Nov 26 2012 2:00pm

Buffy: The Vampire Slayer Rewatch: Last of the Red Hot Slayers

Buffy: The Vampire Slayer Rewatch on This Year’s Girl and Who Are You?

Ah, Faith! Here you are, all chilled out and making a bed with Buffy, not to mention predicting important cast changes for next season. I feel a wave of nostalgia both for all that was and for all that you will become. I’ve really missed you, honey! I wish you and Buffy could just visit each other in these lovely white homes of the mind, hanging out peacefully in your shared prophecy world, forever friends, forever safe, forever engaged in housework.

But it’s not to be, is it? Even now, you two are noticing the elephant in the room, and unfortunately that elephant is a messy shiny hunting knife in your intestines.

One thing that’s interesting about the dream sequence that opens “This Year’s Girl” is that it appears to be Faith’s dream, and hers alone. I say this because it doesn’t send Buffy screaming to the hospital to confirm that the current holder of the slayer line is still comatose.

No. Faith is sleeping, Buffy is unwarned, and the Scooby collective focus is just where it should be for the moment: on stopping Adam. Xander is working on getting the Initiablaster going. Buffy is worrying about her boyfriend, his fellow soldiers, dead scientist Maggie, super-demonbots, victims of same, brain chips and more Riley—everything but Xander, really, as he almost electrocutes himself and none of his loved ones notices.

And speaking of Riley, we see him next, transitioning to a scene where he crawls out of his hospital bed. Forrest encourages him in the strongest possible terms to not flake off and go see Buffy. But Riley’s determined to go. Team spirit and a feeling of family are pretty thin on the ground in the sterile not-so-sekrit military base.

After that charming hit of discord, we’re back to another sincere and love-filled Faith dream again, and this one has the Mayor. They’re not in a home, but it’s cozy and domestic nonetheless, because they’re picnicking. It’s one hundred percent warm and fuzzy and wonderful until Buffy shows up with the knife. Way to kill the moment, B.

Buffy: The Vampire Slayer Rewatch on This Year’s Girl and Who Are You?

As for Adam, he’s carving up other demons. This is a last straw for Buffy, who decides she’s hitting the Initiative, retrieving Riley and then going on a Frankenstein hunt. Riley shows up, though, saving her the middle step. He also fixes the blaster.

By now Faith is mired in a nightmare where Buffy chases her relentlessly. It’s no accident the gang was making The Terminator references when talking about Adam earlier: this time, though, it’s Buffy in that role. The dream doesn’t end until she’s chased Faith into a grave...

...and then Faith wakes up.

She wanders out into the corridor, learning that Graduation was not the uncontested Mayoral victory she’d hoped for. From there it’s a short step to whaling on the nearest available woman and running off in her clothes before the cops show up to arrest her.

Back at the BuffRiley reunion, we have soldier angst and irrationality. Buffy tells Riley he can quit the Army any old time he wants. I find myself confused by this assertion. I thought quitting the military was, you know, not so easy to do on a whim. She does suggest that he can stay with the Initiative and try to make it better from the inside. This is very big of her, considering everything that’s happened. Finally, she tells him about having quit the Watcher’s Council as though it’s the same thing. Um, no.

They’ve moved on to discussing Adam, at long last, when the hospital calls to reveal that Faith is on the loose. By this they mean she’s taking a page from Angelus’s playbook, watching the Scoobies through the window as they take the call. As she does so, she concludes that she’s some hosed that Buffy is in the lap of someone other than Angel. If she was going to poison someone and then get near-fatally stabbed over it, she’d apparently like to think the relationship was a keeper.

Buffy: The Vampire Slayer Rewatch on This Year’s Girl and Who Are You?

During the commercial that follows, Buffy tells Riley a highly edited version of the backstory, leaving out the parts where Faith tried to seduce her last boyfriend, divest him of his soul and eventually ended up puncturing him with a poisoned arrow. We find this out when she’s debriefing with Willow next day, and that segues into a Slayer on Slayer punch-out. It’s a short fight, an appetizer, and it’s interrupted by the arrival of the police. They’re pretty keen to lock Faith up.

So’s everyone else, though nobody (well, except for one secret killer attack team of superWatchers) quite knows what they’ll do when they catch her. Willow goes patrolling with Tara, which is totally cute. Xander and Giles inadvertently tell Spike everything he needs to know to set Faith at their throats, should they connect.

But Faith remains elusive. She gets a “if you see this, I am dead,” vid from the Mayor. In it, he tells her that without him, her days are just plain numbered.

I love the Mayor, and he loves her, but the mansnake is selling Faith short. Honestly, I think this is maybe one of the most evil things Wilkins III does. To kindly and lovingly tell someone they can’t exist without you? Seriously, that’s harsh.

Buffy: The Vampire Slayer Rewatch on This Year’s Girl and Who Are You?

Riley, meanwhile, knows that Buffy’s being evasive. She’s worried he might be a target, but Faith has other hostages to fry: she’s got her present from the Mayor and she’s going after Joyce.

The villains on Buffy are liberal in their use of mean partial truths. They hurt each other by ripping into our heroes, by telling them terrible, soul-crushing things that aren’t quite lies. We see this again and again with Spike, absolute master of the craft—he homes in on a weak spot in an enemy’s psychological armor and tells them just how much they suck. He’s never wholly right, but deep down they usually believe him, at least for awhile. Now Faith tries the same tactic on Joyce, telling her she’s served her purpose and been dumped by her daughter.

But Joyce understands that kids grow up and move out, and Kristine Sutherland does a great job of projecting pure belief that Buffy will come for her.

Which she does!

What follows is my all-time favorite fight sequence in the whole of the BtVS run.

Buffy and Faith tend to fight in homes. They gave each other a good bash in the atrium of Angel’s mansion, remember? They trashed that gorgeous apartment the Mayor gave Faith. Now they go at it, full commitment, smashing crockery and all, in Buffy’s teenhood home. There’s something about the familiarity of the setting and the scale of the destruction in this fight that always brings me to the edge of my seat.

And when it’s over, Faith uses her magic zappy gadget to switch bodies with Buffy before handing her over to the cops.

Buffy: The Vampire Slayer Rewatch on This Year’s Girl and Who Are You?

The bodyswap plot is such a staple of genre shows. Who can forget “Turnabout Intruder” in old-school Star Trek? Farscape juggled the whole Moya crew in “Out of their Minds.” Quantum Leap is pretty much one five year body-swap.

And so, in “Who Are You?”, we have Sarah Michelle Gellar playing Faith and Eliza Dushku as Buffy. It all opens with Joyce trying to puzzle out Faith’s motivations as they haul Buffy, in Faith’s body, away. Real Faith is not so impressed with the speculation, but she manages to be a convincing enough daughter to keep Mom from getting suspicious. Then she climbs into the tub. (This is totally what I’d do if I’d been in a coma for a year. No, really, it makes perfect sense to me.)

Sarah Michelle Gellar is so obviously having fun mocking her alter ego in this scene. After the bath, she tries out key Buffy phrases like, “Because it’s wrong!” rehearsing in front of the mirror. Even though she’s not really Buffy, it’s a joy to watch her cut loose and just play. Our heroine, I realize, is already half-way to the near-constant sadness.

Back at the hospital, everyone thinks they’ve got Faith in custody, and they give Actually Buffy a massive dose of tranquilizers before sending her off with the cops. (I notice that neither slayer is super bruised, though usually the Buffy/Faith fights leave marks that linger for a week.)

Willow and Tara don’t know that any of this has happened, so they’re still hiding together. Tara gently brings up the fact that Willow hasn’t mentioned her to the Scoobs, and Willow has to muddle her way through explaining why. I think we’re meant to believe she hasn’t dealt with her sexual attraction for Tara yet, and thus isn’t comfortable introducing her to the gang. But she comes up with the right answer: I want something that’s mine. It’s true and ultimately it’s better than what Tara was imagining, which was some variation on “I am weird and awful and embarrassing to Willow.”

Instead, happiness! “I am yours,” she replies. Oh, honey, that’s not gonna end well for you!

Buffy: The Vampire Slayer Rewatch on This Year’s Girl and Who Are You?

Real Faith has by now booked a plane ticket for the next morning, grabbed Buffy’s passport and made her excuses to Joyce. There’s another off moment when she “borrows” the same lipstick she liked before, but Joyce doesn’t guess the truth. How could she? It’s not a guessable thing. And so, unfortunately, the superWatchers don’t guess either, and they grab the girl they think is Faith.

I’ll give the superWatchers this: they aren’t quite as inept as the previous retrieval crew. They know Faith escaped from them once and they mean to get her to Britain this time. If they can’t, they’ll settle for killing her and getting our friend Quentin Travers a new Slayer to watch. This is deeply inconvenient for Buffy, whose still has to manage to get away while her body is off having a big old boogie at the Bronze, dancing with whoever shows up and taking time out to taunt—or arguably sexually menace—Spike.

Buffy: The Vampire Slayer Rewatch on This Year’s Girl and Who Are You?

As if that isn’t enough for them all to cope with, Adam decides it’s time to see if he can get a bunch of vampires to do his bidding.

Real Faith is still at the Bronze when Willow and Tara show up. Faith is a serious jerk to Tara, who immediately clues in—and I love this!—that Willow wouldn’t have a best friend who was so completely an ass. Before she can do anything about it, though, Faith’s obliged to go slay a vampire behind the club. Because, you know, it’s the right thing to do. The woman she saves clings to Buffy’s stolen hand and fervently thanks her. This totally messes with Faith’s evil buzz.

She gets her feet back under her, though, when Willow asks if she’s coming home or going to Riley’s. Because hey! What a great idea! She can have some revenge and some sex too. Now that’s effective time management. Thanks, Willow!

Tara has not only seen through Faith, she’s seen that there’s something magically awry with Buffy’s spiritual energy. She and Willow decide to engage in some sexy spellcasting. Willow will investigate, and Tara will anchor her. Declarations of trust are exchanged. It’s not without its subtexty appeal, but I’d rather see them kiss.

Buffy: The Vampire Slayer Rewatch on This Year’s Girl and Who Are You?

Faith heads off to try to get Riley into something hot, wet and nasty, to no avail. He really is pure as the freshly fallen snow. She’s probably going to come out of this with a vanilla kink, which has got to be wicked embarrassing for a leather-wearing bad girl. Anyway, they do eventually have intercourse, which among other things makes this Faith’s second sexual assault on a young man.

Riley then freaks her out something awful when he tells Buffy—he thinks it’s Buffy, remember?—that he loves her.

Adam rallies his newfound vampy troops and asks what they fear most. Instead of saying “The Slayer!” which would be true, they say “Church!” on the theory that it’s vastly less likely to shorten their unlives. They head out, full of vampiric zeal, to take one over.

Real Faith is fleeing all the emotion in Riley’s bedroom when Forrest turns up to berate her for pulling the man’s stitches. She’s falling apart and just wants to get out of town. . . but then she sees the church is under siege and she can’t quite bring herself to let the congregation get turned to brunch. Actual Buffy, meanwhile, has escaped the not so super as it turns out Watchers and runs to Giles for a classic “Ask me something only Buffy would know!” scene. She’s just convinced him when WillTara shows up with a spell that will undo the bodyswap.

The race to Mass is on! Riley gets there first, which is a surprise to everyone until it turns out he goes there for regular spiritual maintenance. Faith is next. One day of living in Buffy’s skin makes her feel strangely responsible for others. She doesn’t let Riley come in with her, as he’s too injured to fight. This leaves him outside when Actual Buffy turns up at last, still wearing her Faith suit. She confuses the heck out of Riley and then runs in to join the fun.

Of course the vampires are no match for two Slayers. Once they’re dust, we get a little more Slay on Slay violence before Buffy switches the two of them back.

Buffy: The Vampire Slayer Rewatch on This Year’s Girl and Who Are You?

In the final moments of this second fight, Faith completely melts down. For a little while at least, she wanted to be Buffy. She wanted to be good, to have Riley and deserve that love he offered up so freely, and to save people from horrible death at the fangs of demons. The illusion of a potential do-over was compelling and when it breaks she hates herself. She gets away, running off to guest-star some more, on Angel.

This leaves Riley and Buffy to deal with figuring out why what happened to him last night feels strangely like adultery to her. If only they had someone to talk to about their problems.

Next: “Superstar!!”

A.M. Dellamonica has three novelettes up here on Her “baby werewolf has two mommies,” story, “The Cage,” made the Locus Recommended Reading List for 2010.

There’s also “Among the Silvering Herd,” the first of a series of stories called The Gales, and her latest novelette, “Wild Things,” that ties into the world of her award winning novel Indigo Springs and its sequel, Blue Magic.

Chris Nelly
1. Aeryl
Oh, so many things to love in these episodes.

SMG gets some good usage out of her career history of soap opera bad girls(remember she originally went out for Cordelia.

Joyce's absolute faith(heh) in her daughter.

What's a stevedore?

The first floating "O" of the series.

I love that Riley scene(not love as in "hot" but love as in "pathos"). It tells you so much about Faith. First of all, she was totally triggered by the missionary position and by the declaration of love, so I read that as confirmation that she is dealing with some sexual abuse trauma, probably from a father or father figure(which was why she was willing to accept Wilkins paternal ways) and couldn't picture Riley saying that to Buffy, unless he was manipulating her.

And I completely agree about Wilkins dead vid, which really just demonstrates, that for all his "care" of her, it was still totally dependent on how useful she was to him. Now that she can no longer be of use to him, she is of use to no one. Which is terrible.
Constance Sublette
2. Zorra
It's interesting that both Slayers have parental figure problems.

We know nothing at all of Faith's family, if she had one. But she surely wasn't mothered or fathered in any nurturing way.

Buffy was -- still -- is mothered. Buffy was Daddy's Girl, until Daddy faded away over time, into being nowhere in the picture, which he was in the first two seasons at least.

Buffy is innately protective of the less powerful. She was from the beginning, friending Willow in preference to the offer of Mean Girl Crowd status by Cordelia. But Buffy, no matter how protective of others she is, is as much determined to be Numero Uno as is Cordelia, though they have different ideas of what that consists of. So they remain frenemies. Whereas with Slayer vs. Slayer, it's o so much more complicated!

Love, C.
Emma Rosloff
3. emmarosloff
"Who Are You?" is a superb episode and SMG does an excellent job portraying Faith, due in no small part to the writing and direction. No surprise that this was a Joss episode. From the very first interaction between Faith-as-Buffy and Joyce, we can tell that it's Faith in there and her emotional journey as Buffy is captivating and full of poignant moments.

I love her overall lack of subtelty in Buffy's body -- her crass language, callous attitude and her inclination toward black leather and Harlot lipstick. It's so perfectly Faith that she can't help but be herself; even in Buffy's body, with the stakes as high as they are, she's still only half-assing it, because that's just how she rolls.

I have 3 favorite Faith-as-Buffy moments. The first is her coming onto Spike. It's just priceless... "I could do anything I want to you and you know why I don't? Because it's wrong." Faith is mocking Buffy and Spike in one foul swoop. For once, Spike's the one getting served.

James Marsters is excellent as always; you can see it in his face, how badly he wants her (whether or not he's fully admitted it to himself) and how he's just pretending at tough to defend what little is left of his pride. He even manages to foreshadow the events of "Smashed": "When this chip comes out, you and I are gonna have a confrontation." More or less true. I also love that he remembers this moment in Season 7 when he meets Faith in the flesh for the first time. It's these little through lines that make me love Joss all the more.

The second moment is the entire confrontation with Riley. It's so clear in how SMG plays it that despite Faith's apparent promiscuity, she's not use to being this vulnerable, particularly when Riley makes it clear that he doesn't want to play -- he wants her wholly and completely. When he tells her he loves and she legitinately freaks out, it's telling. If Faith were rotten all the way through, she'd have no problem saying it right back and simply using Riley for sex.

Instead, she completely forgets all pretenses. She doesn't even have the presence of mind to say "me" when she blurts out: "What do you want with her?" It's a sad but inescapably true moment; no one has offered her that kind of unconditional love before.

The third moment is her final confrontation with Buffy-as-Faith in the Church. The fact that she's there at all says something... maybe she can make excuses in her own body to shirk her Calling, but she can't do it as Buffy. It's really the tail-end of their fight that I love, when she's beating the snot out of herself and calling Buffy-as-Faith a slew of terrible things.

It's so clear that it's herself that she hates and that's why she has no room in her heart for anyone else. The scene is all the more powerful because she's literally beating herself up. Joss is great at illuminating subtext like that.

The ending visual sticks in your mind -- the loneliness in Faith's eyes as she sits there awaiting whatever might be next. She's finally gotten away, but it doesn't seem to matter. Her carefully constructed facade has come undone. Who is she, indeed.

As a side note I'll say I also thought Eliza Dushku did a good job as Buffy, she just didn't get as many chances to show it. And I loved that Tara got a shining moment in this episode, foreshadowing her involvement with the Scoobies and her relationship with Willow. Maybe they don't kiss, but that scene betweem them sure is steamy. Again Joss gives us a visual representation of the subtext.

This is one of my favorite "serious" episodes in the season and in Faith's arc, overall. As someone who went back and fourth with her character it was nice to understand her better and be able to really feel for her.
Gardner Dozois
4. Gardner Dozois
It's an indication to me how badly the abrupt departure of the actress who played Professor Walsh must have thrown a monkey wrench into what the writers had planned that these two episodes and the episode that follows, although among the most entertaining of the season, are almost complete wheel-spinners as far as the overall season arc is concerned, with Adam barely showing up in any of them.

I thought that Sarah Michelle Geller did a much better job as Buffy with Faith inside her than Eliza Dushku did as Faith with Buffy inside her. She was obviously enjoying getting a chance to make fun of Buffy, with the excuse that it wasn't REALLY her, and her deliberately exaggerated expressions while saying things like "But it would be WRONG" were priceless. Geller did have a nice feel for light comedy, one that she would get fewer chances to exercise as the series progressed and grew steadily darker.

I think you're wrong that Willow and Tara hadn't slept together yet at this point. Faith-as-Buffy takes one long, measuring look at them and says something like " Well, well, Willow's not driving stick anymore," meaning that she's instantly perceived that Willow and Tara were lovers, something that Buffy herself wouldn't tumble to for some time. And yes, some nice foreshadowing here of the eventual Buffy/Spike relationship.

I always thought it was a bit unfair that Buffy, when she was back in her own body, was mad/hurt at Riley for being "unfaithful" to her. There was no way he could have known it was Faith inhabiting Buffy's body, and the argument that he should have known because she acted differently in bed doesn't hold water--almost everyone has had the experience of having a familiar lover act differently in bed and change the tone of the lovemaking because of the mood they're in that particular night. I agree that Faith-as-Buffy's freakout during sex is very probably an indiction that she'd been sexually molested as a child. It's interesting that in spite of Faith's senualness and open sexuality, they never did fix her up with a long-term romantic hook-up, a lover or boyfriend/girlfriend, during the entire run of both Buffy and Angel; what she did with Xander could hardly be describe as a romantic hook-up, and you got the feeling that she forgot about him completely as soon as she rolled off him. The closest she ever had to a Love Interest, interestingly, was Angel, especially in the later ANGEL episodes, although they never sexualized their relationship; they at least HAD an emotional relationship, though, with Angel establishing himself as the one who never gave up on redeming her.

Faith's later redemption is foreshadowed here by her not being able to keep herself from going to the church to save the people from vampires, even though logically she should have ignored it and just kept on heading out of town instead. Apparently, once a Slayer, always a Slayer, responding like a firehouse horse to the bell, in spite of all the conscious choices to be Evil instead.

Adam's plan in sending the vampires to the Church, by the way, was just as lame and pointless as his overall Master Plan.
Constance Sublette
5. Zorra
However, we are all agreed that the Faith business substituting for Maggie business in this season surely is better than any Maggie Biz could have been? in light of how later business turns out.

As well, ya gotta admire writers turning on a dime like that! and doing it so very well!

Too bad the Jackson LOTR trilogy didn't have writers this good.

Love, C.
Alyx Dellamonica
6. AMDellamonica
My assumption, Gardner, was that Faith got there before Willow did... that she saw that Tara was in love with Willow and assumed the sex happening.

I can't help thinking it's easier to mock yourself when a) you're the good guy and b) you're in every single episode. I agree that SMG did a better job with the body-swap than ED, but I think she had more to work with.
Gardner Dozois
7. Gardner Dozois
I think they were already Doing It, myself, and that's what Faith picked up on when she saw them together. You can often tell, just looking at a newly created couple. They seem to glow somehow.

I agree that SMG had more to work with than ED had--but, although she's hardly the greatest actress of the 20th Century, I think that Sarah Michelle Geller is in general a better actress than Eliza Dushku is. She was good as Faith, but she doesn't really have that big a range. She's not even as good at light comedy as SMG is--imagine her in "Beer Bad" or "Something Blue" instead of SMG, for instance, same dialog; I can't imagine that she would have been as funny.
Gardner Dozois
8. Dianthus
Pretty much all of Joss' characters have parental issues (even Spike!), due to his own parental issues. Bad dads are a special focus, but moms don't fare too well either. Just look at Shiela Rosenberg (if you can find her). You kinda have to feel for the guy, even though he's made bank on it.
The Faith on "Faith" violence is pretty shocking, too. Female on female violence is something we don't really see on network television, unless it's a catfight like the one on 'Dynasty.'
Self-loathing is another one of Joss' specialities (one shudders to think). It's unfortunate it will take Buffy so long to realize it's a big part of her relationship with Spike, as she's had it directed at her, not to mention that Watcher wet-works guy who spat in her face.
Gardner Dozois
9. executrix
I'm now a happy "Revenge" watcher with its Amily/Emmanda or Real! and Faux!Manda. I suspect these episodes were a big influence--not least because of Emmanda's more-or-less Slayer powers and Amily's Faith-like readiness with a tire iron.
Alyx Dellamonica
10. AMDellamonica
I think a lot of writers have family-of-origin issues, Dianthus. It makes for great material, but ... yeah. Downside.

I have been feeling distanced from Revenge--S2 isn't working for me, though I loved S1.
john mullen
11. johntheirishmongol
While I thought SMG did a really good job with the body switch, I thought it was a pretty lame gimmick.
12. Mouette
I think - have always thought - that Buffy's issues with the Faith-as-Buffy/Riley sex weren't really ever *about* Riley, sad as that may be for farm boy.

Her anger and hurt is not at Riley, not really. It's about Angel.

This theory is borne out, I think, in the Angel crossover episode when Buffy visits him. She is so, so, so hurt and betrayed and *angry* in that episode, and this, at least, is my theory about why. Apart from the obvious reasons and issues, one fact remains clear to me.

Angel would have known.

Does anyone care to dispute that? Deaf, dumb, and *blind*, Angel would have *known* that it was not Buffy driving her body. But Angel left her, and so she has to be with someone like Riley - someone who doesn't, *can't*, know her well enough to realize that it wasn't her, and who therefore innocently yet effectively slept with her sister-Slayer, whom Buffy already has a truckload of issues and baggage about.

Maybe that's the ramblings of a mad Buffy/Angel shipper, but it feels emotionally true to me.
Chris Nelly
13. Aeryl
I can completely buy that, I've always felt that what was bothering her wasn't the actual sex and whether Faith was better, it was that he couldn't tell the difference.
Alyx Dellamonica
14. AMDellamonica
John, I do know what you're saying--the body swap's been done! Then again, it is a classic SF story, like the evil twin story, or having a musical episode.

Mouette--that is such a good point. There's no doubt in my mind that Angel would have known.

Aeryl--If it were me, I'd probably go back and forth between "Was she better?" and "Why couldn't you tell the difference?" With a lot of both at the same time.
Gardner Dozois
15. chiMaxx
One of the things I love about these episodes is what they DO with the body swap concept. Yes, it's a well-used trope--along with the identical twin/cousin pretending to be the protagonist fro nefarious reasons. But in TV especially, the story is usually built around how long will it take for the characters to figure out what the audience already knows about the body switch/impersonation. Will our her's friends find out in time to make everything right?

Here, that's pretty well dispensed with in the first act: Tara figures it out immediately. So instead the episode becomes about how this switch affects Faith--and how different that is from how she expects it to be. And that makes it a much richer story than the typical body-switch impersonation story.

And yes SMG is better as Faith in Buffy's body than Eliza Dushku is as Buffy in Faith's body--both because she has more to work with in the episode--the Faith character has an arc, a story, and she learns about herself and Buffy, whereas the Buffy character simply has to remain steadfast and find her way home in time for the denouement--and because SMG has greater acting range than Dushku does.
Alyx Dellamonica
16. AMDellamonica
I agree, ChiMaxx - I'm all for series tackling the 'classic' tales of the genre, like body-swap and evil twin stories. If they're spun well, it's just so much fun.

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