Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The Killer in Me   Rewatch 
April 27, 2016 9:53 PM - Season 7, Episode 13 - Subscribe

Kennedy makes a move on Willow, but when they kiss Willow takes on the appearance and personality of Warren. Buffy calls in the Initiative to deal with Spike's malfunctioning chip. Giles comes under suspicion of being The First.
posted by yellowbinder (5 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Agh, this one. If it just completely sucked, it would be less frustrating to me than it is.

I think there were some interesting and salvageable parts of this episode, but it they don't work well together, to the point that this episode is less than the sum of its parts. I think they should have separated the "Willow turns into Warren" plot thread from the "Kennedy proves her worth" plot threads (for reasons I'll explain below).

1) The Willow/Warren parallels were too obvious NOT to explore in this way somehow. They are nerds with a scientific bent who are both capable of murder if sufficiently motivated. They both have blond girlfriends who break up with them and who they attempt to control through supernatural means. (And Warren's nickname for his girlfriend is "Trina", which is only a few letters off from Tara, and makes them another W/T pairing).

Willow blaming herself for Tara's death is interesting, because I can see a couple of ways that could work in her head. On the most literal level, if Tara hadn't gotten back together with Willow, she'd never be in the Summers house at the time of the shooting. There's also the possibility that if Willow had her magic under control, the Trio would have been captured and neutralized long before Warren got his gun.

I think what the writers were trying to do with the kiss at the end was sort of "I trust Willow to let her better qualities prevail over her Warren-like qualities". The problem is, as Willow points out, Kennedy doesn't really know Willow yet, so it can read as dumb luck on Kennedy's part more than anything else. I think the moment of trust would have best been some sort of platonic gesture by someone who had been there for the Dark Willow storyline and seen Willow at her worst. Giles obviously has forgiven Willow over the summer, Xander never gave up on her, and Buffy and Anya have already had their moments of forgiveness, so my pick to bring Willow back to herself would be Dawn.

2. I am one of the four or so people on the planet who actually likes Kennedy. I like that she loves power, but unlike Faith or Willow, is not being set up for a fall. Without Kennedy, the show would have sent a strong "The only people worthy of power are the people who HATE using it" message which I think is kind of silly and unrealistic.

I like that the relationship makes sense to me. Willow is giving off such closed-off, guarded vibes throughout the season, so nobody thoughtful and empathetic like Oz or Tara would pursue her. It would have to be someone like Kennedy, who's aggressive and used to going after whatever she wanted. And it makes sense that to me that Willow would be lonely and self-loathing and that kind of aggressive pursuit would be flattering, even if Kennedy is not her type. It's also pretty clear to me that Kennedy is a rebound relationship for Willow, not an immediate replacement for Tara.

The Kennedy hate (which seems inevitably linked to comparisons with Tara) is hilarious to me because

A) If you compare them solely on the basis of their role as "Willow's girlfriend", they pretty much serve the same role. Like if you thought that Tara was a good girlfriend to Willow in Season 6, then Kennedy was also a good girlfriend to Willow in Season 7. They both forgive a magical transgression by Willow (without an on-screen apology), and they both offer Willow a lot of support without expecting much in return except physical affection.

B) If you are judging them by their qualities other than their role as "Willow's girlfriend", I have no idea why Kennedy should be singled out as "not as good as Tara" as opposed to the 80 bazillion new characters introduced this season (Amanda, Principal Wood, etc.). And yet I never hear anyone else compared negatively to Tara.

3) One problem with the Kennedy storyline is that the faked illness feels completely out of character compared to everything else we see of her in the show. She seems to take being a Potential really seriously, and I don't see her opting out of any Slayer-related activities, even if she is skeptical of mysticism in general. A far more Kennedy-like reason for her not going on the retreat would be that she'd done it so many times that the First Slayer told her to piss off.

4) Another problem with the Kennedy storyline is that it requires the rest of the characters to behave like idiots. Buffy and Xander letting Willow run off on her own under those circumstances is just ridiculous. Like I don't even care if it makes them look callous to a friend, I am irritated that it makes them look indifferent to the possibility of Willow killing again or even ending the world. They needed a better reason for Kennedy to be Willow's only source of support--send them far away from Sunnydale to retrieve a Potential, or something. Then there's the fact that neither Willow nor anyone else considers consulting the "amazing women" in the Sisterhood of the Sacred Plot Device coven, but instead Wlllow goes to the previously-established-as-completely-useless Sunnydale Wiccan group for no damn reason at all.

5) I can buy Amy Madison harboring some well-earned resentment of Willow. But her turn as villain in this episode feels quite contrived, and I'm pretty sure this episode didn't need a villain. Willow turning into Warren could simply be a Same Time Same Place situation of her emotional state manifesting itself in her magic.

6. The Giles-is-the-First suspicions didn't do much for me on first watch, since they didn't actually lead to anything, and on rewatch it's just ridiculous. He gets ridiculously touchy-feely with Anya in Grave and Willow in some of the early Season 7 episodes; it seems unbelievable that neither of them would try to hug him or touch him at some point, in addition to all of the other things Cannon Fodder has mentioned in other threads that make this storyline implausible.
posted by creepygirl at 9:21 PM on April 30, 2016 [2 favorites]

I'm with you on at least some of your points creepygirl. My take is that the whole idea for this episode is quite flawed. After all, the central theme of this episode is Willow moving on from the death of her lover, reflected by her metaphorically "killing her" and thus taking the form of her murderer's face. That's a nice idea, but you can't disentangle this from the fact that.. well she murdered that murderer. Brutally. And the episode doesn't really engage with that. Willow is horrified to be Warren, sure, but her reaction seems to be more tied up to her hatred of him than any feelings of guilt she might feel.

This is a misstep I think because it is at odds with Willow's season arc (such as it is) of accepting who she is now. Frankly of all the characters to dabble in romance, Willow is really the wrong one, not because her lover died so recently, but because of her reaction to said event occurring. I mean, if Buffy can accept that she's not ready for a relationship, surely Willow can.

And it's a misstep because, as creepygirl says, the very lack of concern her friends show really begs belief. Maybe Buffy is too concerned about the chip to be involved, but Xander just letting Kennedy take care of it, a girl he hardly knows? No, and it's one of the big problems that the potentials cause, that all the work the show put in on the front end of re-establishing that these people are friends is lost when the potentials get in the way. I don't actually hate the platonic idea of Kennedy that much, but she's actually required to carry this episode, and can't, both because the actress isn't that good, and because the character simply isn't that established. Who is Kennedy, what do we really know about her?

And it's a misstep because, for the only episode to actually feature a potential as a main character, it doesn't give much insight on who they are. I think Storyteller fails on that level as well. One of the reasons this series feels less urgent is that outside of Xander's eye loss, when something bad happens, it happens to potentials who we don't know. We desperately needed an episode entirely from the potential's point of view, and I think the lack of that dramatically undersells the whole story.

And it's a misstep because the choice that Buffy makes here, to unchip Spike, should matter more than it does. It sort of just happens in a moment, and while the show will engage with that more thoroughly later on, it gets drowned out here in the midst of a pointless fight scene.

And it's a misstep because Amy as a villain makes no sense. I mean, sure, I guess I can buy her motivation, but where has she been all series? And where does she go after this? And why does she know about the potentials anyway? Is she working for the First? It's just a bad scene, and it's motivated in a stupid way too! The only way Willow finds Amy is going to a coven who, the last she met them, had literally no grasp of magic at all. Why on earth would she ask them about it? And considering in Same Time Same Place she spelled herself invisible without any outside help required, it really doesn't make sense to have Amy here.

And it's a misstep because the Giles subplot is FUCKING STUPID! Outside of a stupid gag in the camp, this whole set up by the writers was a big waste of time. And, as I've mentioned before, the idea of the First infiltrating anywhere long term simply doesn't make sense. Giles didn't eat, drink, open doors? No-one tried to put their hand on his shoulder. In fact, considering the fact that this is the real Giles, he didn't try to engage in physical contact of any kind?

So no, I don't like this episode. It has too many things working against it, and it's so poorly plotted, which is just an epidemic this season. Buffy has never been great at plot logic, but it is appallingly bad at it throughout most of Season 7.

-"OK. Oh wait I forgot. No". Some top quality banter from Amy there.
-There's some really bad directorial choices as well. Cutting between Willow and Warren so frequently really undermines a lot of scenes by giving neither actor room to work.
-When the guy Giles found came too, there was no Giles. But seeing as an axe was heading towards Giles' head, and he didn't see any blood, or indeed, the bringer who would have killed Giles, it seems reasonable to assume he didn't die, right?
-"And your freckles? Lickable." URGH.
-Willow's mum was proud of her, which is a nice reminder that she actually has one.
-Oh hey, there is a nice Willow/Buffy conversation at the beginning, then they both assume that the other's massive problems have been solved and don't worry about them again.
posted by Cannon Fodder at 12:17 AM on May 3, 2016

Frankly of all the characters to dabble in romance, Willow is really the wrong one, not because her lover died so recently, but because of her reaction to said event occurring. I mean, if Buffy can accept that she's not ready for a relationship, surely Willow can.

The difference between the two is that Willow was a groundbreaking representational character for the gay community, and Buffy wasn't. Willow's relationship status carried a lot of extra weight that Buffy's didn't. Joss felt a responsibility not to "leave Willow stuck in typical gay celibacy on TV". Which was an absolutely accurate description/criticism of TV at the time.

I think realistically if he wanted Willow in a relationship that would land well with fans, he probably should have dropped the Dark Willow storyline. I would have been fine with that, as I prefer friendship and relationships to murder and attempted world-ending, but that would piss off the people who lurrve the Dark Willow storyline, so no matter what, someone was going to be dissatisfied.

Given that "Willow decides that she's not ready for a relationship" was a non-starter for Joss, I think the Kennedy route is infinitely preferable to a saintly Tara-clone, who is interested in Willow Just Because (which was pretty much my issue with S6 W/T).

Kennedy's a wealthy brat who likes power and who's used to going after what she wants and getting what she wants. The attraction to Willow is part physical ("Have you seen you?"), partly an challenge that she's determined to win (because Willow isn't flirting back to Kennedy in earlier episodes, that makes her Hard to Get, which is like catnip for aggressive people), and part being intrigued by someone more powerful than she is. And that is the only kind of person who would pursue Willow at this time.

That's a hell of a lot more than we ever got about why S6 Tara wanted to be with Willow.

As for Willow, she was lonely, she thought the world was going to end, and unlike Buffy, was more stable when she was in relationships than she was when she was single. Not the ideal reasons to get into a relationship, but not the worst ones, either.
posted by creepygirl at 12:01 PM on May 3, 2016

The difference between the two is that Willow was a groundbreaking representational character for the gay community, and Buffy wasn't. Willow's relationship status carried a lot of extra weight that Buffy's didn't. Joss felt a responsibility not to "leave Willow stuck in typical gay celibacy on TV". Which was an absolutely accurate description/criticism of TV at the time.

That's fair, and on a rewatch I hate Kennedy a lot less, but her function as a character isn't very good. She's just not well written, and her essential traits are a little dull. Her main arc in terms of the relationship is going from being flippant about magic to being pissed about magic, to being supportive about magic. Which is fine, but not terribly compelling.

I also think they lacked physical chemistry, which really matters. In episodes like Hush and Tabula Rasa, you can see that these two are fundamentally attracted to each other, which frankly is a big hurdle for selling any relationship. Kennedy and Willow reminds me of Oz and Willow actually, as both are kind of sexless in their depiction; I know there's kissing, but I don't feel the heat, if that makes sense.
posted by Cannon Fodder at 12:18 AM on May 6, 2016

So here's the thing: this episode basically feels like bad FanFic. It has a few half-interesting ideas that it never develops in any way that would make them interesting, thrilling, insightful or in any way compelling. It misunderstands and/or misuses characters in ways the show should know better than. But more than anything else, Kennedy just plays like a precocious 12-year-old's Mary Sue, dropped into the series out of nowhere, effortlessly confident and cool (so we're led to understand because the viewer will in no way form that opinion themselves) and immediately in a relationship with the 12-year-old FanFic author's crush-object after a night of what this author assumes flirting / first dates are probably like.

It wrecks any chance Kennedy might have had to connect with the audience and instead turns her into a wretched little goblin stealing screen-time away from the more likable and interesting Potentials (read: all of them.) It goes against what little we know of Kennedy's character up to that point, as creepygirl points out. She's a proudly competitive try-hard who's not gonna play hooky from her Vision Questâ„¢. And just think of what they could have done with that if they hadn't handed this episode over to Ebony Dark'ness Dementia Raven Way! A Potential with a crush on Willow, used to always succeeding and using that to stand out, overly cocky putting herself into a life-threatening situation in order to get the attention of Willow, who almost ended the world when her last GF died? There's so much meat on them bones but no, we get this pile of shit, easily one of the two or three worst episodes in the series.

Anyway, this episode is, I believe, the specific reason that people hate Kennedy so much. And they're right to hate her. She's the worst. Because of this fuck-awful episode. Grr. Argh.

Oh and one more thing. Amy slips up by referring to Kennedy as a Potential, which she would have no reason to know. Except that even with Amy's hex revealed, she still has no reason to know that, and it has fuck-all to do with Amy's motivations or actions. But Ebony Dark'ness knew that sometimes villains accidentally reveal themselves by knowing too much, and never looked into understanding any deeper than that. Fuck this terrible, terrible episode.
posted by Navelgazer at 8:29 AM on October 7, 2021

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