The obvious bombshell that gets dropped this episode is Faith killing a human being, but the episode is titled “Bad Girls” and not “Bad Girl” for a reason, so let’s start by looking at what happens to Buffy. Thanks to Faith’s recklessness she jumps into a situation she would normally have the wisdom to avoid, nearly drowns, but gets a kick out of the dangerous fight. The next day she shows up at school wearing a leather jacket like Faith, and she can’t stop talking about what happened the night before. She is actively becoming more like Faith. Shockingly this leads to Buffy copying Faith to the extent that she becomes a thief.
“Want, take, have.”
… and then the police arrive. Not for the first time this season, the real world of law enforcement intrudes on the world of a Slayer, reality crashing into fantasy, and it feels dangerous, something a Slayer can’t exercise control over. But importantly it’s Buffy who caused this incursion of the real world into her life, by stepping over a line and letting her fantasy world break through unnecessarily and unfairly into the real world. Her job is about saving people, and smashing up their property and stealing stuff places her momentarily on the wrong side of that fight. The worst thing about it is she enjoys it. She then steps over a line again by causing the police car to crash, which could have killed the police officers if she hadn’t been so lucky. They are unconscious and we don’t know how bad their injuries might be.
Superficially, this seems enormously out of character for Buffy, and her desire to copy Faith seems odd. It’s almost like a repeat of the last episode, where Xander was trying to work out how to be cool, but with Buffy trying to be the cool Slayer, but Buffy isn’t Xander. She’s already cool. She doesn’t need to be cool in a bad way. Why does she want to be one of the “Bad Girls”? Why does she go along with Faith turning “The Slayers” into a weapons-stealing, police-injuring gang?
A clue is the timing of Wesley’s arrival. Buffy’s Watcher is no longer officially her Watcher. Faith’s last Watcher was a dangerous enemy. A couple of weeks ago, Giles betrayed Buffy in the most horrible way imaginable, physically assaulting her by injecting poison into her. Her headteacher is a dangerous fool, who used his connections to the Mayor to get the police to show up and confiscate Giles’ books. Her mother is an idiot who wouldn’t listen to Buffy’s claim that she was being threatened by the new man in her mother’s life, and later kicked her out of her own home. Authority figures in Buffy’s life repeatedly let her down or prove themselves to be dangerous. But I think Giles’ betrayal was the tipping point. Buffy was already in the mindset to rebel, and nobody holds authority over her any more, not even her non-Watcher. Wesley arrives and tries to pull rank, but is immediately dismissed by Buffy’s passive aggression, and by Faith in short order:
Let’s translate that to another walk of life, to put into context what happens. In its first three seasons, Buffy’s world is shown through the lens of school life, with frequent comparisons between their fantasy issues and the friendship/relationship stuff teenagers go through at school, so let’s start in the obvious place. Imagine a new teacher shows up to replace an old one who got sacked, one child is immediately rude and dismissive, while another simply walks out. How would those children feel? Enormously powerful, and very lost.
The usual rules no longer apply to Slayers… and then Buffy is saved from going too far over the line, by witnessing Faith crossing it forever, stabbing a human being through the heart. For the second time in the episode, the real world crashes in, but this time it’s a Slayer who is the danger to the mundane human world, not the mundane human world being a problem for the Slayer. As much as Faith tries to excuse her actions by saying, “I didn’t know”, the truth of the matter is she didn’t look. Buffy knew. She tried to stop Faith. But Faith was too far gone in her thrill-seeking and bloodlust, both of which she was finding arousing. Faith was addicted to the kill, and the feeling of power and horniness it gave her, and her addiction has inflicted a stain on her life that no amount of scrubbing will wash away. Crucially, Buffy’s attempts to help her at the end of the episode fail, and we are left with a simple statement: “I don’t care.” She is lying to Buffy and lying to herself, and while she remains in denial things are surely going to get a lot worse for Faith before they can get any better. RP
PS. The Mayor’s “to do” list is very amusing: become invincible, a meeting with the PTA and then a haircut. But we’ve just seen his head being sliced in half and putting itself back together. Won’t his hair just reattach itself when it’s cut? He should have scheduled that first.
The view from the Sunnydale Press…
So yeah… about Buffy. My wife was looking for something to watch on Amazon Prime the other night and she saw that Buffy showed up in the drama category. She was shocked by this, and I wouldn’t have believed it had I not been on this journey myself, but I spun my head with a comment: “don’t knock it; it is a drama! You’re basing your comments on the same false belief that I had!” And then I explained that this series is actually about something. It’s insidious the way this happened though. It started out as a cutesy, silly teeny-bopper semi-comedy about exploding vampires, but somewhere along the way, it started to show us the real events that happen to a teenager. Whether that was the simple side of trying to find ones place as the nerdy kid with “no friends” or the betrayal of losing ones virginity to a guy who then treats the girl totally differently after the event, this show has tackled all sorts of real things and we’re not even halfway through the series yet. So yeah, tricky writing Mr. Whedon, you’ve got me praising your show already. Don’t worry, I will still do my best to nitpick when appropriate but I’ve come to realize that’s just for fun, while the main attraction is the real life stuff hidden lightly behind a mask of monsters and demons.
Bad Girls follows the footsteps of the others, this time showing the negative results of peer pressure. Buffy likes the rogue lifestyle that Faith is showing her. Faith believes that, because of their divine right as the slayer, they have more rights to do what they want. This is the idea of power corrupting; leaders should be held to a higher standard, not a lower one. Fair dues, these girls are young teens so they don’t realize this, but it is a lesson best learned early. Buffy starts small, thinking it’s ok to ignore the teacher during a test but things escalate. One would hope the peer pressure would be obvious to her once she and Faith break into a store and get arrested. Buffy fails to recognize that she may have gone a bridge too far and Faith manipulates her again – they can’t save the world if they are in jail. Sure, that’s true, but Buffy should start to consider why they were arrested. Instead, she adds fuel to the fire and injures the police officers and causes a car accident in the process. Somehow Buffy still hasn’t put the breaks on as she’s becoming addicted to the way of life. (Not dissimilar to actual addictions that form due to peer pressure!) It’s not until Faith literally stabs and murders a normal human that Buffy sees things for what they are. Again, I’m reminded of that drunk driving accident that kills a person before the drinker realizes the mistakes they’ve made; mistakes that cannot be undone. The raw nerve had to be exposed and prodded before Buffy realized the error of her ways. She tries to confront Faith, but Faith doesn’t care. All I could do was wonder where her story could go from here. More concerning: surely the police have Buffy’s information now and there will be repercussions, even if only for the accident, as Faith got rid of the body of the murdered man.
As I said, the real stuff is covered up with fiction and that is also quite good. As the kids have to start thinking about life beyond High School, they are roped into a plot with Lard Balthazar. Sorry, that was terrible of me! Lord Balthazar. No joke but that was some horribly grotesque demon! There’s a scene where Buffy is being drowned and that too hits a nerve; we know she’s been killed once by being drowned so watching the slow motion sequence actually makes us nervous. When she springs up, otherwise unharmed, it’s a triumphant moment. I was delighted with the way she kills Balthazar, but with his dying breath he implies knowledge of things to come. He says “when he rises..”. Who is he? One would suspect the Mayor who, from the outset of this story, is planning for his ascension. The end of the episode shows that he is now invincible, so it’s not a leap. (He also has a head like Harmony Shoal in Doctor Who, so that’s something too, eh?) How can he be beaten if he can’t be killed? I guess we need to give it time to develop!
Although, I have to ask: why is he the only one who figured out how to become invincible? Surely this goofball can’t be the only one to ever figure it out. And there are still questions I have about the plots introduced. I mean, it’s like Faith washing her top in the sink after stabbing the man. The water is crystal clear! Where’s the blood, I ask? And did the teacher not see her student climb out a window during a test? The class seemed to only have about 12 people in there. Blindest teacher on earth, I say!! And we’re introduced to the newest Watcher, who will replace Giles. Wesley is also British, of course. I’ve just realized Roger is probably a Watcher since all Watchers clearly are Brits. How did I miss this? (I’m onto you, my friend! No wonder you hated when I’d knock things about how quickly Giles found information! Damn, I should have seen it earlier!)
Yes, I do enjoy picking those nits, but I’ve realized with this show that those minor things take nothing away now. The stories are too strong to be derailed by a clean sink! Instead, I’m left itching for the next story. The episodes are very much self-contained yet there is an arc to them that’s carried less by the situation and more by the characters; characters we’ve come to love. So if there’s a moral to this story, it’s that the decisions these characters make have consequences and we, the audience, will have to wait to see what they are. ML
Read next in the Junkyard… Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Consequences