Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Listening to Fear   Rewatch 
November 11, 2015 10:16 PM - Season 5, Episode 9 - Subscribe

As Joyce prepares for surgery she suffers frightful delusions, many of them centred on Dawn. A madness eating space demon is killing people brainsucked by Glory. We suspect that Ben may be connected to Glory in some way.
posted by yellowbinder (9 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
As I was saying... bleak. This is Joyce at her most ill, and there's some clever construction work done here. The episode strongly sets up the idea that Joyce is going to die, which allows her to give instructions to Buffy about protecting Dawn, so that when she does, unexpectedly, die, this instruction is lodged in Buffy and the audience's mind. Also, by setting up her death then moving it forwards several episodes, it provides more a shock, and lets the episodes flow more naturally.

I don't... love the goofy space demon, it's a pretty stupid idea and poorly executed, but there's some really good horror imagery, and with Buffy crying uncontrollably listening to music (a really, really good scene) it's up to Dawn to save the day. For once Dawn gets to be genuinely heroic, something she really needed a lot more.

It's also worth noting that this episode really sets up how much of a jerk Ben is. We don't quite know his connection to Glory at this point, but he's perfectly willing to summon a demon to cover up her tracks and murder innocent people. I don't quite know how I missed it the first time round (maybe the show didn't want me to notice?) but he's pretty contemptible.

Speaking of contemptible, hiya Riley! Once again absentee during an important moment for Buffy, he decides here to call in the Initiative for some damn reason... I guess this is the strongest indication yet that he's anxious to leave. I know what the show was going for with him: the emotional distance of Buffy driving him away, and that would have been fine if her mum wasn't incredibly sick. If you really, truly love someone, you maybe appreciate that everyone deals with crises differently and give her a fricking break. Urgh....

-"Near as I can tell it's some sort of protein alkaloid." Oh yeah that's all I can tell when looking at goop too.
-Tara and Willows star spotting scene is lovely.
-Dawn insisting her mum hates her because of an outburst would probably have worked better with a younger actress. Given that she's meant to be the same age as Season 1 Buffy, can you imagine Season 1 Buffy acting that way?
posted by Cannon Fodder at 12:32 AM on November 12, 2015 [3 favorites]

Given that she's meant to be the same age as Season 1 Buffy, can you imagine Season 1 Buffy acting that way?

If I'm doing the math right based on the info on this page, wouldn't Dawn be 14 at this point? 14 and 16 (which I assume was Buffy's age when she started at SH) are very different ages. Plus Dawn just read as a kid in a way that SMG never really did, and that presumably had something to do with Dawn being played by an actor who was an actual teen.

Come to think of it, I'm older than many of the people participating in this rewatch and I wonder if that gave me a different take on Dawn than some of you who obviously can't stand her. I wasn't a high school kid when this was new, watching Buffy deal with this lame bratty kid sister who came out of nowhere. I was well out of school and I saw Dawn as a kid in pain, and her moodiness and tantrums seemed quite forgivable to me. I thought she read as a pretty real kid, maybe more real in some ways than the other Scoobs had seemed. (Real kids generally aren't so fearless and quip-y.) Her bad behavior didn't read as stuff she was too old for. To me all the shoplifting and pouting seemed right on schedule.

(Now, I'm not saying people who saw this for the first time as adults couldn't be irritated by Dawn! I'm just wondering if meeting Dawn when you were 17 kind of ruined the character for some of you. To teenagers she could be the classic bratty, tag-along kid sister nobody likes. But adults might see her differently and be inclined to sympathize with her more.)

I only saw this episode once. I remember the alien being a real face-palm moment, like introducing spacemen into things just felt like one step too far. (That's a little unfair, because if there are wolfmen and stuff, why shouldn't there be evil spacemen? But still, it just felt like one trope too many. Somehow the X-Files got away with supernatural stuff and aliens, but Buffy? No.)
posted by Ursula Hitler at 2:09 AM on November 12, 2015 [3 favorites]

If I'm doing the math right based on the info on this page, wouldn't Dawn be 14 at this point? 14 and 16 (which I assume was Buffy's age when she started at SH) are very different ages

Buffy is actually supposed to be 15 (!) in season 1. She turns 17 when Angel turns evil in season 2, so must have turned 16 during 1. I think? I was thinking of Dawn as 15, but being 14 does change things. I actually mostly like Dawn in 5, or at the very least I like her role in the narrative. I think the writers will rapidly run out of things for her to do past this season however. (in 7, this is true of a lot of the main cast) I think sometimes what characters turn into colour their initial introduction for me. Same with Riley, he becomes so much more of a jerk in 5 than he was in 4.
posted by Cannon Fodder at 2:22 AM on November 12, 2015

I was in my late twenties when I first watched Buffy and didn't find Dawn annoying- she's whiny and self-centered and making bad choices, yes, but she's a teenager, and that's what that age is like.
posted by Pope Guilty at 6:35 AM on November 12, 2015 [1 favorite]

I think the difference is the Buffy POV - Buffy in season one is a teenager from a teenager's point of view, while Dawn in season five is a teenage little sister from her older sister's point of view.
posted by dinty_moore at 10:46 AM on November 12, 2015 [3 favorites]

I love the scene where Willow bags two vamps while Xander and Giles mostly just bumble around and watch. In the early seasons, when Joss wanted to freak out the audience, he'd put vulnerable little Willow in harm's way, usually to be rescued by someone else--she's come a long way from there.

Major props to Kristine Sutherland here. Joyce under the influence of the brain tumor is absolutely terrifying, and that's not just because of her performance in this episode. It's all the work she did in previous episodes establishing Joyce as a warm and caring presence, (even when she often wasn't given much to work with); it makes it clear what Buffy's afraid of losing.

Unpopular opinion time: Maybe it's my own baggage about deathbed promises (they are kind of emotional kryptonite in my mind), but I kind of wish Joyce had thought about whether she was asking Buffy to make a promise that Buffy might not be able to keep.
posted by creepygirl at 6:24 PM on November 12, 2015 [2 favorites]

I am also came to Buffy in my twenties and I HATED Dawn. On rewatch my feelings towards her have softened a great deal, but I'm still not fond of her. I am, however, more fond of her than I am of Xander so she has that going for her.
posted by miss-lapin at 10:04 PM on November 12, 2015

Yeah, I watched it first time round in my 20s and I didn't much care for Dawn then either. I think she's ok in episodes like this one, where she's not the focus, but in episodes where she is, she habitually does the stupidest thing possible. Like inviting vamps in.

Joyce is brilliant in this one. She does crazy beautifully.
posted by Athanassiel at 6:02 AM on December 5, 2015

I can suspend disbelief for vampires and magic, but I'm having a hard time with the fact that a space-demon as large as a medium-sized dog successfully crawls around on the hospital ceiling without being noticed. 1) Ceiling tiles don't seem terribly secure 2) Someone would eventually see that. Esp ppl on their backs on gurneys.
posted by bunderful at 2:01 PM on January 21, 2016

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