Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Selfless   Rewatch 
March 30, 2016 7:50 PM - Season 7, Episode 5 - Subscribe

Anya tries to put her heart back into the vengeance game, and ends up ripping out those of a dozen or so frat boys. Buffy realizes it's time to put the restored vengeance demon down.
posted by yellowbinder (7 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Posting a few hours early because I just finished this one and need to gush. This is probably the last perfect episode. Him succeeds entirely as well, but it's not in this ballpark at all.

I believe this is writer Drew Goddard's first credit, and his knowledge of and love for the series is apparent. We have real emotional stakes for our characters and heavy conflicts between them. When was the last time Buffy, Xander and Willow had a scene like that together? It was riveting. And Goddard pulls out all the stops and references, from Xander's lie in Becoming to D'Hoffryn's talisman. And who can resist a sword fight?

I feel Anya remains a bit of a cipher, even after this. I mean, I know who she is, I know mostly how she'll react, I get her arc, etc but I don't really get what makes her tick. I guess that works with the ending, 1120-odd years and she's still trying to figure herself out. She was devoted to her work completely, but just a few years of humanity and love changed her, and even if she had cause for vengeance again she didn't want it, and she didn't want to serve it for others. There's a lot of depth and pathos here for what is fundamentally a comic relief character, and that's extraordinary.

More First Evil touching Spike. It's maybe an on-the-nose inversion, but having First Buffy in white, being tender and soothing to Spike, and then Real Buffy coming in in black, speaking plainly and harshly was a nice contrast.

Really nothing to complain about here. I was glued to the screen in a way I rarely am with anything these days. The dialogue in the Russian Revolution scene was repetitive, you could have cut half of it and the scene would have played better. The final scene with Anya and Xander was a little odd, she thanks him and he tenderly calls her a dope... I feel like it could have been done better, but the episode more than earns its reputation.
posted by yellowbinder at 8:02 PM on March 30, 2016 [6 favorites]

This is one of those “Ugh, Xander” episodes.

I mean, a few months ago he experienced “Someone I truly care about is trying to end the world” (Willow in Grave) and in this episode he’s experiencing “My close friend wants the person I love dead.” And both of those things clearly cause him pain, but he still doesn’t seem to get that Buffy had to deal with BOTH OF THOSE THINGS AT THE SAME TIME in Season 2, and he doesn’t get that he was really kind of jerk to her back then. Willow and Anya are capable of seeing commonality in each other, and finding moments of empathy this season, but Xander can’t find any for Buffy here.

And while it was a given that he was going to argue with Buffy, he chooses to argue in the most snippy, obnoxious style possible:

“You know, if there's a mass-murdering demon that you're, oh, say, boning, then it's all gray area.”

Since Anyanka likely murdered more than Spike and Angelus put together, this would be the perfect time for Xander to admit that he’s been kind of a hypocrite. He has criticized Buffy’s choice of partners but chose a not-particularly-repentant mass-murderering ex-demon (who according to D'Hoffryn, has a soul as a vengeance demon) as his betrothed.

If the writers wanted to make a strong argument that Xander was “the one who sees”, I think they should have included clearly seeing himself and his own flaws.

And then there’s the resurfacing of The Lie. While delivering The Lie may have been a spur-of-the-moment thing at the time, letting The Lie continue for five years was not. Buffy has been holding this in her heart as That Awful Thing Willow Said, and that’s a horrible thing for Xander to do to his two best friends. Who knows whether Buffy would have run away if she thought at least one person understood how much pain she was in, and that this wasn’t a freaking wrestling match to cheer on? It’s Xander’s unwillingness to admit his mistakes trait surfacing yet again.

It’s the last season. If Xander was supposed to grow up, this episode would have been the perfect time for it. Instead we get the same self-righteous, defensive, obnoxious garbage we got in Season 2, with the extra dose of hypocrisy.

Happier thoughts:

—D’Hoffryn is a brilliant villain as usual:

“(low) Behold, D'Hoffryn. Lord of Arashmahar. He that turns the air to blood and rains— (turns to Willow, speaking normally) Miss Rosenberg. How lovely to see you again. Have you done something with your hair?”


 : But only to those who deserve it.
: They all deserve it.
That's where I was going with that, yeah.


“Isn't that just like a slayer. Solving all her problems by sticking things with sharp objects.”

—It’s fascinating that Willow held onto the talisman from “Something Blue.” A pragmatic “never know when this might come in handy” motivation, or something else?

—The flashback to OMWF is an utter delight.

—Also, this is terrific, subtle writing:

: Her name is Anya.
Actually, funny historical side-bar, her original name was—
: (crying) I wanna take it back.

An echo of the name/identity-reclaimage moments for Buffy (“I’m Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and you are?”) and Willow (“I want to be Willow.”).
posted by creepygirl at 8:47 PM on March 30, 2016 [7 favorites]

Yup, it's all downhill from here, unfortunately. It's not a coincidence that the last truly great episode of Buffy (you can maybe make an argument for the final episode, but it's conceptually flawed for a few reasons) has nothing to do with the incoherent season plot.

I basically agree with what Yellowbinder has said here. This is just a great, deep episode of the show which highlights all of it's strengths: deep, interesting characters with histories which they all remember! The pay off on the lie feels great (I'll discuss this in a minute), and I generally love their argument here. Xander is wrong, sure, but he's also a little right, in that while Buffy did totally kill Angel when she needed to, she's missed opportunities to kill Spike and people have been endangered because of it (thinking of As You Were in particular). His arguments are typically incoherent and self justifying. This episode shows Xander both at his worst and his best. His argument are wheedling, sure, and he ignores the intellectual truth while clutching to the emotional one, but his act of doing so probably saves Anya (Buffy was going to lay a killing blow, but Xander stopped her).

We also get Willow not only being practical, in looking for another option, but also being aware that Anya might want to repent of her actions, and giving her a way to do that. And her interactions with D'Hoffryn are great. Sadly this is his last appearance (which will begin to be true for more characters as we go on!)

The core of the episode are in the flashbacks, which are all very funny, but also speak to who Anya is and was. It's certainly odd that after centuries of being a vengeance demon she turned towards humanity so easily, but the argument that's she's always been striving towards purpose. The series won't have much time for her (or, indeed, Xander) after this episode, but this functions as a pretty good send off.

Regarding the lie... I know a lot of fans hate Xander for it, but of all his sins I don't think it's a big deal. Casting the spell before had gone wrong, and almost got Willow killed. Xander has seen Buffy repeatedly fail to kill Angel, and the consequences of that choice. He knows that this time she needs to kill him to stop the world from ending. Buffy needs to give her all to the fight, not just stall for time. I mean, yeah, there might be some spitefulness there, but I don't actually think so, not in the moment.

-"All this talk of breeding has made me want to breed."
-"Your hips are narrow like a baltic woman from a slightly different region."
-"Run! Hide your babies and needlework!"
-Does Buffy just wander onto campus carrying a sword?
-"Oh no, mustard on my shirt!"
-That cut from the song to the sword in the chest is great
-"It's like someone slaughtered an abercrobmie and fitch catalogue"
posted by Cannon Fodder at 12:49 AM on March 31, 2016 [3 favorites]

I totally agree with that criticism of Xander. As "the one who sees" he seems incredibly blind to some fairly obvious stuff. Insightful he's not.
posted by miss-lapin at 7:37 AM on March 31, 2016

Every time these criticisms of a streak of awful in these characters comes up I think about how that's part of what I like about them. Every one of these characters has shown growth over seven seasons but they all still exhibit some of the same underlying fuckupedness. I find that reassuring.

Then again, one of my favorite lines from Farscape was John saying "I keep hearing that you've changed. I think... weather changes, and we just keeping the same mistakes."
posted by phearlez at 9:06 AM on March 31, 2016 [4 favorites]

I love this episodes for so many reasons - all the callbacks (OMWF, Becoming, etc) and it's definitely one of the few good/great episodes of the final season. But I don't think it's the last perfect one. There's still, at the very least, Conversations with Dead People. And I have some affection for Lies My Parents Told Me.
posted by crossoverman at 5:25 AM on April 1, 2016

I'm very curious to see how I feel about Conversations with Dead People. I remember loving it on first watch, and then coming to see if as the first step of the slide. I haven't seen it in many many years though, and I think I may have warmed back up to it.
posted by yellowbinder at 7:39 AM on April 1, 2016

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