Faith, in the first half of Buffy the Vampire Slayer S3, makes a strong impression without actually garnering much screen time. As an audience, we come to understand exactly who she is and how she differs from Buffy. We see her troubling, deep-seated instability, but it’s easy to dismiss or excuse it. She lost her mother, and her first Watcher, after all, and then there was the whole Gwendolyn Post fiasco.
So, yes, trust issues. Fair enough. She’s never going to be as together as the actual heroine of the show, right? A second banana has to suffer by contrast.
Thus Faith is often in the background, or absent altogether, as the Scoobies’ romantic woes and even their college aspirations take center stage in the first dozen or so episodes of the kids’ senior year.
All that ends with “Bad Girls,” which is where the point of all the carefully laid groundwork about Faith’s true nature starts to emerge.
The episode starts on a light note: The Slayers are having a little water-cooler chit-chat about Xander, in the midst of a battle. Faith, despite her later claims to want, take, and forget, hasn’t entirely forgotten boinking Xander in “The Zeppo”—and she wants to see if this is a thing she and Buffy might share. Buffy rules out the possibility of having her close friend as an after-slayage snack item, now and forever. Faith sees this as evidence of uptightness.
The two move on to a third vampire while the conversation segues, in a pretty genial way, to their different working styles. Faith loves slaying, Buffy claims not to, and maybe this would be one of those agree-to-disagree things between them if it weren’t for the arrival of Wesley in his worst of the worst wimpy Brit mode.
Clearly the Watchers’ Council’s sekrit agenda here is to ensure that Buffy entirely gets over Giles giving her power-sapping poison (such an inappropriate birthday present!) and to drive both Slayers into open rebellion against them. Wesley is custom built for the job. Buffy gently mocks him; Faith takes one look and walks away. In the process, we learn that Wes is seriously a prat and Balthazar, the demon of the week, might or might not be dead and either way totally wants his old amulet.
As they pursue the amulet, Faith keeps attempting to lure Buffy to the fun side. They start small: a little ill-advised but unrestrained fighting here, a bit of sexy dancing in the Bronze there. Then Faith ups the ante to stealing weapons and escaping police custody. That’s enough to freak Buffy out a bit, but things are all still basically fun and games up to the point where Faith, in the heat of battle, fatally stabs Deputy Mayor Allan Finch.
The two flee in opposite directions. Buffy runs into Angel, who is brimming with the joyous news that Balthazar and his minions have grabbed Wesley. Alas, they’ve also got Giles, and all because they still want their damned amulet. Battle ensues, the forces of good win, and Balthazar signs off with a veiled reference to the Mayor’s ascension.
I love “Bad Girls” but I can’t be entirely easy with it, because a big part of the episode is about physicality and, frankly, the messages are a little muddled. It’s not just that Faith likes killing monsters—she just plain gets off on being super-fit, super-strong, and built to kill. Her “did you do Xander?” interrogation of Buffy holds little significant difference, from her perspective, than her criticism of Buffy’s too-thinky fighting style. She’s encouraging Big Sis to abandon higher thought, embrace sex, and revel in reacting instinctively in combat.
Acting on instinct, though, is how she finds deputy mayor shish kebab on her hands.
It is also how the show ends up with one of its few demons of the week whose nature and depiction is fundamentally offensive: Balthazar is portrayed as fat, indolent, grotesque, and largely ineffectual. It’s hard not to see a thread of serious body hatred underlying this episode.
BtVS, I find, mostly gets things right, and it makes me loathe to pick on those elements of the show that do bother me. We all talked a little about the lack of representation for people of color on the show (this was around when Mister Trick turned up—and note that he’s getting the pointy end of the stake in the second half of this essay!) I am so very fond of the series that complaining about how the show’s core cast is mostly white, thin, and more or less middle class feels ungenerous. As many of you pointed out, Xander’s poor, we have a Jewish gay Willow and there are lots of Potentials of color in S7.
But still, it’s a skinny girl show. The way Balthazar’s depicted (paired, too, with Joyce’s odd bout of neurotic dieting babble) strikes an odd and off-putting note. And the argument between the idea of embracing your physical power and of letting your mind and inhibitions prevail goes unaddressed. Faith is a physical being, and promiscuous—she kills someone… and ultimately justifies it all by saying she’s built to kill. She’s got the power, so she’s allowed. Naturally, she gets punished for this. But does that mean that Buffy’s constant denial of her nature and her desires is entirely healthy or right?
Whew! Okay, that’s off my chest. While I am being ungenerous, I’ll also just throw in a complaint I haven’t fit in earlier, also about bodies—it’s about how easily and often the BtVS screenwriters toss around the word “lame.”)
Back on point. The Mayor’s embracing the physicality of being invulnerable for a hundred days—who wouldn’t? He’s easing into the S3 end game and this blog post has circled back round to the subject of death. Specifically, wet, watery death. In “Bad Girls,” Balthazar dies in his hot tub and the Balthazar acolytes, even though they’re armed with swords, make a good-faith attempt to drown Buffy. At the end of the episode, Faith has weighted and dumped Finch’s body in the river. (What river? Sunnydale has a river? Anyway, that’s what she says.)
Finally, guess who’s Lady-MacBething her clothes in the sink when Buffy shows up to debrief over the Deputy Mayor killing?
Water water everywhere. Small surprise that “Consequences” opens with a Buffy dream about Finch and Faith trying to drown her. You thought your work-related anxiety dreams were bad?
For once, it’s not a prophetic dream. Buffy’s just plain racked with guilt. She wants to tell Giles what’s happened, and Faith’s all, “No!” Wesley, meanwhile, has taken it into his head to oblige the girls to investigate Finch’s murder.
I haven’t rewatched the rest of the season yet, but it seems to me this is the first of several incidences of Wesley having a not-very-bright idea that rebounds in favor of Team Slayer. He may be a coward, but maybe he’s got a high luck roll?
Faith is all for hiding her crime, and agrees to having a poke through Finch’s office. As a result, she and Buffy see Wilkins and Trick together. It’s an important discovery, but it doesn’t rate as high as the cops finding Finch’s body and dropping by to check their Slayer alibis.
I don’t usually feel all that much sympathy for fictional characters who are throwing gas on their own infernos of self-destruction, but Eliza Dushku as Faith has me every step of the way in this episode. The gulf between that girl who’s scrubbing the blood out of her clothes in the crappy hotel and the polished way she pretends to be okay with it all is vast and sad. Dushku might have been born to play this particular lost girl as she swan-dives to her doom.
Hiding a murder must be tiring, because “Consequences” runs through an exhausting series of plot twists over the course of its forty-plus minutes. Faith gets questioned by the cops and then, feeling cornered, tells Giles it was Buffy who did the deed. She sexually assaults and throttles Xander when he tries to help, which I think we can all agree is even less funny than the syphilis.
From there she gets beaned by Angel, leaving some of us to wonder when did she invite him in and what had she just killed that day? Then she’s subjected to the souled and sensitive vampire concept of rehab before the Watchers show up and threaten to bag her off to England for some bureaucratic procedure that can’t possibly be good.
And that’s just Faith. There’s so much to talk about in these two episodes: there’s Willow’s little bout of jealousy over the Slayers’ bonding, and the reconciliation with Buffy. Plus the nifty foreshadowing when she says, “Sometimes I unleash! I don’t know my own strength!” There’s all the interesting stuff we could delve into about Faith’s attack on Xander. There’s Trick’s death, the fact that Faith can’t quite leave Buffy to die despite everything, and the way Wesley’s every move makes Giles seem awesome like a rock star.
Wesley grows in Angel—there’s no denying it—but in caging Faith he’s just kicking her when she’s down. It’s a last straw. He’s reacting instinctively, and he drives Faith to truly desperate measures. She cooly evaluates her situation. She arrives at a brilliant tactic for both cleaning up the murder investigation and protecting herself from her alleged allies, who have time and again proven themselves untrustworthy.
She switches sides, in other words.
Like Faith, the Mayor has gotten remarkably little airtime until now. He’s really only been visible in tiny gemlike moments of funny. We’ve gotten enough to understand he’s evil, and adorable, and up to something. But it’s only when Faith joins his campaign that the two really step into the spotlight this season. The reason is simple: without each other, they’re incomplete.
But now they’ve teamed up, you can almost hear thrum of this season’s engine, notching up to the next gear.
Next: Everyone loves an evil twin
A.M. Dellamonica has two short stories up here on Tor.com. First up: an urban fantasy about a baby werewolf, “The Cage” which made the Locus Recommended Reading List for 2010. Her second story here is called “Among the Silvering Herd.” In October, watch for a novelette, “Wild Things,” that ties into the world of her award winning novel Indigo Springs and its sequel, Blue Magic.