"Hi Mr. Beech. I was just wondering. Were you planning on killing a bunch of people tomorrow? Oh, it's for the yearbook."
I've been busy, I swear.
I know what you're thinking. What kind of horrible circumstance could possibly have kept me so busy since August that I haven't been able to make the time to watch a measly 42-minute Buffy episode?
To that I say: I know right?
And I also say...
A word on our Jonathan. What happened to this guy? Back in Buffy days, Jane Espenson had to fight to get him any screen time, and now he's a Golden Globe and Emmy winner who will be making $6 trillion writing the next Hunger Games screenplay?
I dedicate this review to him.
If you remember what happened back in July, Angel and Buffy executed a devious plan to extract information from Faith re: the Mayor's ascension. But even with the help of Wesley who I forgot was on the show, Oz's bleach blonde spiky hair, and Buffy's pastel pink sweater set, they're no closer to figuring out what this "ascension" means.
Percy approaches Willow at her locker to ask if they can reschedule their study session, and then if she'll be coming to watch him play in the basketball game. Remember Percy? He's the douchebag jock from Doppegangland who Willow was forced to tutor. Now they are totes bff, and I don't know about your high school, but this is probably the least realistic element of the episode. And the show is called "Buffy the Vampire Slayer."
Buffy wishes she could go to the basketball game but can't angst too long because she's distracted by an itch she just can't scratch. Literally. I forgot to mention that while patrolling, she stabbed a demon and Alex Mack-esque goo blood spilled onto her hand and caused a rash. According to Giles, if they don't figure out the cure she'll take on some of the traits of the demon she slayed..."horns, scales," or, as Willow points out, "Was it a boy demon...?"
She takes a moonlit stroll to reflect upon what may be her last days as a female human, where Angel is naturally lurking in the shadows, following her. He noticed that she seemed preoccupied by something and thought if he followed her 10 steps behind he might magically divine what's wrong. When she tells him about the demon blood, he assures her that he'll do whatever he can and he'll always be with her, to which my sister and I both just yelled in unison, "LIAR!!!!!!!!!!!"
But let's not get ahead of ourselves.
Back at Sunnydale High, Cordelia brags to the Scoobies about her superior cheerleading and pyramid skills to the perpetual manchild Xander. Buffy hears Xander saying, "I wonder if Cordelia and Wesley have kissed yet," and she responds in turn. But it turns out Xander didn't say it out loud with his mouth...he thought it out loud in his head!!!
Soon she's walking down the hallway overhearing all the thoughts of Sunnydale High's finest: worrying about French homework, inexplicably thinking "someday my pants are just going to just fall down," and fantasizing pervily about Buffy.
And this is all well and good. At first Buffy finds the prospect of telepathy exciting, but soon discovers things she'd rather not. In the library she discovers that while Giles is discussing her new telepathic powers, he's really thinking about Buffy's ugly shoes. In class she steals theories on Othello from a brainy student's...brain. She hears Willow's surprise that Buffy actually understood the reading.
Things all come to a head when the Scoobies meet in the library to discuss Buffy's newfound power. The episode gets mileage out of the question, "What are these characters thinking and not saying?" Xander thinks about naked girls, Wesley chastises himself for his lust for Cordelia. Willow is self-conscious that Buffy won't need her anymore, and Oz humorously reveals hidden depths as he ponders the philosophical meaning of it all. And Queen Cordy? She thinks exactly what she says.
One by one, the Scoobies run from the library and Buffy's mind reading powers to escape their covers being blown. Dejected, Buffy takes another stroll down the halls of Sunnydale High, only this time other peoples' thoughts run deeper than the imminent falling down of pants. Kids, you see, are all really emo. They don't know why they don't have boobs and hate themselves and everyone else. Plus the music is much scarier, particularly when we cut to Giles discovering that Buffy will never be able to shut her power off no matter how crazy it makes her.
In the cafeteria, a cesspool of teens and their loud, loud, thoughts, Buffy manages to pick out a lone voice saying, "By this time tomorrow, I'll kill you all."
It's all too much for Buffy, who passes out from the mental invasion. She needs to stop the cafeteria killer, but can't bear to be around people. And they don't want to be around her, either. Yet another one of Buffy's powers that seems awesome in the abstract but alienating in reality. Like how being a special chosen one is only great insofar as you wouldn't rather just be a cheerleader. And super strength is fun except for when it makes you fail at said cheerleader tryouts. And invisibility is great except for when you can't find Andrew Keegan lurking in the girls locker room. Oh wait, that's Sabrina the Teenage Witch.
A word on the timing of this episode. Y'all are crazy Buffy fans who are reading my blog, right? So you probably already know that the episode ended up airing after the finale because the Columbine shooting occurred a week before it was originally set to air.
Now, I knew all of this. But it never occurred to me just how prescient the episode actually is considering that Columbine hadn't even happened. For example, when the Scoobies take over for Buffy to discover the mass-murderer-to-be, we hear the following exchange:
Xander: I’m still having trouble with the fact that one of us is just going to gun everybody down for no reason.
Cordelia: Yeah, because that never happens in American high schools.
Maybe this is why the rest of the episode is a bit of a tonal clusterjam. It's not just that Buffy's powers turn from fun to debilitating. It's that the search for the shooter that ensues is played for laughs, but also, they are searching for a school shooter. Columbine was not the first school shooting by any means, but for better or worse, the event transformed national discourse. Earshot's irreverent take on school shooting walks a fine line, but it's largely an issue of timing.
Anyway, let's see if the episode manages to acquit itself!
The Scoobies take over for Buffy by interrogating every student who was in the cafeteria. When Oz asks the star basketball player if his popularity causes him to put on a fake persona and how much strain this causes, the athlete says, "Moderate strain?" When Xander asks Larry, the gay bully from Go Fish, if his being closeted has filled him with unexpressed rage, Larry says that he's "so out, my grandma is fixing me up with guys!" Willow tries to get tuff with Jonathan despite her winking cat t-shirt.
But when they go to interview Freddy, head of the Sunnydale High paper and author of such cover stories as, "Apathy On The Rise, No One Cares," he's hiding under his desk in a manner that is indicative of a guilty person.
Angel turns up at the Summers household with a chunky fluorescent blue concoction to feed to Buffy. Maybe I missed the part where they explained what this stuff is but I assume it's some kind of antidote. She seems to find it as delicious as it looks.
But then it works! Buffy can't hear anyone's thoughts, but they're no closer to finding the killer. Willow and Oz corner Freddy, who seems to be The Guy, but it turns out he's been hiding because he wrote a scathing review of a Dingoes Ate My Baby show. Just when they're about to run out of time, Cordelia finds a charming Letter to the Editor from Jonathan, who intimates that he is going to do some drastic death-related thing.
Sure enough, we see Jonathan prepping his automatic weapons up in the school bell tower, because schools have bell towers. Buffy rushes up there to confront him, but not as a Slayer. No, this time she's armed with the knowledge that teenagers are all super emo, and it's not just Jonathan who is lonely, angry, and confused. Then she does something of a rendition of "Jumper" by Third Eye Blind until Jonathan hands over the gun and reveals that he didn't plan on killing anybody else but himself.
Arguably, this makes the rest of the episode easier to swallow, as the school shooter plot line ended up being a red herring.
So with no time to spare, and no insight into the identity of the killer, Xander sneaks into the cafeteria to find some more delicious, delicious jello. There, he finds the lunch lady in a situation which you might describe as "incriminating."
So with the mass murder thwarted, Jonathan's suicide attempt nipped in the bud, and Xander's death-by-Jello unfortunately prevented, what did we learn? Buffy tells Giles that Jonathan is in big trouble and no closer to being accepted by his peers what with the bringing assault weapons to school. But with her new insights into the pain of the rest of the teens at Sunnydale High who don't even have to be the Slayer, will she respond positively to his hints that he wants to ask her to prom? "Ew, no, he's like three feet tall!"
Dark, but realistic.
Favorite moment: When Buffy rests at home to block out the voices in her head, Joyce keeps a respectable distance from Buffy's telepathic powers. And what does she have to hide? As Buffy discovers: "You had sex with Giles? On the hood of a cop car? Twice??"
This culminates in the final scene of the episode, in which Buffy and Giles debrief. With things back to normal, Giles asks if Buffy is up for some training. "Sure," Buffy says, "we could work out after school, you know, if you’re not too busy having sex with my mother!"