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; local_max writes in purple. Or at least, that's what they've done when I finish editing and formatting.
Buffy 3.16 -- Doppelgangland, in Which Dark Willow Tries to Kill Pink Fuzzy Willow.
In case the last two episodes had us wondering whether or not we’re to see Faith as some sort of dark mirror for Buffy, we follow up with an episode about Willow’s darker half. Faith and Buffy recede to the background for the nonce and a lot of groundwork is laid down for Willow’s large arc going forward.
Buffy/Faith. It is mostly a holding pattern with a complete de-escalation of last week’s melt-down, resulting from Faith saving Buffy last week, and Wesley’s heavy embarrassment. The failure of the hard-line approach last week makes Wesley soft pedal her this week. We learn that Buffy wants to one-up Faith, and that she recognizes that Faith’s different circumstances could have played a role in her having gotten in trouble. Willow responds to this thought by telling Buffy that she’s not the sort who has it in her, but at that moment the pencil Willow was magically controlling spins out of control and stakes a tree. Willow clearly does have it in her -- that’s what the episode is about. We are left to mull the mystery of whether Buffy does or does not have it in her too.
Faith. Last we saw, Faith had made the startling choice to sign up with the mayor. We can pause and ask why. Is it because he’s an authority figure? Is it because she feels like there is no room for her to be a good slayer, so she might as well go for being the very big villain? (Faith replaces both Allan and Mr. Trick as the key figures in the Mayor’s life -- and I think both the pleasant smiling photo of Allan with the Mayor, and the sense of being an assassin-for-hire without implied judgment of her targets like Trick, have big appeal.) Whatever is the case, this episode shows us why Faith sticks to that choice. The mayor has given her a splendid apartment, and is clearly interested in her. Faith herself doesn’t seem committed to the big bad gig, quailing at the thought of murdering Buffy. But the mayor reels her back in by mentioning her new play station. Throughout the scene, he plays the role of a father to a daughter, and Faith is eating it up. None of this is subtle. We’ve even got the mayor saying that he’d never let any slayer of his live in a flea bag hotel. Buffy and the Scoobies and Giles and Joyce have all known where Faith lives for months, but it’s the mayor who does something about it first thing after meeting her. To paraphrase Faith in NFFY, he may be evil, but he isn’t a dog.
This is the side of the Mayor that is a total bonus. Faith stepped into the Trick role thinking she was no morally different than any other vampire for hire, and she finds so much more than just a simple criminal boss.
The Stake. We get the scene of Buffy being able to stop herself mid-staking in pointed (ha ha) contrast to Faith’s inability to stop in Bad Girls. Buffy has better reflexes? Buffy is more responsible? The latter comes with an ironic edge since Buffy exercises her responsibility by not staking a sadistic evil vampire, going on to let that vampire back out into the wild. All because she looks like/is Willow. It’s a bit of foreshadowing for Choices, when Buffy will again choose Willow over the well-being of unseen red shirts put at risk because of Buffy’s choice. In any case, the scene’s surface reads as validating the idea that Buffy is the better slayer, but with that interesting tension right beneath the surface.
Although Faith and Buffy are struggling with their ‘bad girl’ issues, this episode belongs to Willow, who proves to have bad girl issues of her own. I hand the reins over to Max, our resident expert in all things Willow.
Willow: The Plight of the Good Girl. In her first scene, Willow tells Buffy that she doesn’t think Buffy could ever be Faith, because she doesn’t have it in her. In her last one, she tells Buffy that she has seen the path that she could go down if she submits to vice, that she never wants to be that way -- and then changes her mind when Percy demonstrates that maybe Vamp!Willow offered some good after all. In between, Willow feels the weight of her identity as ‘good girl’ Willow holding her down and keeping her unhappy, and we (and Willow) see what a bad girl version would be like, who similarly ends the episode dispirited. I don’t necessarily subscribe to Freudian psychology, but the terms are useful here. Willow, who tries as best she can to want only what she should want and do what she should do, is basically all superego -- all social and parental expectations. What she herself actually wants is kept buried down too deep for her to know. So enter Vamp!Willow, who is all id. What the two are both lacking is something like an ego to mediate between the two extremes.
The first question to ask is why Willow believes so strongly in the distinction between good and bad girls -- and why it’s so important that she lands on the good girl side. I’d say that this most clearly follows from revelations in Gingerbread. There are references to childhood that run all the way through this episode -- most notably from Anya, who begins the episode supplicating to patriarchal D’Hoffryn and who refers to herself and the rest of the high schoolers as children -- and it’s a reminder that Willow is caught trying to be the “good girl” for her parents who neglect her. This is why Willow’s “goodness” is not really about morality but about strict obedience to often arbitrary rules, including heeding any requests, eating at the proper hours, doing any and all homework with diligence, flossing, and not complaining. The only desire she actually expresses before she loses her temper is to go get sugared up on mochas (just about the least objectionable form of mood-altering substance imaginable). She hasn’t yet outgrown the notion that if she’s good enough, maybe she’ll be loved; and if she’s not good enough, she’ll deserve to lose whatever scraps of love she does get. So she tries to be good enough, and she’s stuck as a child. (Willow gives herself away when, in trying to discredit Anya, she yells out: “This girl has a history of mental problems, dating back to early childhood!”)
The problem is, of course, that being this “good” is unsustainable. She tries to have total emotional control over herself, but that won’t work, as we see in the teaser when the pencil goes flying. She’s constantly unsatisfied, unable to articulate her own desires. And the world is a hostile place, full of people who are completely willing to break the social contract Willow tries so hard to follow and bully her (Snyder), take advantage of her (Percy), lie to her (Anya), or, well, try to kill her (Faith and the Mayor). She’s powerless. Meanwhile, the bad girls like Faith seem to, from Willow’s POV, get whatever they want. She hates her own meekness, which has always made her the subject of bullying; and she hates herself for not being as good as the ideal standard to which she holds herself.
With even her computer hacking having been co-opted by Giles as another duty for her to perform, Willow’s only remaining outlet is magic. When Anya requests that Willow do a spell with her, a hint of Willow’s desire to be “bad” and to express her id comes out as she asks if the spell is dangerous. And so, in a rather tidy metaphor for her series’ arc, Willow’s doing a dangerous spell brings forth her suppressed evil side.
The Freedom of the Bad Girl. And so we meet Vamp!Willow. She is, of course, evil. Our Willow is attempting to deny any unwanted parts of herself, and so they all spill out in her worse half. First note how she deals with people: the extreme opposite of Willow-the-doormat is the girl who used to ride chained-up people like ponies. In contrast to Willow’s constant deferral to other people’s wishes, Vamp!Willow snarls at the first passerby who tries to get her attention. She has complete confidence in both her strength and, more importantly, her “right” to ask anything of anyone, including a throng of vampires. She likes having that power over people.
As Maggie pointed out to me, it is significant that Willow makes no bones about hiding how much people bore her. We can wonder how true this is of our Willow. She doesn’t act bored around other people, per se. But conversations and friendships are built, generally, on a mutual exchange of information, ideas, and fun. Since Willow is unhappy with herself, she has little real chance of connecting to other people. She’s also grown up in an environment where she has been, for most of her life, far out of anyone else’s league in the brains department – which makes it further difficult to connect with or be interested in others. Willow tends to put the blame for any potential lack of connection on herself: “You think I’m boring!” she cries out to Oz. Vamp!Willow doesn’t self-flagellate but puts all the blame for any disconnect on the other person.
The advantages of Vamp!Willow’s ability to express all Willow’s desires are also clear in her sexuality. Willow speaks about Vamp!Willow’s skanky and kinda gay side with a bit of shame, and there’s a sense here (and in season four, as well) that Willow really does feel that she’d be judged for having non-heteronormative sexuality. At the end, she adds “dying a virgin” to the list of virtuous qualities. But it’s obvious that Willow’s interest in women -- and skankiness, should she go that route -- are perfectly fine qualities, and one that she does no one good to repress. That our first real glimpse of Willow’s queerness comes at the same time as our long look at her potential for evil sets up the story going forward over the next few years, in which Willow becomes more comfortable with her sexuality at the same time as she starts to fall on the path to evil. That has, of course, opened the show up to criticism that it implicitly supports the unfortunate equation of queerness with evil. But really, the link between the two is not because there is anything wrong with Willow’s sexual orientation, but because Willow has such difficulty distinguishing between healthy, morally-neutral-or-positive desires from genuinely evil or selfish ones.
The Plight of the Bad Girl. And yet, Vamp!Willow, despite being all the things Willow represses, isn’t exactly happy either. She wanders the streets, lonely. She is excited to see a friendly face in Xander, but crushed when she finds that he’s alive. She’s bored by nearly everything and everyone. She gets what she wants a few times, of course: she twists the vampire gang around her little finger and sinks her teeth into Sandy’s neck. But at every other turn she is stopped. We see that the qualities that Willow has in excess that bind her -- social convention, compromise, discipline -- are so wholly lacking in Vamp!Willow that, in a world that doesn’t give her what she wants, she’s nearly helpless. She tries to get satisfaction by strangling Percy, by feeling up Xander, by holding the Bronze hostage, by agreeing to Anya’s plan to get her old world back, by trying to sire her good half, by trying to kill Cordelia, and finally by trying to kill her other self. But she is foiled each time both because she gives no bend to the desires of others -- the closest she comes occurs when her desires happen to line up with Anya’s or the other vampires’ -- and also because she very quickly grows bored and loses interest in her own plans, once more interesting ones come along. It’s an early signal of Willow’s impatience, which becomes increasingly clear as the seasons go on (see, for example, Something Blue).
In the Bronze, Vamp!Willow tries to turn the world into “the way it was,” and points out how much she misses the Wishverse. She was happy back in her other world, where the system was set up just for her: hot running blood, people chained up, victims galore. And she had a parent figure in the Master who, despite being stern, ultimately took care of her and ensured her place in the world. He’s not mentioned here explicitly, but the numerous patriarchs we run through in the first few minutes (D’Hoffryn, Snyder, Giles, Wesley, the Mayor) call attention to his absence for Vamp!Willow in this world. Vamp!Willow could happily be all-id in that other world because she had a place there which allowed her to be. Plopped into a world that is no longer her playground, where fear is scarce and there’s a slayer and a motley crew to stop her, she’s miserable. Maggie mentioned in the notes for The Wish that Vamp!Willow shows the creepiness of our Willow’s little-girl mannerisms. Vamp!Willow is also an enfant terrible mirror for Willow’s good child: her id is an overgrown, impatient, pouty child with adult demon-sized appetites.
At the episode’s end, after she’s been captured by Buffy et al., Vamp!Willow mutters, in an (again) childlike manner, “The world is no fun.” Willow offers her assent, and we find that the two have something in common after all. Trying to do what the outside world expects her to and having her own desires ignored makes Willow miserable; trying to follow her own desires and being stopped by the outside world at every turn makes Vamp!Willow miserable. They end up blaming the world for not being set up to give them love, joy and pleasure. The two Willows’ agreement that the world is no fun suggests that it’ll be tough for an adult, integrated Willow to find a way to find a healthy, give-and-take relationship with the world. And in Grave, once both her “better” (her connection to the world’s pain) and “worse” (her feeling her own pain) selves are again in agreement that the world is no fun, she’ll try to end it.
Costume change. Way back in the notes for The Witch, Maggie argued that that episode, in which sweet-Amy and vicious-Catherine switched bodies, was the real setup for Willow’s arc. And so this episode features a sequence in which superego Willow and id Vamp!Willow trade clothes and have to pretend to be the other. This gives us a pair of metaphors for Willow’s story going forward: the quivering good girl playing at being bad; and the hungry demon pretending to be good.
The experience walking in Vamp!Willow’s tight-fitting clothes gives Willow a chance to see what it’s like to be powerful and have all eyes trained on her, and is part of what gives her the strength to declare her dislike for her regular weak-and-accommodating self, and to move, after this, into owning her more confident, sexy side. As herself, Willow can’t do all that much; but by pretending to be powerful and a big, bad Wicca vampire, she can help Buffy save dozens of lives. But she nevertheless remains in great part a scared girl underneath. This is the side of her that never quite believes that she is the confident, sexy, powerful lady she becomes as the series goes on, who wants to be the big bad Willow because she’s hiding the weak, quivering nerd she thinks of as her true self, and thinks she needs to in order both to be able to help people, and to avoid being eaten alive. She’s the version whose clothes Buffy rips off in Willow’s Restless nightmare.
Meanwhile, Vamp!Willow is left in the cage wearing Willow’s fuzzy sweater. She pretends to be helpless-Willow purely in order to get Cordelia to let her out; she’s bored and unmoved by Cordelia’s narrative of pain, and only acts with any moral inclination (apologizing to her) so that she can continue living, not get staked, and, if she’s lucky, get out and kill her. By hiding away her real desires behind a mask of helpless meekness, Willow keeps herself “safe” but bored and miserable. It’s no accident that Cordy is the one who gets to interact with this Willow. Vamp!Willow is wearing a pink fuzzy sweater like the one Willow wore when Cordelia caught her with Xander in Lovers Walk -- back when Willow’s desires got away from her, and she and Xander had a secret affair while acting warm and friendly and kind to Cordelia and Oz on the outside. And indeed, as the series goes on Willow will become increasingly selfish while still painting a picture of herself (especially to herself) as helpless and good and stuttery. She thinks she has her “bad” self locked deep down inside her, but that bad self can be allowed to steer her actions with the proper rationalizations.
What the wolf-in-sheep’s-clothing and the sheep-in-wolf’s-clothing Willows have in common is an uneasy sense of feeling not at all at home in the costumes they are wearing, and in the knowledge that they are in hostile surroundings, where if they screw up they’ll be staked or eaten. That’s her omnipresent fear: if Willow lets her real self through, she’s dead.
Costume-less Contrasts. Unlike Willow with all her costumes, neither Anya nor Cordy wears one, which makes it appropriate that they are the primary antagonists for (respectively) Willow-as-Vamp!Willow and Vamp!Willow-as-Willow to deal with. Both are forthright about who they are and what they want; and therein lies an important explanation for why Willow has problems with both of them. (Further, they both are introduced as having -- and then later losing -- types of power Willow craves: Anya has magical power, Cordelia social power.) It’s no accident that Anya and Cordy are jointly responsible for the creation of the Wish!verse, and thus of Vamp!Willow. In this episode, Anya lures Willow into the spell that calls forth dark Willow; the resulting Vamp!Willow wanders through downtown with the same look of bewilderment Cordy had when she walked through the Wishverse downtown. It’s interesting to consider what it means that Xander’s two major relationships are with the women who first revealed dark Willow to us; and that vamp!Willow (despite being kinda gay) was with vamp!Xander. It’s further interesting that Xander is the one who can talk Willow down when her dark side becomes dominant again in season six. (Speaking of Xander and vamp!Xander -- Xander takes comfort in there being a badass version of himself out in another universe, to help deal with his own powerlessness and, well, Faith issues.)
Self-Love and Self-Hate. Vamp!Xander isn’t around in this episode, but one person in this world does catch Vamp!Willow’s eye. So what do we make of the two Willows’ interactions with each other? Vamp!Willow, we find, is Willowsexual. She changes plans from wanting to change the world the moment she meets Willow – which means that another Willow is more important than anything else. It’s a hint that deep down, Willow loves herself and expects to be able to relate to another Willow more than anyone else in the world. The other angle on the metaphor that I’d like to highlight is Wish!Willow’s hatred of Willow’s meekness -- a hatred Willow is feeling intensely herself. Willow’s turn to magic, and the darkness of that turn, are metaphorical steps Willow takes to kill good old reliable, meek, Willow. And sure enough, Wish!Willow wants to kill pink and fuzzy Willow as soon as she lays eyes on her. I’ll add that Vamp!Willow decides to flat-out kill our Willow after Willow tranqs her and then forces her to live through a few minutes in Willow’s shoes. The beast does not like being caged in fuzzyness.
For her part, Willow is put off by her bad self having traits she thinks she shouldn’t have: “I’m so evil and skanky -- and I think I’m kinda gay!” But once again, skankiness and gayness aren’t bad, even if evil is -- and this is what starts opening up her mind to the idea that maybe she is gay. Pretending to be Vamp!Willow is also what allows her to express out loud her dissatisfaction with her everyday self. It helps her recognize that she doesn’t want Buffy to stake her dark half, and leads to her decision to set Vamp!Willow free.
Vamp!Willow freed. Sending Vamp!Willow into the wild and not putting her down (like rabid dog Old Yeller) is dangerous and would have certainly have resulted in alternate-universe deaths. (Sincerely but glibly, Willow says “Try not to kill people” as she hugs her goodbye.) The death of Sandy, a girl with a name (who returns in Family to tempt Riley) is there in part to establish definitively that she is a genuinely dangerous killer. It’s a very dark: Willow is “protecting” the life of her evil alter-ego at the expense of the safety of real, if alternate-universe, people. The question of how to interpret this depends a little bit on how we read the metaphor. The gang goes along with it, and it’s a bit of set-up for the similar provincialism Buffy et al. show in protecting Willow over abstract future innocents in Choices, and Angel over Faith in Graduation Day. The moral calculus here is tough, especially because to a degree, many of the faceless redshirts really aren’t people to the show, so much as metaphors. This is one of those places where, qua Maggie, I’m not sure if the show can add up.
Although one side of the metaphor reads quite dark, the ending is also a remarkably hopeful ending for Willow. She usually denies her dark side with every conscious fibre of her being, and punishes herself for the smallest wrong thoughts she has. But here she recognizes that it is a part of her and she can’t kill her. It’s also a recognition that she can’t deal with her dark side by killing it or burning it off. Willow’s need to protect Vamp!Willow coexists with the possibility of innocent deaths because the reality of accepting one’s selfish urges -- which is necessary in order to find some measure of happiness, peace, and self-knowledge -- sometimes means taking the risk that those urges will hurt others. It’s incredibly difficult to be responsible to both oneself and to world at large. In the end, it’s touching that Willow can look into the things she is supposed to hate in herself, and respond with love. It’s more than just touching: she sees something of herself in this demon that she likes. Aside from Wish!Willow being a foreshadowing of the Willow arc, we have pink fuzzy Willow demonstrating some interest in the projection. An uncomfortable interest, but nonetheless, a closeness to the dark that she will become.
Integration. The next day, Willow talks to Buffy and dismisses Vamp!Willow entirely. Percy passes by, hardworking and contrite, and the message that maybe her dark side wasn’t all bad sinks in. So Willow recognizes the value of trying to incorporate some of her own desires into her self. Willow’s (series) task moving forward is to combine the best of both halves -- the “superego” goodness and discipline with the “id” confidence and willingness to express her desires -- while avoiding the worst of both -- the “superego” meekness and the “id” evil -- in to find some semblance of “ego” as an adult. Vamp Willow dies because, with Willow attempting integration, it’s no longer necessary to have a separate character to be Willow’s doppelganger. Vamp!Willow doesn’t end up causing any damage after being sent back to her own universe. But for better or for worse, she will be lurking in Willow for the rest of her story.
Willow and the Scoobies. The opening sequences show us Willow repressing her resentment toward Buffy, dutifully following GIles’ instruction and apparently having the moniker of “Old Reliable” to Buffy and Xander. It’s not long after that Buffy and Xander see her at the Bronze, and find out she’s a vampire. The three sit quietly, and Giles mumbles, talking for all three of them, “She was truly the finest of all of us.” The two sequences are connected. Obviously they all do love Willow, and Buffy at least has been hurt by her in the past. But the Willow they love and admire so dearly is also the one who refuses to speak up to them for what she wants or thinks. She also enables their own flaws by failing to speak out about them. Part of the reason they are all so blind to Willow’s dark side -- and also so blind to the fact that Willow’s face isn’t her sole/true face -- is that Willow being the dutiful one, bottom line, benefits them.
That’s what makes Willow become particularly resentful of her friends. Because they love the Willow they see, they see Willow’s desire to act out as being about her proving something, and something she doesn’t have to do. There is real pressure on her to stay the good Willow they see as being her true self – and a failure to understand why this self is so unsatisfying to Willow. Their love and approval for her, then, can only penetrate so deep.
And yet there’s hope. When Willow asks Buffy to stop herself from staking her vampire counterpart, Buffy does. And then her friends agree to go along with her wishes to loose Vamp!Willow back into her world. Buffy’s first instinct in the Bronze is to kill Willow’s evil side. But there is enough love built up from Willow’s good side for Buffy and the others to be willing to spare her.
Willow and the Bad Girls. Doppelgangland doesn’t just deal with Willow’s bad girl side, it also sits between Bad Girls/Consequences and Enemies, inviting us to consider how much of Willow’s dark side emerges in relation to Buffy. It’s Buffy who calls Willow reliable and who says it’s good to be reliable. She’s also the one who encourages Willow to go into the Bronze dressed as a vampire, and to go out with her at the Bronze. More so than with anyone else, there’s a push-pull with Buffy’s influence on Willow, both keeping her locked in place and encouraging her to grow and change. Willow’s dislike for Faith is a bit of a sublimation of her resentment towards Buffy, who has the power and sexual appeal that Willow craves. She can’t express it directly, and probably isn’t even aware of it, but Vamp!Willow tells Buffy she doesn’t like her and storms away from her in the Bronze, in a scene very similar to Willow’s storming away from Buffy and Xander in the school a few minutes before. Buffy’s evil-aligned doppelganger Faith nearly gets Willow killed, and later on Buffy nearly kills Willow’s evil self. It seems to imply that Buffy and Willow, should they fully incorporate their darker sides, will be in opposition, which is straight-up foreshadowing. Note too Willow’s line to Buffy in the teaser (about Buffy/Faith, but which could apply just as well to Buffy/Willow): “Competition is natural and healthy!”
Willow/Oz. The most interesting thing here is how little interesting there is. Oz is his stalwart self, sending Angel off to fetch the gang when Vamp!Willow makes her appearance. While Willow’s identity issues are a problem, their relationship comes off rather well this week. Oz is the one person whose grief for Willow isn’t played for laughs but for genuine, if restrained, emotion, and he jumps right into action to try to save Sandy from Vamp!Willow, and to try to talk her out of doing evil. Oz’ willingness to confront Willow’s dark side and deal with her indicates that, while he may love her, he won’t enable her, and it’s something we see briefly in Fear, Itself. It’s a nice mirror for Willow’s consistent willingness to restrain Oz’ wolf side, which we are reminded of in Willow’s plan to use the tranq gun, usually used on wolf-Oz, on herself; these two are good with each other’s dark sides. Willow also takes a risk to let her real self through at the Bronze, giving him a reassuring wave that she’s all right.
Odds and Sods:
Oz hugs Willow and says. “There’s something about you that’s causing me to hug you. It’s as though I have no will of my own.” Cute on one level; clever on so many more. I hadn’t thought about that. Mostly I was thinking foreshadowing for mind-raping Tara. (The non-consent is foreshadowed elsewhere: as Vamp!Willow says to Willow, “If you don’t want to play, I guess I can’t force you. Oh wait. I guess I can.”) But we’ve also got the my will be done spell of Something Blue, and a double-entendre about whether Oz can have any Will(ow) since there are so many of them and not one is quite the real deal.
Joss returns to the idea of doppelgangers swapping identities -- at greater length -- in Who Are You.
Doppelgangers. We’ve just run through a sequence of doppelganger-like episodes. Xander’s ideal self took the stage in The Zeppo, serving as a sort of doppelganger for the butt monkey version of Xander who will be in play for much of next season. Faith plays the role of a dark mirror for Buffy (at least on the surface); and here vamp!Willow serves as a straight-up doppelganger for Willow. As befits the hero, Buffy gets two episodes and they are played as high drama. As befits the sidekick, Xander got an episode that played in a comedic tone. Willow likewise gets a comedic tone in DGL, but she is no sidekick. I think the tone plays light because that’s how the Scoobies see Willow. Willow resents the hell out of it. And her particular resentment that it’s Buffy who gets to be the protagonist is layered into the large dark arc that awaits her. The episode gestures at yet another pair of doppelgangers. When discussing Willow and her vampire self, Buffy mentions that a vampire’s personality has nothing to do with the human they once were. Angel pipes up to correct her, and then (off Buffy’s look) shuts himself down. It’s a reminder that Angel and Angelus are split in her mind -- and that Angel is complicit with her in keeping that fiction alive. And so it’s time to return to Angel’s doppelganger Angelus in Enemies.