Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Season 5 Episode 9

Listening to Fear

Aired Tuesday 8:00 PM Nov 28, 2000 on The WB
out of 10
User Rating
472 votes

By TV.com Users

Episode Summary

A Queller demon lands in Sunnydale in a fiery meteorite and begins killing all the mentally ill people it can find. Meanwhile, Joyce has been diagnosed with a brain tumor, and while she waits to undergo her operation the tumor is making her act increasingly unusual. Buffy must find and defeat the demon before it senses her mother’s madness and makes her its next victim.moreless

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  • This is a decent, if flawed, episode about the horrors of illness.

    The episode succeeds when it focuses on Joyce and it fails when it focuses on the semi-lame demon from space. I say 'semi' because in the sequence at Buffy's house the creature is pretty effective in its creepiness being in the midst of the sadness that is looming all over that home. Another problem I see is a pace that is just a bit too slow. This one's a mixed bag, although more excellent acting all around causes it to get its point across successfully.

    Even though Joyce is out of it most of the time, she's really the focus of everyone's concerns here. I can understand her not wanting to wait around in a hospital for her operation. That'd drive me crazy too. Willow getting the Summers' family individual presents to help cheer them up is both sweet and kind. I especially like the beer hat for Joyce and the homework with yoyo for Buffy. Joyce's sudden snap into abrasive words is pretty jarring. Later on she says, "No reason to get upset? Oh, right, sorry, I must just think there is because of my brain tumor!," which is also very abrupt and scary to hear her say, especially in front of Dawn as I'm so used to Joyce being so soft-spoken and kind. I have to say that I'm a bit surprised by how fast Joyce's symptoms manifested. I guess the writers didn't want to drag out the "Joyce is ill" subplot for too long, and I have to say I think it was a wise decision.

    I also found Joyce's randomness in speech back at the house later to be really effective. It's creepy in a realistic way that really hits home for me. I've gone through losing someone to a disease, and I've seen that person do a lot of weird and random stuff. I really appreciated seeing Joyce unaware of what she's saying, randomly thinking it's breakfast time and insulting Buffy. Joyce's rambling upstairs, when there's actually the demon right above her, is really sad to see. I have memories of being in Dawn's position of hearing a sick loved one through the wall having lots of pain and confusion in a room adjacent to mine, it's scary and not at all easy.

    The emotion-filled final scene with Joyce asking Buffy to promise to protect and take care of Dawn in case she doesn't make it is really tough to see. Buffy's expression when she hugs her mom is one of sadness and fright that this might be it; she really might lose her mom. The very final shot of the doctors taking Joyce away into surgery is obviously intended to make us think that was really her farewell. I now, in retrospect, love the way Whedon handled this plot thread. We get all the goodbyes, tears, and promises early on in the season. Then Joyce seems fine again only to suddenly die later from a complication of the surgery taking place now. This way we get all the goodbye talk out of the way and can simply experience the shock of an unexpected death without feeling completely cheated from losing a beloved character.

    All throughout the episode Buffy is trying to hold herself together. She turns on the radio while washing dishing to drown out her mom's loud rantings from upstairs. Unfortunately the sound of a crazy happy radio song combined with the mundane task of washing dishes that undoubtedly her mom would usually take care of, are the things that finally work to make Buffy emotionally break down all the way. SMG is heart-breaking in this scene. I so feel for her, and she makes me want to be there to offer some comfort because she looks so genuinely scared and sad; an excellent, realistic scene. In classic Buffy fashion, she faces her pain alone.

    There's some other interesting bits to talk about besides Joyce and Buffy though. The gang's patrol without Buffy and Willow's giddiness after staking two vamps in the intro is highly amusing. I'm sure Buffy expected Riley to be there helping out, but instead he's started the vamp suck jobs, sulking over Buffy not wanting him every second of the day. It's at this point where I lose my sympathy for Riley -- he's gone too far here, although I still understand why he's doing it.

    The Willow/Tara scene on the rooftop is really sweet. She says that looking at the stars is supposed to make you feel all insignificant, but that instead they make her feel like she's a part of them and therefore significant. I can't help but see this as a bit of a commentary on Willow. Before she had many friends, or many self-confident ones, she essentially viewed herself as an insignificant nerd. Just remember back to how she reacted when Buffy said, "Uh, Hi! Willow, right? ," and she replied "Why? I-I mean, hi! Uh, did you want me to move?" in "Welcome to the Hellmouth". Now, over the years of becoming part of the Scooby family, she's much more secure with herself and feels much more significant.

    The major fault of this episode is the space demon, which is silly even before we find out what it is. How is it that no one can see this huge thing crawling around the ceiling? It's called 'peripheral vision' people! However, the demon's a lot more effective when in Buffy's house, mostly because you can't really see it very well. It actually becomes a bit creepy during this sequence. Overall, though, I feel this episode does its job well of showing us the very icky horrors of illness and its affect on the people around it. It's also a lot better than I originally thought. Flawed, but nonetheless good.moreless
  • Hard to watch Joyce so vulnerable

    The Good;

    Some great acting from SMG and KS with Joyce's madness. Lovely Buffy/Joyce/Dawn scenes, especially when they're in bed together. In many ways though this is Riley's ep, see him take charge of the military team, he's back in his place.

    The Bad;

    Not a great deal

    Best line;

    Joyce "My dear sweet brave Buffy, what would I do without you?" (always brings a tear to my eye)


    The Queller is HORRIBLE! Ben demonstrates his ruthless side.Poor Dawn spends the entire episode quaking in fear at either the Queller demon or mad people (including her mother) shouting at her. Buffy breaks into tears and I don't blame her. The scene where Joyce, always the tower of strength in Buffy begs for her daughters to take her home like a frightened child is heartbreaking.

    Kinky dinky;

    None this ep, too much happening

    Captain Subtext;

    Joyce works out that Dawn isn't her natural daughter but doesn't care because she still belongs to her and Buffy, she's precious and they love her. She makes Buffy promise to take care of her. When Joyce asks what she'd ever do without Buffy you can see Buffy wondering what she'd ever do without her mum?When Anya suggests that the radiation from the meteorite might cause sterility Riley and Xander look alarmed but Giles doesn't, given up on the idea of having his own children?

    Apocalypses; 5,

    Scoobies in bondage:

    Buffy: 8

    Giles: 4

    Cordy: 5

    Will: 3

    Jenny: 1

    Angel: 4

    Oz: 1

    Faith: 3

    Joyce: 1

    Wes: 1

    Xander; 1

    Dawn; 1

    Scoobies knocked out:

    Buffy: 15

    Giles: 10

    Cordy: 6

    Xander: 8

    Will: 5

    Jenny: 2

    Angel: 6

    Oz: 3

    Faith: 1

    Joyce: 3

    Wes: 1


    Kills: 2 vamps for Will and one demon for Buffy

    Buffy: 86 vamps, 32 demons, 6 monsters, 3 humans, 1 werewolf, 1 spirit warrior & a robot

    Giles: 5 vamps, 1 demon

    Cordy: 3 vamps, a demon

    Will: 6 vamps

    Angel: 3 vamps, 1 demon, 1 human

    Oz: 3 vamps, 1 zombie

    Faith: 16 vamps, 5 demons, 3 humans

    Xander: 5 vamps, 2 zombies, a demon, a demon

    Anya: a demon

    Riley; 18 vamps + 7 demons

    Scoobies go evil:

    Giles: 1

    Cordy: 1

    Will: 2

    Jenny: 1

    Angel: 1

    Oz: 1

    Joyce: 1

    Xander: 3

    Alternate scoobies:

    Buffy: 6

    Giles: 3

    Cordy: 1

    Will: 2

    Jenny: 2

    Angel: 3

    Oz: 2

    Joyce: 2

    Xander: 3

    Recurring characters killed: 9

    Jesse, Flutie, Jenny, Kendra, Larry, Snyder, Professor Walsh, Forrest, McNamara

    Sunnydale deaths; 6 mental patients


    Total number of scoobies: 7

    Giles, Xander, Willow, Buffy, Anya, Tara, Riley

    Xander demon magnet: 5(6?)

    Preying Mantis Lady, Inca Mummy Girl, Drusilla, VampWillow, Anya (arguably Buffy & Faith with their demon essences?), Dracula?

    Scoobies shot:

    Giles: 2

    Angel: 3

    Oz: 4

    Riley; 1

    Notches on Scooby bedpost:

    Giles: 2; Joyce & Olivia, possibly Jenny and 3xDraccy babes?

    Cordy: 1?

    Buffy: 3 confirmed; Angel, Parker,Riley, 1 possible, Dracula(?)

    Angel: 1;Buffy

    Joyce: 1;Giles, 2 possible, Ted and Dracula(?)

    Oz: 3; Groupie, Willow & Verucca

    Faith:2 ;Xander, Riley

    Xander: 2; Faith, Anya

    Willow: 2;Oz and Tara

    Riley; 2; Buffy and Sandy

    What the fanficcers thought;

    Buffy has sex with the Quellar demon. No, I'm NOT kidding either! 'Quelled'

    Questions and observations;

    Our first hints that Ben is not all he appears. Will finds the dead body again. Graham again, yay! He should fix his beret though. Dawn saves Joyce through her quick thinking, she's a Summer's girl alright. Joyce's insane remark about about Buffy being 'disgustingly fat' is all the more ironic given how painfully thin SMG looks this season. The vamps Willow stakes look like they're female wrestlers or something? Really this ep hits Buffy where she hurts, she can face all the dangers of being a slayer as long as she has her friends and Joyce and Dawn to come home to. When her home life is threatened that really unnerves her

    Marks out of 10; 7/10

  • Listening to Fear

    Listening to Fear was a superb episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer's fifth season. I really enjoyed watching this character driven episode. This is a very emotional season, and I personally relate to this episode as my step mother also had a brain tumor. I think that the writers of this episode, season, and series are all brilliant in connecting viewers to the characters. Riley is really starting to doubt his importance to Buffy and she is to preoccupied with every thing that is going on to notice. The story of this episode was interesting, and a good way to tie Ben to Glory. Joyce has always been more or less in the background of the series, and this episode really connects her to the viewers. I really enjoy watching the gang research, and discuss their findings, as the information is interesting and complex and the characters make it seem as if this was really happening. I can't wait to find out what happens next!!!!!moreless
  • Season 5, Episode 9.

    A Queller demon lands in Sunnydale in a fiery meteorite and begins killing mentally ill people. Joyce has a brain tumor, and while she waits to undergo her operation, the tumor is making her act increasingly unusual. Buffy must find and defeat the demon before it senses her mother's madness and makes her its next victim.

    This episode wasn't bad at all. I thought the storyline was a little weird though. Anyway, the plot and monster and Joyce thing were definitely all weird. However, Buffy's amazing cry scene made this episode for me. The plot was just way too weird and Sarah Michele Gellar's acting was outstanding. Great episode. :)moreless
  • A good episode with a somewhat weird plot but a few great lines and the continuation of one of the main arcs makes it a worthwhile episode.

    Listening to Fear is an episode where the side plot is more interesting than the main one. The whole alien thing was a bit too sci-fi for Buffy but it worked well and the demon of the week was brilliant; very creepy and disgusting. The two things that keep the episode better than average are the continuation of the Joyce arc and a few classic Anya lines.

    The demon summoned from outer space was just a bit out there for me. It was enjoyable but it just didn't feel like it fitted in with the mythology of the show well and felt a bit like a sci-fi hack job. Fortunately, it is mainly believable and not as sci-fi as two certain episodes of "Angel" that just felt completely out of place. I could accept the idea of the space demon and I must admit, it was a pretty cool idea.

    The Willow/Tara scene at the start was one of my favourites. I'm a huge fan of theirs- I love their relationship and think they have fantastic chemistry. I liked learning Tara's own versions of star constellations too Willow! Then the meteor crashing down to Earth ruined the moment but it looked good so I can forgive it.

    The Queller demon was very interesting and unique; it could have easily been fake and completely unbelievable but the costume looked great and it was quite menacing, what with it following Joyce around. The revelation that Ben was involved in it's summoning was shocking the first time. Not so much these days; there are some things in the show that still shock me but this isn't one of them. Ben annoys me but seeing as he is part of one of my all time favourite villains, Glory, I can forgive it.

    The Joyce arc was the real highlight here. I felt it had a really sleepy, monotonous atmosphere around it (a very good thing as it's not supposed to be pulse pounding drama) and I could really feel Buffy's pain here. I love the bit where she breaks down crying when washing up. I felt really bad for her and Dawn also. Some really good scenes.

    Anya was hilarious here (as usual!) and one of my all time favourite Anya lines is said here; where she refers to the Queller demon as the "space lamb". Anya is just the awesomest character. I love her so much.

    Listening to Fear is a bit out there but for the most part it works. It's not amazing or groundbreaking but it's very enjoyable and a worthy addition to the season. A great episode.moreless
Barbara C. Adside

Barbara C. Adside


Guest Star

Debbie Lee Carrington

Debbie Lee Carrington


Guest Star

Paul Hayes

Paul Hayes

Older Night Watchman

Guest Star

Charlie Weber

Charlie Weber


Recurring Role

Bailey Chase

Bailey Chase

Graham Miller

Recurring Role

Amber Benson

Amber Benson


Recurring Role

Trivia, Notes, Quotes and Allusions


  • TRIVIA (4)

    • In this episode we discover Ben has some sort of an involvement with Glory, though at this point no one is aware of what kind.

    • Nitpick: So the Scoobies are the only ones who noticed a meteor fall to Earth? One would think that it would quickly gain national attention.

    • Goof: When we see Joyce's reaction shot in the middle of Dawn's "jello speech", we also see Dawn on the left, and her lips are quite obviously not moving in time to what we hear her saying.

    • Goof: Willow makes a mistake about the date of the last meteoric anomaly. The Tunguska blast happened in 1908, not 1917.

  • QUOTES (9)

    • Joyce: ...those eyes! Those eyes! They look like gasoline puddles!

    • Joyce: Dawn... she's not mine, is she?
      Buffy: No.
      Joyce: She does belong to us, though.
      Buffy: Yes, she does.
      Joyce: And she's important. To the world. Precious. As precious as you are to me... Then we have to take care of her. Buffy, promise me. If anything happens, if I don't come through this...
      Buffy: Mom...
      Joyce: No, listen to me. No matter what she is, she still feels like my daughter. I have to know that you'll take care of her, that you'll keep her safe. That you'll love her like I love you.

    • Willow: You know what's weird?
      Tara: Japanese commercials are weird.

    • Willow: Oh, I feel just like Santa Claus... except thinner, and younger, and female. And, well... Jewish.

    • Riley: Oh, that might be toxic, don't touch it.
      Xander: Oh yeah, touching it was my first impulse. Luckily, I've moved on to my second, which involves dry-heaving and running like hell.

    • Willow: Something evil crashed to earth in this and then broke out and ... slithered away to do badness.
      Giles: In all fairness, we don't really know about the slithered part.
      Anya: Oh, no. I'm sure it frisked about like a fluffy lamb.

    • Riley: Oh, yeah. I'm sorry about last time. Heard I missed out on some fun.
      Xander: Oh, yeah, fun was had. Also frolic, merriment, and near-death hijinks.

    • Dreg: Sir forgive me. I just want to understand. Why summon the Queller?
      Ben: Why do you think? Because I'm cleaning up Glory's mess. Just like I've done my whole damn life.

    • Xander: Look at how teeny Mercury is compared to, like, Saturn. Whereas in contrast, the cars of the same name...
      Giles Xander, please, we have work to do.
      Xander: I still don't see why we have to come here to get info on a killer snot monster.
      Giles: Because it's a killer snot monster from outer space. I did not say that.

  • NOTES (4)

    • Willows "I don't want to be the one who finds the bodies anymore" comment dates back to earlier this season's episode "Real Me" when she trips over the body of Mr. Bogedy, to season 1 "Prophecy Girl" where she found dead students and Season 4's episode "Doomed" when she found the dead guy in the bed.

    • The crazy guy at the hospital who said "There's no data there..." while looking at Dawn is the same guy that Glory fed on when she was trying to make the monk talk.

    • For some reason, Bailey Chase (Graham) is uncredited in this episode.

    • In all the supernatural beings that Buffy and co. have dealt with, the creature in this episode is the first one to have come from outer-space.


    • Xander: Festive piñata? Delicious candy?

      Piñatas are hollow cardboard or papier-mache figures usually filled with candy or toys. Piñatas are most often used at birthday parties where they are suspended by a rope, people are then blindfolded and try to break open the Piñata with a stick so that the contents spill out.

    • Xander: (about the planets) Look at how teeny Mercury is compared to, like, Saturn. Whereas in contrast, the cars of the same name...
      Mercury and Saturn are, obviously, planets. They're also American car companies. Saturn is a newer company which currently sells 3 series of vehicles — the L-Series (mid-size sedans/station wagons), the SC-Series (sporty coupes), and their most popular S-Series (compact sedans). Mercury is a subsidiary of Ford Motor Company, which manufactures mid-to-full-size sedans and sport utility vehicles.

    • Willow: (looking at the stars) That's Canis Minor, and Cassiopeia.
      Canis Minor is "the lesser dog," one of Orion's hunting dogs. Cassiopeia is Andromeda's mother from the legend of Perseus. Both of these stars are most visible in North America between November and March.

    • Dawn: There's a girl at school told me that gelatin is made from ground-up cow's feet, and that if you eat Jell-O, there's some cow out there limping with no feet.
      Dawn isn't as far off as Buffy would have you think. Gelatin is a protein which is obtained from collagen, typically from cows' bones and skin. The bones and skin are immersed in acid, and the eventual solution is processed to make gelatin.
      Jell-O is a specific brand of gelatin dessert. In North America it's common to refer to all gelatins as Jell-O, kind of like Kleenex.