So here’s how it goes in my house sometimes: I’ll be rattling at my wife, Kelly, about the latest Buffy the Vampire Slayer rewatch—in this case “Dopplegangland”—and it’ll be a bit of a streaming babblefest: “… blahbitty blah, Allison Hannigan looks so young in this one, especially in the fuzzy pink sweater. It hides her neck, I think, which makes her face rounder. She looks older in the leather, of course, which, you know, yay for the obvious reasons, but that kind of makes it interesting that she’s got that whole baby girl act going…”
Kelly will point out, “As does Drusilla. As does Darla.”
So true, am I right? And then, a few weeks later, I carry that conversation here to Tor.com.
“Dopplegangland” starts with another little girl lost: the demon Anyanka. Anya lost her power center to alternate-Giles in “The Wish,” and since then she’s been trapped in high school with a bunch of self-involved and boring teens. She’s asked the lower beings to let her retrieve her amulet and get back to work, but they have a strict one-strike policy on losing your evil superpowers (or so they claim now), which leaves Anya declaring that she’ll solve her problems herself.
This brings us to Willow, who’s dressed up triple cute and floating a pencil as Buffy counts her crunches and tries to outdo Faith on a number of levels.
As chance would have it, our Miss Rosenberg is just embarking on one of those school days that hints that the adulthood and responsibility looming beyond Graduation aren’t everything they’re cracked up to be. Principal Snyder sticks her with a breeding assignment… no, wait, a tutoring assignment… which amounts to doing Percy’s-the-lout’s history papers for him. Then Buffy and Xander take it for granted she taped Biography. (Biography? Was there no good TV that year?) It turns out Oz had a gig she didn’t know about and couldn’t have attended anyway. After all that, she’s in full sulk over being a doormat when Anya comes up and is all “Hey, baby baby, want to do some black magic?”
Big yes to that question!
(Willow’s day is also going badly in that she’s marked for death, because Faith is double-agenting her way around the library, and finds out about the attempt to access the Mayor’s computer files. But nobody on Team Good knows that. I’m not sure they ever learn it, actually.)
The scene between Faith and the Mayor is the first of a series of perversely heartwarming father-daughter interactions. The tone is set when she calls him sugar daddy and he draws that firm line. Me: authority figure, he says. Sex: not on the menu. It’s a signal I’m grateful for—I appreciate knowing we aren’t going to have to endure icky inter-generational frisson between the two. And he’s so thoughtful when he tells her he doesn’t expect her to kill a friend, or even an ex-friend, for him… just yet. Harry Groener sells his squeaky-clean brand of wicked: I totally love him.
Willow and Anya work their spell, but instead of retrieving the demon necklace, they temporal fold out sexy dead Willow from the Wishverse. Ta-da! (And also—whoops!) She’s got the whole pouty child thing going on, as mentioned, and when she realizes this version of Sunnydale is mostly dominated by living, breathing humans who feel safe, she’s quite set back. She does get to beat up Sportslout, though, which is fun for everyone involved.
Then she and Xander simultaneously make horrible discoveries—she realizes he’s alive, Xander (and Buffy) discover she’s dead.
In shock, Buffy and Xander run to Giles. Willow gets attacked and decides she’s ready to run wild and kill everything in her path.
“Dopplegangland” was written by and directed by Joss Whedon, and like most of the all Joss all the time episodes, it’s full of delicious little treats. There are the usual inspired bits of dialog in the so-tight-it-squeaks script. We get the spectacle of Seth Green finding an even quieter and somehow terrible space, within the still water that is Oz, to grieve when he thinks Willow has been vamped. We get the hilarious hugfest when the Scoobies discover Willow alive and well. There’s the skanky girl “I think I’m kinda gay” action between the two versions of Willow, the caged girl-talk with Cordelia, and Xander shaking the cross to try and make it work.
But wait! There’s more—Angel with his “Willow’s dead” / “Hi Willow” doubletake. (David Boreanaz was always terrific at looking befuddled.) Even Wesley gets his screaming, panicked little moment of perfection.
But yeah, the little girl thing. It’s something of a go-to for female villains, I know. It’s not unique to this show. Women who are bad in fiction are often women who act out sexually in one way or another. In fact, that’s one of their markers for badness. At this point it’s obvious Faith’s promiscuity, for example, was bundled into her character from the start because she’s on the side of the demons.
Buffy’s good. Buffy’s mostly chaste. Admittedly, Buffy has a helluva reason, what with her OTP being a no fly zone. Still!
When you sex up a character because she’s evil, you’re going to have a few options as a writer. One is taking her down the dominatrix road, which Vamp Willow does even as she sulks and pouts like a homicidal first grader on a tear. Another is to flirt with the distasteful dynamic the Mayor so resolutely rejects when Faith tries it on—I’m speaking of the inappropriate desire, among many adults of all ages, for far-too-young women. This would exist anyway (I’m not lambasting the BtVS writing team for coming up for something squicky and new and never seen before) but in pop culture we nurture it by fetishizing markers of girlhood rather than finding other narratives for evil women. In Sunnydale, we see this in visual design elements like Darla’s girl’s school skirt, which turns up in the very first scene of “Welcome to the Hellmouth.” Or think of how Dru, with her nighties and dolls, is characterized.
The upshot: Joss and the Mutant Enemy writers didn’t invent this infantalizing of sexy female villains, but they don’t avoid it either. To their credit, these creations don’t usually go down this path in an entirely simplistic way—VampWillow is half baby doll, half dominatrix, after all. Darla and Dru become far more grown up in Angel, as I dimly recall. And Dark Willow, except for hanging on to her chilling little catchphrase—“Bored now!”, is very bitter, very much an adult and not sexy at all.
As I think about this, I do come to think that the Buffyverse does have a few other, more nuanced, female villains: I wouldn’t say Glory falls into this trap, does she? There’s Wesley Mark One (otherwise known as Gwen Post) and the female demons from “The Zeppo.” Perhaps most of all there’s Professor Maggie Walsh in S4… who’ve I missed?
And what do you all think of this?
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.