"What Do They Fear?" Episode
"So suddenly everyone's having this big share-fest around the fire. Like Beth went on and on about how her mortal fear is being covered by bugs. Harold's afraid of ninjas, even Heather admitted that she's afraid of sumo wrestlers!"
An episode where the cast conspires to find out what one of them (usually, The Stoic
) fears the most, setting up various scares. They often fail but the audience does learn the answer, greatly humanizing The Stoic
in their eyes.
Related to Why Did It Have to Be Snakes?
. Compare Your Worst Nightmare
. May be part of Hiccup Hijinks
It is very popular to name this episode "Fear Itself" or "Nothing To Fear."
See also I Know What You Fear
, Face Your Fears
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Anime and Manga
- In Full Metal Panic? Fumoffu, the characters pay a visit to a Abandoned Hospital and Sousuke, completely unaffected by appearances of ghosts, zombies, and whatever, nearly freaks out in panic when it seems that Kaname has been injured.
- In Ouran High School Host Club, the club members try to scare Haruhi and fail. It turns out she is only scared of thunder/lightning.
- Ranma ½'s Ranma has one of these. They find out that he's afraid of cats, which is because he was trapped in a pit of hungry cats whilst covered in fish by his father, on the advice of a training book.
- Similarly, InuYasha also has an episode dedicated to this trope, in which the whole main cast is trapped and forced to see their worst fears.
- An early episode of Galaxy Angel revealed that Forte is deathly afraid of (and allergic to) rodents. Despite Normad's clear intent to use this for blackmail, it's never brought up again in the anime.
- Yusei of Yu-Gi-Oh! 5Ds is practically crippled by fear after losing his duel with Kiryu (once his best friend and Big Brother Mentor now brought Back from the Dead — which Yusei blames himself for — and psychotically evil), as if he's so unfamiliar with the emotion, he has no idea how to deal with it (dialogue Dub Induced Plot Holes regarding visually non-existent entomophobia aside).
- In an episode of Ronin Warriors, Dais revealed to Kento that the more he used his Hardrock Armor, the more bloodlust he would experience. Instead of being able to use the armor for good, he would use it for evil. For a while, Kento was afraid to summon his full armor in fear of hurting his loved ones. But when saw Yuli get hurt, he decided to push aside his fear, armored up, and defeated Dais.
- Bleach: When a quincy with the power to incite primal fear in his opponents confronts the Sixth Division, there's an entire chapter devoted to what Byakuya himself is afraid of. The consequences end up being one of the most Family-Unfriendly Violence moments in the entire manga. Paralysed by the sight of Rukia's gruesomely decomposing face, Byakuya suffers one of the most graphically drawn defeats in the entire manga. He is literally shredded to the bone by his own bankai and left pinned to a wall by his own blood, his chest ripped open to the ribcage.
- Subverted in the Batman storyline Knightfall. The Scarecrow turns his toxin on The Joker to discover what he fears. The answer: Nothing.
- In the same storyline, Batman's biggest fear is revealed to be Jason Todd's death - which already happened. Cue Unstoppable Rage at Joker.
- Really, this happens to everyone, heroes and villains, who comes into contact with fear gas. Bats has also been beaten with memories of his parents' deaths (in both The Long Halloween and Batman: Arkham Asylum); Catwoman had a good ol' wrestle with her relationship with Batman in Catwoman: When in Rome; and the Riddler is scared of the Joker. (But then, so is half the DC universe.)
- Incidentally, if Blackest Night is to be believed, the only thing that scares Scarecrow is Batman. The only thing - using his fear gas so much has made Scarecrow not just immune to its effects but to feeling fear period. Except, as stated, the fear of Batman, to which there is no immunity.
- A crossover with Judge Dredd had Scarecrow using his fear gas on Judge Death. It seems Death is afraid of plushies.
- This summer's Captain America/Thor centric Marvel Crisis Crossover Fear Itself looks to be one of these. The main plot involves Red Skull find the hammer of and resurrecting the spirit of the long dead of the Norse fear god. In the first issue as soon as Odin becomes aware of this he immediately tells Thor and the rest of Asgardians to pack their bags because they're leaving earth while they're still alive. Also, solicitations for tie-ins seem to indicate that there will be a lot of stories featuring the heroes of the Marvel universe facing their deepest fears head on.
- In ElfQuest's Trial of Head, Hand and Heart arc, the Trial of Heart involves Savah mind-probing Cutter and Rayek to learn their deepest fears, and then setting challenges to see whether they can overcome them. The twist is that Cutter's challenge turns out to be Rayek's as well.
- In the arc The Terror Of Trigon, the Teen Titans were subjected to their greatest fears while Raven and Trigon rampaged throughout the city (and the world, even).
- Nightwing, Dick Grayson (the first Robin), feared that he had to remain Robin (otherwise, Batman would be in danger - none of his successors were good enough of a Robin) and wouldn't be allowed to grow up and become his own man.
- Kid Flash (Wally West) feared of becoming Evil-Raven's love slave due to her powers influencing him into joining the Titans (which emphasizes his struggle with indecision).
- Wonder Girl, Donna Troy, feared killing her husband, which illustrates that she felt forced to choose between being either a mortal woman or an Amazon - not both.
- Changeling (Beast Boy) feared that he was the reason for his loved ones' deaths (his parents, adoptive mother Elastigirl from Doom Patrol, Terra, and so on) and that he was nothing but a monster.
- Cyborg feared that he was not a true man, but rather a cold machine, and that his family and friends would reject him thusly.
- Starfire feared her friends betraying her, her homeworld being destroyed, and being forced into slavery for the second time by her sister.
- In Spotlight: Hoist, the titular Autobot is trapped on a planet with Swerve, Perceptor, Sunstreaker, and Bob the Insecticon being stalked by a fear projector that physically manifests the greatest fear of whichever Autobot it locks onto; Hoist realizes this when he is attacked by Swerve's greatest fear, a combiner formed from Megatron, Shockwave, and Tarn, and is almost killed by Bob's greatest fear, Metroplex's foot.
- A He-Man and the Masters of the Universe (2002) comic depicted the old toyline character Scare-Glow as having I Know What You Fear powers, and after being pressed into Skeletor's employ he forced He-Man, Teela, and Man-at-Arms to confront their greatest fears. For Man-at-Arms, it was growing old and weak; for Teela, it was failure; for He-Man, it was disappointing his parents (really). Man-at-Arms and Teela are totally cowed by the illusions Scare-Glow shows them, but He-Man snaps out of his with help from Orko and saves the day.
- Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban has the third-year Defense Against the Dark Arts students taking on a boggart, a Shapeshifting creature which can take on the form of whatever its viewer fears the most. This provides a pretty funny chapter in which the students conquer the boggart by using the Riddikulus spell to turn it into something laughable, but it also shows the reader what some of the students fear most. Hermione, during her final exam, is terrified by her boggart, whose appearance (Professor McGonagall telling her she failed all of her classes) illustrates her deep-rooted fear of failure; Harry, by comparison, sees Dementors when he faces boggarts, which Professor Lupin says means that what he fears most is fear itself. The boggart scene also includes a clue as to Lupin's true nature. His boggart is a "silvery orb" which the students misinterpret as a crystal ball. However, Hermione realises that it is in fact the full moon, and this allows her to figure out Remus's secret and become his Secret Secret Keeper.
- There is a Tear Jerker echo much closer to the end of the series where Mama Bear Molly Weasley confronts a boggart who turns into her biggest fear - the dead forms of her beloved husband, her children, and Harry. This turns out to be the most heartbreaking bit of foreshadowing in the entire series, since one of her children is killed by Voldemort's forces later.
- In the novel 1984 by George Orwell, Room 101 is where the prisoners of the Ministry of Love experience their worst fear, as a part of their brainwashing.
- In David Eddings's Belgariad and Malloreon, the sorceress Polgara is able to force people to tell the truth by showing them pictures of whatever they fear most.
Live Action TV
- Big Wolf on Campus, "Fear & Loathing in Pleasantville". The Monster of the Week is a "Phobiist" who traps people in waking dreams of their worst fear - which will literally scare them to death in a matter of hours. The three protagonists have to face and overcome their fears to defeat him.
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer:
- In the episode "Nightmares" all the worst nightmares of Sunnydale residents come to life. These range in severity from embarrassment—showing up in class in your underwear or forgetting how to read—to Buffy getting buried alive and turned into a vampire, to Xander being attacked by a knife-wielding Monster Clown.
- This one also had a Face Your Fears theme. Xander figured this out, and then just punched his Monster Clown out. Buffy couldn't exactly face being turned into a vampire, but she did use its strength to fight a different monster.
- In "Fear Itself" everyone trapped inside a Haunted House begins to manifest their worst fears and insecurities courtesy of a fear demon. Xander becomes invisible and inaudible to his friends, Willow's innocent magical lights go out of control and attack her, Oz begins to turn into a werewolf and injures Willow, etc.
- The season four finale "Restless" had this element too, being centered another dream episode. Willow gets her old stage fright dream from "Nightmares" combined with a scene where Buffy "unmasks" her as the timid girl she used to be, while Xander is berated by his father. There is another Call Back to "Nightmares" when Willow hopes that they are not performing "Madame Butterfly".
- Doctor Who has done this several times:
- Enjoyably subverted in one episode in "The Chase". The Doctor thinks, and pontificates upon the fact, that they've arrived in a world that reflects their worst fears. Ian, however, deduces they landed in a futuristic haunted house theme park populated by robots but chooses not to tell the Doctor to spare his feelings. It's a very silly episode.
- One episode of during the Third Doctor's tenure, The Mind of Evil, had the Doctor encounter a mental parasite that projected its victim's worst fear. His was the horrific memory of seeing a world burst into flames (from the serial Inferno). Later, the Master fell victim to it - his worse fear is the Doctor laughing at him.
- "The God Complex", an Eleventh Doctor story where the cast are trapped in a hotel where each room contains someone's worst fear:
- The Eleventh Doctor's worst fear is not shown, but the audience can hear the Cloister Bell ringing; and when he sees it, he is not surprised. Matt Smith speculated that it was a line of dead previous incarnations swinging from nooses. Revelations in later episodes strongly hint that it was the War Doctor he saw. This was eventually retconned in "Time of the Doctor" to be the Crack through which the Time Lords were begging to return.
- Amy sees herself as a little girl. It is implied that her greatest fear is (once again) having to wait for the Doctor. Alternately, there's a subtle hint that the room was actually the Doctor's greatest fear, i.e. letting down/screwing up his beloved and innocent Companions.
- They're shown their fears by entering the room which contains it. Rory, rather than being shown a room, sees an exit. The Doctor said Rory was seeing an exit because the Monster of the Week had no reason to target him (because of his lack or fear or faith due to his centuries as the Last Centurion), and instead wanted him to escape. However, it would not be the first time the Doctor was wrong, or lied.
- A Fourth Doctor annual comic, "The Psychic Jungle", showed the Doctor taking Sarah and Harry to a planet with a psychically reflective atmosphere that shows vivid hallucinations of deep-seated fears - Harry sees mostly snakes, scanty-clad women and other such Adam and Eve symbolism stated by the Doctor to be deep ancestral fears of his culture, Sarah sees mostly demons and monsters (which, in a lovely moment, the Doctor points out is was because of her irrational woman brain) and a race of spider aliens that had also crashed on the planet see the giant birds that predate on them back on their world. The story ends with the implication that the Doctor went there deliberately to come face-to-face with his own worst fear, though we do not see what it is and when Sarah Jane presses him on it he pretends not to know.
- The Telos novella Ghost Ship has the TARDIS trap the Doctor in a Psychological Torment Zone specifically selected to hit his personal childhood phobias in order to force him to face and conquer the negative thoughts causing the Depression he was experiencing. It turns out that the Fourth Doctor's worst fear is ghosts trapped in eternal suffering out for revenge against him - or possibly being proven wrong.
- Whenever Barbas is the Demon Of The Week in Charmed, this is the basis of the episode. Well, he is the Demon of Fear.
- Samurai Sentai Shinkenger does an episode in which Sixth Ranger Genta develops a crippling phobia of sushi after the events of the previous episode. Each of the other teammates confronts his or her own fear, some of which (Ryuunosuke's fear of cacti after sitting on one as a kid) are lamer than others (Takeru's fear of horror houses, which causes him to faint).
- Several episodes of Maury have guests who fear really odd and crazy things, ranging from balloons, pickles, cotton balls, birds, mustard, peaches, and other things. Usually played at the expense of the guests where Maury brings out the stuff they fear and they go running scared for a while.
- Sort of used in the Mash episode "Dreams", which feature the main characters' nightmares — all of which are highly tailored to the characters' histories and psyches.
- An episode of Are You Afraid of the Dark? handles this, with one group member claiming to have exactly what The Stoic fears in a box. After the story is over (and The Stoic is incredibly rattled), the box is opened to reveal his biggest fear: nothing.
- Chuck vs. the Aisle of Terror.
- Life episode "Not for Nothing" turned out to be this.
- Smallville's "Scare" involved an industrial toxin that caused everyone to experience their worst fear before falling into a lethal coma. Lex's was fun.
- It was also somewhat tragic, since it was essentially the same as the prophecy Cassandra saw in Season 1's "Hourglass."
- Space: Above and Beyond had one episode where the Wildcards end up on a planet where the Chigs have unleashed some kind of nightmare weapon, cranking everybody's phobias Up to Eleven. They are able to make it out alive thanks only to The Power of Friendship and trusting each other while marching through a minefield while singing a jodie.
- Teen Wolf episode "Party Guessed" had this in briefly in form of hallucinations caused a drugged punch at Lydia's birthday bash. The unhappily adopted Jackson fears losing his identity, Allison feared becoming a sociopathic killer, Stiles fears being blamed for his mother's death and Scott...worries about his relationship with Allison.
- Losing Allison is actually a justified fear for Scott, as Allison is his anchor and the thing that helps him control his wolf side. Losing her could mean losing control and hurting someone, and considering that Scott appears to generally be a pacifist and sweetheart, it makes sense that losing Allison and potentially losing control would be his biggest fear.
- Also, Scott doesn't just hallucinate losing Allison to Jackson. His hallucination has Jackson in Kanima form. And given that the Kanima KILLS people, it's not just about her leaving him, but possibly her DYING. His priorities are definitely not skewed when put in the proper context.
- The Corner Gas episode "Whataphobia" dealt with the gang trying to figure out what Wanda was afraid of, despite her insistence that she had no fears. At the end of the episode, she looks out on the flat open plains of Saskatchewan and abruptly develops agoraphobia.
- The "Nightmare Clowns" episode of Face/Off required each of the competitors to create an Evil Clown that evoked their own worst childhood fear. Memorable examples included fear of tornadoes, dark water, or monsters under the bed.
- A bit of a Running Gag in the Paper Mario games, where the villain or one of their underlings will ask Mario or one of his allies what Mario is most afraid of, but will gladly accept that he's terrified of the normal items he'd been using the whole game.
- A Temple in Starfox Adventures had this, of course you have to get a Krazoa spirit to face your fears.
- Pretty much every Scarecrow appearance in We Are Our Avatars, which include terrifying visions.
- Subverted in the The Legend of Tarzan. Jane spends an entire episode trying to find something which scares the titular character. In the end he freaks out over her powderpuff, however the last scene reveals that he pretended to be scared so she would stop trying to scare him.
- Teen Titans, Episode 18, "Fear Itself" - The Titans pick up a horror movie called Wicked Scary. After watching it, they are scared out of their wits, although Raven refuses to admit this to the others. During the night, strange things start to happen in the Tower. Raven's suppressed fear acts out by using her powers to pick off the Titans one by one in increasingly nightmarish ways. Only by admitting that she was afraid is she able to regain control and free her friends.
- Happens in Justice League, "Only A Dream", when Doctor Destiny sticks the core seven into their own worst nightmares. Superman was afraid of his powers going out of control and killing all his loved ones. Hawkgirl is trapped in a coffin and buried alive (this was foreshadowed earlier in the episode). Flash fears that he would run so fast that the rest of the world would freeze in time. Green Lantern is afraid that he was becoming nothing more than a tool for a ring, and losing touch with where he came from—reflected in people being afraid of him and being unable to communicate with him, as though it were just another of the alien worlds he's been tasked to protect. Batman cheats—despite telling Dr Destiny how "My mind is not a nice place to be" he just chugs coffee and stays awake until he takes him down, so we never do find out what he fears.
- One episode of Total Drama Island had this... and their psycho host Chris tailor-made challenges for each contestant according to their fears. Courtney, however, had never told anyone her fear, though Chris was able to figure it out: green gelatin.
- The All Stars episode crossed this with The Boxing Episode, making it into a Face Your Fears kind of thing. The wheel that would choose your opponent was supposed to be random, but was clearly rigged so the contestant would face the opponent they'd fear/be least capable of fighting. Scott had to face Fang, Sierra faced the mother of the mutants she had taken in, Alejandro faced his Big Brother Bully Jose, Duncan faced a cute bird he'd all but befriended the previous episode, and Gwen faced Courtney after finally fixing up their friendship. Only Mal and Cameron didn't have that honor, having to face each other's fears because all the contestants had realized that the wheel was rigged after Alejandro's fight.
- The Legion Of Superheroes episode "Fear Factory" had several Legionnaires confronted with their fears in a space station that feeds on their fears.
- Every Scarecrow appearance in Batman: The Animated Series went like this, but it was taken to its peak in "Over The Edge", in which Batgirl hallucinates her own death and her father turning against Batman, whom he blames for it. Add in the scarier redesign of the Scarecrow for the last season and the voice of Jeffery Combs, and it's horrifying.
- Batman can be Batman not only because of his conditioning and money but also because he has conquered his own fears and daemons. And if he comes across something he hasn't, he just plows on through anyway. Because he's...
- One time it was subverted; the Scarecrow made a gas which removed fear; causing people to engage in reckless and dangerous behaviors, putting the lives and limbs of themselves and others in danger. Unfortunately for Crane, this also removed Batman's aversion to using excessive force—he wasn't afraid of what killing a criminal would do to him...
- Him once found out what each of The Powerpuff Girls feared the most and exploited them in a literal Your Worst Nightmare plot: Blossom, the leader, is afraid of failure (represented by failure in school); Bubbles is afraid of the dark, as had been seen before; and Buttercup, a la Raven, so vehemently prides herself on fearing nothing that the sisters' mutual minor fear of bugs and spiders makes her feel completely powerless.
- The Dungeons & Dragons episode "Quest of the Skeleton Warrior" was one of these; the bulk of the episode was devoted to exploring the kids' fears to the point where the Skeleton Warrior himself pretty much got demoted to a walk-on.
- An episode of Xiaolin Showdown did this; it consisted of Jack Spicer breaking into the Xiaolin temple and swiping a certain Shen Gong Wu that allowed him to enter the minds of the four main protagonists and find out what scared each of them the most. Hilarity Ensues when it is revealed that Omi, who normally prides himself on being the bravest of the group, is afraid of squirrels.
- The Halloween episode of Lilo & Stitch: The Series focused on a experiment that could shapeshift into a person's deepest fears. Of them we learn Stitch is afraid of water (due to his creation excluding buoyancy), Lilo is afraid of clowns (this from a girl who loves monster movies by the way), Jumba is afraid of his ex-wife, Pleakly is afraid of his mother, Mertle and her posse are scared of Lilo herself (Though that could've been the costume she was wearing at the moment—being an undead hula girl with a rubber axe in her head) and perhaps the most shocking is Nani having Lilo taken away from her by Cobra Bubbles (which actually happened in the movie).
- In the Extreme Ghostbusters episode "Fear Itself", the titular Ghostbusters encounter a Ghost who can manifest their greatest fears; Gothgirl Kylie is afraid of Maggots, Tech-Guy Roland is afraid of his own machines turning against him, Slacker Eduardo is afraid of Death, and gung-ho Paraplegic Garrett is claustrophobic, though he refuses to admit it. Also Slimer is terrified of... broccoli.
- It's worth noting that unlike most cases where there is some kind of magic at hand, the whole thing is a test of character or a villain is trying to best his foes, in this episode it turns out to be a defense mechanism caused by a ghost that is tiny, weak and utterly terrified of humans.
- My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic
- The season 3 premiere has Twilight Sparkle and Spike go to a secret door that hides the Crystal Heart that they've been looking for. The door has a spell placed on it so any intruder lives out his/her worst fear. It's revealed that Twilight Sparkle's fear is disappointing her beloved mentor to the point where she refuses to teach her anymore, and Spike's fear is Twilight abandoning him against his will.
- Sleepless in Ponyville has Scootalo haunted by nightmares brought on by Rainbow Dash telling ghost stories while they're out camping. After being visited by Princess Luna during one of her bad dreams, Scoot admits the real reason she's having them is because she fears admitting the stories scare her will make Rainbow Dash think she's pathetic.
- In Ultimate Spider-Man episode "Strange Days" everyone in New York and possibly the world (except for Spider-Man, Iron Fist, and Doctor Strange) are put to sleep by Nightmare who feeds on their worst fears in their dreams. White Tiger's fear is failing her exams, Power Man's fear is not being able to save his friends, Iron Fist's fear is thinking that he isn't worthy of his powers, Doctor Strange's fear is realizing that magic isn't real, and Nova is afraid of rabbits. Nightmare tries to pull one on Spidey by making him look back at his failure to save Uncle Ben, but Spider-man accepted his guilt and overcomes his fear, allowing him to beat Nightmare, because he figured out that nightmares aren't real.
- The end of Billy and Mandy's Big Boogey's Adventure culminates in one of these, as, in order to lay claim to Horror's Hand, one has to Face Their Fears. Billy sees a Spider-Clown-Mailman, Irwin envisions trying to do stand-up comedy to an audience of bears (who subsequently attack him), and Mandy gets traumatised by the possibility that she would grow up to be a nice person, and end up marrying Irwin. And then she gets mauled by the bears, too. Grim, on the other hand, picks up the artifact with relative ease, as he faces his fear on a daily basis: being picked on and humiliated by Billy and Mandy. It than gets subverted in the finale: Boogie is defeated when the hand seems to start making his fear (not being taken seriously) come true. In actuallity, Grim had turned off the hand and just relied on the idea that nobody would take Boogie that seriously.
- Super Robot Monkey Team Hyperforce Go! featured "Night of Fear," in which we learn that Sprx's worst fear is going blind, Gibson's worst fear is losing his intelligence and becoming a Talkative Loon, Antauri fears losing control of his robot body, Nova fears becoming a coward, Chiro fears being reverted back into a little kid, and Otto fears clams with feet.
- In the DuckTales episode titled (naturally) "Nothing to Fear," the cast are tormented by their fears coming to life courtesy Magica de Spell. Interestingly, the visions start with fantastic or shallow fears (video games coming to life, the limousine turning into a monster) and become increasingly down-to-earth and personal. The final, worst manifestations are mirror images: Uncle Scrooge sees delinquent versions of his nephews that don't respect him, and the nephews see an abusive version of their uncle who considers them a burden.
- The "Shaman of Fear" episode of Sym-Bionic Titan. The Monster of the Week, a Shaman causes Lance and Ilana to see visions in their dreams, regarding Lance's past and Ilana's fear of the fate of her planet, believing she abandoned her people.
- The Motorcity episode "Mayhem Night". The Terras use these devices/plants that when inhaled by one of the Burners, allows them to see their greatest fears. Texas and Claire get comedic examples (giant man-eating candy and being married to Chuck, respectively) while Julie and Mike's hallucinations are a bit more serious (her father Kane discovering she's a burner and his past working for Kane, respectively).
- Randy Cunningham: 9th Grade Ninja: Viceroy once invented a robot that created personifications of people's fears. Randy fears chickens (McFist and Viceroy were disappointed); Heidi Weinerman fears looking like her mother in the future; Viceroy fears the kid who used to bully him at school; McFist fears clowns; and Bucky is afraid of minotaurs playing smooth jazz.
- The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2012) episode "Fungus Humongous" did this through mutant fungi that spread fear-hallucination inducing spores. Unusually for these types of episodes in Western Animation, every fear encountered had been established before, or were completely reasonable given experiences from previous episodes. Raph and Casey had already been explicitly shown to have a phobia of cockroaches and rats respectively, Mikey was scared of the Squirrelanoids they'd encountered before, Donny feared that April hated him both for the more shallow reason of him being a mutant and for the much more guilt-ridden reason of accidentally mutating her father, April was terrified of Bats due to having seen her father turn into a particularly grotesque version of one that kidnapped her, and Leo has been shown several times throughout the show to worry about his duties and capabilities as team leader.