Janes (a True Stan) and Nerdy Spice (a New Fan) are watching all of Buffy together and comparing notes.
Season 4, Episode 4 “Fear, Itself”
It’s Halloween in Sunnydale, which means it’s time for Giles to insist that nothing ever happens on Halloween, only for something to happen on Halloween. In this case, Buffy and friends attend a haunted house at a frat (always a terrible idea) which, thanks to some ill-placed decorative occult symbols, becomes an actual haunted house. It’s pretty similar to season two’s “Halloween,” where everyone transforms into their costumes–in a great way.
Like that excellent episode, the haunted house doesn’t just turn all of the fake creepy crawlies into real creepy crawlies (sorry, Nerdy Spice!), but also preys on the characters’ deepest fears about themselves. Xander is insecure that his friends are growing out of him because they’re in college and he’s not. Buffy is moping around about Parker, and the rejection has triggered fears that everyone will eventually abandon her. And Willow, who is quickly progressing as a Wiccan, is becoming afraid of her own power. (Which is, um, a reasonable fear, as it turns out!)
All of these fears manifest in the haunted house, as well as the growing rifts within the friend group. The gang quickly realizes that something is amiss–windows and stairs and closets are shifting and disappearing like the Winchester Mystery House, a plastic skeleton stabs Buffy in the back, and then turns into plastic again. Buffy tries to sideline her friends because, as Xander puts it, she’s been “push-away girl” lately. Willow insists that she has something to contribute, and offers to do a guiding spell. When Buffy points out that Willow’s spells are “50/50” at best–which is kind of mean!–Willow shoots back, “I’m not your sidekick!” Yikes.
But the saddest moment of the episode unexpectedly belongs to Xander. After Buffy and Willow’s fight, he realizes that no one can see or hear him, a manifestation of his fear that he’s “invisible” to his friends. And he’s totally right that they view him with contempt–no one notices that he’s gone for like, ten full minutes, and when Buffy realizes, she’s not worried, she just says, “That is so typical of him.” But the craziest thing is that Xander himself doesn’t even notice. On rewatch, you can tell that he actually becomes invisible right when they walk into the haunted house, and neither he nor the viewer blink an eye when no one responds to his stream of silly jokes, his efforts to peacemake between Buffy and Willow, or his attempt to comfort Buffy after the fight, because that’s just the natural order of things. I hate Xander, but–that’s rough.
Once they’re all split up from each other, the house ramps up its psychological torment. Willow’s cute little guiding spell goes awry and starts attacking her, a severed head tells Xander that his friends all ignore him, and zombies attack Buffy while telling her that everyone will eventually abandon her. They all end up in the room with the original occult symbol, and Willow figures out (from a book that just happens to be lying open on the table, and is written in Gaelic, don’t think too hard about it) that the symbol summons a demon who “feeds on fear.” Buffy accidentally brings forth the fear demon by destroying the symbol, which looks terrifying in the Gaelic book. But once they actually bring the demon forth, it’s super tiny and non-threatening, and Buffy stomps it out under her cute white sneaker. Ha! Funny, and symbolic!
Notes from a New Fan:
- Wait, Parker is in the previouslies? Ugh, I thought we were done with this.
- Oh, the camo guys from the premiere are back. I was wondering about that.
- The opening shot out of this jack-o-lantern is disturbingly vaginal. That had to be on purpose, right?
- Fantasia IS kind of scary, honestly. [Right?? That scene with the broomsticks haunts me. –Janes]
- Buffy’s still sad about Parker? Ugh.
- Speaking of transmutation, I wonder where Willow left Amy the Rat when she went off to college.
- I laughed when Anya said “copulated.” I’m officially more immature than Xander.
- What kind of college is this where you can’t miss class? [Update: Keets’ father teaches at a college where they actually DO take attendance before their lectures. This blows my mind.]
- Oh no! Janes didn’t warn me this episode would have live tarantulas! That is a clear breach of our unspoken old-fan-new-fan contract.
- Xander correcting Buffy that she’s the fifth wheel on the Willow-Oz-Xander-Anya double date is the only time that I find the whole “fifth wheel” correction that supposed grammar nerds insist on, to be in any way acceptable. How can you be the fifth wheel with only two other people? How does that make any sense?!
- Wow, college without cell phones seems so complicated. You come to parties and if you can’t find your friends, you have to just… stand there waiting for someone to let you in?! I’m glad I never had to go through such horrors. I guess I’m also glad I didn’t have to go to any parties with live tarantulas and zombies and everything.
- I like that Chaz just goes back into the closet, heh.
- I kind of had the feeling Xander was invisible when people started repeating what he was saying, but it was amusing.
- Dear Oz, if you’re going to cower in a bathtub hoping that you won’t change into a werewolf, maybe at least lock yourself in?
- Willow speaks Gaelic?!
Notes from a True Stan:
- Oz on Willow’s magic: “I know what it’s like to have power that you can’t control.” Oh yeah, remember that whole Oz-is-a-werewolf thing? Where did that go?
- Now that I think of it, they probably went out of their way to mention it so that the events of the next few episodes don’t entirely come out of left field.
- Oh no. Giles is wearing a sombrero. No, no.
- Okay, so many things about this scene where Maggie chews Buffy out for missing class. First of all, even in small classes, professors don’t yell at you for missing class, they’ll just let you fall behind or, at most, dock your grade. But this is a lecture! Lectures don’t even take attendance! If Buffy were a real college student, Maggie would be thanking her for taking the initiative to ask about what she missed.
- Why so much product, Riley? Why?
- Usually I would say it’s a cliche that Parker’s abandonment is bringing up Buffy’s daddy issues, but this scene with her mom is so sweet and sad. Poor Buffy! Poor Joyce!
- Aw, Buffy told her mom that Ted was a robot! That answers a question I didn’t know I needed answered.
- That Anya’s fear of bunnies became one of the show’s longest and most beloved running jokes is surprising, but delightful.
- Oz changes into a werewolf when it’s not the full moon, because I guess his greatest fear is that he *is* the wolf, or whatever. Definitely foreshadowing for “Wild at Heart.”
- I always giggle at Giles pulling out the chainsaw, Evil Dead-style.
Season 4, Episode 5 “Beer Bad”
According to Janes, this episode is very unpopular in the fandom. It’s definitely silly, but I actually don’t think it’s that bad–I mean, it’s a bit silly, but it’s more or less a classic monster of the week, right?
Anyway, the events are fueled by the fact that Buffy is, inexplicably, STILL hung up on boring old Parker after like three dates. She’s moping around, wondering if he just liked her too much, and generally acting like a dummy. Even more unwise, she accepts a beer from a group of guys who correctly identify her as being “sad and alone,” just to make herself feel better that Parker is hitting on someone else in front of her. YIKES. Her hangover makes her act pretty weird, like eating someone’s sandwich out of their hands during class. She joins the boys at the pub again the next day and gets drunk on the bar’s special beer again. No one says the word microbrew because it’s only like 2003, but it’s a beer that’s brewed specifically by this pub.
Unfortunately, the beer brewed by this pub is — as the episode title so cleverly gives away — BAD. It turns the guys into Neanderthals. Xander, who’s started working at the bar (and is experiencing a lot of Good Will Hunting level student-on-townie bullying from its patrons), gets clocked over the head with a club and has to chase them off with his lighter. Then he finds out that his boss, angry at always being treated like crap by the snobby patrons, brewed the beer specifically to have this effect. But don’t worry, it goes away in a day or two!
Once they’ve been scared off the premises, the boy cavemen go and find an unconscious girl and drag her back to their lair (the basement of the bar). Cavewoman Buffy, on the other hand, goes into a kind of Parker-related trance and starts drawing pictures on her wall while wearing thick eyeliner for reasons unspecified. When Xander and Giles try to keep her from doing any damage, she runs away and, of course, they are not really equipped to stop her.
Meanwhile: Willow and Oz have problems of their own. Oz has become weirdly obsessed with a band whose lead singer, Veruca, is all sexy and wild. Jealous, Willow becomes distant. Then when she sees Parker she yells at him for what he did to Buffy, only to have him try to turn the charm on her! But Willow has too much sense to be taken in by that and laughs in his face. Unfortunately, all this took place in the pub, so the two of them get knocked out by the returning cavemen.
Buffy ends up in the pub, where the cavemen have set the place on fire and now don’t know how to escape. Parker and Willow are still unconscious. Buffy recognizes Willow despite her atavistic state, and somehow manages to summon the know-how to get everyone out of the window. But later, when she runs into Parker–who actually does want her back now that he’s seen her being such a badass–she’s still a little under the influence of the Bad Beer, and knocks him out with her big cavewoman stick. Heh.
Notes from a New Fan:
- Parker in the previouslies AGAIN? Ugh, no one cares about Parker!
- Wow it hurts my brain to watch Buffy mope over this dude. He is sooo basic! How does she not look back and be like, “OK, so I guess ‘live for the moment’ isn’t the most unique thing anyone ever said”?
- It’s unclear to me if Sunnyvale College or whatever it’s called is supposed to be a good school. I’m guessing yes, because people are so weird about “townies” and this guy at the bar is showing off for Xander? But then why was everyone acting like it was a glorified community college before?
- Hey look it’s Kal Penn as one of the Cro-Magnon men!
- Willow yells at Parker because Buffy shared something very intimate with him and he’s treating her, uh, special place like a bag of snack food. That’s a very… evocative turn of phrase.
- Willow appears to be somewhat won over by Parker’s argument that he and Buffy shared something nice but it doesn’t have to last forever, and that he didn’t mean to mislead her, and whatnot, and… I’m torn. On the one hand, I feel like it is silly of Buffy to have thought they were gonna be boyfriend and girlfriend without checking first. Very Jody Sawyer. On the other hand, guys like Parker definitely do know they’re misleading people by staring into women’s eyes and intoning, “It’s so nice to find someone who understands.” An ethical serial-one-night-stander knows how to keep the flirting on a level that reasonable people wouldn’t interpret as a declaration of love. Parker’s not really being ethical here.
- And it’s definitely not ethical for him to start flirting with Buffy’s friend! Is this really happening?
- Xander tries to take advantage of what he thinks are a bunch of drunk bros to get a 30% tip. Sigh. No one of any gender should probably get drunk around Xander.
- The close-ups of the Cro-Magnon’s slobbery mouths are… graphic.
- One of the cavemen took his shirt off for some reason.
- I like that Buffy’s caveman look is like, sultry eyeliner and sexy bedhead whereas the men’s caveman look is overgrown jaws and crooked teeth. You know, how actual cavemen looked.
- Parker IS hitting on Willow! Oh noooo!
- It’s nice that one of the cavemen pulled his unconscious kidnapping victim away from the fire? And that they don’t seem to have actually had that much interest in doing what I thought they were planning to do when they dragged the women down into the basement? That would be too dark, anyway.
- I kinda don’t find it realistic that this made Parker realize he was wrong about Buffy and beg to get her back. But, hey, the genre is “fantasy,” right?
- Why were the Scoobs letting Cavewoman Buffy wander around with a giant stick?
Notes from a True Stan:
- I’m a weirdo who’s never had a drink, and my old friend always texts me when he watches this episode and asks, “Is this why you think beer is evil? Because Joss told you so?”
- Like Nerdy Spice, I am also dismayed that Buffy’s Parker mourning period lasts more than one episode. That being said, I have definitely had friends who were blown off after a hookup and were still obsessing over that guy a year later, so… maybe a couple of episodes isn’t too bad?
- Also, I absolutely love her elaborate fantasies of saving Parker’s life and then him begging her to take him back. So relatable.
- Aw, and her desperate rationalizations that maybe Parker just likes her too much, or that he has “intimacy issues from the death of his father.” Poor Buffy.
- “How gullible do you think I am?” Willow asks Parker, who’s trying to seduce her. “The gentle eyes, the shy smile, your ability to talk openly only with me…” Oh, Willow. She’s learned so many valuable lessons at such a young age.
- Why doesn’t Buffy look like a Neanderthal? The men look like cavemen and she just grew some Splash waves.
- It would have been kind of funny if Parker died.
Season 4, Episode 6 “Wild At Heart”
We open on Buffy slaying a vampire, and throwing out some not-quite-Slayer-worthy puns. (“Heartburn”? Really?) Anyway, then we pan upwards, and we see… Spike! Yay, Spike is back! He starts an epic speech threatening that the “Big Bad” is back, but then is immediately tased and captured by a bunch of commandos. Hee.
But the A plot belongs to Oz and Willow, who are so cute and happy that you just know something terrible is about to befall them. Oz is still drawn to that singer, Veruca, and basically drools over her right in front of Willow. Buffy assures Willow that it’s okay to have a crush in a relationship–which is very mature and true!–and it doesn’t mean that Oz doesn’t love her. But then, that night, Oz turns into a wolf, and ends up fighting (or “fighting”) with a girl werewolf, who obviously turns out to be Veruca. Oops.
It turns out Veruca is a veteran werewolf, not a newbie, tortured one like Oz. She thinks that Oz is “domesticated” because he locks himself in a cage, and gives overwrought speeches about how Oz is always the wolf, and the human face is “just his disguise,” and they should feel sorry for everyone else because they don’t know how it feels to be “alive” like they are. Ugh. I hate this girl.
Willow starts to notice that something is wrong, but instead of talking to her about it, or telling Buffy that there’s a killer werewolf on the loose, Oz takes matters into his own hands. Literally, as it turns out–he invites Veruca to spend the night in his cage, “so she won’t hurt anyone,” but then when she arrives, they immediately start making out.
Willow finds them naked together in the morning. Oz tries to insist that he had “no choice” but to sleep with her, but Willow, smart girl that she is, sees right through this. “You could’ve told somebody! Your solution is to lock you two together in a room all night?” Then Oz tries his ace in the hole–bringing up her cheating with Xander. I really hated Willow for that, but it’s obviously a rationalization, and she shuts it down immediately. Good for her. Then she accuses him of being attracted to Veruca even before he changed into a wolf: “You wanted her, like–in an animal way? Like, more than you wanted me?”, and he doesn’t deny it. Oof.
Willow is heartbroken, and for the first time, we see just how difficult it is for her to cope with grief. She gets super depressed, and even walks right in front of a car. Riley saves her in the nick of time, and she tells Buffy everything that’s happened. Buffy wants to help her deal in healthy ways–chocolate, sleepover, etc–but Willow tells her to go after Veruca. Willow almost puts a curse on both Oz and Veruca (!), but then decides against it, right before Veruca attacks and tries to kill her. Oz arrives, and Veruca tries to convince him to kill Willow, because she’s the reason he’s caging himself. “You’re an animal,” she says, grossly. “Animals kill.” He takes that literally, and once they’ve both turned into wolves, he kills Veruca–pretty gruesomely!–by biting her in the neck.
The next day, Willow finds Oz packing his bags. (Um, was he going to say goodbye??) He tells her he has to leave, because “the wolf is inside [him] all the time,” and he shouldn’t be around her, or anyone else, until he figures out how to control it. Willow asks, already crying, “Oz, don’t you love me?” and he says, voice cracking, “My whole life, I’ve never loved anything else.” Ugh, it’s so sad! Then he packs his car and leaves. Bye, Oz! I really will miss you.
Notes from a New Fan:
- It bugs me that Buffy accuses the monster she’s fighting of wanting “a little helpless coed before bed.” Even when taunting someone else, has any female college student ever referred to herself as a “coed”? To women, it’s just called … going to college. It’s not called “co-education” because that would imply that men owned the concept of going to college and were generously sharing it with us — that’s what MEN think. Boo. CLEARLY a line written by a man. An OLD man.
- Oh wow, I was wondering if those monster-hunters from the end of the premiere would ever come back, and here they are kidnapping Spike! (Also I was waiting for Spike to come back and liven up the proceedings, so yayyy.)
- Oh, and here’s Xander calling his dating prospects “coeds,” because he also has the political sensibility of a man born in 1955. I honestly hate this word so much!!
- I’m mad at Xander (always, but especially after he says “coed”) but his fake smile when he realizes he’s about to be hanging out at a club with a grownup is hilarious and is exactly what I’d do.
- Ugh, Giles creeping on that young singer is possibly more uncomfortable than Oz openly ogling her in front of Willow. But nothing could be more uncomfortable than Willow awkwardly grabbing Oz’s hand and him having no interest in tearing his eyes away from the singer long enough to answer Willow. It is soooo cringey.
- Aw, this scene with Willow and Oz waking up in the morning is so sweet. Unfortunately I was spoiled by accidentally getting bounced to episode 7 instead of episode 6 so I know that they are not long for this world, which gives this scene even more poignancy!
- Wow, there’s a lot of talk about kinds of girls you don’t wanna be in this episode. Girls who count calories in dressing! Girls who get jealous when their boyfriends ignore them for sexy singers! Jeez, I think it’s OK to be that kind of girl. Young women of my generation were definitely brought up to fear being That Girl — and there were sooo many kinds of That Girl who you didn’t want to be. It was a very effective way for pop culture to control our behavior so we would all try to act like, well, Cool Girls, as Gillian Flynn termed them.
- Good that they’ve built Oz something more secure than the book cage.
- Five seconds later: JK it’s not secure at all!
- Oh noes, is the crabby teacher gonna get eaten by Oz!?!
- Oh gosh, Willow put on leather pants to try to look more Veruca-y. That’s soooo sad it just makes my heart hurt. Also, Willow manages to make leather pants look dowdy, which is… impressive.
- Ugh, and now Willow wants advice from Xander to tell her what it means when a girl wants to have sex and the guy doesn’t? Like every guy is the same and every guy wants sex all the time and it’s some kind of Thing when he fails to live up to your stereotype?
- Oof, Oz, “I had to cheat on you to keep the sexy lady werewolf from killing people” is a very weak defense. Points for originality though.
- I’m glad Oz brought up Xander because honestly that’s what I kept thinking about. I understand forgiveness is important, but Willow carried on what was essentially an ongoing affair with Xander–way longer than two nights.
- Willow calls people a “planetary epidemic.” Uh, I’ll show her a planetary epidemic. Womp womp.
- The Oz/Willow breakup is still really sad though!
- But I do have to kinda quibble with the underlying reason. I mean, Oz says the wolf is always inside him. But this whole time he’s been basically the gentlest, mildest human being–that’s part of the poetry of him, that he’s gentle but also a wolf. But that makes it not really ring true that he’s super concerned about this “wolf” inside of him!
Notes from a True Stan:
- Oh it’s so weird to see Giles at the Bronze. This is no less weird now that I’m an adult.
- And ew, he’s drooling over Veruca! Mostly, I think season four gets a bad rep, but I could have lived a long and happy life without seeing Giles in full midlife crisis mode.
- Willow congratulating Buffy for making her jealous “academically” is such a flex.
- Willow to Buffy: “How come you didn’t tell me I look like a crazy birthday cake in this shirt?” Oh, Willow. This conversation is like, three years overdue.
- They clearly had a much higher budget for these werewolf costumes/effects, and they are… still super cheesy. I kind of miss when Oz looked like a giant teddy bear.
- I think one reason the werewolf stuff never quite worked is that the metaphor was always very muddled. Is this supposed to be a metaphor for like, our “animal side”? Is it like a Freudian thing, where we’re all pretending to be civilized but we all really want to kill and eat people? [Yes! It’s also weird because Oz basically HAS no animal side!]
- I like that even Xander, neanderthal extraordinaire, points out to Willow that men are allowed to not be in the mood for sex.
- And he tells Willow to just talk to Oz about her feelings! Is this the first time Xander has given good advice?
- Heh, Marc Blucas is so tall, he has to stoop to pat Willow on the shoulder, like she’s a child.
- This is such a silly, nitpicky thing, but I really hate when everyone acts like Buffy killing Angel is the same thing as a breakup. When Buffy tells Giles she’s concerned about the depth of Willow’s heartbreak, he says that Buffy got through it, and she says, “I ran away, went to Hell, and then got through it. I’m hoping she doesn’t use me as a model.” It’s not the same! Oz cheated and left, Angel died and went to hell. She dealt with the prom breakup just fine! Okay, rant over.
- Alyson Hannigan and Seth Green act the hell out of that breakup scene (Alyson Hannigan is such a good crier!!) but honestly, I don’t buy it. They’ve always been so solid, and he adores her so much, that I just don’t believe he would pick up and leave. So he wants to control the werewolf thing better–isn’t that what the Scoobs are for? Who else is going to help him? Usually, this show is really good at giving us internally motivated breakups, but this feels very circumstantial and contrived. (AKA, they want Oz out of the way so that Willow can become a lesbian, which, like, fair–but do it better!) [Yeah… um… couldn’t they have broken up because Willow is a lesbian? That’s what I kind of assumed was gonna happen! –Nerdy Spice]