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Thursday, April 5, 2012


[Updated April 30, 2013]

Doppelgänger is a German word meaning “a paranormal double of a living person, typically representing evil or misfortune.” Wikipedia tells us that “Doppelgängers, as dark doubles of individual identities, appear in a variety of fictional works …. These doppelgängers are typically, but not always, evil in some way. The double will often impersonate the victim and go about ruining them, for instance through committing crimes or insulting the victim's friends. Sometimes, the double even tries to kill the original.”
Given this meaning, it shouldn’t be a surprise that Doppelgangland appears at this point in the season, right after two episodes showing Faith as the dark side of Buffy’s Slayer half. It’s the same basic theme. And if it’s the same basic theme, that means I think there’s a message about Buffy in the episode even if it seems to focus on Willow.

It’s easy to identify the other doppelgänger in this episode: Faith is Buffy’s doppelgänger. And just as Willow was trying on the role of being bad in the main plot, so is Faith. She’s not entirely there yet, as we see from her hesitation when The Mayor suggests killing Willow. But the more she practices that role, the better she’ll get.
The issue with both Faith and VampWillow is how much of the real person is contained in the doppelgänger. Buffy mused at the beginning that “different circumstances, that [Faith] could be me.” Willow reassured her that this isn’t so: “No way. Some people just don't have that in them.” Given the parallels between Willow/VampWillow and Buffy/Faith, is one of them right in both cases?
In my view, the answer is a resounding “yes and no”. At the ending Buffy affirms her statement at the beginning. Buffy responded to Willow’s insistence on sending VampWillow back to the Wishverse with “there but for the grace of getting bit”. That’s the same point she made in the beginning, this time about VampWillow rather than Faith. Willow, however, didn’t change her view either: “Willow:  (hesitantly) I mean, I know she's not me. We have a big nothing in common, but... still.” That leaves the issue open within the context of this episode alone.
Normally I’d side with Buffy, but in this case there are a couple of points on the other side which persuade me. One is the statement by Joss which I quoted in the post on Consequences, that Buffy “would never let herself be” Faith. This statement is not entirely free of ambiguity, but I read it as saying that Buffy isn’t Faith.
The other reason goes back to the business I left unfinished in my post on The Wish. I mentioned then that I had to leave open one issue because of spoilers, and what I had in mind was the reappearance of VampWillow. My interpretation of VampWillow, and therefore my interpretation of how we’re to see the doppelgänger characters, obviously depend on how I interpreted The Wish.
Here’s how I described my view at ATPO 10 years ago, which is essentially what I said in my post on The Wish:
The Wish was a message to Cordy after her break up with Xander. The alternate universe represented her worst fears about Xander and Willow. We were not meant to see VampXander or VampWillow as "real" aspects of either, but as representations of Cordy's internal, emotional state after Xander betrayed her….

In short, Willow's "vampire" side was never truly Willow, but only Cordy's mental construct of Willow, born of anger. That "side" never really existed in this universe. Even in the alternate universe, that dark side was destroyed.”

To say this view is controversial would be understating it quite a bit. If any other commenter at ATPO agreed with me, they were silent about it. Most viewers do see VampWillow as very similar to Willow herself. Nevertheless, that earlier post is the way I still (mostly) see the episode today. I would add a perhaps critical amendment, though, one which I noted in my post on The Wish: that Cordy didn’t merely imagine Willow’s flaws. Cordy has known Willow for a long time and has an idea of Willow’s weaknesses (real or perceived). She may have exaggerated those weaknesses, she may have interpreted them in a highly prejudiced way, but there’s a basis for Cordy’s view.
There are a couple of obvious objections to my interpretation of the two episodes which I need to address here because I couldn’t do so previously. If Doppelgangland is a Willow POV episode, and VampWillow is a mental construct of Cordy, then why does Willow see VampWillow as her double? One important factor is, of course, her looks. That’s enough to make anyone think so, as we can see from Buffy’s reaction. Buffy was prepared to believe it was Willow even though in Buffy’s view “a vampire's personality has nothing to do with the person it was.” Identifying VampWillow as Willow would be even more likely because Cordy is not entirely wrong in her assessment of Willow, so there was enough resemblance to make the identity seem plausible. In the end, as I quoted above, Willow herself decided that she and her evil twin “have a big nothing in common.”
The next problem with my view stems from the premise of the episode. Because it’s a POV episode, we see the world as Willow does. This means that everyone is constantly ordering her around and she’s never able to assert herself. It also means that Willow’s still a little unhappy about Buffy’s rejection of her in Bad Girls and thinks that bad girls get to have all the fun without the responsibility she’s being saddled with. The episode is Willow’s exploration of what it would be like to be bad for a change.
That’s fine, but Willow doesn’t know anything about the Wishverse nor VampWillow and didn’t even ask for her in any case. She therefore can’t have just imagined the same exact character. For this we need to rely on Anya as the common factor. Anya doesn’t really know Willow, but she does know VampWillow and the Wishverse. When the spell is interrupted (Willow blocks the falling sand), what’s retrieved from the Wishverse is what Willow secretly wanted rather than what Anya secretly wanted. Willow got a bad version of herself, one which couldn’t possibly have been her own version but was close enough for everyone’s purposes.
The net effect is that Willow gets to see what a bad version of her might be like without having to become evil. This is exactly the role Faith serves for Buffy.
Willow also got her other wish, namely to participate in Buffy’s fight against evil just as she wanted to do in Bad Girls. Her bravery in going into the Bronze teaches her that she can assert herself a bit more, which gets at the root of what was bothering her about herself: “She bothered me. She's so weak and accommodating. She's always letting people walk all over her, and then she gets cranky with her friends for no reason. I just *couldn't* let her live.” A little more self-assertion and she won’t have to die a virgin with perfect teeth.
At least Buffy still does have perfect teeth.
One final point to tie up the issues regarding The Wish. If you see Anyanka’s pendant/necklace as a tangible, physical thing, essential for her power – and there’s certainly dialogue to support that – then obviously my interpretation of the events of The Wish as occurring entirely in Cordelia’s mind would be problematic. As I said in that earlier post, I see the pendant/necklace as more of a metaphor. Giles describes it as her “power center”, so I see the destruction of the pendant/necklace as the destruction of Anyanka’s power over Cordelia (and other women scorned). The spell here was simply an attempt to regain that power. There are future events which I believe support my reading, but they involve spoilers so I’ll wait until we get to the relevant episodes.
Personally, I love this episode and never get tired of watching it. AH is fantastic and Oz gets one of my all-time favorite lines: “I’d call that a radical interpretation of the text.” Best I can tell, the fan base feels the same way. Myles McNutt summarized it pretty well in his review I think: “’Doppelgangland’” is momentous not because it changes or shifts the series in any particular way, but because it offers a microcosm of the show’s ability to engage with complex notions of plot and character while still capturing the little things which endear us to the series as a whole.”
Trivia notes: (1) The Creature From the Black Lagoon was a 1950s horror movie. (2) Notice Buffy’s reflexes in pulling back the stake from VampWillow when Willow shouts for her to stop, and compare to Faith stabbing Allan Finch in Bad Girls over Buffy’s shout. Buffy said at the beginning of the episode that she wanted to do better than Faith, and here she demonstrated that in what is, under the circumstances, a very meaningful way. (3) Buffy’s “there but for the grace of getting bit” plays on the phrase by John Bradford while watching another man being led off to execution: “There but for the Grace of God goes John Bradford”; we usually generalize it to say “there but for the Grace of God go I”. (4) AH loved her VampWillow makeup so much that she repeated it for a Halloween party. (5) Because the future episodes which impact my interpretation of The Wish are far away in S6 and S7, those who want to read it now can skip ahead to the trivia notes for the episode Selfless.


  1. Because the future episodes which impact my interpretation of The Wish are far away in S6 and S7, I’ll go ahead and explain my reasoning here. MAJOR SPOILERS FOR S6 AND S7 FOLLOW:

    While there’s plenty of evidence in The Wish and Doppelgangland that Anyanka needs her pendant as her power source, there’s evidence to the contrary in the episodes from Entropy through Selfless. In those episodes we never see Anya wear a pendant, nor is it ever mentioned, even when she’s acting as a vengeance demon.

    More significantly, the whole plot of Selfless makes no sense if there had been a pendant. Nobody would have needed D’Hoffryn to reverse the deaths of the frat boys – they could have just smashed her pendant as Giles did in The Wish.

    1. I agree that they (the writers) are not completely consistent.

      There is mention of pendants in OAFA (as I'm sure you are aware). But then, as you say, not later.

      However one could argue (and I assume people have already done so) that there is a difference between reversing a spell and reversing the consequences of a spell.

      In Wish Anya's spell created a whole new reality and that went away* when the spell was ended.

      However in Selfless (perhaps) the spell was to bring the spider demon into the fraternity and so undoing the spell just would have returned the (now dead) spider demon to wherever it came from without undoing anything that the
      spider demon had done. In the same way that undoing the spell on Ronnie didn't undo the damage that Ronnie the
      Sluggoth demon made. Therefore bringing all those frat boys back to life goes beyond simply reversing the spell.

      *except it didn't apparently completely go away because Anya thought they could retrieve something from it and they sent VampWillow back. Which fits better with a variant theory that it was an alternate reality that Anya simply sent Cordelia (from the "normal" BtVS reality) to. In which case, what undoing the spell did was merely return Cordelia back to our "normal" BtVS reality (alive) and the alternate reality continued on slightly altered by Cordelia's brief presence. The Giles then in the alternative reality was still there after the pendant was destroyed; vastly disappointed that the better reality hadn't come about.



      What Giles says in The Wish is that "In order to defeat Anyanka, one must destroy her power center. This should reverse all the wishes she's granted...."

      The wish the scorned girl made in Selfless was this: "Just once, I wish you could all feel what it's like to have your hearts ripped out."

      Given this, I think there's just one reversal necessary in Selfless.

      I admit I can't explain Ronnie, though most of the damage he did was to the streets, and we didn't see them later. Here's a happy thought -- maybe the Yorkie got a happy ending after all. :)

      I can't rule out your footnote. I like my reading because Giles's leap of faith deserves a reward. But that doesn't always happen.

    3. SPOILERS cont'd

      Yes, I think the writers wrote themselves into a bit of a corner in Wish (with the "reverse all wishes") and eventually just gave up trying to stay consistent for the sake of the story in Selfish. It is not that many episodes from OAFA to Selfish so it is a little surprising the writers didn't do something to cover it, but it isn't a perfect world.


      Although not specifically mentioned by the cast, Anya's can be seen wearing a necklace many times after regaining her powers. Most notably, she seems to be hiding her necklace, which is strange in a television show, where they don't add jewelry just to hide it.
      Here are some image examples from Entropy, Selfless, and Beneath You (?):

    5. I noticed a few occasions too, but it's never possible to see exactly what it is -- though 2 of your examples look close -- or, more importantly, that she's relying on it. And as I said in the chapter on Selfless, the plot and ending would be unnecessary if she had been.

  2. I know I'm late to the party here, but I'll still try to avoid overt spoilers...

    Is it during this episode that Angel starts to correct Buffy when she asserts that “a vampire's personality has nothing to do with the person it was?”

    Another recurring theme: power versus control.

    1. The dialogue goes like this:

      Buffy: (reassuringly) Willow, just remember, a vampire's personality has nothing to do with the person it was.

      Angel: (without thinking) Well, actually... (gets a look from Buffy) That's a good point.

  3. Not sure if you'll see this considering it's months after you posted it, but I thought it appropriate to say here since this episode is the reason I found these essays. About a year ago I watched the first season and a half of Buffy, but I really couldn't get into it. Then I randomly decided to give it a second shot and pick up where I left off, which was around 'Bad Eggs.' You probably can already tell where I'm going with this - I got to the game-changing episodes of Surprise/Innocence, Passion, etc, and became completely hooked. Needless to say I watched the rest of the seasons in a quick frenzy and now am re-watching them because I got through them WAY too quickly. Anyway, upon watching Doppelgangland again I really really loved a moment I hadn't noticed before - what you commented on here: "Notice Buffy’s reflexes in pulling back the stake from VampWillow when Willow shouts for her to stop, and compare to Faith stabbing Allan Finch in Bad Girls over Buffy’s shout." It's those nuances, little moments like that which make the show so lovable and rewatchable in my opinion (of course there's a slew of other reasons, but the subtleties of the characters and their interactions is a big part to me).

    Getting to my point, I swear - I looked up that moment to see if anyone had commented on it and found this blog! This is all a really long-winded way of saying THANK YOU. I love your introductory essay and I'm having so much fun rewatching episodes alongside reading these essays. You bring up fascinating points while tying elements of the show into different philosophies and movies, shows, etc. Really I should be angry at you for feeding my Buffy obsession (kidding), but I'm enjoying your commentary essays WAY too much to worry about that. So, thanks, again, for being so awesome and thoughtful about I show I've grown to love a lot over the past few months.

    1. I get notice of all comments, so there's no problem posting one in response to earlier episodes.

      That's a very nice compliment, and I really appreciate it. The show has a remarkable number of little moments that make you realize how much thought and care went into it. That's one of many reasons why people can still be hooked on it 10 years after it ended.