Monday, July 2, 2012

Buffy Blog: "Fear Itself"

The Monster of the Week. On one level “Fear Itself”, written by David Fury and directed by Tucker Gates, is a tale about how a fraternity house, quite by accident, is taken over by the demon Gachnar after the Mark of Gachnar, Gachnar’s summoning spell, is drawn on the upper floor of a UC Sunnydale fraternity as it prepares for its annual haunted house Halloween ritual. It’s a great way to get laid says one of the frat guys. Thanks to this symbol and to Oz’s blood, which drops onto the symbol after he cuts himself while helping the frat boys with their sound system, Gachnar begins to play on the fears of everyone in the house on Halloween in order to bring himself to "life".

It is Scoobies, of course, to the rescue. After finding their fears being fed on in the haunted house the Scoobies battle through their fears and finally, with some difficulty because Gachnar keeps changing walls, blocking up windows, eliminating closets, bringing rubber bats and spiders, and plastic skeletons and plastic knives to life in the Alpha Delt house, manage to make it to the upper storey of the frat house where they triumph over the fear demon. Gachnar, it turns out, may talk like a big monster and may look scary, but when he breaks through into our Scoobies dimension he is actually only a few inches tall. Buffy polishes him off by stomping on him with her shoe. Sunnydale saved again.

Clothes Make the Woman…and the Man. “Fear Itself” is the second Buffy Halloween themed episode. Season two’s “Halloween (2:6) was the first. And “Fear Itself” has a lot of the “Halloween” in it.

It is Halloween again and the Scoobies once again are dressed for the occasion. If the Scoobies costumes in “Halloween” were about coming as who they weren’t, their costumes in “Fear Itself” reflect who each of the Scoobies fear they are, what each of the Scoobies fear that is happening to them, and what each of the Scoobies want to be subconciously.

Buffy comes as Little Red Riding Hood a character, a costume, and a role from out of her past. Remember “Helpless” where she was Little Red Riding Hood to Kralik’s Big Bad Vampire Wolf (3:12)? Still in a post-Parker depression Buffy wonders why men keep abandoning her and whether eventually the Scoobies will abandon her too. The Slayer, after all, is supposed to stand alone, to face her fate, death coming up from underground, (the scene in the basement) or her fate worse than death (as in “Nightmares”, 1:10), where she becomes that which she hunts and kills almost every night. By the way, Buffy’s repeated coming back to the Little Red Riding Hood costume she wore five or six years ago when it was at the cutting edge of costumes, raises the question of whether Buffy wants, in some way, to be a Little Red Riding Hood in the woods facing the Big Bad Wolves alone? Is there something in a Slayer that makes them want to be alone and do everything themselves so they don't have to worry about saving others like Willow and Xander who might get in the way when they are trying to save the world?

Willow comes as Joan of Arc. Willow wants to be like Joan and like Buffy. She wants to use her magicks to play as significant a role in the war against evil as the Slayer as she told Buffy at the end of “Enemies” (3:17). But she fears Buffy still sees her as her sidekick--“I am not your sidekick” she says to Buffy at one point--and she fears that she may not be able to control the magicks, as do Buffy and Oz leading her to call Oz “Brutus” at one point, that make her a superhero on the level of the Buffster. Willow has one more fear that is tearing her apart: she fears that like Joan she may be abandoned by God, by an Oz who comes dressed as God. She still doesn’t understand why a woman like her who has seen the softer side of Sears (“Welcome to the Hell Mouth”/“The Harvest”, 1:1 and 1:2) has a boyfriend like “my boyfriend’s in the band” Oz (“Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered”, 2:16).

Oz is God to Willow’s Joan of Arc as it says on the name tag of his omnipresent t-shirt. But beneath the Zen like veneer and stoicism lurks the fear that Oz may not be able to control the werewolf within and that he may, as he does at one point in “Fear Itself”, hurt Willow.

Xander comes as cool James Bond guy though Buffy says if they change into who they are as they did in "Halloween" he may be turned into cool waiter guy instead. Xander says he is fine just as long as he is cool guy. Xander, the lone member of the Scooby Gang without super powers, really wants to be cool just like he thinks Buffy, Willow, and Oz are. He wants to be a part of Scooby action. But he fears that no one listens to him and that they ignore virtually everything he says as if he wasn’t even there.

Giles, who only shows up at the haunted house along with Anya after Anya tells him that Xander needs help--leave it to Anya to turn a rescue mission into another example of good old Anya self-centredness--with, very coolly a very Halloweenish chain saw, still seems to be trying to find his place in his I am no longer a watcher world. He has taken to jogging, reading jogging and motorbike magazines (“The Freshman”), now has a television (“The Harsh Light of Day”), and is embracing the inherent charms of Halloween dressed up, as he is, as sombrero wearing guy when Buffy drops by.

The Ghosts of Buffy Past: Buffy mentions the events of “Halloween”. Joyce refers to her last boyfriend, the homicidal robot Ted (2:11), as she explains to Buffy how she was able to partly come over her fears and make friends in Sunnydale after she and Buffy’s Dad divorced. Joyce tells Buffy that she wasn’t responsible for the divorce, trying to put to rest, once and for all, to one of Buffy's fears from "Nightmares". Xander makes reference to Anya’s past as a vengeance demon (“The Wish”, 3:9). Buffy once again acts rashly (“When She Was Bad”, 2:1, Becoming, 2:21 and 2:22). This time she destroys the Mark of Grachnar just before Giles tells her that destroying the mark will not kill Grachnar but will instead bring forth the Fear Demon. Willow’s bad luck with magicks continues (“I Only Have Eyes for You”, 2:19, “Becoming”, 2:21 and 2:22, “Enemies”, 3:17, “Doppelgangland”, 3:16).

What’s in a Title?: The title of this episode is a reference to the "only thing we have to fear is fear itself” remark in US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s first inaugural address of 4 March 1933. Roosevelt, of course, had the Depression on his mind. Buffy is thinking about the Scoobies.

The Fable of the Pumpkin: Like the pumpkin which Buffy describes as enjoying sitting in the sun until someone comes along and takes it, cuts it open, and pulls out its guts, Buffy feels like she has been cut and had her guts pulled out and twisted around by Parker.

Shapes of Things to Come?: Tonnes/tons. Will the fears that have hold of our Scoobies affect them in season four and beyond as they have affected them in the past? Xander’s and Anya’s relationship seems to be happening. Where is that going? What’s with Anya’s fear of bunnies? Will everyone, as Gachnar tells Buffy just before she stomps him to death, abandon her in the end?

The Chorus: It is really difficult sometimes to grow up. “Fear Itself” along with its counterparts “Nightmares”, Halloween”, and “Restless” (4:22), are all among my very favourite episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I love how Whedon and Company weave together action-adventure, fantasy, and science fiction with the comedies, dramas, and tragedies of growing up in such a rich, compelling, and addictive way. It is almost as if, in Buffy the emotional realism of the European art cinema has met the Hollywood teen epic. I love how these episodes give us a very realistic insight into the emotional problems our Scoobies are facing. And that is really fear itself.

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