In the third episode of the fifth season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Xander is the victim of a demon’s missed shot, and things are REALLY MESSED UP. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Buffy.
That’s three episodes in a row where the main villain is aiming to kill the Slayer. What the hell is going on with Buffy? Seems folks really want her dead, I guess. MORE THAN USUAL, APPARENTLY.
Anyway, it’s been a long journey for me with Xander. I experience no regret for not liking him that much in the first two seasons. It was hard for me not to see a lot of the shitty people I knew in high school and college in him, but I think the problem with that came from the fact that we just don’t get that much background information on him in the show. I mean, it’s the fifth season and we’ve seen Xander’s father once. We still haven’t seen his mother, and now that he and Anya have moved to a new apartment, I’m not sure we’ll ever get a chance to see them at all. But the glimpses we have gotten have helped me to realize that Xander’s basically been left to his own devices for a long, long time. His parents are drunk (constantly, it seems) and don’t play any presence in his life aside from irritating him with their fighting. Who’s around to raise him or give him a positive model to look up to?
And I don’t think the show is repeating itself because the writers have ran out of ways to deal with Xander, but we also get a much deeper exploration on Xander’s sense of uselessness. I think the worst point in this episode is when I, too, had to admit that the copy of Xander was acting better, more mature, and more smoothly than the original one. I had this moment of realization that it’s really hard to cope with the idea that you’re legitimately inadequate, even if that’s just how you perceive it. Xander seeks approval, even if he goes about it in the most ridiculous way imaginable, but he still just wants anyone to make him feel better about who he is. And I get that! I know very intimately what that feels like, especially since I crave affirmation so much in my own life.
I felt that this episode started off in a slightly humorous and unsettling way, but as I watched the copy Xander begin to move right into Xander’s life, I felt worse and worse. How do you fight against something like this? The copy shared Xander’s memories, his looks, his body, and only acted differently. How could Xander reverse this? And why on earth did the Toth demon even want to split someone into two versions of their personality? (Well, I didn’t figure out that both Xanders were real until Giles revealed it.) But being frustrated about the lack of hope for a resolution wasn’t the only reason this episode was so frustrating.
Honestly, I just felt bad for Xander. He’s not the same guy he was when the show started, and he’s been trying so hard to make a life for himself. While the other Scoobies are off at college, and while Giles is now working on his own magic shop, Xander’s been cycling through minimum wage jobs, dealing with neglectful and drunk parents, and struggling with his sense of self-worth. Everyone on this show has problems, but Xander’s aren’t supernatural, so they’re routinely ignored or swept under the rug. That’s the real reason this hurts to watch. What can these people do for Xander? Do they really understand how much this whole experience is fucking his head up?
I think that’s also why I like that of all the characters, Willow is the first to believe him about the double. I mean, yes, he does the Snoopy dance and it’s glorious, but it’s still very touching to me. Though I also think that’s because I just really need Willow as my platonic life partner. I might be biased here, and I accept that. Bring your worst.
What brings this all together is Anya. It’s Xander’s love for her that gets him to finally confront his double. It’s Anya’s admission of her fear of immortality that finally brings out her issues with her human life, giving her character a new layer of complexity. And you all know how much I love complex characters. It’s Anya who treats this whole situation with some well-executed humor. Can you tell how much I love Anya? I think she might be the strongest addition to the Scoobies so far.
But this really is all about Xander, and the revelation that this second Xander is just a more extreme version of his own personality is such a huge moment for this character. It’s not that we haven’t seen these things before! Xander had it in him to be authoritative and confident when he was turned into army guy. We know that he has a strong moral core that comes out from time to time. His certainty is just hidden behind so much distrust and hatred for himself. So now I’m curious to see how Xander is going to change in season five. I’m glad this episode is so early on in the season, as it sets up a fascinating character arc for him. Will Xander realize he’s a whole lot better than he thinks he is?
Three last things:
1) Anya wanting to have sex with both Xanders is just so lovely to me. But then it gets weird because I am a twin? Also, I had no idea Nicholas Brendon had a twin until this episode. Or perhaps I forgot?
2) “Well, I handled it fine.” Perhaps the best callback reference to a previous episode in the history of Buffy. Bravo, Willow.
3) I just wanted to crumple into a ball and weep for eternity when Riley told Xander that he knew Buffy doesn’t love him. The worst part? The second he said it, I agreed with him. I didn’t once think of it before this moment, but all the signs are there. This is not going to be a fun run of episodes coming up, is it? GREAT.
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