In the fifth episode of the seventh season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Anya and Buffy face off after Anya does something horrific. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Buffy.
It wasn’t until I saw “Entropy” last season that I came to understand the parallels between the lives of Anya and Spike, so I think it’s fitting that “Selfless” often reminded me of “Fool For Love.” This episode provides the much-needed context of Anya’s backstory, showing us how she came to be a vengeance demon and why. It’s also relentlessly uncomfortable to watch, which I’m not surprised about because this is Buffy we’re talking about. Drew Goddard wastes absolutely no time getting right to the point. After a brief scene in which the Scoobies wonder about whether Anya will ever rejoin them, the camera cuts to a gory and bloody scene, ultimately focusing on Anya. She’s covered in the blood of the men she killed, in shock at what’s happened.
Nope. NOPE NO WHAT HAVE YOU DONE, ANYA?
Sjornjost, Sweden, 880 A.D.
You know, I think that this first flashback seemed kind of silly and funny at first. The grainy footage was a strange choice, especially since other flashbacks didn’t have them. Plus, I don’t know Swedish, so I couldn’t tell if they were properly speaking in that language or just making fun of it. Tonally, it’s just… weird. But in terms of the context, HOLY SHIT. IT’S OLAF BEFORE HE WAS A TROLL. Oh my god, Anya is human here. Not only that, but she is selfless. She’s dedicated to her man, she wants to give away rabbits to the local townspeople (OH MY GOD, HER FEAR OF BUNNIES HAS AN EMOTIONAL BASIS IN THIS FLASHBACK), and she’s happy. She’s definitely worried that Olaf might be unfaithful to her, but she so desires to be with this man and make him happy. Ugh, the obvious parallels to Xander are already too much to handle, but it helps me to understand what it was that made Anya choose to become a vengeance demon. Twice.
Oh god, Spike, you really do need to get out of that basement. That place is feeding on your vulnerability. AND YOUR HALLUCINATIONS ARE GETTING WORSE. So this appearance of Buffy… was it that same thing at the end of “Lessons,” or was this a separate hallucination? Either way, holy shit, Spike is tearing himself apart, overwhelmed with guilt and confused by what he’s supposed to use. Is it possible for him to reach a point where that thing from “Lessons” could actually force him to do something terrible on its behalf?
Meanwhile, it isn’t long before someone discovers the bloodbath in the frat house. That person is Willow, and good god, what a good writing choice. This entire time, I’ve been wondering how Willow would deal with her magical powers if she was put into a situation where she needed to use magic to help herself or the other Scoobies. Here, upon finding all the dead bodies in the house, she soon discovers that the girl who made a wish to Anya hiding in a closet. By having Willow discover that Anya was behind the massacre, this allows Drew Goddard to spend way more time on the complex moral problem that all these characters face, which is a big reason why I liked “Selfless” so much. However, this scene also shows that Willow still possesses a part of her dark side within her. When that spider demon attacked her, HER EYES WENT BLACK AND SHE WAS SUPER MEAN TO THAT GIRL. Holy shit, no. Can she not go back to her dark side again? Oh god, that just made her journey so much more difficult.
Sjornjost, Sweden, 880 A.D.
How come Anya suddenly spoke English here? Just wondering.
This second flashback got an idea stuck in my head: Anya was a vengeance demon because it allowed her to feel important. I got the sense that she wasn’t very popular in her village. She didn’t quite fit in. Hell, I’d even wager that D’Hoffryn purposely sought her out because he knew he could take advantage of this specific vulnerability. That’s not to say that she didn’t have the talent for vengeance. Obviously, she did! But I just mean that D’Hoffryn is a cunning demon, and he planned this, just as he manipulated Anya at the end of “Selfless.” This is important, though, because I think Anya returned to the vengeance demon fold because she, once again, felt left out after being scorned. She just wants to belong.
HOLY SHIT, WILLOW CONFRONTING ANYA. Okay, first, as you’ll see in my video, I want to leave every room like Halfrek. I do! I would like this to happen. Someone make it so.
Anyway, lord. I can’t imagine anything more awkward than Willow confronting Anya about using her powers to kill people. That sentence alone makes me curl up in angst. And whether Willow wants to admit it or not, Anya does have a point here. Willow isn’t exactly on the most solid ground to make a judgment on her actions. That being said, I am glad that Willow is the first to confront her, though I felt that her scene with Anya was cut short. I expected more from it, but it just sort of ended? Intercut with this, I watched Buffy and Xander fight the horrifying (but poorly animated) spider demon, and I knew the inevitable was coming soon.
That’s exactly what the next scene addresses. I was kind of at a loss when Xander flipped out on Willow. Didn’t Willow find out that Anya was behind the murders like an hour ago, dude? She is telling you. CALM DOWN. But I understood what Drew Goddard was trying to do: build tension for the conversation that these three needed to have. (Where the fuck was Dawn for this entire episode?) They needed to discuss whether or not Anya should be killed. Yeah, I seriously didn’t think things could get any more awful than season six, and now the three main characters are talking openly about killing off one of the other main characters. This is so, so fucked up.
St. Petersburg, Russia, 1905
Wreaking vengeance is what Anya does. Oh god, you can tell she’s happy here, and I want Anya to be happy, but at what cost? She terrified that poor girl after she was already bullied by the frat guys. She let loose a demon that’s randomly ripping the hearts out of innocent bystanders. I understand Anya’s desire for acceptance and importance, I really do! But that doesn’t mean I have to like the way she goes about getting these things.
Also, lol at revolutionary communism being inevitable and desirable.
Sweet baby Giles, I just don’t know how I feel about all of this. It’s brilliantly written, and I loved the callback to “Becoming, Part Two.” I didn’t want Anya to die. I wanted so desperately for Xander to find another way to stop Anya. But I also couldn’t ignore that Anya was now a murdering demon, and Buffy’s code dictated that Anya had to die. It made me think about how many demons, vampires, and other creatures have died over the course of the previous six seasons. Was there ever another way? Did they all deserve to die? Were all these beasts and monsters truly evil, or should they ever be given the benefit of the doubt?
Willow, then, refuses to resolve this conflict this way. To me, I read that scene as Willow believing she’d already killed enough in her life, and even if Anya’s death was ultimately necessary, she wasn’t going to have Anya’s blood on her hands. Instead, she uses the talisman that D’Hoffryn gave her back in “Something Blue” to call on him to ask him to intercede on Anya’s behalf. Oh god, again, I can’t believe I never thought about how similar Anya and Willow are in this context. Both killed people out of vengeance. HELP, I LOVE CHARACTER PARALLELS.
I think that aside from Buffy’s fight with Glory at the end of season five, the fight scene with Anya might be the most brutal battle in the whole series. There’s so much hatred, anger, and fury here, and you can tell that this isn’t going to end unless someone dies or something else physically stops them. So when Buffy skewered Anya with her sword, I just… no. No, this couldn’t be happening. No, why??? WHY WAS EVERYTHING AWFUL AGAIN?
Sunnydale, September 2001
Okay, while I loved “I’ll Be Mrs.,” I fostered this horrible thought while it was happening: did this show just kill off Anya and then show this joyous moment of song and dance in order to remind me of how wonderful things once were? THAT’S TOTALLY WHAT’S HAPPENING HERE, ISN’T IT? Oh god, no, how am I supposed to enjoy Emma Caulfield’s lovely voice if I’m always thinking about how it’s last moment “alive” while on the show?
Apparently, I should have just remembered “Older and Far Away.” Right, so you can’t kill a vengeance demon with a sword through the chest. Ooops!
“Selfless” really hinges on the emotional resolution to this dilemma. Truthfully, no one had asked Anya what she wanted. They all assumed they knew what was best for her. And if Anya truly wanted to be a vengeance demon, then I think matters might have been simpler. At least then, Buffy’s moral standing would have been firm. They could either kill Anya or she’d escape. Instead, she chooses to have her act undone. In a teary request, she tells D’Hoffryn to take everything back, even if that means that he must take the life and soul of a vengeance demon. Yeah, she was going to die in this episode, but instead, this would be her choice. She would choose to sacrifice herself to amend for the wrong that she brought to this world. Anya, you chose a selfless solution to this problem, and I will respect you forever for this.
EXCEPT D’HOFFRYN TAKES HALFREK’S LIFE AND SOUL INSTEAD! NO, FUCK YOU, WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!?!?!?! Oh fuck, I am glad Anya is still alive, but this is such a HORRIFYING thing to do! I LIKED HALFREK, GODDAMN IT. And what is all this nonsense about “From below, it devours”? WHY DOES EVERYONE KEEP SAYING THIS? What does D’Hoffryn know???
I don’t know what Anya’s going to do now. At the end of “Selfless,” she admits to Xander that without a defined role to slip into, she feels aimless. She has no direction. But I can tell that this is a journey she wants to experience alone, at least for the time being. She’s got to find her own path in life. I don’t think we’ll see her for a few episodes, either. Ah, Anya, I am just so full of feelings for you after this. TOO MANY FEELINGS.
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