Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Doppelgangland

Joss Whedon has a talent for figuring out which bits of previous episodes are worth bringing back again, and this week we have the return of two characters who debuted in The Wish: Anya and Vampire Willow. The former clearly has a lot of potential as an ongoing character, because she is a demon who has lost her powers and wants to regain them, while the latter offers the opportunity to continue an important theme of this season:

“There but for the grace of getting bit.”

Vampire Willow is obviously an extreme example of how life could have taken a different turn for one of the characters, but we also get a clear reminder of how Faith is basically Buffy minus her friends:

“She had it rough. Different circumstances, that could be me.”

The question is to what extent a person’s actions are informed by the circumstances of their lives, or whether somebody has an innate morality that stops them from crossing a line. That question remains unanswered, and probably needs to. Some questions don’t have an easy answer, and that’s probably one of them.

Speaking of Faith, I mentioned last week that there were three options open to her: run away, face up to what she has done and accept the consequences, or double down on the Bad Girl stuff. For obvious reasons, I never thought of the fourth option, which appears to be happening this week: hang out with Wes for a bit, and then stroll into the library as if nothing has happened. Of course, we know she’s a spy now, and the dramatic irony works well, but the Watcher’s Council evaluation seems like a cop-out, and a really odd resolution from the point of view of the rest of the gang. It’s almost like Whedon has forgotten that Faith was so dangerous that she needed to be chained up for everyone’s safety, and absolutely nothing has changed since then. Let’s get real here: she tried to rape and murder Xander. How might he feel about her wandering free, acting all quippy as if nothing has happened? My first impression was to wonder if I had missed an episode by accident.

So much for Faith, but what about Willow? Seeing another side of her character unleashed might just offer some useful information: “I think I’m kinda gay.” Could “Old Reliable Willow” be in the closet, and not realise it?

“A vampire’s personality has nothing to do with the person that was.”
“Well, actually…”

But this is not an episode that goes big with the relationship stuff. Instead, Whedon simply made this one into the funniest Buffy episode so far. Vampire Willow is hilarious. Barely a minute goes by this episode without something that makes us laugh out loud, from “hands in new places!” to “Oh, F…!” It is also another stunning performance from Alyson Hannigan, giving Vampire Willow a softly spoken, seductive quality, and a sleepy-eyed look, like somebody who is constantly looking for the next high, and getting bored with everything in between the bites.

In the end, Willow gets to see “where the path of vice leads”, and realises it’s not such a bad thing to be the old reliable one, but as we saw with Buffy and Faith a couple of episodes ago the allure of being a bad girl is powerful…   RP

The view from the Sunnydale Press…

Today was a tough day.  I did something no man ever wants to do.  I told my wife I was wrong.  Specifically, I was wrong about the TV show: Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  I had suspected it was a joke of a show from the little I’d seen from Season One but as I’ve been going further and further into the series, I realize it has real drama behind it and some superb writing. That’s not to say it’s “joke free”.  On the contrary, this is one of the funniest episodes to date but it still manages to be meaningful.  It starts when Willow and Buffy are talking about Faith who has gone rogue over the last few episodes.  Buffy is still hurting from the events and thinks that it’s just a fluke that she didn’t turn out the same way as Faith.  Willow says some people just don’t have it in them.  And then we see the “best of us” (as Giles refers to Willow) suddenly made into the evil twin; the doppelganger.  Doppelgangland is a story about the world’s most casual vampire though, because Vampire Willow is very soft spoken, mellow and doesn’t even put up much of a fight.  She gets taken down with a tranquilizer dart, too.  In fact, the truth is, she’s utterly lovable, just like her human counterpart.  But through the episode, human Willow gets a chance to see what inner strength she possesses and it’s not altogether different from her undead self.

So most of this story is understandably given over to Willow but that doesn’t stop some great dialogue with Cordelia finally unloading about the loss of Xander.  Step one to healing, I hope?  Anya returns from The Wish, which is also ironic considering I was thinking of her with Consequences.  That episode effectively looks at Faith as the Buffy-that-might-have-been which we’d seen in the earlier episode, so having Anya back now seems very appropriate.  Whereas at one time I might have speculated that the episodes were totally random, at this point, I am certain Whedon has a plan in mind and I am dying to binge the series to see that play out without having to wait.  (Alas, I won’t; I want to do this right!)  I’m also itching to find out how creepy things get between Cordelia and Wesley, whose scream brought tears of laughter to my eyes!

I have to say that this episode has some of the best lines of the entire series; maybe it was the sheer volume.  Some of my favorites are…

  • “He even has that test to see if you’re crazy that asks if you ever hear voices or you ever wanted to be a florist.”   (Laughed out loud, almost losing my drink!  Are florists actually crazy?)
  • “You want us to breed?”  (Willow’s misunderstanding of Principal Snyder is so understated but totally ignored by Quark or the other doofus in the room; but not by me!!)
  • Faith might not make the cover of “Sanity Fair”.  (Brilliant!  I absolutely will be using that!)
  • “Did you try looking inside the sofa… in hell?”  (Willow can’t be aggressive.  Or can she??)
  • “Say, you all didn’t happen to do a bunch of drugs, did ya?” (Willow does casual like a pro!)

I did have to wonder why the team would leave Willow on her own at the library when they’d just thought that she was killed (also acted perfectly by the group, including Angel), but I can accept that no one thought the vampires would come to the library having just been told they were at the Bronze.  I’d still have stayed with my friend, if I thought she had died, even if that had been disproved moments later!  I do wonder about the world-building since all of those people at the Bronze saw the vampires.  Will that be explained?  I get so torn by this line of thinking because Whedon has been doing a stellar job making the universe cohesive, but at the same time, I wonder how that can be explained away.

I felt the visuals were fantastic in this episode.  I really believed Willow was going back to the library so they could avoid a shot or two of her in the same room, only to have that expectation dashed against the rocks.  Immediately, both Willows were together and I didn’t see the tell-tale marking to let me know there were not actually two Willows on set.  Allison Hannigan hits a major home run here too.  If there’s ever proof of an actor’s or actress’s prowess as a thespian, get them to play a character totally different from the one you know.  The way she portrays both versions exemplifies her skill; she is absolutely capable of both ends of the spectrum.  And she looks amazing doing it.  I find Hannigan has a fantastic smile and the red lipstick actually makes it even more pronounced.  She’s a lovely woman.  (This cast is one of the best looking TV casts I’ve ever seen!)

The story is wrapped up with one more marvelously comedic moment where Vampire Willow is sent back to her own universe… at the exact moment that she is thrust onto the wooden stake.  The final, perhaps funniest, line of the episode is Willow making it back to her world only to be impaled.  Her last words are turned to dust with her but it seemed to be “ah, f…”

Yeah, telling my wife I was wrong was a tough thing to do but I’ve come to love this series and wonder if maybe she’ll concede that she wants to see it too.  I wonder if it can keep me this energized as it continues.  It sure has a tough task ahead of it and that can start by showing me how the Faith situation can be handled.  We’ve had a break from a very heavy storyline to give us some humor, but it’s time to bring the story back to the two slayers.  I hope they don’t stay enemies for much longer…  ML

Read next in the Junkyard… Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Enemies

About Roger Pocock

Co-writer on junkyard.blog. Author of windowsintohistory.wordpress.com. Editor of frontiersmenhistorian.info
This entry was posted in Entertainment, Reviews, Television and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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