Episode Title: Earshot
Original Air Date: September 21, 1999
“Well, I thought I saw a four-legged demon. But it was just a dog” – Buffy
So with the Mayor still on his path to ascendtion and Faith seemingly occupied elsewhere it leaves Buffy free this week to instead get wrapped up in another one shot mystery as after being splashed with the blood of a recently slayed demon she finds herself suddenly able to hear everyone’s thoughts. However it’s not long before this new power starts to overwhelm her while worse still someone is plotting to kill the students of Sunnydale High.
Directed by Regis Kemble who would go on to also direct the opening to “Angel” while the episode would on it’s original airing would be delayed due to the Columbine High School shooting and the comparisons which could be potentially be drawn between the two in another freaky case of life unwittingly imitating art. It would be for this same reason that the Buffy novel “The Evil That Men Do” would also be delayed finally being released a year later than originally planned.
Despite the reasons for the delay this is actually a really light hearted and funny episode and one which manages throw in a lot of fun character insights such as Xander always thinking about sex…okay that one was kind of a given much like Cordelia being as shallow as we always suspected with her thoughts generally just being the next thing she is going to say. Oz meanwhile shows a much more philosophical side than his permanently laid back persona suggests as Buffy catches this dozy from his thoughts.
“I am my thoughts. If they exsist in her, Buffy contains everything that is me, and she becomes me. I cease to exist.”
It’s though this power that Buffy also finds out about Giles having sex with her mom (Twice) bringing to a close that fun little sub-plot that’s been running in the background since their misadventure in “Band Candy” and here it provides a great end note for the episode.
The episode for the most part is split solidly down the middle with the first half dealing with Buffy and her attempts to handle her new power with the second half focusing on the Scoobies misguided attempts to interrogate students who they assume could be responsible for thinking “This time tomorrow, I’ll kill you all” with their investigation soon leading Xander being mistaken for being gay once more when he interviews Larry who it seems things have worked out pretty well for since he came out, while he even brags about his grandmother trying to set him up with guys.
What is especially interesting about the episode is the idea of being able to read people’s minds having the downside of potentially being driven insane by the constant voices in her head and the general lack of control she has over whose thoughts she can read.
The climax of the episode though is what really makes this a standout episode, not only because they built a bell tower onto the school for the climax which sees Buffy confronting a rifle welding Johnathan who it turns out wasn’t planning on carrying out a shooting but rather planning to kill himself, though why he choose to use a rifle is unclear outside of wanting to really work the red herring of him being the killer instead of the school lunch lady pouring rat poison into the food. It’s equally a big risk using Johnathan for this climax especially when he’s been essentially the running punchline in the series so far, so to see him having a more meaty role here was intresting while its success no doubt being the reason his character was given more development in the episodes which followed with him even becoming a super villain for a short period towards the end of the series.
While perhaps alittle out of place this close to the end of the series to have an episode not focused on the Mayor, its forgivable just because it’s such a fun one and a great twist on a familiar theme. True they do try to keep it current by having Buffy questioning Angel over how much of his infiltration act was actually an act, but really this episode is about playing the mind reading angle and teasing out who the killer could be with the reveal via a gelatine stealing Xander is just pitch perfect.
Next Episode: Choices