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Monday, November 26, 2012

Entropy

[Updated May 2, 2013]

Another outstanding episode, Entropy is part of a very good run from NA through Villains. The Spike/Anya scenes are just terrific; JM and EC first demonstrated their chemistry in WTWTA and they steal the show in Entropy. Their story is important in their own right, of course, but also in this episode because of the effect their actions have on Buffy and Xander (both as a character and as Buffy’s heart).


Spike’s claim that he doesn’t hurt Buffy involves a bit of special pleading, IMO. Since Life Serial he’s been telling her she belongs in the dark; in Smashed and subsequent episodes he told her she came back wrong and he hit her repeatedly. None of that is likely to have done her much good. Still, there is a sense in which he’s right, which makes the fact that Buffy was genuinely hurt by his tryst with Anya all the more meaningful. Spike’s tenderness towards Anya also tends to validate his feelings about Buffy and to reinforce the schizophrenic nature of his personality at this point in time.
As was hinted at the end of Hell’s Bells, Anya’s humanity (metaphorically, her adulthood) was fragile enough that it couldn’t withstand the crushing emotional blow of Xander leaving her at the altar. I know a lot of people didn’t like the ending of Hell’s Bells, but I think the fact that she returned to vengeance reinvigorates Anya as a character, extending her journey rather than leaving her as a one-note character. Plus, there’s a wonderful payoff in S7. Even if I had disliked the ending of Hell’s Bells, I’d have put that aside given the way it played out.
I’ve suggested previously that Xander’s regular belittling of Anya was wrong, and we now see the cumulative impact it had on her: “ANYA: When, really, I ... (tearfully) can't sleep at night, thinking it ... has to be my fault, somehow...” That’s the secret fear which is driving her – that it was her fault after all, that she wasn’t good enough. In substantial part, that comes from Xander.
That’s not to defend her attempt to wreak vengeance on Xander. Her planned wishes were pretty horrific – “I wish you’d never been born.” That was Cordy’s wish for Buffy in The Wish; imagine how Prophecy Girl might have changed if Anya’s wish here had come true. Her punishments were so out of proportion to even the pain she suffered that they reveal some very deep seated “issues”. At bottom, though, I saw her behavior as seeking validation for her pain. She didn’t really get that from the SG females, but she did with Spike. And when she did, she hushed his wish.
And then there’s Xander. Xander’s had some pretty great moments over the years (Prophecy Girl, The Freshman), but this must be rock bottom. As indefensible as his behavior was in Hell’s Bells, I think it’s worse here. He can’t even apologize properly, he doesn’t seem to understand how he wronged Anya, and his self-righteous pose as the betrayed lover is as offensive as it is false. In essence, he inflicted the maximum possible pain on her, and then convinced himself that this was for her own good. This was the Xander of his nightmare in HB.
Metaphorically, though, I see Xander’s reaction to Anya as mirroring Buffy’s reaction to Spike. She’s angry with him as a way of deflecting her anger at herself. That’s Xander when he heads out with the ax.
Taking out his anger on Spike isn’t likely to do Xander any good in any event. Even if you take the position that Spike is unconditionally and eternally evil, restrained only by a chip, he’s defenseless against Xander’s assault. Xander’s desire for revenge rested on the assumption that he and Anya were still a couple, and that he had some ownership rights in her behavior. His anger was as unjustified as his reaction, and vengeance is never justified on this show. We could say, as Xander himself once did (The Freshman), that anger leads to hate, hate leads to the dark side.
Was Spike right or wrong to blurt out Buffy’s secret? I think that in order to judge Spike's action we need to know 2 things:
1. Whether he had a right to disclose it.

2. His reason for doing so.

Some viewers defended Spike for not "telling" earlier. I can't see that as praiseworthy. His relationship was with Buffy. Disclosing it, like all decisions in a relationship, has to be mutual. Spike was certainly right that Buffy's concealment of it was insulting to him, but his remedy was to break it off, not to tell.
I can see 3 motivations he might have had: to justify himself; to hurt Xander; to defend Anya. It's pretty hard for me to see either of the first 2 reasons as praiseworthy. He hardly needs to justify himself to Xander; that's spitting in the ocean. Hurting Xander, while certainly understandable given the provocation, isn’t a good reason. While I suspect his motivations included all of the above, my view is that he said it to protect Anya. In other words, he was telling Xander that he had no basis to attack Anya for something Buffy had also done.
This brings us back to point number one. Revealing her relationship with Spike was what Buffy herself should have done in order to protect Anya. If this was Spike’s reason, and if Buffy herself should have made the disclosure, then I think Spike was right to say it.
The intensity of Xander’s reaction to learning that Buffy has been sleeping with Spike shouldn’t come as a surprise. Buffy dared Spike to tell in the teaser, but I saw that as just what anyone would tell a blackmailer: go ahead and publish. That doesn’t mean she really wanted it to happen. She knew Xander.
I see two components to Xander’s reaction: (1) A sense of his own inadequacy, something he truly didn’t need at this point. His reaction is very similar to that of Willow in Innocence, when she caught him kissing Cordelia: “It just means that you'd rather be with someone you hate than be with me.” (2) Disappointment. Xander always tends to put Buffy on a pedestal, then to become disappointed and judgmental when she fails to live up to his expectations. It’s his least attractive quality in my personal view.
Entropy finishes on a surprisingly upbeat note, after all the angst of HB, NA, and the first ¾ of the episode. Tara’s willingness to skip the hard parts generated a lot of debate amidst the joy of her return. Part of the issue involves the magic/drugs metaphor. If you see Willow’s problem as “drug use”, then the fact that she’s been “clean” for several months might justify Tara’s decision. This is particularly true because the support of a loved one can be crucial for a recovering “addict”.
If, on the other hand, you see Willow’s problem as an abuse of power and the violation of Tara’s (and Buffy’s) integrity, then giving up magic is at best symbolic. Willow hasn’t ever apologized to either of them. At least with Buffy she’s helped out (Doublemeat Palace, Normal Again), but all she’s done with Tara is go out for coffee. Many viewers found that unsatisfying:
Ian (AtPO; slightly edited) “To me, the drug-like nature of Magic has always seemed mis- represented by the show. Magic was addictive to Willow because Willow was on a power trip. Willow was addicted to *power.* Magic was just Willow's tool. Willow may have used magic improperly, but it was always Willow's responsibility.

For these reasons, I'm also unsatisfied with how their reconciliation was handled. Willow stopped using Magic. Good. However, has Willow ever voiced that the problem lay in her intent and behavior? Not really. Willow and the SG, with the exception of Tara, have treated this as a case of "bad magic." However, Tara left precisely because she understood she was being mistreated.

I have no problem with the two of them getting back together. In fact, I welcome it. However, I was aggravated that Tara came back without even a simple *statement* from Willow saying, ‘I'm sorry. Magic didn't abuse you, I did.’"

For all that happens in this episode, I think the most important words are spoken by Tara when she walks into Willow’s room at the end: “Things fall apart. They fall apart so hard. You can't ever ... (sighs) put them back the way they were.” That’s a pretty good lay definition of entropy, in the sense of the irreversibility of many processes. It’s the response to Xander’s statement to Anya that “I wish we could just go back to the way things were before.” That’s no longer possible; Tara’s words apply even more to him than they do to Willow: “There's just so much to work through. Trust has to be built again, on both sides ... You have to learn if ... if we're even the same people we were, if you can fit in each other's lives.”
More important than even this, though, is that Tara seems pretty clearly to quote William Butler Yeats’ “The Second Coming”. The relevant passage reads,
“Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.”

You should have chills running up your spine about now.
Trivia notes: (1) Warren called Jonathan “Short Round” after the character in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. (2) Anya’s reference to Xander’s “beady eyes” should recall her two mentions of that in OMWF. (3) Dawn asked Buffy if they were the “International House of something”, referring to International House of Pancakes. (4) Buffy and Dawn were walking down the Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica. (5) Halfrek mentioned “Take Back the Night”, for which see the link. (6) The scene where the light from the candle reflects through the disk onto the map is an homage to Raiders of the Lost Ark. (7) We previously saw the camera in the skull in the Magic Shop in Life Serial. (8) Note that Buffy is now using the weapons chest Xander gave her in OAFA. (9) Xander accused Anya of having sex with Spike “Because he was there. Like Mt. Everest.” The reference is to British mountaineer George Mallory, who was asked why he wanted to climb Mt. Everest and responded “Because it’s there.” (10) I didn’t mention Buffy’s conversation with Dawn in the kitchen about Dawn being exposed to danger, but it’s a critical point in the season arc:
DAWN: (smiling) No, you're not, it's not that, it's just ... what if, instead of you hanging out with me? Maybe I could hang out with you.
Buffy stares blankly, not getting it.
DAWN: Why don't I come patrolling with you tonight?
BUFFY: Oh. And then? Maybe we can invite over some strangers and ask them to feed you candy.
DAWN: Well, you guys went out patrolling every night when you were my age.
BUFFY: True ... but technically, you're one-and-a-half.
Dawn gives her patented adolescent exasperated look.
BUFFY: See, I thought a little levity might ... but okay, also no.
DAWN: I just ... I just think I could help.
BUFFY: I'm sure you could. But it's a little more dangerous than I had in mind.
DAWN: But-
BUFFY: Dawn, I work very hard to keep you away from that stuff. Okay, I don't want you around dangerous things that can kill you.
DAWN: Which would be a perfectly reasonable argument, if my sister was chosen to protect the world from tax audits? But, see, my sister is you, and ... dangerous things that want to kill me seem to find me.
BUFFY: But you don't need to go looking for them.

2 comments:

  1. The Alison Krauss song at the end is so haunting! It gives the impression that Tara is not making the right choice in skipping the hard parts but that she can't help herself. (We hear the first four lines of this excerpt, and the last three.)

    Who would sell their soul for love
    Or waste one tear on compromise?
    Should be easy enough
    To know a heartache in disguise
    But the heart rules the mind
    And the going gets rough
    Pride takes the fall
    When you find that kind of love

    I can't help feeling like a fool
    Since I lost that place inside
    Where my heart knew its way
    And my soul was ever wise
    Once innocence was lost
    There was not faith enough
    Still my heart held on
    When it found that kind of love

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    1. Thanks for those lyrics. I hadn't looked them up.

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