Buffy the Vampire Slayer - Selfless [Anya]

Summary

Dawn is giving Willow advice on going back to college. She suggests doing and saying what everybody else does and says. Buffy asks Xander if he has talked to Anya lately and he says no. He says they are through with one another, but he's concerned for her. He says she's not really into vengeance any more, that she just turned to what she knew when he walked out on her but she's over that. Cut to a room full of dead bodies, their hearts ripped out, with a bloody Anya wondering what has she done.

It's 880 and we're in what I guess is Sweden. The dialogue is all in Swedish and there are subtitles. Anya, called Aud, is in her cabin (surrounded by bunnies) and Olaf (her boyfriend who we encountered in Triangle) who has just returned home after a bloody encounter with some trolls. He hates trolls. She tells him that their rabbits are breeding so rapidly she is considering giving them to the villagers - not for money but for good will. He says her logic is insane and it's no wonder the bar maids talk of her. She latches onto his having been to the bar and asks if Rannveig was there. He says he has no interest in Rannveig. Cut to Anya in the present washing off the blood.

Spike is talking to Buffy, telling her about his hallucinations. He compares them to Dru's. Buffy says she can help him, Spike says he could never ask. She tells him that they'll get through it. The camera pulls back to reveal another Buffy walking toward Spike and he's sitting alone. Buffy tells him he has to get out of the basement. He starts laughing crazily and eventually says he doesn't have anywhere else to go.

Willow is talking to a professor who is willing to accept her back. Especially since while her grades dropped off last year, they magically picked up at the end of term. Willow looks guilty. She sees Anya (wearing a strange coat and looking awkward) and approaches her. She tells her about going back to school and asks why she's there and walking out of a fraternity house. Anya says she's visiting her new boyfriend who's in the frat. Willow notices blood on Anya. Anya leaves and Willow enters the house seeing blood on the floor. She opens the door to what is probably the room with the dead guys. She hears a girl whimpering and turns and goes to a closet which she opens to find a crying girl. She's says one of the boys broke up with her in front of the others. That it was a cruel joke. She wished that they would know what it was like to have their hearts ripped out. And then it came and did it. Willow asks what it was and the girl says a spider. Willow asks where the spider went. We see the spider on the ceiling behind Willow. It attacks and Willow fights it off with magic. Her eyes go black for a moment and she yells at the girl to shut up. Then she's back to normal and says she's sorry.

We're back in 9th century Sweden and Olaf has been transformed into a troll and is being pursued by the villagers. Aud looks on. D'Hoffryn appears. He's impressed at how she managed the transformation. He offers her a job as a vengeance demon and to become Anyanka.

Buffy is at school and Willow phones to tell her what happened. Hallie is visiting Anya and praising her for the massive and bloody vengeance at the frat. She says they're even thinking of some sort of ceremony. Anya is upset at what happened, Hallie tells her she'll get over it. Willow enters and tells Hallie to get out. Anya says it's ok and Hallie leaves. Willow says she wants to help her. Anya says they got what they deserved.

Xander and Buffy are in the woods looking for the spider demon. They think Willow had to go sign up for classes. They come across a body with its heart ripped out. The demon leaps out of the tree tops and attacks. Buffy manages to fend it off and it disappears again. They can't see it. Xander suggests they go home, get more swords, maybe a spider demon protection amulet. Buffy hurls her ax into the trees and kills the demon. They get home and Buffy is ready to do research to figure out where the demon came from. Willow is there and tells them she knows. Xander is angry that she didn't tell them before. Buffy says there was a reason. Willow knew she would have to kill Anya.

Flashback to St. Petersburg 1905 where Anya and Hallie are sitting in a dining room, surrounded by the dead. Anya has started a revolution. Hallie wants to have some fun, but Anya just wants to do more vengeance. She says it is what she is. In the present, Buffy is telling Xander Anya isn't the same person any more, she's a demon. She reveals she's thought this through, she knew it might come to this. Xander says they can fix it, that these are mystical deaths. Willow says she doesn't have that kind of power and doesn't trust the power she does have. He says they didn't kill Willow, they helped her. Buffy says Willow was human and Anya is a demon. That Xander can't see clearly because he still loves Anya. He says she had no trouble protecting Spike when she was having sex with him. She says Spike was harmless and helping them. That Anya chose to become a demon, twice. Xander accuses her of cutting them off again. He says if she knew what he felt she couldn't do this. She says she killed Angel and she loved him more than anything. She reminds him that he cheered her on and conveyed Willow's message to 'kick his ass'. Willow interrupts to say she never said that, but Xander talks over her saying this is different. Buffy says it's always different, always complicated, and in the end the slayer has to act alone. Xander says there has to be another way, she asks him to find it, but no one says anything. Xander leaves. Buffy gets a sword and goes. Willow finds the talisman D'Hoffryn gave her in Something Blue and summons him. He's happy to see her and asks if she's done something with her hair. He says the flaying of Warren was water cooler vengeance. She says that's not her any more. He says didn't he feel a bit of that old her earlier today. She says they need to talk about Anya and he agrees to.

Anya is at the frat house. Xander enters. He has been searching for her and thought she might be here. He tells her he's sorry for what he put her through and what he did. She's sarcastic. She knows Buffy is coming to try to kill her. Buffy arrives. Xander tries to intervene, but Anya puts on her demon face and knocks him out of the way. She and Buffy fight. Anya is getting the best of it. Buffy says she's sorry, Anya doesn't understand why. Buffy stabs her in the chest.

Flashback to Once More, With Feeling, the musical episode of last season. Xander is sleeping in his chair and mumbling about wanting a happy ending. Outside, we hear people singing about dry cleaning. Anya begins to sing about how her identity is being Mrs. Xander Harris. Xander awakens at the frat house. Anya comes to. She isn't dead since it's not that easy to kill a vengeance demon. Buffy says she's just getting started. They fight again and when Buffy is about to strike her Xander knocks Buffy aside. Anya yells at him to stop trying to save her. D'Hoffryn materializes.

He says Willow thinks Anya should stop being a vengeance demon. He knows what Buffy wants and Xander sees with the eyes of love. But he doesn't know what Anya wants. She says she wants to take it back. D'Hoffryn says there will be a price, the life and soul of a vengeance demon. Xander says no, there must be an alternate price. Anya says he can't help her, she's not even sure there's a me to help. She says it's her wish. D'Hoffryn summons and destroys Hallie. Anya is shocked. He says it was her wish, that she won't get off that easy. He says never go for the kill when you can go for the pain. She says he should have killed her. He says 'from beneath you, it devours'. He leaves.

Anya walks out. Buffy sends Xander after her. Anya says she's always just clung to whatever's there. Xander says as a clingee he didn't mind. She says what if she's really nobody. He says don't be a dope. She says she's a dope, it's a start. They walk away, in opposite directions.

Analysis

There's a secret to making a tv series survive for years. Actually, several secrets. You make it through the first season with a good idea and a decent cast. You make it through the next two with solid writing. But that's when things get tough. The original idea which drove your series (say a story about a high school girl fighting vampires) just can't be sustained any longer (maybe because she has to graduate). The strong writing alone isn't enough, because people aren't interested just in words - they want a story and characters and conflict. The secret for making it into what passes for old age amongst tv shows is to let new characters supplant the old. So that teenage girl who graduated and who lost her great love has to give up some screen time to the mousy girl who discovers she's a lesbian and a witch, and - maybe - the girl who was a demon who was a girl (who was a demon who was a girl) who fell in love with the not terribly bright but good hearted guy who didn't have the guts to see it through. And the secret to the secret is that these aren't excuses for stories, but characters just as fully developed as that initial starring role. Do that and you're laughing. I think Whedon is doing a lot of laughing these days.

When this episode started, I wondered who would have the guts to do an extended segment of an episode in a foreign language with subtitles. I guess the same guy who would do an extended segment without dialogue, or an entire show that was a musical, or - best of all - dropping the other shoe in season 7 to a story line started in season 2. And doing that last without even bothering to explain it to the viewers - because you trust them to understand. Even if Buffy were a total failure, it would still be an important moment in television history because of all the things its producer has dared to do. It will, and has, changed the face of tv.

The flashbacks are similar to those we saw about Spike in Fool For Love. As with Spike, we see how a human becomes a demon and how a relatively normal person becomes increasingly evil and violent in demonic form. This is the demon as victim. Like William, Aud is hurt by the person she loves. At the point of her deepest pain, a demon appears and makes her an offer. The opportunity to gain revenge on all those who have hurt her and many others besides. Like William, she takes the offer and changes names - he to Spike, she to Anyanka.

Along with the parallel with Spike, the parallel with Willow is made. Willow seeks to help Anya. She understands the drive for vengeance. Anya sees the link as well, commenting on Willow's flaying of Warren. She rejects Willow's help arguing that Willow needs help herself and doesn't have the moral high ground. But Willow doesn't give up. While Buffy goes off to kill Anya, Willow seeks to save her by bargaining with D'Hoffryn. There's an interesting parallel here to Willow's analysis of Buffy and Xander's roles at the end of Same Time, Same Place. She says Buffy doesn't have the luxury of kind thoughts. So while Buffy accepts the role of champion and Xander tries to stop the two women he loves from killing each other, Willow seeks a third path. She understands that Buffy and Xander have to do what they have to do. She doesn't try to stop them, she tries to make the problem go away. She tries to help Anya the same way Xander and Giles have helped her. By making her realize what's really important to her.

The long awaited shoe drops in the scene with Xander and Buffy arguing. Buffy recalls Xander relaying the message from Willow to 'kick his ass' when Buffy was going after Angelus. But Willow was actually working to recast the curse and save Angel. Xander deliberately withheld that information because he wanted Angel dead. He was jealous and he used Buffy as his instrument to remove his rival. He didn't kill anyone, but he was as responsible for Angel's death as was Buffy. He was no different from Anya or Willow. This secret has got to come out now and how Buffy will deal with Xander's betrayal (especially now that he has become the moral compass of the group and the stabilizing center) will be critical.

Xander attempts to replicate his world saving ways with Anya. He succeeded in the parallel case with Willow, something he is very proud of as we learnt in Same Time, Same Place, and he thinks he can do the same thing again. But Anya doesn't want to be saved. When she shouts at him to stop trying to save her, it becomes evident that she wants to die. She can't bring herself to commit suicide, so she is trying to get Buffy to kill her. She realizes that she is evil and as an evil being must be destroyed. When D'Hoffryn offers her the chance to sacrifice herself, she jumps at it. Of course, that's not what happens (and I wasn't surprised by this turn of events since giving you what you asked for and not what you wanted is the hallmark of vengeance demons). Anya's punishment is having to live with her pain and guilt. The same punishment all the others have.

Xander tries to bargain with D'Hoffryn, but Anya makes it clear he cannot help. And she says she's not even sure she exists as a being who can be helped. In her song, she talks about lacking an identity other than Mrs. Harris. When that failed, she slid back into the vengeance fold. But that, too, is failing her. She has no identity left. She makes her fear of being nobody explicit in the final scene. That's when Xander realizes he can't help her by being with her. She has to find an identity by herself, not an identity with someone. Until she knows who she is, she can't become part of a couple.

It's interesting that Buffy takes a sword to kill Anya (the same weapon she used to destroy Angelus) and that she stabs her in much the same manner. To add to the parallel, after the symbolic slaying (in neither case is the demon really destroyed - Anya continues to fight and Angel is merely sent to a hell dimension), the demon becomes good again. Angelus returns to his Angel form due to Willow reissuing the curse. Anya abandons her vengeance due to Willow's intercession with D'Hoffryn.

The scene with the two Buffy's and Spike is interesting. For one thing, we're never really sure the second Buffy isn't an hallucination as well. For another, we get an insight into the incredible remorse Spike has over the attempted rape. This is the act which moved him to get his soul back. It's the act so horrible he felt the need to have a soul so he could feel genuine remorse for it. And it's the act so horrible, so sinful, that it stops him from asking for forgiveness. It's at the root of his despair in every sense. It's the act which gave him the possibility of redemption (by causing him to regain a soul) and which stops him from achieving that redemption (by casting him into despair and stopping him from asking for forgiveness). Like Anya, he is separated from the one he loves and feels it isn't possible to be with that one because of what he has done.

Most intriguing is his final statement, that he doesn't have anywhere else to go. As a being with a soul, Buffy feels some responsibility for him. She knows he has to get out of the basement. His excuse, that he has nowhere to go, is a legitimate one. So will we see Spike moving in with Buffy? Or Xander? Or even Anya? Or will she just leave him there? Or maybe Clem is still keeping the crypt warm. I'd love to see Clem again.

The music in this episode was really interesting. Of course, there's the song which is a flashback to Once More, With Feeling. I have to wonder whether this was a number recorded at the time and not used in that episode or something done expressly for this episode. I also have to wonder whether the remembrance of the song is Anya's or Xander's - they are both unconscious at the time and the song ends when Xander awakens. The tune seemed similar to the Tara/Willow love song and it also stops abruptly the way that song did. Which seems appropriate given the Anya/Willow parallels we're seeing. Tara's death and Xander's desertion led Willow and Anya to evil. Anya expressly states that her identity is as Mrs. Harris. Without Xander, she doesn't exist. Xander says she just went back to what she was familiar with and he's right. Having no other identity, she slipped into the now ill fitting role of vengeance demon. Equally interesting is the music played as Anya and Xander talk at the end of the episode. I'd swear these are the opening notes to the Buffy/Angel love theme. And the parallel between Buffy/Angel and Xander/Anya has been made in this episode.

Some quick final thoughts. The subtitled scenes with Olaf are shot very much in Bergman style and the dialogue is reminiscent of his films as well. As Willow walks across campus with her professor we see a bulletin board with UC*D (the * is as close as I can come to the sun symbol). Cute. Didn't they get rid of all the magical stuff in Gone? So how come Willow still has D'Hoffryn's talisman from Something Blue and the necessaries for a summoning spell. It's amusing how Hallie always teleports so dramatically. It was fun to see Anya, now a great capitalist, so ardently a communist in the flashback to St. Petersburg and the aborted 1905 revolution. I'm glad D'Hoffryn made the comment about feeling the old vengeful Willow earlier. Clearly, her dark moment really did dredge up those old evil elements in her. Doesn't Buffy remember Halfrek being stabbed with a sword and it not killing her in Older and Far Away? Anya's "I want to take it back" is meant to remind us of the whimpering girl saying "I take it back". Anya has come full circle from pursuer of vengeance to horrified victim.

Lines of the week:

"Strong, successful males say 'giddy'?" - Buffy pointing out the flaw in Xander's argument.

"Your hips are narrow. Like a Baltic woman from a slightly more arid region." - Olaf demonstrating why he didn't get the girl.

"I could never ask." - Spike on why he can't be happy.

"I don't have anywhere else to go." - Spike on his most pressing problem.

"I take it back." - Closet girl regretting her wish.

"Shut your whimpering mouth." - Dark Willow being dark.

"I am Aud." - Anya with a quite accurate representation.

"They all deserve it."
"That's where I was going with that, yeah." - Anya and D'Hoffryn with the vengeance demon credo.

"Vengeance is what I am." - Anyanka in a fit of self discovery.

"I still love her." - Xander saying what we all know.

"It's never simple." - Buffy on the complexities of being the slayer.

"I killed Angel." - Buffy on the tragedy of her life.

"There's only me. I am the law." - Buffy on the burden of being judge, jury, and executioner.

"That was water cooler vengeance." - D'Hoffryn admiring Willow's work with Warren.

"Stop trying to save me, Xander." - Anya being suicidal.

"I want to take it back." - Anya identifying with the victims of vengeance.

"You can't help me. I'm not even sure there's a me to help." - Anya combining despair with identity issues.

"Never go for the kill when you can go for the pain." - D'Hoffryn on the vengeance credo.

"From beneath you, it devours." - D'Hoffryn with the tag line of the season.

"What if I'm really nobody." - Anya on her deepest fear.

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