Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Airdate: September 21, 1999
Sarah Michelle Gellar, Nicholas Brendon, Alyson Hannigan
Charisma Carpenter, David Boreanaz, Seth Green
And Anthony Stewart Head
Created by Joss Whedon
Written by Jane Espenson
Directed by Regis B. Kimble
Yesterday's episode originally aired in March 1999, but we're jumping ahead six months for this one. By the time this episode aired, fans watching on television had already seen the end of Season Three, including everyone's graduation from high school, and the total destruction of the high school itself. The reason that this episode appeared out of order was the Columbine Massacre, which took place shortly before the episode was originally scheduled to air.
The irony is that the episode isn't really about a Columbine-type situation at all. That angle is really just a red herring. But red herring or not, this episode still deals with the issue of high school shootings, which Oz darkly describes as "bordering on trendy". So it's perfectly understandable that the episode was pulled.
One thing that I appreciate about the episode is that it has a wider agenda than simply dealing with school shootings. The episode opens with Buffy accidentally acquiring the ability to hear thoughts after killing a demon. At first, the power seems like a godsend, until it begins to overwhelm Buffy and threatens to drive her insane. That's all very good, but even better is the way Buffy uses this experience to make a point about everyone having issues to deal with. It sounds trite, probably because it is, but it works, particularly in the context of geeky Jonathan apparently threatening to start shooting.
This brings me to the one problem I have with this episode, and it's sort of a big one. It sort of isn't, because it doesn't really detract from any of the great themes that are being developed here, and it doesn't really detract from the plot or the humor, or anything else, really. But there's a fine line between a red herring and a cheat, and this episode jumps way over that line. As the episode draws to a close, Buffy (and we) are led to believe that Jonathan is planning to stage a massacre with a high-powered rifle, complete with telescopic sights, from a bell-tower. In fact, Jonathan is really planning to kill only himself, with a high-powered rifle, complete with telescopic sights, from a bell-tower. I call "Shenanigans!" all over that shit.
Despite this, I appreciate the fact that the threat in this episode is purely human. Buffy fights (but does not kill) a psychotic lunch lady who tried to poison all of the students. Not only is that a brilliantly deranged concept on its own, but it avoids undermining the story by introducing a demonic villain. The episode is, in large part, about the petty and ordinary sort of evil that high school students inflict on one another all the time, like the viciously cynical editor of the school newspaper who asserts his individuality by mercilessly attacking his classmates in print. Introducing a murderous demon for Buffy to kill would cheapen that.