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Thursday, March 29, 2012

Bad Girls

[Updated April 30, 2013]

Bad Girls begins the final run to the conclusion of S3, just as Surprise did in S2. It’s arguably the first episode of a two-parter with Consequences, but they aren’t formally treated as one and there’s plenty to discuss separately so I’ll make separate posts.

As I explained in discussing Homecoming, I think that Cordy stopped serving as Buffy’s shadow self at that point. Faith takes over that role in Bad Girls. We were given many clues to this in Faith Hope & Trick, a major one which I’ll discuss when I get to Graduation Day, and others including Buffy’s comments such as “at school today, she was making eyes at my not-boyfriend. This is creepy.”; “I'm not looking to go halfsies on [my life].”; “Which, by the way, is *my* life.”; “Yeah, and mine's the sane one.”; “She doesn't need a life. She has mine.” We got more clues to this season theme from the two episodes immediately following FH&T – BatB and Homecoming – both of which dealt with shadow selves. Faith is “definitely” Buffy’s “shadow self, her dark side” (quoting Marti Noxon), and in this episode she goads Buffy into exploring what it’s like to live on the wild side, to take things too far.
There’s one important difference, however, between the metaphorical roles of Cordy and Faith. Cordy was the shadow self for Buffy’s human side. Faith is the darker half of her Slayer side. We saw Buffy face the challenge of Helpless after reconciling her human dark side; now she faces a much more significant challenge from her Slayer-side shadow.
One big difference between Buffy and Faith as Slayers is that Faith is all action without taking time to think. Buffy wants to exercise some control. This is a balancing act we’ve seen before – in S2 Kendra played the other side of this dichotomy. Buffy needs both action and thought in order to succeed as the Slayer. The different characteristics of other Slayers help her find that balance.
Why are we only seeing this contrast now? Why not immediately after Homecoming? Because the shadow self isn’t something we struggle with every single minute. It only becomes relevant when life issues make it so. As I’ve argued from the beginning, Buffy’s journey is one that will take her to adulthood, and being the Slayer is a metaphor for that. Faith’s story explores one way many would-be adults get sidetracked at this particular stage of life.
Within the story Buffy is a high school senior in her last few months before graduation. There’s a strong temptation at that age to think that “being an adult” means “I get to do what I want now”: Want. Take. Have. The power of becoming an adult is, using Joss’s word to describe the power of the Slayer, intoxicating. It’s very common for seniors to think that this is the time when they can blow off all their responsibilities. They stop worrying about grades; they party (note Buffy’s description of the fight down the manhole: “Faith and I got into a serious party situation.”); they have a final fling before they leave all their friends behind and go off to college. This is all the more likely when faced with a new “teacher” who might not be evil in the strictest sense, but certainly isn’t anyone Buffy wants to impress. It’s a teenager’s form of rebellion, not an adult’s.
Also within the story, Buffy is nearly drowned again. This reminder of her mortality likely makes her see some merit in Faith’s “livin’ large” (FH&T) philosophy, and their behavior reminds us that Buffy has this within her as we saw in WSWB (wild dancing, blowing off her friends, etc.). Ultimately, of course, Faith represents the road not taken; Buffy flirts with Faith’s choices, in Jane Espenson’s words, but doesn’t make them.
Faith’s devil-may-care attitude may be partly an attempt to impress Buffy, but it’s also part of her personality. Over the course of the episode her behavior becomes increasingly reckless to the point of stabbing anything that moves, and the result is predictably tragic. The death of Allen Finch is the turning point of S3. It may be useful to re-watch Ted at this point, so you can compare the way all the relevant parties react.
From a legal standpoint, killing the Deputy Mayor wasn’t murder one – nobody thinks Faith premeditated it – but it was a homicide. Under CA law there are 3 plausible charges (I’m simplifying): 

  1. Second degree murder. This requires “malice aforethought” but is not premeditated. “Malice aforethought” includes a wanton disregard for human life. “Wanton” means, roughly, grossly negligent or reckless.
  2. Voluntary manslaughter. This requires that the killing be with a conscious disregard for human life and it usually applies to cases of provocation.
  3. Involuntary manslaughter.  This requires failing to act with a proper degree of caution. 

In his DVD commentary, writer Doug Petrie uses the term murder to describe what Faith did. He must have had second degree murder in mind, and Faith’s behavior certainly could be characterized “grossly negligent” or “reckless”. I think it’s also possible to see it as involuntary manslaughter, but even that is pretty serious.
We can see that Faith’s upset about the killing from her reaction when Buffy comes by at the end, and her initial reaction to run strongly suggests a sense of guilt (similar to Buffy’s concealment of Angel in Revelations). But guilt isn’t the same as taking responsibility or even showing remorse and Faith’s denial of both compares badly with Buffy’s reaction in Ted and with Buffy’s advice now. I’m not even sure Faith really believes herself when she says “I don’t care”, but she’s at least trying to convince herself that she doesn’t. That doesn’t bode well.
As I see it, a lot of Faith’s problem stems from insecurity, even an inferiority complex. She lost her first Watcher due to her own perceived fault. She fell for Gwendolyn Post. Taking responsibility now would require another admission of failure and she’s not able to handle that.
A few minor points:
Speaking of Watchers, the introduction of Wesley gives us a parallel case of a shadow self, this time for Giles. The scene where they simultaneously clean their glasses clues us in to their similarity. That and the British accent, the height, the stuffiness, etc.
Lots of viewers saw lesbian subtext in certain scenes in this episode (a lot of the dialogue, the heart on the window, all the pelvic thrusting, the dancing). That was definitely present. Doug Petrie says "… Faith was very attractive to Buffy in a lot of ways, so there was definitely this subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) lesbian subtext, where Faith is very seductive. She's like 'come play with me; let's be what we really are,' and Buffy has always been a lil bit uncomfortable with that….”
Usually the demon provides a metaphorical connection to the plot. The only things we really know about Balthazar are that (a) he lost his power and wants it back; and (b) his acolytes formed a duelist cult. I suppose we might see the dueling as a metaphor representing a struggle between Willow and Faith over Buffy. That’s pretty thin so if anyone else has a better suggestion, feel free to add it.
Bad Girls gives one plot detail which is a little cryptic and never clarified later so I’ll state what might be technically a minor spoiler: Balthazar was a demon who clashed with the Mayor. It was the Mayor who crippled him and whom Balthazar is referring to when he says “When he rises... you'll wish I'd killed you all.”
Trivia notes: (1) The name of the vampire cult, El Eliminati, is probably a play on the 18th Century secret society, the Illuminati. (2) As is widely known, Alexis Denisof, who plays Wesley, has been married to Alyson Hannigan since 2003. They’re one of at least 3 long-term Buffyverse couples (the others involve actors who haven’t appeared yet so I won’t mention them). (3) Buffy hates to be drowned because of Prophecy Girl, of course. (4) Buffy described the Eliminati as “out in Magnum Force”, which was a 1973 Clint Eastwood movie. (5) Giles described Wesley, ironically, as “Captain Courageous”. Captains Courageous was a novel by Rudyard Kipling. (6) If you see a definite Lady Macbeth vibe to Faith scrubbing the blood from her shirt, that’s good. It was intended that way. (7) Here’s Joss’s stage direction for Wesley: “He thinks he’s Sean Connery but in fact he’s George Lazenby”. (8) The Gleaves mausoleum was named after writer Doug Petrie’s sister. (9) The inspiration for Balthazar came from the comic book villain Kingpin.


  1. I know that it wasn't what the California legislators were talking about, but I think Faith has an excellent argument that she thought she was carrying out her enforcement responsibilities vis a vis *non* human life.

    The Watcher's Council probably has a degree of sovereign immunity, because God knows nobody wants the case to go to trial (although Faith would probably prefer that to the Watcher's Council's CBA's disciplinary procedure).

    It's not like Matt Scudder went to prison for killing Estrellita Rivera, although he sure didn't get off scot-free.


    I know about Amber Benson and Adam Busch, but who are the other ones?


      Sarah Thompson is married to Brad Kane.

    2. Well THAT'S obscure. I had to look Kane up, thinking you were confusing him w/Christian Kane.

    3. Sorry, that was pretty obscure. So...


      Sarah Thompson was Eve (AtS5) and Brad Kane was Tucker Wells (The Prom).

    4. Yea, I saw that, I just thought that was a funny coincidence too. Brad Kane/Christian Kane

  3. Many of the story lines suggest that the writers are somewhat versed in Illuminati lore. I also like to imagine that some of them are fans of Robert Anton Wilson.

    1. That would make sense, but I never heard any of them mention him.

    2. Nor have I. But RAW's writing has influenced and has been influenced by so many others' work, that it could be that these themes have seeped into the general consciousness through various points of ingress.

  4. What if Faith was a police officer, in an alleyway with people who have opened fire (vampire attacks certainly are as deadly as guns). If the police office fired back, and accidentally killed a bystander, would that also be manslaughter/murder 2?

    Faith is being reckless, but at the same time she is fighting a nightly battle. Reacting quickly to an attack could save her life. This should be taken into consideration. The WC certainly doesn't provide a fair judgement system, but that doesn't mean one shouldn't be provided. (mild spoilers)I'm a little disappointed that this issue is more or less sidestepped by the show. Giles goes with an attempt to rehabilitate Faith, and any attempt at fair judgement just sort of spins out of control.

    1. There's no hard and fast legal answer to your hypothetical question. All these situations depend heavily on how one interprets the facts. If the gunfire is coming steadily, and the cops aim in that direction and accidentally hit someone, that's almost certainly not a crime.

      Faith's situation was a bit different. Not much, but perhaps enough. The issue with Faith is that (a) there were lags between the assaults; and (b) Buffy reacted quickly enough to recognize that Finch wasn't a vampire. Faith also evinced a reckless attitude earlier in the episode and during their walk towards the warehouse.

      To make the analogy closer, let's say that the cop in your hypothetical killed one baddie, then, after a brief delay, another. A third person appears, but this one's innocent and his partner yells "don't shoot", but he does. Will the cop get off? I can't say for sure, but what if he had previous disciplinary marks for reckless behavior? What if he then tries to hide the body and get his fellow officer to lie about the incident?

      Faith's situation isn't meant to have an easy answer, and I agree that the points you raise should be considered. In fact, [MILD SPOILER] Giles does make them in Consequences. I think it's also fair to say that Buffy and Giles do try to rehabilitate Faith. The WC doesn't, but then of course they're evil. :)