Buffy the Vampire Slayer - This Year's Girl

Summary

Buffy and Faith are making a bed. Buffy says clean sheets smell like summer, Faith says she doesn't know. Buffy says she has to go, Faith says little sis is coming. Blood drips on to the sheets from Faith's wound. The knife Buffy stabbed her with is still stuck in her. She asks Buffy if she's ever going to take it out. Buffy grabs the knife and we cut to the hospital bed where a dreaming Faith lies in a coma.

Xander is trying to get one of the blasters from the Initiative working. Buffy has been patrolling around the clock and Giles is worried she needs her rest. Buffy is intent on finding and destroying Adam and feels she needs the blaster to do it. Willow asks about Riley and Buffy has heard almost nothing about him. The Initiative says he is fine, but Buffy doesn't know if she can believe them. She fears what they will do to Riley if they disapprove of his behavior. While they talk, Xander almost electrocutes himself with the gun but nobody seems to notice.

Riley gets out of his sick bed. He still is holding on to the scarf Buffy bandaged his hand with in Goodbye, Iowa. There is a guard at his door who won't let him past, but Forrest tells the guard to stand aside. He tells Forrest he's going to see Buffy. Forrest doesn't like that. He says they have a problem and they have to keep it within the family.

Faith is dreaming of a picnic with the mayor. Faith thinks it will rain, but the mayor says it won't. A small snake wriggles across and the mayor picks it up and puts it aside. He says it won't spoil their fun. The mayor turns to their picnic basket to get them some cheesecake and Buffy shows up and stabs and kills him. She says she has things to do and begins chasing Faith.

Buffy, Willow, and Xander are patrolling the woods. They find a demon which has been strung up and disected. At Xander's, they speculate that Adam is investigating human and demon biology. Buffy says her next move will be to get Riley. She starts planning a raid on the Initiative, but before she can finish talking, Riley walks in.

Back in Faith's dream, Buffy is pursuing Faith through a cemetery. Faith falls into an open grave. Buffy leaps after her. It starts to rain. Faith crawls out of the grave. In the hospital, Faith awakes. She detaches the monitors from her and gets out of her bed and starts walking down the deserted corridor. She meets a girl and from her learns what has happened to the school and the mayor. Next we see her walking out of the building, wearing the girl's clothes and we hear Buffy's voice saying 'You know I never stopping thinking about you". Buffy is talking to Riley. He shows her the scarf and tells her how much it meant to him knowing she was out there thinking of him. Then he speaks of how he has always followed orders all his life and doesn't know what to do now. She says she once followed the orders of the council (although she admits only the orders she wanted to follow) but she quit and so can he. He isn't so sure. Buffy begins to kiss his head, playfully checking for brain washing chips. She tells him they will kill this demon and he must stop torturing himself. That he has been strong long enough.

A nurse, doctor, and detective are looking at Faith's empty bed trying to puzzle out what happened. Another man comes in to tell them they found the other girl, badly beaten and stripped. The men leave, the nurse makes a call saying "It's happened. Send in the team." Faith has gone to Giles' and is staring in the window. Buffy, Willow, Xander, Riley, and Giles are there talking about Adam. Riley offers to give them information that the Initiative might have about Adam. Faith sees Buffy kiss Riley. Riley gets the blaster gun to work. The phone rings and it's for Buffy. She learns Faith is up. Faith walks away at this point. She tells the others and they speculate as to what this means and what they can do. The police don't know what to do with a slayer, the council already failed, and the Initiative is evil. Buffy wonders whether Faith even remembers what she did or if she does whether she doesn't regret it. Riley asks who Faith is.

The next day, Buffy and Willow are walking across campus and Buffy explains what she told Riley - the truth but editing out the Angel bits. Buffy thinks Faith would have left town, what with Buffy and the police looking for her. At that point, they bump into Faith - who has found more clothes. Buffy says she was looking for her, Faith says she was unmoving for eight months - how hard did she look. Buffy asks how she is and she says 5 by 5. She says it's time for payback for Buffy stabbing her. She tells Buffy that she had a dream. About being stabbed by Buffy to save Angel. Only she finds that Buffy isn't even dating Angel anymore, that she's moved on to someone else. And that she's completely forgotten the girl she stabbed. While she's talking, Willow moves behind to attack her but Faith warns her off. She asks Buffy what the dream means. There is the sound of a police siren. They fight, Faith flees as the police arrive. Buffy pursues her, but she leaps over a wall and when Buffy gets there she has vanished.

Tara and Willow are searching for Faith. Tara says she's no good at fighting. Willow says if they find her, they'll run. She says Faith sticks out, she's a slutbomb saying things like 5 by 5 which no one understands. She says at night, they'll hide. Meanwhile, Xander and Giles are walking the streets searching and Xander fears he may be Faith's target. They hear a noise in an alley and discover Spike there. They tell him about Faith and describe her. He says he'll find her and tell her where they are, then watch as she kills them. He asks why they can't remember that he hates them. Xander says he'll never recognize Faith, but Spike points out they described her to him. Meanwhile, the nurse from the hospital is meeting three men getting out of a helicopter.

Faith is wandering town, staring into a shop window with a display of knives. She sees a police car and ducks into an alley. A demon comes up saying a friend sent him and he has something for her. She kills him and takes the package he carries. She breaks into an electronics store and plays the videotape in the package. It's from the mayor. He realizes that he may be defeated and has left this message for Faith. He tells her he can't protect her and that she's going to die. He says he knows she must feel very much alone, but that she'll never be alone, she'll always have him. And he has something for her, there is a box in the package which he tells her to open. He says a friend of his made it. He says just because it's over for Faith doesn't mean she can't go out with a bang.

Buffy is warning Riley about Faith. He realizes she's concealing something, but she isn't ready to talk about Angel. She tells him she knows Faith will want to hurt her and the people she loves. Cut to Joyce answering the door to find Faith there. Faith punches her in the face and walks in. They are in Joyce's bedroom, with Faith going through Joyce's lipstick and putting on the Harlot. Faith asks Joyce how she looks. Joyce says psychotic. Joyce says Buffy will kill her. Faith points out she's found a pile of mail for Buffy, evidence she hasn't been home in months. She says Buffy has abandoned Joyce. She starts ranting saying Buffy was "over us" a long time ago and that she has left Joyce to die. At that moment, Buffy smashes through the window and jumps on Faith. They fight, moving through the house. Joyce calls the police. Meanwhile, Giles arrives home to find the three men waiting for him - they know him calling him Rupert. Faith hears the sirens and quickly puts on the device the mayor gave her. She grabs Buffy's hand. Something happens. Buffy knocks out Faith. Joyce comes in and asks if Buffy is ok. She says yes. Joyce says the police have arrived, Buffy says Faith is their problem now. Joyce asks again if she's okay. Buffy says 5 by 5.

Analysis

In Goodbye, Iowa, I spoke of the family relationship between Adam and Riley and how they are both the children of Maggie Walsh. Well, a similar relationship exists between Faith and Buffy. Both are the children of the council, Giles, and especially Joyce. And it's no accident that their mother (remember Joyce invited Faith to dinner and treated her in a motherly manner when she first arrived) is present when the climactic events of the episode occur. Faith picks Joyce as the hostage who will bring Buffy to her not because she is the person Buffy most cares for, but because she means so much to Faith. She is the only woman in Faith's life who has been genuinely kind to her. And because Faith can feel for Joyce, she knows Buffy will come.

I always underestimated the mayor. For much of last season, I thought he was incapable of any kindness and was merely using Faith. But it became clear at the end that he loved her deeply. And the extent of his love was made evident this week. It was a love which transcended the grave. Even though his plans have gone awry, he still wants to save Faith. And he realizes that he won't be able to save her body, but that he might have a chance at saving her soul. For Faith, the mayor was the most important figure in her life. The father figure Wesley had failed to be. He gave her purpose and direction in life. And now he hopes to give her happiness in the form of unconditional love from the mother Joyce.

I liked the dream sequences, although I don't think they are as rich as the sequences at the end of last season. The clean sheets and summer represent the lost opportunity for youth and happiness on the part of Faith. The blood soiling the sheets and symbolically ruining Buffy's summer (her youth) is a metaphor for Faith's influence on Buffy. Faith was the falsely mature one, trying to lure Buffy into a take what you want, strength equals right, sexually promiscuous world. The blood represents both the violence Faith inflicted (staking the mayor's assistant), the violence she suffered (being stabbed by Buffy), and her sexuality (menstruation). The sexual aspect, although metaphorical, is quite strong throughout the episode. The initial dream scene takes place in a bedroom. Later Faith condemns Buffy for so quickly moving on to a new boyfriend (how lucky she hasn't heard of Parker). She condemns Buffy for her promiscuity, which is far less than Faith's, because Buffy was supposed to be the virtuous one possessed of a perfect and necessarily platonic love for Angel. It's interesting that Joyce has a lipstick called harlot which Faith applies before switching bodies with Buffy. Now Buffy is painted the harlot and Faith regains her summer, her virtue.

The little sis comment puzzled me for some time, but I think it is an allusion to the next slayer - the little sister to both Faith and Buffy. Clearly either Faith or Buffy must die and that will summon a new slayer.

Notice that we never see Riley actually leave the Initiative hospital. His way is being blocked one minute and the next he is with Buffy. Was he really allowed out easily or is Buffy right in looking for those chips in his head? Is it possible he was released to spy on Buffy the way she was accused of spying on the Initiative? This would make sense from the perspective of the Initiative and it would also make things quite complicated for Faith. It's quite possible that none of the major players is who he appears to be. Faith is Buffy, Buffy is Faith. Riley may be an Initiative spy. Giles may still be working for the council. And Adam may not be as evil as first thought. Maybe Walsh's ultimate plan isn't that bad. After all, the Frankenstein monster was more misunderstood than evil. And is Faith possibly the bride of Frankenstein? The monster sought a mate and if he'd found one would have disappeared into the wilderness with her. Might Adam and Faith do that?

In the second dream, the snake at the picnic seems both symbolic of the mayor turning into the snake demon (by putting the snake aside he seems to be abandoning his goal in order to make Faith happy) and of the snake in the garden of Eden. The intrusion of the snake brings realization of sin and the death that follows.

In the third dream, Faith falls into an open grave and then rises from it again. Rising from a grave has some pretty clear vampire implications. But it also starts to rain, the rain Faith predicted and the mayor said would not come in the previous dream. Buffy has leapt after her into the grave, knife in hand, but only Faith comes out. Buffy is either dead, having lost the struggle with Faith, or they have merged through Faith's death (or the near death of her coma) into a stronger Faith. The rain could be a sign of purification - the reborn Faith being baptized.

The dreams could also be seen as foreshadowing the plot of the episode. The mayor advises Faith, trying to help her remove the snake (Buffy) from her garden. She has a life and death struggle with Buffy and emerges as Buffy/Faith - pure in the eyes of the world.

As Faith walks out of the hospital, we hear Buffy say "You know I never stopped thinking about you." She is talking to Riley, but it is Faith we see. Based on her dreams, Faith has never stopped thinking of Buffy. And it is likely she has never been far from Buffy's thoughts. Faith is angry at Buffy for so quickly replacing Angel with Riley. Again, based on her dreams, Faith has never replaced the mayor with anyone else. Buffy was ready to kill Faith to save Angel. Faith is now ready to kill Buffy, to avenge the mayor.

It wasn't until the end of last season that Buffy really took command of the gang and began giving orders. And even now she tends to wait for consensus or follow the suggestions of others. Riley has always been in a position of command, giving and taking orders based on an established hierarchy. But Buffy clearly is more independent and more strong willed than he. Riley lacks the confidence to break free of the Initiative and his past life. Buffy had no problem with quitting the council and going out on her own. She says Riley can either fight for change from within the system or battle demons in his own way. He says he doesn't know what his way is. But Buffy has always known. Since she first encountered Giles, she has struggled to do things her way, not the council's way and not even Giles' way. Buffy is strong both physically and emotionally, something Riley and Faith both lack. Riley is trying to grow, but Faith is still trapped within a world where her actions are motivated by personal pleasure or the need to please the few people who matter to her (her original watcher who was killed and later the mayor who she is still trying to please). Riley at least is considering breaking free, for Faith it is never an option.

When Faith and Buffy meet for the first time, on campus, Faith expresses some anger at Buffy's statement that she was looking for Faith. Faith was in a coma, did Buffy ever visit. Presumably not. Faith feels abandoned by Buffy, who in some ways was her sister. She wants revenge. The dream she tells Buffy is not any of the dreams we saw, instead it's Faith's altered version of reality.

The mayor's videotape was incredibly touching. Especially the part when he talks about how lonely she must be and how she'll always have him. This is a tape he made knowing she might never awaken to hear it. It's a tape he made after his confrontation with Angel in Graduation Part 2. This is the mayor talking to the last person he loved, maybe the only person he had loved. Faith has been running on instinct, driven by fear and rage. She hunted down Buffy and attacked. She fled her pursuers. She killed the demon with the package unthinkingly. But now she has to stop and think. She has to think again of the mayor's death and of her predicament. Of the world which, as the mayor puts it, has no place for her. And she can only survive this because the mayor is still there for her, still helping and protecting her. He is doing what Giles did for Buffy, what Wesley was supposed to do for Faith, what Buffy is trying to do for Riley. He's helping her deal with the realities of her life.

Faith's scene with Joyce is another great scene in an episode full of great scenes. It moves from the psychotic joking about the lipstick and Faith's appearance, to Joyce's threats, to Faith's rant on how children abandon their parents. Faith, of course, feels abandoned. She has blamed Buffy for abandoning her and for abandoning the reason she tried to kill her. And by killing the mayor, Buffy effectively orphaned Faith. Now Faith is trying to get revenge by making Joyce feel the same way she does. Most revealing is the line where she talks about Buffy being "over us". Not Joyce, but us. She complains Buffy was too busy with her new boyfriend to think of the people that matter. She's not talking about Joyce, she's talking about herself. Again, her feeling of abandonment comes to the surface. Although Faith has been scheming to kill Buffy for some time, she still madly believes Buffy should care for her and be loyal to her and feels betrayed by her disloyalty. And, as if we needed it, this is proof of her madness.

Faith's acquisition of Buffy's body gives her the opportunity to have the life she feels she has wrongfully been denied. She can have the love of a mother, the guidance of a father (Giles), and genuine friendship. She even can have the clean cut boyfriend. But I'm betting next week's episode will demonstrate that it was Faith's personality, not luck, that messed things up for her.

I kept wondering where Anya was this episode, but at least I got my weekly dose of Spike. It's wonderful the way Xander and Giles, although they pretend to hate Spike, automatically assume he will help them. And it's just as wonderful the way Spike shocks them by saying he'd help Faith kill them. I doubt that would happen. At the very least, I don't think he'd let Faith kill Willow who he genuinely seems to like. Spike can't bite people and he can't kill demons anymore without getting into real danger. But at least he can hurt your feelings.

Some quick final thoughts. Why doesn't an alarm go off when Faith removes all the monitoring equipment? Why is her section of the hospital almost deserted? Why is the girl she meets wandering alone there? And why is it so poorly lit? How nice to learn that neither the police nor the council nor even the mayor have forgotten Faith.

Lines of the week:

"You know I never stopped thinking about you." - Buffy talking to Riley while we see Faith.

"Who's Faith?" - Riley with the question we were all waiting for.

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