Sep 17 2012 2:00pm

Buffy the Vampire Slayer Rewatch: Little Red Riding Slayer

The Buffy the Vampire Slayer Rewatch on Fear, Itself

“Fear, Itself” starts with the gang engaged in pumpkin carving in the subterranean unsplendor that is Casa Harris. Xander is failing to capture the spirit of his chosen pumpkin, while Buffy’s moping over Parker, and relating too heavily to pumpkin guts. The group agrees to spend Halloween checking out the scary house at one of the frat houses—Xander gets invited, but not quite gracefully—and Buffy heads home.

Instead of getting into a real pre-credits fight, she punches a guy costumed as a demon. Psych! These have got to be the situations where Buffy wishes she had a badge, or a Sorry I Hit You coupon that comes preloaded with money from a popular caffeine franchise. On the upside, everything beats trying to wash Deputy Mayor DNA off Mister Pointy.

After what we presume is a quiet, slay-free night, the roomies go to breakfast. Willow’s got magic on the brain, and Oz—in what, for Oz, is an incredibly long speech—urges her to be careful as she fiddles with the dark powers. He also reminds us all he’s a werewolf, in case this is our first season watching. (I have the impression that a lot of people started watching BtVS in S4, actually.) Everything’s warm and sweet and supportive until Buffy spots Parker having fun across the cafeteria.

Still blue and justifiably wary of her friends’ desire to force her to have fun and get over it all at the haunted house, Buffy claims she must work and flees to Giles. But he’s busy decking his halls in Frankenstein and getting a sugar high out of the candy bowl... he tells her to kick back and enjoy herself.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Fear Itself

It’s nice seeing Giles chill out a little, I have to say. As I watch the early parts of this season, I feel like the BtVS team has captured, in Giles, the ineffable adolescent-like joy that comes of having months off your day job. He’s dating, he’s watching TV, his house is clean—okay, his house was always clean, if you don’t count the time Angelus spilled Jenny all over the bedroom—and seasonally decorated and he’s pretty much always there. If my house looked as cool as that, I might always be there too. Or at Angel’s mansion, now that it’s empty. There’s at least a few homes worthy of envy in Sunnydale, despite the whole death and Hellmouth issue. And a big honking castle—but that, as you know, comes later.

But instead of babbling about fictional real estate, I should be telling you the fake haunted house is coming together over in the land of the Alpha Delta fraternity. The guys are painting a mystic Mark of Gachnar on the floor and planning to impress girls and asking Oz if he can fix their sound system. Sadly, Oz is fated to cut himself and get werewolf blood on the mystic symbol. Anyone else wonder if the werewolf part of the equation made what happened worse?

Speaking of holidays, Halloween is the one week anniversary of Xander and Anya having had sex. Or, as she puts it, having copulated. She wants to know why he hasn’t called—there’s kind of a funny echo of the Parker thing there—and he points out she told him they were done. But he’s happy to see her, she’s happy to hear it, and they agree they’re dating. Dating! A mere week after sex! This makes Halloween the anniversary of the first time Xander actively asks Anya out... and he does it even though she kicks him right in the insecurities by claiming he has nothing in common with Buffy and WillOz anymore.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Fear Itself

Buffy is by now so desperate to bail on her social obligations that she has resorted to picking up out-of-date homework. This gives us a chance to see Professor Walsh and Riley. Riley tells Buffy to take psychology 101 very seriously, except on October 31st. Mixed message, maybe? (Of course he’s going to work, but that’s because the Initiative hasn’t figured out the whole Monster Boycott of Halloween.)

And so Buffy goes home to beg her mother to fix up an old costume for her. They have a nice honest talk about loneliness and Buffy’s fear that she’ll end up being abandoned by everyone she loves. There hasn’t been much Joyce yet in this season, but it’s been pretty great so far. She lets Buffy talk, empathizes, and doesn’t pretend there’s an easy answer. If she secretly thinks: But I’m still glad Angel left you! she keeps it to herself.

Oz and Xander go off to fix the frat sound system. Wereblood on the spooky sigil in the attic makes the holiday decorations real, turning a plastic spider into a tarantula and, as the party gets started, turning the grape-y eyeballs into real ones and the stabby skeleton into a real threat. (Oz, who’s been very busy today, also made time to out Xander as not-a-college man to the Alpha Delts, just to reinforce his anxieties about becoming superfluous to the Scoobies.)

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Fear Itself

As the festivities begin, the gang gathers and compares costumes. They’re all so adorable: Xander as James Bond, WillOz as Joan of Arc and God, respectively—Jean Grey and Scott Summers would be too on the nose—and Buffy as Little Red Riding Hood. The only thing cuter is Anya, tardy, in a not-so-terrifying bunny costume. Or is it Giles in that sombrero? Who did you love most, folks?

They get to the frat, Willow gets a tarantula on her, and all the arachnophobes in the viewing audience go running in search of their blankies. The gang finds real blood on the floor and then are attacked by bats. Hmmm, something supernaturally lethal seems to be afoot! Lucky Buffy brought a crossbow. In some shows, this would be ludicrous. In this one, it’s utterly believable. Of course she brought weapons to a party. Xander’s fear of vanishing starts to manifest as the gang begins ignoring him. For a while, he doesn’t notice.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Fear Itself

Anya, meanwhile, gets to the frat late and finds there’s no door. She sees a window close up on a frightened hula girl and immediately beelines (bunnylines?) off to Giles’s place. 

By the time she gets there and sounds the alarm, Buffy’s fear that her loved ones will abandon her has started to come true and she and Willow are having a serious bicker. The boys are both trying to play peacemaker, at least until Xander realizes nobody can hear him. The gang gets separated, Oz starts to wolf out and hides in a bathtub, trying not to change. Willow attempts a guiding spell (I want to call it a de-losting spell, but that’s just silly) and gets way too many guides, while Buffy ends up in the basement of the frat, alone, friendless, and fighting an endless pile of monsters. One of the dead frat boys is heckling, telling her that evil springs eternal and that fighting it is pointless. She’s heard it before; she ignores him.

When she gets away from the monsters, Buffy magically ends up in the attic, with all the others—not just her friends, but everyone who went to the party and hasn’t yet died. Gachnar is feeding on their fear, it turns out. Xander finds the textbook with the floor icon and they’ve barely started to grapple with the Gaelic and consider ways to get all the scared students out of the house when Giles and Anya cut their way in. With a chainsaw!

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Fear Itself

I love Giles with a chainsaw. I want Giles with a chainsaw in every episode from here on in.

Buffy shatters the Mark. Wait—don’t shatter the Mark! It’ll bring forth Gachnar! This info comes too late. They all have a bad moment when they think an enormous and gnarly demon is going to turn up and whale on them. But the episode has no time left for a big fight scene, and Gachnar, it turns out, is tiny. How fitting. When we look at our fears straight on, they shrink. And then we mock them.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Fear Itself

Don’t taunt the fear demon, Xander. It’s tacky.

The self-proclaimed dark lord of nightmares is eminently stompable and Buffy puts him to rest. Then, having faced some of their deep seated fears—except Giles, who’s so very relaxed—the group retreats to Casa Ripper for a well-deserved chocofest. And on that note, and though it’s a little early, Happy Halloween, everyone!

Next week: Clan of the Cave Beer

A.M. Dellamonica has two novelettes up here on Her ’baby werewolf has two mommies,’ story, “The Cage,” made the Locus Recommended Reading List for 2010. There’s also “Among the Silvering Herd,” the first of a series of stories called The Gales.

In October, watch for her novelette, “Wild Things,” that ties into the world of her award winning novel Indigo Springs and its sequel, Blue Magic.

Constance Sublette
1. Zorra
As you say, one does enjoy a relaxed Giles! He does silly very well too.

I saw seasons 1, 2, 3 and 7 first. Then season 4. Then -- Dawn arrived! With the arrival of Dawn maundering at the start of season 5, I shut down on Buffy for a very long time. So it's been season's 5 and 6 I've seen the least frequently.

As time went on and I thought more about the show I came to see that Dawn was a good idea. But I still don't like her, or her scenes. Just like the more often I watch the twitching of Faith, the less I like her.

Love, C.
john mullen
2. johntheirishmongol
The ending of the episode saved it, because it was all over the place before that. The costumes were pretty good, but Oz's was a total copout. Anya's bunny suit was perfect. And of course the slayer would carry real weapons. Don't we all?
Alyx Dellamonica
3. AMDellamonica
There were things about bringing in Dawn that really impressed me... but that's getting ahead of myself.

Oz's werewolf costumes were never good. But soon they will be all but gone from the story. I love the bunny suit!
Gardner Dozois
4. Gardner Dozois
This was the first episodes of Season 4 that I actually liked, and it's still one of their better (semi-) comic episodes, with interesting echoes of the Ethan Raine Halloween episode in an earlier season (obviously, you should be very careful what costume you put on in the Buffyverse). The gag with the dreaded Fear Demon being only a few inches high and Buffy desposing of it by impatiently stomping on it is one of the best in the whole series, still funny after seeing the episode multiple times, although it does sort of turn the whole episode into a Shaggy Dog (or Shaggy Demon) Joke. Actual size!

In terms of overall season arc, still pretty much a wheel-spinner, although Professor Walsh and Riley are introduced and you get your first glimpse of Ininitive troops rushing by, although everybody thinks they're wearing Halloween costumes. It was obvious as soon as Riley hove into sight (and got out of the episode without being immediately murdered, which is usually the fate of people who are nice to Buffy) that he was going to be Buffy's love interest this season. The episode also established Anya's fear of bunnies (another good gag, particularly with her being an ex-demon), a running gag that cummulated in Anya's bunny song in "Once More, With Feeling."

In all the times I've watched this episode, it never before occured to me that the fact that it was OZ's blood, as opposed to just anybody's blood, might have been particularly significant.

Yes, Giles with a chainsaw is great. The only thing that might have made it better is Giles with a chainsaw still wearing his sombrero.
Sydo Zandstra
5. Fiddler
I loved when Xander went 'now who's the cute little fear demon here...'

And the squeaky voice of the demon. Always reminds me of Joe Pesci in the Lethal Weapon movies...
Gardner Dozois
6. RobinM
This is not as cool as the Ethan Raine Halloween episode but I like it. It's fun Anya in a bunny suit and Giles with a chainsaw! Taunting the demon of actual size maybe tacky but this show always does good snark.
Jack Flynn
7. JackofMidworld
"Actual size." - I grin just thinking of that line.

If you like the look of Giles with that chainsaw, you have to check out Repo! The Genetic Opera. Okay, maybe it's a bone saw rather than a chainsaw, but still.

That said, this is one of my favorite episodes. Love the way the comedy mingles with the actual terror of growing up and growing apart.
Kristen Templet
8. SF_Fangirl
I started watching with season 4, but it has nothing to do with Buffy and everything to do with my circumstances. I moved to Belgium and AFN had limited viewing options allowing me to discover the Buffy.

I think I already knew Oz was a werewolf, though.
Gardner Dozois
9. lajcik
Damn, for a moment there I though it was Herr Flick in the first picture :)
Gardner Dozois
10. Aeryl
My favorite costume is Oz's. For one it's perfect for him(that's the same shirt he was wearing earlier).

And the second is shallow, but the shirt he's sporting is for my hometown college ball team.

Go Cards!
Emma Rosloff
11. emmarosloff
This episode's great! I got a big laugh out of the pumpkin carving opening scene.

Xander: What's up, Buff?
Buffy: I was just thinking about the life of a pumpkin. Grow up in the sun, happily entwined with others... then someone comes along, cuts you open, and rips your guts out.
Xander: Okaaay. And on that happy note...

And overall I loved the internal-conflict-manifesting-externally via the haunted-frat-house-come-alive. Just a solid premise for a halloween episode, all around. Yeah, doesn't do much for the overall plot, but I love Buffy for not always needing to. The characters are captivating enough sometimes. Also really enjoy the Anya/Xander bits.

Anya: You mean, like a date? Is that what this is? Are we dating?
Xander: There are definitely date-like qualities at work, here.

LOL. I heart Xander.
Alyx Dellamonica
12. AMDellamonica
Gardner, I don't think it actually was significant that it was Oz's blood. It's just one of those things someone might have capitalized on, and didn't. (Giles with a chainsaw still wearing the sombrero--eee!!!)

Jack--yes. I like my comedy with exactly this kind of dark seed.

Emma, I heart Xander too. (Have I mentioned how happy I am to read your comments each week?)
Emma Rosloff
13. emmarosloff
Shucks. I'm just stoked you're doing a Rewatch. I only just watched Buffy for the first time in April (although I'd seen the musical... it was like snapping a circle, kind of cool, actually), and I was desperate to nerd out about it, but for most folks it's like "That was so 10 years ago." Actually... that's not always true (because everyone loves Buffy), but it doesn't mean it's fresh in their minds. So this is a necessary fix :).

I agree with most folks here though that Season 4 takes awhile to get on its feet, probably because high school's over and we're starting to get bored with school related monster-of-the-week episodes. It was helpful that the entire show could revolve around Sunnydale High/The Hellmouth right underneath HQ (the Library), whereas UC Sunnydale is just a facet of the show, moving forward. There's so much good stuff to come, though!
Alyx Dellamonica
14. AMDellamonica
The transition from high school to college is a tricky one for most teen or student-centric shows. I think the best it's been done, on things I've watched, was in Veronica Mars.
William A.
15. General_Vagueness
Aside from the parts where Buffy is bored or moping and when the manifestation of fears starts to drag on, this episode doesn't miss a beat, and every beat is a high note.

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