Earshot
Written by: Jane Espensen
Directed by: Regis Kemble
Air Date: Sept. 21, 1999

“Earshot” is a great episode. Its what a quality “stand-alone” should be. It uses a fun and interesting device (here, telepathy) and tells both a story and relates to high school students in an entertaining way, teaching a lesson and bringing about development, all the while using classic “BtVS” methods to tell jokes, make drama, and introduce new threads. Again, compare this episode to either “Consequences” or “Enemies“, two episodes I also consider to be filler content – although they are both story-arc-important filler episodes – and you’ll see just how this episode does everything right, especially in the use of the characters in an entertaining way.

Can I comment on the demons this week, though, first? I love these guys. There is something in the way they look that just works for me. Their entire no-mouth thing makes sense and is well handled, considering they communicate telepathically. And the entire “aspect of the demon” thing they impart when killed is wonderful, actually tying in to something that happens to Cordelia later on, what with the headaches and near-death experiences and what have you. The show could have filled this spot with two lame-ass demons that said corny things and had a ton of stupid screen time, but their short, brutal battle sequences as mutes worked ten times better than anything they could have said would.

Its hard not to talk about this episode and mention Columbine, though. That’s a real drag, too. The episode aired way after the fact due to its proximity to the shooting, something which – I guess – SMG lobbied against, wanting the episode to air on schedule because she liked it so much. Johnathan, a character who we have seen time and again get abused, is believable as a student we might see take his aggressions out on the student body, a fact that is downplayed when it turns out the character is using a high powered rifle with a scope to kill himself (the silliest part of the episode, actually, and the thing keeping it from a perfect episode (well, one of many things). Danny Strong plays this guy perfectly, giving him just enough emotion to make the grief come right through. His scene with SMG in the tower is wonderful, poignant, and touching. And it is a moment that will be remembered between these two for some time.

Buffy deals being able to hear thoughts well, at first, even scoring some major points in class by reading the teacher’s mind. The voice-over work by the cast is done well, too, as are the jokes based on the notion that she can read minds. Xander trying to stop thinking about naked people… and then naked Buffy! …is just downright hilarious, as is the fact that Cordelia actually says exactly what she’s thinking, all the time. Its a great bit of comedy that never allows itself to get old by having the jokes come fast and furious before the pain of the power sets in on Buffy. Its great utilization of the device, which could have simply been used to tell jokes, but the threat of danger and death looms overhead and never cheapens the episode.

It doesn’t feature any further development of the season’s arc at all, never really touches on any of the central themes. There is no mention of Faith or The Mayor, no comment even on series-long facets like the Hellmouth or even any vampires (though Angel does confirm that vampires can’t have their minds read). But that doesn’t stop this episode from being downright charming, engaging, and comical. And important. That’s the thing that matters the most out of any episode of “BtVS” that isn’t tied down to its spot in the season. You could have almost watched this episode at any point during season three and you would get the same level of quality from it. Its where it is to fill out the season, yes, but it does so in a spectacular way.

The last four episodes of the season are all tied heavily to the plot of the season with major showdowns and throw-downs coming a mile a minute. Its a great time of change for Buffy, both the character and the show, and these are the last days of her high school life. There has been a certain level of innocent fun about these first three seasons, even when people are dying or good guys are turning evil. The characters are still young kids and learning, having fun, and always winning the day. Times will be coming soon enough that winning isn’t good enough or that winning won’t come at all. Its episodes like these that remind me that things get very, very dark for our Slayer, and not before too much longer. I wish I could warn her, a bit.

Episode Rating: 90

Additional Notes:
-Xander was spot-on with his assumption that it was the lunch lady. Points to Xander
-Willow asks Johnathan if he ever has a fantasy in which he’s well-liked and important. We’ll see that fantasy come to life, later, in another fantastic Johnathan episode
-Angel makes a joke and then says, dead-pan “I’m a funny guy” — it works perfectly and showcases the evolution they had to have his character go through in order to have his own show work
-Joyce is so dead set on leaving Buffy in her room before she can read her mind, but it doesn’t work; she knows she and Giles had sex on that police car back in “Band Candy

Giles walking into that tree is perfect
-The lunch lady gets a bit over-the-top near the end of the episode. A brawl might not have been the best way to end the episode, especially with the high class look on her face when Xander finds her out
-Willow taking charge every time Buffy is out of commission is always a great touch

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