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Monday, April 2, 2012

Consequences

[Updated April 30, 2013]


Consequences reads like waking up with a hangover after a night of binge drinking. Maybe binge drinking that led to a hit and run accident.

The metaphor of Buffy’s dream in the teaser seems pretty obvious: she’s drowning morally, just as she did physically in Bad Girls, and it’s Faith who’s holding her under water by insisting that Buffy not “rat her out”. The metaphor ties in nicely to the fact that Faith dumped Finch’s body in the river. It’s also a prophecy: Finch’s body can still provide the clues which will “grab” the Slayers. In light of all this, you have to give “credit” to Faith for using the one argument that would successfully guilt Buffy into silence, namely mentioning Buffy’s concealment of Angel’s return.
Faith’s arguments justifying her behavior are as problematic as her unsuccessful attempted concealment of the crime. Take her first one for example:
Faith:  (steps closer) Buffy, I'm not gonna *see* anything. I missed the mark last night and I'm sorry about the guy. I really am! But it happens! Anyway, how many people do you think we've saved by now, thousands? And didn't you stop the world from ending? Because in my book, that puts you and me in the plus column.”

Faith wants to treat an individual human life as nothing more than an accounting chit, something to balance or trade as the case may be. For Buffy, each person is an end, not a means to achieve some greater goal. In contrast to Faith, she is “going to cry over some random guy who gets caught in the crossfire”. Buffy will consistently reject Faith’s argument throughout the series, no matter who makes it (and it will get made, repeatedly).
Faith next suggests an entitlement to special rules:
“Faith:  You're still not seeing the big picture, B. Something made us different. We're warriors. We're built to kill.
Buffy:  To kill demons! But it does *not* mean that we get to pass judgment on people like we're better than everybody else!
Faith:  We *are* better!
Buffy is taken aback.
Faith:  (exhilarated) That's right, better. People need us to survive. In the balance, nobody's gonna cry over some random bystander who got caught in the crossfire.”

Here’s writer Doug Petrie describing what he was trying to do in Buffy Magazine July 2004:

"Faith brings out a lot of stuff that, sooner or later, Buffy was going to have to deal with. What I like about Faith is that she's a character that forces you to take the whole premise seriously. That episode enabled us to get into the idea that, like it or not, whether they're good guys or bad guys, Buffy is a professional killer. We've gotten a lot of mileage out of the juxtaposition of Buffy being a blonde, southern California high school student who's also a professional killer of bad, non-human things. But she kills; that's her job, and what that episode got to do was take an unflinching look at this dark side of what it is they do. There's one scene in which Faith says, 'we're killers,' and Buffy says 'No, we're slayers' there's a difference.' But is there? So we got to really go pretty far with that…. Faith's idea of what they are isn't entirely accurate for Buffy. It's not wrong; that's what I love about Faith. She's not wrong; she's saying 'Let's call us what we are, we're killers,' and Buffy has a hard time with that."

And then later, but on the same theme, Faith again:
“Faith:  (approaches Buffy) But that's not it. That's not what bothers you so much. What bugs you is you know I'm right. You know in your gut we don't need the law. We *are* the law.”

It’s pretty clear that Faith made this argument in order to evade her responsibility. It’s a way of saying “I have the power so I can do what I want.” You may remember this idea being mooted in Ted, that time by Buffy’s then-shadow figure, Cordelia:
“Cordelia:  I don't get it. Buffy's the Slayer. Shouldn't she have...
Xander:  What, a license to kill? (takes a bite of a cookie)
Cordelia:  Well, not for fun. But she's like this superman. Shouldn't there be different rules for her?
Willow:  Sure, in a fascist society.
Cordelia:  Right! Why can't we have one of those?”

I’ve previously talked about the concept of responsibility in existentialist philosophy, but I don’t think I need to complicate matters here. Everyone can see that Faith’s refusal to accept responsibility for her actions was wrong. There are mitigating circumstances, there are “military” justifications for “collateral damage”. But none of them can possibly apply unless and until she owns her actions, as Buffy did immediately in Ted. “Giles:  She's in denial. There *is* no help for her until she admits what happened.”
Making choices requires that you accept the consequences of those choices. From my post on Lie to Me: committing yourself means that your actions “become something that I myself own up to, become responsible for.” Existentialists don’t get to make excuses or invent new rules that apply uniquely to them; those are just attempts to avoid responsibility rather than accept it. As long as Faith is lying about the incident, she’s acting in bad faith under any definition of morality. And yes, I do think her name was intentionally chosen for its resonance with that concept.
It’s therefore important to understand that Faith’s fundamental problem was not that she killed Allan Finch. That was an error – she was negligent (at best) or reckless (at worst) in her behavior, depending on how you interpret the scene. But her real flaw was her lack of remorse, the fact that she was “utterly unable to accept responsibility”, in Giles’ phrase, for her actions. It’s that failure which puts her at risk of “having [or developing] a taste for [killing]”, as Angel says. Because Buffy interprets her rescue from Trick as a sign of Faith’s remorse, Buffy’s “not gonna give up on her”. It was Faith who gave up on herself when she showed up at the Mayor’s door.
Some additional points:
Remember Faith’s arguments here. All of them will be relevant in later episodes.
Despite his seeming flash of insight in The Zeppo, Xander continues to behave cluelessly in this episode. His attempt to intervene with Faith was clumsy at both ends. First he managed to disclose the fact that he had sex with Faith in probably the most emotionally painful way possible for everyone, then he didn’t realize how he’d been used, then even after Buffy had told him that as nicely as she could, he persisted in his mistake and said things to Faith that wound her up to the point of trying to rape/murder him. Ironically, perhaps, Angel’s a real hero in rescuing the guy who hates him and tried to kill him. Angel really did take to heart what Buffy said in Amends.
Just when you thought it wasn’t possible to dislike Wesley more, he proves you wrong. He actually does conduct an intervention that manages to be even less successful than the ones with Buffy in Dead Man’s Party and Revelations. I think his behavior may have stemmed from resentment at the way his failings were exposed in Bad Girls, but that’s hardly a defense, and in any case he’s plenty officious enough to have acted that way without any other motive. Just one more reason to dislike the WC (as if we needed more after Helpless).
Lastly, Faith, whose behavior has careened even more out of control since she last spoke to Buffy, posed a challenge to Buffy on the docks:
“Faith:  I've seen it, B. You've got the lust. And I'm not just talking about screwing vampires.
Buffy stops in her tracks.
Buffy:  Don't you *dare* bring him into this.
Faith:  (taunting her) It was good, wasn't it? The sex? The danger? Bet a part of you even dug him when he went psycho.
Buffy:  No! (continues walking)
Faith:  (follows) See, you need me to toe the line because you're afraid you'll go over it, aren't you, B? You can't handle watching me living my own way, having a blast, because it tempts you! You know it could be you!”

Given Buffy’s reaction, Faith struck a nerve with these comments. Buffy’s at least worried that Faith might be right. That, after all, is what a shadow self is and does:
“In Jungian psychology, the shadow or ‘shadow aspect’ is a part of the unconscious mind consisting of repressed weaknesses, shortcomings, and instincts. …’Everyone carries a shadow,’ Jung wrote, ‘and the less it is embodied in the individual's conscious life, the blacker and denser it is.’ It may be (in part) one's link to more primitive animal instincts….
According to Jung, the shadow, in being instinctive and irrational, is prone to projection: turning a personal inferiority into a perceived moral deficiency in someone else.”

So I’ll leave you to think about whether Faith is projecting her own weaknesses on Buffy or whether she’s truly articulating what Buffy knows about herself deep down inside. You might keep in mind Cordelia’s request for a book when she walked into the library: “[P]sych class. Freud and Jung.”
Trivia notes: (1) Apparently Cordy’s a Star Trek fan (“Giles: The Next Generation”). (2) Detective Stein makes his third and last appearance on the show. (3) The Mayor loved the idea of a Slayer “up for Murder 1”. This is a good example that we can’t take a character’s statements at face value. Murder 1 requires premeditation (with exceptions not relevant here), so that wouldn’t be the charge. Of course if we were being “realistic”, both Slayers would be guilty of obstruction of justice for giving false statements to the police. (4) Goody Two Shoes (you know you’ve always wondered where that came from) was the title of a 1765 book. It was a morality play on the benefits of virtue.

7 comments:

  1. I wish they had DVD commentary on this episode, too, not just Bad Girls.

    Faith always manages to bring to the surface all the brewing questions regarding the dark side of Buffy and the Slayer in general, which you explained very well with the whole Shadow self. Plus the dynamic between Eliza and the others, especially Sarah, is great. Even when you want to yell at her for completely misunderstanding Buffy's life and her motivations, the writers always want us to understand her side of the story. SPOILERS This is especially the case with the two-parter in S4, which I also love. Plus Faith ends up being such a breath of fresh air in S7's Dirty Girls.

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  2. I'd like to see DVD commentary on every episode. :) The commentaries vary widely in quality, though. Some of them are great (Joss's in particular). Others are pretty worthless. But when they do give insight, as with Bad Girls, that really makes you appreciate them.

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    1. Agreed. I understand that it's hard to earnestly watch and provide insight on episodes years after you write and produce them, but a handful of them consist of basic summaries of what's happening or jokes about the hair and outfits. Still, they're often funny I guess.

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  3. Apologies in advance for the length and ramble-y-ness...
    I'm gonna go ahead and say that I absolutely love any episode with Faith; She completely embodies what someone with that kind of Slayer power can be, without the caring family, friends etc. They make it so easy to sympathize with her, it gets a little scary!
    Having read your comments on POV episodes with regards to, eg, The Zeppo, some of that kind of thing seemed to resonate with the start of this one. Buffy is obsessing and feeling guilty over the death and subsequent concealment of Allan Finch, and comes downstairs to find it on the news. But people die in Sunnydale ALL THE TIME. How many humans and vamp (who are, presumably, almost all previous human residents of Sunnydale) are seen killed/dusted every single episode? And do all of them make it on the news? But because Buffy can't stop thinking about it, it worms its way into her life. The news reporter describes it as "brutal", and Joyce says it's "terrible". Really? Maybe 3 series of the show has desensitized me, but Allan Finch was just stabbed, plain and simple. Is that more "brutal" than all the other awful deaths that have happened so far - maulings, blood suckings, beheadings, etc etc. All this just seems to reflect how Buffy is dealing with it.
    Also, as much as Faith is clearly wrong with her statements about them being the law, being better, having a right to that kind of power etc, and as much as we are clearly supposed to sympathise with Buffy's way of dealing with this death, it is all to easy to sympathise with Faith's POV if the situation is considered a little differently. Yes, she killed a human, but what if he's turned up a few seconds earlier and they a little later; he could've been killed by the vampires, and chances are, Buffy and Faith wouldn't have given the situation a second thought. Or he could've been attacked by the vamps, been turned, and then been dusted by Buffy/Faith, and they would be congratulating themselves on a normal day(night)'s work. Storylines such as this one put the notion of a human life into perspective, and it's easy to see where Faith's coming from in her reaction - they can't go and get all upset over every life that is taken, one way or another, in their line of duty. I'm not really sure what conclusion I'm drawing here, I'm pretty much just thinking/rambling aloud.
    Also, interesting that Faith says "You need me to toe the line..." . I think Buffy DOES need Faith to be the way she is, as that prevents Buffy from going that way. It's harder to imagine her being quite so upset/righteous? about all of this if Faith wasn't being so flippant and uncaring.
    Good point on Angel saving the guy who hates him and tried to have him killed, I hadn't thought of it like that!
    Quality insights as always, I particularly enjoyed the last few episodes on Absurdism/Camus. (Served as revision for my french studies!)

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    1. Thanks! A couple of thoughts in response. First, yes there is a POV element to this episode, but since it's Buffy's POV that makes it similar to most episodes. Even if it seems like were seeing things as they "really" are, most of the time we're actually seeing them from Buffy's perspective.

      In this case, the reason is that Buffy's connection to the victim makes it special (above and beyond most deaths in Sunnydale). She realizes that she and Faith were acting recklessly -- on a spree, you might say -- and the fact that someone died as a result haunts her.

      I agree that Faith's reaction is a major part of Buffy's. "I think Buffy DOES need Faith to be the way she is, as that prevents Buffy from going that way." That's a good way to put it.

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    2. Re: the news report:

      Allan Finch was the Deputy Mayor; news stations tend to pay a lot more attention when a political figure gets killed.

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  4. While this point is ultimately subjective I definitely disagree with this episode making Wesley unlikeable. It's clear to me he was only doing what he thought was the right move at the time and when the Scoobies acknowledged his screw-up he didn't do anything cliche like tell them they were wrong but acknowledged his failure and felt bad about it.

    Sure the character was a little stuffy at this point but you can kind of sympathize with him because he was basically rejected by everyone there even though he was just assigned to do a job. It's not like he was the one that got Giles fired.

    BUFFYVERSE SPOILERS
    And not that any of my thoughts here are really affected by the stuff that come slater but I fund it really cool that a lot of the character beats that would be a big part of Wesley's character down the line can be seen as early as here. The guy was definitely a great addition to this season and the Buffyverse in general.

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