“Triangle,” by Jane Espenson
Season 5, Episode 11
“Triangle” opens with XandAnya snuggling at the new, improved so-not-a-basement Chez Xander, talking over Riley’s (allegedly) sudden departure and how very much Anya would prefer it if their relationship didn’t blow up in her face all of a sudden. Xander agrees he’ll give her lots of warning (to which we can all say “Ha!” or perhaps “Yikes!”) and she moves on to thinking that maybe they are immune from relationship disaster because it’s Buffy who is self sabotaging.
This leads to them speculating about how well she’s dealing with the break-up, which in turn takes us to Buffy herself. She’s not all warm and snuggly. No, she’s saving a nun from a vamp and then asking her whether the poverty-chastity-humility lifestyle, emphasis on the chastity, comes with good food and medical benefits.
Post-Riley Buffy is behaving nothing like post-Angel Buffy. Apples and oranges, I know, but instead of running off and mourning for a whole summer this older, wiser, Buffy is actively pursuing her life and its various peculiar challenges. High on the list is Glory and Team Good’s total lack of information on same. Giles has suggested hitting up the Watcher’s Council for any scraps of knowledge that might illuminate their current profile, which boils down to: “snarky, violent, wants to kill Dawn, pretty hair, fists of steel, decent vocabulary and dangerous as all get out.”
Buffy doesn’t want Giles saying anything to the Council about the Key, but all he can promise is he won’t tell them about Dawn being it. He adds that they’re stuck asking England, in part, because they have no more ties to the government. He’s not trying to rub salt in the wound. But I have to think: wouldn’t Riley have asked Graham and Co. to look Glory up the first or at least the second time she beat the Tang out of his girlfriend? And given their overall level of competence in S4, isn’t it reasonable to assume he did ask but their database said, “Um, what?” In triplicate. They didn’t even know about the Slayer, remember?
The scene wraps with a little Watcher-daughter talk a little about how she’s doing, but in the end Buffy assures Giles that going to find useful intelligence about the Big Bad is far more desirable than having him hang around Sunnydale consoling her.
Anya, meanwhile, is delirious with joy at the prospect of being in charge of the boogety boogety store and its beautiful money. Willow is generous in offering help Anya doesn’t want, and Giles tells her she’s not good with people—true—and needs the assistance—debatable.
This is where weeks of carefully front-loaded WillAnya bickering begin to intensify, you see, with much sniping and both of them demanding that Xander referee. He’s about as thrilled by this as any sensible human would be, and tries changing the subject. As a result, things don’t reach the bellowing stage yet, and we’re able to head off to Casa Summers to check in on Joyce and Dawn. The former is out of bed and little sis is very sweetly attempting to support Buffy in her newfound and depressing singledom.
And speaking of he who triggered the meltdown, Spike is practicing apologies with chocolates, rehearsing them before his favorite blonde-wigged mannequin, Buffybot 0.0, and repeatedly losing his temper at her inability to forgive.
Okay, checking in with the cast gave us a break from the magic shop! Let’s go back there, where the story is! By now Giles has flown off to England and WillTara are helping around the store, where help is a euphemism for raiding the shelves for spell components. Anya objects, calling this thievery, and gets compared to the fish in the Cat in the Hat.
“He should not be here when your mother is out!”
Everyone loves being told they’re the stodgy one, right?
Once again Xander is called upon to settle the question of who’s wrong, and this time he walks out on the discussion. When Willow tries to bring Tara in as a back-up, she bails too. This leaves Willow and Anya alone in the store, where they embark on the first half of a sensitive spell before actually getting into the fight they’ve been tending so lovingly.
And then they make a bear. No, wait, a troll! Anya’s ex-troll, as it turns out. His name is Olaf, and he starts laying about with a massive hammer. Glass shatters. Things break. The girls scream.
Tara has hooked up with Buffy at university, of all places, and the two of them are talking classes before Tara lets it slip about the morning’s three-way tiff. Buffy, still sensitive over the whole “sudden breakups that start with little things” concept, starts to blub. This is goofy, adorable, and a little over the top. I will take it over brain surgery every time.
The troll, of course, is doing what trolls do, which in the Whedonverse is apparently rampage. Are there universes where trolls don’t rampage? I wonder. Willow and Anya are after him in Giles’s car, which Anya can’t technically drive. (I think she does fine.) They’re still working on who’s to blame for the whole situation, because that’s what’s most important. Sure, it’s petty. But we’ve all had that argument at least once.
Soon enough the group converges at the Bronze: Xander and Spike are already there, jawing over love stuff, Olaf follows the smell of beer, and WillAnya and BuffTara follow the trail of broken lampposts, crushed cars and scattered dumpsters.
(“Puny receptacle.” We all laughed when he said that, right? Because it reminded us of The Avengers?)
Olaf, who up until then was happily drinking beer and wishing for a little roast baby, commences to yelling about how Anya was at one time his girlfriend. It turns out he’s the guy who cheated on her back when they were both human. When she retaliated by turning him into a troll, it got her the vengeance gig. They both owe their continued existence to his infidelity and her way with payback, but is either of them grateful to have lived long enough to see the invention of central heating and flu vaccines?
Oh, no. Olaf trashes the Bronze, civilians get hurt, Spike declines to eat them and Buffy fails to fall in love with his masculine yet vampiric restraint.
(Spike did manage to grope Buffy during the melee, so the night wasn’t a dead loss from his perspective.)
Willow and Anya are sent back to the magic shop to find a spell that will deal with Olaf. This gives them time to get to the heart of the outstanding matter between them, which is that they both expect the other to eventually hurt Xander, one way or another. Willow has a bit of moral high ground here, I’d say, since she can point at Olaf as good solid evidence of Anya hurting a past lover. But Anya rallies, bringing up the whole cheating on Oz and Cordelia thing, and cleverly points out that of the two of them, only Willow currently has an active offer of employment from Vengeance Demons R Us.
Maybe they’d get even further with the processing and end up really good friends if only Olaf was stupid. But he knows exactly what they’re up to and has come along to kill them before they can magic him out of Sunnydale.
Then Xander, who was tasked with following Olaf, comes rushing in to save the day, or at least his two favorite women... and gets himself seriously beat up. I can’t help but think the hammer to the head would kill anyone who wasn’t a regular character on a hit TV series.
Nevertheless he wins Olaf’s respect and a fun bonus prize: either Anya or Willow will be spared from horrible pulpy hammer death.
Xander, who is apparently picking up his girlfriend’s gift for tact, refers to this as insane troll logic. Olaf, who doesn’t much care for having his gifts rejected, then busts his wrist.
It’s sad, isn’t it, that they don’t have Glory’s address? (“No, wait, kill my other girlfriend! She has a condo and minions, and it’s not inconceivable that her fridge is full of ready-to-heat-infants!”)
Instead, Buffy intervenes and WillAnya cooperate to get the magic power-boosting hammer away from Thorlaf. He then seals his own fate by telling the still-sensitive Slayer that Anya’s hard to live with, and Xander’s far too breakable. Therefore their love will never last.
That’s why their love didn’t last? Because Xander’s breakable?
An upset Buffy overreacts usefully by pummelling Olaf into unconscious mush, and then Willow sends him to the land of the trolls. Or possibly some other land, hopefully one where trolls are needed and in short supply.
Glory is still on the bench in “Triangle,” and for good reason. She’s too tough for Buffy to fight and the gang has dried up its research resources. Having to ask the Watcher’s Council for information really is as much as the Scoobies can do, and it’s nice to see how much it pains both Buffy and Giles to go to them, hats in hand, for answers.
With Joyce out of bed and no huge developments in the Key story, we therefore get a bit of a breather. “Triangle” isn’t a belly-laugh, but Jane Espenson’s script is a good-natured little gigglefest, with lots of adorable lines and references back to earlier Buffy episodes—there’s Spike’s fondness for the Bronze’s oniony thing, and the Land without Shrimp makes a cameo appearance. And, of course, we get to enjoy the whole riff where WillAnya love Xander and swear they won’t hurt him, but just by fighting they get his head hammered and his wrist busted and also cause him some personal distress.
Of course, it’s Anya who has always been the more vulnerable in this particular romantic pairing, and despite Xander’s light-hearted promise in the opener, we all know what’s gonna happen there. You folks were talking about how Anya doesn’t get punished for her centuries of vengeance, but I’m not sure that bill doesn’t come due, big time, by the end of S7. The crushing of her marital dreams and her ultimate fate seem, to me, pretty damned harsh.
Finally, we also get that nice touch of foreshadowing for the end of season six, when we see what “I would never hurt Xander!” means to Willow.
All those little signs pointing forward, though, are less important than the curve this episode takes, at its very end, in the direction of the year’s finale. Giles comes back and he, Joyce and Buffy foolishly have a conversation about Dawn being the Key. In Dawn’s home. While Dawn’s in her home. Without even lowering their voices that much. The Scoobies really could use a cone of silence, you know?
Next: Who’s got the Power?
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.