Buffy the Vampire Slayer
“Listening to Fear”
Broadcast November 28, 2000
Sarah Michelle Gellar .... Buffy Summers
Nicholas Brendon .... Alexander 'Xander' Harris
Alyson Hannigan .... Willow Rosenberg
Marc Blucas .... Riley Finn
Michelle Trachtenberg .... Dawn Summers
Amber Benson .... Tara
Anthony Head .... Rupert Giles
James Marsters .... Spike/William the Bloody
Kristine Sutherland .... Joyce Summers
Mercedes McNab .... Harmony Kendall
Emma Caulfield .... Anya Emerson
Joyce waits with Buffy and Dawn for her coming brain surgery at the hospital while Giles, Xander and Willow patrol for vampires. Willow dusts both of the vamps they find. Riley, who is also supposed to be filling in, is instead holed up in a fleabag apartment letting a vampire drink from him,
Due to the pressure of Joyce’s tumor on her brain, she’s started to say demented things. Buffy wants to take Joyce home until surgery. A former security guard that Glori the demon assaulted runs into the girls in the hall of the hospital. Insane, he stares at Dawn and calls hr “empty,” saying there’s “nothing there.” Handsome Dr. Ben says that this man is a mental ward patient going home with his family.
That night, Tara and Willow play a game of naming new constellations (e.g., “big pineapple) on the roof of their dorm. They see a strange meteorite crash to earth.
The crazed security guard wanders mumbling in the woods where the rock crashed. The meteorite’s resident demon, which sort of resembles a big boll weevil, jumps him.
Buffy gets permission from Dr. Kriegel the brain surgeon to take Joyce home, but she has to remember to look after Joyce and administer her several meds. Joyce is erratic already, childish and impatient when she’s lucid, completely wacky when she’s not. Meanwhile, the boll weevil creature is crawling on the ceiling of the waiting room.
The gang find the meteorite and the dead security guard, complete with a weird and foul-smelling fluid that fills the dead man’s mouth. While the gang go off to look for demons that come from space, Riley remains behind. Once they’re gone, he calls the Initiative, his spy group.
At the hospital, the boll weevil from space attacks another dementia patient and his screams go more or less unnoticed while the creature spits thick gunk all over the patient’s face.
The Initiative, whom Riley once worked for, set down in helicopters. Riley shows the Initiative Major the “protein alkaloid” gunk the creature spat into the security guard’s mouth, and they determine to track the creature’s radiation signature wherever it went.
At the Summers’ place, Joyce is getting dangerous, nearly setting the kitchen on fire and calling Buffy “fat.” Buffy puts her to bed, but not before Joyce, too, stares at Dawn and calls her “a nothing, a shadow.”
Dawn is disturbed that now three people, including Mom, have called her a thing that doesn’t belong. Buffy tells her they’re all just crazy. (She knows the secret, which is that it’s true.)
At the gang’s research session, Xander and the gang put together a picture of their demon: it’s called a Queller, summoned whenever there are huge breakouts of insanity. The Queller basically gets rid of the extra insane people. At the hospital, the whole mental ward is dead.
Buffy’s so emotional cleaning up the kitchen and crying that she can’t hear (nor would she particularly countenance) when Joyce starts talking to the boll weevil creature, which has followed her back from the hospital and now clings to her ceiling.
Riley and the Initiative figure out that the demon weevil must have followed Joyce, so they rush for the Summers home. By now of course, the demon is spitting its mental-patient-killer juice all over Joyce. But Dawn sees it, finally screams for Buffy, and Buffy goes after the critter.
Spike, who is rummaging in Buffy’s basement for pictures of her, turns up and provides at least some help, and Buffy stabs the creature to death before Riley even shows up. At the hospital, demon Glori’s servant Dreg shows up to ask Dr. Ben why, exactly, the young doctor needed to summon the Queller. Dr. Ben says he’s “cleaning up Glori’s mess-- just like I've done my whole life.”
A day later, at the hospital before her surgery, Joyce tells Buffy that she senses that Dawn is not really her daughter-- but she feels like she is, and Joyce senses Dawn is vitally important. She makes Buffy vow to watch over Dawn.
We end with Joyce, finally being hauled into surgery.
"Listening to Fear" is a frightening episode of Buffy not for its wacky doodlebug, phlegm-spewing meteorite demon, but for the image of Joyce Summers veering between lucidity and madness from moment to moment. When Buffy starts to cry while she's doing dishes (in a setup nicely borrowed from Fatal Attraction), we can identify with her pain, better than any other she's had on the show. We're unlikely to date vampires or come back from the dead, but we just might see one of our parents dying of cancer. The plot recalls the moment in the 1978 Superman: "All those powers… and I couldn't even save him."
Of course, this has to be the fastest-acting brain tumor in the history of television, because Joyce was just having headaches a week ago and now she's raving. But that's TV. Other elements, like Joyce setting the kitchen on fire, will be very familiar and even unnerving to people who deal with Alzheimer's victims. Joyce just doesn't know what she's doing in these moments.
I don't know what to make of the idea that the monks' spell that convinces everyone that Dawn is "real" only works on the sane. I presume this is just an extension of the age-old idea that fools possess wisdom, like children. But nicely, the powers have Joyce decide that somehow Dawn isn't hers, but that she wants Dawn to be treated as her daughter anyway. What troubles me is that Joyce tells Buffy, "she feels like my daughter… I love her as I love you." What she doesn't say, and what would be more comfortable to hear is "love her as I love her." Does Joyce, can Joyce, love Dawn?
Speaking of Dawn, we're still in the middle of Dawn's long settlement into the show, which of course may not happen. She never gets very far without someone pointing out that she doesn't seem to fit, and she's getting a complex. Beyond that, she's the show's resident kid, and she reminds those of us who aren't just how much being a kid sucks: when bad things happen, adults have you money and tell you to go buy a candy bar.
Riley continues to degenerate, showing up at the start of this episode calmly letting a vampire girl drink from him. He's becoming obsessed with the vampires, which he believes hold a higher place in Buffy's heart than he does, enemies or not. If he becomes a vampire, he'll be a pathetic one.
Spike gets to toss Buffy a knife so she can kill the demon, an altruistic move, but we know Spike is evil and he helps now only because he now has a crush on Buffy. I fear, watching these scenes, that the powers are flirting with giving us a Buffy/Spike pairing, and I really don't want to see it.
Lastly, I have no idea what to make of Dr. Ben's claim that he's cleaning up after demon Glori, “like always.” What is he, Glori's brother? Father? Husband?