In the fourteenth episode of the third season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Buffy opens up to Faith’s philosophy towards being a Slayer, but finds it has catastrophic consequences. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Buffy.
I have a feeling that when I finish Buffy sometime in the next decade, it’ll be easy for me to look back and name “Bad Girls” as one of the most entertaining and thought-provoking episodes of the entire show. This is an immense story, one that parallels the lives of Buffy and Faith and addresses the idea that violence and death is an inherent part of their lives. I think the introduction of Faith is a large part of why I am enjoying season three more than season two. (WHICH WAS STILL A REALLY GOOD SEASON, BY THE WAY.) The dynamic she has with Buffy is one that allows us to examine how Buffy copes with her life; at the same time, the writers respect the character of Faith enough to give her her own story as well.
That’s something we don’t necessarily see all the time. The Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope often gives us a character who is rarely developed and exists just to explore the main character, who’s always a dude. While that’s obviously not the case here, since both characters are young women, I adore that while you can use Faith to expand Buffy’s characterization, but she’s still a person with motivations, flaws, problems, and emotions. Plus, I almost feel like I don’t need to say this at this point anymore, but who cares? I LOVE CHARACTER PARALLELS. And the Faith/Buffy dynamic is a wonderful parallel to Wesley/Giles as well, and LOOK, I JUST LOVE THIS EPISODE SO FUCKING MUCH.
We’ve seen that Faith is much more relaxed in her role as a Slayer, relishing in the opportunity to wield her strengths as an exercise in power. She likes being in control, and I think that’s why she runs into situations without a plan. By using chaos and the element of surprise, she can use her sheer physical and mental fury to control an environment. There’s also this subtext that the act is almost sexual for Faith. (Though I don’t know that it counts as a subtext if Faith openly talks about it.) Buffy herself isn’t as openly sexual as Faith, and the show makes this perfectly fine. They’re two different people with different desires. I never felt that the show punishes Faith for expressing a higher degree of sexual interest, either. Instead, this story wants to explore how Faith’s actions relate to the concept of violence.
It’s also a story about Giles, despite that this is mostly Faith-centric. I’m genuinely curious now why Whedon chose to make all the Watchers British. It’s clearly an intentional thing, and in the first two seasons, it operated to contrast the very Southern Californian way that the Scoobies behaved. That’s something I haven’t commented on much, so let me just say here that Whedon and the writers have captured how people in Southern California speak, especially those in high school, in a frighteningly accurate way. The drones, the intonations, the witty, reference-filled conversations they have are brilliantly contrasted with Giles’s proper style. I’d even venture to say that Giles acted as a foil to the Scoobies quite often, too. What’s so remarkable, then, is how much Giles has changed over the past couple years. When Wesley arrives, it’s now so obvious how much he’s adapted to his friends. He’s more relaxed, much quicker towards sarcasm and witty remarks, and far more willing to react to difficult situations. Wesley, while well-meaning and dedicated to his job, is what Giles was at the beginning of season one. I think Wesley also represents the idea that it’s not Giles who is out of touch with the society of Watchers, but rather the opposite. Wesley witnesses so much over the course of “Bad Girls” that all his rigorous training and studious attention to detail doesn’t prepare him for. It’s Giles who truly understands how to combat the vampires, demons, and monsters that pass through Sunnydale. And it’s Giles who knows how to deal with Faith and Buffy, not Wesley.
I’ve commented before that I really enjoy the show’s use of self-esteem and self-worth to build Buffy’s character, and this particular episode is evidence that all that storytelling was worth it. Buffy’s never been 100% comfortable with being the Slayer, and we’ve seen multiple times how she’s struggled with her own identity. And then Faith comes along, and even if she’s rash and makes mistakes, she seems so content. She seems to relish every opportunity to act out her destiny. She seems happy, vibrant, joyous, and alive. For Buffy, that’s got to be a difficult thing to see! I think that’s something a whole lot of us have had to deal with in our lives. We question what we’re doing wrong when it appears that others have better lives than we do. That’s not to say that there isn’t truth in that, but I think “Bad Girls” peels away the layers of Faith’s happiness to expose the danger of Faith’s reckless behavior. I worried that this story would blame Faith too much for what happens, but I think the situation is handled delicately. It’s true that Faith’s influence on Buffy inspires Buffy to do things she wouldn’t normally do, like skip her chemistry test.
Here’s the thing, though: Haven’t we all done something impractical or foolish because we believed it would make us happy? I can’t deny that reality. I know I’ve done that. I still do it from time to time. I also can’t deny that as Buffy and Faith raid the nest of vampires and then spend that night dancing at the Bronze, I FELT HAPPY FOR THEM. I want Buffy to be happy so badly, so I projected my own feelings on to her. Figuring out one’s identity is such a difficult and troubled process, and to watch her have a good time is so entertaining to me. I’m not going to sit here and say I tried to moralize her skipping the test or not including Giles/Wesley in her plans. I didn’t. I saw her and Faith getting along and enjoying their duties, and I liked it. And you know what? I don’t think that’s a bad thing. Impractical or lacking pragmatism? Sure. But why can’t they be happy for once? (That’s not a question for Joss, by the way. He would tell me that happiness makes him lose four years of his lifespan.)
It’s about here that “Bad Girls” starts to get uncomfortable to watch. Eventually, it becomes downright disturbing, but once Buffy and Faith break into the sports and tackle store, I began to worry about what Faith was advocating for Buffy. I get what Faith’s philosophy is. I understand that she is basically saving lives (and the world!) nearly every day, and for that, she should be able to have what she wants. That sense of entitlement is partially justified in a way. I won’t ignore that. But the world doesn’t understand who these two women are, and it’s not like they can just explain that they’re Slayers and people will just give them carte blanche to do as they please. I must admit that I love when this show acknowledges the reality that the Slayers are in and forces them to deal with being exposed and being arrested. It is frustrating to watch! We, the audience, know that Buffy and Faith are genuinely trying to SAVE ALL OF SUNNYDALE. Is a little theft that bad?
Well, we can argue and discuss that until the cows come home and I don’t know that we’d ever have a definitive answer. (Okay, that colloquial phrase barely makes sense to me. Are cows notorious for running away or something?) However, I think it’s pretty easy to find something wrong with Faith and Buffy causing an accident that gravely wounds two cops who are just doing their job. Like, for real, from about that point on, I just watched this episode with my face in my hands. I wanted to tear away from it so badly because MY SLAYERS, WHAT IS HAPPENING??? What are you doing? LOOK AT YOUR LIFE, AND LOOK AT YOUR CHOICES.
Concurrent with this, there’s a plotline involving the Mayor, Mr. Trick, and the demon Balthazar that I didn’t really understand until it was clear that both the demon and the Mayor were at odds with one another to achieve power. I really, really love stories that have plots that seem unconnected until they collide with one another. (Plus, y’all, I just LOVE THE MAYOR. He is so weird and hilarious to me. I know he’s evil, but he’s just so happy that I can’t help but like him.) So when these two plots collide, it’s in one of the most horrifying ways imaginable:
Faith accidentally stakes the deputy mayor to death.
When it happened, I swear to you, at first I thought that was Angel who had run into the scene and I nearly peed myself. (I’m not exaggerating. I had to pee like five minutes into this episode, but I was so engaged with the story that I refused to pause it and walk fifteen feet to my own bathroom. I really need to stop doing this because one time I did sort of pee myself. Have I told that story? I was playing Fallout 3 late at night and I was sitting maybe three feet from my tiny television in Los Angeles. I was exploring a bunker that was super dark and I’d been playing so long that everything was sort of blurring together because it was one in the morning and I hadn’t stopped for FOUR HOURS. What is wrong with me? Anyway, this particular fallout shelter was partially submerged in water, and I was trying to explore a stairwell that was flooded, and a Mirelurk came out of the dark water, and I yelled really loud and I may have peed just a little bit. I can’t believe I just told this story, but fuck it. It happens, and I don’t care.) Of course, it wasn’t Angel because that didn’t even make sense, so then I thought, “Oh, the deputy mayor will disintegrate and we’ll find out he was a vampire the whole time.”
Nope. He bleeds to death from a punctured lung in front of Faith and Buffy. It is honestly the most disturbing moment of this whole show so far, and I suddenly felt awful. I’d been so gung-ho about Buffy enjoying herself that I was willing to look past mistakes that Faith made. It’s this sort of conflict that makes up the heart of what happens here. Buffy can see that Faith’s actions are becoming more and more heartless, and she’s been following in her footsteps. Is this what’s going to happen to her, too?
While this episode definitely deals with Buffy’s horror-filled reaction to the ramifications of what Faith has done, this is more about Faith than anything else. The fact that the writers chose to have her moment with the deputy mayor’s corpse be entirely silent is SO BRILLIANT TO ME. She is not necessarily a woman of words, and her quiet reflection and numbness is so powerful to me. She refused to deal with what happened when she killed the man, and standing there before him is her way of silently acknowledging that she killed someone. And what does she do? NOT CARE. I know that Joss is a fan of existentialism and I might be projecting my own love for that philosophy into this episode, but Faith represents what nihilism looks like. It’s existentialism taken to a horrifying extreme. She assigns meaning to her life and to those around her, but does so in a way where she ultimately believes it all means nothing anyway. Things are temporary and fleeting to her. Buffy can be her friend if she needs her, but otherwise, she’s just another person who happens to slay. She lives in a crappy motel room because it’s a means to an end, an unfortunate necessity. She has sex because it is a temporary release. And at the end of this episode, she is frank with Buffy: she does not care that she killed someone. I believe her. I believe her trust issues have lead her to this point, and I believe that her distaste for everything and everyone that isn’t her contributed to this.
Oh god, it’s just so heartbreaking to me. I really enjoy this character, and to see her disengage like this is upsetting. I mean, this has to play into future stories, doesn’t it? Is Faith just going to disappear for a while? Will she keep slaying? I’m also curious to see how Wesley is dealt with as well. I kind of expected him to die in this episode as a way to show how unprepared he was for Sunnydale. But it looks like he’ll continue being the new Watcher in town. How will he adjust his behavior to account for what he just witnessed?
Oh, right. One more thing: WHAT THE FUCK, THE MAYOR IS INVINCIBLE. WHAT THE FUCK JUST HAPPENED. OH MY GOD THIS SHOW IS SO INCREDIBLE.
Death Count: Okay, so since I wrote these posts in advance so I didn’t have to do them on tour, it’s harder to correct mistakes I’ve made. I think that this episode had 18 deaths on screen, but I could be wrong. I know some of you are keeping track in the comments, so I’m okay doing that and responding to you so we have accurate numbers. But whenever I add them here, I have to edit anywhere from one to six posts all at once and it’s getting to be a huge hassle. So, let’s do the death count in the comments from here on out, okay? YOU ARE ALL THE BEST.