Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Entropy   Rewatch 
February 24, 2016 6:24 PM - Season 6, Episode 18 - Subscribe

Anya returns with her demon powers reinstated, but she can't take vengeance for herself. She attempts to convince the others to wish ill on him, and while none take the bait she does find solace in Spike. Tara and Willow reconnect.
posted by yellowbinder (9 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
posted by nicebookrack at 6:58 PM on February 24, 2016 [4 favorites]

There are objectively much worse episodes, but this ranks pretty high on my “most unpleasant to rewatch” list.

It starts out with Xander being just awful for thinking that he could just pick up the relationship back up whenever he wanted to, acting as if his desertion hadn’t caused Anya enormous pain.

And then Anya, instead of rising above his awfulness, gets even more awful. Painful icky death is disproportionate punishment for your boyfriend being a huge jerk. And when she can't do it on her own, she tries to manipulate her friends into doing her dirty work for her. It's played for laughs, but the only reason it doesn't work is that no one is stupid enough to make a wish.

While I can sympathize with Anya for being in a crummy relationship, I can't help but notice that she can be enormously self-centered sometimes. Like in Older and Far Away, Anya acts personally betrayed that Dawn stole some trinkets from the Magic Box. Yet she tries to trick Dawn into harming Xander, without the slightest thought about how devastated Dawn would be if Anya's trickery were successful. (It's also worth noting that Tara was in a similar situation--mistreated by her partner, having her friends be first and foremost her partner's friends, and came up with the radical solution of moving on with her life and making new friends).

Then when she finally stops being awful, talks about her pain, and has a moment of solace with another heartbreak victim, the narrative punishes her for the only non-awful thing she does in this episode.

Judgmental Xander is awful for reasons that I'm sure other people will discuss at length, so I'll let that part be. I do think it's hilarious that he accuses Anya of trying to hurt him by sleeping with Spike--right, Anya knew that the Trio had cameras in The Magic Box, and timed her sex with Spike for the precise moment that she knew Willow would hack into the feed, with Xander around to see it. Sure.

The Willow/Tara reunion that's supposed to be the bright spot is actually Tara signing her own death warrant, and I would have liked the show to have given us insight into why she makes that choice. What are Tara's wants and/or needs that get filled by getting back together with Willow?

The most obvious on-screen answer is "kissing and sex", but Tara could easily find that from someone with not quite so much baggage as Willow brings to the table.

It's not an on-screen admission from Willow that the memory spell was wrong, because we don't get that. (Yes, Tara says in the speech that she's skipping steps, but knowing where Willow stands on the whole memory spell thing isn't a step I think Tara would skip, as opposed to the steps she mentions skipping, like trust being rebuilt. I'm stubborn on this point because I think Tara would be stubborn about it.)

It's not total confidence that Willow has this magic sobriety thing down, or Tara wouldn't have felt the need to butt into the argument or offer instructions on how to handle sobriety in Older and Far Away.

It's not that Willow has shown much of any admirable qualities in Tara's presence since the breakup. She's an insecure little mouse whenever Tara's around. The moments where she has the strongest sense of self are the techy investigative bits in Gone, and telling Amy to get lost in Doublemeat Palace, and they occur when Tara's not around. (Yet another reason why I wish they'd let this ship stay sunk. It was unquestionably bad for Tara, and at this point I think it may have been bad for Willow too.)

if they wanted to make Tara less saintly, they could have gone with her having similar "needing to feel needed" issues as Riley--she likes assuaging Willow's insecurities. But they didn't go with that angle.

Without some indication of what motivates Tara here, it's always going to feel like a plot device rather than character-driven decision to me.

So: blech. Super-unpleasant to watch.
posted by creepygirl at 9:16 PM on February 24, 2016 [3 favorites]

There just aren't enough words for how much I hate Xander in this episode. Xander resurfaces and expect things to revert to a far earlier place in the relationship ignoring that he proved himself completely incapable of effectively communicating with Anya, which is kinda of important. and then he does what? Not only fails to communicate, but also to consider where Anya would be emotionally. He seems completely confused by why she would be so upset for his behavior. And then later he fails to recognize that Anya's response to Spike is because of her pain and that he also no longer has any right to judge. And none of the scoobies point it out either. Even with Xander as a friend, it's a disappointing that not one of them stands up for Anya

Unlike Creepygirl, I'm not at all surprised by Anya's reversion. Tara and Anya are VERY different not the least of which being that Anya is only a few years human.Anya was happy as a demon, and most of her humanity and what made her enjoy being human is bound up with Xander. Xander abandons her so she abandons humanity. That makes sense. Plus making bad decisions when heart broken is pretty traditional on this show. Tara's moving on is more the exception than the rule.
posted by miss-lapin at 11:43 PM on February 24, 2016 [6 favorites]

Even with Xander as a friend, it's a disappointing that not one of them stands up for Anya

This is so rage-inducing. Even going by the assumption that Xander gets to keep the Scoobies in the breakup because they were his friends first, Xander literally dumped Anya at the altar on her wedding day. That's the ultimate cliché shorthand for Person At Fault In The Breakup.

The Scoobies turn a cold shoulder so quickly that it indicates Anya and Spike were only ever tolerated in the group as SOs and/or useful assets. Yet Xander and Buffy are furious that the dumped people turn to other people for comfort, let alone each other. Because Anya and Spine are supposed to wait around pining in sad celibacy until Xander and Buffy give them permission to move on!

I came incredibly close to quitting the show at this point in the original run, because I flat-out hate all of the three main characters in whom I'm meant to be interested and invested, and I reject them as moral arbiters of anything. And it will only get worse from here. Xander, Buffy, and Willow have sunk so low at this point that Anya, Spike, and Tara have to do or have done to them cartoonishly evil things so that the core three can appear sympathetic and justified in comparison. Fuuuuck that noise.
posted by nicebookrack at 8:31 AM on February 25, 2016 [7 favorites]

I came incredibly close to quitting the show at this point in the original run, because I flat-out hate all of the three main characters in whom I'm meant to be interested and invested, and I reject them as moral arbiters of anything. And it will only get worse from here.

This was something that really bothered me as the show progressed. Early in, it made a lot of sense that our power trio here would be selfish, make bad decisions and shirk responsibility for them. Like... S1 Buffy deciding she shouldn't have to die in Prophecy Girl? I get that.

It feels like they became worse people over time though, not better. Like... access to the power at their disposal was corrupting, rather than helping them grow into heroic figures.

Xander's always been a Nice Guy, but in the beginning, it was pretty subdued. He was awkward and unsure of what to do about women, but he *tried* to do right. In S1, it takes him being possessed by a hyena spirit in The Pack to push him anywhere truly awful, and when he wants to pretend that never happened, I feel for him. But... by S2, he's blackmailing Amy and deliberately trying to use mind control for revenge. By this episode, he left a woman at the altar, and believes *he* is the wronged party instead of trying to figure out how to stop hurting her.

Willow starts out sweet and awkward, but once she gets a taste of power, she abuses it to get what she wants - again, violating someone else's autonomy to get what she wants out of a relationship and being primarily concerned with how the fallout impacts her.

I don't necessarily have to sympathize with a protagonist to enjoy a story - I enjoyed The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant - but I didn't feel like this was the writers deliberately wanting us to lose sympathy with the core group here.

(I think this is why I preferred Angel to Buffy pretty rapidly - behavior there could get truly awful, but with the 'redemption' theme, people were more inclined to own it and try to improve. Buffy always felt like it was more about raw survival - just making it through the day was the win, not necessarily learning anything.)
posted by mordax at 10:54 AM on February 25, 2016 [4 favorites]

Ok so it's confession time. I started watching Buffy after my fiance suddenly dumped me. I found I couldn't watch any shows except for Law and Order and Buffy. I came into Buffy late. My first eps were right before the s 5 finale. I identified most heavily with Anya and somehow while romance in any shade bothered me, her engagement to Xander didn't. She was probably the first character post break up I emotionally engaged with so to have her go through the same thing I went through about a year later...is probably the reason I have and always will hate Xander Harris.

Also Anya's whole REASON for being in Sunnydale in the first place is because of Xander cheating on Cordy. She failed to completely execute Cordy's wish and became human in the process. And yet here we again see Xander totally screwing up a relationship, both times in an avoidable way. What makes this disturbing is one can forgive teenage never had a gf Harris for being an idiot and not knowing how to deal with his attraction to Willow. At least I can. But what happens with Anya? We're supposed to believe that Xander has grown up now. He pays bills, holds down a job he enjoys, he's actually "someone you might want to have around." And yet he STILL can't manage the emotionally mature thing of communicating with his so. And more disturbingly he 1 can't understand why Anya is so hurt she can't just revert back to a part of the relationship where he was comfortable 2 lashes out at her for her completely acceptable behavior. There is literally no reason for her NOT to have sex with Spike. They actually have a lot in common. Xander could have shown concern. He could have taken that moment to realize how hurt Anya is and actually think of her for a moment, but instead he bashes her when she's down.

What's hurtful beyond that is none of her friends (which are also his friends) actually do anything but rationalize his behavior. So here Anya has lost both her best friend AND her circle of friends. And despite all of this, when someone does start to make a wish, Anya stops them. After all that emotional abuse, she still makes the right decision. Anya has grown and developed and changed. Xander is still the same character he was in hs. all the outward trappings of maturity have not made him mature.

Incidentally, if Anya had remained mortal, could she have wished revenge on Xander with Halfrek's help? Even though this isn't really Hally's territory, one would think she could do a solid for a friend.
posted by miss-lapin at 4:32 PM on February 25, 2016 [6 favorites]

Without some indication of what motivates Tara here, it's always going to feel like a plot device rather than character-driven decision to me.

Well we've had this conversation in more than one thread now :), so suffice to say I have done pretty much exactly what Tara does here, but on the plus side no-one got shot by the most wildly firing gun in the universe.

I'm not going to defend Xander here, but I will defend Buffy. I don't think Buffy is furious at Spike here. She is hurt, but I think that emotion is legitimate. I also really like her interactions with Dawn in this episode, which is unusual for Season 6. It's worth noting that she's the only person there who could have backed up Anya, but she's too busy dealing with Xander's reaction to her behaviour. I don't see any sign that she's particular mad at Anya here.

I don't think we're meant to like Xander in this episode or the next. He is unrelentingly awful up until the apology. In the show's defence, I'm not sure we're meant to like Xander much, and I absolutely buy him behaving in this way. In a way this is setting up his saving the day. He messes everything up here via acting on raw emotion without any rationality behind it. He sees things the way he wants them to be. But those impulses, terrible in this situation, are what allows him to believe in Willow when no-one else does, and even helps save Anya in the terrific Selfless (which I just rewatched).

-"We're more concerned about girl on girl action." Good god writers.
-A side note, but I really don't love the whole "ha ha" Andrew is closeted thing. I think it was a way for audiences to laugh at gay people in a more modern fashion "We don't hate that he's gay, it's funny that he's surpressing his emtions!" Frasier does the exact same thing with Gil Chesterton, and both characters feel really dated now.
posted by Cannon Fodder at 12:48 AM on February 26, 2016 [1 favorite]

What's hurtful beyond that is none of her friends (which are also his friends) actually do anything but rationalize his behavior.

Willow hugs Anya and asks her if there is anything they can do for her.

Tara tells Anya they were worried about her, but understands why Anya needed some space.

As soon as Dawn sees that Anya's back, she comes in to offer to work off the debt (from her stealing at The Magic Box).

Then there's this exchange between Buffy and Anya:

BUFFY: I don't really think I should.
ANYA: Did I mention the whole 'left at the altar' thing? Didn't leave that out, did I?
BUFFY: No. (shakes head) Look, I - I know what he did was wrong. God, if it happened to me, I ... I-I, it must have been torture.
ANYA: (excited) Okay! Let's talk about torture!

So Buffy offers empathy as a friend, and Anya ignores it because she'd rather use Buffy as an unwitting tool for her revenge on Xander. In this exchange, IMO, Buffy is being a far better friend to Anya than vice versa.

Nobody says that what Xander did was ok. Buffy and Dawn say that he feels bad, but when prompted, Dawn acknowledges that it isn't as "anywhere close" to as bad as what Anya feels, and Buffy says twice that what Xander did was wrong.

Vengeance wishes have deadly and unpredictable effects, and harm a lot more people than just the intended targets, so even if the Scoobies agreed with Anya that Xander deserved to be tortured to death, a vengeance wish would be an incredibly reckless and stupid way to go about it. I cannot parse their refusal to wish bad things upon him as a rationalization for his actions.

The Scoobies don't engage in the full-throated excoriation of Xander that Anya, and a lot of fans want. But their interactions with Anya are a lot more nuanced than just being the Xander Defense League.
posted by creepygirl at 6:34 PM on February 26, 2016

The irony here re: The Scoobies' "defense" of Xander is that they're all more or less coming from a place of feeling guilty themselves and thus projecting forgiveness onto him. They're not "taking his side" so much as seeing their own bad decisions (magic addiction, sleeping with Spike, shoplifting) in the light of hoping that others will be understanding.

So, of course, when it's Xander's turn himself, having acted the most unforgivably of all of them, he instead takes the opportunity to try to grab the moral high ground (of which he has none - Anya did nothing wrong here, and as guilty as Buffy feels, that's none of Xander's business at all) and throw everything in their faces.

His apology in "Seeing Red" isn't worthless - it actually shows contrition and introspection, and in it he claims to have made the worst decisions of any of them during this period - but it doesn't do quite enough to erase his actions here. Basically, he hurt Anya about as badly as he could in "Hell's Bells," but sure, from his perspecrtive he was saving her from a lifetime of hurt. It's stupid and childish and he's wrong, but sure. Here, he makes an action that was a reaction to that hurt, and not directed at him in any way, all about him, and uses it as an excuse to hurt Anya on purpose. It's probably the ugliest thing he does in seven pretty rocky seasons for the character, and it takes a lot more than apologizing to Buffy to dig his way out of that hole.
posted by Navelgazer at 1:46 PM on October 2, 2022 [1 favorite]

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