[Review by Mike Marinaro]
[Writer: Joss Whedon | Director: Joss Whedon | Aired: 02/29/2000]
This is a fantastic episode that inspires a lot of conversation. At its core, it is completely and utterly about Faith. In fact, I think this is the most screen time Faith’s ever gotten and the least, aside from “Bargaining Pt. 1” [6×01] , that Buffy’s gotten. This episode gets a perfect score because, after reviewing it, I simply couldn’t deny the affect it had on me. No, there isn’t a significant lasting effect on the series or season, but the changes and issues explored through Faith are so powerful and expertly handled, I find myself in complete awe. Time to jump right in, but take notice that I’m going to tackle this review in chronological order rather than the usual character-by-character approach.
Right from the beginning we can see SMG nailing Faith’s mannerisms with facial expressions, shrugs, and body movement. After Buffy, in Faith’s body, is hauled away by the police, Faith is disgusted when Joyce hugs her. She’s not at all used to that kind of affection and is very uncomfortable with it. While upstairs in the bathtub Faith tests out the range of her new body by stretching and touching herself. After the bath she looks at herself in the mirror and manipulates her face into various expressions to get used to it, and begins to say stuff like “You can’t do that! It’s wrong.” While repeating lines like this we get refreshed on exactly what Faith thinks of Buffy: a stuck-up girl who thinks she’s better than everyone else because of her moral code and restrained behavior. While there may be a little bit of truth to that, Faith imagines it all to the extreme.
Tara finally gets some development besides more “bonding with Willow.” She insinuates that she really wants to meet Willow’s other friends and says, “Well, you should be safe. Nobody knows you’re here. I mean, they don’t even know I exist, right? I know all about them, but…” This is an important step for Tara, because through the confidence she gets from Willow, she’s able to speak her mind without feeling like she’ll be judged. In the same conversation, Tara basically also admits her love to Willow: “I am, you know … Yours.” Willow’s reasoning for not wanting to introduce Tara to the Scoobies is that “I-I just kinda like having something that’s just, you know, mine.” As Willow will soon find out, she can still have her private time with Tara even if the gang knows about it.
While Buffy is having a genuinely terrible time, Faith is living it up. Buffy can see where Faith’s choices have led her, and for a brief time Buffy has to pay the consequences of Faith’s evil, which is genuinely cruel. Faith, at first, transforms Buffy’s body to look the way she likes it, not the way Buffy would have it. This just goes to show how amazingly messed up and confused Faith is. Back in “Enemies” [3×17] Faith says, “You know, I come to Sunnydale. I’m the Slayer. I do my job kicking ass better than anyone. What do I hear about everywhere I go? Buffy. So I slay, I behave, I do the good little girl routine. And who’s everybody thank? Buffy … You get the Watcher. You get the mom. You get the little Scooby gang. What do I get? Jack squat. This is supposed to be my town!” I feel that that speech really sums up Faith’s problem. She’s jealous of everything Buffy has and wants it all for herself. By stealing Buffy’s body she expects to get everything that she was jealous of Buffy for. During the beginning of the episode Faith is very much acting just like herself and taking for granted all that Buffy’s worked hard to create.
When Faith heads to Giles’ place to meet up with the Scoobies, we see her struggling to not act like normal, to try to say what Buffy would say. She imagines stabbing Willow several times, which makes sense because Faith has never liked Willow and vice versa. She was the reason Willow was becoming so separated from Buffy back in S3. She says to Willow, “I’d never let her [Faith] hurt you.” Faith isn’t at all genuine when she says this. At this point, she is just giving lip service to how Buffy would deal with her friends and the situations that arise. After telling the Scoobies she’ll be out patrolling, Faith heads to the Bronze instead to party. This leads to the mind blowing scene between Faith and Spike. Seriously people! WOW. Sizzling much? I’ll quote the entire dialogue exchange here in a second, but first I need to talk about their early conversation.
Spike tells her “as soon as I get this chip out of my head, I’ll be a vampire again. But until then, I’m just as helpless as a kitten up a tree. So why don’t you sod off?” Faith responds with indifference, “Okay.” It’s interesting to see, once again, the difference in how Spike conducts himself with Buffy compared to the rest of the Scoobies. When Faith walks away from the conversation, Spike is actually hurt by what he sees as Buffy’s indifference towards him. He says, “Oh, fine! Throw it in my face! Spike’s not a threat anymore, I’ll turn my back! He can’t hurt me.”
Spike then poses ‘Buffy’ a question: “You know why I really hate you, Summers?” Faith responds, for the first of multiple times, what she thinks of Buffy: “‘Cause I’m a stuck-up tight-ass with no sense of fun?” But she doesn’t stop there and decides to really ramp up the sexual tension. Here’s the potent exchange: Faith says, “‘Cause I could do anything I want, and instead I choose to pout and whine and feel the burden of Slayerness? I mean, I could be rich. I could be famous. I could have anything. Anyone. Even you, Spike. I could ride you at a gallop until your legs buckled and your eyes rolled up. I’ve got muscles you’ve never even dreamed of. I could squeeze you until you pop like warm champagne and you’d beg me to hurt you just a little bit more. And you know why I don’t? Because it’s wrong” (smiles and walks away). Spike responds, after being completely entranced by her, “I get this chip out…you and me are gonna have a confrontation.” He then grabs his beer bottle and throws it against the wall in complete frustration and anger at not being able to respond to that taunting. Is this a setup for next season or what? Spike is shown here as very attracted to Buffy and that there is a very fine line, already, between wanting to kill her and wanting to have sex with her. I think I need to say it again: wow.
I hate to have to move on from that amazing scene, but fortunately there’s some more amazing scenes to drool over. One of which is not the scene where Adam shares his thoughts on vampires to a den of them. The leader of the pack says something I know I’m thinking about, “kill this guy already.” To be fair, though, Adam does say something very intriguing to that same vampire: “You fear death. Being immortal, you fear it more than those to whom it comes naturally.” That statement makes a whole lot of sense. Death is a part of what makes us human. We rarely worry or think about death because we know it is inevitable. This fact often makes us able to cherish life more. Because of vampires’ immortality, they’re naturally prone to thinking about death much more than humans do. Death is not inevitable to them, so it becomes something to fear.
Back at the Bronze, Willow decides to use this of all times to introduce Tara to Buffy. Willow runs off to get some drinks and leaves Tara to talk with Faith, who does everything in her power to ridicule and hurt Tara’s feelings. This is what tips Tara off to the fact that she isn’t actually talking to Buffy. When Willow returns she points out a vampire to Faith, who is pretty much indifferent to the fact that a girl is being led to her death. After seeing that Willow expects her to get up and take action, Faith finally gets up and goes in the back room to assist the girl. She saves the girl, who then expresses genuine (if heavy-handed) gratitude to Faith, who is a bit surprised to have someone actually thanking her for doing what is supposed to be her job. She could care less about the girl and was simply going through the motions of being Buffy, but that’s enough in beginning to spark a change in the way Faith sees Buffy and herself.
Immediately after the scene at the Bronze, Faith decides to give Riley a spin. The one area Faith’s confidence appears to soar is sex. She slithers her way onto Riley and hits on the notion, again, that Buffy is “joyless and proper” and that she should give into her “animal instincts” like Faith, herself, does. She asks Riley, “What do you wanna do with this body? What nasty little desire have you been itching to try out? Am I a bad girl? Do you wanna hurt me?” Faith is running on the assumption, likely based on her own experiences, that every guy has some dirty sexual fantasy underneath the surface, and that if she scratches hard enough she’ll be able to reduce them to nothing more than a sexual beast.
Faith tries to use this assumption to uncover Riley’s dirty little fantasy. But Riley’s not being enticed in the slightest by Faith’s aggressive behavior. He says, “What are we playing at here?” Faith responds, “Well, if you don’t wanna play.” Riley says, “Right. I don’t wanna play,” and then gently kisses her. That’s the truth of the matter. To Riley (and Buffy) sex isn’t about play, it’s about love. This is a concept that Faith unfortunately hasn’t been in contact with in her life. While she’s had a rough time, it still came down to her own decisions to persue ‘play’ instead of letting someone really in. This is likely the first time she’s ever experienced this kind of love, and it has a profound effect on her.
While Faith and Riley are ‘busy’, Willow and Tara are having their own sensual experience through magic. The two of them are doing a spell to ascertain whether or not Buffy is really Buffy. The spell is particularly intense and is obviously a metaphor for sex. The way the scene is shot is scrumptuous and displays variation rarely seen on television. It also feels very personal and magical. The music here, and throughout the episode, very much deserves applause as well — it’s beautiful and cinematic. The spell leads back to Faith and Riley in the middle of sex. I notice that Faith isn’t on top of Riley — she’s taken an interesting risk in allowing Riley to take the initiative in showing her love. He even tells her, “I love you,” which directly connects with the “thank you” from the girl she saved earlier at the Bronze. Riley’s declaration of love overwhelms her as she says, “Ugh. Get off. No. No. No! Get-get off! No! Off me! Get off!”
Faith is trying to reject these feelings that she’s dismissed all her life. She goes on to say, “Who are you? What do you want from h-her?” She is simply in shock that she’s let herself open to love like this and still doesn’t want to believe it’s real. The questions signify that she thinks Riley has to want something from Buffy other than just love. Faith desparately wants to think, and she says unconvincingly, that “this [sex] is meaningless.” She then continues to try to convince herself that she felt “nothing,” and repeats said word. Even though she’s trying to avoid facing the fact that she really did feel Riley’s love, she’s knows it’s true — she now knows Buffy and Riley do share genuine love.
This is why Faith takes off the following morning, trying one last time to escape all her newfound feelings and knowledge. Forrest catches her in the hallway and calls her a “killer.” She responds, very defensively, “I am not a killer! I am the Slayer! And you don’t know the first thing about me.” Forrest points out, “You really care what I think?” She responds, “No. I don’t care. God, I don’t care.” Notice the use of God in her response, which is ironic considering she’s about to selflessly help people in trouble at a church. But before that, Faith tries to flee Buffy’s life. This is the life she was so envious of before; the life she thought was handed to Buffy by circumstances and luck. Faith has now fully realized that Buffy’s life is the way it is because of the person Buffy is. This revelation makes Buffy’s life not something Faith wants anymore. The moment she sees a news report about vampires threatening people in a church, though, she decides to accept Buffy’s love of others and goes to save those people, even though she is off the hook of any obligation. At the same time this is happening, Buffy has escaped the custody of the Council and is on her way to find Faith.
At this point, everything is set into motion. Buffy arrives at Giles’ home to convince him that she’s actually Buffy. Eliza Dushku does a fantastic job in this scene of capturing Buffy’s mannerisms and speech pattern. Willow also arrives, coming through for Buffy again, but this time with Tara’s help. They all head to the church where Faith is in full Buffy emulation mode. She runs into Riley before heading in and tells him, “I can’t use you,” which is basically what Buffy told him in “This Year’s Girl” [4×15] , because she cares about him and doesn’t want him to get hurt. I believe that Faith has also come to the realization that she can’t treat Riley like she’s treated men up until now, trivially, and that she too doesn’t want to see Riley get hurt.
When Faith goes into the church and tells the vampires, “You’re not gonna kill these people … Because it’s wrong,” she now genuinely means it. This is amazing character evolution! Buffy then comes in and begins fighting with Faith. Now, forced to look at herself, the truth comes pouring out: “You’re nothing! Disgusting! Murderous bitch! You’re nothing! You’re disgusting!” After experiencing Buffy’s life and love, Faith has fully realized exactly what she is and hates herself for it. I’m sure she did before, deep down, but it’s now risen to the surface. The state Faith is in is carried over to “Five by Five” (AtS 1×18), where she lets loose all the rage and anger at herself in one last outburst, and then finally just wants it all to end: “I’m bad! Please! (sobbing) Angel, please, just do it! Angel, just do it! Please, just do it! Kill me. Just kill me.”
This is a powerful piece of television and a masterful character study on Faith that managed to blow me away. I always knew this episode had a ton of depth underneath, but before now I hadn’t taken the time to really gather my thoughts. Upon review, it’s better than I ever thought before. Instead of simply being a gimmick, Whedon once again uses a unique opportunity to its fullest extent. It’s got monumentally great writing, beautifully constructed scenes, wonderful music, powerful themes, great humor, and stunning character development for a secondary character. It really doesn’t get much better than this.
Minor Pros/Cons (+/-)
+ Tara being the first person to realize that Buffy isn’t Buffy.
+ Willow bringing up hyena possession.
+ Willow’s complete trust in Tara to perform a powerful spell.
+ Buffy’s lack of driving skills being remembered. “I can do this.”