**For more, read along on pages 206-210 of my Buffy the Vampire Slayer companion guide, Bite Me.
Welcome to Week 18 of the Buffy Rewatch, and three excellent episodes that all look at the difficulties of being a teenager... both human and vamp.
First, a slice of cheese from our resident BtVS music expert, Janet Halfyard!
The death motif is building up towards the season finale, specifically in relation to Faith as a threat to Buffy. There are lots of other things I could talk about now, but that would be greedy (and possibly boring). In “Doppelgangland”, right after the credits when the Mayor says to Faith “Let’s kill you little friend”, there is it again, large as life (or death). Then in “Enemies”, it becomes part of an episode theme for Faith: we hear it first when she goes to Angel, apparently seeking help form the one person who might understand what she’s going through; but the music is a big clue that she is not to be trusted, that she remains a threat. The motif is embedded in the theme (its second phrase); we get it again when Faith comes back to try to seduce Angel for the second time; and finally when we discover that Faith has been tricked by Buffy and Angel.
(I know I said I wouldn’t, but right at the end of “Enemies”, the first few notes of the original love theme act as a tag to “This is what is left” when Angel asks if Buffy is still his girl and she replies “always” [sob])
Thanks, Janet! Our first episode this week was “Doppelgangland,” a personal favourite of mine (if only for that adorable quick wave that Willow gives to Oz at The Bronze to assure him she’s not Vamp Willow... Alyson Hannigan puts in a stellar performance in this one, showing how she can play two entirely different characters). A couple of weeks ago you met Suzie Gardner (author of the Glee book), who talked about “The Wish.” Now she’s back to discuss the other half of that episode, “Doppelgangland.”
So, tell us, Angel — how alike ARE vampires and their original mortal selves?: A look at Willow and VampWillow in "Doppelgängland"
VampWillow is back, so obviously, I am, too! Last time around when I wrote about "The Wish", I mentioned my huge love for Willow's alternate self, but in this week's "Doppelgängland", things get even more interesting. Near the end of the episode, Angel starts to correct Buffy's statement that vampires don't retain any of their original human personality traits, which can only get one thinking about just how many similarities there are between a person and their doppelgänger, a human and a human-turned-vampire.
For Willow, it originally does seem like her and her counterpart are complete opposites. The entire first half of this episode emphasizes how Willow is often seen as a pushover, "Old Reliable" as Buffy calls her. She's constantly doing whatever anyone wants of her, be it Buffy, Xander, Giles, Principal Snyder or dumb jock Percy. VampWillow, on the other hand, quickly and easily becomes the leader of a new vampire gang, showing that she's definitely not the type to get walked all over. But nevertheless, Willow did show some inner strength and power by taking on her doppelgänger's persona and attempting to lead the charge in the Bronze. What Willow continued to prove, in fact, is that her leadership and strength comes from a much nicer place than VampWillow's does — while her doppelgänger shows her strength by hunting and killing, the original Willow shows her strength through compassion. Telling Buffy not to kill VampWillow was an incredibly strong and difficult decision, but one that ultimately shows Willow's kind heart, not a pushover heart, but one that's kind and strong in her convictions when necessary. In essence, it seems as though Willow and VampWillow have both developed their strength based on their circumstances and environment — one version could fairly easily become the other, should their situations be changed.
Of course, those of us who have watched Willow's development throughout the seasons as she gets deeper and deeper into the black arts, know that the Willow of "Doppelgängland" and VampWillow have much more in common. While VampWillow shows her strength outwardly with her vampiric abilities, our Willow later moves to showing her strength outwardly as well, just with the help of her witchy talents. In fact, by the time Willow goes completely off the deep end near the close of season 6, we see that her evil-ness has hit the same point as her vampiric counterpart: her last words to Warren before she kills him are VampWillow's trademark, "Bored now." And, just because I can't help but mention it, the line where Willow says that her doppelgänger is "kinda gay", is pure gold when you know that Willow herself will be, too, in just a little while.
In comparing the two Willows, the most interesting scene is when Willow impersonates her evil self and infiltrates the Bronze. Despite her initial attempt to seem set on the kill, Willow soon begins musing about how her mortal self is a weak pushover. By having Willow disguised as VampWillow analyze Willow...well, it's confusing, but also rather brilliant. You can see that our girl is enjoying being in this more powerful role, but it's clear that she's nervous about it, too — her little wave at Oz perfectly shows her mixed emotions. She seems to somewhat envy the strength and confidence of her doppelgänger, but she's afraid, too. There's a definite tease at some future Willow personality development with this episode — we're just going to have to wait and see how much of VampWillow's traits she decides to try to take on.
And, before I go, how about some favourite quotes (because this episode is hilarious)?
Willow: Aren't you sort of naturally buff, Buff?
Willow: No, it's fine. I'm 'Old Reliable'.
Xander: She just means, you know, the geyser. You're like a geyser of fun that goes off at regular intervals.
Willow: That's Old Faithful.
Xander: Isn't that the dog that, that the guy had to shoot...
Willow: That's Old Yeller.
Buffy: Xander, I beg you not to help me.
Giles: She was truly the finest of all of us.
Xander: Way better than me.
Giles: Much, much better.
VampWillow: Well, look at me. I'm all fuzzy.
Willow: Would that mean we have to snuggle?
Thanks, Suzie! Next up this week was the episode, “Enemies,” and this week’s guest host to discuss the ep is... me! This episode is easily the turning point, where Faith goes somewhere and can’t turn back, where she once and for all becomes the enemy of the Scoobies. And yet, I can’t help but feel sorry for her. Earlier in the season, Xander joined forces with her to help kill Angel. In “The Zeppo,” they slept together. There was always a sense that she was separate from the rest of the Scoobs and that she might end up bringing Xander with her, but in this episode it’s clear she’s on her own. As I said in my book, the main difference between Xander and Faith when it comes to friendships is, “Xander values his loyalty to his friends above everything else because he has their acceptance, while Faith is so busy craving acceptance that she’ll stab people in the back to get it.” Faith has said her mother is dead, then suggested her mom was a deadbeat (but very much alive) and in this episode she goes with that second one and paints a dark picture of what her difficult life has been like.
As I said to my husband while watching “Enemies” this time, what I love about the Faith storyline is that Joss Whedon not only came up with this entire mythology of a girl who was chosen to be humanity’s safeguard and protector against the forces of darkness, but then showed us an example of one who went bad. It’s inevitable... with that much power comes responsibility, but as we all know, power corrupts.
I have to admit, the first time I saw “Enemies” I was PRAYING that Angelus would return, and when I thought he had (for I, along with Faith and many other viewers, was totally duped), I was thrilled. I’d been getting a little tired of the morose, brooding, Tai Chi-practisin’ vamp and I wanted something with more bite. The scenes of not-Angelus prancing about are very important for the overall storyline, because not only is it fun to catch a glimpse of him again, but it confirms that Angel is very aware of Angelus’s actions when he’s trapped inside the demon body. Not only that, but considering the fact that Angel was actually just pretending to be Angelus in this scene suggests that he actually meant to hurt Buffy with some of those words. He didn’t hold back, even though a slightly less harsh performance probably would have still put one over on Faith. But instead, he let Buffy know how he felt being sent to Hell, and he made sure he snogged Faith every chance he got, probably letting off some steam at seeing Buffy “moving on” at the beginning of the season after having sent him to Hell. He reassures Buffy at the end of the episode that he didn’t mean those things, but she’s caught a glimpse of the monster who terrorized her family and friends again, and has realized she’s been kidding herself if she thinks that monster will forever stay at bay.
Now, as of the writing of this, I’m still waiting on the last entry from our other guest host, so I hope I don’t repeat what she’s going to say by giving you a bit of the background on “Earshot.” (Much of it is outlined on pages 208-209 of my book.) If you were watching BtVS when it first aired, then you remember the series jumped from Enemies to Choices, with no Earshot in between. That’s because on April 20, 1999, two students walked into Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, and shot up their school (killing 12 students and a teacher) before killing themselves. “Earshot,” about a student who’s had it with being mocked and situates himself in the clock tower of the school with a rifle, was scheduled to air one week later, on April 27, and the WB thought it was simply too soon. In the midst of people blaming Marilyn Manson and violent videogames and TV shows and movies for the shoot-em-up (rather than, you know, two disturbed individuals), it almost appeared as though the WB were saying, “YES, shows like this one can definitely lead to shooting up a school, so let’s pull it.” But I think, to be honest, it probably was too soon to show it, and Joss Whedon agreed with the decision.
That said, they held off on showing the episode until September 1999, when it was actually making a very important point about what happened at Columbine, and how painful the high school experience really can be. The show was entirely finished before the massacre happened, so the writers were being pro-active in noting that this teen angst can become lethal, and I wish that, rather than burying it a week before the S4 premiere, they ran it with a splash and opened up a discussion, for this episode pretty much nails the real problem behind a tragedy like Columbine in ways that a bunch of right-wing pundits simply couldn’t.
What I love about “Earshot” is that incredibly important idea – one of the most realistic lines of the entire series – that everyone is in pain. We think the cheerleaders and jocks have it made, but they don’t. They have pressure on them to be popular, and are expected to be clueless and pretty. (And heterosexual.) Nerds are treated like outsiders and constantly picked on and made fun of, which is why it’s always harder to sympathize with the popular kids who bully the underdogs, but they still have their own problems. A nerd might be unpopular in high school, but he or she might go home to a loving family who supports them and helps them ultimately become successful. A jock could be incredibly popular in school, but go home to a troubled home life where he lives in fear.
So, while I agree that it was right to delay the episode, I think it was also one of the most important messages people needed to hear in that moment – rather than look at outside forces like music and TV and videogames and films, why not look at the structure of high school itself? Everyone is pressured and stressed out and having to figure out what they’re going to do for the rest of their lives, and it’s a horrible, hellish place. Of course Sunnydale High was built on a Hellmouth... can you name one high school that isn’t?
Now, I’ve seen “Earshot” over 25 times, for reasons that I’ll explain when we get to the S3 finale, Graduation Day. But for now, when you’re watching “The Prom” for next week’s rewatch, imagine not having seen “Earshot,” and you’ll realize how confused we viewers were when we watched it live in 1999.
Also, considering the Sookie Stackhouse novels were first published in 2001, I've often wondered if Charlaine Harris watched "Earshot" and from this episode, got the idea for a woman who can hear people's thoughts and who falls in love with a vampire.
This week’s third guest, Tanya Cochran, last joined us to recap Bad Eggs/Surprise/Innocence, and here she is again to talk about how Enemies and Earshot come together. Welcome back, Tanya!
“Enemies,” “Earshot,” and Empathy: How Buffy Makes Us Feel
I decided to re-watch only “Enemies” and “Earshot” for this week and see what connections materialized. As usual, Whedon and team demonstrated their wickedly awesome myth-making skills. Purposefully or not, these two single-word-titled episodes work beautifully together, though they did not air side-by-side as originally planned.
Most of you probably know that “Earshot” was set to follow “Enemies” in April 1999 but was delayed until later that year, in September. A week before the air date for “Earshot,” two young men carrying guns and other weapons entered their Colorado high school and opened fire, in the end taking their own lives in addition to thirteen others. The Columbine event shook the United States. In the DVD interview for the episode, Whedon himself says that not showing it was “the right thing to do.” Though I don’t completely agree (keep reading), years later watching “Earshot” and “Enemies” in sequence can still teach us something essential about human pain and the need for empathy.
Each year at my college, we celebrate Peace Week, seven days set aside to focus on the pillars of peacemaking: dialogue, justice, forgiveness, and reconciliation. This year, students and faculty participated in an activity called “Crossing the Line.” In the auditorium, we stood along a duct tape line on the floor. Then a student organizer began to read statements that describe the human experience. If we could say “yes” to anything she read, we were to step over the line. The words came and we moved: “Cross the line if you’ve ever been bullied.” Step back. “Cross the line if you’ve ever felt overwhelming loneliness.” Step back. “Cross the line if you’ve ever been raped or know someone who has been raped.” Step back. “Cross the line if you’ve been called a racial or ethnic slur.” Step back. The point of the activity, if everyone is honest, is to see how alike rather than different we are. The point is to catch at least a glimpse of what it might be like to be someone else. The point is to experience, even for a moment, a little empathy. For me, that’s exactly what Whedon and team do in “Enemies” and “Earshot.”
In “Enemies,” my heart breaks for Faith, the young woman who too flippantly tells Angel, “Mind if I skip past the Mom-never-loved-me part and get right to it?” According to Whedon, Faith is the first human monster Buffy and friends must face. The sad truth is that the monster within her, though it will strike out at others many times, is a self-devouring one. We know how self-destructive Faith is when she confronts a chained-up Buffy toward the end of the episode. She tells Buffy that her mother was essentially absent, bound to a bottle of booze. All Faith wanted was someone or something to love (and love her back, we assume). So no puppy—symbolically, no real childhood—for little Faith. But she survives, she grows up, she finds that she has a calling, a purpose. In Sunnydale, she’s needed. At first. Her perspective quickly changes. She does her job as a slayer, but Buffy is the Slayer. She works even harder to be and do good, but Buffy gets the thanks. Everyone wants to know, “Why can’t you be more like Buffy?” There is so much anger-masked pain in her voice when she exclaims, “You get the Watcher. You get the mom. You get the little Scooby Gang. What do I get? Jack squat.” Most of us watching can understand. Also, Faith isn’t all together wrong in her assessment, which is why we feel good about Mayor Wilkins, evil though he is, loving and caring for Faith: he offers his friendship and protection; he gives her a home of her own; he buys her a sundress, makes sure she drinks her milk, and encourages in her a sense of self-respect and self-discipline. More than anyone else in her life, he wants to make her happy: “Two words: miniature . . . golf.”
In ways that are likely unintentional yet nonetheless profound, “Enemies” foreshadows “Earshot.” In “Enemies,” the interior becomes exterior, what is buried deep is dug up. Faith’s fear, pain, and rage are unearthed; after this episode, there is no doubt that she fights on the side of Mayor Wilkins. Giles calls her what she is: “a rogue Slayer.” Buffy punctuates Faith’s fear when she says, “There’s a word for people like you: loser.” In many ways, “Earshot” is all about feelings of loser-ness being exposed, at least to Buffy. At first, the aspect of the demon that Buffy inherits seems entertaining. Now she can use her thought-reading insight to predict her enemies’ moves, Giles excitedly declares. “Way better than that,” replies Buffy. As Whedon notes, however, the funnish novelty of knowing that Xander is a typical teenage boy who thinks about sex pretty much all the time or looking smart in English class by stealing answers to questions about Shakespeare from the mind of the smarty pants on the front row wears off quickly. The aspect of the demon is no spiritual gift; it’s “something darker,” says Whedon.
As Jane Espenson explains, psychic ability in high school only means being surrounded, engulfed by pain. When Buffy hears a promise of fatal action among the already-overwhelming misery, the coolness of the demon aspect is certainly over. A death threat is serious, serious business. One reason I believe “Earshot” should have aired in order is that it acts as commentary not on school violence so much as on the human experience. The twist in the episode is that Jonathan, as abused as he has been over the years, doesn’t ever consider taking the lives of others. His pain doesn’t require others’ sacrifice. He just wants to stop feeling, stop feeling ignored and bullied and small and weak and stupid and lonely and geeky and . . . Who can’t understand, even for a fleeting second, that a bullet might offer respite.
For me, “Earshot” is ultimately about bringing the ugliness of humanity to the surface—again, the interior becomes exterior. Not just for the sake of doing so. Not just for viewers to gawk. But to make us feel. To feel for each other. The missed opportunities of not juxtaposing “Earshot” with Columbine are that (1) the episode actually raises awareness and empathy rather than glorifies violence and (2) the culprit of the planned violence isn’t a student but a school staff member, highlighting briefly but significantly that the pain doesn’t always go away after high school. “I never knew you had so much rage in you,” Buffy tells Faith in “Enemies.” She might have said the same thing to the cafeteria cook in “Earshot.”
Of course, the rage itself isn’t inherently evil. As Whedon often reminds us, it’s what we do with our feelings that matter. Let’s face it: we all suffer and we all act like we’re not suffering in order to survive. Life’s a stage . . . or a show, and we all play our parts. The hardest thing about life is living. But that’s what we must do. A bullet might seem to offer respite from pain, but it also kills any chance of redemption, any chance at the joy of healing.
In “Enemies” and “Earshot,” Whedon and company teach us something essential about human pain and the need for empathy. A gun shot or poison could end the suffering we experience. But that choice would halt life in the midst of our suffering. Not a very good ending. The more courageous choice is to live, to outlive the pain. To keep on feeling.
Next week: Kristin Romanelli joins us to discuss “Choices” and “The Prom,” two stellar episodes that precede the season 3 two-part finale.