“The Replacement” opens with the gang, sans Giles, watching TV in Xander’s subterranean hideaway. Buffy’s trying to study and everyone else is politely ignoring the fact that up above them, on the main floor, the Harris parents have come home and are fighting. Boisterously.
The awkwardness of that is sufficient to get Xander out, next day, to look at an apartment that he isn’t sure he can afford. Anya, who’s feeling worn down by the basement and the pain from last week’s injury, is upset—storming out upset. She has a place of her own, but apparently he’s not welcome there. I like to think this is because whatever Anya owns in the world was magically bestowed upon her as part of her demonic cover story, back when she initially came to Sunnydale, and any close examination would make it poof like a failed soufflé. But, really, it’s because if Xander moves in with her there’s no story and no character growth.
Speaking of new places for the Scoobies to gather and strategize, let’s have a look at the soon to reopen Boogety Boogety store, shall we? Giles is there sorting stock when he gets himself attacked by the latest demon in a long series of beings looking to kill Buffy. He fights back with a fertility goddess and loses. But, rather than kill him horribly or even kick him around a little, the demon dismisses him and wafts out. This is an unexpectedly good outcome, and leaves Giles undamaged and free to examine a line-up of demonic mug shots worked up by Willow. They discover the guy’s name: Toth.
Toth smelled garbagey, so the gang heads off to the dump in search of him. It’s sort of amazing to me they’ve never been there before. Even more amazing is the fact that they find Spike there, scavenging for decor items and anything he can resell. Suddenly he’s the undead Martha Stewart meets vampire Ebay. Or maybe it’s just that this particular section of the story is wafer-thin and they wanted to shoehorn him in somewhere.
Toth isn’t one to complain about a handy coincidence or two. He turns up, wielding a massive zap wand. Spike cheers from the sidelines, and Xander takes a zorching bolt of magic meant for Buffy. After Toth bails—he’s obviously more of a fleer than a fighter—the Scoobies pick Xander out of the garbage. No harm, no foul, they figure. The zap wand didn’t even curl his hair. Nobody worries that he’s going to start reading their thoughts or growing horns.
Also, they don’t notice they’re leaving a second Xander behind.
Morning comes. Abandoned Xander staggers home, can’t find his keys, and then sees his double through the window, dressing for work. The clean Xander is very buff and well-dressed. He all but has those cartoon ’ping!’ lines around him. Guy-oriented fans everywhere sit up in their chairs, thinking, “Yowza!” and wishing the camera would linger.
Stinky is less impressed with the hotness of it all. He tries to phone Buffy, but when Smooth walks by, he hangs up and tails him instead. This brings them both to the construction site.
Next we go to the Summers house of sibling rivalry, where Dawn is grossed out by Buffy and Riley kissing. There’s a sisterly argument that Joyce refuses to settle. We also check in at the The Bloody crypt, where Spike is creeping on a blonde mannequin (presumably from the dump) with a blue tank top (ditto) and wishing he could kill her. Or something her. At this point, he’s maybe a little unclear on what it is he wants from the Buffy surrogate. Give it another week, Spikey.
But this episode is about Xanders! Lots of them, in various states of dress. Over at the construction site, Stinky concludes that at the very least he can see Smooth getting laid off for both of them. Instead he watches himself as he’s offered another job at the next site. And a promotion! Clearly Smooth has hypnotized the project manager. He is wielding a shiny thing in a suspicious manner.
Having achieved near-term financial security, Smooth goes on to sign the lease for the new apartment. There is bonus flirting from the property agent—who agrees with the fans and everyone with eyes that Smooth is pretty nummalicious—and more flashing of the shiny thing.
The Xander who got to shower this morning is cool, calm, collected and maybe a little reserved. Is he evil? Stinky has every reason to think so. He confronts himself outside the apartment and gets punched in the face for his trouble. Smooth runs straight to the Scoobies, reasoning that something has stolen his face and it needs to get killed very dead. Buffy, Giles and Riley promise to kick the butt of the identity-stealing mystical varmint, and Stinky is a little crushed that they don’t see through Smooth’s disguise. Then he bolts to Willow’s, and convinces her he’s the real Xander, honest, by using his sekrit weapon: the Snoopy dance!
It works. He and Willow catch up. Stinky Xander foreshadows certain other storylines when he theorizes that the other him is “an evil robot made of evil parts.” Or maybe, Willow suggests—no doubt homing in on the whiff of garbage in the air—it’s Toth behind all this.
Oh, Toth. Where do you suppose he’s fled to now?
Despite the fact that they’re making progress, Stinky falls into a funk: seeing someone other than himself winning at his life is a legitimate downer. There’s the better apartment, the better job. For all he knows, Smooth Xander is going to cap off the evening by single-handedly building a park for disadvantaged kids before checking both parents into rehab and picking up a Nobel Prize for defeating funny syphilis.
Whine, moan, self-pity. In his position, I’d be right there. “What have I got that’s even worth—” and then he sputters into remembering. Oh, that’s what: Anya.
Willow chides him for forgetting about Anya until now, even as he bolts. Parting line: “Wait until you have an evil twin, see how you handle it!”
To which she replies, to the empty room: “I handled it fine.”
I have to agree with Willow there.
Stinky’s fears are justified: Smooth is with Anya, telling her how much he cares about her. They dissect her reaction to having been hurt by the massive vampire, in “The Real Me,” when Harmony’s thugs grabbed Dawn. Not surprisingly, Anya is freaked out by suddenly being mortal.
“This is about the sling,” Smooth tells her. He doesn’t explicitly promise to stay with her when she’s wrinkly and toothless, but he does make her feel better. Which is when Stinky shows up.
In the “No, me, I’m the real Xander!” scene that follows, Smooth continues to seem forceful and confident. Stinky seems frenetic and desperate. Anya is, inexplicably, hard put to choose between them.
But by now, Giles has figured out that the two Xanders are divided halves of our boy, and that the pair of them can’t survive without each other. This is the perfect moment for more danger! So Stinky produces a gun and pulls it on himself.
(They answer this later—it’s Anya’s—but I always bounce out of the story at this point, thinking: where did either Xander get a gun?)
Why does Anya have a gun?
During the racing over to Xander’s new apartment, Buffy asks Riley if he wishes she’d gotten the zap. He could have had a no-power Buffy all for the snuggling, she reasons.
Riley says no: “There’s no part of you I’m not in love with.”
Then there’s that awkward moment where she doesn’t say “I love you, too, honey; you’re the best boyfriend Evar! And, also, you haven’t ever tried to kill my friends on or around my birthday.”
It’s interesting to me that the assumption here is that Buffy would get divided into superslayer and wimp. If the spell splits a person based on their strengths and weaknesses, one might argue, the last thing you’d be likely to see is a situation where you get a feral First Slayer type and the frail Buffy from “Helpless.” You’d be far more likely to get the rampaging, go-it-alone, “I can’t put you guys at risk!” Buffy, a throwback to “When She Was Bad.” You know, the kind of Buffy who’d follow up an unplanned and ill-considered assault on Toth’s ramparts with a run to L.A. to have a sexy but futile argument with Angel.
The woman’s powers aren’t her true strength, is all I’m saying.
Anyway, Buffy’s arrival on the scene puts paid to the Xand-off. She calms them down in time for Toth to show for a climactic fight scene. Which he loses. Is anyone surprised?
Then we’re down to the humorous wind-up: the Scoobies compare Smooth and Stinky, who seem to be merging into each other, personality-wise. Riley’s desire to lock them in separate rooms and do experiments on them is not shared by the group. Anya suggests hot Me-Him-Him sex before the reuniting of the two. This desire, while more comprehensible, is also not shared by the group. In fact, Giles opines that everyone else should pretend they heard none of the disturbing sex talk.
Willow breaks the spell, super-fast, and they move Xander out of the horrible basement suite. He and Riley heft boxes and have a little exchange about Buffy and Anya, the upshot of which is that Anya loves Xander, while Buffy doesn’t love Riley. So Riley says. Xander takes this on board for a good long multi-episode think. I suspect most of us, even the first time, could guess what was in the wind.
We’re early into S5 here, so it’s no big surprise that “The Replacement” has only tiny ties to the main story arc. We get little patched-in glimpses of Spike and Dawn—basically reminders of their existence. The discussion between the men, at the close, is a kick-off for the collapse of the BuffRiley relationship.
Getting Xander out of the basement and into a more solid, grown-up life may be wheel-spinning but I’d argue it’s important. After a year of casting about, he’s got a real home and the beginning of a career. He’s taking himself more seriously, and he’s treating his relationship with Anya that way, too. I was happy to see it all play out, to get a chance to watch Xander consciously work toward becoming something other than, as he puts it in “Buffy vs. Dracula,” everyone’s butt-monkey.
Whether you agree that he succeeds or not, Xander’s journey in this episode mirrors Buffy’s decision just a few weeks previously, to take slaying and herself more seriously. They’re both deciding, in their own ways, to take control of their respective destinies. Buffy and Xander are trying to stop letting magic, fate and circumstance bounce them around.
Still, “The Replacement” is no “The Zeppo,”—really, as stories go, it’s pretty shaky. Even by the standards of Buffyverse disposable villains, Toth is little more than a plot device. Generally, I like the sidekick-centric episodes. Nicholas Brendan does his best with this script, but somehow I think it misses the comic mark. There’s no real reason why this story shouldn’t be every bit as funny as “The Zeppo.” Evil twins are always good for a laugh, and I usually love the heck out of Jane Espenson’s scripts.
Perhaps I’m wrong. Where does this one rate on your funny-meter, folks?
And speaking of lacking comedy, what’s up with Riley, next week, is sweaty and far from hilarious.
Next: Riley the Not So Super
A.M. Dellamonica has kaboodles of fiction up here on Tor.com! 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.