In the ninth episode of the fifth season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, this may be the most emotionally overwhelming thing I’ve seen in a long time and that’s because there are multiple levels at work here that all upset me and I just love Kristine Sutherland and oh my god Michelle Trachtenberg how do you act and oh help me what the
There’s a fine line that this episode balances, and this story could have easily tipped over into the Land of Really Bad or Weird Buffy Episodes. (That’s where “Beer Bad” is hanging out!) Instead, this episode navigates two distinct tones and stories with grace and brilliance, and I am just so impressed with both Buffy and Angel and what they’re doing. THERE IS NOT A MEDIOCRE EPISODE YET. HOW IS THIS HAPPENING. WHEN DOES THIS HAPPEN EVER WITH TWO SHOWS AT ONCE. HELP ME OVERWHELMED BY FICTIONAL NARRATIVES.
Which I’m perfectly fine with. Again, I know this is a repeat of Wednesday’s review, but the subject matter of season five of Buffy is hitting a particularly sensitive note for me. I wrote about the death of my father during Mark Reads Harry Potter, but I’ve altogether avoided saying pretty much anything about my mother’s battle with cancer. (Which she has beat twice and I am so happy that she’s one of the few exceptions to a disease that has taken so many lives.) It’s not that I’m afraid to share that stuff with y’all. I had someone ask me on tour how I was able to open up so much about my own life, and I had to admit that what I feared most was the fact that once I wrote about those sort of things, I couldn’t control what happened to them. I suppose that’s the nature of anything we create, and I accept it fully. I don’t really want to control what happens to the things I write, but I wasn’t thinking about that when I wrote that post about bullying during my read of Order of the Phoenix. It was just scary to think that some piece of my life would exist out in the world and once it was there, I wouldn’t be able to take it back.
That’s not why I haven’t written about my mother’s cancer, though. This time around, it’s just increasingly difficult to find the words. This kind of illness is so absurd and strange, and watching my mother struggle for years after that first diagnosis isn’t exactly a fun memory to revisit. But even something as traumatic as believing your mother is going to die by the time you’re fourteen has its silver lining, and there were parts of “Listening to Fear” that reminded me of that. I remember hating the hospital and its pale corridors, but feeling like my family carved out a unique space in my mother’s room. She went through three of them, as far as I can remember, starting off with the one she was prepped in. That one was indistinguishable from the rest in her ward, but that’s only because we didn’t spend time on it. We knew it was a temporary thing, and our attempts at making our mother feel comfortable didn’t start until she made it to her recovery room. Still, we visited our mother and tried to make her laugh, even if it didn’t hide the fact that we might lose her during the surgery that would take out 3/4ths of one of her lungs.
I’ll always adore the fact that fiction can make me think of things like this. I started reading very early in my life, so it’s easy to see why I developed such intense emotional attachments to the things I read. It’s why I still do. That’s how I explored the outside world, and now it’s how I seek to understand it. “Listening To Fear” helped me to understand my past, too, because I was forced to think about how my family and I dealt with a possible fatal illness, mortality, and the stress of the situation. I broke down just like Buffy did in this episode, and I remember every time, it happened during something completely unrelated. It could have been triggered by a line in my homework, or a set of chores, or a re-run of The X-Files. It was never when I was actually thinking about my mom. So I appreciate that the writers on this show are able to give us moments like this. It feels so uniquely intimate, as if someone else was able to peer into my mind and grab a full memory for their own use. It can be a scary thing to go through, but it always feels so empowering to me.
I actually want to save some stuff to talk about until I see what happens with Joyce’s surgery. In the meantime, there are things I need to talk about, and this is what they are:
- I was impressed to see the show deal with the fact that mental illness can also present in a person dealing with a chronic or possibly fatal illness. I was initially a little weirded out by the fact that those who had mental and emotional disabilities were left on the sidelines for most of the episode. I still don’t quite know how I feel about this episode’s treatment of mental illness, but I will say that I was very happy that the show had Buffy and Dawn do their absolute best to treat their mother with love and respect, despite how uncomfortable they might feel by the things she says.
- Riley, what the fuck are you doing? Why is he letting vampires drink his blood? THIS CAN’T END WELL.
- Willow dusted two vamps!!! I’m so proud of her!!!
- Oh, so Buffy is in school! That answer came quickly.
- Oh, Dawn. My god. I cannot believe that this episode not only featured multiple characters revealing that she isn’t “real,” but I DID NOT EXPECT BUFFY TO ADMIT TO HER MOTHER THAT DAWN IS NOT ACTUALLY THEIRS.
- But then Joyce accepts Dawn anyway and I just sob and sob and sob and sob.
- There are so many small, brilliant moments in “Listening To Fear,” and Willow and Tara making up new constellations whilst cuddling may just be the best thing to be a thing on Buffy. I can’t even deal with how much I love Willow and Tara.
- Okay, if you liked the horror element of this episode (concerning the Queller), there are like a billion The X-Files episodes you pretty much need to watch? Like “Squeeze”/”Tooms” or “Folie a Deux” or “The Host” or “2Shy” and that’s because they’re done in various ways that are all UTTERLY TERRIFYING and any chance that I have to flip out over the greatest show in the world is a chance I’m going to take.
- Yeah, pretty much was moved to horrified tears when the camera panned out to reveal that Joyce wasn’t necessarily babbling to herself, but talking to the Queller demon on the ceiling. Help me, I’ve nearly wet myself twice because of this show.
- Spike. Spike. He is the least subtle character in the world. My god. Seriously, it’s not going to help your case if you keep stealing Buffy’s possessions, you big creep.
- WHAT THE FUCK HOW DOES BEN KNOW GLORY AND WHY DID HE CALL THE QUELLER AND WHY DOES HE NEED TO CLEAN UP AFTER GLORY HIS ENTIRE LIFE WHAT THE FUCK I AM SO FUCKING CONFUSED!!!!!
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