[Head here for an explanation of Throwback Thursdays]
Oh ho. This was an episode and I’ll freely admit that I was 100% fooled by the twist. But let me start with some of the smaller stuff first.
A nice, light beginning with Buffy and Angel coming out of the fictional film “Le Banquet D’Amelia” that, as Buffy helpfully points out, isn’t reeeeally about food. In case the overt ‘we just saw a super sexual film but we can’t have sex’ message isn’t clear, there are subtle touches too, like the cuddling couple that comes out right before Angel and Buffy do—who themselves keep a healthy couple inches between them. What I appreciate less is how the whole conversation is couched in references to Angel’s sexuality: Buffy doesn’t want him “getting worked up,” or to “lose control,” and it must just “drive him crazy.” At best this can be evidence for anyone with an asexual!Buffy headcanon. At worst it reinforces that 1. Women are responsible for men’s (sexual) actions, 2. Men are animals who can “loose control” at any moment (vampire instincts aside), and 3. It buys into a long history of ignoring women’s sexual desires in film/television. It’s expected of the time, but still disappointing given that Buffy has handled these issues more sensitively in the past, like when Oz tells Willow he’s not ready to have sex yet.
Given the sexually charged nature of the conversation, Buffy wonders if her use of the “rub your nose in it” idiom is also referring to something erotic. Good news, Buffy! If we believe dictionary.com it harkens back to housebreaking dogs by rubbing their nose in their own feces… which is one of the least sexy things I can think of. Please don’t do that to your puppers.
Faith interrupts the stirring moment and informs Buffy that she’s back on active duty. Um, yay more inconsistent writing? The Council was all ready to lock Faith up for her accidental killing (despite Giles assuring Buffy that this is an expected consequence of Slaying), but now there’s no more trial, or jail time, or even a slap on the wrist? Did Wesley say something to the Council? Did they take care of the police?? I get that we have way larger plot issues to get into, but the Buffy world has SUCH a rich mythology that sometimes I wish they’d spend just a bit more effort ironing out the kinks.
On patrol Faith and Buffy meet a friendly, if slightly cagey, demon (see above) who offers them a set of books referencing the Mayor’s ascension if they give him five-thousand dollars. I LOVE this guy because he’s another example of how blurred the line is becoming between ‘good’ and ‘evil.’ You’re a demon, dude. I’m pretty sure you could just go and kill someone with a bunch of money. But no, he’d rather risk his life by contacting not one, but two slayers, sell them books that will help them against the Big Bad, because even though he says he wants to escape Sunnydale before shit goes south maybe he’d actually prefer it if the town was still standing! Seems like a pretty stand-up demon to me. But just in case we haven’t gotten the split between Buffy and Faith yet, we have Buffy saying that it’s fine to let him go because he’s not a “deadly threat to humanity” while to Faith a “demon is a demon.”
Meanwhile Giles is bemoaning how demons don’t have “standards” anymore, what with the helping them and not always living in squalor. I laugh.
While meeting with the Mayor, Faith is told that she should pull her hair back because she has such a nice face. Uh… creepy. That came off as a little more genuine than Faith’s “sugar daddy” joke a few episodes before. This episode has a lot of May/December stuff going on. Like
Wesley and Cordelia. Okay. This 100% fits with Cordelia’s characterization—she’s always been after older men like the college frat boys—and it was admittedly funny when they first meet. At 18 (and with older actresses always playing ‘teenagers,’ I think Charisma was nearly 30 in season 3), Wesley had no way of knowing she wasn’t actually the Psychology professor, and I love Giles’ drive by “student” comment. But shouldn’t that have been the end of it? Are continued “jail bait” jokes really the height of a feminist show’s humor? I’ll be interested to see if anything actually happens between them.
(Then again, I've been known to ship older!Buffy/Giles so YES I’m hypocritical trash, I admit it freely.)
Faith goes after the book lover demon and we get more pointed details that she’s bad, bad, bad now. She kills him when he wasn’t a threat and he doesn’t even start sounding demon-like until after she’s got a knife in his chest, thus emphasizing how vulnerable he is. Faith also gets blood all over her hands (reminiscent of Buffy after the accidental kill of the Mayor’s assistant) which is rare for a demon. We usually just get dust or bloodless bodies to bury, so the gore here is a pretty pointed comment.
Wesley and Giles are working together more, which is great because I actually really love Wesley. My fondness for British nerds aside, he’s very much the naïve Watcher that Giles once was: never had to do a lot of fighting, certainly didn’t have to deal with a Hell Mouth, hasn’t yet learned that there’s more to Slaying than procedure/tradition, is only starting to warm up to Buffy’s way of doing things… it’s hard to hate him when he’s not actually a bad guy, just a on a very steep learning curve and with a bit of a chip on his shoulder (okay, more than a chip). It makes scenes like Giles intimidating Wesley while awkwardly blowing his nose all the more amazing.
(I should have grabbed a pic of that)
(Here, just have a random Giles instead):
(I loved this moment.)
The only thing I wish we’d seen with Wesley is a reaction to Angel. I mean yeah, we had the Scoobies react to his vampire-ness, but they got to know him first. We got new Slayers reacting, but they just tried to kill them. I really wanted by-the-books Wesley to learn that his new Slayer has a vampire boyfriend and freak out about it. Then learn that everyone is pretty much cool with it. And freak out again.
Anyway. Faith tries to play her part by tracking down the demon she’s already killed with Buffy. Kudos for continuity here because Faith is a terrible liar. She barges into the apartment (because she knows there’s no danger) and Buffy actually comments on it. Faith claims the books are gone without even looking for them, she’s super eager to get out of there—anyone would know something was up. It makes her “I’m the best actress” comment at the end of the episode all the more sad. She honestly thinks she’s pulling the strings here.
Which is why, for the past few episodes, Faith’s easy obedience towards the Mayor didn’t quite make sense to me. Yeah, she likes getting the apartment, but ultimately Faith is someone who hates to follow rules, let alone someone else’s. She’s also far more likely to want to kill Angel than engage in some elaborate plan to get rid of his soul—a demon is a demon, right? Faith has shown time and time again that she’s usually unwilling to follow Watchers who (prior to turning ‘evil’) she actually had respect and love for, so why obey this dude, her “new boss”? Faith isn’t scared of the Mayor. Surely she’s trying to manipulate him then… but we don’t see any evidence of this. It didn’t make sense to me until we got one of her final lines of the episode, “I’ll be sitting at his right hand.” We’ve all known that Faith has wanted to be more like Buffy, despite claiming otherwise, but this is the first time we’ve heard her lay out all the good things Buffy has that have largely been denied Faith: Angel, the Scoobies, a mother. Faith desperately wants someone who relies on her and who she can rely on in turn. The sad thing is she’s reached a point where she’s looking for that in the Mayor.
From here on out (or rather, interspersed through these moments) the episode picks up speed fast. Faith comes running to Angel saying how scared she is of herself now. Is she telling the truth? Is she manipulating him? Either way she tries to get in his pants and Angel just barely keeps from kissing her. We learn that she is trying to manipulate Angel into losing his soul, Buffy spots them getting cozy, Faith comes back later and brings Angelus back, Buffy learns in an instant that she not only lost her boyfriend again but Faith as well…
It’s a lot. A WHOLE lot. Especially when you throw in Buffy’s, “I am better than you.” Yes, it’s just meant to make Faith mad, but the kicker is Buffy is better. Or at least, she’s supposed to be. She’s our hero, the one we cheer for, and seeing the differences between the two girls not only laid out on the table, but actively commented on, is absolutely heartbreaking. This is a whole season’s worth of arcs slammed into one episode and I had my mouth hanging open the whole time like, “Wait! What? Slow down please??” I had things to say about pacing.
But I’m the dunce here. Well done, writer.! Everything is basically rectonned by the end because it was all just an act that Giles came up with to prove Faith has betrayed them. Angel never turned. All these ‘reveals’ were things they already suspected. And yeah, it doesn’t really hang together. How did Giles know the Mayor would summon this particular demon to do his bidding? How did he even know the Mayor wanted to get rid of Angel’s soul when the audience (or at least me…) is still unclear about why that’s a part of his plan at all? Whatever. The point is Giles is BAMF.
Even more important than that: I need that story about Giles playing matchmaker to demons. Actually, make that a whole series.
(Seriously if you’ve got good Giles fic, send it my way :D)
Additional things of note:
Loved Willow’s teasing and assertive “go talk to Angel!” and Buffy’s sincere “thank you” for listening. These girls need to have more moments like this where they really acknowledge and support one another.
Xander was good in this episode! Color me surprised but I really like him here. He helpfully bribed Willy with his own money, presumably without being told, and only jokingly asked for a refund. That was super good of him. His response to Angelus was handled well too. Admittedly I think the show would have gone in a very different direction if Angel had actually turned, but I think this was a happy medium for him. Xander was obviously upset, justifiably smug, but that smugness didn’t get in the way for once. He let off steam with his ‘told you so’ jokes and then immediately segued into helping Buffy, the obvious priority. Well done there.
Oz’s hair is back to blond. Thank god. I didn’t like him with black hair lol.
Willow’s “They liked your plan!” comment to Oz was awww. I like it when the show acknowledges when the ‘less useful’ characters do something awesome and that was also a good way of harkening back to Oz/Willow’s mending relationship.
The Mayor’s “you kids today” and “young man” comments to Angel are great touches since Angel is obviously older. And then you learn the Mayor is over a hundred. And then you remember that Angel is still older.
It probably wasn’t intentional, but I like Faith comparing Angelus to a dog. It ties in nicely with vampire!Willow’s “puppy” obsession. Whether he’s got a soul or not, Angel/Angelus is always the ‘underdog.’
Finally, Faith kissing Buffy’s forehead before running off. Ouch. They can’t kill each other yet. They’re not on the same side. They’re somewhere in between and that kiss really encompassed that: a surprisingly sweet moment amongst all the betrayal and bloodshed.