Mon
Jul 23 2012 1:00pm

Buffy the Vampire Slayer Rewatch: I’m Not Supposed to Talk to Strangers

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Dopplegangland

So here’s how it goes in my house sometimes: I’ll be rattling at my wife, Kelly, about the latest Buffy the Vampire Slayer rewatch—in this case “Dopplegangland”—and it’ll be a bit of a streaming babblefest: “... blahbitty blah, Allison Hannigan looks so young in this one, especially in the fuzzy pink sweater. It hides her neck, I think, which makes her face rounder. She looks older in the leather, of course, which, you know, yay for the obvious reasons, but that kind of makes it interesting that she’s got that whole baby girl act going...”

Kelly will point out, “As does Drusilla. As does Darla.”

So true, am I right? And then, a few weeks later, I carry that conversation here to Tor.com.

“Dopplegangland” starts with another little girl lost: the demon Anyanka. Anya lost her power center to alternate-Giles in “The Wish,” and since then she’s been trapped in high school with a bunch of self-involved and boring teens. She’s asked the lower beings to let her retrieve her amulet and get back to work, but they have a strict one-strike policy on losing your evil superpowers (or so they claim now), which leaves Anya declaring that she’ll solve her problems herself.

This brings us to Willow, who’s dressed up triple cute and floating a pencil as Buffy counts her crunches and tries to outdo Faith on a number of levels.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Dopplegangland

As chance would have it, our Miss Rosenberg is just embarking on one of those school days that hints that the adulthood and responsibility looming beyond Graduation aren’t everything they’re cracked up to be. Principal Snyder sticks her with a breeding assignment... no, wait, a tutoring assignment... which amounts to doing Percy’s-the-lout’s history papers for him. Then Buffy and Xander take it for granted she taped Biography. (Biography? Was there no good TV that year?) It turns out Oz had a gig she didn’t know about and couldn’t have attended anyway. After all that, she’s in full sulk over being a doormat when Anya comes up and is all “Hey, baby baby, want to do some black magic?”

Big yes to that question!

(Willow’s day is also going badly in that she’s marked for death, because Faith is double-agenting her way around the library, and finds out about the attempt to access the Mayor’s computer files. But nobody on Team Good knows that. I’m not sure they ever learn it, actually.)

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Dopplegangland

The scene between Faith and the Mayor is the first of a series of perversely heartwarming father-daughter interactions. The tone is set when she calls him sugar daddy and he draws that firm line. Me: authority figure, he says. Sex: not on the menu. It’s a signal I’m grateful for—I appreciate knowing we aren’t going to have to endure icky inter-generational frisson between the two. And he’s so thoughtful when he tells her he doesn’t expect her to kill a friend, or even an ex-friend, for him... just yet. Harry Groener sells his squeaky-clean brand of wicked: I totally love him.

Willow and Anya work their spell, but instead of retrieving the demon necklace, they temporal fold out sexy dead Willow from the Wishverse. Ta-da! (And also—whoops!) She’s got the whole pouty child thing going on, as mentioned, and when she realizes this version of Sunnydale is mostly dominated by living, breathing humans who feel safe, she’s quite set back. She does get to beat up Sportslout, though, which is fun for everyone involved.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Dopplegangland

Then she and Xander simultaneously make horrible discoveries—she realizes he’s alive, Xander (and Buffy) discover she’s dead. 

In shock, Buffy and Xander run to Giles. Willow gets attacked and decides she’s ready to run wild and kill everything in her path.

“Dopplegangland” was written by and directed by Joss Whedon, and like most of the all Joss all the time episodes, it’s full of delicious little treats. There are the usual inspired bits of dialog in the so-tight-it-squeaks script. We get the spectacle of Seth Green finding an even quieter and somehow terrible space, within the still water that is Oz, to grieve when he thinks Willow has been vamped. We get the hilarious hugfest when the Scoobies discover Willow alive and well. There’s the skanky girl “I think I’m kinda gay” action between the two versions of Willow, the caged girl-talk with Cordelia,  and Xander shaking the cross to try and make it work.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Dopplegangland

But wait! There’s more—Angel with his “Willow’s dead” / “Hi Willow” doubletake. (David Boreanaz was always terrific at looking befuddled.) Even Wesley gets his screaming, panicked little moment of perfection.

But yeah, the little girl thing. It’s something of a go-to for female villains, I know. It’s not unique to this show. Women who are bad in fiction are often women who act out sexually in one way or another. In fact, that’s one of their markers for badness. At this point it’s obvious Faith’s promiscuity, for example, was bundled into her character from the start because she’s on the side of the demons.

Buffy’s good. Buffy’s mostly chaste. Admittedly, Buffy has a helluva reason, what with her OTP being a no fly zone. Still!

When you sex up a character because she’s evil, you’re going to have a few options as a writer. One is taking her down the dominatrix road, which Vamp Willow does even as she sulks and pouts like a homicidal first grader on a tear. Another is to flirt with the distasteful dynamic the Mayor so resolutely rejects when Faith tries it on—I’m speaking of the inappropriate desire, among many adults of all ages, for far-too-young women. This would exist anyway (I’m not lambasting the BtVS writing team for coming up for something squicky and new and never seen before) but in pop culture we nurture it by fetishizing markers of girlhood rather than finding other narratives for evil women. In Sunnydale, we see this in visual design elements like Darla’s girl’s school skirt, which turns up in the very first scene of “Welcome to the Hellmouth.” Or think of how Dru, with her nighties and dolls, is characterized.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Dopplegangland

The upshot: Joss and the Mutant Enemy writers didn’t invent this infantalizing of sexy female villains, but they don’t avoid it either. To their credit, these  creations don’t usually go down this path in an entirely simplistic way—VampWillow is half baby doll, half dominatrix, after all. Darla and Dru become far more grown up in Angel, as I dimly recall. And Dark Willow, except for hanging on to her chilling little catchphrase—“Bored now!”, is very bitter, very much an adult and not sexy at all. 

As I think about this, I do come to think that the Buffyverse does have a few other, more nuanced, female villains: I wouldn’t say Glory falls into this trap, does she? There’s Wesley Mark One (otherwise known as Gwen Post) and the female demons from “The Zeppo.” Perhaps most of all there’s Professor Maggie Walsh in S4... who’ve I missed? 

And what do you all think of this?


A.M. Dellamonica has two short stories up here on Tor.com. First up: an urban fantasy about a baby werewolf, “The Cage” which made the Locus Recommended Reading List for 2010. Her second story here is called “Among the Silvering Herd.” In October, watch for a novelette, “Wild Things,” that ties into the world of her award winning novel Indigo Springs and its sequel, Blue Magic.

16 comments
Mordicai Knode
1. mordicai
I mean, I don't cut slack for the "helluva reason" of Angel going bad; after all, the writers DID invent that reason, so.
Sargon
2. Sargon
Don't forget Allison Hannigan just OWNING the shit out of her double role. This was the first chance she got in the series to really stretch out her acting chops, and she ruled. She played four distinct parts, two of which were one part pretending to be the other part and doing a bad job of it. It was pure joy watching her just go for it and dominate the whole episode.
Sargon
3. wiredog
My favorite bit in the episode is just outside the Bronze, when good willow pretending to be Evil Vampire Willow says something along the lines of "Look at these", and both Xander and Giles look, then look away very quickly.
Jim
4. JimmyMac80
Personally, I really like the subtle comparision of Buffy and Faith that goes on between this ep, The Wish and Bad Girls. At the beginning of this episode Buffy mentions how she could be just like Faith, which we see in The Wish, without the gang she is very Faith like. Again at the end we see what seperates Faith and Buffy, Willow tells Buffy to stop, mid-staking and she does, whereas Faith was unable to stop.

It also has one of my favorite Oz lines, "I'd call that a radical interpretation of the text."
Alyx Dellamonica
5. AMDellamonica
Yes, I quote that one often - "Radical interpretation of the text" has many uses.

You are all right when you point out that I should have mentioned how awesome Allison Hannigan is in this one. Wow, wow, and wow some more.
Constance Sublette
6. Zorra
Not to mention little girl, breathy voice -- Darla's -- and Dru's little girl whine and her nursery rhyming nonsense (which someone like Spike can interpret, which takes it out of little girl, I guess, into significance).

But it's notable that Faith doesn't have either -- but a pretty obnoxious voice really, that goes along with her compulsive antsyness -- she's always shifting from foot to another, shrugging, something. All of these become increasingly unattractive the more 'bad' she becomes.

Buffy's voice is 'normal' in the sense it can be heard, doesn't grate the eardrums, doesn't rise up at the end of the sentence in a faux interrogatory, and so on. It makes sense that she would see Professor Maggie Walsh for at least a time as role model.

It's Willow's style of speaking that's remarkable, rather than the sound of her voice -- though there is some nasality in her utterances, particularly when upset, that could be asthmatic or adenoidal. Even more than LOL Cats, it may be Willow's southern white girl California haiku verbalisms that birthed the styles of youth speak everywhere, helped by the internetz' distribution.

As to who you missed, if they qualify at times as villains, would be Anya (who is a big part of your article) -- when she's bad she's adult though. That she's childish in a lot of ways has to do with her inability to process social information since she's been non-human for so long.

Then there's what's her name, my most unfavorite character in the series, the demon roommate from Buffy's first college semester. She was a kid in demon life.

Love, C.
Sargon
7. Rue
I'd assumed that Darla's schoolgirl outfit was just a direct response to Angel's interest in Buffy. The first time they meet up in Sunnydale Angel asks her somethinng like "what's with the outfit, last time I saw you it was kimonos?" And she replies along the lines of "last time you weren't interested in schoolgirls."
So this was an interesting perspective. Unless I sit down and actually pay attention I tend to miss the nuances. I've seen the show so many times, it's often something I put on while doing other things. So I'm loving this rewatch you're doing, makes me examine the details again.
Michael Ikeda
8. mikeda
One minor note. Her first name is spelled Alyson.
john mullen
9. johntheirishmongol
I think evil Willow is an awful lot of fun and I suspect Alyson had a blast playing it. I know it's much more fun to play villians than good guys.

Talking about age inappropriate relationships...what about Angel and Buffy/Spike and Buffy...does she have a thing for vamps or just for older guys since Riley had to have been at least several years older than her?

As for the sex kitten thing, it isn't anything new. Look at Marilyn Monroe, Veronica Lake, Ann-Margaret.
Emma Rosloff
10. emmarosloff
Echoing Sargon -- Alyson Hannigan rules! She carries her dual role like a champ. In this episode her internal conflict is externalized, and in dealing with her doppleganger Willow gets just enough of her dominant side to counter her submissive one. We also get a delicious preview of what Dark Willow will look like (and the fact that she's into girls... love that bit). I'd say this and her foray off the deep end (post-Tara) rival Fred/Illyria's arc at the end of Angel (which I finished recently, so it's still fresh in my mind), although there's definitely more lead up to what happens with Willow. But both Alyson Hanigan and Amy Acker do the timid nerd girl gone bad really, really well.

Joss is fond of that archetype, obviously.

Once again, I may stand alone here, but I wasn't thrilled with Faith at this point in the series. I was totally on board with the Mayor, but Faith's overall flippant attitude just kind of irritated me. Maybe I've just never known a person like that, but I had trouble empathizing with her. I know she's unstable; she's always been, underneath, and it's led her to become childish and destructive, but it came off as kind of contrived to me -- I wasn't compelled, I was bored. And the others' attempts to sway her back to the good side felt tedious, because I don't think Dushku's performance/the writing was subtle enough to keep me in suspense about whether or not she could be saved at this point in the story. But, like I said in a previous post, I liked her better on Angel, when she does get a chance at redemption, and I thought she came through the end of Buffy pretty strongly.

Couldn't agree more that this is a fabulous, Joss-tastic episode, though. His are always the best.
Sargon
11. Gardner Dozois
As everybody has said, pretty much Alyson Hannigan's episode, a bravura performance. The intereactions between Faith and the Mayor were also interesting and well-handled. And I really liked the spontaneous group-hug they all did when they realized that Willow was alive.

Pretty much a wheel-spinner episode in terms of advancing the season's overall arc, except for establishing the relationship between Faith and the Mayor.
Alyx Dellamonica
12. AMDellamonica
Oh, Rue, I totally forgot about that. Buh! Good point.

Zorra. Yes. Anya's an adult villain, even a very adult-seeming teen in "The Wish." And her social awkwardness is endearing and childlike, but mostly not sexy. Excellent point.

Mikeda--noted and thank you.

John--no, the sex kitten thing definitely is not an invention of the Buffyverse.

Emma, I have to admit that Amy Acker leaves me cold. I want to like Fred, I do. And yet I don't.

Gardner (happy birthday!) you're right about the wheel-spinning. With more to come, in "Choices."
Emma Rosloff
13. emmarosloff
Alyx -- That's so interesting! It just goes to show that everyone has different tastes. I feel the same as you, but in reverse, lol. Dushku doesn't do it for me, Acker does.
Alyx Dellamonica
14. AMDellamonica
What's also true is Acker's practically the only person Whedon has cast in a major role whom I haven't liked a lot.
Sargon
15. NullNix
Zorra@6, it is not true that Anya's childishness has to do with being nonhuman for so long. That is a supposition made by, IIRC, Xander in s5 (and he has a lot of reasons by that point to make excuses for her). In _Selfless_ we see that Anya was every bit as chatterishly socially uncomprehending when she was human, lo these thousand years ago.

As for the nasality in Willow's utterances, that is I'm afraid the actress not the character. She's not one of this world's fine vocal controllers: you'll note she sings only one line solo in _Once More, With Feeling_ and only a couple in chorus (she requested no singing, and got it). Her strengths lie in other areas, as this episode shows so very well.
Sargon
16. Mary Katherine
The best lines that always crack me up:

Buffy: "See, what did I tell you? Old reliable."
Willow: "Old Reliable? Oh, great. There's a sexy nickname."
Xander: "It just means you're like the geyser--you're a geyser that goes off in regular intervals of fun."
Willow: "That's Old Faithful."
Xander: "Isn't that the dog?"
Willow: "That's Old Yeller."

Then later, with Anya: "Yup, that's me. Reliable dog geyser person."

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