Buffy the Vampire Slayer - Hell's Bells

Summary

Buffy and Willow are staring in horror at their dresses for the wedding (Buffy is a bridesmaid and Willow best man). We learn Anya's demon friends are being passed off as circus folk and Xander's family got seriously drunk at the rehearsal dinner. Anya comes in and thinks they look beautiful. She says it's the happiest day of her life. There is lightning and thunder and storming outside. Xander is searching for his cuff links and asks his uncle Rory, who is no help. Krelvin, a demon with really wrinkly skin, is quite nice. Xander's parents come in and his father says they'll be late. His mother complains that she won't be in the pictures and Xander keeps reassuring her she will. His father starts picking on Krelvin. His cousin Carol asks him if he thinks Krelvin might date a woman with kids, she can't afford to be picky. Xander notices Carol is wearing his cuff links as earrings. Cut to a rainy street where an elderly man suddenly materializes.

Later, Buffy is helping Xander put on his cummerbund. It takes slayer strength to fasten it since Xander seems to have put on a few pounds. She's happy for Xander and Anya and says it makes her feel happy. But she can't tie his bowtie. Willow is helping Tara dress Anya, who is working on her vows. She's really excited. Cut to people entering the Sunnydale Bison's Lodge where the wedding is to be held. Uncle Rory is hitting on one of the caterers and talking to Dawn. While Rory tries to impress the caterer with his knowledge of taxidermy, Dawn greets D'Hoffryn (who has brought a gift which is alive and squirmy) and Hallie (who tries to get her to wish for something until D'Hoffryn tells her to relax and mingle). Dawn sees Spike, who has brought a rather skanky date.

Uncle Rory and aunt Carol are talking to Clem and another of the demons. Rory is saying that Xander won't be raising his kids in any weird circus folks tradition. The demons take umbrage and Carol says that the Harrises are broadminded and wouldn't ignore the circus traditions. She says they are episcopalians. Mr. Harris is well on his way to being drunk.

Xander is now fully dressed and ready to wed. Dawn comes and tells them about Spike and his date. Xander goes out to meet and greet. He's besieged. His mother is complaining about where they are seated and Dawn tells him D'Hoffryn's gift escaped. Then the old man we saw materialize grabs him and pulls him away, saying he cannot get married. Xander doesn't recognize him and the old man says he is him from the future. Xander's father starts making a drunken toast and the old man pulls out what looks like a snowglobe and says he can prove it. They go into another room while Mr. Harris starts insulting his wife and the demons. One of the demons is upset and a fight looks like it will happen when Buffy intervenes and drags Mr. Harris away. The old man says the globe will show Xander his future. He sees an unhappy marriage with two bratty children. Xander has hurt himself fighting demons with Buffy (who was lost). This means he can't work. Anya is bitter over this and their marriage is a sham. Xander has taken to drinking. Their children hate them. We see scenes through the years until, 30 years later, Xander murders Anya. He returns to the present and the old man tells him he mustn't marry Anya.

Buffy talks to Spike, who is alone for the moment. He asks if she saw his date and she says no, but she sounds like a nice attempt to make her jealous. He asks if it is working and she says a little. He asks if it hurts and she says yes. This makes him both happy and sad. They talk and joke and he says he'll leave. He says it's nice to see her be happy, even if only for others. He asks again if it hurts and thanks her when she says yes. He collects his date and leaves.

Xander is pacing and Willow comes in. They compliment each other. She says it's a good thing she's gay, since they are both in formal wear (a reference to Homecoming). He says he has to work on his vows. Tara is listening to Anya do another version of her vows, this time including the phrase 'sex poodle'. The musicians start playing and Buffy comes to get Anya, but Willow pulls her out and tells her Xander disappeared. She says she will search for Xander and tells Buffy to stall. Buffy tells Anya there is a delay because the minister has to perform an emergency c-section. She says he's a minister and a doctor, a minitor. Anya buys this, while Tara looks on amazed. Buffy leaves and Anya starts on her vows again. This time, they are really good. She talks about how she finally understands what love is. We see Xander wandering in the rain.

The wedding party is getting bored. Buffy comes in and talks to the minister. Carol and Krelvin flirt. Mr. Harris walks away. Anya is upset, complaining about the minister to Tara. Mr. Harris is getting even drunker. Mrs. Harris is whining. Halfrek and D'Hoffryn argue. Carol goes to Buffy and says she has to do something. Buffy goes to the microphone and starts working the crowd. She does some standup. Dawn is talking to a demon boy. Buffy is doing charades. Anya is rushing to the wedding, despite Tara trying to stop her. Buffy and Krelvin juggle. Dawn tells the demon boy that Xander has disappeared. Anya is walking by and hears this. She repeats it, loudly. The whole wedding party is stunned. Rory says it's a joke Xander is playing. One of the demons start complaining about the Harris family. Mr. Harris starts fighting with one of the demons. Pretty soon, it is a free-for-all. Willow pulls Tara from the melee. Anya walks through it asking people if they have seen Xander. Carol says she saw him with the old man and Anya confronts him. He says she's as vindictive as ever and turns into a demon. He's a philanderer Anya punished and turned into a demon. Now, he's seeking revenge. He tells her what he did and she cries. He starts hitting her and Buffy comes to her aid and starts fighting him. He grabs Anya and threatens to kill her. Xander comes in and he's distracted, Anya gets free and Buffy fights the demon. Anya goes to Xander and tells him it was all lies and he says it doesn't matter now. Buffy is throttling the demon. Xander crushes its head and kills it. The crowd applauds. Willow wonders whether they can cover the body with flowers.

Mr. Harris starts fighting with Krelvin and the battle begins again. Anya yells at them to stop and says the wedding will go on. Xander tells Anya he's not ready, that maybe they went too fast. He says he knows the visions were false, but they could become true. He sees his parents fighting. She tells him everyone has doubts, but he can't go through with it. He leaves and Anya walks up the aisle alone and crying.

Buffy, Willow, and Dawn are home wondering if there is anything they can do. Anya said she wants to be alone. Buffy thinks Xander and Anya really were happy. They wonder where Xander is. We see him checking into a cheap motel. D'Hoffryn is talking to Anya, telling her she should go back to what she does best.

Analysis

Way back in Into the Woods, an episode much referenced in last week's As You Were, the Xander/Anya relationship was paralleled with the Buffy/Riley/Spike relationship. And that continued this week. Back then, Xander was the mature one who saw into the relationships and gave advice - too late for Buffy. Now, Buffy is the mature one, handling her breakup with Spike like an adult while Xander runs away and then returns only to abandon his bride at the altar. He gave Buffy advice then, he could use a little advice now.

I understand why Xander doesn't want to marry. His marriage role models are pretty awful. Everyone in his family, and especially his parents, are dreadful. They actually make Anya's demon friends appear friendly and restrained. Forced to choose between his father or uncle Rory and Clem or tentacle guy, it's the demons I'd rather hang out with. The demons display some manners and actually seem concerned for Anya. The Harris family just gets drunk and insulting. Xander, even realizing the future he was shown was false, realizes it is possible. He's scared, for himself and for Anya. But Xander is the one who proposed, Xander is the one who made the public announcement, Xander is the one who kept calming Anya. He's the thoughtful one when it comes to relationships. After all he has said to Anya - telling her she makes him feel like a man in Into the Woods, that he's not interested in a life without her in The Gift, and most recently telling her how much he looks forward to their married life together in As You Were - how can he back away from his commitment now? Hasn't he thought this through? Is this a genuine feeling he's responding too, or is it just first night jitters? Has Xander avoided a huge mistake or made one?

While Xander is regressing, Anya seems to be progressing. Her vows, while ridiculous at first, end up being profound and meaningful. She does seem to understand what it's about. She goes from sex poodle to understanding what love is about. Anya became a vengeance demon because a boyfriend betrayed her. Now it's happened again and D'Hoffryn is at her side once more, offering her the opportunity to return to her demonic ways. But she's not the same person she was and she wasn't betrayed in the same way. She really did love Xander and she understood what love meant. And he cared for her. It's partly because of that that he calls off the wedding. Buffy is sure they really were in love, really were happy, and I think she's right. Xander just wasn't sure they could sustain that through a life together.

Xander says he's not ready, that maybe they went too fast. Maybe he let himself get caught up in the emotion and said and did things he really didn't want to say and do. Buffy was in much the same situation with Spike. But she caught herself in time. Before making a commitment, she broke it off. And she's maintaining a relationship with Spike. Xander ran out at first, but Buffy walks up to Spike and admits the pain she feels at seeing him with someone else. A pain he feels at seeing her and knowing she isn't with him. And sharing that pain makes it easier. Spike is amazingly mature and civil about it. He leaves, even though she says he has every right to be there. By saying that, she's acknowledging that he's one of them, a real person. He appreciates that. He leaves not because he doesn't belong, but because it's a painful and awkward situation and his leaving makes it easier for both of them.

Xander thinks his leaving is making it easier for both of them, but both he and Anya seem miserable. They're both mired in despair. He's in a dreadful little motel room and Anya is letting a demon talk her into vengeance. This is not a positive way to deal with breakup. They aren't talking to each other and they aren't going to their friends for support. They are running away. The exact opposite of the Buffy/Spike relationship. In Into the Woods, Xander told Buffy she had to tell Riley how she felt, she had to take a risk. But he fails to do that here. He does, eventually, come back to tell Anya he's leaving. But he never tries talking things through with her. He won't put in the time to try to fix things. He's not ready to confront his demons.

I have to think even Spike haters must have been impressed by his behavior in this episode. Yes, he sinks pretty low at the beginning, trying to make Buffy jealous. But he demonstrates considerable self awareness. He can laugh at himself, a pretty positive character trait. And he can do what is right for others (leaving the party so he doesn't disturb it or Buffy) even when it isn't optimal for him. He puts his emotions aside. And he, arguably, is the most emotional character on the show. A character who normally gives in to every impulse (which may well be the definition of a demon). After better than a year of having his impulses forcibly curbed by the chip, he know seems capable of controlling at least some of his impulses (in this case the impulse to cause Buffy pain) on his own.

Some quick final thoughts. I used to think the whole ugly bridesmaid dress thing was just a joke and that it didn't really happen. Then I met women who had actually been bridesmaids. I've yet to find one who would ever wear one of those dresses again. Why the recasting of Xander's father? This is not the actor who played that role in the dream sequence in Restless. Is it Xander or the actor who is putting on weight? It was nice to see that formal wear reference to Homecoming - some long term continuity. I liked Buffy telling Xander he glowed and Spike telling Buffy her happiness for Xander and Anya made her glow. The repetition of this line seemed a deliberate attempt on the part of the writers to link the relationships. This is the second time we've seen Buffy tear a tight dress so she can fight, the other time was in the bank in Flooded. I liked Buffy's I survived shirt. You've got to love Clem. Notice he put his hand up when Buffy asked if anyone was from out of town. Tara and Willow sure had a lot of giggly time together this episode.

Lines of the week:

"I am Buffy the bridesmaid." - Buffy on the horror of the bridesmaid's dress.

"That was like a zoo without the table manners." - Willow on the rehearsal dinner.

"We're not here to do vengeance, we're here to mingle." - D'Hoffryn giving Hallie some advice.

"It's nice to watch you be happy." - Spike letting Buffy know he still cares.

"I'm not sure you should say sex poodle in your vows." - Tara being a little old fashioned.

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