonathan is next to her in line, he thinks she doesn't even know he exists. Freddy, the editor of the school paper, is thinking about staring down her top. Suddenly, out of the din, one thought comes through clearly "This time tomorrow, I'll kill you all". Buffy drops her tray and the students applaud. She whirls around the room, grabbing onto people, attempting to regain her emotional equilibrium and to determine who had the thoughts. Jonathan is thrilled when she touches him. She collapses.
Buffy awakes outside with Giles, Xander, Willow, Oz, and Cordelia gathered around her. Cordelia keeps thinking she's cold. She tells them what she heard. Xander says he's often thought the cafeteria ladies were poisoning them. Giles wonders whether the person meant it. Xander asks who hasn't idly thought of taking out the place with a semiautomatic. She says she knows the difference. She also says the voice was so full of anger and pain, she couldn't tell if it were male or female, student or teacher. But the pandemonium of thoughts is too great for her to go back in. She tells the others to make a list of everyone who was in the cafeteria. Giles takes her home. He tells her she'll be fine but she can hear him thinking that if it doesn't stop she'll go insane.
Willow runs the list of people in the cafeteria against the FBI profile of mass murderers. Xander is surprised that someone would do such a thing, but Oz points out it's verging on trendy. Meanwhile, Buffy is home in bed. Her mother is trying to make her comfortable, but seems scared to be near her. Suddenly, Buffy hears the thought her mother has been hiding. She had sex with Giles, on the hood of a police car, twice. Her mother points out it happened when they were teenagers (because of eating the candy in Band Candy).
Willow has a short list of a dozen suspects. She hands lists out to Xander, Oz, and Cordelia with sample questions to ask these people. Willow talks to Jonathan about his fantasies. Only he doesn't seem to have any. Oz talks to Hogan, claiming it's for the yearbook. He asks whether he has created a false persona for himself, the guy who does everything right, and what kind of strain this causes. Hogan says moderate strain. Cordelia walks into Mr. Beach's classroom and asks him whether he's planning on killing a bunch of people. She says it's for the yearbook. Xander is asking three girls about their turnoffs and what their idea of a perfect romantic evening is. Oz walks into school paper office looking for Freddy, but he's not there. Actually, Freddy is hiding under the desk.
In her room, Buffy is cowering in bed with the pillows over her head trying to drown out the noise of all the thoughts in the neighbourhood. Meanwhile, Giles and Wesley have come up with a cure, but it requires the heart of the second demon. We cut to Angel fighting with the second demon. The next morning, Willow is interviewing Nancy asking whether she feels her classmates are spying on her. Xander is talking to Larry, asking whether keeping the secret of his gayness is getting him down. Only Larry is now really out. And he thinks Xander should be too. He suggests Xander talk to Freddy at the school paper and have him print a tasteful coming out announcement. Oz tries to talk to Freddy, but Freddy sees him and hides. Willow thinks Freddy must be the killer, since he's the only one they didn't interview. Xander points to the depressing columns in the paper as evidence.
Buffy is now in great pain, thrashing about in her bed. Giles says she can no longer make out individual thoughts, just a great clamor. There is a knock at the door and a blanket covered, smoking, Angel shows up with the potion. He gives her the potion, pouring it down her throat. She starts thrashing about violently.
The gang are wandering about the school looking for Freddy, but in the clock tower Jonathan is assembling a rifle. Buffy wakes up, cured. The gang burst into the school paper office and confront Freddy. He thinks Oz is after him over a bad review he wrote of his band. But Oz admits it's fair. Freddy is not the killer. Buffy comes in. Cordelia reads a letter sent to the school paper from Jonathan. It sounds as if he is planning to kill everyone. They split up and rush out to find Jonathan. Freddy remains behind nonplused.
Oz checks an empty classroom. Willow checks the library. Xander checks the cafeteria, but is sidetracked when he spots jello. Cordelia is grabbing every short boy she sees and checking if he is Jonathan. Meanwhile, Jonathan is assembling his rifle. Buffy is outside and she catches a glimpse of him in the tower. She runs toward it and leaps up, climbing into the tower and confronting Jonathan. She starts to talk to him. He says she thinks he's a short idiot. She says she doesn't think much about him at all, that nobody in school does. She says she understands he's in pain and upset that nobody pays attention. He claims she can't understand because she's beautiful and athletic. She tells him her life is terrible at times. She says everyone is like that. She says the others ignore him because they are too full of their own pain to bear anyone else's. She looks down at the students and says it looks peaceful, but the noise of their unhappiness is really deafening. Jonathan gives her the rifle. She tells him mass murder would not solve his problems. He says he didn't plan to hurt anybody, he was going to kill himself.
Xander is in the kitchen searching for jello. When he finds some he sees one of the cafeteria ladies with a large box of rat poison pouring it into the food. He realizes who the killer is. He rushes out knocking over plates and yelling that the food is poisoned. The woman follows him with a cleaver. Fortunately, Buffy shows up and knocks her out.
The next morning, walking into school, Buffy admits that talking to Angel was the right thing to do. Willow goes to hand in the murderer profiles to the yearbook, she says they are a good read. Giles asks about Jonathan. Buffy says he has been suspended, but she thinks he'll be okay. Giles says it was good of her to check on him. Buffy says she liked helping him, but is afraid he might ask her to the prom. Giles says it would help his self esteem. Buffy says she's not St. Buffy, Jonathan is three feet tall. Giles asks if she wants to train. She says she'll meet him after school. If he's not too busy having sex with her mother. Giles walks into a tree.
So what was the fuss about? After watching this episode, I can't understand why it was pulled originally and why it took so long to finally air. Yes, it has jokes about shooting up a school being trendy and how everyone has idly considered it. But it also has a scene in which a suicidal teen gets some pretty good advice. And it teaches the lesson that pretty well all teens are unhappy, even the good looking apparently popular ones. That's a pretty good lesson for a morose teenager to hear.
There are two scenes that are key to understanding this episode. The first is the classroom scene in which Buffy explicates Othello and especially the character of Iago. Buffy says Iago is motivated by his own insecurities, his fear that Othello and his wife have betrayed him. So he plays on Othello's insecurity of a similar betrayal on Desdemona's part. Iago understands Othello's secret fears and uses that understanding to destroy him. Buffy talks of Iago as being not a person but Othello's dark half. It's as if the two share a mind.
Buffy is suddenly in a position where she shares minds with others. But she doesn't follow the Iago route. She does start off badly. She used her power to further her own goals. She reads minds to help her look good in class. She tries to use her power to determine Angel's feelings about Faith. But while there is a certain selfishness in this, she never falls into Iago's trap of using her particular insight to hurt others. In her confrontation with Jonathan, she expresses what she has learnt about others. She has discovered that others are as confused and unhappy as she is. Her walk through the hallway, hearing the random thoughts of students and teachers, is an example of that. No matter how successful someone is, no matter how popular, he has secret fears.
When Jonathan says Buffy is beautiful and athletic, implying she has it easy, she thinks he's an idiot. But she can only say that with assurance because she has had her moment of insight. She was just as insecure as Jonathan when it came to Angel and Faith. Her new selfassurance, and her ability to comfort Jonathan, come from her recognition of the normality of her feelings. When she convinces Jonathan that his feelings are normal and shared by most other students, he realizes that killing himself is not the solution.
The second scene is Buffy's conversation with Angel about Faith. Her unwillingness to simply ask him about it, even after being urged to do so by Willow, was an example of how isolated people are, even from those closest to them. There are things we find hard to ask or say (her mother and Giles having sex is another example of something difficult to talk about). Buffy seeks out Angel immediately after her English class. She has listened to her teacher talk about how everyone has secret fears and questions about their friends and lovers. But she takes the wrong lesson. Rather than recognizing that trust is what relationships are built upon, she seeks to find the answer to her questions through stealth. Although Buffy is obsessed with Faith, she demonstrates little faith in Angel.
When Buffy admits that simply asking Angel is the sensible thing to do, she takes a big emotional step forward. She realizes that for a relationship to succeed it needs communication and trust. She has to be willing to ask and ready to believe that Angel will answer her honestly. Of course, there is a third aspect - listening. Although Buffy does hear Angel when he says he loves her, she doesn't quite hear him when he talks of the negative aspects of her power and of all such gifts. It is only later, first when her power frightens away her friends and later when she hears the cacophony of thoughts in the cafeteria punctuated by the shrill cry of pain from the plotting killer, that she truly understands the cost of her aspect of the demon.
One of the nice things about this episode is the focus on minor characters like Jonathan and Larry. We've seen these characters before, especially Jonathan, and we've had some occasional insights into them. But their appearance in this episode lets us know that the students of Sunnydale High have a life that continues even when Buffy and her friends aren't there to watch them. Larry has come out and is finally content with his sexuality. Jonathan is desperately unhappy and suicidal. There are people like this in every school (and like the jealous Nancy, the false persona Hogan, the student hating Mr. Beach) and by presenting them to us like this, Sunnydale, for all its weirdness, becomes more realistic.
Of course, there are also a lot of lighter moments in this episode and Buffy's temporary telepathy is used to give us a little more insight into the characters around her. Some characters are merely reinforced, Xander's obsessions with Cordelia and sex are not news nor is Oz's philosophical bent. But Willow's insecurity about her relationship with Buffy is a new insight. Best of all is Cordelia, who clearly says exactly what she is thinking. Of them all, she is surely the one with nothing to fear from a telepathic friend.
Xander was right all along. He said he thought the stew was poisoned and it was. And he's the one who actually discovered the killer and saved the students. Yet he got no credit. I liked the way Giles rushed away just as Xander rushed out of the library and Wesley pointed out they would probably be thinking of whatever they didn't want Buffy to know. He was likely thinking of her mother. I was also glad that we finally got confirmation about Giles and Buffy's mom. I always believed they had sex, but it's good to finally have the facts. And it makes Giles as Buffy's choice as father substitute all the more interesting and likely.
This was an excellent episode with some interesting insights and a strong moral. Pulling it was silly.
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