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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.