Sep 23 2013 1:00pm

Buffy the Vampire Slayer Rewatch: Marriage, Circus Folk Style

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Hell's Bells, Willow Anya

“Hell’s Bells,” by Rebecca Rand Kirshner

What’s a TV wedding without horror in the form of ritual bridesmaid humiliation? “Hell’s Bells” opens on another decoy moment, with Buffy and Willow apparently contemplating some great monster to be fought.

In fact, the awfulness is just bright green gowns with silly sleeves. The best that can be said about them is that the two best friends are, once again, equally condemned to fashion embarassment. (If this season is largely about Buffy suffering, it’s about Willow suffering in parallel.)

The dresses look good on nobody, as we’ll see when Tara and Dawn turn up. But Anya loves them! Today is on track to be the happiest day of her whole life, and as we ease into watching the little wedding that couldn’t possibly, I already feel terrible for her.

And for myself. “Hell’s Bells” is one of those episodes that is excruciating to watch from the get-go. I might actually prefer another round of “Doublemeat Palace,” complete with edible props.

It’s not as though Xander is having any fun, either. He’s coping with his horrible relatives and an apartment full of demonic houseguests. He and Anya have explained her many friends as circus folk. It’s working, more or less. I might have gone with “people who dress up as minor Star Trek aliens,” but there you go. Xander’s mom is far less interested in the tentacles on the bride’s side of the room than she is on whether she will be in any of the pictures. Dad’s just wondering where his next drink will come from.

We all knew, of course, that the Harris family had to be pretty damned icky. Though Xander is charming and brave and loyal and hardworking, it’s in spite of his family of origin, not so much because. And—as we are about to be reminded, in painstaking detail—he’s not, precisely, undamaged. We’ve talked before about his tendency to say mean and belittling things to both Cordelia and Anya. Here, now, we get a close-up view of the model for that adorable behavior—Dad’s not just a boozer, he’s a bully.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Hell's Bells, Xander, Carol

He’s also got his behavioral defaults set onto a sort of widescatter racist mode. He isn’t sure what the demons are exactly, but he’s prejudiced against them all the same. It’s ever so attractive.

The side show is Xander’s cousin Carol who, in a weird turn, is wearing his cufflinks on her earlobes. But once he’s retrieved them, he declares: “Nothing on earth can stop this wedding now!” 

Don’t say things like that, Xander! Don’t you know that TV weddings have a shockingly high fail rate? You’re just begging for some old man with a red umbrella and vengeance on his mind to appear out of nowhere and frak it all up.

The circus folk themselves, interestingly enough, are all polite and well-spoken, better educated than the Harris clan and for the most part better behaved. Did Anya not hang out with the more slaughtery run of demonkind? We know she was exceedingly lethal, for a very long time. Who was her crowd? Are they all displaying excellent company manners? 

At first, and despite the genetic family drama, everyone who matters to the ceremony is happy and anticipating the grand event. Buffy squeezes Xander into his cummerbund and ties his bow tie. She tells him he’s glowing. He says he’s happy and it makes her mist up.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Hell's Bells, Xander

XandAnya, she says, give her hope. By which she means hope for a functional relationship, somewhere in her future. Oh, dear.

WillTara, meanwhile, are helping Anya with her dress and listening to her vows, which are innocent and charming in that delightfully frank Anya way. They’re beautiful and touching and so very doomed. “I get to be with my best friend forever!” she warbles.

Nobody notices the ominous downpour outside.

One of the things about the douring of BtVS is that it used to be very much the standard that each episode had a “B” story, a second thing that would counterbalance and break up the main event. At this point in the series run, though, we see less and less of that. A few weeks ago we spent what seemed like hours, with Buffy, learning the Doublemeat ropes. Now, though we get a few subplotty romance moments here and there, mostly involving the continued thawing between WillTara, we’re all wedding all the time.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Hell's Bells, Anya

So instead of catching a breather wherein the Trio, say, tries to raise Katrina from the dead or a temp keeps phoning with desperate questions as she tries to run the Magic Box for Anya or Ethan Rayne, having cleverly escaped the government, attempts to lace the reception goodies with leftover band candy, or Giles goes “Hmmm,” in London, over prophecies to be revealed later, we just stick with the awfulness. Xander’s Uncle Rory has his arm around a caterer and is pestering Dawn, who is also in a horrible dress. D’Hoffryn shows up and then so does Halfreck. The latter is all keen to see if Dawn wants to take another wish for a spin. 

Come on, Dawnie—get creative! You’ve had time to ponder this. “I wish the Hellmouth would close.” “I wish I was the darned Slayer, not Buffy.” “I wish someone would give me ten thousand bucks every time I had cause to scream in terror.”

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Hell's Bells

And Spike? He shows up—uninvited, one assumes—with a date. From this we can deduce that Buffy has managed to stick to her “I’m dumping you” guns for an entire week.

As the demons politely try to mingle with the Harrises, we see it’s going about as well as it would at any wedding where the merging families have such apocalyptically glaring differences. The old guy with the umbrella, meanwhile, is circling, trying to get a moment alone with Xander. There’s a brief second where it looks like Buffy will keep the two of them apart, but then Dawn bounds up to announce that Spike brought, as she puts it, a ‘skank.’ 

Buffy, naturally, bustles off to see. And kaboom, Xander meets...

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Hell's Bells, Xander

...who is the old guy?

Well, he claims he’s Future Xander, just before handing Pre-Marital Xander what looks awfully like an Orb of Thessala. (All those orbs look the same. I’m sure Dad Harris would back me up on this.) Anyway, Umbrella Man is so very lying about the being Xander part, but he gets away with it.

At this point, Buffy is peacekeeping, hauling Dad Harris away from the bar for some serious sobering up, while Xander finds himself mired in terrible visions. We get half-demon kids and Xander drinking in front of a football game with a busted-up back. We get an unpleasant restaurant scene. We get a fight in the kitchen about Anya’s infidelity.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Hell's Bells, Xander Anya

Finally, we get Xander hitting Anya with a frying pan.

He comes out of it filled with perfectly natural guilt, horror and self-loathing. “Is she okay? What did I do?”

The old man tells him he can’t marry Anya. Sometimes, he says, two people can only bring each other pain.

And, with that, we transition into a little check-in on Spuffy.

It’s a thoroughly twisted scene. She tells him his “friend” is a very nice attempt to make her feel jealous, and she further admits that she is actually hurt by it. She also says she knows she deserves it.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Hell's Bells, Spike

Spike replies that it’s nice to watch her be happy, even if it’s only happy for XandAnya joy. He thanks her for admitting that he’s high enough on her radar to feel jealousy at all.

It’s so grown-up, especially compared to what’s happening in the church. There’s a point where you’re almost sorry they didn’t somehow breed, because they’d make great exes, raising a teen half-vamp together. I suppose that’s kind of what Dawn is for.

Umbrella man’s malevolent work is done. Willow finds a thoroughly freaked out Xander in the back room with the food and the coffee urns. She gives him a big hug and doesn’t see that he’s losing his mind with the OMG, I’m going to hurt Anya. He asks for a minute to work on his vows and bolts as soon as she’s got her frightful dress turned.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Hell's Bells, Willow Xander

Anya is still working on hers, and they’re still incredibly sweet, though Tara vetoes her use of sex poodle in a public environment.

Suddenly it’s aisle time. There’s a string quartet!! Everyone’s ready for the festivities to start when Willow announces to Buffy that Xander has vanished. She tells Buffy to stall. 

Anya starts on her vows again and she talks about how Xander helped her become a person, even as he flees into the rain. There’s no joke to be found here. It’s heartbreaking.

As the delay stretches, the guests start acting up. The Xander parents want to blame Anya. Halfrek, ever the scorned inner child, experiences sibling jealousy when D’Hoffryn expresses concern for the bride. Buffy finds herself leading charades and conducting an impromptu variety show.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Hell's Bells

Then Dawn tips it to Anya that Xander’s missing, just as a brawl breaks out between the nice demons and the not so nice human guests. Willow rescues Tara from it—smouldering moment there—and Anya moves through the crowd looking for Xander. Cousin Carol, she of the cufflinked earlobes, points out Umbrella Man.

Anya confronts him, and it turns out it’s not so much an elderly Xander. Really, he’s more of a guy she turned into a demon in Chicago in 1914. He’s tall, gloaty, and delighted when she bursts into tears. He’d follow up by tearing her apart in her wedding dress, except that Buffy comes to the rescue.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Hell's Bells, Anya

Xander, bless his tardy heart, arrives too, and helps with the coup de grace. What would he have done if he’d returned and Umbrella Xander wasn’t there, in all his demon glory, begging to get killed? We’ll never know. Anyway, Anya tells him the visions were lies and bellows for everyone to sit down so the wedding can go forward. 

But Xander’s too deeply rattled; he says he’s not ready, that he can’t do it. He looks at his parents being horrible to each other and he can’t bring himself to make the leap of faith. He’s too afraid of hurting Anya. So, of course, he hurts her.

He apologizes and leaves, and Anya walks up the aisle in a state of utter devastation. Did I mention that this is painful to watch?

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Hell's Bells, Xander Anya

In the aftermath, the bridesmaids are gathered in a stunned little group, talking about how wretched Anya must feel. Xander takes a room at a crappy motel while Anya remains at their place, tragic and heartbroken. D’Hoffryn is on hand to console her.

Part of the cruelty of this episode is that it raises a question that comes up often in fiction: do formerly bad characters deserve to have really awesome things, like Xander, happen to them? In real life, what we get and what we reasonably expect can be wildly unrelated: deserve, I have concluded, may be one of the nastiest ideas going. But in fiction, writers get to mete out cosmic justice.

So: Anya spent centuries taking revenge on men who screwed up their relationships. Is she entitled to a lifetime of happiness with the boy of her choosing? I know we like Anya by now. I, for one, totally adore her. Does that mean she should get her happily ever after? Would we, as an audience, sit easy with that?

Aren’t any of the guys she punished entitled to register an objection?

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Hell's Bells, Anya, D'Hoffryn

D’Hoffryn, not surprisingly, says no. In fact, he blames Xander to such a great extent that he offers Anya her old vengeance job back. We don’t find out if she says yes before the credits roll.

Next: Or maybe it was all a dream?

A.M. Dellamonica has tons of fiction 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. (Watch for the second of The Gales, “The Ugly Woman of Castello di Putti”!)

Or if you like, check out her sexy novelette, “Wild Things,” that ties into the world of her award winning novel Indigo Springs and its sequel, Blue Magic.

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Jessica Trevino
1. Ciella
There's a number of episodes of Buffy that I watch specifically because they relate to what's going on in my life at the moment. Pangs during Thanksgiving, a Halloween episode during Halloween, pretty much every breakup episode while I was going through a particularly horrible break up. But I refused to go near this episode before my wedding.

But despite that, I do love that they bring back Xander's real fear that he'll end up like his dad. Honestly, I wish they had delved into Xander's trauma a little more throughout the show. His father is obviously abusive, probably to both Xander and his mom. The rest of his family's no better. It was his childhood with Willow and eventually his friendship with Buffy that pulled him out of it. But that kind of childhood leaves scars and one of them is revealed here. I think he makes the wrong choice, because I don't think he could ever end up as his father, but I believe his fear.
Alyx Dellamonica
2. AMDellamonica
I absolutely believe his fear too. And there's a nobility in that element of his refusal, even though it's still a big failure in so many other ways.
Anthony Pero
3. anthonypero
While "enjoyable" is not the right word for this episode, or this season, the show still was capable of making me feel like nothing on television at the time. This episode epitomizes that, in my mind. I don't remember all of the details of this episode... but I remember how I felt watching it. Simply reading the recap had me back there emotionally. That's why, in spite of the fact that this season was no where near as entertaining as Season 3, or 4, or Angel 1-3, I was more moved emotionally by this season than any other.

The ability of the writers to make me care so deeply about the characters is why I watched this show, not just to be entertained.
4. Dianthus
That's the thing about vengeance, isn't it? As satisfying as it might feel at the time, it so often comes back to bite you. For instance,Umbrella Guy has his vengeance, but he doesn't get to enjoy it for long. By his own actions, he basically signed his own death warrant, after nursing that grudge for so long.
AYW aired the week before in RT, but more time than that has passed for the characters. It's been a few weeks, at least.
The scene btwn Spike and Buffy echoes what we saw in AYW, but there are differences. We've got Buffy and another ex (who's with another girl). Buffy is hurt, but sucks it up.
However, unlike Riley, Spike asks nothing of her. Also, not wanting to spoil her good mood, he apologizes(!) to her, collects his date, and leaves. As to whether or not he was invited, thus having every right to be there, it's entirely possible Anya included him on the guest list. They get along pretty well, after all.
Spike's sincere, instinctual "I'm sorry" is very telling, IMO. After all, part of being a vampire means never having to say you're sorry. Still, it's what Buffy said to William, and now William (Spilliam?) is saying it right back to her. He feels bad for causing her hurt. Unlike Umbrella Guy, he is not there seeking vengeance.
One thing we didn't really discuss last week is the contrast btwn Riley and Spike in AYW. In an effort to understand Buffy better, Riley went to a very dark and scary place. Like Owen from s1 (remember him?), he's just not equipped to be part of Buffy's world. I can't really condemn him for leaving (tho' his timing sucked), 'cuz he kinda had to, to save himself. Still, he left. He didn't even wait until Joyce was (seemingly) out of danger.
OTOH, Spike's been there this whole time. Far more attached to Joyce and Dawn than Riley ever was, he'll take responsibility for them when Buffy's dealing the CoW in Checkpoint and mark Joyce's passing.
Riley seemed like Mr. Reliable, but things aren't always as they seem, especially in Sunnydale. It's Spike who's stuck by her. He's not afraid of the dark, and he's not above getting his hands dirty if necessary. While I don't condone his methods, he was the only Scooby who made any effort to lift a huge weight off her shoulders.
5. Gardner Dozois
Another episode that's not only not fun to watch, but actively unpleasant to watch. This was really a dismal stretch of Season Six, one that almost made me give up on watching the rest of the series, in spite of having been with it since the beginning. It shouldn't have to be a JOB or an unpleasant, distasteful duty to watch a television show, one where you say afterward, well, I got through that, at least that's over, and then go have a drink. Somewhere along the line this season, they completely forgot that people watch TV shows to enjoy them, to have fun, because they WANT to watch them.

Why would Xander and Anya have half-demon children? She was a human before she became a demon, she's a human again now. Their children would be 100% human. This alone should have been enough to tip Xander off that something was not kosher about these visions of "the future."
Marie Veek
6. SlackerSpice
@5: I think the implication was supposed to be that Anya ends up cheating on him with a demon at some point.
7. RobinM
I hate this episode it makes me miserable. I know happiness isn't supposed to be good drama television but I always feel like something is missing. Can't anybody be happy on tv for more than a week? I'd really like to see happy people on tv sometimes. Watching other peoples life suck more than yours on tv doesn't always make it better. I 'd kinda like it if occasionally it was better. I get where Xander is coming from but this was not a good day to have panic fleeing. Poor Anya I do feel really bad for her.
Janice Boyd
8. scaredicat
This is the only episode I absolutely cannot rewatch. It marks when I stopped watching the series during the original broadcast.

This episode is no fun. Xander and Anya were a couple I really liked - they were normal and flawed and lovely together. And this episode took that and just threw it all away. Part of the problem is that I liked Xander so much at this point in the series, and in this episode he acts like a huge heel.

That said -- they were a couple who could have benefitted from some premarital counseling. I see that on a rewatch of the episodes leading up to this one.
Constance Sublette
9. Zorra
As usual, I liked it.

If anyone saw their marriage fifteen or twenty years past their wedding day nobody would ever get married and that includes all of those who are blessed to be in terrific marriages. All of my married friends have great marraiges. I don't think any of us have the same sort of marriage beyond the trust, communication and so on things going on.

But beyond that, none of our marriages are what we imagined our marriages would be -- beyond those elements of trust, communication, honesty, making the right kind of jokes, etc. The point is to say you cannot imagine what a good marriage is until you've created one, and it takes years to create a good marriage.

So you could edit fifteen years every good marriage you know and make it look like living hell. You can probably do the same with fifteen years of a bad marriage. That's why getting married is such a leap of faith. No matter how much money you spend to have the biggest most impressive wedding in the world to pretend it's not.

Xander couldn't take that final leap of faith.

He had his reasons, but then, so do most of us, if we're honest, on that brink of getting married.

Love, c.
10. Dianthus
One of my biggest complaints about s6 is that it just seemed so...self-indulgent. All the hand-wringing and histrionics...Yeesh. We were (in a sense) inviting these people into our homes, for pity's sake.

There’s a point where you’re almost sorry they didn’t somehow breed, because they’d make great exes, raising a teen half-vamp together.
Ah, Alyx, why must you torment me so?
Seems to me they'll need a new Slayer delivery system since Buffy and Willow activated the Potentials. I can think of one that works pretty well; has done for centuries. It hardly seems fair. We got to see Daddy Angel over on AtS, after all.
11. Gardner Dozois
And Angel actually did a fairly good job as Daddy Angel, until a time-warp turned his son into a teenaged psychopath, anyway. How Daddy Spike would have done, we'll never know, but I have my doubts. The closest we'll ever get to seeing Mommy Buffy is in her relationship with Dawn, where she gets mixed marks, although she does put a lot of effort into trying.
12. Dianthus
Spike and Buffy: the two most over-protective parents on the face of the Earth?;-)
Honestly, I have an easier time imagining Spike as a parent than Buffy. He's the one who got sent for the baby on AtS, nor did he ever haul off and slap Dawn, no matter how much she may have "deserved" it.
13. Gardner Dozois
It's easy enough to imagine Spike as a guardian, keeping Dawn from harm, a role he falls into (and even takes on himself of his own volition) as early as Season Five. I have more trouble picturing him feeding a baby a bottle, or rocking it to sleep, or changing its diapers--where as it's easy to imagine Angel doing all this, because we SAW him doing it, in his time as Daddy Angel, and he seemed perfectly natural and convincing doing it. Would we believe Spike doing it? I'm not sure.
14. Alex C.
Great write-up Alyx. Here are my thoughts:

1) This definitely isn't an easy episode to watch through (or to re-watch) that's for sure. I think that you may be on to something in suggesting that a large part of the effect comes from the absence of an effective "B" story - thankfully, it seems that the writers also realized this, because starting with next week's episode (the utterly fantastic Normal Again, my personal favourite from S.6), this problem goes away, and it mostly stays away for the rest of the season, and for most of S.7 as well.

I think that a certain amount of painful watching was inevitable with this season, because the essence of the story it is seeking to tell is how all of our beloved main characters, after reaching their apotheosis (literally, in Buffy's case) as Big Damn Heroes at the end of S.5, each manage to screw up their own lives because of character flaws that have been building up ever since the beginning of the series, and which now come boiling over to great effect.

Buffy's depression isn't something that just came from being dragged out of heaven - she's visibly struggled at times to remain attached to the World of the Living ever since the beginning of S.2, and it culminates in this season. Willow's tendancy to abuse not just magic, but power generally, can arguably be traced back to elements in her character as far back as S.1. And as you note, Xander's issues stemming from his family background and relationship problems are deserving of an entire chapter of their own.

In another words, the main flaw of S.6 lies not in its inclusion of dark themes, but rather in its execution of them. The other seasons of Buffy all have their share of faulty episodes, but this season is saddled with something that none of the others have: three faulty episodes that come back-to-back (four if you count Doublemeat Palace, which is only one quality episode removed from them). It's unfortunate, and has a negative effect on an otherwise great season of an otherwise great show.

Thankfully however, we're past that stage now, and from here it's mostly onwards and upwards. Both S.6 and S.7 come in for a deal of critcism, some of which is merited, but one thing that they both have going for them is very strong narrative third acts (my opinion is that S.7 is the better of the two, but that's a topic for another day).

2) In the previous comment threads, we have been having a lot of discussion over the issue of the soul in the Buffyverse, mostly as it relates to Spike. He doesn't have much of an impact on this episode (although his scene with Buffy is a lovely one), but it does raise an important question relating to Anya. The show has been decidedly ambiguous on the question of Anya's own soul - there is no concrete indication as to whether she lost it during her original spell as a vengance demon, whether or at what point she regained it after she became a human again, or what the status of her soul was between regaining her powers at the end of this episode, and losing them again in Selfless. The comparison between her arc and Spike's is interesting, not least because they contain some striking parallels (both of them wind up striving to atone for an unforgivable crime that they would once have shrugged off, and they both die at the end of Chosen - although unlike Anya, Spike comes back). With this in mind, their sexual encounter in Entropy makes all the more sense in terms of their respective characters.

3) D’Hoffryn is one of my favourite minor characters in the series, despite the fact that he only has a handful of appearances, and I also think that he's the key to answering your question, Alyx, about whether Anya's demon friends really are this civilized, or if they're just putting on a show of good behaviour for her sake. I'm fairly certain that it's the latter one. It's fairly easy to like D'Hoffryn because he's so smooth and charming (for an uber-vengance demon, anyway), but once that pleasant mask got ripped off at the end of Selfless, my view of all his previous appearances was changed. As another commenter put it:
"I guess the pimp can seem sympathetic until one of his “girls” tries to leave."

4) Finally, it would be remiss not to put in a word about Xander, who is after all the main focus of this episode. Not to mince words, but he handled this whole thing very badly. The interesting thing for me is how I responded to it on a personal level. For many of Xander's instances on the show of bad or controversial behaviour, I have something of a split reaction: my head usually says that there is a defense (valid or no) that can be made of his actions, while my gut feeling tends to be that he is in the wrong. This is the case for example, with regard to his notorious lie to Buffy in Becoming (2) - even though I can understand some of the excuses people come up with for why he didn't tell her about Willow's spell, I have never lost my unshakable gut-level conviction that Xander wronged Buffy, grievously, in that episode. In this episode however, it's the opposite effect: my head tells me that Xander mistreated Anya appallingly, but somehow I just can't bring myself to hate him for it.
15. build6
(1) I can't accept that Xander & Anya didn't get married (WTF!)

(2) I also cannot accept that they went and killed Anya off at the end of S7 (why no reconciliation?)
16. Dianthus
@14. I didn't like Anya much at first, tho' she really grew on me. Thing is, she didn't want to stop being a demon, nor did she express any remorse for what she'd done over the course of seasons 4-6. Presumably, she was utterly convinced of the righteousness of her vengeance gig.
Still, Willow's the only one who has a problem with her, and only 'cuz she's worried about what Anya might due to Xander.
Contrast that with the near constant assault on Spike. She's done more damage given that she's been at it a lot longer, but she doesn't receive anything like the same amount of abuse. IMO it's a strange sort of blindness in the other characters.
Some have said it's 'cuz she's a girl. That may be part of it, but I think it's 'cuz her actions don't come from the addiction metaphor (unlike Spike's actions ). Why that should matter, IDK. Suffering is suffering.
17. Alex C.

(1) I can. The show has been building up to this point with their plotline all season. In fact, the hints that something like this was coming have arguably been there since S.5.

(2) There was reconciliation. They were having sex with each other again by Storyteller, and had practically fallen back into their old groove by Touched.

Apart from the dramatic shock value (always important), her death at the end of Chosen was thematically resonant - her character arc is paralleled at many points with Spike's, and so it makes a certain amount of sense that they both die in the battle.

Plus, it sets up that great character moment for Andrew, in the final scene of the show.
18. Alex C.

I don't think the fact that the Scoobies accept Anya into their midst relatively easily but are far more hostile to Spike is strange at all. Anya only ever made one attempt to cause them harm (in Doppelgangland), not counting the events of The Wish, which none of them remembered. Spike by contrast was an open antagonist to them through most of S.2, was not exactly friendly during his one appearance in S.3, remained more or less antagonistic through S.4 (he teamed up with Adam, remember), and was still causing trouble for them at the beginning of S.5 (right up until he realized that he had fallen in love with Buffy).

The willingness of the SG to overlook Anya's bloody past was basically similar to their willingness to do the same with Angel. Spike didn't get the same benefit of the doubt because he remained unabashedly soulless until S.7, and by that point his various crimes had piled up to the point that only Buffy was willing to place her trust in him.
19. GarrettC
This is by far my least favorite episode of the series. Miserable is a good word for it. This, I think, was the moment it became clear that season 6 was not about Buffy and Willow struggling with the worst stretches of their lives, but that it was about making everybody feel as terrible as possible. I never bought Xander's neurosis in this episode. It's set up in his backstory, but I don't believe it's ever adequately set up in any of his active arcs. In fact, his active arcs all seem to point to his developing understanding of himself as a strong, self-actualized person, a person who has managed to overcome his potentially crippling emotional cage (which seems to be entirely the point of an episode like The Replacement, for instance). And THAT character doesn't buy the lie.

Beside which, the writing decision to force everyone to share full-fist in the misery is not entertainment. It's sadism.
Chris Nelly
20. Aeryl
I'm about to take an unpopular stand here, but amidst this thread of sobbing for the failed love of Xander and Anya, I must say it.

Xander wasn't wrong. It wasn't going to work.

Whether the visions were true or false is beside the point.

What he did was reprehensible, absolutely. How he went about it was even worse. But at the end of the day, it wasn't going to work.

Because of what the end of this episode showed us. Anya has never repented of her demon days, and it was all too easy for her to fall back into those ways again.

Getting left at the altar is terrible. Not being able to provide for your family is worse. Losing your home is worse. Finding out your loved ones are terminally sick is worse. There are so many things that could go wrong in marriage, things that neither party can prepare for, things that, in comparison to the pain Anya feels now, would feel so terrible, they would have sent Anya running back to D'Hoffryn in an instant.

As much as Xander shoulders the blame for the failure of their relationship, Anya was really the one who was unprepared and unready for marriage, no matter how much she loved Xander. It's not until she truly repents of her demon days, that her and Xander can begin to work things out and establish a relationship that could possibly have been strong enough to survive a marriage.

So count me amongst the group that saw this coming. This wasn't done for angst. This wasn't done to make everyone miserable. This was done, because as happens in real life, two immature adults got in over their heads, with no way to surface without someone getting hurt.
Anthony Pero
21. anthonypero

Many men are not quite themselves emotionally or mentally on their wedding day, or leading up to their wedding. As you said, Xander's neurosis IS set up in his backstory, and has been since the show started. It is PERFECTLY believable, IMO, that he would revert to that sort of thinking and behaviour in the midst of one of the most emotionally charged moments of his life.

Character growth in RL is never, ever, a steady upwards curve. It always includes dips and valleys, stumbles and backsliding. That Xander would stumble so badly here makes his character growth more believable, and makes the gains and sacrifices he makes in Season 7 more valuable.
Jason Parker
22. tarbis
This is an episode that I don't like, but I cannot blame the writers' room for that. Joss left them in a terrible position when he didn't edit out the engagement from the Season 5 finale. If the series had ended then the engagement would have been a good end for Xander and Anya. However neither of them get enough screentime to support 'newly-married' as an ongoing subplot. Doing sub-plot like that well demands a lot more than a character who has not yet supported her own focus episode and another character who is lucky if he gets an episode a season. Add in the fact that they are currently the most "grown-up" characters on a youth marketed show and marriage is a recipe for boredom or cliche. So the writers needed to stop the wedding.

Unfortunately they did it in a way that made both characters hard to like and rewound several seasons of character development. Then going forward they didn't do anything with the situation or write either character out. Early in the next season Anya stops being a demon again (closing that door for plot) and the pair are shagging by the middle of Season 7.

@15 - According to DVD extras and commentary tracks Anya's death was at the actress's request. She didn't want to get pulled into any reunions, continuations, or other Buffy projects after the series ended.
23. GarrettC
But he's not reverting to that stage of his development, he's being triggered. And, to be fair, I certainly believe in triggers. I have them, and they are terrible. I think it's fair to say that without evil old xander demon guy, Xander goes through with the wedding. So evil old xander demon guy provides the trigger. And I don't buy this as a trigger at all.

Why would Xander, especially once he understands that the images were fake and designed to prey on his weaknesses, still make the decision to agree with their gist? Nobody has ever done this before in the show. Spike, for one, has spent LOTS of time preying on these characters' weaknesses to break them up in their different configurations, and doing it with actual truth as his weapon no less, and not once has the exposure of his game resulted in the conclusion that, yeah, he was right, breaking up any one of those configurations would be better. It's contrary to everything we've seen in the show, ever, and to a certain degree, just straight logic. The exposure of the ruse should take away its power, not cement it. "Oh, this guy has been manipulating me this whole time? Well, now that I realize that, and because I certainly don't like being manipulated, I guess I'll do what he wants anyway." It's maddening.

So, I can't accept evil old xander demon guy as the trigger.

I could have accepted Xander's behavior (if not the decision to write it) if an appropriate trigger had been used (and there were certainly enough potential ones in attendance), but it wasn't. Could Xander's dad's behavior have been feeding him anxiety? Sure. Use THAT as the trigger. Why do we even need an evil old demon guy in the machine at all? Don't make Xander react to orb visions. Make him react, directly, to his own family, his own history. I would have been much happier if they had gone full-on The Body with this conflict and said, "You know what? The dissolution of a relationship like this isn't a problem demons or mysticism can stand in for. So let's keep all that on the periphery."

I wouldn't have been happy, mind you, on account of the sadism and all. But I would have been happier.
24. Dianthus
@13. Well, I dunno. Alyx and I agreed sometime back that Spike would make a good Mom, so what can I say? Even if they couldn't produce a child of their own, they could always bring home a stray (so to speak). If the kid's old enough, changing nappies and such wouldn't even be an issue.
@18. While I realize that some of Spike's earlier actions (i.e., the events of Lovers Walk) had a direct and negative impact on the Scoobies, that still doesn't fully account for the dichotomy IMO. Anya may have had a soul (requiring no effort on her part), but she didn't express any remorse whatsoever for all the awful things she'd done. Not until s7.
At least Angel felt/expressed remorse (when he wasn't a Psychotic B*st*rd). Nor did she have anything like the sort of Intervention or Family moments Spike had in s5.
All the bad stuff she did she did to other people who aren't us? Oh, well. Bygones. And how is that so different than Spike's plan in AYW? No money changed hands? Yes, it's the taint of commerce that makes all the difference.

To call Andrew a pest is an insult to vermin everywhere. It's hard to say which is greater, my love for Spike, or my distaste for Andrew.

Buffy was placing her trust in Spike, but most everyone else was placing their trust in her. I wish Anya had had some throw-away line about Spike's soul in Same Time, Same Place. She saw it. She said so in Beneath You. She didn't have to take anybody's word for it, and it's exactly the kind of bombshell she'd drop without a second thought.
Dawn was the only one who treated Spike any differently in s7 (after his crimes have supposedly "built up"). It's understandable she'd by furious at his betrayal. However, even she tosses him that dagger (stake, whatever) in Potential.

@19. Sadism. Yes. Let's make everyone as miserable as (in)humanly possible. I think Joss actually made a comment to that effect. He was speaking primarily of his characters, but it might as well have applied to most(?) of his audience.

@20. Xander was wrong. Getting left at the alter can be just as painful as getting divorced, and it's a violation of Anya's trust. If you go through with it, and it doesn't work out, at least you gave it a shot.
Plus, most divorces are initiated by women (especially in middle-age), and they feel better after getting the divorce, as they've taken control of their lives. Men are typically happier being married. (Dr. Orli Peter reviewing The First Wives Club).

@22. That's my understanding of the situation as well. It wasn't part of some grand Jossian plan that Anya and Spike both died to atone for their misdeeds. It was just a 'happy' coincidence. Besides, Spike's death was his "big pay-off." He didn't die for his Evil in an ignominious cloud of dust. He died for his Good, cleansing the Hellmouth with the light of his soul.

@23. I feel your pain.
Emma Rosloff
25. emmarosloff
This episode is a pretty tough one to swallow. It all just felt so heavy-handed. Xander's fear of commitment is real enough, we didn't need the demon to come in and hit us over the head with it. I agree with #23, he could've simply reacted to seeing his parents dysfunction. It could've been an episode like The Body, wholly real. His trauma, after all, is no laughing matter, and when drama's done well, it's gripping, no matter how much it hurts.

This one... this one just hurt.

I also like the point that Alyx made. There should've been a B-plot. Buffy dealing with some demon (or hell, maybe even the Trio) who ends up interrupting the wedding before it's clear that Anya's been jilted. That could've made for some awkward laughs, the Trio busting in and then scurrying away.

It might have even saved Anya some humiliation. She'd still know she'd been jilted, and so would Xander; there could've even been a moment where they acknowledge it at the end.

But no. Not only does he leave her when she's perhaps at her most vulnerable, he does it in the worst possible way. Hasn't he ever heard the phrase: Never underestimate the wrath of a woman scorned? If there was one woman not to scorn, it would sure as hell be Anya.

I almost feel like Xander jilting her (without any intervention from the umbrella man) would've fit more neatly into her overall arc -- didn't she spend a milennia helping women get vengeance for that very thing? I could see how she'd be inclined to take up the mantel again, thinking all men were ultimately the same. But the demon's intervention softens his actions somewhat. While he still made the choice to jilt her, he was emotionally manipulated into doing so. If you strip that away, it's just the characters and their very real fears, which I personally find more compelling.

Then again, this show has always made a point to illuminate subtext where it can, and the demon is the elephant in the room, the ugly truth no one wants to see until they're forced to.

That last scene with Anya always gets me, though. How despondent so looks. No matter how hard this episode is to watch, Emma Caulfield does a fantastic job with the material. I'll give her that.
26. Alex C.
While I realize that some of Spike's earlier actions (i.e., the events of Lovers Walk) had a direct and negative impact on the Scoobies, that still doesn't fully account for the dichotomy IMO. Anya may have had a soul (requiring no effort on her part), but she didn't express any remorse whatsoever for all the awful things she'd done.
Doesn't it?

The first time that any of the Scoobies 'knew' about Anya was in Doppelgangland, when she was involved in the appearance of VampWillow. After that, she became Xander's date for the prom, delivered a convenient info-dump on the Ascension, and then skipped town until her return in S.4, after which she soon established a steady place for herself as Xander's girlfriend.

Spike by contrast never tried to become 'close' to any of them until S.5, and even then it tended to blow up in his face until Intervention. It's no wonder that they treated him differently.
All the bad stuff she did she did to other people who aren't us? Oh, well. Bygones. And how is that so different than Spike's plan in AYW? No money changed hands? Yes, it's the taint of commerce that makes all the difference.
I would have thought that the difference was obvious. Anya's misdeeds (excluding Doppelgangland) were confined to the period when she was a demon - safely in the past, in other words. As long as she stays human, and more or less harmless, the SG have no reason to feel ill-will towards her.

Spike by contrast gives clear proof in As You Were that he still poses a menace to people, even after being chipped - and feels no moral compunctions about it either. It was bad enough when he was mugging people in S.4 - now he's trying to profit from spreading dangerous demons around the place.

If it wasn't for his more positive attributes that win her over, Buffy would doubtless have staked him well before this point.
Dawn was the only one who treated Spike any differently in s7 (after his crimes have supposedly "built up").
That's because Dawn was pretty much the only Scooby (apart from Buffy) still around in S.7 who didn't already treat Spike with hostility in most of their interactions.

And what's with the "supposedly"? There's no question that Spike in seasons 2-6 feeds the hostility that most of the Scoobies feel towards him every time he does something that hurts one of them (which happens a lot).
To call Andrew a pest is an insult to vermin everywhere. It's hard to say which is greater, my love for Spike, or my distaste for Andrew.
Heh. I felt much the same way about him through S.6 and the beginning of S.7. It's why I consider Storyteller to be one of my personal favourite episodes, and one of the reasons that I love S.7 so much. I can count on one hand the number of times that a single episode of a tv show has completely, radically altered my opinion of a character that I had previously despised, but now love. Now, when I re-watch the series, I don't even mind Andrew in S.6 - I find him to be a sad character rather than a distasteful one.
Chris Nelly
27. Aeryl
@24, I don't really feel that response addressed what I was talking about in my comment. I don't care how easy a divorce is to obtain, or who initiates them, it's irrelevant to my comment. My comment is stating that if what happened in this episode is enough to send Anya running back into the demon fold, I can think of a lot of other things that could happen in a marriage, even a relatively happy one, that would too.

The point was made last episode that the wedding was the hard part, the marriage would be easy. I've been partnered to the same dude for 15 years, I can attest, no the marriage is not the easy part.

The wedding couldn't happen, for the same reason Spuffy can't work out, there has been no true repentance on the part of either Spike or Anya. Especially considering that Xander's relationships have always paralleled Buffy's*(Angel-reformed vampire/Cordy-reformed she-monster. Spike-unrepentant muzzled demon/Anya-unrepentant muzzled demon) this should come as no surprise.

*And yes, I'll even state that Spuffy BEGAN in Something Blue(all else is foreplay), which is close enough to when XandAnya began.
28. Alex C.

Great comment - I agree entirely.
Anthony Pero
29. anthonypero
As far as why the trigger was effective... Xander never really seemed to want to get married in the first place, at least in my reading of it. He was totally not ready. Its FAR better to break it off then than after kids start happening.
30. Dianthus
Xander, when faced with the monster inside, didn't fight back. Instead, he gave into his fears and ran. That's why he's in the wrong. He's so far from the Xander we saw in, say, The Zeppo, it's hard to believe he's the same guy.
When did I say marriage was easy? There's a multi-billion dollar wedding industry out there. They profit by promoting the "big day" until it takes on a significance greater than the marriage itself. Get the wedding right, and everything else just falls into place. Or so they would have you believe.
Spike, when faced with the monster inside, fought back. Spike, who's working out the same problems everyone else is, without the benefit of a soul.
Yes, Anya establishes herself as Xander's girlfriend despite showing no remorse for any of the terrible things she's done. She even expresses regret for the loss of her powers while they're sitting together at the Bronze, after Oz leaves Willow. She's talking about what she'd do to Oz (liquify his entrails), if only she could. Xander's clearly uncomfortable with it, but it doesn't slow him down for long. He doesn't want to think about it, so he mostly just ignores it.
Isn't that the same thing he gives Buffy cr*p about, tho', regarding Angel? Xander outright accuses her of being willing to overlook Angel's bloody past, so she can have her boyfriend back. In the joining spell in Restless, Xander is the heart. Coincidence? He's just as willing to overlook Anya's bloody past, so he can have a girlfriend.
Yes, Spike was working with Adam for most of s4, but he still does the right thing in the end, saving the Scoobies from a lesser threat while Buffy's taking on Adam. Yes, his motive is selfish. He doesn't want to get staked. The Scoobies are just as saved either way.
Yes, Spike is willing to jeopardize the lives of strange people in faraway places, in order to help Buffy. Again I remind you that this is essentially the same deal Buffy accepted by agreeing to work with him in the first place, in order to free Giles. Spike and Dru don't stop killing, they just take it elsewhere.
Willow clearly didn't believe that all of Anya's misdeeds were "safely in the past," and she's no dummy. At least she expressed some doubts. Anya was invited to be a demon. She had to do something as a human to get that invitation. Willow knows this from her own experience in Something Blue. Even so, their conflict is pretty much wrapped up by the end of Triangle, another ep where Anya's past vengeance comes back to negatively impact the present. Olaf was just a big, dumb guy before Anya turned him into a troll. Which would you rather fight?
Chris Nelly
31. Aeryl
@30, Well just because I said Xander's not wrong, doesn't mean Xander's RIGHT, either, heh?
32. Gardner Dozois
Andrew shows up again, as a Watcher, no less, in the last season of ANGEL--and he's still an annoying, slimy little weasel.
Chris Nelly
33. Aeryl
@32, I have a soft spot for Andrew, because in the comics, he and Buffy bond over a shared love of Daniel Craig as Bond. As the outlier in my Bond loving family, I sympathize.
34. Dianthus
I have a clenched fist for Andrew's face (nasty little POS that he is) 'cuz he Roofied Buffy and violated her agency as a human being in the @*#! comix.
35. Dianthus
Almost forgot to mention, there's a poll over @ on the Eternal Question: Spike or Angel? Pike and Riley are also included, but still...When I was last there, Spike enjoyed a comfy lead (700+ votes) to Angel's rather anemic 2nd place showing (400+) votes.
Alyx Dellamonica
36. AMDellamonica
Isn't that the same thing he gives Buffy cr*p about, tho', regarding Angel? Xander outright accuses her of being willing to overlook Angel's bloody past, so she can have her boyfriend back.... He's just as willing to overlook Anya's bloody past, so he can have a girlfriend.

Oh, very good point!
37. Alex C.

The comparison with Angel is actually made explicit in Selfless, when Buffy brings up the events of Becoming in relation to the dilemma of whether or not to kill Anya.
38. Dianthus
@36. Thank you. I liked it.

@37. Yes, three "years" after the fact. Buffy only goes after Anya when she sees no other alternative. Even then, Xander gives her sh!t for it, and doubles down by accusing her of giving Spike a pass 'cuz she'd been "boning" him. Nice.
Never mind whatever good Spike had done, including saving Xander's life a time or two. Never mind that Buffy was the one who initiated the sexual phase of their relationship (not that Xander knew/cared about that). Look how long it took them just to revisit/resolve this one thing.
39. Dianthus
Sigh...evidently I'm not good at math either. It's more like five years. Honestly.
Also, too, I overreported Angel's votes in that poll. He hadn't even made it to 350. Funny thing is, the mod of that thread is Bangel. I was into that at the time, but looking back, I can only shake my head.
If Angel is cursed to suffer (as some Bangel types believe), why would you want to wish that on Buffy too? These same folks decry how much Spike hurt her, and how unhealthy their relationship was. Bangel seems like an ideal, but it isn't. Far from it really. It's just more traditional.
Plus, you've got Spike's capacity for change, his greater self-awareness, his innate (if latent) humanity. It boggles my mind. They tell us what a special snowflake he is, but none of the others see it.
40. Dr. Thanatos

If a vampire is showing an anemic result in a poll, isn't there a rather obvious solution? Just saying...
41. Alex C.
Just came across a very good article by Alyssa Rosenberg about Sarah Michelle Gellar, worth a read:

Basic premise is one that I couldn't agree with more: it really is a tragedy that SMG never featured in anything remotely worthy of the talent that she showed on Buffy after the show was over.
42. Dr. Thanatos
"The Crazy Ones" looks promising based on 30 minute pilot. Time will tell...
43. Dianthus
@40. Donations gratefully accepted...or taken by force, depending.

@41. I watched Ringer with high hopes. SMG wasn't the only one in the cast I liked. Sigh.
44. DougL
She chose, CHOSE, to become a demon TWICE, she's evil guys, get over it.

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