Episode Name: “Fear, Itself.”
Writer(s): David Fury
Director: Tucker Gates
Quote of the Episode:
In reference to Xander’s pumpkin:
“It does appear to be mocking you with its eyeballs.” – Willow
“Its nose hole is sad and full of self-loathing.” – Oz
Screenshot of the Episode:
There’s a party at the frat house, and they’ve painted some creepy symbol on the floor. How have they not realised by now? Do not draw symbols, from ancient texts books, on your floor, when you live on the Hellmouth. The gang gets stuck in the party house as it manifests their fears. To make matters worse some in-fighting causes fractures. Meanwhile Xander’s invisible. Halloween is never quiet for the Scoobies.
“Creatures of the night shy away from Halloween, they find it much too crass.” – Giles. Famous last words…
I would just like to mention this is the fourth episode I have randomly selected. The kicker? I selected Season 4, Episode 4. “Number 4 is the number of stability, order, and completion of justice.”[i]
This season threw Buffy for a loop. Her roommate turned out to be a soul-sucking demon (literally not figuratively), a vampire called Sunday breaks her ‘class-protector’ award, she gets yelled at by professor, and she sleeps with a guy who never calls her back. By the time we get to this episode Buffy’s mood is downright morose.
“I was just thinking about the life of a pumpkin. Grow up in the sun, happily entwined with others. Then someone comes along, cuts you open, and rips your guts out.” – Buffy
Now while I’m sure this declaration has a lot to do with Parker Abrams, there is some subtext here. College can be an exceptionally tough transition, and while Willow is flourishing in the academic life, Buffy is barely treading water. Her metaphorical ‘guts’ can be equated with her identify. When you are in high school, you have certain ideas about who you are and the structure of reality.
Upon venturing out into the world, many of us need to completely overhaul our aspirations and vision of self. Of course, this is not a pleasant experience for all. This season we see an unemployed Giles, Xander still living with his parents in the basement, Anya wanting to be around Xander while barely putting up with the rest of the group, and Buffy struggling to understand her place in the world. It’s no surprise she can’t deal:
“Taking a holiday from dealing. Happily vacationing in the land of not coping.” – Buffy
Even Giles is acting very un-Giles-like. She finds him dressed in a sombrero and poncho, embracing Halloween. His proclamation of, “it’s alive,” when he shows her his Frankenstein Monster decoration throws her off completely. While this may be one of my favourite scenes, (I love when Giles gets to show his playful side), it stuns Buffy who is searching for the stability Giles has always offered her.
Her mother tries to quell her fears, saying she will always be there for her. (This is heart-wrenching knowing that Joyce dies in the following season). Still, Buffy’s abandonment issues reign throughout this episode and the series. While at the conclusion of the episode we see some bravery from Buffy regarding her issues with Parker, there are still dangers lurking in the outside world which she will have to face sooner or later.
For Xander, not much has changed. He is blindly ambling through life, and his relationship with Anya, I feel, blossoms out of loneliness. Xander feels like he’s being left out. Everyone else is at college and he’s in his parent’s basement. These feelings leave him with a propensity to accept that which is in front of him.
Xander: “Well that’s the funny thing about me, I tend to hear the actual words people say and accept them at face value.”
Anya: “That’s stupid.”
Xander: “I can accept that.”
Willow has decided to reinvent herself, away from her strict parents. She has a boyfriend, the dark arts, and a place of learning where she excels. She embraces the college experience.
“Then again what is college for if not experimenting?” – Willow
This newfound self-allows her to question Buffy’s ‘authority.’ She argues that Buffy is not automatically the boss because she is the Slayer. In fact, this argument will rear its ugly head throughout the show, notably in Season 7 when Buffy is kicked out of her own house in place of Faith. Willow has begun experimenting with magic in a big way. This allows her to tap into power she’s never felt before. She feels embolden to challenge Buffy’s authority as ipso facto leader of the group.
“I’m not your sidekick!” – Willow.
While she believes she is displaying strength, it’s really just a manifestation of her perpetual jealousy for Buffy. Even though she may have internal misgivings about this jealousy. It must be said that long before Willow discovered her power, she was jealous of the attention Xander gave to Buffy. Willow was too shy to protest, and she wanted Buffy’s friendship more than anything. According to Field (2013), Willow’s anger is mixed with her fear that she will always be irrelevant, no matter how much she perceives herself to change.
Although she may challenges Buffy’s right to authority, she will never quite break through it. This is explained by Kawal (2003) essay when an interesting point about Buffy’s heroism is made:
“…Buffy’s heroic and saintly actions aren’t one-time events. It’s not as if she just went and saved a kitten from a tree one day and appeared as a hero in the local paper. Instead, her entire life is devoted to protecting others-she risks her life and sacrifices her own interests night after night, year after year.”[ii]
This is what makes’ Buffy’s right to be the ‘Boss’ apparent to others, but strangely not to Willow. Even with all Willow’s intelligence and support of Buffy, she seems to forget about Buffy’s sacrifices. Instead, her reaction to lean into childish jealousies makes her seem petty. I guess we’re all human.
Another dimension to Willow’s objections may be viewed as not singularly egotistical, but emulating Buffy’s version of right and wrong. In Shroud’s (2003) essay Buffy’s actions are equated with the Kantian morality:
“The Kantian vision of morality is a system of individual agents pursuing their goals, the ideal version of this plan also involves individual agents continuously struggling to order their lives and their actions through maxims based not on inclination, but instead on the moral law.”[iii]
It stands to reason that because Buffy is the leader. Therefore, Willow is attempting to universalize Buffy’s sense of morality. However, this is not possible for ‘lay people’ such as Willow or Xander, as according to Shroud:
“…if Buffy retreats from the role of the slayer, the results will be disastrous for the community – innocent lives will perish…”
Buffy has obligations which Willow does not. Buffy struggles to relate to her friends, but she’ll never be truly like them. Her friends reach-out, in an attempt to meet her in the middle, but a middle-ground can never be reached. This decent within the group is often seen among the females, who tend to have the most power. Anya: vengeance Demon, Willow: powerful witch, Faith: Fellow Slayer. Standing passively during this argument is Xander and Oz.
So when Buffy suggests she separate from the group by sending the Scoobies home (which she has done frequently in the past), Willow more than objects:
Willow: “It’s not your decision.”
Buffy: “Gotta disagree with you there.”
Willow: “Oh of course you do!”
This is course is all happening while Xander is invisible. He does not know this yet, so his words of reason and resilience fall on deaf ears. Willow becomes snappy almost to the point of bitterness:
“Being the Slayer doesn’t automatically make you boss, you’re as lost as the rest of us.” – Willow
This foreshadows Willow’s eventual demise into evil. We have seen Buffy loses Angel, but she did not rage towards evil. Whereas Willow will blame Tara’s death for the inexcusable. Willow’s outward sweet demur hides a dark disquiet within which she does not address. In fact, she blatantly ignores the dangers:
“I can handle the dark forces as well as anyone else. It’s not that hard.” – Willow
Oz, on the other hand, is well on the way to addressing his literal inner demons. We see him cowering the bathtub quaking, repeating, “you’re not gonna change,” over and over.
Earlier in the episode we see he’s already having trouble understanding his wolf-like nature:
“I know what it’s like having access to power you can’t control. When I start to wolf out, I touch something, deep, dark. It’s not fun.” – Oz
Finally, I’d like to reflect on this interesting perspective from Daspit (2003) on the Buffyverse. He equates the shifting of a person’s internal knowledge within the lives of the characters during this season; as a reflection on how the world shifted into ‘postmodernity’ in the late 20th and early 21st century. He describes Buffy’s experience as follows:
“As Buffy struggles to make sense of life after high school, viewers are invited to witness the transitional dissonance of shifting views of knowledge and education and to see themselves on the developing terrain of postmodernity.”[iv]
However, ‘this end of history’[v] and a ‘complete cosmology’ was experienced in the late 20th and early 21st century. Where the postmodern age allowed for the confrontation of the status quo. “In other words, postmodernity challenges many taken-for-granted assumptions of the classical Western mindset.”[vi] However, it’s seems as though the pendulum has swung back to the premodern thought. Especially in the case of the United States of America. It’s frightening to consider the Trump-Presidency-Era as a throwback to the premodern idea of a fully-formed ‘cosmology.’ Where America was ‘great,’ and certain modern developments are inherently wrong/evil.
Look, in my opinion, fear is important, but it’s how we deal with fear, that’s what really separates the conservatives from the liberals. (Don’t get too excited, that’s a joke. Mostly). We should make friends with our fears, it will help us be more self-reflective. Otherwise, we might end up invisible, being chased by green entities, as a werewolf, alone underground. Ok? Buffy isn’t afraid of being alone, she’s afraid that her fighting won’t get her anywhere.
But do you want to know the truth?
(You’re going to get it anyway.)
She does get somewhere, and we all will too. Fight the good fight, because you don’t want to get to the end, and realise you don’t have any battle scars to speak of.
Copyright © 2018 Thinkingmoon.com – All rights reserved
Notable Pop References
- “Maybe it’s because of all the horrific things we’ve seen, but hippos wearing tutus don’t unnerve me the way they used to.” – Oz, talking about Fantasia.
- “It’s allllivvvee.” – Giles, in reference to Frankenstein’s monster.
- “Me Casio, es su Casio.” Oz, a very clever pun.
- “Sense a disturbance in the force Master?” – Xander, referencing Star Wars.
- “Hey red, what you got in the basket little girl?” – Xander. “Weapons.” – Buffy. “Oh.” – Xander, a reference to the children’s story, ‘Little Red Riding Hood’.
[ii] Kawal, 152
[iii] Shroud 194
[iv] Daspit. 120
[v] Fukuyama, F.
[vi] Daspit 119
“Fear, Itself.” Buffy the Vampire Slayer, season 4, episode 4, The WB, October 26, 1999.
Field, Mark. 2013. “Buffy The Vampire Slayer: Myth, Metaphor, and Morality.”Amazon Digital Services LLC.
Fukuyama, F. (2006). “The end of history and the last man.” Simon and Schuster.
South, J. B. (2003). “Buffy The Vampire Slayer: Fear and Trembling in Sunnydale.” (Vol. 4). Open Court Publishing.
Included in the above:
Daspit, Toby. (2003) “Buffy Goes to College, Adam Murders to Dissect: Education and Knowledge in Postmodernity.”
Kawal, Jason. (2003) “Should We Do What Buffy Would Do?”
Stroud, Scott R. (2003 “A Kantian Analysis of Moral Judgement in: Buffy the Vampire Slayer.”
Did you like this Buffy discussion? Why not try the previous one?