Mon
Jan 21 2013 1:00pm

Buffy the Vampire Slayer Rewatch: Care and Feeding of Your Evil Twin

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The Replacement

“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.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The Replacement

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.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The Replacement

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.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The Replacement

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.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The Replacement

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.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The Replacement

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.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The Replacement

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.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The Replacement

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.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The Replacement

(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.”

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The Replacement

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?

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The Replacement

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.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The Replacement

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.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The Replacement

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.

Now you can read her novelette, “Wild Things,” that ties into the world of her award winning novel Indigo Springs and its sequel, Blue Magic.

15 comments
Chris Nelly
1. Aeryl
Oh, I love this episode. It hits all the right marks, and to me The Zeppo is weaker. I'm sorry the idjit zombies wanna blow up the school story is just stoopid. I like the commentary on Bangel, but other than that, meh.
Kit Case
3. wiredog
IIRC, one of the Xanders was played by Nick Brendon's twin brother.
Constance Sublette
2. Zorra
It seemed a brilliant way to do as you say for Xander, and to fulfill Xander's own determination to stop being everyone's "butt monkey." Sometimes what we need are a few sequential days in which everything we try and do goes right and receives recognition to get us moving along the path we should be on.

Love, C.
Ender's Ghost
4. Ender's Ghost
I'm guessing that Kelly (Nick's twin brother) played "Smooth" Xander. There are very slight differences between them, and he just looks a little bit different from the Xander we know and love. Also, that part required less acting and Kelly is definitely the less experienced of the two.
Ender's Ghost
5. StrongDreams
I wonder if there isn't a whole other level of meta here. Rather than using camera tricks, one of the Xanders was played by Nicholas Brendon's twin brother, Kelly Donovan. During the run of the show Kelly was Nicholas' stand-in and stunt double. That meant he did all the boring work (like setting up camera and lighting angles) and took most of the punches and falls, while his brother got the fame and the money. I suppose that both brothers were entirely happy with this arrangement, maybe Kelly never really wanted the fame and the money and was happy being a stand-in. But maybe not....
Ender's Ghost
6. Dr. Thanatos
I loves me the Xander-centric episodes, even if weak.

Besides, this is such an innovative concept---splitting a character into their two different components and learning that our hero needs both parts to be the Manly Man that he is. Too bad Original Star Trek never thought of this...
Alyx Dellamonica
7. AMDellamonica
As StrongDreams indicates, my understanding is that Kelly Donovan was only in a couple of the scenes... that most of both Xanders (if that makes sense) was still Nicholas.

Aeryl, I'm intrigued that you prefer this to "The Zeppo."
Chris Nelly
8. Aeryl
Part of it us that it gives the other characters short shrift to explore Xander, whereas this one gives them to the opportunity to do the main story with Xander.

Part of it I'm sure is that I saw this one first, coming into it late playing on reruns on FX.

Mostly, I was totally over idiot manchildren who couldn't get past their awesome high school days, so I had no patient for the Xander story.
Emma Rosloff
9. emmarosloff
Yes, this episode did feel mighty flimsy, plotwise, but I liked that both iterations were Xander in the end (instead of one being a fake), making the point that he possesses those qualities he was feeling so bereft of, he just needed to see himself in action to believe it. Thank god for meddleseome demons, huh?

Also, I'm surprised they waited this long to take advantage of his twin like this.

A few snippets of dialogue were important in this episode, too... the biggest in my mind being the moment when Riley puts to words what he's been feeling for awhile now -- Buffy isn't in love with him, not the way that he is with her, and ultimately, not the way that he needs her to be.

It's also interesting to watch Spike in a state of flux -- pathetic and creepy as ever -- and yet somehow you still care. You're totally right, Alyx, about him being shoehorned into this episode, but James Marsters always handles what he's given well, no matter how ridiculous.

It seemed like a stretch that Spike happened to be in the dump, but it was kind of comical what he was doing. He managed to sell it (as much as he could). Overall, I enjoyed how inherently funny his forced retirement was, and the ways in which he'd resort to creating some sort of domestic life.

That sensibility is why I love Joss. Here's this age old vampire hot off a rein of terror who can no longer do what he was made to, so what does he do instead? Shop for window dressing at the local garbage heap. And build a desperate shrine to the Slayer he can't kill. It's just... a wonderful departure from your typical take-themselves-too-seriously vampire stories.
Ender's Ghost
10. Dianthus
Ah, yes, Spike @ the dump...
Spike has been dumped. He was down in the dumps. We will see him and Buffy doing it in an alley by a dumpster. Buffy will dump on him.
He moves from mannaquin Buffy to the Buffybot to real Buffy.
He's on a treasure hunt. One man's trash is another man's treasure. Spike isn't the only one who's been dumped.
Ender's Ghost
11. Gardner Dozois
A minor episode, with a few funny touches, mostly a wheel-spinner in terms of the overall season arc, although it does have Riley's statement that Buffy doesn't love him. First time I saw this episode, as soon as I heard that, I knew that Riley's days on the show were numbered. The monster was barely there at all, just a plot-device to split Xander in two; they could have had a mysterious artifact from the Magic Shop do it just as easily.

Not the season's finest hour, by a long shot, but worth it to watch Nicholas Brandon's comic performance, which is not as good as it is in "The Zeppo," but still entertaining. There aren't many episodes to go in the season, and to some extent in the whole series, that can really be said to be "comic" episodes (maybe the troll episode, which I think is this season). Whole show darkens steadily from here on out. I really liked the Glory arc, but there can be little doubt that this season is darker overall than the previous season, or that Glory is a much more serious threat than Adam--after all, Buffy has to die to defeat her.
Jill Hayhurst
12. pericat
I know it's trivial, but I still can't figure out why even Smooth Xander wore those slacks to that job site. I just kept thinking, damn, boy, were you not planning to do any actual work today?
Alyx Dellamonica
13. AMDellamonica
Dianthus--nicely put!!

Pericat--Maybe he wore the smooth pants to get fired in? Or for the interview he hoped would result? (No prizing, here, obviously)
Ender's Ghost
14. Sian
I'm late again, but don't want to miss commenting on this episode. Xander is one of my favourite characters and I love how the character develops over the course of the series. However, there are many problems. More than any other character, I think, Xander's arc can be mapped out by picking a small selection of episodes, the four main ones being The Zeppo, The Replacement, Hell's Bells, and Potential (or rather just the last scene of Potential). This is partly good, because Xander-centric episodes are lovely, and partly bad, because it makes his development seem rather staged. It happens in sudden chunks and sometimes seems (to use a phrase from this review for different purpose) shoehorned in. Of course, development can be noted in non-Xander-centric episodes, but I always feel you have to look harder and know what it is you're looking for than with the other characters.

I also feel like you have to make up your own story with Xander. Fill in the gaps between the key episodes with your own ideas of his character and development, and then fix up the iffy bits of those key episodes too - because there is a fair bit of iffy-ness with the Xander-centric episodes as well. For all they're the main Xander moments with little else inbetween, they're far from perfect.

Sticking to The Replacement, then, I agree with all the above about it being a rather flimy episode, plot-wise. So much suspension of disbelief is required and, sadly, I find it harder and harder with every rewatch. From the rubbish villain, to them not spotting the second Xander, to Anya's apartment, the sudden gun, and the almost-all-episode-long red herrings that Smooth Xander is evil, it's just rather weak. I hate episodes where we're tricked into thinking one things for no good reason, in such a way that once the reveal has been made, it's near-impossible to rewatch the episode happily. They make Smooth Xander look evil, with nasty music, the shiny coin, and creepy looks and speech. Xander can be smooth without being creepy... And it bothers me everytime.

So yeah. Flimsy episode but with a wonderful premise behind it. The idea of splitting Xander into 'strong' and 'weak' is a great one, but I can't help but feel they didn't make the most of it and messed it up with flimsyness everywhere. So I cling to the premise and ultimate outcome and try to forget the details.

I do like the scene at the end with Riley. I think this is one of the first examples of Xander being the one who sees things - and also one of the examples of that not really being true. I mean, I want it to be true, I think it fits the character, but it's only ever written when they want it for the story... And in this instance, Xander only sees when Riley points it out.

I also like your comparison of Xander's development with Buffy's, which had never really occurred to me before. Oh, and I like Spike in this episode. It's all good build up to his story, is amusing, and makes sense.
Alyx Dellamonica
15. AMDellamonica
Welcome to the party, Sian! Late is always welcome here.

I'd put the pack at the beginning of that series of Xander developments. I think it gave him a hint that some of his desires, however understandable, weren't necessarily his best feature.

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