Buffy the Vampire Slayer - The Replacement

Summary

Buffy, Riley, Anya, and Xander are at Xander's place watching a kung fu movie on tv. Xander's folks come home and fight, embarrassing him. He talks about moving. Riley starts massaging Buffy's neck. Xander tries to do the same with Anya, but she's still in pain from getting hit in Real Me and makes him stop, embarrassing him further. Buffy starts critiquing the action sequences in the movie. Riley tells her to take a rest from slayer duty and she says he'd critique an army movie and Willow critiques movies about witches. Xander agrees, saying Willow always criticizes the use of cauldrons, that no one uses cauldrons anymore. We cut to a very ugly demon brewing something in a cauldron and forging a weapon with which to kill the slayer.

Xander, Anya, Buffy, Riley, and Willow are apartment hunting for Xander. It's a nice place, but clearly expensive. Anya wants it right away. Riley and Buffy disappear into the bedroom where they start kissing. The agent gives Xander an application. They have to run a credit check. And with first and last month's rent plus a cleaning deposit, it's very expensive. Anya wants it, she tells the agent he's been living in his drunken parents' basement where a cat urinated on his hotplate. Xander takes her aside for a quiet conversation which quickly gets loud. He tries to explain his construction job is soon ending and he can't afford the apartment. Anya doesn't understand. Angry, she runs out. Xander takes the application.

At the Magic Box, Giles' new business, the demon walks in looking for the slayer. Giles hits it with a statue of a fertility goddess, but he isn't even hurt. He pushes Giles aside and strides out. Later, Giles tells Buffy, Riley, Xander, and Willow what happened while trying to find the demon in his books. He finds it is Toth, a sophisticated demon with a great deal of focus. Clearly he wants to kill the slayer. Giles said he had a very distinctive smell and this leads them to the dump. They meet Spike, who is scavenging, and Toth who attacks them with the weapon he forged. Pushing Buffy out of the line of fire, Xander is hit and knocked into the garbage. Toth disappears and the gang help Xander up and walk home. We see a second Xander unconscious in the garbage.

Garbage Xander wakes up and goes home. There, he sees clean Xander getting ready for work. He goes to a pay phone to call Buffy, but when clean Xander walks by he follows him instead. At home, Buffy and Riley are kissing but are interrupted by Dawn making gagging sounds in the hallway. Buffy and Dawn start fighting and appeal to Joyce who tells them to solve it themselves. Buffy slams the door in Dawn's face. In his crypt, Spike is dressing up a mannequin with a blond wig. He attacks it and calls it the slayer.

Garbage Xander has followed clean Xander to the construction site where he works. Clean Xander is called into the office by the foreman and garbage Xander assumes he is going to be fired. Instead, clean Xander is complimented for his work and offered a better job. Garbage Xander sees a metal object in clean Xander's hand and thinks he's casting a spell making this happen. At the apartment, clean Xander rents the place - his credit check went ok. And the agent comes on to him. Garbage Xander is sure magic is at work. Clean Xander calls Anya and asks her to meet him at the apartment at 9:00. When clean Xander comes into the hall they fight and clean Xander knocks garbage Xander down and runs away. Garbage Xander runs to Buffy's, in the rain, and sees clean Xander is already there telling Buffy garbage Xander is a demon impersonating him. He rushes to Willow's and convinces her he's Xander (even doing the Snoopy dance). She doesn't understand why and he explains what happened. Meanwhile, Buffy and the others decide Toth must be the impostor. Garbage Xander thinks the impostor may be an evil robot, but Willow suggests it's Toth. Clean Xander says he's going to the apartment to see Anya and Buffy says she will search for Toth. Garbage Xander begins to wonder whether he shouldn't let the demon take his life. After all, he hasn't accomplished much with it. And the demon is doing so much better. But then he remembers Anya, the one thing he will not give up, and he rushes out.

Garbage Xander goes to Anya's and hears the phone message. He starts searching through her things. At the apartment, clean Xander tells Anya he got the apartment for her. She says they need a car, a boat, a puppy, and a baby. She says she has to hurry because she's dying, she may only have 50 years left. Xander realizes since she became human, this is the first physical hurt she's had. He realizes she was going to live for thousands of years and now will die in a normal lifespan and is scared. He says they can get through that together. She says she's scared of getting old, but he calms her. Then garbage Xander bursts in. Both Xanders accuse the other of being a demon. Anya is confused and asks clean Xander to get rid of him.

Buffy and Riley are planning their search for Toth. Willow rushes in to tell them Toth is impersonating Xander, only not the way they think. They do realize clean Xander seemed more forceful than Xander normally is. Giles discovers neither Xander is evil, that the device split him into two personalities containing all his best and worst characteristics. The demon's plan was to split Buffy into her slayer self and her Buffy self. He would then kill the Buffy self and the slayer self would also die since the two cannot survive separately. The same is true of the Xanders. At the apartment, Anya is no longer sure. Clean Xander is ready to fight garbage Xander and garbage Xander pulls out a gun. Anya tries to grab the gun and they all three struggle.

Buffy and Riley are driving to the scene. She asks Riley if he'd rather she had been split in two so he could be with the Buffy part. He says the whole package is Buffy and that's what he loves, he has to have it all. Clean Xander finally gets the gun, but Buffy and Riley arrive. They explain the Xanders are the same person. Buffy proves this by asking them to guess what number she's thinking of, they both guess 11 1/2. Garbage Xander asks about the shiny thing clean Xander had. It's a nickel flattened on the railway track. He thought it was cool as does garbage Xander. Toth bursts in and attacks. Buffy fights and kills him, but Xander's cleaning deposit is probably history.

At Giles' they are getting ready to reverse the spell. They compare the Xanders, now dressed alike, and they are identical. Anya wants to wait for morning so she can have sex with them together - it wouldn't be cheating since both are Xander. But the rest of them pretend not to hear the sex talk and Willow puts them together. Later, Xander is moving out of the basement with the help of Riley and Buffy and with Anya watching. Xander gives Anya a box to carry (she's out of her sling and it contains his Babylon 5 commemorative plates). She doesn't want to, but she does. Riley tells Xander it is clear Anya loves him, the complete him. Xander says he envies Riley sometimes and Riley admits he is really lucky. He talks about how much in love with Buffy he is. Then he says she doesn't love him. Xander can't think of anything to say. Buffy returns and helps with the packing.

Analysis

I love it when a show surprises me: when the plot takes some unexpected twist and the show isn't about what I thought it was about. Most tv is drearily predictable and twists like that are hard to accomplish. But it happened twice in this episode. Once when we discover evil Xander isn't the evil Toth and isn't evil at all and again at the very end when Riley makes his revelation. That's great television.

The theme of the double or the alter ego has been well employed in Buffy, but never so self consciously. That self consciousness peaked when Xander tells Willow she wouldn't handle having a double so well and she says she did, referring to evil Willow in Dopplegangland. In addition to that most obvious instance, we've seen alter egos for Giles and Buffy as well. For Giles we have seen Ethan - the character Giles could have become had he continued his foray into black magic and not accepted his destiny as watcher. It's interesting that Giles, like Buffy, was forced into his role and originally rebelled against it. Ethan is the ultimate in that rebellion, a character aligned with the forces of darkness and striving to bring chaos to the world. Giles also has an alter ego in Wesley - the ultimate prim and proper Englishman Giles could also easily have become. This is the officious rule bound character Giles quickly abandoned when he first met Buffy, recognizing that she would never follow rules or be a conventional slayer.

Buffy has had two clear alter ego characters. First, Faith who is Buffy without family, friends, or conscience. Clearly Buffy feels a certain empathy toward Faith - there have been times when they were close in feeling - and in The Wish (the companion episode to Dopplegangland, Buffy's character is surprisingly similar to Faith's, lacking the friends she made in Sunnydale and the guidance of Giles. Second, there is Dawn. This is Buffy if she does not become the slayer. Buffy leading a relatively normal life.

In Dopplegangland, Willow encountered the self that would have been had Buffy not come to Sunnydale and had Willow become a vampire. Ethan is the Giles who refused to accept his watcher role and Wesley is the Giles who refused to accept the different situation that was Buffy as slayer. Faith is the Buffy who refuses to accept responsibility and believes she should be free to do what she wants. Dawn is the Buffy who refuses to grow up and become the slayer, retreating into the innocence (which isn't all that innocent) of childhood. In all these cases, the alter ego is the result of a change in a critical decision - generally a change not to step up to a responsibility or to accept the reality of the situation.

But Xander's double is produced in a different way. Xander makes no decision, Toth makes a mistake. Instead, this is a voyage of discovery for Xander, the realization that divergent paths exist for him and that the solution is not to take one path or another, but to find a way of combining both. Either is half a life. This is Buffy's expressed mission for the season: to reconcile the slayer aspect of her nature with the Buffy aspect. Toth's goal was to further divide them. Riley points out that it is the two together which are the real Buffy. Interestingly, Buffy herself seems uncertain of that truth. She talks about the real Buffy as nonslayer Buffy. But Riley sees deeper and that's the realization Buffy has to come to by the end of the season. A realization she's had before (most notably in Anne) but which she keeps forgetting.

In Dopplegangland, Willow was perturbed at her double (Buffy even tried to comfort her by falsely stating that the personality of the vampire bore no relation to the personality of the person it originally was) and it seemed especially at her being a lesbian. But now Willow is in a relationship with Tara. Unbeknownst to her, she has fused the two elements of her personality. Similarly, Giles unconsciously has always taken the middle path. Never as vicious and unfeeling as Ethan nor as weak and ineffective as Wesley. But neither of them really thought about this or had the point driven home to them. Xander does.

After the split, we follow the bumbling, stumbling Xander and have no trouble believing he is the real Xander and the competent, able Xander is evil. Most people emphasize their negatives and ignore their positives. In The Zeppo and Buffy Vs. Dracula, Xander's lack of self confidence is emphasized. And throughout the series that lack has been his strongest characteristic. But it's not the only thing there is to Xander. In The Freshman, it is Xander who reinvigorates Buffy when she most needs the support. In Primeval, he is an essential part of the team needed to destroy Adam. Riley, who seems to have considerable insight in this episode, tells him that Anya loves the whole package.

When bumbling Xander sees competent Xander get another job and the apartment and get hit on by the rental agent, he immediately assumes magic is at work. Competent Xander just says he's good at stuff like that. True, Xander has held many jobs, but he has always been able to get one. And his credit check is okay, there really isn't any reason he can't get the apartment. True, he's not exactly smooth with the ladies. But both Cordelia and Anya found him extremely attractive and Willow harbored a secret crush on him for years. True, he's usually the one being saved and not the one doing the saving. But whenever Buffy has needed his help he has stepped up to the job. In fact, in this episode he saves Buffy by standing in front of her and taking the blast meant for her, thus leading to his own problem.

Xander's move may be a defining point in his life. On his own, with a real job and a real girlfriend, Xander may start becoming a little more like competent Xander and a little less like bumbling Xander. And he may find himself becoming happier. This is a move he began in The Zeppo when he first realized his own worth. It continued in The Prom when he resolved his conflict with Cordelia and bought her the dress she wanted. He discovered that he could be magnanimous and have a relationship with Cordelia that was about friendship and mutual respect and not love or sex. And it continues in this episode with his realization that he is capable of doing the things he wants to do and being the person he wants to be. Not surprisingly, after Xander unites his two halves - both literally and metaphorically - Anya removes her sling and loses her fear of death.

At the beginning of the episode, Xander and Anya and Riley and Buffy are watching tv at Xander's. His arguing parents embarrass him. When he sees Riley massaging Buffy's neck he tries to do the same with Anya but is rebuffed. Riley notices his embarrassment and tries to compensate. Xander is at his lowest point, his life seems empty compared to what Buffy and Riley have. But at the end of the episode he realizes he has Anya and is moving on with his life. And he realizes that he always had Anya and always could move on - he just had to believe in himself. Meanwhile, he also discovers that it is Riley who is without hope, who believes Buffy does not love him and there is no future for them.

The importance of Anya is emphasized in the scene with Willow, bumbling Xander reaches his nadir. He's actually ready to give his life over to what he thinks is a demon impersonating him. He feels he has accomplished nothing and the demon is doing well. Living his life better than he has. He forgets all the valuable things he has done for his friends and all his successes. But when he realizes he might lose Anya, he is ready to fight. Similarly, when competent Xander discovers he isn't being fired, his first thought is to rent the apartment to make Anya happy. When he thinks there is a demon impersonating him, he wants to be with Anya to make sure she is safe. Whether competent or bumbling, Xander really cares for her. Competent Xander makes this clear in his scene with Anya when he tells her he rented the apartment for her, to make her happy. And he understands her fear of mortality and wants to help her work through it.

That final statement by Riley was stunning. But it is only the third insightful statement from Riley in this episode. Earlier he assures Buffy that she is both slayer and Buffy - a complete package which he loves in its totality. He tells Xander that Anya loves the complete Xander, even the bumbling bits. And then he reveals that he knows Buffy does not love him. Given the correctness of the first two statements, we have to give a lot of credence to the third. Does Riley believe Buffy is still in love with Angel. And given the events of the current Angel episode, First Impressions, that raises a lot of interesting questions. Or does he believe he's just transition guy, the guy Buffy dates while getting over Angel and waiting for Mr. Right. Most importantly, how will being hopelessly in love affect Riley for the rest of the season. And what happens when he tells Buffy what he believes. In a single episode, Riley has gone from annoying stereotype to richly detailed and interesting character. I'm going to miss him.

Some quick final thoughts. Until this episode, most of the most insightful comments came from Spike. I have to wonder if he'll pick up on Riley's hopeless love and say something. In the opening scene, when Xander's quarreling parents return and embarrass him, Anya holds his leg in a comforting way. This is one of those clues that there is more to their relationship than sex. So Buffy is studying the crusades - is this for school or slayer work. Either way, I'm impressed and surprised. Surely the freakiest moment of this episode was Spike attacking the mannequin slayer. I really thought he was over wanting her dead. Xander's silence when Riley says Buffy doesn't love him was probably one of the most striking and moving moments in the history of the show.

Lines of the week:

"My friend Sharon's older brother knows a girl who died because she choked on her boyfriend's tongue." - Dawn working hard at being the annoying kid sister.

"There comes a point where you either have to move on or just buy yourself a Klingon costume and go with it." - Xander on leaving the basement.

"A demon has taken my life from me and he's living it better than I do." - Xander with the cruelest of realizations.

"I swear this time I know I had that locked." - Giles wondering about his door pretty much what we had all been wondering.

"If Xander kills himself he's dead." - Buffy with the kind of dialogue only this show can produce.

"Doesn't it make everyone want to lock them in separate rooms and do experiments on them?" - Riley speaking my thoughts.

"She doesn't love me." - Riley smacking you in the face with reality.

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