Buffy the Vampire Slayer - Fear, Itself

Summary

The gang are carving pumpkins for Hallowe'en. Buffy is depressed. Xander has accidently rented Fantasia instead of Phantasm for the big night. But Willow and Oz are going to the party at the Alpha Delta frat and invite Xander and Buffy. Buffy walks home alone and is accosted by a demon. But when she knocks him down, she discovers it's just a guy in a demon costume. He asks what's wrong with her and she says that's what she'd like to know.

In the cafeteria the next day, Willow tells Buffy she is looking to move to the next level of witchcraft: conjuring and transmutations. Buffy isn't very supportive, nor is Oz who shows up and says he's worried she'll get hurt. As a werewolf, he knows what it's like to be in the grip of a power you can't control. Buffy sees Parker and decides not to eat. She tells Willow she probably won't go to the party either, that Giles will want her to patrol. But when Buffy gets to his place, Giles is costumed and bearing candy. He assures Buffy there is little chance of anything happening on Hallowe'en.

At the frat house, they are preparing for the party hoping lots of scares will help them get laid by frightened and excited coeds. They find a mystic symbol in a book to paint on the floor. They decide their sound system isn't very good and call Oz hoping he can help out. Meanwhile, Xander receives a visit from Anya. She tells him he was stupid to believe her when she said she was over him in The Harsh Light of Day. He says he's glad to see her. She wants to go out that night, but he tells her he's seeing the others. She doesn't understand what they have in common. The line of questioning disturbs Xander. He invites her to the party and tells her she'll need a scary costume.

Buffy shows up late to class to get her assignment. Professor Walsh tells her to show up or get kicked out of class. The TA, who Buffy and Willow met in The Freshman, tells her her work is suffering. She says she is suffering from both too much and not enough fun. When he learns she doesn't plan to go out on Hallowe'en, he tells her she should. He says she seems the type of person who is too hard on herself.

Oz and Xander go to the frat house with better speakers as they are painting the mystic symbol. Oz cuts himself and some of the blood gets on the symbol. It shimmers and clearly something strange is happening.

Buffy is home and her mother is altering her old Little Red Riding Hood costume so it fits her now. They talk about her going out on Hallowe'en with her father as a child. Buffy wonders whether she was responsible for his leaving, which her mother denies. Buffy says she thinks it's too dangerous to open your heart to people. Her mother disagrees, saying she went through that phase at first and had a tough time making new friends. But now she has made them and she thinks it is worth the risk. She tells Buffy that she will always be there for her, as will Giles and her friends, and that there is nothing to be afraid of.

The gang start heading separately to the party. At the party, one of the guys is having a blindfold girl put her hand in a bucket of grapes and telling her they are eyes. She takes off her blindfold and they are eyes. Buffy is outside dressed as Little Red Riding Hood. Xander comes up in a tux. She tells him her basket is full of weapons just in case. He says he's James Bond, but she says he might also be a head waiter. They meet Willow and Oz. Willow is Joan of Arc. She says they have a lot in common, Willow was almost burnt at the stake (in Gingerbread) and she says they both have a close relationship with God. Oz is wearing his everyday clothes but has a name tag which says God. Those weird commando guys show up, but they get ignored because the gang think they are just in costume. Xander tells them Anya is coming but she hasn't been able to find a costume yet. Buffy feels like a third (or fifth) wheel.

At the party, there is chaos. The gang walk into the house and some spooky things happen. There are spiders and bats and real blood on the floor and a ghoulish voice screaming 'release me'. Meanwhile, Anya is coming to the party dressed as a bunny (not a Playboy type bunny but the real article). She gets to the house but there is no door. She sees a girl screaming in a window, but the window is suddenly bricked over. She immediately thinks of Xander and rushes off. Inside, they find one of the frat guys cowering in a closet. A knife wielding skeleton stabs Buffy, but she is only slightly wounded. Buffy wants the others to go and get Giles while she stays.

Meanwhile, Giles is eating candy. Anya tells him what happened and says he has to save Xander, she's not really much concerned about the others. Giles says he needs to get some supplies, but that Xander is amongst friends. Buffy and Willow are arguing. Willow wants to cast a spell, but Buffy doesn't think she can. Willow runs off and Oz follows her. Xander tries to talk to Buffy, but she can't hear or see him. She walks off looking for him and they are separated. Willow and Oz find the stairs and are going up when Oz starts turning into a werewolf. To save Willow, he runs off.

Xander is spooked by a talking mannequin. Oz is sitting in a bathtub willing himself not to change. Willow successfully casts her spell and gets a light to lead her. But she is confused about where she wants to go and the light splits into many small lights which start to attack her, like angry wasps. This is a great effect with some of them actually getting into her mouth. She runs from the pursuing lights. Buffy hears Willow's screams and searching for her falls into the basement where she is momentarily stunned. One of the dead frat guys is in the basement and he echoes her words about how if you open your heart to someone they will leave you. Then hands pop out of the ground and grab her.

Anya and Giles have arrived and after examining the building, Giles realizes he will have to make a door. He pulls a chain saw out of his bag and starts sawing through the wall. Meanwhile, Buffy fights off the creatures from underground. She escapes through a doorway and finds herself upstairs. She finds Oz there and he isn't a werewolf at all. Willow comes running in and there aren't any lights chasing her. Xander is there too and they can all hear and see him. They realize they were brought to this room because they were so scared. It's the room with the symbol on the floor. Xander finds the book they copied the symbol from. Willow looks at the book and says a summoning spell for Gachnar has been started. They realize their fear is feeding the demon.

Giles comes in. Anya is behind him and rushes into Xander's arms. Giles says they must stop the manifestation. He takes the book and starts reading from it. Buffy destroys the symbol and this causes the demon to immediately manifest. Only he's only 6 inches tall. He's not scary at all. Buffy stomps him. They go back to Giles' place and eat his candy. Willow gets sick. Xander wonders why the bunny costume and Anya says bunnies scare her. Giles angrily says he should have deciphered the inscription under the picture of Gachnar. It says actual size.

Analysis

Every Hallowe'en, I dressed as a devil. For me, Hallowe'en was being scary and that was as scary as I could think of. But in this episode we have

Not a scary one in the bunch. Maybe the message is that people who spend most of the year battling demons don't feel a need to dress up as them on Hallowe'en. And maybe that explains why demons stay in on Hallowe'en in the Buffyverse.

So Buffy is convinced there is something wrong with her. And as her scene with her mother demonstrates, this isn't just about Angel and Parker. She also blames herself for her father leaving (and we've seen that same suspicion in earlier episodes). You have to wonder whether she doesn't also blame herself for Giles losing his jobs, first as her watcher when he opted to help her in Helpless (Eighteen) and later as librarian when she blew up the library in Graduation Part 2.

When Oz cautions Willow about getting too deeply into magic and makes an analogy to his own lycanthrope and the darkness he touches when he wolfs out, he might well be speaking to Buffy. She, too, is in the thrall of a dark power. Not a werewolf's bite, or a witch's conjuring, but fear. And, as this episode's title points out, she has nothing to fear except fear itself. Convinced that any connection she might make with others will end badly, Buffy has begun to withdraw from life. It starts when she leaves early from the pumpkin carving. It continues when she flees the cafeteria and tries to get out of going to the party. When Willow suggests she might meet someone at the party, she says she doesn't want to meet anyone. She doesn't want to cope, she doesn't want to reintegrate herself into society. She wants out.

She goes to Giles hoping he'll give her an excuse not to party. But he actually encourages her to have fun. She continues her self imposed exile by not going to class. And it's when she sees Professor Walsh that things change. Willow and Giles have been encouraging, but Walsh threatens. She tells Buffy to either get herself together or get out. The TA is a little kinder. He reminds her that her work is suffering and that Professor Walsh is worth the effort. But he also encourages her to go to the party. His advice to Buffy is to resurrect both her work and play sides, to find a balance in her life and stop beating herself up about what has happened. He notes she is the kind of person who is hard on herself.

Finally, Buffy visits her mother and her feeling of responsibility for the divorce comes out. This is an important conversation not just because it traces Buffy's fear of emotional commitment back to its source through Parker and Angel, but because her mother points out the importance friendship, not romantic relationships. She points out that she and Giles and the gang will always be there for Buffy, giving her the security she needs to take the risks involved in new relationships.

In The Harsh Light of Day, Xander told Anya that relationships just happen and can't be forced. In this episode, he doesn't quite know how to respond when she questions why he is still friends with Oz, Willow, and Buffy with whom he seems to have little in common. Well, he's friends with them because they have a relationship, a relationship that was forged through time and shared experience. That's what builds friendships and why they endure even when friends go their separate ways.

But as people grow and move apart from their friends, they begin to worry that the friendship will fail. That the trust they once held is lost. They are plagued by fear. That's the fear Buffy's mother refers to and the fear that attacks them when they enter the frat house. It causes them to fight and separate. It exaggerates the fears they already have. Buffy, as the TA points out, is hard on herself. She wants to take all the responsibility and wants the others to leave and seek safety. Willow feels she's a sidekick and wants to demonstrate that she can be forceful too. Oz fears the evil within himself and giving in to it. And Xander fears being forgotten, ignored by the friends he once had who have now outgrown him.

When Anya tells Giles what has happened and how worried she is about Xander, he tries to calm her by saying Xander is amongst friends. At that moment, the fear demon is already doing his work, breaking up the friendship which makes the gang so strong. They've already stopped hearing Xander and Buffy and Willow start fighting. Willow rushes off followed by Oz. Buffy can't see or hear Xander. The group is now broken into three. The only ones still together are Willow and Oz. But when Oz starts turning into a werewolf, they too are separated as he runs away to save Willow.

Fear continues to eat away at the gang. Xander stares in the mirror to reassure himself he really is there. Oz shivers in the bathtub terrified of becoming a werewolf. Willow sees her magic out of control. Buffy hears the dead frat boy telling her that she was right, that all those she loves will desert her.

When the gang comes together again they are able to start battling their fears. Oz realizes he is not a werewolf, Willow realizes the lights don't exist, and Xander discovers he can be seen and heard. Buffy realizes that her friends are still with her. At this point, they start thinking again and try to develop a plan to defeat the demon. They take the first step by determining who he is. Then the group is further strengthened by the appearance of Giles and Anya. And it's no accident that Anya is the one who brings Giles. Just as Oz and Willow were the last to be separated by the demon, their love keeping them together the longest, the love Anya has for Xander drove her to get help. Together the group can face fear and realize that it's insignificant. When alone, they found Gachnar terrifying and their fear overwhelming. But together, bound by friendship and love, Gachnar is no more than cute and their fears now seem silly.

The journey through the frat house parallels Buffy's journey through life in the past couple of days. First she is separated from her friends, partly of her own will and partly by accident. Then she is beset by fears that she will never be able to have friendships again. Finally, she is reintegrated into the society of her friends and realizes that her fears were trivial. Nothing that can't be cured with chocolate. Which, I guess, is the message of Hallowe'en.

Line of the week:

"There is no problem that cannot be solved by chocolate."
"I think I'm gonna barf."
"Except that." - Buffy and Willow on the joys and pain of chocolate.

Got a comment? Send me mail.

Go to more Buffy the Vampire Slayer reviews.
Go to other tv reviews.
Go to my home page and get links to everything.