Fear Itself
Written by: David Fury
Directed by: Tucker Gates
Air Date: Oct. 26, 1999

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Mrs. Summers! Joyce shows up for the first time in Season 4 and boy how I’ve missed her. It might seem strange to make a big deal out of her in such a quality episode, but her presence has been missed thus far. Its telling that she finally shows up right after Buffy had such a hard time dealing with that stupid, nasty Parker incident; she needs her mother. Much like she’d previously needed her father figure, Giles, back when she needed validation for hating her roommate, Buffy needs the comfort, advice, and contact of her mom to help her make sense of the situation she’s been presented with. While this episode is a Halloween episode and the titular “Fear” is the tiny demon Buffy steps on, the real fear here is much greater.

See, these characters are all changing and they all have greater worries than simply fighting monsters. Each one has a specific issue to cope with, even peripheral characters like Anya (yay!) and Joyce (double-yay!). The obvious issues would be Buffy dealing with giving her heart to someone that didn’t want it, Willow having to contend with people telling her she can’t and/or shouldn’t attempt to control magic she isn’t ready for, Xander has to come to terms with the fact that he is losing his place within the gang, and Giles has to deal with the issues of having nothing better to do with his time, post-Watcher, than sit at home alone in his costume after blowing his purpose to bits at the end of last season. Anya is afraid of being human and Joyce is scared of being an adult on her own. Its all human things, and they’re all true to life.

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While this episode provides our characters dealing with these issues in a first-hand and over-the-top way, I applaud it for only really scratching the surface and getting these dissected for the first time in a solid hour of action, drama, and comedy. We understand, for example, that Willow is afraid of being unable to control her magical side or that Xander is feeling ignored, but to see them deal with literal magic going out of control or becoming invisible and being literally ignored (respectively) might seem like hitting it a bit over the head, but that’s OK because the episode moves at such a brisk pace that we don’t even care, as viewers, that its all a bit much. Its all in good fun. Even if Oz comes close to wolfing out and maybe killing/eating Willow.

So while this is an episode that opens a lot of doors (and thankfully leaves them wide open by the credits), its done with fanfare and joy. The costume choices for the characters (Willows Joan of Arc being of note), the frequent callbacks and references to the past (Xander’s decision to dress as a super spy in case something similar to a few years ago should happen again), and then the sight gags, legit creeps (that random chick dying then smiling, anyone?) and the reveal of the monster of the week are all handled well. In fact, everything that happens from the minute Giles busts into the upstairs room with a chainsaw in tow is hilarious, as is Anya’s choice to wear a bunny costume because they freak her out (more on this for seasons to come).

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The moment when Giles says that there are two ways to stop the demon from rising, and Buffy blindly destroys his symbol on the ground without proper information is comical. Its so true to the relationship that both characters desperately want but can’t have due to circumstances. But when that little guy rises and he is no taller than a tennis ball, its all gold. Gold, I say! Xander taunting, Giles telling him not too for tact’s sake, and Buffy stepping on him to end the nightmare are all cute moments. But its the final moment of the episode, when we learn that the footnote under the demon’s picture translates to “actual size” that takes the cake. Comedy gold, my friends.

So I like this episode. It even reintroduces us to a few threads being sewn from the start of the episode, such as armed dudes running around, Prof. Maggie Walsh, and doofy-as-fuck Riley Finn. These things will all come into play more as the season progresses, to be sure, but right now the season needs to get its proper footing in place by setting the characters on the right path. Then it can play to the action it craves so very, very much. In this way, the layers are set and the story can take center stage. It’s like these guys have been at this for over three years now, or something.

Episode Rating: 91

Additional Notes:
-I went back to hear the conversation between the Lobster Man and the Present Girl. I still don’t get what was going on, there
-Decent costume work on decomposing skeleton guy. Shitty puppet work prior to that, though.
-Giles’ “IT’S ALIVE!” is an all time favorite moment for me, whole series-wise
-Clear Hellraiser ripoff costume for the demon
-Stupid Halloween gags like peeled grapes in place of eyes… duh
-The music, this time, was not as lame as it usually is, otherwise. So, kudos, there
-Cute way to have Initiative goons show in the episode but not bring much cause for alarm
-I regret to inform you that my next “BtVS” video game shipped today… its for Game Boy Color. I think I got an ulcer typing that…
-The next episode is also so bad it is giving me a second ulcer. So, that’s heartwarming.

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