In the fourth episode of the fourth season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the Scoobies prepare for a Halloween frat party that turns out to be a whole lot scarier than they expected. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Buffy.
Seriously, I love Halloween.
I hadn’t noticed that there wasn’t a Halloween episode of Buffy in season three, but I’m okay with that because this one is a whole lot of fun. And it’s creepy as hell. But we’ll get to that! I’m already a big fan of how all the episodes so far in season four are tied together with an emotional continuity. I wouldn’t go as far to say that it’s a serialized narrative, like the one with Faith and the Mayor in season three. (Where the hell is Faith, by the way?) “Fear, Itself,” expands on Buffy’s recent depression after being part of a one-night stand she didn’t know that she was a part of. Honestly, as fun as the second half of this episode was, I don’t think I would have liked it as much if there wasn’t an exploration of Buffy’s feelings, and the reactions of the friends around her.
I’m glad this episode shows us that sometimes, being a friend means letting your friend go off to be alone. I noticed that none of the Scoobies chased after Buffy when she decided to leave the pumpkin carving party. Willow in particularly often follows Buffy out to talk with her, but this specific time, I think she realizes that Buffy’s sadness can’t be talked away. Perhaps Willow knows the value of loneliness, that sometimes if you give into it and wallow about for a while, it actually helps. Still, it’s not an easy situation to be in. It’s even worse that Parker is a student at UC Sunnydale because then Buffy risks having even more episodes triggered by his mere presence. How can she move on from this incident if he’s constantly there to remind her of what happened?
The first twenty minutes or so of “Fear, Itself” sets up this and the other character’s current concerns, and it’s because of this that the scenes in the frat house hold so much weight. We are introduced to Willow’s desire to pursue magic, and the worrying her friends do because of this. We see how Xander is slightly upset about the fact that the’s the only member of the group who doesn’t go to college. I think Buffy’s eventual fear is one of inadequacy. It’s not just Parker that made her feel like she wasn’t enough; even Professor Walsh demonstrates that she’s not the slightest bit interested in any of Buffy’s problems. (Plus, it was nice to see Riley again.) I think Oz is the only character without a fear developed in the episode itself because he’s the only Scooby with a constant, legitimate fear in his life.
Of course, before everything goes to hell, this show has to give us a moment that makes us smile and feel happy. THIS IS BUFFY, RIGHT? Seriously, I don’t understand how all of you aren’t in the Joyce Summers Fanclub. SHE IS SO WONDERFUL. Listen to what she tells her daughter! See how much she cares for her! Be sad over the fact that she’s wistful over the fact that she is still single! Desperately wish for her to end up with Giles because why not??? Seriously, I adore Joyce Summers. YOU CAN’T CHANGE THIS.
I will also devote this paragraph (and I use “paragraph” in the loosest sense of the word) to the single greatest thing in this entire episode: Willow and Oz’s costume. Willow’s was very her, of course, but it really isn’t a complete picture until you see Oz’s. It made me laugh so hard I had to pause the episode in order to wipe the tears out of my eyes. I just can’t help it. It’s perfect. It is a perfect example of their perfect relationship of perfection.
Then they all get to the house.
My first thought after the chaos hit was that there were elements of this episode that reminded me of the brilliant House of Leaves, a book I will forever recommend until my dying day. If you thought the idea of a house changing its very physical dimensions and fucking with your perception was entertaining and frightening, immediately go find House of Leaves and do not choose to read it on a six hour flight to New Orleans because that was one of the worst decisions that I have ever made in the history of the universe. I thought my plane would eat me alive. SO DON’T DO THAT AND I SWEAR IT IS A REALLY, REALLY GOOD BOOK.
The slowly-building creepiness of “Fear, Itself” comes not only from the fact that there’s a blur between reality and imagination, but also from the fact that the writers smartly spent time building up the fears of the various characters over this and past episodes. When those fears become fully realized, they’re all the more damning because of this. For a while, too, I also didn’t know whether these things were actually real or just imagined by the people in the house, and that provided a whole lot of tension as well.
I also think this episode is a fantastic example of how well this show can mix humor and terror at the same time. It is also making me feel like my thoughts on “Earshot” were a total fluke, but OH WELL. I mean, seriously, ANYA IS WEARING A FULL BUNNY SUIT. Oh god, she’s afraid of bunnies. WHY IS THIS SO FUNNY TO ME. Did anyone else get a lovely The Evil Dead vibe when Giles appeared holding that chainsaw up? He was so genuinely excited about Halloween! Of course, the best joke of the whole episode is Gachnar. For a second, I thought he looked weird when he manifested himself. The effect seemed strange. Then the camera pans down and GACHNAR IS A TINY DEMON. I COULD NOT STOP LAUGHING. HOW HAD THIS NEVER HAPPENED BEFORE. THIS IS BRILLIANT. SOMEONE HANG THIS EPISODE IN A MUSEUM.
Oh my god, the Gaelic inscription read, “Actual size.” BLESS THIS SHOW. BLESS THIS.