Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Episode: "Earshot" (September 23, 1999)
Synopsis by Jason Henderson
This is it! The other episode that made the WB run in terror: Buffy's Earshot.
Buffy: Sarah Michelle Gellar
Willow: Alyson Hannigan
Xander: Nicholas Brendan
Oz: Seth Green
Angel: David Boreanaz
Giles: Anthony Stewart Head
Cordelia: Charisma Carpenter
Wesley: Alexis Denisof
Written by Jane Espenson
Directed by Regis Kimble
We open with Buffy in a familiar tableau, confronting a pair of mouthless white demons in the park. She manages to kill one and lose the other, and gets demon blood on her hand; the phosphorescent stuff oozes into her skin and disappears.
At the library, the Slayer gang is baffled by the fast-approaching Mayor's Ascension, the details of which are unknown. Unofficial Watcher Giles and Card-carrying Watcher Wesley are equally stumped. Meanwhile, Buffy's hand is itching.
Buffy is still belly-aching about Angel's pretending-to-be-evil charade that drew Faith's treachery out into the open (previously, as they say, on Buffy), mainly because the kiss the two shared looked like more fun than Angel lets on. Willow suggests asking Angel.
Giles looks into Buffy's hand and learns that the demon that scratched her may have "infected her with an aspect" of the demon. But what aspect?
The gang attend a pep rally, where Willow reads a school editorial by editor Freddy calling cheerleaders "pseudo-prostitutes," while Xander obsesses over Cordelia and the lusty looks Wesley is throwing her. Cordelia looks to have recovered well from her impalement a few short weeks ago.
Back at school next day, the gang reminisces about the swell basketball game and Buffy suddenly, inexplicably, reads Xander's thoughts about Cordelia.
So Buffy starts walking down the halls, listening to the thoughts of those around her, which, unlike the random thoughts of the library patrons in Wim Wender's stunning Wings of Desire, are vacuous and largely sex-related. But anyway, it's a neat super-power and Buffy's glad to have it. "Think about what I could do."
She tests this new power out by being the first student ever to cheat at discussion in English class, stealing Shakespearian analysis out of the teacher's head. Editor Freddy, meanwhile, thinks loudly about how much he disdains the rat-like scurrying of the students.
Already having thrown any sort of telepathic ethics to the wind, Buffy goes straightaway to Angel's place to pick his brain for his true thoughts on Faith. But the hunky vampire is too smart for her; he can both sense her attempted mind-assault and deflect it absently. "You can't get into my mind... it's like with the mirror; the thoughts are there but they cast no reflection." But anyway, he re-assures her that he prefers Buffy to Faith, because he's already had dozens of bad girls. "Boy, this honesty stuff is fun," observes Buffy.
"Careful with this gift," Angel warns. "A lot of things that seem strong-- and good and powerful-- can be painful."
The gang is less than thrilled to learn their already dangerous friend can now read their minds. "I am my thoughts," thinks Oz. "If they exist in Buffy then she becomes me-I cease to exist. Huh." Xander thinks about sex. Wesley calls for mental discipline as he fantasizes about Cordelia. And so on.
After her friends begin to run screaming, Buffy starts to lose the ability to ignore the thoughts around her as her telepathy intensifies. The voices grow louder and more layered, until she begins to freak out in the cafeteria. In the middle of a multi-voiced din, a strange voice cuts through: "This time tomorrow, I'll kill you all."
Buffy searches the cafeteria but can't find the threat, finally collapsing.
"Who hasn't idly thought about taking out the whole school with a semi-automatic?" Xander suggests. But Buffy's certain the threat is real, even as she grows unable to handle the voices in her head. "If it doesn't go away," Giles thinks loudly, "she'll go insane."
Buffy goes home and her Mom's thoughts are loud, too: "You had sex with Giles? On the hood of a police car? Twice?"
At school, Willow takes charge of canvassing the school to find the resident psychopath. She interviews Jonathan, a high-strung dweeb, while Oz talks to the basketball team. But one man is hiding from the gang: Freddy Iverson, the angry young editor.
But at least Giles finds a cure: the heart of the second demon, and Angel fetches it forthwith. Buffy drinks the extract of demon heart, as it were, and Buffy is back on her feet.
But the deadline fast approaches as dweeb Jonathan ascends the clock tower with an assault rifle. But the gang finally figures it out when a false lead, the editor, turns up a written threat from Jonathan. So it's off to the tower for the re-invigorated Buffy.
At the clock tower, it turns out that Jonathan was actually out to teach everyone a lesson by blowing himself away, not everyone else. Buffy convinces him that the only reason he feels invisible is because everyone is in lots of pain, and she manages to talk the gun out of his hands.
So who is the "I'll kill you all" voice? Xander quite accidentally discovers it's his old nemesis, the lunch lady, adding rat poison to the stew. "You're all vermin," she says, before Buffy beats her senseless. And once again, luck and well-timed violence save the day.
Earshot is really a minor episode along the way to the Mayor's Ascension, as interesting as it is-- which is why the ep was so easy to pluck from the season run with no noticeable effect on the show's continuity. But this is it, guys: this is the first of two episodes Warner was afraid to air because of the Columbine massacre.
Warner shouldn't have feared, of course-- the script acquits itself well, allowing Buffy to make a heartfelt plea against desperate violence. The killer, of course, turns out not to be a student at all, a point Warner utterly failed to exploit in the press. (Perhaps they didn't want to spoil the ending.) There are some chilling lines, though, such as when Oz suggests that blowing high school students away is "verging on trendy," and when Xander innocently claims to have fantasized about murdering his classmates.
Indeed, who hasn't? But those of us who were around in the heady spring of '99 remember how suddenly everyone in the country got amnesia about teenagers, and making such statements became strictly verboten. It was a time of impotent hypersensitivity, cowardice, and general idiocy, and that was just the press.
Anyway, there are a few interesting points to the ep:
Interesting to see Willow's transition to well-liked girl from the social non-person she was in the first season. In this episode, she's become part of the network of jocks at the school as a tutor. She's joined the system, as it were. (Except that she's a witch.)
I do enjoy that the gang's newfound enthusiasm for basketball is met with questioning from Buffy. This compared with most shows, where depending on the needs of the plot, characters suddenly and apparently retroactively manifest enthusiasm for a hobby or music group, especially if the producers have swung a guest star. (I mean, did the guys on What's Happening really strike you as the type to listen to the Doobie Brothers?)
Is that a Navy pea coat Angel wears? Why?
A wonderful note sounded by this episode is the way people's thoughts echo their character. Thus Willow's thoughts are socially insecure, Oz's thoughts are deep, deep, deep, and Cordelia's thoughts are exact previews of the words that come out of her mouth.
On making eyes:
"He's got his adult, Pierce Brosnany eyes all over my Cordy."
- - Xander the conflicted, complaining about Wesley's lust for the girl he supposedly has gotten over.
Buffy: "There's a killer in the cafeteria."
Xander: "See? I've been saying for years the lunch lady's gonna do us all in with that mulligan stew. I mean, what the Hell is a mulligan?"
- - The funny thing is, he's right.
Willow: "So you and Angel talked?"
Buffy: "Yeah, we talked. Then he ripped out the heart o a demon and fed it to me, then we talked some more."
Willow: "See, that's how it should work."