2maggie2 (2maggie2) wrote,

Notes on Buffy 3.15 -- Consequences, Part II

Standard disclaimer: I'll often speak of foreshadowing, but that doesn't mean I'm at all committing to the idea that there was some fixed design from the word go -- it's a short hand for talking about the resonances that end up in the text as it unspools.

Standard spoiler warning: The notes are written for folks who have seen all of BtVS and AtS.  I'll be spoiling through the comics as well.  Basically -- if you are a spoiler-phobe and haven't seen or read it all, read further at your own risk.

Standard Credits:  I've written the material in black; Strudel (aka my Bro) writes in blue;
[info]local_max  writes in purple.  Or at least, that's what they've done when I finish editing and formatting.

However dense the saga of Faith’s fall might be, it does not exhaust the episode, so herewith a survey of the other things going on in Consequences.

Faith/Buffy/Angel.  The final confrontation between Buffy and Faith happens at the dock.  The only other time we visit the Sunnydale dock is in Surprise.  Here the confrontation between Buffy and Faith is pre-empted by a vamp attack.  There the parting of the lovers was pre-empted by a vamp attack.  Buffy’s secrecy about Angel was one of the key planks in the falling out between Buffy and Faith.  And Faith brings Angel up in this final scene, asking whether Buffy doesn’t dig the Angelus side of her lover.  It’s not a triangle, exactly -- but somehow Angel is a third party to the dynamic between Buffy and Faith, suggesting that there really is an important slayer-vampire nexus in play.

It’s a dynamic that shifts around constantly.  At the start, Faith seems to be jealous of Angel.  We can add a lesbian subtext, but we need not. Whether sexual desire was or was not in the mix, Faith was focused on Buffy and very much wanted Buffy’s focus to be on her in return.  But instead, Buffy is and always has been Angel’s girl.  Interestingly, Buffy is particularly exclusionary when it comes to Angel.  From the start she doesn’t want Faith to know anything about that part of her life.  I think we can mostly explain that as a result of where Buffy was with respect to Angel at the beginning of season 3, before everything got outed in Revelations.  But before the subject of Angel even got raised with Faith, the business of slayer appetites had already been introduced, and it’s just possible that Buffy doesn’t want to share about Angel because she knows/fears that Faith would pick up on that as evidence that part of the slayer package is this dangerous, dark set of appetites.  

(Hearkening back to Surprise, Buffy also talked about her uncertainty whether to act on ‘want’ could be wrong.  Faith, all about want-take-have, has sexual openness that is hard for Buffy to deal with if she ever does talk about her personal experience in which sex went south.)

The dynamic shifts in Revelations when (a) Faith gets blindsided by the fact that Buffy had been keeping this huge secret from her and (b) goes off to stake Angel.  The latter ends up very ironically.  Faith goes off to do what vampire slayers do -- slay vampires, and ends up being the incompetent slayer who almost killed a good guy -- a weird kind of foreshadowing for Bad Girls.  If Faith is aware of the swirl of passions that is part of being a slayer, then it has to be frustrating that Buffy gets to exercise that swirl of passions with a vampire and somehow that relationship with the vampire is the backdrop for Faith being the “lesser” slayer.  Buffy has found a way to live the dark without sacrificing her image as the good slayer.  Or at least so it might seem to Faith.

Angel’s intervention adds yet another twist.  He attempts to reach Faith by identifying her with Angelus, which inadvertently says that Faith is the one who has a dark side to her.  He also reveals, in a sense, that his Angelus side is closer than he ever has cause to let on with Buffy.  It’s going to set up Buffy as the one who has the relationship with Angel (as opposed to Angelus) because she’s NOT the one who has a dark side to her.  There is an (unintentional/unconscious) effort to project Angel’s false division of his dark from his life onto the slayer duo.  There’s a reason for Faith to resist this as hard as she can.  And she resists by accusing Buffy of being into Angelus herself -- arguing that Buffy is opposing Faith because she is tempted to give into the dark herself.  Something in Buffy responds to this argument,  because that’s what draws Buffy into a physical battle with Faith.  (I maintain that Buffy’s “Come on, kick my ass” sounded like a come on, in When She Was Bad.)  And Faith calls her on it -- “there’s my girl.”  Mark that line.  We’ll hear it again two episodes from now and it’s one of the phrases that haunts the narrative all the way through.  It’s worth rewatching the entire Buffy/Faith arc with the understanding that it’s about Buffy’s own fears about her dark side -- and it thus raises the big question of who Buffy is, one she’ll be working on for the rest of the series.   

It’s all very well done, too, how the conversation swirls around Angel, slayer impulses, and the idea of being a killer.  Faith and Buffy both have slayer drives.  They are powerful enough not to be held accountable for their actions.  Faith insists that the two of them *are* the law, and the way in which they are the law is expressed strongly in their ability to kill.  Buffy controls her power and doesn’t kill people; further, she denies that she has any desires to do so.  She claimed in Bad Girls that she didn’t enjoy killing vampires, which was clearly not (entirely) the case.  And eventually (think Buffy vs. Dracula) Buffy does own up to the fact that she is hunting for vampires, and enjoys the hunt.  The question is whether being a slayer is anything but being a killer -- and whether the drive to kill is really the same as the drive to help people.  For Faith, having put on the black hat, she allows the urge to kill to be the urge to kill, whether vampire or human.  And it’s in this context that Faith brings up Angel: Buffy, she says, has the lust, and not just when it comes to screwing vampires.  The lust is the lust for the kill.  And if that is what defines slayers, they are not that different from vampires.

And so that’s where Angel comes in.  Angel is the one area in which Buffy allows herself to express her slayer desires (she claimed he was the one element of her freaky life that made sense back in What’s My Line).  There’s a dark and a light framing for her Angel-love.  The light is that she wants Angel because he’s a brave white hat who at these very docks gave her the Calladagh ring.  The dark is that he’s a vampire who  knows what it’s like to kill, knows what it’s like to deal with a demon inside him.   It’s Angel’s killer side that he uses to reach out to Faith in this episode, and it’s that side of him that Faith will soon try to reach in Enemies.  Buffy needs to hold onto the light reading in order to continue thinking of herself as essentially light.  I’ll add that Buffy already feels tremendous guilt about what happened as a consequence of her giving into ‘want’ with Angel: if Faith were right and Buffy’s wanting to ‘screw vampires’ were about her own dark, killer impulses, then it would make Buffy even guiltier in her own eyes.  And so Angel’s division from himself becomes a symbol not just of the division between the two slayers, but of Buffy’s division from herself.

For her part, Faith entirely rejects the light reading that Buffy and Angel just plain love each other, because she doesn’t believe those types of relationships exist (men are all beasts, after all).  The idea that Angel might really love Buffy isn’t even worth contemplating.  And since Faith hasn’t had a relationship that has any of the light, positive elements of Buffy/Angel with a man, she doesn’t believe that Buffy is in that relationship for love, either.  She focuses on the dark side of Buffy/Angel because it’s all she can see or imagine.  

The Water.  Incidentally, Buffy and Faith wandering at the docks, beside the water, ties in with the opening image of Buffy being drowned by Faith as she pushes down Allan, which ties back into Buffy’s drowning last week.  The water enveloping Buffy, I think, represents Buffy’s fear of being enveloped by Faith and her way of life, as well as reflecting that she on some level worries that she will be Faith’s next human fatality.  In the end of the season, Buffy comes closer to killing Faith than Faith does to killing Buffy. The water imagery continues all the way through No Future For You.

Willow/Xander.  We’ve already covered the groundwork for this.  Willow has already made the choice that she prefers Oz to Xander romantically.  She knows that she has no right to be upset about Xander’s sleeping with Faith, the way she got so upset about finding out he was with Cordelia.  But it’s yet another case of Xander choosing a Buffy-substitute.  It layers on top of years of rejection she’s felt from him and drives another wedge between them.  

It also layers on top of Willow’s own fears and hang-ups about sex, and in particular with the social rules she thinks sex is supposed to follow.  Willow feels that the loss of virginity is something special -- it was cool that Xander was still a virgin in Teacher’s Pet; it was ‘wow’-worthy that Buffy was going to lose hers to Angel.  More to the point, she offered the potential of someone being her first as a sort of gift not once but twice (to Xander, under a spell, in BBB, and to Oz in Amends).  For her, sex is sacred and Willow is doing everything ‘right’: she’s in a committed relationship with a guy who wants to wait (and turned down her offer of sex).  Meanwhile, the guy she’s trying to get over just falls into casual sex with someone who doesn’t care about him.  It’s more confirmation that it’s much easier for him to get over her than for her to get over him.  And Faith gets to have Xander because she refuses to play by ‘the rules.’  

And so she cries alone in the bathroom, because there is no one for her to talk to: Xander doesn’t owe her anything; Oz can’t know how much she is upset over what Xander does; Buffy is too close to Faith.  Most of the pain that she holds in here gets pushed outwards into hatred of Faith, but it also gets layered into some resentment toward Xander.  It’s probably why she doesn’t push to help him deal with Faith’s attack on him.  It’s not fair, and it’s a crappy friend move to do, but she finds the pain of thinking about Faith and Xander too much to deal with.  I think the resentment also gets pushed onto Buffy.  Given that we know where Buffy is heading, there is probably latent jealousy in the mix.  Insofar as Faith is a stand-in for Buffy, Willow just lost Xander to Buffy.   In Doppelgangland we’ll open with the explicit point that Willow’s got some serious pent-up rage going on.  (I actually think the animosity Willow has towards Faith is itself fueled by re-directed anger from the building frustration that Willow has towards Buffy. Since being the good friend means that she can’t officially have these feelings towards Buffy, she readily transfers them to Faith when she intrudes.)

Buffy/Willow.  Willow expects Buffy to reject her again for Faith, and so she tries to insulate herself from the pain by keeping a distance from Buffy.  It’s a close mirror of Faith’s own defensiveness, and similar to her shutting Buffy out in DMP.  In the process, she misses that Buffy’s attitude has changed and that Buffy is trying to reach out to her.  Buffy doesn’t push, probably out of a sense of guilt for having pushed Willow away.  When Buffy comes to her house, she does much the same thing, but this time she prepares an offense as the best defense.  She seems to understand why Buffy relates to Faith -- they are both slayers -- but doesn’t think it’s fair to be excluded because she’s not powerful enough to kill things with her bare hands.  Like Buffy did earlier, Willow does jump rather quickly to the slayer’s ability to kill, indicating (to me at least) that Willow envies/fears the power over life and death.  And Buffy, hearing (in a sense) the ‘killer’ designation thrown back at her, bursts into tears.

So Willow, having accidentally stabbed Buffy in the heart with her words, exclaims, “Sometimes I unleash!  I don’t know my own strength!  I’m a bad bad bad person.”  It’s a funny line, and continues the positioning of Willow as the (apparent) opposite to Faith on the good v. bad girl spectrum.  Faith (apparently) refuses to take responsibility for the life lost because Faith unleashed and didn’t know her own strength; Willow falsely assumes she has power and thus responsibility she doesn’t have, and jumps to proclaiming herself the worst of the worst.  But we also know that unleashing power (and not always recognizing her own strength) is where Willow will increasingly go.  

The mini-arc over the two-parter of Buffy and Willow’s drifting apart and reconciliation is interesting, because there is some real affection and objectification on both sides.  Willow overreacts to Buffy’s spending time with Faith at her expense.  Buffy only tries to make things right with Willow once her bond with Faith falls apart.  But Buffy does clearly feel badly about having hurt Willow.  And despite her default self-absorption, Willow really does do well when she catches a clue.  She gives solid advice of going to Giles, and despite her predisposition to dislike Faith, she gives her credit: “Maybe she’s in shock.”  (She is also the only person to acknowledge their biases towards Faith, at the episode’s end.  And she will again in Doppelgangland.)  She really listens to Buffy and is supportive.  In an episode full of miscommunication, it’s maybe these two (or Buffy and Giles) who come the closest to communicating.  

In any case, part of the backdrop to Doppelgangland is Willow’s feelings about Faith in light of both Xander and Buffy gravitating towards her (and being hurt by her).  Faith gets what Willow wants or thinks she wants (sex with Xander; Buffy’s friendship) by doing what Willow believes she would never do (one night stands; irresponsible killing with her bare hands).  Willow soon tries to accrue more power to be closer to Buffy (and to be more attractive), but she defines herself starkly in opposition to Faith.  She wants to try to get both the power Faith has and maintain the ‘good girl’ designation that ties Buffy to her.  Interestingly, I think Buffy is also vested in Willow as the ‘good girl’, and that’s part of why she’s entirely blind to what lies underneath.  It’s another one of those jointly determined scripts about roles that ends up being damaging in the long-run.

Xander.  Even before the strangling, we see indications of Xander’s struggles for relevancy. You’d think after the Zeppo epiphany he’d have more self-assuredness about his intrinsic ability to do meaningfully good things without the overt powers of all his friends. But he’s 17, after all, and these insights need longer to mature. He tries on the role of Perspective Guy (a role he will eventually come to inhabit more fully in the later seasons), but his fledgling attempt here goes badly from the beginning. First, he maladroitly brings up the “connection” he has with Faith. In his effort to have relevancy based on personal characteristics, he clumsily spills the information that they’d had sex. It’s such a leaden, unnecessary revelation that you almost wonder if he subconsciously is bringing up the episode to boost his credentials. Buffy has the awkward task of telling him what the “connection” really meant and Xander is humiliated.  

He persists, nonetheless, and in order to prove himself right and the others wrong, goes to Faith, and tries to reason with her from his Perspective Guy perspective. He babbles, and as we described in last week’s notes, he only makes matters worse by revealing that everyone already knows she’s a liar. He has completely misjudged the situation and overplayed his “connection.”  And he gets punished for it (excessively).  Before the strangling, Faith makes absolutely clear just how powerless he is. He’s not Perspective Guy; not yet. He’s not even the hero of the Zeppo. He is just, at this point, helpless, needing help -- as Max points out -- from none other than Angel, his least favoritest person in the world.  

Whether Faith was going to strangle Xander or not, it’s clear that Xander got the message of his own meaninglessness to her.  Being saved by Angel of all people makes it all the worse.  The near-rape and murder on Xander is buried in the middle of an episode that’s not really about him.  And it doesn’t get commented on directly again.  By strangling Xander, Faith literally silences him, and he doesn’t say another word for the rest of the episode.  Because (as we’ve said before) everything in this show is POV, the lack of explicit follow-up is not because Xander’s trauma isn’t important or devastating.  It’s because the others don’t (literally or figuratively) see it.  

Later in the episode, Willow mentions that Faith hurt Xander in a big group scene.  So the Scoobies know that Faith hurt him somehow.  But they don’t really act as if he is the victim of a sexual assault -- and if they are, they are being rather negligent towards him as friends.  I’d say then that Xander didn’t tell them the full extent of what happened (and Faith and Angel certainly weren’t going to, either); and his friends decided not to look.  Willow is already pulling away from him, and Buffy and Giles are more focused on Faith than they are on Xander.  

Maggie suggested in The Zeppo notes that Xander’s demon magnetism was about his attracting the losers and outcasts.  I’d say another element is that Xander finds himself in relationships with women stronger than him, who, ultimately, try to kill him.  Faith’s attack on him gets layered on top of Ampata’s and Ms. French’s.  Unlike those two, Xander actually knew Faith for a long time, and had sex with her.  And the attack gets layered on top of his home abuse, from which he learned that relationships were a battleground.  We never find out all the details of his home life, but while it’s suggested in Hell’s Bells that it’s primarily his father who was abusive towards his mother, other episodes (Amends, The Replacement) suggest that the fight is very much a two-way street.  And we know that Xander feels embarrassment and shame at his home life, which Cordelia (as recently as Bad Girls) has been happy to turn against him.  

I think that feeling of shame is primarily why he keeps quiet here.  He expects that he’s pathetic for thinking that he and Faith had a connection.  It’s painful and embarrassing to have one’s power so fully taken away.  And in Xander’s case in particular, I think to some degree when these murderous women attack him, always thinks he deserves it.  He identifies with his abusive father.  And he knows that he has a harsh, abusive streak in him, from The Pack (which he also kept quiet from others -- and there are a few other rough similarities between his hyena-inflected attack on Buffy and Faith’s attack on him, with the abuser/victim, Xander/slayer roles reverse).    All the trauma gets internalized as something he deserved.

This all helps set up for Xander’s agreeing to go out with Anya, who brags about the men she’s cut down over the years, and how much they deserved what they got.  Xander expects that his lot in life is to be with women who could kill him, and that he deserves it.  His experience being Faith’s sex toy is also why Xander so readily accepts Anya’s claim that sex between the two is meaningless in The Harsh Light of Day.  And, paradoxically, that he doesn’t expect his friends can offer support for the abuse he suffers is why her clinginess appeals to him, and why he can’t quite offer her much in return.

Cordelia. Cordelia’s interest in Wesley begins here.  Cordelia has always been enthralled by the mystique of older guys (though I don’t think Wesley has a car), and her willingness (foreshadowed by Reptile Boy) to try a guy her own age on for size didn’t end well.  Cordelia alone treats Wesley as person of value, which again (based on some of Wesley’s later qualities) marks her as more insightful than she’s often given credit for.  I think much of what she likes about Wesley is summed up in her calling him “fresh blood”.  Wesley is the first new figure to enter her life since Xander’s betrayal and the accompanying loss of social status.  He’s someone with whom she can present a new version of herself, unburdened by the baggage that she carries around with the rest of the Sunnydale High denizens.  What Cordelia really wants is an opportunity for a fresh start.  Agreed, but I think it qualifies the meaning of Cordelia treating Wesley as a person of value.  She’s treating him as a sexy guy with a British accent, which is still a form of objectification, albeit a more flattering form for Wesley.

Buffy calls Cordelia a friend, and Cordelia denies it; but there is some affection there.

Wesley. He obviously finds Cordy attractive.  I’ll add that Wesley once again demonstrates that he has good instincts when he, initially, suggests investigating Finch’s death, which turns out to be supernatural and to expose the Mayor as a black hat.  Either good instincts, or an example of a stopped clock being right twice a day.  He doesn’t offer us any suggestion that thinks he has a real reason to send Faith and Buffy out to investigate.

Having spent two episodes on Buffy’s flirtation with badness, it’s time to turn the manifestation of Willow’s dark side.  Next up: Doppelgangland.

Tags: notes, season 3
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