SEASON 3, EPISODE 18 "EARSHOT"
Watching ‘Earshot' in the wake of the Parkland, FL shootings or the YouTube shooting today is hard.
In 2018, we take school shootings seriously.
In 1999, we didn’t.
After getting swiped by a mouthless demon, Buffy is cursed with the ability to hear people’s thoughts.
Buffy learns quickly that:
• Xander wants to fuck everyone
• Cordelia says exactly what she thinks
• Oz has deep thoughts
• Joyce fucked Giles
• Angel doesn’t have thoughts
And in a school crowd, Buffy overhears the thoughts of someone new: someone who is planning on killing everyone at school.
There are handful of suspects: a misanthropic journalist, a gay man, a loser, the lunch lady.
Buffy doesn’t spend a lot of time thinking why you’d want to kill your classmates. The potential mass murderer is just the monster of the week and everyone has a motive:
I can’t help it. If I’m going to copy/paste one great line, I have to include this one too:
Look up the air date of ‘Earshot’ and you learn that this episode was intended to run on April 21st 1999, the day after the Columbine massacre.
The producers responded by running the episode out of sequence, airing more than 5 months later, on September 21st.
Obviously, running a tv-show with a school shooter in it a day after Columbine would be a terrible decision, but Buffy’s school shooter is also a tower shooter, which in a show full of references would be an immediately dated reference.
The Buffy shooter references the University of Texas tower shooting from August 1, 1966. Other school shootings took place between 1966 and 1998, but the U of T shooting was massive by comparison.
In scale off violence, the U of T shooting is even slightly larger than Columbine. 15 people died and 21 were injured in Columbine. The U of T shooter killed 17 people and injured 31.
The already aged reference (30+ years) lets the writers have fun with a serious subject, which I enjoyed seeing. It’s incredible to see what a difference time makes in how media gets created. Buffy’s Tower Shooter seems almost like a Universal Monster. Lumbering, detached, inevitable, slowly assembling a rifle.
The Columbine massacre gave the school shooter monster a fresh coat of paint. And so did Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook, and Parkland.
Watching ‘Earshot’ is like looking into an alternate dimension. You know something more terrible is about to happen and that the insane tragedy that they treat lightly is only just about to repeat itself.
Earshot would be a typical episode of Buffy, but it gets an eerie emotional resonance for reminding you of what a slightly less damaged world looked like.