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Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Buffy the Vampire Slayer- Fear Itself

Buffy the Vampire Slayer

“Fear Itself”

Buffy's feeling blue after her rejection of Parker, who used and dropped her, and she's waxing philosophical at Halloween and likening herself to the pumpkins she and the Slayer Gang are eviscerate make Jack-o-Lanterns. The Gang invite Xander to join them at a scare-house/party hosted by the Alpha Delt fraternity the following Saturday.

Act 1
At lunch next day, Willow’s talking about her eagerness and fear at moving to the next level in her witch training, which will involve conjuring. Oz is concerned that Willow will “touch something deep and dark” that she won’t like, but he’ll support her decisions. Depressed Buffy hopes she can avoid fun by going to see Giles, but he’s all dressed up for Halloween and tells her to forget patrolling, since the spirits of darkness “shy away from Halloween - - they think it’s all too crass.”
Anya comes to see Xander - - she’s not over him, and the boy actually responds warmly to the former demon and invites her to come to the frat party. “Are we dating?” “There are definitely datelike qualities here.”
Buffy mopes into Prof. Walsh’s lecture hall to pick up the assignments she’s been missing. The cute TA urges her to get back to work and get over whatever it is that’s bothering her.
At the frat house, Xander and Oz help set up the stereo for the party in the attic. One of the frat brothers has chalked a demon circle from a book into the floor, and when Oz cuts himself, he bleeds into the circle. No one sees the wave of energy that emanates from it and turns a plastic spider into a real one.

Act 2
Buffy goes home so her Mom can re-fit her old Red Riding Hood outfit, causing Buffy to wonder if there’s something about her that drives men away. (She recalls that her father ran out, too.) Willow is Joan of Arc, Xander is James Bond in a rented tux, and Oz is God (as proven by a “Hi – My Name is” sticker on his casual clothes.) The Tom Clancy-esque vampire hunters wander by, to be revealed more fully in some other episode.

And at the frat party, the props are becoming real, and by the time the Gang reaches the house, panic has descended upstairs. Downstairs, all is silent except for the Halloween sound effects loop, and the Gang begins to wander, trying to find their way upstairs. The house has set up a detour of sorts through a hall where they encounter bloodstains, spiders, and animated rubber spiders. As a demon voice calls “Release me!” they begin to worry. By now Anya, who had to go out and rent a costume and found a pink bunny outfit, has arrived to find the door has disappeared and windows closing themselves up. Anya runs for Giles. The house, the Halloween party, is coming alive.

Act 3
The Gang is trapped in a maze as the house re-arranges itself and Buffy determines to find the upstairs. They start fighting and Willow and Oz go off alone, while Xander simply becomes invisible to Buffy.
Anya appears at Giles’s place (“We have to save Xander!) and the ex-Watcher suggests the disappearing windows might be the temporal flux associated with a demon conjuration.
Oz begins to turn into a werewolf, as he’s wont to do, and he runs. Now the four are completely separated.
Willow manages to make a guidance-beacon spell, but it backfires, attacking her in a horde of little light-bees, while Buffy ends up in a crypt-like basement where the dead tell her how alone she is.

Act 4
“We’re going to have to create a door,” Giles announces as he and Anya check out the doorless frat house. “You can do that?” “I can,” he says, whipping out a chainsaw and sawing into the house.
By the time Buffy escapes from the dead she finds herself in the upstairs with the rest of the frightened Gang, and she realizes the house has been separating them with illusions. “It wanted to scare us,” Oz said. They read the book from which the demon circle was copied—it’s a summoning spell for Gachnar, a demon who feeds on people’s fear.
Giles busts through the door. “Everyone!” calls Xander. “It’s Giles. With a chainsaw!” Anya the bunny demon is there, too.
Thinking it will shut down the summoning spell, Buffy destroys the Mark of Gachnar on the floor, but this instead brings Gachnar straightway. Everyone holds their breath as the demon finally appears. Gachnar is a hideous, snarly horned creature like something out of Hellraiser. Except he appears to be four inches tall. (This was obviously not the best dimension for him to choose.) Buffy squishes him with her shoe, and that’s the end of that.

Finally, with this episode, Buffy returns to the sort of witty goofiness of the show at its best. Recently I was talking to a friend, a fellow Buffy fan and writer, who said she hates season premieres, because they always feel like awkward transitions back into what makes you like a show. As much as I enjoy Buffy, this show suffers from that problem in particular, taking several episodes at the beginning of each season to find a pleasant, familiar groove. (This is not to say that those early episodes of any given season are good; to the contrary they're very good. I just like to get past them.) I guess it's pleasing that this season, Buffy hits its stride with the Halloween episode.
I've always enjoyed the idea than the Buffy universe, howling is a true holiday because demons and ghosts consider it beneath them. That sets up in the challenge for the writers, who must figure out some excuse to have particularly howling and themed goings on (on a show whose themes are already pretty Halloween-ish).

So what they do is give us a rough on one most reliable horror movie cliches around: the accidental summoning. In Sam Raimi’s The Evil Dead, this was accomplished by having some kids simply read out of a book of magic (Hey! Let's read this wacky magic indentation!) Here, it's both stupid and incredible incredibly bad luck: of frat guy randomly copies a summoning circle out of a demonic book in another language, and Oz manages to cut himself and bleed on it. And there you have it: excuse for all sorts of Halloween decorations to run amok.

It’s nice to see the Slayer gang hanging out together, now the Xander is back in town and apparently completely forgiven by Oz for his dalliance with Willow. What is Xander anyway? I mean, Willow is a witch, Oz is a werewolf, even Anya is a demon: what is Xander, other than an apparent babe magnet? (I'm well aware that this is rhetorical question that was explored at great length in “The Zeppo.”)

Buffy spends the first half moping around, but she flirted with her TA and got to stomp a small demon; I'm sure she’ll get over this Parker thing.

Joyce appears again this episode, fixing Buffy's costume for her. Joyce shares Buffy’s pain and says she’s been a little lonely herself; I was just thrilled that this is the kind of show where continuity makes for laughs and Joyce bothers to mention that her last boyfriend was “a homicidal robot,” and he really was. (He was also Tex Ritter’s actor son John.)

The best moment in the episode is when the demon spell begins to work on the gang and they turn against one another. Willow wants to cast a guidance spell, summoning a small like demon to show them the way out. She's deeply offended when Buffy tells her not to. “I’m not your sidekick,” Willow says, storming out. The funny thing here is that in the Buffy story, Willow is the sidekick. But the writers of Buffy are aware that we as people do not necessarily believe ourselves to be supporting characters and somebody else's story. Willow is the heroine of her own story, after all, in which Buffy is at most a supporting character.

Beyond that, the moment also illustrates that Willow is growing into a different character in college, one who may be coming out of Buffy’s shadow. Buff’s always been a little self-centered, so it probably takes Willow lashing out “under the influence” for Buffy to notice.

Lastly, I love Anya’s alien-ness; she hits just the right note in being clueless but eager to live the world of humans. (For those of you who’ve forgotten, Anya’s a demon who terrorized men but who got stuck in her a teenage body last season. She’s like Mork, only from Hell.)


Willow: “Don’t do it? What kind of encouragement is that?”
Buffy: “This is an encouragement talk? I thought it was ‘share my pain.’”

(I have this problem, too.)

T.A.: “Halloween isn’t a night for responsibility. It’s when the ghosts and goblins come out.”
Buffy: “That’s actually a misnomer.”

(Actually it’s merely inaccurate, but whatever.)

Xander, checking out Anya’s bunny outfit: “That’s your scary costume?”
Anya: “Bunnies frighten me.”

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