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'Buffy' nostalgia react: Be careful what you wish for, and other lessons

Season 3 | Episode 18 | “Earshot” | Aired Sept 21, 1999

“Earshot” is, in continuity, the 18th episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer‘s third season. It was scheduled to air in April 1999, but was ultimately held for about six months, until September of that year, having originally been scheduled to air a week after the Columbine High School shootings.

It makes sense; the episode deals with the threat of a school shooting. A seemingly typical demon battle leaves Buffy with an “aspect of the demon”—in this case, not scales or a tail, but the demon’s ability to read minds. The “gift” helps her show off in class and know exactly who at Sunnydale High thinks she’s mega-hot, but it also makes her friends uncomfortable around her and spirals out of control … but not before she hears someone thinking about killing everyone at Sunnydale High.

It’s a weird week for the show, with our leading lady out of commission (as the mind-reading gets worse and worse, B is forced into isolation) and a non-demonic bad guy to best. The villain of the week is an unknown (and presumably mortal) member of the Sunnydale High community.

In the end, Buffy finds perpetual loser and resident nobody Jonathan Levinson in the clock tower with a rifle and talks him down. The twist is that, even though she thinks she’s giving a speech to talk him out of mass murder, she’s actually convincing him not to kill himself (the real villain is the lunch lady, who has flavored the day’s lunch with rat poison to kill the “vermin” students). Even though the correlation of the plot to the tragic events at Columbine was strong enough to warrant a delayed air date, the real lesson of “Earshot” isn’t about school violence. It’s actually about the isolation and pain we all feel but can’t articulate, and the importance of being careful what you wish for.

At first, the aspect of the demon seems like a dream come true. Buffy, still shaken by watching Angel pretend to be soulless and lusting for Faith, wants to know if he really is that good an actor or if there was some truth driving his performance. She doesn’t want to come right out and ask him, and mind-reading seems like the perfect solution (except that vampires are immune to telepathy, thanks to whatever mojo keeps their reflections at bay in the mirror). Angel sees right through her attempts and explains why they won’t work, and tells Buffy to just be honest with him. Seems simple enough. He, of course, tells her that he didn’t enjoy a second of his time pretending to be Faith’s bad boy and that he’s only ever loved one girl in his 200-plus years of existence. It’s sweet and wonderful, and Angel says everything he’s supposed to and even seems sincere—but Buffy still doesn’t seem satisfied. It’s the answer she hoped for, but the damage to their relationship has been done, even though they’re both still trying to scale the emotional wall between them.

“Earshot” is full of hilarious Buffyverse moments. Joyce reveals that she slept with Giles—twice—while in her teenage state in “Band Candy.” Buffy reveals to Giles that she knows about said “Band Candy” hookup, and he walks into a tree in shock. Cordelia proves that she actually has no filter and says exactly what she’s thinking at every moment. Oz contemplates the philosophical implications of Buffy’s ability to read minds, proving that there really is a lot of deep stuff going on in his silence. Even post-climax moment, it’s hysterical when Xander discovers the lunch lady is behind the murderous thoughts. Xander makes this face as he watches her pour rat poison into the next batch of food:

Xander Earshot

She responds with this face:

Lunch Lady Earshot

And when she and Buffy fight (which seems unnecessary—B regularly puts down vampires and demons, so the lunch lady could have easily been out cold from one punch), the lunch lady’s stunt double is approximately half her size and possibly male:

Stunt Double Earshot

There’s a lot to laugh about in “Earshot.” But what really steals the show, overshadowing all of the hilarity and philosophical musings and even the angsty romance drama, is Buffy’s speech to Jonathan in the clock tower. If you’ve seen the episode, you know the one. The one about pain and isolation, about how everyone ignores each other’s pain because they’re too busy dealing with their own.

And that’s really what “Earshot” is about. Buffy needed to be careful what she wished for, but not just because she was a jealous girlfriend. She wants to know what everyone around her is thinking, not just Angel. She’s driven by a fear of abandonment and isolation (see “Nightmares” and “Fear, Itself” and “Restless”). She never quite believes that her friends are in it for the long haul.

Worse, she knows she couldn’t blame them for bailing out and opting for normal lives. Being a Slayer often means being alone, and Buffy just isn’t wired for that life. “Earshot” is about the realization that everyone is in pain and everyone is battling demons—even if they aren’t all the kind with scales and horns and crazy telepathy powers to share.

TV Families | EW.com
Mark Harris
February 23, 1990 AT 05:00 AM EST

The Bradys are back, with a passel of 90’s hassles. Do they represent the typical American Family? Did they ever? Who does? Stare and compare!

Kind Of Family
TheBradyBunch 1969-74: Blended
The Bradys 1990-: Enormous
Married…With Children 1987-: Postnuclear
Thirtysomething 1987-: Extended
The Flintstones 1960-66: Modern Stone Age

Family Pet
The Brady Bunch: Tiger
The Bradys: Alice
Married…With Children: Buck
Thirtysomething: Grendel
The Flintstones: Dino

Typical Guest Star
The Brady Bunch: Davey Jones
The Bradys: There’s no room
Married…With Children: Sam Kinison
Thirtysomething: Carly Simon
The Flintstones: Ann Margrock

Expression Of Joy
The Brady Bunch: Groovy!
The Bradys: Ritual hugging
Married…With Children: ”Oh, great.”
Thirtysomething: ”Of course I’m happy for you. Really. But what about me? Why does it always have to be about you?
The Flintstones: ”Yabba-dabba doo

Expression Of Rage

The Brady Bunch: ”Hmmm…”
The Bradys: ”If you back away from something you really want, then you’re a quitter!” (the angriest any Brady has ever been)
Married…With Children: ”Aaagh, God, take me from this miserable life!”
Thirtysomething: ”I’m not angry, OK?”
The Flintstones: ”Willllmaaaa!”

Typical Problem
The Brady Bunch: Marcia and her rival both want to be the prom queen.
The Bradys: Bobby gets paralyzed.
Married…With Children: Al doesn’t buy his family Christmas presents.
Thirtysomething: Nancy gets cancer.
The Flintstones: Fred and Barney are staying out too late.

Typical Solution
The Brady Bunch: The prom committee decides to have two queens.
The Bradys: Bobby gets married.
Married…With Children: They hate him.
Thirtysomething: If only we knew…
The Flintstones: Wilma and Betty decide to follow them.

House Style
The Brady Bunch: Conservative but mod, circa ’69
The Bradys: Conservative but mod, circa ’90
Married…With Children: Roach motel
Thirtysomething: Enviable
The Flintstones: Suburban cave

Clothing Style
The Brady Bunch: Early Osmonds
The Bradys: Made in the USA
Married…With Children: Flammable fabrics
Thirtysomething: Eclectic earth tones; nice ties
The Flintstones: One-piece

Most Annoying Character
The Brady Bunch: Alice’s cousin Emma, the substitute housekeeper (too strict)
The Bradys: Marcia’s husband, Wally (chronically unemployable)
Married…With Children: Steve (supercilious)
Thirtysomething: Ellyn (goes through Hope’s drawers, babbles, changes hairstyle every other week, generally mistreats her friends)
The Flintstones: Mr. Slate (bossy)

Attitude Toward Sex
The Brady Bunch: Never heard of it
The Bradys: Omigod — even Cindy does it!
Married…With Children: Peg: Yes. Al: No.
Thirtysomething: They didn’t get all those kids by accident.
The Flintstones: Prehistoric

How Spouses Fight
The Brady Bunch: They don’t.
The Bradys: Infrequently, but it happens
Married…With Children: Tooth and nail
Thirtysomething: They stop talking
The Flintstones: Fred and Barney go bowling while Wilma and Betty max out their charge cards.

How Kids Get Into Trouble
The Brady Bunch: Greg takes a puff of a cigarette.
The Bradys: Carol’s grandson steals her business cards and sticks them in the spokes of Bobby’s wheelchair.
Married…With Children: By committing felonies
Thirtysomething: Ethan plays with a forbidden toy rocket.
The Flintstones: They don’t.

How They’re Punished

The Brady Bunch: ”It’s not what you did, honey — it’s that you couldn’t come to us.”
The Bradys ”Next time, ask.”
Married…With Children: By the authorities
Thirtysomething: It blows up in his face.
The Flintstones: They’re not.

What Family Does For Fun
The Brady Bunch: Takes special three-part vacations to Hawaii and the Grand Canyon
The Bradys: Has flashbacks
Married…With Children: Exchanges insults
Thirtysomething: Talks
The Flintstones: Attends showings of The Monster at the Bedrock Drive-In

Unsolved Mysteries
The Brady Bunch: How exactly did Carol’s first husband and Mike’s first wife die?
The Bradys: What’s with Marcia’s new face and Bobby’s blonde hair
Married…With Children: What kind of hair spray does Peg use?
Thirtysomething: Why did Nancy take Elliot back? What do Gary and Susanna see in each other?
The Flintstones: How does Barney’s shirt stay on if he has no shoulders? Where do Fred and Wilma plug in their TV?

Worst Behavior
The Brady Bunch: The Brady children once made Alice feel under-appreciated.

The Bradys: Marcia’s son Mickey watches Bobby’s car-crash tape for fun.
Married…With Children: The Bundy’s kill their neighbor’s dog.
Thirtysomething: Elliot has an affair and talks about it.
The Flintstones: Characters don’t wear under-clothes.

Best Reason To Watch
The Brady Bunch: This is what life should be.
The Bradys: They’re all grown-ups now!
Married…With Children: Terry Rakolta hates it.
Thirtysomething (Tie) This is your life. This isn’t your life.
The Flintstones: This is what life might have been.

Best Reason Not To Watch
The Brady Bunch: Blurred vision from rerun overdoses.
The Bradys: You’re all grown-ups now.
Married…With Children: She has a point.
Thirtysomething: After a while, you think it’s real.
The Flintstones: The Simpsons

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