Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Season 4 Episode 4

Fear, Itself

Aired Tuesday 8:00 PM Oct 26, 1999 on The WB
out of 10
User Rating
579 votes

By TV.com Users

Episode Summary

To help Buffy get over the pain of having been used by Parker, the gang head to a fraternity Halloween party expecting a few cheap scares and a bit of harmless fun. Unfortunately, some accidental magic turns the party into a house of horrors where everyone's fears come to life.moreless

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  • This is the best this season has put out yet!

    We get a thoroughly entertaining plot, the usual wittiness, useful character insight, and a whole lot of fun. This is a modern version of "Nightmares", and the fear demon plot works because the characters have changed and new ground is being covered. This is the first episode of the season that has that 'homely' feel between the characters. When Buffy, Willow, Xander, and Oz meet up in front of the frat house I can't help but feel cozy and excited for their fun little adventure. Much of what happens here is further setup for the internal conflicts of the season: Willow's use of magic and growing power, Oz's beast coming out and having serious repercussions, Xander feeling that he's not important in the group, Giles' aimlessness, and Buffy's relationship issues.

    I'm going to take a "set 'em up, and knock 'em down" approach to this review. I think I'll begin with Willow this time around. A big theme with her this season is the developing need to be a more powerful witch. Willow wants power and although right now it's used for good, the magic stems from very dark roots and is sparking a gradual change in her. Oz points out that he's afraid Willow will get hurt, and he compares it to his experience when "wolfing He says "I touch something, deep. Dark. It's not When the group meets in front of the "scary house" we see that Willow is dressed up as Joan of Arc, a girl who helped lead armies and was burned at the stake.

    The big moment of insight comes during the Buffy/Willow dispute in the frat house. Buffy wants her friends to leave so she doesn't have to worry about their safety, but Willow takes offense to this because she believes she has power and can help Buffy as an equal. Willow says "Being the Slayer doesn't automatically make you boss. You're as lost as the rest of us," but that's not necessarily true, Buffy does have certain advantages and instincts the others don't. Buffy's also realistic about Willow's current magical limitations: "Will, let's be realistic here. Okay, your basic spells are usually only Willow eventually yells back, "I'm not your sidekick!" and that is ultimately the big issue. We can openly see right here that Willow wants to become a more powerful individual which commands respect and seniority over others, not unlike Joan of Arc.

    Through the fear demon we discover that Willow's big fear right now is not being able to successfully advance her magical abilities and that they'll always backfire on her. Buffy's comment about her spells being only fifty-fifty likely brought that fear to the surface when she did the conjuring spell. The demon doesn't just work its mojo on Willow though. Lets move on to Xander. Early on we see Anya paying another visit to him and ask some tough questions. She says, "It's those people. You continue to associate with them though you share little in common ... I mean they go to college, you don't. They no longer live at home, - you Xander tries to come back but ultimately feels she's right. He replies, "Oh, hey, those things... The bonds of true friendship transcends... Could we just change the subject?" Later on in the frat house we find out that his fear of not fitting in and not being noticed by his friends comes true. This is a theme that will plague Xander for the rest of the season. Xander himself says what he wants when talking about his costume: "As long as I'm cool and wield some kind of

    The reason why Buffy gets so little attention from the fear demon compared to the others is because her fears have already been discussed by that point. In the very beginning of the episode we see her completely "out of it" and suffering from "post-Parker She recites the life of a pumpkin and then takes off from the pre-Halloween gathering with the Scoobies. Xander says, "does anyone else want to smack that guy?" Everyone raises their hands and so do I. I really enjoyed seeing Buffy telling Willow she's reached her quota of 'someones' and that she wants to be no dating Buffy for a while. The person that finally begins to shake her mood is Professor Walsh who essentially splashes some cold water on her face. She says, "if you miss another class you're Riley is pretty observant and is able to piece together that Buffy is the type of person who makes things hard on herself.

    The Riley chat leads to her enlightened conversation with her mother back at the house. They get to talking and Joyce says, "Our divorce had nothing to do with This is when Buffy reveals her growing feeling about serious relationships. She says, "I don't know. - I'm starting to feel like there is a pattern here. - Open your heart to someone, and he bails on you. Maybe it's easier to just not let anyone Joyce responds and tells her it's "Fear. I didn't believe I could trust anyone again. It's taken time and a lot of effort, but I've got a nice circle of friends now. - I mean, don't get me wrong. I - I'm still a little gun shy. It certainly didn't help that my last boyfriend turned out to be a homicidal robot. I will always be here for you. And you got Mr. Giles and your friends. Believe me, there is nothing to be afraid This is her mom telling her that she can risk a serious relationship because she's got her friends and family to support her when things don't go well.

    While this doesn't completely wash away Buffy's fears, as made clear by the fear demon and her resistance to a relationship with Riley in "Doomed", it certainly helps a lot. We also see that Buffy has a ways to go before fully learning from her mistakes. When Giles is reading out of the book on how to defeat the fear demon, Buffy rushes to judgement and assumes that the first thing he read was how to stop it. Instead she releases the demon. This is exactly what she did with Parker. She rushed into sexual relations with him before really getting to know him well which ended up releasing the demon within him. Buffy needs to learn to be more careful in both her Slaying and her personal life, or she's going to keep getting hurt both physically and emotionally, respectively.

    Next up on the list is Oz. Early on he tells Willow how dark the beast within him is and that it isn't any fun. His fear is obviously that the beast will get loose and hurt his friends. In the frat house the fear demon makes this fear come true. Oz's fear isn't just brought up as an excuse for him to have something to fear in just this episode. It's a real fear which comes true in a much more damaging way in "Wild at Heart". This is good setup for what happens to him there and makes why he leaves town make more sense.

    Although Giles and Anya weren't under the influence of the fear demon we did get to see what they fear. Anya simply fears Bunnies and losing Xander. I enjoyed it when she bursts into Giles' place and says "Xander is in trouble. We've got to do something, right now! ... Are you listening? Xander is trapped!" Giles poses an important question: "Uh, ah, where is Buffy and the others?" Anya snaps back, "They're trapped, too, but we've got to save Xander!" We can see he's very important to her right now. Giles, on the other hand, is unfortunately living his fear. He's sitting around at his home, bored to death, eating his own Halloween candy with a sombrero on. In the span of this episode we get to see Sombrero Giles, Candy Giles, Toy Giles, and Chainsaw Giles. He's in a rut and doesn't know where he fits right now. Throughout the season this situation will only get worse.

    When the fear demon finally rises we get the to the heart of the matter: fear, itself is actually really small. All you need to do is spot it and squash it, just like Buffy does. This is classic BtVS which works on all the levels that make the series fantastic. It's an episode with great: plot, character development, subtle lessons, and humor. All around I loved it!moreless
  • Happy Halloween

    Fear Itself

    The Good;

    Buffy does a Halloween ep once every couple of years and it's always special, this is no exception. The Scoobies face and overcome their fears and the final gag is fantastic. Also love the postmodern gag of Buffy hitting the demon only to find out it's a guy in a Halloween mask (presumably a student rather than a local who'd know better).

    The Bad;

    Would the Scoobies ever really watch horror films like Phantasm? Don't they get enough gore?

    Best line;

    Giles; "Actual size!"

    Character death;

    Only the guy who breaks his neck falling dow the stairs


    What's the story with the girl in the tiara on the couch who appears dead then grins maniacally at the camera?

    Kinky dinky;

    The frat boys think Halloween is all about 'getting laid'. Interestingly Willow's crush Tina Fey in her film Mean Girls says it's all about allowing girls to dress up in slutty male-fantasy costumes whilst keeping their reputation intact. Buffy gets grabbed all over by the hands in the cellar (anyone else reminded of the Evil Dead series) and was I the only one to think 'Boy you can see up her skirt' when Buffy crushes the demon at the end?

    Calling Captain Subtext;

    Willow "What is college for if not experimentation?" Hmmmm? She also begs "Oz don't leave me"

    Scoobies to the ER;

    Buffy cut but not too badly

    Where's Dawn?

    Adore the scene with Buffy and Joyce it's so precious. You wonder what costume Dawn wore trick or treating? Is Joyce taking her this year? Joyce comments that she's not the social butterfly she used to be in LA, as we see in Buffy; The Movie. She now knows that Ted was a robot (as Dawn does in IWMTLY).

    Questions and observations;

    The first sign of Anya's bunny phobia. The first encounter between the Scoobies and The Initiative (aside from Out of Sight, Out of Mind?). Anya comments that it's been a week since she and Xander had sex so we must assume that each ep in the Buffyverse is a week in real time. Uncle Rory mentioned again and Willow is still scared of spiders which she overcomes by the time of Selfless. The guiding spell that goes wrong for her is reminiscent of the one Tara uses successfully in Bargaining pt2. Xander uses the old 'Standing right here' Scooby line. At least Anya knocks on Gile's door which is progress. The ghouls at the frat party are very Evil Dead

    Read an interesting fanfic once where Michael Myers from the Halloween series shows up in season 3 Sunnydale and kills Joyce and Faith. In the follow-up story however the Nerd Trio capture him and use his blood to bring them back to life, I think the author's point being that heroism and villainy is sometimes just a question of timing and circumstances (which you can certainly make the case for with characters such as Andrew, Amy, Faith etc?)

    Marks out of 10; 6/10

  • Fear, Itself

    In this episode, we get to see Buffy, Willow, Oz, Xander, and Anya's biggest fear. Buffy is afraid that all of her friends will abandon her, Xander's is pretty much the same. Oz's is that he won't be able to control the wolf and it will take over. Willow's is that the magic will turn on her. We get to see the first glimpse of Anya's bunny-phobia, which will become a popular running gag in the series. The end of the episode is pretty funny and ironic, with everybody being afraid of the demon to come, and he's about two inches tall. This was a great episode, but not perfect, and I kind of grade Buffy on a curve, so on another show, this would have been a 9.5moreless
  • The idea here tries to evoke the classic season 2 Halloween, but this comes way short

    Buffy is known for it's traditional Halloween episodes. Given the nature of the show, it makes sense and it's a cool characteristic that follows in the lines of The Simpsons (Tree house of Horror) and Friends (Thanksgiving).

    Unfortunately there's nothing here that's scary, fun, or really, very interesting. Hearkening back to the classic episode where costumes turned trick-or-treaters into literal manifestations, here, it is a fraternity haunted house that becomes a REAL real of terror! This is due to careless use of an old mystic symbol, and the gang gets split up inside, everyone facing their worst fears. Too bad the material written here wasn't stronger, because the potential was great.

    ONLY GOOD MOMENT: Anya arriving in her bunny suit. Funny (and oddly, hot..)moreless
  • Fear, Itself

    Fear, Itself was a perfectly classic episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Thie episode fits right in with the halloween, which as of this review is a couple weeks away. I really enjoyed watching it because there was an excellent story, great humor, many allusions, and insights. It was interesting to see the different peoples costumes. Halloween, oh nothing will happen, but that never quite works out that way for Buffy. There were some very interesting scenes and the whole episode and every aspect of it was sensational. This episode follows a line of Halloween themed episodes in the series, and it was definitely great!moreless
Marc Rose

Marc Rose


Guest Star

Sulo Williams

Sulo Williams


Guest Star

Walter Jones

Walter Jones


Guest Star

Kristine Sutherland

Kristine Sutherland

Joyce Summers

Recurring Role

Marc Blucas

Marc Blucas

Riley Finn

Recurring Role

Emma Caulfield

Emma Caulfield


Recurring Role

Trivia, Notes, Quotes and Allusions


  • TRIVIA (5)

    • The party house featured in this episode is the "Murder House" from American Horror Story.

    • Goof: Willow claims the book from which the mark of Gachnar was taken is written in Gaelic, however, when the book is shown to Buffy (both in the frat house and at Giles'), the writing in it is in plain English (describing exorcisms).

    • We learn in this episode that Anya is afraid of bunnies, a humorous and recurring theme for her character.

    • Anya tells Xander that his uncle, Rory, let her in his house and that he smelled like peppermint. Xander replies "the man likes his Schnapps". In the season three episode "The Zeppo", Xander mentions that Uncle Rory is an alcoholic, and in season six we get to see him briefly.

    • Goof: When Anya goes to Giles' apartment dressed as a bunny, she takes the "paws" off of her hands. She isn't wearing them when Giles cuts a hole in the house with the chainsaw, but they are back on her hands when she hugs Xander after she and Giles find the gang.

  • QUOTES (17)

    • Giles: (reading from the book) There are two ways in here to get rid of Gachnar. Destroying the symbol... (Buffy walks past him and punches into the floor, destroying the sigil on the floor and tearing up the boards, she stands up with an accomplished look on her face) ...is not one of them and will immediately conjure the fear demon itself!

    • Xander (observing Anya's costume): So... this is your scary costume?
      Anya (defensively) Bunnies frighten me.

    • Buffy: Like the tux, Xander!
      Xander: Bond. James Bond. Insurance, you know, in case we get turned into our costumes again. I'm going for cool, secret agent guy.
      Buffy: I hate to break it to you, but you'll probably end up cool head waiter guy.
      Xander: As long as I'm cool and wield some sort of power.

    • Anya: Well first there was no door where the door should be, and then I saw a girl in a window and then she was gone!
      Giles: She disappeared from the window?
      Anya: No, the window disappeared from the house.

    • Buffy: Thank the Lord.
      Oz: You're welcome.

    • Buffy: This is Gachnar?
      Xander: Big overture. Little show.
      Gachnar: I am the dark lord of nightmares. The bringer of terror! Tremble before me. Fear me!
      Willow: He... he's so cute!
      Gachnar: Tremble!
      Xander: Who's the little fear demon? Come on, who's the little fear demon?
      Giles: Don't taunt the fear demon.
      Xander: Why, can he hurt me?
      Giles: No. It's just... tacky.

    • Buffy: Perfect. Everybody's got a date but third-wheel Buffy.
      Willow: You're not a third wheel.
      Xander: Well, technically speaking, you're a fifth wheel.

    • Xander: What ya got in the basket, little girl?
      Buffy: Weapons.
      Xander: Oh.

    • Willow: We have to make sure she has fun. We have to force fun upon her. Yeah, and if Parker shows up, we'll just axe-murder him. That's Halloweeny.

    • Xander: I can't say seeing you falls into the realm of a bad thing.
      Anya: Really? I thought maybe we could go out tonight. For our anniversary.
      Xander: Anniversary?
      Anya: It's been exactly one week since we copulated.

    • Willow: I'll know when I've reached my limit.
      Oz: Wine coolers?
      Buffy: Magic.
      Oz: Ooh. Didn't encourage her, did you?
      Willow: Where's supportive boyfriend guy?
      Oz: Oh, he's picking up your dry-cleaning. But he told me to tell you he's afraid you're gonna get hurt.
      Willow: Okay, Brutus. Brutus. Uh, Caesar? Betrayal, trusted friend, back-stabby?

    • Xander: People, prepare to have your spines tingled and your gooses bumped by the terrifying... Fantasia. Fantasia?
      Oz: Maybe it's because of all the horrific things we've seen, but hippos wearing tutus just don't unnerve me the way they used to.

    • Xander: I don't know - I was going for ferocious scary, but it's coming out more dryly sardonic.
      Willow: It does appear to be mocking you with its eyeholes.
      Oz: Yet its nosehole seems sad and full of self-loathing.
      Buffy: I was just thinking about the life of a pumpkin. Grow up in the sun, happily entwined with others, and then someone comes along, cuts you open, and rips your guts out.

    • Buffy: Let's be realistic Willow, your basic spells are usually only about 50/50.
      Willow: Oh yeah? Well, so's your face!
      Buffy: What?!

    • Giles: Bloody hell, the inscription!
      Buffy: What?
      Giles: I should've translated the Gaelic inscription beneath the picture.
      Buffy: What does it say?
      Giles: Actual size.

    • Buffy: This is much better. There is no problem that cannot be solved with chocolate.
      Willow: I think I'm gonna barf.
      Buffy: 'Cept that.

    • Willow: I'm Joan of Arc, well I figure we had a lot in common. Seeing as how I was almost burned at the stake, and she had that close relationship with God.
      Xander: (to Oz) And what are you supposed to be?
      (Oz opens his jacket and reveals a name tag that says "Hi my name is God")

  • NOTES (4)

    • Giles' Mexican costume and Anya's bunny suit were so popular with fans that special variant editions of their action figures were made with these outfits. These quickly became two of the most popular figures in the entire line, and the "Bunny Anya" was even reissued years later.

    • Music:

      Students are preparing the party -- "Kool" by 28 Days
      People arrive at the party -- "Ow Ow Ow" by Third Grade Teacher
      The Scooby Gang arrives at the party -- "Pretty Please" by Verbena

    • Buffy is dressed as Little Red Riding Hood. When Xander asks what is in her basket, she replies, "Weapons." There is a character in a series of Japanese fighting video games dressed as Red Riding Hood who carries a basket full of weapons. Whether or not this was an intentional reference is unknown.

    • This is the first episode David Fury writes as an official Mutant Enemy writer. His scripts in seasons two and three were freelance work since he initially turned down a Buffy writing job in 1997 (season one).

  • ALLUSIONS (16)

    • Oz: She's still suffering a little post-Parker depression.
      This is a play on "post-partum depression", a common—and sometimes very serious—problem among women shortly after giving birth.

    • Xander: What'cha got in the basket, little girl?

      This is a reference to Buffy's Little Red Riding Hood costume. In some versions of the Little Read Riding Hood fairy tale she meets a wolf in the woods on her way to her grandmothers house and he'll often ask her what she has in her basket. When she gets to her grandmothers house, the wolf has locked her grandmother in the closet (or eaten her, depending on the story version) and dressed up in her clothes to trick Red Riding Hood in an attempt to eat her.

    • Xander: The man likes his schnapps.

      Schnapps is a generic name for a flavorful, usually clear alcoholic beverage made from fermented grain and flavored with various herbs or fruits. Schnapps can come in a variety of flavors including strawberry, peppermint, orange, butterscotch, and many others.

    • Buffy: If I were Abbott and Costello this would be fairly traumatic.
      This is a reference to the comedy duo of Bud Abbott and Lou Costello that had a show together and made several movies in the 1940's and 50's. In many of their movies Abbott and Costello would meet various monsters such as: Frankenstein, The Mummy, and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

    • Willow (about the camouflaged guys): What are they supposed to be?
      Oz: NATO?
      NATO is the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, a military alliance established in 1949. Its aim was to safeguard member nations from attack with the end of the Cold War, NATO has increasingly concentrated on extending security and stability throughout Europe, and on peacekeeping efforts in Europe and elsewhere.

    • Willow: I'm Joan of Arc. I figured we had a lot in common, being almost burned at the stake and having a close relationship with God.

      Joan of Arc is a patron saint of France and hero of the Hundred Years War. As a teenager she believed that God spoke to her and urged her to save France from English domination. She lead an army that attacked the English and forced them to retreat from Orleans. The English eventually captured her, tried her for heresy and sorcery, and burned her at the stake. In 1920, she was canonized (made a saint) by the Catholic Church.

    • Giles: It's alive.
      As Giles hits the small hanging Frankenstein's monster figure, he says "It's alive." This is an homage to the scene from the classic 1931 film, Frankenstein, in which the Dr. Frankenstein says the same thing when his newly animated monster begins to move.

    • Willow / Music soundtrack: As Willow begins her attempted will-o-the-wisp spell, the background music quietly changes to the beginning strains of Dukas's "Sorcerer's Apprentice" (or something very much like it). When the will-o-the-wisp first splits in two, the rising strings o' peril from the piece come in just as they would for Mickey's brooms splitting exponentially out of control. This also disproves the earlier notion that Fantasia can't be scary.

    • Xander: Prepare to have your spines tingled, your gooses bumped by the terrifying ... Fantasia.
      Oz: Maybe it's all the terrifying things we've seen, but hippos wearing tutus just don't unnerve me the way they used to.
      Fantasia is a Disney movie from 1940 that consists of animated scenes backed by a classical music score. The most famous sequence is probably Mickey Mouse as the sorcerer's apprentice. The movie also contains a scene with hippos in tutus dancing.

    • Xander: Sensing a disturbance in the force, master?
      Reference to the Force, the energy field which binds together all living things, which is featured in the Star Wars series of fantasy/sci-fi films.

    • Title: Fear, Itself
      The title is part of the famous speech given by President Franklin Roosevelt during World War II: "We have nothing to fear but fear, itself."

    • Xander: Bond. James Bond.
      Xander goes dressed as the famous British spy of book and movie James Bond. This is the classic catch phrase of the series.

    • Oz: Mi casio es su casio.
      Oz makes a play on the Spanish phrase "Mi casa es su casa" (My home is your home) along with Casio a brand of electronic equipment.

    • Frat guy #1: Is there any holiday that's not about getting laid?
      Frat guy #2: Arbor Day.
      Arbor Day is a little celebrated holiday on the last Friday in April that is supposed to be about planting trees.

    • Willow: Okay, Brutus. ... Brutus? ... Caesar? ... Betrayal ... trusted friend? ... Back stabby?
      Willow explains her own historical reference to Brutus (Marcus Junius Brutus) who was a leader of the conspirators who killed Julius Caesar.

    • Xander: Phantasm. It was supposed to be Phantasm. Stupid video store.
      Phantasm is a horror/sci-fi movie from 1979 that carried the tagline "If this one doesn't scare you, you're already dead".