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Thursday, July 19, 2012

The Replacement

[Updated May 1, 2013]

Three episodes into the season and as usual we’ve gotten the themes which will play out the rest of the year, as well as foreshadowing of the major plot lines. Fortunately, The Replacement gives us a theme I can discuss even now because it doesn’t require spoilers. It also sets up a plot point for later which I will hold off discussing until it comes up.

This is an episode which appears to tell us a story about Xander but in fact tells us something that’s probably true for all of us. We all have good and bad aspects of our personalities, just as we see with Xander. One Xander is somewhat childish, one very mature:

WILLOW: (turns back to him) Xander, you sound a little ... you have to help me figure this out, you know.
ScruffyXANDER: But I never help. I get in trouble and Buffy saves me.
WILLOW: That's not true! Sometimes we all help save you. (realizes that was unhelpful) And sometimes you're not in trouble.
ScruffyXANDER: I'm just ... another great humiliation. (Willow looks sympathetic) But this time it's even worse. This demon, he's like taking my life, and everyone's treating him ... Everyone's treating him like a grown-up! Will, I'm starting to feel like...
WILLOW: Like what?
ScruffyXANDER: Like ... he's doing everything better. He's smarter, and ... (shakes head) I don't know, maybe I should just let him have it. 

But Toth began the episode intending to use his device on Buffy, and since I think the central metaphor of the series is that “we are Buffy”, the fact that Xander’s situation has universal application means that I think we should interpret the “split personality” idea as it applies to her. Both Buffy and others have long sensed that her Slayer half and her “real” half are separate and distinct. That’s been a persistent theme from the very beginning of the show. There are lots of examples; here’s one from Season 1, Never Kill A Boy On The First Date:

Owen: It's weird.
Buffy: What is?
Owen: You! One minute you're right there. I've got you figured. The next, it's like you're two people.
Owen: Buffy... (leads her away) What's the deal? Do you wanna bail on me?
Buffy: No! No... no... uh... You remember when you said I was like two different people? Well, one of them has to go. But the other one is having a really, really good time, and will come back. I promise.”

Or take this example from Surprise:
Buffy:  What am I supposed to do until then?
Giles:  Go to classes, do your homework, have supper...
Buffy:  Right. Be *that* Buffy.

In this very episode, Buffy raises this sense of separation with Riley and he gives her an answer that’s at least partly true:
BUFFY: Riley, do you wish-
BUFFY: No? You don't even know what I was gonna say.
RILEY: Yes, I do. You wanted to know if I wished you got hit by the ferula-gemina, got split in two.
BUFFY: Well, you have been kind of rankly about the whole slayer gig. Instead of having slayer Buffy, you could have Buffy Buffy.
RILEY: Hey. I *have* Buffy Buffy. Being the slayer's part of who you are.

Riley’s correct, of course, but Buffy has known this since at least What’s My Line:
Kendra:  You talk about slaying like it's a job. It's not. It's who you are.

Buffy knows it, but she can’t accept that as the full answer. The fact that she told Giles that she wants to find out more about being a Slayer suggests that there’s a deeper issue here which Riley hasn’t understood but which Buffy is starting to grasp. Much of the rest of the season will be devoted to exploring that issue, and it’s going to do that in the context of split personalities.
Speaking of Riley, his words to Xander at the end were obviously a shock to Xander and maybe to the audience as well. He has some good reasons to say it, though. He told her that he loved her in The Yoko Factor, but she didn’t respond in kind. Nor did she here when he said it again in the car.
A couple of scenes foreshadowed it: Buffy’s dream in Restless, which I discussed in my post, suggested that she had reservations about Riley directly related to his view of her as the Slayer, and vice versa; and Riley showed his unhappiness with the brief look he gave Buffy in Real Me when she handed him the phone and told him to get Anya to the hospital while she rushed out to rescue Dawn. I shouldn’t read too much into a look, but when I re-watch that scene with the hindsight of Riley’s statement here, the look says to me that he’s annoyed at being left behind to clean up the kitchen instead of getting to go out with his team.
One obvious response to Riley would be that love is a spectrum, not an “on/off” switch. I’d agree that Buffy doesn’t love him the way he loves her. The issue, one that’s been debated since we got contrasting views in Beauty and the Beasts and Lovers Walk, is just how all-consuming love should be. The episode opened with him telling her “Hey Buff, maybe you oughta leave the work behind sometimes. You're not always on slayer duty, you know?” Although Riley claimed that he “got” the whole Slayer package, it’s not clear that he really understands what that means. His belief that she can just put “Slayer duty” aside demonstrates that he doesn’t really get it. It is, as Kendra said, “who you are.”
Riley’s life to-date has been very different from Buffy’s. He was on the conformity track; she has always gone her own way. He wants to rescue her (The Initiative), or to protect her as in this episode: “He mentioned Buffy? Where do we find him, and how hard can I kill him?” This demonstrates that he doesn’t understand key facts about the Slayer – she’s actually stronger and doesn’t need his protection. I think I’m safe in suspecting that there’s a feminist point being made here as well.

Trivia notes: (1) Willow previously mentioned Xander doing the Snoopy dance in Passion. (2) Xander’s “take my life, please” seems to be a play on the old
Henny Youngman joke “take my wife….please”. (3) Xander seems to have forgotten that Willow did handle her evil twin quite well in Doppelgangland. (4) When ScruffyXander told Anya “Look in my eyes. Can't you see it's me?”, he may have been thinking of Buffy and Giles in A New Man. (5) When Buffy refers sarcastically to Giles’s car as “ultimate driving machine my ass”, she’s referencing the old BMW slogan. (6) There’s a general resemblance between this episode and the Star Trek episode The Enemy Within. However, the “kill us both, Spock” line which both Xanders quote actually comes from the Star Trek episode Whom Gods Destroy. (7) Xander’s “fond” memories of the basement are all from previous episodes: Spike slept in his room in Hush; he and Anya drowned the Pargo demon in Something Blue; and he got his heart ripped out in Restless. (8) Xander’s “SuaveXander has left the building” plays off “Elvis has left the building”. (9) Toth’s magic device was called a “ferula-gemina”. A ferule is a stick or cane, and gemina is related to “Gemini”, which means “twins” in Latin. In short, it’s a “twin stick”. (10) I think this is fairly well known, but Nick Brendan’s twin brother played Xander in some scenes in this episode.


  1. No comments for this episode? Ok, I'll contribute something: rewatching the entire series right now (round #5) and it's so strange that everyone forgets that Buffy would've died and stayed dead in the season finale of Season 1 if it hadn't been for Xander's CPR. He was also responsible for getting the rocket launcher that took out The Judge back in S2, kept the school from blowing up in The Zeppo during S3, and led the student body in battle during the finale of S3 as well.

    So that's 4 times that he's been pivotal in saving the Slayer's bacon. He should've drawn up a giant scorecard at The Magic Box to remind everybody.

    Also, is it ever mentioned exactly how Anya scored her apartment in this episode? AFAIK, she doesn't have a job or anything...



    1. The rest of the SG may not have known about the events of The Zeppo, but he could replace that with his speech to Buffy in The Freshman.

      I think, though, that this episode is as much about Xander's insecurities as it is about how they treat him (though the 2 are related).

      As for Anya's apartment, I wondered about that at the time. I finally just shrugged it off as one of those things.

  2. I wonder if you still read the comments here? Anyway, I'm reading along with your blog from the Hellmouth of 2020 and finding it fascinating!


    Just had to comment here as this is the first time I've seen something you didn't mention - this is the first time Spike picks up a 'replacement' Buffy, the mannequin. This will obviously culminate in the Buffybot.

  3. I do still read the comments.

    That's a great catch. Thanks, and don't hesitate to offer more thoughts.

    1. I added a note to IWMTLY giving you credit for the point.