"Earshot" is the eighteenth episode of the third season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and the fifty-second episode in the series. Written by Jane Espenson and directed by Regis Kemble, it was originally broadcast on September 21, 1999, on The WB network.
PENNY FOR YOUR THOUGHTS — A near-fatal run-in with a pair of oozy, mouthless demons unexpectedly leaves Buffy with the awesome ability to hear other people's thoughts, but this newfound power ultimately threatens to overwhelm and destroy her as the cacophony of thoughts isolates her from the rest of the world and drives her to the brink of insanity. When Buffy's clairvoyance unearths a potential mass murder plan at the school, Giles, Willow and the rest of the gang spring into action to locate the would-be killer and thwart a schoolyard massacre, while Angel endeavors to keep Buffy from spiraling into telepathy-induced madness.
While on patrol, Buffy fights two mouthless demons. One manages to escape, but Buffy slays the other. Meanwhile, some of the demon's blood is absorbed into her hand. The next day at the library, the Scooby Gang gather for another group meeting, where they find that Giles is making little to no progress with the Mayor and has no clue what the Ascension is. Wesley soon arrives, promising new updates, but his information is exactly the same as Giles'.
Willow and Buffy talk about Angel's recent acting as soulless to get close to Faith. Buffy is worried that he and Faith may have gotten more intimate than she saw. Willow suggests that Buffy talk to Angel and straighten things out. Percy arrives, telling Willow that they'll have to reschedule their planned study session. Willow then talks to Buffy about the basketball game held after school later that day. Apparently, everyone except for Buffy is going.
Buffy is bothered by persistent itching on her hand, and decides to talk to Giles. After a little research, he tells her that the demon's blood might have infected her with an "aspect of the demon." Later that day, Xander, Willow, Oz, and an absent-minded Buffy watch a pep rally, where Willow catches Buffy feeling her head for horns. Willow further horrifies her by wondering if the demon is male. That night, Buffy meets Angel during her usual patrol and tells him about the demon. Angel tells her that he'll still love her no matter what she looks like, though his exact wording only freaks her out even more.
The next day at school, Buffy finds the rest of them ecstatic about the game from the day before. When Cordelia passes by, Buffy hears Xander wondering if she and Wesley had ever kissed before. She responds to him, aloud, and he remarks that "[Buffy] read [his] mind." Buffy then walks through the school halls, where she finally realizes she's hearing people's thoughts. Freaked out, she talks to Giles about her new ability, and he realizes the mouth-less demons are telepathic. Buffy seems overjoyed about it, and Giles says that this power may be very useful in combat.
Buffy can't resist to use it to her advantage in class first, though. During a class on literature, she answers the teacher's questions with no difficulty, impressing the rest of the students and especially the teacher. Buffy then hears the thoughts of Freddy Iverson, who writes editorials for the school newspaper, and has a seriously negative opinion about everything and everybody at Sunnydale High School.
Later that evening, Buffy visits Angel at the mansion and attempts to use her mind-reading abilities on him to discover what really happened with Faith. Angel realizes what she is trying to do and tells her she won't be able to read his thoughts. He reassures her that what happened with Faith meant nothing and that in 243 years, he's only ever loved Buffy.
The gang meets up at the library again the next morning, where Buffy tells her friends about her new power. She finds Xander constantly thinking about sex, and Wesley keeps thinking about Cordelia. Oz thinks extremely deep thoughts, while Willow is upset because Buffy has access to Oz's mind and will learn more about him than she ever will. While in the school cafeteria, Buffy's telepathy starts to become painful, as the voices become too much for her to endure. Out of nowhere, a single, menacing voice stands out among the pandemonium: "This time tomorrow, I'll kill you all." Buffy passes out, overwhelmed by the cacophony of others' thoughts.
When she regains consciousness, Buffy tells the Scoobies to interrogate everyone in the cafeteria in order to figure out who the killer is. Giles tries to find a cure for Buffy, but before she leaves to rest at home, she hears the painful truth: she'll go insane if the telepathy continues. At home, while trying to comfort Buffy, Joyce inadvertently lets slip through her thoughts that she and Giles had sex on the hood of a police car under the influence of the band candy. Twice.
Meanwhile, the rest of the gang starts interrogating members of the faculty and the students. They make little progress with their research and every likely suspects are crossed out, except for Freddy, who Oz can't seem to find. In the meantime, Giles and Wesley had come across a potential cure for Buffy's telepathic abilities, though it requires the heart of the second remaining demon. Angel hunts down the demon at the cemetery, and successfully acquires the heart.
He brings the ingredients needed for the spell to Buffy's house the next morning and forces her to drink it, telling her that it's okay and he's there to help here. Buffy's body soon undergoes convulsions and Angel calls for Giles. Then she loses consciousness. Moments later, she wakes up again, good as new, and heads to the school to straighten the mess out.
Meanwhile, the Scoobies finally corner Freddy in his office, where they realize that he isn't the killer. Rather, he's been avoiding Oz out of fear of retaliation for a negative review he had written about Dingoes Ate My Baby. Oz isn't mad at all; he remains calm, saying, "No, that's fair."
Buffy shows up just as Cordelia finds a letter on Freddy's desk from Jonathan, an ignored and disregarded student, announcing a dire plan. The gang then splits up to look for Jonathan.
Meanwhile, Jonathan loads a firearm, ready to pull the trigger, up in the high school clock tower. Buffy locates him and quickly jumps into the tower to confront him. Jonathan remains hostile at first, claiming that he is tired of everybody disregarding him for his small size and his lack of abilities. Buffy civilly talks to him, telling him that the reason everybody ignores him is that they have their own problems to deal with. Musing on how deafening silence can truly be, the two study the people milling below. Buffy gently prompts Jonathan to hand the rifle over to her, which he does with quiet, subdued grace. Buffy disposes of the weapon, but is then surprised to learn he hadn't planned to murder anyone: he had actually gone to the tower to kill himself.
Elsewhere, Xander is still looking for Jonathan in the cafeteria, and while picking at some Jell-O, looks up and sees the overweight lunch lady putting rat poison into the students' food. They stare at each other for a few seconds before Xander runs out and warns everybody to stop eating their lunch. The lunch lady pursues him and tries to attack Xander with a cleaver. Buffy shows up in time and knocks the weapon out of her hands. The lunch lady calls the students "vermin," always eating and never stopping. Buffy decides that the lunch lady has lost her mind and knocks her unconscious.
The next day, Giles and Buffy discuss the recent adventure. Buffy is relieved not having any voices in her head; Jonathan has some repercussions to deal with, but Buffy seems confident of his recovery, even dreading he might ask her to the prom. Going over business as usual Giles asks her if she's up for some training, and Buffy agrees. She then remarks: "We can work out after school, if you're not too busy having sex with my mother." Giles walks straight into a tree.
- When Buffy learns she that she will gain an aspect of the demon, she checks for horns and a tail. This is exactly what Cordelia will check for when she wakes up after being made part demon in "Birthday."
- This episode marks the second time that Willow interrogates Jonathan, the first having been in "Go Fish." While interrogating him, she asks if he has ever had a fantasy about being powerful or respected. Later on, Jonathan will cast a spell to make this fantasy come true in "Superstar."
- Larry talks with Xander about being openly gay, referring to the time he revealed his sexual orientation to Xander in "Phases."
- It is revealed that vampires are immune to having their thoughts read via telepathy. However, future episodes show that vampires can be read by empathy ("In the Dark," "Judgment") and can receive projected thoughts ("The Gift," "Bargaining, Part One").
- Buffy asks if "the whole Faith-Angel thing was for nothing," referring to Angel pretending to turn evil in order to get info from Faith about the Ascension in the previous episode ("Enemies").
- Percy and Willow talk about their study session; she began tutoring him in "Doppelgängland."
- Buffy discovers Joyce and Giles had sex in the episode "Band Candy."
- In "Flooded," Jonathan will resist killing Buffy because she has saved his life "a bunch of times," such as in this episode. She will later save him in "Superstar," while also saving the whole school in episodes such as "Bad Eggs," "Dead Man's Party," "Graduation Day, Part Two," etc.
- Xander's offhanded comment about the lunch lady wanting to kill the students proves to be true; he'll unexpectedly be right once again about the Brooks letterman jacket in the episode "Him."
- Buffy says that Jonathan looks like he's going to ask her to prom, but he's "like three feet tall." In "The Prom," Jonathan has a date taller than Buffy.
- Azorath (Only mentioned)
- Larry Blaisdell
- Cordelia Chase
- Nancy Doyle
- Rupert Giles
- Alexander Harris
- Frederick Iverson
- Faith Lehane (Only mentioned)
- Jonathan Levinson
- Hogan Martin
- Daniel Osbourne
- Willow Rosenberg
- Snyder (Only mentioned)
- Buffy Summers
- Joyce Summers
- Percy West
- Richard Wilkins (Only mentioned)
- Wesley Wyndam-Pryce
- Unidentified lunch lady
Organizations and titles
- Dingoes Ate My Baby (Only mentioned)
- Scooby Gang
- Sunnydale High cheerleading squad
- Sunnydale Razorbacks
- Watchers Council (Only mentioned)
- Ecuador (Only mentioned)
- Sunnydale, USA
Rituals and spells
- Unidentified demon, killed by Buffy.
- Unidentified demon, killed by Angel.
Behind the scenes
- Joss Whedon wrote two scenes in this episode: the discussion in the literature class and the confrontation in the clock tower between Buffy and Jonathan.
- In Espenson's first draft, Buffy's class discussed Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, but Whedon suggested writing a scene that related to Buffy's feelings. Espenson then changed it to an English class discussing The Catcher in the Rye, but Whedon rewrote the final version of the scene to be about Othello.
- Espenson says she deliberately confirmed that Joyce and Giles had sex in "Band Candy": "To my surprise, a lot of people were confused about exactly how far Giles and Joyce had gone. And so I really enjoyed this as an opportunity to make very clear... that they actually had sex on top of that police car. I just sort of wanted America to know that."
- Freddy Iverson was originally named Freddy Munson in the script.
- In Cockney rhyming slang, a word is replaced by a rhyming word, usually part of a two-word phrase. For example "apples" is used to refer to stairs, as in "apples and pears." "Berk" comes from the rhyming pair "Berkeley Hunt." So, when Giles calls Wesley a "berk," he is actually calling him something a lot more offensive. However, the etymology of the term is now completely lost on anyone using it in Britain and is entirely inoffensive. It really just means "twit."
- This episode's subject matter, in conjunction with the mass shooting at Columbine High School (which occurred a week before the intended airdate for this episode), led The WB to postpone this episode's broadcast. The episode finally aired on September 21, 1999, two months after the season 3 finale.
- A line of Buffy cut:
- Buffy: "Say 'Uncle'. Oops. No mouth."
Pop culture references
- Buffy mentions that the itchy hand is "just another problem for the good people at Lubriderm," referring to the brand of body lotions made by the Warner-Lambert pharmaceutical company.
- Buffy discusses the tragedy Othello (1603) in literature class.
- Buffy says that Principal Snyder has the 1986 song "Walk Like an Egyptian" by The Bangles stuck in his head.
- Oz's thoughts "I am my thoughts; if they exist in her, Buffy contains everything that is me, and she becomes me. I cease to exist." is a reference to the first principle of René Descartes's philosophy: "I think, therefore I am."
- The first time Buffy looks at the clock tower and sees Jonathan, the clock reads 12:40. Seconds later when she has another look, the clock is showing 12:10.
- Christophe Beck — original score
- Armenian: "Ձայներ" (Voices)
- Czech: "Na Doslech" (On Earshot)
- Finnish: "Kuulolla" (Hearing)
- French: "Voix Intérieures" (Inner Voices)
- German: "Fremde Gedanken" (Foreign Thoughts)
- Hungarian: "Hallótávolság" (Earshot)
- Polish: "Tajemnice Zdrowej Skóry" (Secrets of Healthy Skin)
- Portuguese (Brazil): "O Alcance da Voz" (The Reach of the Voice)
- Romanian: "Aproape" (Near)
- Russian: "Голоса" (Voice)
- Spanish (Latin America): "Alcance Auditivo" (Auditory Reach)
- Spanish (Spain): "El Alcance del Oído" (The Reach of the Ear)
- The episode was included in The Slayer Chronicles VHS collection.
- Jane Espenson provided the audio commentaries for this episode.
Behind the scenes
|Willow: "The school paper is edging on depressing, lately. Have you guys noticed that?"|
|Oz: "I don't know. I always go straight to the obits."|
|Angel: "Buffy, careful with this gift. Lot of things that seem strong and good and powerful, they can be painful."|
|Buffy: "Like, say, immortality?"|
|Angel: "Hm, exactly. I'm dyin' to get rid of that."|
|Angel: "I'm a funny guy."|
|Buffy: "You had sex with Giles? You had sex with Giles?"|
|Joyce: "It was the candy, we were teenagers."|
|Buffy: "On the hood of a police car?"|
|Joyce: "I'll be downstairs. You feel better."|
|Buffy: "My life happens on occasion to suck beyond the telling of it. Sometimes more than I can handle. And it's not just mine. Every single person down there is ignoring your pain because they're too busy with their own. The beautiful ones. The popular ones. The guys that pick on you. Everyone. If you could hear what they were feeling. The loneliness. The confusion. It looks quiet down there. It's not. It's deafening."|
|Willow: "So, you're feeling better about Angel?"|
|Buffy: "Well, we talked, then, then he ripped out the heart of a demon and fed it to me, and-and then we talked some more."|
|Willow: "See? That's how it should work."|
- "The Mortuary." Buffy The Vampire Slayer. Archived from the original on February 15, 2001.
- Jane Espenson, The Complete Third Season on DVD; audio commentaries for "Earshot." 20th Century Studios, January 7, 2003.
- "Earshot Script." Buffy World. Archived from the original on July 16, 2019.
- Joal Ryan, "'Buffy' Slayed by School Massacre." E! Online, April 23, 1999.