Posted by: thebuffyrewatch | January 23, 2012

Robin’s Review: S3, E18 – Earshot

Synopsis: Buffy kills a demon with no mouth but its blood infects her. She begins to worry when she learns that she may exhibit an aspect of the demon. Soon she can read people’s thoughts and initially it seems a great new weapon in slaying and study. Her friends are uncomfortable though and then the voices in her mind multiply to the point where she can’t function anymore. Before she collapsed she hears someone saying they plan on killing everyone the following day. As Angel, Giles and Wesley tend to her, Willow leads the other scoobies on a hunt for the mystery killer.

The Good: This was an episode with some fine scenes and moments but one that didn’t hang together all that well.

The first incidents where Buffy discovers she can read thoughts were excellent. The insecurities of her class mates and the dirty minded young men of Sunnydale led to some obvious comedy. The Scooby meeting in the library really captured the problems of telepathy in one lovely bit of scripting. Cordelia, Xander and Wesley carried the easy laughs while Willow raised genuine concerns about being friends with a mind reader. Oz’ philosophical musings provoked even deeper questions. It was wonderful short hand to demonstrate why this power would further alienate Buffy from the world.

Angel had a good episode, once more declaring his selfless love for Buffy. I was pleased that he was used as a surrogate Slayer (something you would think might happen more often) and that he saw through her childish attempt to read his mind. His deadpan delivery of “I’m a funny guy” was perfect.

The revelation of Giles and Joyce’s past indiscretion was a triumph for long term planning. By holding off on that for so long this really felt natural, despite the supernatural catalyst. The final shot of Giles walking into a tree out of shock was well timed.

Buffy is a show which was designed to deal with teen angst by using supernatural analogies and the use of telepathy was a very solid example of that. Buffy literally hears all the issues and worries that her peers are experiencing and is able to tell Jonathan that he isn’t alone. It’s the closest the show has got to an “after school special” moment but I thought it was well presented. After what she had been through Buffy was full of sympathy for him even when she thought he was planning slaughter.

There were other jokes which worked nicely, like Cordelia asking people if they planned on murdering people tomorrow or Oz saying (of the school paper) “I always go straight to the obits.”

The Bad: Season three has been full of impressive achievements and yet not everything the producers attempt works exactly as intended. This episode had pacing, tone and twist problems.

In terms of pacing I felt like the first eleven minutes were somewhat wasted as Buffy anticipated developing an aspect of the demon. It didn’t feel like much was happening and I was waiting for the story to really begin. It might have been better if Buffy had developed the ability instantly and then we would have had more time for comedy in the middle and drama at the end.

Instead the writing put the drama and comedy together in an awkward way. Buffy’s ability accelerated in a short space of time and we were asked to feel a sense of desperation that she might go insane. That idea didn’t have adequate time to gain traction and concurrently the jokes kept coming. So while Angel was out fighting to save Buffy’s life, Xander was using his clipboard to wrangle dating advice from girls. There was also a flippant reference to other high school shootings which felt entirely inappropriate. Again the writers had Xander act foolish during the final search for the killer which made him look deeply un-heroic.

As with “Enemies” the writers got too cute with their misdirection. Buffy hears a voice planning mass murder and we are then presented with an unspecific suicide note from Jonathan and see him clutching a rifle with a scope on it. Both these choices were intended to mislead us but not in an organic or understandable way. Buffy could have made the same speech to a suicidal guy as she did to a murderous one. It also meant that the lunch lady (the real killer) was dealt with in very quick and dismissive fashion. Again the misdirection made the story less effective than it might have been.

The Unknown: If those demons could read thoughts then why didn’t they know Buffy was faking her run-and-trip?

Best Moment: The library scene was very well constructed and acted.

The Bottom Line: In a season full of wonderfully ambitious experimentation this was only a minor stumble.

63/100

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