Note: Buffy the Vampire Slayer was a security blanket during my formative teenage years. I’m overjoyed to relive the show with all of you through a new series of recaps. I’m starting with season 4, while other fine contributors will take previous seasons.
Season 4 | Episode 4 | “Fear, Itself” | Aired Oct 26, 1999 on The WB
As the Halloween spirit blankets UC Sunnydale, Buffy remains deep in a post-Parker depression, wallowing in rejection after her first college hookup. Xander tries to rally the gang with a horror-movie screening, but he accidentally picked up Fantasia instead of Phantasm at the video store. They all decide to hit up the Alpha Delt frat party on campus instead.
Before the party, we see vignettes of everyone’s biggest troubles to date. Buffy continues to skip meals and classes to actively avoid Parker on campus. Willow feels like her Wiccan wisdom has plateaued, but she’s nervous to tap into darker, primal forces. Oz cautions her because he still knows what it’s like to lose control as a werewolf. Anya finally confronts Xander about never calling her after they sleep together. Xander also becomes visibly upset when Anya points out that his friends have moved on to college without him.
Over at Alpha Delt, the frat brothers plan the ultimate bash to get laid, complete with pop-up skeletons, peeled grapes (“They’re eyeballs, Rachel!”), and a mystical symbol painted on their floor. Oz and Xander stop by to install a speaker system, but Oz cuts himself and spills some blood on the floor, activating the symbol.
Arguably, the best Buffy stories are the character dissection episodes, where each of the Scoobies falls victim to some supernatural evil that feeds on specific pieces of human identities. Back in season 3, “Earshot” revealed everyone’s inner thoughts. Later in season 4, we’ll see each character’s personalized dreams.
Though we feel like we know and love this cast already, the Buffy writers always find some way to dig further into these characters, revealing their secret idiosyncrasies, peeves, or hopes. In “Fear, Itself,” David Fury reveals each of their deepest fears one by one. Just when I thought nothing could top last Halloween (when Ethan Rayne turned everyone into their costumes), along came season 4.
The gang assembles for the party: Xander dressed as James Bond, Buffy as Red Riding Hood, Willow as Joan of Arc, and Oz as God. They pass by some of the commandos we saw in “The Freshman,” but Buffy mistakes them for people in costume. Inside the Alpha Delt house, they can’t find the party, and just walk in circles. They encounter real blood, real screams, real bats, and a real cowering guy in a closet, before the closet vanishes.
Xander invites Anya to the party and tells her to dress as something scary, but she arrives dressed as bunny. Her phobia of bunnies remains one of the best running gags throughout the Buffy seasons. Anya can’t get into the house, but she sees a girl screaming for help from one of the windows. Anya turns to Giles for help; he is sitting at home eating Halloween candy in his sombrero.
Inside the house, everyone gets separated. Xander’s fear of being forgotten manifests when he’s rendered invisible to his friends. Oz starts changing into a werewolf and his fear of hurting Willow comes true. He scratches her before he runs away. Alone, Willow attempts to conjure a guide to lead them out of the house. She loses control of her spell and the guide quickly multiplies and attacks her. Meanwhile, zombies grab and hold Buffy in the basement, where a dead frat boy says she will always end up alone, feeding on her fear of being abandoned (by Parker, by Angel, by her father). Even Anya wrings her bunny paws outside the house, afraid of being literally shut out by Xander.
The door to the house disappears, so Giles cuts into the house with a chainsaw, smiling like the badass he is. Buffy fights off the zombies and escapes the basement, finding everyone else upstairs. Xander locates the book with the symbol and they realize it’s the Mark of Gachnar.
Giles and Anya break into the room. Buffy punches the symbol before Giles can tell her that destroying the Mark will bring Gachnar forth. But as the demon rises from the floor, the Scoobies see he’s about four inches tall. “I bring the fear!” Gachnar yells in his pipsqueak voice as Xander taunts him. “Don’t taunt the fear demon,” Giles scolds Xander. “It’s tacky.” Buffy laughs and steps on Gachnar, killing him. Giles later translates the caption under the small picture of Gachnar in his book: “Actual size.”
Big Bad of the Week: Gachnar, the most adorable fear demon of all time
Quote of the Week: “Mi Casio es su Casio,” says Oz to the frat boys, while loaning out his speaker system.
Heinous ’90s Fashion of the Week: Remember choker necklaces? Buffy and Willow both wear them in the cafeteria scene. They still look as uncomfortable as they did in 1994. Wait, didn’t this air in ’99? Behold the grasp of the choker.