Buffy the Vampire Slayer - Listening to Fear

Summary

Dawn and Buffy are keeping Joyce company in the hospital. She learns her surgery is in two days. Willow, Xander, and Giles are patrolling (Riley didn't show). They have a tough time with a couple of vampires, but Willow stakes them both. Riley is with a female vampire which is feeding off him, drinking blood from the vein in his arm.

Willow arrives at the hospital with presents: a beer hat for Joyce, a book about magic for Dawn, homework and a yoyo for Buffy. Joyce suddenly starts acting irrationally - a symptom of the tumor. They leave her to sleep. Buffy explains about the tumor to Dawn. A crazy man, the guard captured by Glory in No Place Like Home, passes them in the hall and realizes Dawn isn't real (just like the crazy man in Real Me). His family takes him away. Ben, the intern, arrives and tells them because there is no room left in the mental ward, they are letting people with families go. But he doesn't think the families can look after them.

Willow and Tara are on the roof staring up at the stars. Tara can't remember the names of the constellations and has made up names of her own. They see a falling star. The meteor crashes in the woods and something comes out of it. The crazy man is out walking in the woods and a demon, which came from the meteor, attacks him. The demon finds its way to the hospital and sneaks in. Joyce tells the doctor she wants to go home until her operation. Reluctantly, he agrees. Willow, Tara, Anya, Riley, Xander, and Giles find the meteorite. They see it's hollow and something left it. Willow finds the body of the crazy man and recognizes him from the hospital. Riley finds something in his mouth - a substance which smells really bad. The others go to do research and Riley stays at the scene. When they leave, he calls the agency Graham works for.

We cut to the hospital mental ward where the demon is. It attacks one of the patients. It sees Joyce checking out. They go home and have to turn off all the lights because Joyce can't take the brightness. A helicopter lands by Riley and soldiers in black get out, including Graham. He shows them the body and says the guard choked on the substance in his mouth. He also shows them the meteorite. He suggests tracking the demon by the radioactivity it must have from travelling through space. Joyce starts making breakfast, it's the middle of the night. Buffy and Dawn take her back to bed. She doesn't recognize Dawn and suddenly says Dawn doesn't exist. Dawn runs out. Buffy goes to her and Dawn tells her about the man who accosted her outside the magic shop in Real Me. Buffy tells her that all the people who said she wasn't real were crazy and she shouldn't listen to them.

The gang are in the astronomy section of the university library. They learn about a meteor impact some centuries earlier called the queller impact. Xander finds that primitive people prayed to the skies to send a meteor to quell outbreaks of madness. They realize the demon is linked to the current madness epidemic and they suspect Glory summoned it. Willow calls Riley to tell him what they've learnt. He's at the hospital, where the mental ward was attacked by the demon. She tells him about Joyce and he tells her she was released. Meanwhile, Joyce is in her room ranting and Dawn can hear this and is upset by it. Buffy is downstairs doing the dishes. She turns on the radio, loud so that she can't hear Joyce. She starts to cry. The demon is in Joyce's room.

At the hospital, Riley realizes the demon is at Buffy's. The demon attacks Joyce and Dawn rushes in when she screams. She knocks the demon off her (it spits on Joyce and its spit seems to form a solid mask over her face which would have asphyxiated her if she didn't wipe it off before it hardened completely). The demon chases Dawn who screams for Buffy. Buffy goes upstairs and tells them to stay in the room. The demon attacks her and they take the fight downstairs. It hides and she hunts for it. She gets a knife from the kitchen. Spike comes up from the basement. He claims he was stealing from her, but she sees him hiding pictures of her in his pocket. The demon attacks, kicking away the knife and knocking down Spike. It attacks Buffy. Spike tosses her the knife and she kills the demon. He helps her up as Riley and the commandos burst in. She rushes upstairs to comfort her mother and Dawn.

Ben gets into his car and Dreg is in the back seat. Her refers to himself as a postulant and calls Ben sir. He asks why he summoned the queller. Ben says he was cleaning up Glory's mess as he has done his whole life.

Joyce is being prepped for surgery. She talks to Buffy alone, saying she has begun to believe Dawn is not her daughter and asking if that is true. Buffy confirms this. Joyce says if she dies Buffy should look after Dawn, because Joyce still feels as if she is her daughter. Buffy agrees.

Analysis

In my comments on last week's Angel episode The Shroud of Rahmon, I said that in the Buffyverse truth seems to be something evident to everyone but spoken only by the mad. That point was driven home in this week's Buffy episode. The security guard (the mad man at the hospital who is the first victim of the queller demon is the guard Glory attacked when we first saw her) recognizes what Dawn is or at least isn't. She puts this together with the comment from the mad man in Real Me (and I've been patiently waiting for that scene to come up again and the writers have not let me down) and begins to wonder if something is wrong with her. Joyce, who has a sort of temporary madness, finally realizes that Dawn is not her daughter.

Now, the question is do the mad see something the rest of us don't see or do they merely acknowledge the existence of things we all see but ignore. I'm going with the latter. In the first season of Buffy, we were told demon activities go unnoticed because people try to incorporate them into their normal view of the universe. Vampire attacks turn into attacks by drug crazed gangs. Or people just forget the inexplicable things (like the Gingerbread episode where the adults essentially forgot the witch hunt and the demon which drove them). This makes sense since sane people generally try to maintain a consistent view of the universe. Things wildly at variance with that vision are ignored or discounted or explained away. But the mad don't have that governor on their thoughts. They are more willing to accept that what they see is real, rather than try to integrate it into a consistent view of the universe. More significantly, they are ready to talk about what they see, having no fear of ridicule.

I'm glad that Ben is part of the plot, and not a character who just happens to be there. He's been far to conspicuous for that. But what does he really know and is Dreg working for him and acting as a spy in Glory's camp? Or is he working for Glory and acting as a spy in Ben's camp. Does Ben know what Dawn is and that Buffy is the slayer? Why did he call the queller demon? He says he's cleaning up Glory's mess, but does that mean killing the people she's driven mad? That's kind of drastic for a clean up. And it seems to conflict with his appearance as a doctor - somebody devoted to saving lives. Does his secret identity have anything to do with the fact that Glory was in the hospital and found the Lei-Ach demon there (in Family)? Did Ben hear anything the crazy man said to Dawn and if he didn't already know about her, might this lead him to suspect the truth?

Dreg refers to himself as a postulant and calls Ben sir. This suggests a religiously based hierarchy, which may mean that Ben and Dreg belong to a group similar to the monks who originally send Dawn to Buffy. If that's true, they may have the power to constrain Glory. Since Glory mentioned she was on a schedule (in Shadow), it may be that Ben and his group are putting a plan into place to defeat Glory and it will take a certain amount of time to ripen - or possibly can only be put into effect at a certain time.

In my comments on Shadow, I speculated that Riley was considering becoming a vampire, believing that's what Buffy wants. Now he's let a vampire feed from him for the second time, suggesting he really is heading that way. Of course, he also called in his government associates - so the option of leaving Sunnydale and rejoining the military is still open to him. Consorting with demons, dating the slayer, and partnering with secret government agencies is just a little too dangerous a set of activities for even the most daring of dare devils. Riley is really cracking up - which does fit in with the general theme of madness in this episode. But I'm not sure if there is a cure for him.

The scene of Joyce being wheeled away with the gang watching was one of the saddest in the series. But it was matched by the scenes of her increasing madness and its affect on Dawn and the scene in which she asks Buffy to look after Dawn. She's articulating the feelings which Buffy herself realized in No Place Like Home. But she's also explicitly talking about the possibility of her death, something Buffy really doesn't want to face.

Some quick final thoughts. I have to suspect the book Willow gave Dawn may actually include some crucial data in the fight against Glory. When Riley bursts in after Buffy has slain the demon, I got the impression Spike was peeved - this was his chance for a romantic moment. The queller demon was easily the ugliest demon they've ever had on the show.

Lines of the week:

"If there's radiation, you could, like, go all sterile." - Anya always with the cheerful thought.

"Yep. Space lamb got 'im." - Anya being helpful.

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