May 14 2012 2:00pm

Buffy the Vampire Slayer Rewatch: Faith’s First Stirrings

Give Willow Rosenberg a little power and she goes nuts.

You loved it when she interrogated Jonathan in “Go Fish.” And remember the burbling when Snyder made her a teacher? These are the little bitty things that lead, in time, to Dark Willow.

When “Faith, Hope and Trick” opens, she’s contemplating the heady prospect of being permitted, as a high school senior, to go off campus for lunch. She chokes, and the boys have to drag her down the steps to their picnic meeting with Buffy, who isn’t yet allowed back at school.

It’s an easy, action-free beginning: the gang hangs out, bantering, and we learn Buffy and Joyce are going to meet with Principal Snyder the next day. Willow is keen to get her best friend back on the dating horse, and—as a handy visual aid—arranges to have an available boy named Scott float past on a bed of rushes.

(It’s not really possible to take Scott seriously, or even to be all that interested in him as a character. He’s too obviously a decoy. Even if David Boreanaz wasn’t still in the S3 credits of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, a soft-spoken guy with no charisma to speak of was never going to cut it as a Slayer boyfriend candidate. We all know this. Besides, TV super-women tend to need super-duper-powerful men.) 

Buffy’s not ready in any case. She hasn’t told anyone that Willow’s attempt at soul transmigration worked, that it was Angel and not Angelus who got the pointy end of the sword in the finale. 

So we leave her there, hanging onto her guilt and emphatically not keen to date, and cut to a snappy-dressing vamp who’s come to town with his boss on a mission to eat the fast food workers of Sunnydale.

Mister Trick does have his charms. He mentions Sunnydale’s lack of racial diversity—which we all discussed some weeks ago—and he’s eager to drag vampirekind into the age of at least the vacuum tube. If he were around today, he’d order his delivery boys on his swanky new iPad. But neither he nor his incredibly grumpy boss monster, Kakistos, is the truly exciting new kid on the block.

That honor, naturally, goes to Faith, Kendra’s replacement, who makes her appearance at the Bronze while the gang is hanging out. By way of saying hello, she stakes a vampire and then trots out her best Slaying while Naked stories to entertain the group. (If only there were more of these. I’m envisioning webisodes.)

Before Faith’s arrival, Buffy had been working through the process of plugging back into her life. She and Joyce had the satisfaction of taunting Snyder for his inability to keep her out of school. She’s taking make-up tests, reconnecting with the Scoobies, and generally enjoying the fact that she’s not waiting tables in an L.A. greasy spoon anymore. 

And even though she doesn’t know it, Giles is trying to help her process her Angel guilt with a fib about a binding spell. On the whole she’s about as keen to tell him the truth as she is to date Scott.

Faith’s arrival on the scene disrupts Buffy’s fragile and hard-won balance, setting off a surge of what can only be described as sibling rivalry. Apparently happy to be a Slayer and confident in her ability to kill and kill again, Faith presents an image of herself as a happier, better-adjusted Buffster, one at ease with her friends, her Watcher, with Joyce and random men. Especially random men.

It’s all an illusion, of course, classic fakery until you makery. Kakistos ate her Watcher, and Faith is on the run. 

And this is what gives Buffy a clue: seeing Faith taken down a peg and almost fatally unable to talk about or otherwise deal with her trauma. The two slayers dust Kakistos and Buffy tells Giles and Willow what really happened when she took Acathla down. She feels better, enough so that she makes a date with Scott and says goodbye to Angel, leaving his Claddagh ring (which is apparently a magic decoder homing beacon for vampires with souls) on the floor of the mansion where she killed him.

Giles’s small lie about needing Buffy to spill is lovely Watcher caretaking; it just makes me happy when he is a good dad. And I like the undercurrent of tension between him and Willow, not to mention the foreshadowing, about her dabbling in magic. But, mostly, there’s a lot of housekeeping going on in this story. The Scoobies are cute and Snyder is snivelly and by the end of the episode we’re just about back to business as usual: kids at school, mom at home, vampires on the loose. 

Eliza Dushku, as Faith, has terrific appeal. She’s a great foil for Buffy: more earthy and at home with the violence that is their life. In this episode, when we see what turns out to be a core of emotional instability, we’re invited to assume it’s just a passing fling with crazy, the natural result of having lost her Watcher. It’s only in retrospect that we see she was always on the edge of falling apart. Just as it’s twenty-twenty hindsight that Willow kinda has power issues.

In the meantime, Eliza’s having a good time, as she seems to in every show she’s in, and it makes her fun to watch. 

In “Beauty and the Beasts,” it’s all Guy Trouble. We start with Buffy and Faith talkin’ boys in the graveyard, the Slayer equivalent of a water cooler, and we get to hear Faith’s deeply cynical assessment of the male gender: to wit, they’re all beasts.

Which brings us handily to Oz, who actually is a beast three days a month. And, unfortunately for him, Xander’s on werewolf-watching duty at the library. He spends his shift snoozing as, out in the woods near the school, someone from the jazz band is getting mauled to death.

Next day, Buffy is still filling time with Scott and we are all thereby obliged to meet two of his childhood buds, Pete Jekyll and Debbie Woebegone. Debbie, like Buffy, has been obliged to visit the guidance counselor. She disses him, for reasons that become obvious later, but he turns out to be a pretty decent guy. Though Buffy is only seeing him because it’s one of the hoops she has to jump to stay in school, there’s a connection there. We like him. He could have made her life better. Clearly, he’s toast.

But she leaves him alive for the moment, and by the time she gets to the library after this appointment, the Scoobies are in full worry mode. Did last night’s maulee die at the paws of Oz?

It’s impossible not to feel bad for Oz in this scene: Seth Green always does an awesome job of selling the quiet guy in anguish.

So night two of the full moon unfolds: Buffy goes looking for a suspect they can all feel good about, and instead finds feral Angel. Did he kill their fellow student? At the same time, Willow and Xandelia go seeking answers at the morgue.

(Hey, did you all see that Willow’s forensic kit is in a Scooby Doo lunchbox? And, speaking of character props, Faith’s enormous music player may be the most dated-looking piece of technology on the show. It’s sometimes surprising to me how old BtVS doesn’t look.)

Buffy chains up her foaming former honey and hits the books for answers, and when Giles finds her the next morning, she tells him that she dreamed Angel came back. They discuss living conditions in Hell and whether he’s got much chance of being redeemable. Buffy then pours out her troubles to the corpse of the savvy counsellor, who being dead is no help at all. He’s extremely handy, though, in clearing both Oz and Angel. He died in the daytime, when the one was human and the other was allergic to sunlight.

The real murderer of the week turns out to be Pete, who’s been working his way through the classic spouse-batterer playbook. He beats Debbie up, blames her for the violence, gets all penitent and forces her to comfort him, buys her flowers during the honeymoon phase and takes his special home-brew ’roid rage vitamins just so he can hit her harder when the cycle starts up again. The killings are supposedly about jealousy, but they also isolate Debbie from anyone who might help her. So when Oz asks her if she’s okay, just a few minutes before sundown, Pete decides to kill him too.

The Scoobies have figured most of this out by now, and go off looking for Pete. He finds Oz in the cage. Oz tries common sense and logic to defuse the situation, which gets him nowhere. He even utters a lengthy compound sentence! To no avail. Pete goes all Hyde-y, rips off the cage door, and has a little fun batting Oz around the library before moonrise, which is where the fight evens up.

By the time Giles gets shot in the ass with a trank gun, all three beastlike boys are on the loose: Angel’s popped his chains, the second version of Oz’s bad costume is skittering around the polished school floors and Pete has retreated to his Sunnydale mad scientist storage closet. (Buffy should really give up patrolling one day a week and just search the whole school top to bottom for weird rooms full of things maladjusted students can use to prime the Hellmouth.) Angel throttles Pete, bursts into tears and throws himself on Buffy’s mercy.

Then the Sunnydale police, earlier characterized by Snyder as deeply stupid, are apparently left to figure out how Pete killed Debbie and then strangled himself with a heavy chain.

And poor decoy Scott loses two friends.

There’s a setting-the-board component to “Beauty and the Beasts,” though it’s less overt than it was with “Faith, Hope and Trick.” Getting Angel back as something other than a gloomy Buffy flashback is a necessary move. What’s admirable is how cleverly this necessity is blended with the other two thirds of the story—the Oz stuff and Batterin’ Pete. 

What we get in this episode is three violent men, two of whom have limited responsibility for the mayhem they cause. Oz has learned to deal with his inner beast by placing himself in the hands of others: he trusts the Scoobies to keep him from harming anyone, and we see how hard that is when Xander fails him and then he finds out his minder, on night two, will be a Slayer. He accepts the need for it, even then. But when Pete attacks him, we see a tiny, delightful glimmer as Oz surrenders to his inner monster: “Time’s up. Rules change.” 

Angel, meanwhile . . . well, he couldn’t have known what would trigger the loss of his soul. And I say he can’t be blamed for what Angelus did afterward. He’s paid for it all the same, what with the going to a hell-dimension for centuries and all. The question Giles puts to Buffy, thinking it’s hypothetical, is “Does he want to be redeemed?” 

We all know the answer to that one. (“Sure, especially if it means I get my own series!”)

Pete, on the other hand, is a much more garden-variety monster: easily found, hard to deal with, and less willing than either Angel or Oz to take responsibility for actions that are conscious choices. It’s a fine piece of storytelling and nice, too, to get a little bit of an Oz story. 

As for Angel... part of me would have been wholly satisfied if he had never made it back from Hell at all. It annoys me sometimes, when characters are only dead during rerun season, even though I know it’s a common superhero convention. But maybe that’s a conversation for another rewatch. What do you all think?

Next up: “Homecoming”

A.M. Dellamonica has a short story up here on — an urban fantasy about a baby werewolf, “The Cage” which made the Locus Recommended Reading List for 2010. She also has a second story up here called “Among the Silvering Herd.”

1. mote
Life is messy. If Angel had stayed in hell, tucked quietly away from the action, life in the Buffyverse would have been much too simple. Sure, the lasting damage caused by his exit from this mortal coil is painful and complicated for Buffy and the rest of the Scoobies, but having him come back is ever so much more of a challenge for everyone involved, Angel included.

Besides. Oftentimes when a relationship ends, one's ex doesn't just quietly retire from your life and leave you alone to pick up the pieces. Entanglements are just that - complex, snarled webs of attachments, friendships, bank accounts, housekeys and other connections. A relationship ends, but the entanglement remains, and rears its head over and over until we've truly dealt with all the baggage and bull****. Angel's return gives Buffy the opportunity to work through that reality in a way that sending him to Hell, all neatly wrapped up in a handbasket, just didn't.
Jenny Thrash
2. Sihaya
"It annoys me sometimes, when characters are only dead during rerun season, even though I know it’s a common superhero convention. But maybe that’s a conversation for another rewatch. What do you all think?"

Oh, I think that enough characters die permanently forever-and-ever on Buffy/Angel that it's okay if the occassional hero comes back. If Whedon didn't bring them back sometimes, there might not be any suspense at all. It might turn into French absurdism, where you don't emotionally invest in anybody because everybody's doomed. Then the only question is how they're doomed, and the the whole show might as well be named, "Saw: The Vampirening."
Andrea Rønne
3. Capricornus
I've alwayse loved the Angel coming back part, but I think that might be because im a big Buffy/Angel relationship sucker.. (Just watched the episode of "Angel" where he turns human for a day, just heartbreaking)

Whats really annoying is that we never get a real answer to how/why he comes back!
4. Gardner Dozois
The very first time I saw this, I had the same feeling early on: the guidence counselor was toast. In the early years, any adult who was nice to Buffy and encouraged her to believe in herself, with the exception of Giles, was just about to get killed.

Mr. Trick was a good villain, and was largely wasted. He didn't even get a dramatic battle and death scene of his own, but just was polished off on the periphery of a larger battle. They might have devoted more time to him in another season, but I suspect that they got rid of him so that he wouldn't compete with the show's focus on The Mayor, the single best villain of the entire series.

It was inevitable that Angel came back--the realities of commercial television guarenteed that. No way they were going to take the ratings hit that leaving him dead would have generated. Even beyond those practical realities, though, bringing him back makes sense from a story standpoint--he and Buffy had a lot of issues to work out, and would continue to work them out right on out of BUFFY and into another show altogether. And although ANGEL as a show had a lot of problems, it also had a lot of great moments that we would have missed if Angel hadn't come back from Hell.

If I'm remembering correctly, they offered a sort of lame explanation for his return, that the First Evil had brought him back in order to torment and weaken Buffy--although that never made much sense to me. Since the First Evil's whole thing was to torment people with illusions and visions and nightmares, he could have achieved the same purpose with ILLUSIONS of Angel, rather than needing to physically bring him back from Hell. Or, having brought him back, he could have upset Buffy even more by sending Angel BACK to Hell again. Still, I suppose it was a better explanation than having Angel say, "The show-runners decided that I appealed to a certain segment of the viewing demographic, so they brought me back."
Constance Sublette
5. Zorra
This is where I start re-watching season 3 now. It's all fantastic now on.

They did indeed waste Mr. Trick -- who knew that a bigger bad would also be a bigger draw, but that's how the game goes. :)

As re-watches go by though, the Faith actress's ticks got more vexatious and annoying. But she's still a great character.
Constance Sublette
6. Zorra
O -- wait there's another thing that's pretty good about this episode -- non-bookish Buffy doing book research to help Angel. She also does hit the books harder this semester.

And then in season 4 she does a lot more of both, studying and doing occult research on her own, without entirely relying on Willow or Giles.

Buffy is becoming more self-reliant in every way, which is good. We need to grow up and be responsible for ourselves. But Buffy's way too soon responsible for so many others. So the dark side of her self-reliance becomes her secretiveness, her reluctance to take others into her confidence when she should, and also to not ask for their help when she needs it. This gets her into trouble throughout the rest of the series.
7. Dr. Thanatos
Adding to the list entitled Best. Lines. Ever:

"Yeah, I know, werewolf. But hey, three days out of the month I'm not much fun to be around either."

Willow rocks!
8. Gardner Dozois
Faith makes a good contrast for Buffy, showing you where Buffy might have gone if things had worked out a little differently for her, a sort of "There but for fortune" thing. And the actress was very good at playing Faith. I remain unconvinced that she could have carried a show on her own as the main character, though, if FAITH, THE VAMPIRE SLAYER had actually come into being. She strikes me as having too limited a range, although she's good within that range.

Probably Mr. Trick had to go; they didn't want to distract people from the development of the Mayor, and the development of the complex relationship between the Mayor and Faith, with another Big Bad. They should have devoted an episode to him, though, and had him fight it out with Buffy one-on-one before turning him into a pile of dust.

(Vampires died so much more neatly on BUFFY, no fuss, no muss, no mess, just POOF!, than they do on TRUE BLOOD, where each vampire dies in a fountain of thick gooey blood that covers everything within three or four feet. If that had been true of BUFFY, it would have been a lot harder to keep her mother from finding out she was the Slayer; either that, or she'd have had to spend a lot of valuable patrol time doing laundry.)
9. Dr. Thanatos
I like to think that we started off seeing Faith as Buffy (as she might have been): confident in her abilities and in her skin; what Buffy wanted to be. We ended up seeing Faith as Buffy (as she might have been): ends justifying the means, looking out for herself before others; what she could have been but didn't want to be.

An object lesson for our Buffster: the fine line between being a Scooby and being a Creepy Lighthousekeeper. Plus Faith didn't have a Mister Pointy, did she?
Alyx Dellamonica
10. AMDellamonica
(replying from the road... I'm about to go into a two day zone of no Intertubes, folks.)

You (all of you) are right, of course: it would have been a shame to miss out on the Angel stories to come, and seeing Buffy work through post-death/post relationship issues with him worked pretty well.

Zorra, I like the way you put it: "the dark side of her self-reliance," indeed!
11. chiMaxx
I've never been under the impression that the binding spell was a total ruse. I always thought that Giles' "There is no binding spell" was because Angel's soul had been restored, that the binding spell would work for an unensouled Angel. And of course that this was all part of the narrative setup for Angel's return.
Alyx Dellamonica
12. AMDellamonica
chiMaxx - interesting! I've always believed he was just trying to help Buffy sort her emotional issues.

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