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 3.17-- Enemies, in Which Everyone Acts
As Max points out to me, Enemies forms a nice bookend to the arc that began in Revelations. The deceptions in Revelations unwittingly launch Faith on the path that ends with the massive set of deceptions here. Both episodes were written by Doug Petrie, and there are multiple parallels (e.g. the denouement scene in Angel’s mansion). Angel has been woven into the dance between Buffy and Faith from the beginning, and so it’s appropriate that the episode begins with Angel and Buffy.
Sex and the Slayer, Part 1. The episode opens with Buffy and Angel uncomfortable after inadvertently (??) seeing a movie all about sex. Buffy worries that it’s too hard on Angel, being with her but having to stay in control, neatly denying that she’s got any self-denial issues herself. Faith cuts right through that bit of self-deception by needling Buffy about the challenges of abstinence and getting a telling rise from Buffy as a reaction. Buffy is in some serious denial about her own self-denial with Angel. The first note sounded in an episode that has Buffy finally defining Faith as an enemy is about Buffy’s denial of her own powerful appetites.
(Speaking of appetites, how about Buffy and Angel’s mistaking a movie about food for one about sex? An appetite for food is something else Buffy and Angel both suppress. It’s also another of the fundamental gaps between Buffy and Angel that goes largely unexplored: he doesn’t eat human food. The connection also suggests the feeding quasi-sex scene to come in Graduation Day. Buffy’s line, “Besides, I don’t even own a kimono” reminds me of that other bad girl in Angel’s life, who was into kimonos last time they were an item.)
And you have to love the post-2008 irony of Angel’s line on his self-control: “safe as houses.” On a lighter note, in the Buffyverse, there’s a post-Smashed irony, too.
Faith the Villain, Part 1. We start off with Faith doing her first serious work for the mayor -- informing him about the books of ascension, and making the move to acquire them. In the process of rather brutally killing the demon, Faith has to fight back and ends up making even more of a mash of the corpse. Later in the episode, Faith and Buffy will return to the scene under the guise of looking for the already dead demon. In a nice little touch that reminds us how words can have an impact beyond the intention of the speaker, we have Buffy observing that whoever killed the demon was into it; and Faith quietly offering the rejoinder that it could have been self-defense. It’s unlikely it makes any difference to Faith’s trajectory at this point, but Buffy’s read misses the mark in the direction of making it seem more brutal and callous than it actually was. (Not by much, granted.) When she kills the demon, Faith doesn’t do the multiple stabbings for fun, and on the contrary recoils from her own bloody hands.
It is, however, just a moment. When next we see Faith with bloody hands, Faith is using them in her attempt to con Angel into thinking that she’s in too deep with the evil and wants him to help pull her out.
Sex and the Slayer Part, 2. Faith’s real aim with those bloody hands is to worm her way into Angel’s bed and get him to lose his soul. It’s the mayor’s commission, but it’s a mission that neatly ties together Faith’s villainy and her sense of rivalry with Buffy. (Cunning move by the mayor, to keep Faith on the reservation by fanning the flames of her Buffy-issues) (yet a strange move that this cuddly daddy figure wants his girl to go out and whore herself). Faith’s seduction begins with a ruse, but builds on feelings that are actually there. Those are real feelings. She uses her repulsion at her own bloody hands to talk to him about being afraid she’s going too far. She makes offhand remarks about her homelife as a kid and her need to rely on herself. More real feelings. Faith marshals her resources in a determined choice for evil, even using the currents that could have pulled her back to the light (in a way that helps con the audience too). Alas, her attempt to woo Angel fails, as he’s firmly attached to Buffy, a fact which she bitterly bemoans when she reports her failure to the mayor.
Buffy, meanwhile, sees Faith and Angel in a tender moment and retreats to worry about whether she’s losing Angel to Faith. The rivalry, it would seem, is a two-way street. Although this is the first time that Buffy’s seen anything that could raise doubts in her mind about where Angel’s loyalties lie, Buffy has been territorial about Angel with Faith from the word go. Here, Buffy worries that Angel and Faith have a lot in common. That seems to be a natural thing to say, but then we have to pause and ask, what do Angel and Faith have in common? Presumably it’s that they’ve both done evil things and are seeking redemption, bu that would require that Buffy somehow equates one accidental staking (and a certain callousness about taking responsibility) with a century of intentional slaughter.* It’s unlikely that Buffy knows enough about Liam to see some commonalities between him and Faith in terms of having unresolved parental issues and an inclination to act out in wildness. Finally, it’s possible that Buffy is equating Faith’s dark side with Angel’s -- an equation that plays out in the final act. In that light, Buffy’s remark about Angel not talking to her much takes on an interesting cast. Buffy has walled off some passions and darkness in herself, but sees them as present in Angel, and therefore sees herself as unable to connect with Angel on some level. If she were to connect with Angel on that level she’d be opening up a part of herself she wants to suppress. Angel’s dual nature is in play in the war between the slayers.
* One possible read of what Buffy is thinking is that Angel, like Faith, has “accidentally” become a killer -- insofar as the souled being “Angel” accidentally lost his soul and then became killer Angelus.
Faith the Villain, Part 2. Having failed to seduce Angel, Faith returns with a shaman who chants Angel’s soul out of him. She has no problem cooperating with Angelus’s plan to capture and torture Buffy. As we’ll learn in Five by Five, Faith is quite capable of actually torturing someone, though there it’s played as a plea for help. (In fact, she really seems to enjoy having all the power in the Buffy/Faith dynamic; she is gleeful at the prospect that she can show herself to be the ‘better’ slayer by hurting Buffy and, ideally, making her scream -- “feel free.” It ties in neatly with Faith’s sense of inferiority.) Here she doesn’t get that far, because it turns out in one of those super-cool plot twists (insert eye roll here) that Angel’s turning was a fake-out to extract information from Faith about the mayor’s plans. The entire second act of Faith’s villainy is thus victim-free. Buffy is the one who’s calling the shots -- an observation worth bearing in mind when Buffy accuses Faith of being the only person who ever made her a victim in Sanctuary. (I read Sanctuary as being more explicitly about the body-swap -- which, granted, happened after Buffy put Faith into a coma, but which definitely made Buffy a victim. Sure. The point is just that Buffy zeroes in on the one time late in their exchange where Faith genuinely had the upper hand, skipping over the fact she was mostly holding all the cards up until the body switch.)
Buffy’s ruse draws on real emotions every bit as much as Faith’s did. She uses her status as a soon-to-be-tortured prisoner to reveal the full range of her feelings about Faith. There is concern there. She warns Faith that hanging out with evil people who can turn on you is dangerous business. Second, she wants to understand how Faith signed up for all of this -- asking her what’s in it for her. But then, she takes Faith’s rant about how everyone treats her as the lesser slayer and guts Faith with the matter-of-fact statement that she is the better slayer, and that she always has been. She calls Faith a loser, and she turns Faith’s anger back on Faith -- remarking disdainfully that she didn’t know Faith had that much rage in her... a disdain befitting the slayer who is the top dog and who cannot begin to fathom what life looks like from the margin. It’s the same mix of concern and rivalry that’s been there all along.
I wonder about the degree of concern. When the audience first watches the scene, Buffy’s taunts of Faith look like either bravery or bravado. But when we understand that Buffy has the whole scene wired, then the taunts take on a very different cast. The concern that Buffy used to express about Faith -- ever out of Faith’s hearing, alas -- seems to be gone. This isn’t some kind of tough love scene. Either Buffy is just saying these things because she wants to hurt Faith, or she’s saying them because she wants Faith to reveal her secrets. But it’s not about saying things that are calculated to bring Faith back into the fold. Faith has touched the Angel button, and Buffy has lost her sense of charity.
Sex and the Slayer, Part 3. Faith may not have been able to seduce Angel, but “Angelus” immediately grabs her for a big smooch. He then proceeds to taunt Faith about going to such extremes to get a boy toy. This is a drama scripted by Buffy and Angel for Faith’s benefit, and it casts Faith as the girl who can’t get Angel, and so has to settle for Angelus -- a guy who mocks her and likes it rough. Faith does, however, accept the basic premise -- that Angel is somehow the prize that falls to the better slayer, and she makes a point of macking on Angel for Buffy’s benefit. For her part, Buffy is happy to gloat that Angel is hers and that he’d only be with Faith if Faith did some kind of a spell. Sidebar: Angel similarly invokes Buffy’s love for him as evidence that he’s better than Spike in Destiny. One wonders if part of the reason Angel and Buffy keep each other on pedestals isn’t for exactly this sort of ego-boosting maneuver.
Buffy may have scripted Faith getting Angelus, but she fears that it, too, might be a ruse that draws on something real. Indeed, even though she scripted it, she asks for a time out from her relationship with Angel. There are two things that disturbed her. First, seeing Angel be physical with Faith so easily. Second, seeing Angel play at Angelus so convincingly. Arguably the two run together.
Angel’s ruse. Angel’s ruse as Angelus is quite convincing. (It’s meant to be a fake-out for the audience as well as for Faith). In what has become a theme for this episode, it’s a ruse that almost certainly draws on something real. This is the one and only time Angel confronts Buffy with having sent him to hell. He reminds her that there’s a part of him (Angelus) who cannot be reached by Buffy’s love and who is not redeemable. He tells her he’s thought about bondage games with her and/or about torturing her. Along with his physical affection with Faith, it’s no mystery why Buffy needs a time-out. She’s been fleeing the dark matter of their relationship, and she wants to keep fleeing it. She’s out of there until she can get it all shoved to the side again.
And quite simply, by playing the Angelus act he reminds her, in great detail, about the most traumatic time in her life -- and she knows that she, in principle, could stop the ruse and so the emotional torment at any time -- but she has to soldier on as part of their plan. I’ll note that by agreeing to the ruse in the first place, Buffy indicates that she does trust Angel to be able to play Angelus well enough to fool Faith and the Mayor; but that still doesn’t imply that she knew how well. Seeing Angel playing Angelus makes it harder to see them as being so fundamentally distinct. Indeed, why would Angel think that Angelus would be upset about being sent to hell if it was Angel and not Angelus who actually went to hell?
A favourite detail of mine is that (sort of like the Doppelgangland costume-swapping ruse last week) we get to see “Angelus” pretending to be Angel, and doing a fine job of it. He lays on the charm while talking to Joyce in a way that is disconcerting for us but which Joyce, whom Angel usually ignores entirely, seems to be flattered by. Angel may be deeply divided, but he’s much better at switching between his identities than Willow seemed, last week. Indeed, maybe part of what is so painful about seeing Angel pretending to be Angelus -- and succeeding very well -- is her recollection of the time where Angelus pretended to have a soul, in the morning after scene in Innocence. Which leads me to the following point about the Faith/ “Angelus” quasi-relationship.
Faith/ “Angelus” and Buffy/Angel. First, the fact that “Angelus” is with Faith here reinforces, to a tiny degree, one of the core fears of Buffy’s: that Angelus rejected her so thoroughly in Innocence because of her, and not because of his soul loss. Buffy needs to believe that Angelus couldn’t be with, or be interested in, any human woman to prevent herself from feeling as if Angelus (like the other men in her life, in her mind) rejected her because there was something wrong with her. The idea that Angelus could be plausibly attracted to Faith is very frightening for that reason.
The other side is of interest too: if Faith is Buffy’s shadow, what do we make of her attraction to Angelus?
Part of the drama in season two and at the beginning of season three (in particular Revelations) is that Angel is the closest thing to a sanctuary Buffy has from her calling, but to be with Angel (close enough to kiss him in Revelations, etc.) means risking the lives of everyone else she holds dear. But at least that risk is being taken because Buffy loves not Angelus-the-killer, but Angel-the-valiant (or Angel-the-needy, in her caretaking). Buffy’s mental construct is based on the idea that there is nothing in Angelus that she loves or is attracted to. If she were attracted to qualities in Angel that existed in him whether he had a soul or not -- say, if she were attracted to the ‘dark’ and demonic -- that would topple her whole conception of herself and of her relationship with Angel. Further, it would make Buffy’s protection of Angel all the worse, because the man she loves would not be someone who just happens to have been a killer, but she would be attracted to him (if only in part) because he’s a killer -- because of that demonic side.
But Faith clearly doesn’t distinguish between her attraction to Angel and Angelus. She wants to make out with Angel, soul or no soul. Faith and “Angelus” then enact a ‘relationship’ that has some elements that I strongly suspect would be, on some level, tempting for Buffy: they are free, powerful, above any law or responsibility, outside any restrictions or concessions to human society, and able to given in completely to their ‘dark’ impulses for sex and violence. Faith and “Angelus” are what Buffy and Angel, in principle, could be together, if the two were not devoted to goodness. Moreover, Faith’s gleefully choosing to be with Angelus despite his being a killer is an uncomfortable mirror for Buffy choosing to be with Angel, despite the fact that he still has a killer inside him.
Of course -- and I mean this very strongly -- Buffy is not anywhere near being able to go for that type of dark relationship. She pulled back from her kissing Angel in Revelations. She is far too good and cares far too much about her friends, family and human society, for any attraction to Angelus to surface consciously. But we do know, ultimately, that with enough trauma, Buffy has it in her to be with a soulless vampire (albeit one who is no longer a killer); and we know from season eight that, if her calling is weighty enough, she’s willing to find solace in Angel even if he is the enemy. For now, Buffy’s need to assure herself that Angel couldn’t be interested in Faith, in the next episode, is not just about ensuring that Angel isn’t attracted to Faith, but also that Angel’s relationship with Buffy is nothing like his fake relationship with Faith, that their mutual attraction is not about power and demonic thrills.
Angel’s Girl. Before she goes, Angel asks Buffy if she’s still his girl. Always, she replies. In Consequences Faith rejoiced in Buffy’s flash of dark, saying “there’s my girl”. In Dead Things, Buffy destroys Spike’s face in a fit of rage at his use of the phrase “my girl.” Her declaration that she will always be Angel’s girl as she walks out of the door so she can go back into denial about his dark and her dark is a mark of Buffy’s coping strategy going forward. That darkness belongs to the other slayer, to the other vampire. She and Angel belong to the light. Deep down she knows it isn’t so. But a part of her very much wants it to be so.
The Mayor’s Girl. The mayor showers Faith with fatherly attention. It seems to be mostly a surface gag. He wants Faith to drink her milk, and then go kill the heck out of the demon. He assures her that she’ll succeed, but then muses about how hard it was to replace Mr. Trick, and how he’d hate to have to look for another replacement. But Faith really is his girl -- as we’ll see at the end of the season, he really does care for Faith. She’s not quite sure what to do with that in this episode. But in light of her rant about being in Buffy’s shadow always, it’s not hard to see the appeal of having someone express affection and concern for her.
It’s interesting to ponder what changed in the Mayor between “replacing Mr. Trick was hard enough” and his reassurance to Faith that she’ll always have him, after she has failed completely in her task. Was the initial threat a bluff, or has he softened on her as a result of the events of the episode? I’d say it’s a bit of both. Early on, there is at least some chance that Faith could leave the Mayor and return to the Scooby gang, so that it was more important for the Mayor to keep Faith disincentivized from crossing him. It’s worth noting too that Faith was pretty unenthusiastic in the opening scene with the Mayor. At the end, Faith has no one else in the world, and there’s no more reason to use any kind of threats to keep her in line.
The Sting. It’s hard to know how much we can read into the last act, which is set up for the big “gotcha” moment with the audience. But let’s take it as writ. We then have the problem that Buffy, Angel and Giles made the odd choice to keep their sting operation secret from everyone, not just Faith. The result of this is that Xander gets punched out, goes to see Wesley and the other Scoobies, and they go try to find Buffy and protect her. Presumably (lots of off-screen happenings this episode) they find that she’s not at home, and they storm into Angel’s mansion. They do so almost immediately after Faith has revealed all she knows about the Ascension and Buffy and Angel had dropped their charade. So, if Faith had taken another five minutes to start talking about the Ascension, then the gang would have burst in in the middle of a still-ongoing act. At this point, would Angel have continued pretending to be Angelus and Buffy have continued pretending to be tied up, in order to get Faith to talk a bit more? I’m being a bit facetious because I’m pretty sure the real problem here lies with the episode’s sloppy plotting. And yet it’s worth noting that the decision to keep the gang out of the dark nearly ruined the entire plan.
Presumably Buffy, Giles and Angel felt that the Scoobies (and especially Wesley) would have screwed up the plan by accidentally hinting to Faith that Angel’s bad wasn’t genuine -- or would have declared it too dangerous to go through with. Probably they could also argue that since the ruse wasn’t really about the gang, it was okay to keep the gang on the outside. But the ruse did end up affecting the gang, leaving bruises on Xander’s face and Wesley’s career. The deception is not as harmful as, say, Buffy’s keeping Angel from the gang at the beginning of season three, or (worse) Giles’ plotting to put Buffy through the Cruciamentum, or (much worse) Angel’s behaviour in I Will Remember You, Home or season eight. But it is part of the same set of behaviours, and I think that it adds to the tensions in the Scooby gang by reestablishing that the Scoobies are still on the outside compared to Buffy and Giles -- and this time, even Angel.
Further, the deception ends up being another iteration of part of the pattern that pushed Faith away earlier in the season, in Revelations (Buffy’s deception about Angel) and in Consequences (Giles’ ploy to pretend to believe Faith). Faith has been attempting to play the gang since she walked in the Mayor’s door, and in a way her leading a double life is a form of payback for Buffy’s keeping Angel a secret from her (and all the baggage associated with that.) The realization that she’d been played by both Buffy and Angel makes her angry and layers on top of the trust issues that have been built up as a result of feeling lied to and distrusted all season long. Faith was already set on being the Mayor’s assistant, but it’s probably another betrayal from the three people (if we include Giles) in the gang she might have had some chance at connecting with makes her seal her fate as his girl. The episode hammers this home with Faith’s repeated asides about not being able to trust anyone.
Xander’s Arc. Revelations and Enemies also serve as bookends for Xander’s story. In Revelations, his distrust of Angel (and Buffy) led him to orchestrate Angel’s murder. It’s a neat symmetry that this time Faith isn’t the weapon Xander is using against Angel, but rather is the weapon that supposedly turned Angel dark. Xander had made enough progress from Revelations to be genuinely blindsided when Angel suddenly decks him -- the shooting script has him unconscious before he hits the ground. It knocks him right back to his Revelations mind-set, and he is very loud with the “I told you so.” But the joke is on him, as it turns out. And nobody is even sympathetic about the big bruise on his face. The doubling up of disrespect to Xander -- keeping him out of the loop and letting him get knocked out as part of the ruse -- might be unconscious pay back on Buffy and Angel’s part for Xander’s role in Revelations. Or perhaps they just don’t care. In any case, Xander’s status within the group is at an all-time low, and quite distant from the high status he enjoyed at the beginning of Revelations.
(Two other neat little reversals. The first is that both times Xander sees Angel and belives him to be evil, it’s after he’s gone off from the gang alone. In Revelations it was from guilt over his cheating on Cordelia with Willow; in Enemies it’s because he can’t stand seeing Cordelia with Wesley. It’s a nice contrast demonstrating of his loss in status. The second is that Xander suggests that the gang not consult Giles before going to find and stop Angel and Faith. Finding Giles was what stopped Xander from his rampage in Revelations -- and so I wonder if Xander, unconsciously, wants to avoid having Giles, in some way or another, stop Xander and the gang from going to stop Angel.)
Giles and Wesley. In the spirit of talking about ruses, let’s note that the ruse has Giles as the true insider with Buffy (and Angel), thereby revealing what a complete fiction it is that Wesley has any authority at all. (It’s not much of a fiction: Wesley even defers to Giles in meetings.) Wesley doesn’t have the history that Xander does, so the implied disrespect to him is less profound. But keeping him out of the loop on the sting is part of the pattern of Wesley being consistently marginalized and dissed by the Scoobies. Giles is happy to keep Wesley in his place, and I do think this serves as a mirror for the part of Buffy who is happy to keep Faith in hers. (Xander makes a point of saying that Faith was Wesley’s responsibility, a reminder that Wesley has, in some ways, the worst of two words: Giles gets to make all the decisions with respect to Faith and ends up with effectively none of the blame.)
As another bookend to Revelations, Giles plays the Gwen Post role of being the crafty ex-Watcher who humiliates the active Watcher by “pitting slayer against slayer in a dangerous charade.” Giles sets up the sting for good of course, but I think though he might not recognize it, he enjoys recovering his mojo by playing a role similar to that of the person who demeaned him earlier in the year.
Willow. One ‘outsider’ who doesn’t directly get any lumps from the sting is Willow. We learn that Willow has been through some of the dark books Giles wanted to keep from her, and as a result turns out to be the one, and not either of the Watchers, to recall an instance of ‘Ascension.’ Perhaps because her information is useful, Giles doesn’t press the issue of the possible danger of her looking through the darker books. Or it’s just another moment in the on-going drumbeat about Willow’s dangerous obsession with magic and Giles failure to take action in response.
Willow listens to Buffy’s concerns about Faith and Angel, and once again is the primary Faith-basher and Angel-cheerleader. After her encounter with her dark side last week, it’s interesting (and we can discuss this more in Choices) that she somewhat doubles down on her big separation of good people from bad ones, and Buffy (and Angel!) from Faith. She gives good advice to Buffy to go speak to Angel, and continues trying to reassure Buffy that there is nothing to Angel/Faith after the ruse (which Buffy et al. left Willow out of) is afoot.
On the Willow/Oz watch, I have to wonder about Willow’s statement that it’s necessary to talk to find out what one’s taciturn guy is feeling. In Doppelgangland she didn’t articulate her issues to Oz very well, and in Earshot we find out that Willow is worried that she never does know what Oz is feeling -- so I am not so sure that Willow follows her own advice.
Demons are People. The demon selling the book of ascension is called a non-person by Buffy at the top of their encounter. But he manifestly is a person and more to the point, Buffy knows it. In addition to the fact that he plays the role of a lowlife criminal type that you’d see in any all-human drama, we learn that he’s got pet goldfish... that he cares enough about to want to take with him as he attempts to make his big escape. Giles keeps mentioning how any self-respecting demon should want not cash but the still-beating heart of a virgin; shouldn’t live in a motel room but out in a crypt; etc. Giles (and Wes) are trying to maintain the Council party line about demons and are surprised to find that they are more complicated. Nor does Buffy adhere to the party line. Her actions belie her words. In addition to letting the demon go at the mausoleum, she is visibly upset at finding his mauled body.
The demon who plays as a human character is a signal that there are no easy categories here. All the characters are playing a role -- and none of the roles fully capture who they are. The title of the episode might be Enemies, but nothing is that simple. As Faith presciently warns Buffy -- “Kill me? You become me.” The seeds of Faith are in Buffy every much as the seeds of Buffy are in Faith. Our roles in life might not be the full truth of us, but we play roles for good reasons -- as we learn in our next episode: Earshot.