Monday, October 25, 2010

Buffy 3x18 - "Earshot"

"Earshot" would be a notable episode of Buffy even without taking into account the circumstances under which it aired, but it's kind of necessary to do that anyway. Either way, it's one of the best episodes of the third season, and I suppose that's what really matters. More after the jump.

"I am my thoughts. If they exist in her, Buffy contains everything that is me, and she becomes me. I cease to exist. No one else exists either. Buffy is all of us. We think, therefore she is."

- Oz

When I first drew up a tentative schedule for The Whedoning, my initial idea was that I would watch things in "broadcast order." When I realized the issues this would cause with Firefly, however, I quickly changed my mind and switched to something more like "intended viewing order." When networks shift around episodes of shows like Firefly or Buffy that have as a major part of their appeal the overall arc, it plays havoc with the viewing experience. But I have to say that the WB made the right choice with regard to pulling "Earshot" from the initial run of the third season.

The problem, as you might already know, is that "Earshot" was originally scheduled to be aired just a couple weeks after the infamous Columbine High School massacre of 1999. And while it isn't really an episode about a school shooting, "Earshot" contains some elements that were likely to cause unnecessary upset and controversy at that time. I mean, there's even a scene where the characters casually toss off sarcastic remarks about the frequency of shootings in American schools. Not that that joke is necessarily a bad thing--that's not so far outside the usual mold for humor in Buffy, it just happened to be the wrong time for such a joke. I know Sarah Michelle Gellar tried to get the network to air the episode in its proper place, but I have to say she was wrong.

Luckily, the episode can be removed from the seasons with only minimal damage to the surrounding material: it's not as though they pulled "Bad Girls" or even "The Wish." And anyway, "Earshot" is an episode worth waiting for.

Most of the best episodes of Buffy have a really solid emotional core, and I think that "Earshot" lacks that by necessity. It's more of a "big idea" episode, exploring the themes of detachment. A lot of storytelling relies on empathy, but it's our inability to completely share the point of view of another person that drives the plot of this episode. In the end, Buffy's brief ability to hear people's interior monologue doesn't bring her closer to the people whose thoughts she hears, it just makes her more aware of how detached she is from them, and they all are from each other.

The ruminations she hears from the usually taciturn Oz work as a great joke, but they highlight the theme pretty well too: we suddenly understand not only that there's more to Oz than we know, but that there's more to Oz than we can possibly know, that this must be going on all the time in his head, and that even Willow, who is closest to him, has no idea what he's thinking.

In the end, Buffy's little speech on top of the clock tower is all about how everyone at Sunnydale High, regardless of their involvement in the supernatural goings-on surrounding the Hellmouth, is going through their own drama with their own struggles and pains and joys. Which is why this episode, in a fairly rare Buffy occurrence, ends up focusing on the Scooby Gang's efforts to solve a non-supernatural crisis.

It's a little hard to do "Earshot" justice in a short review, as it's such a a complex episode and so different from the Buffy norm. But I hope I've at least managed to say something interesting. And I apologize for the review being delayed, although that's strangely appropriate, isn't it?


  1. One of my favorite episodes from the high school era of the show--and Jonathan's first big appearance!

  2. Yes yes yes! So they pulled it from airing, so when DID it eventually air? This episode is one of my faves as well.


  3. It was supposed to air in April, but it was bumped to September, two weeks before the season 4 premiere.