Saturday, August 15, 2015

BtVS: Hundred Days: Season 3, “Dopplegangland”

Covering “Dopplegangland,” in which a banana is eaten, lunchtime be damned.

I wish the season were structured such that I could have dealt with “Doppelgangland” along with “The Zeppo.”
            Damn, it seems that didn’t work.
            The traditional getting of things out of the way: this is really Anya’s first episode. At the time, it seems like she’s more poised to become a recurring antagonist in the Ethan mold than anything else. You can’t help but feel for her and her weary misanthropy, though—after a hard day, all the 1120 year old wants is a beer, and she can’t even get that.
            The connection between “Doppelgangland” and “The Zeppo” is pretty obvious, as they’re both turns in the spotlight for the most significant non-Buffy characters, episodes that are truly about them rather than being about them in peril, like “Teacher’s Pet” or the lamentable “I Robot, You Jane.” And in Willow’s case, her episode is the first time that was the case ever, really—while Xander had “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered,” Oz was arguably the focus of “Phases.”
            Also, they’re both really, really funny. Also also, they’re both really, really good. Great, even. Like, top tier great. So great, I’d probably put both of them in my top 10, and could put either in my top 5 on any given day. They’re also both funny in a way well suited to their respective leads—absurd, rollicking slapstick farce for Xander, understated, awkward character farce for Willow. At this point, is there anything that says “Xander” more than the ill-timed decapitation of Parker, and is there anything more “Willow” than gawkily adjusting a leather corset disguise? They both even get pretty distinctive scores.
            But enough about Xander, he’s had his time. This is Willow’s time.
            Unlike…certain other BFFs of Buffy we could name, Willow is not reacting to any new paradigm or status quo in “Doppelgangland,” she’s just chafing against the issues that have chafed her since the beginning—passivity. It’s something Willow has been all along, and even dealt with before in episodes like “Halloween,” or at least she’s dealt with aspects of this facet. While this might seem redundant, for one, it’s not like such a core trait would go away after 44 minutes and a lesson, and for two, she’s never confronted this particular aspect so profoundly before, that aspect being the sense of powerlessness she feels when her accommodating nature is exploited. And third of all, there may be a reason Willow is reluctant to express herself fully that has yet to be revealed and, I’ve gathered, wasn’t even set as a long-term plan for the show at the time. That’s for later, though. What matters in the now is that Willow seems to wish she were the sort of person who doesn’t take no shit from no one, and the combined efforts of Cordelia’s Wish and Anya’s wish gives her the chance to see what that’s like.
            It worth noting, as the episode is largely about Willow’s inner turmoil, that this isn’t something that happens to her, but it’s something she did. Unintentionally, for certain, and without full knowledge of what’s going on, absolutely, and the retrieval spell is Anya’s idea in the first place. But it wasn’t Anya’s intention to bring the Vampire Willow into the main reality, and she wouldn’t be able to accidentally do so if Willow hadn’t agreed to try her spell (about which she was, shall we say, less than forthright). But when Anya asks if Willow would help her with the spell, she asks if it will be dangerous, and when the answer is no, she asks if they can pretend it is. Willow wants to be a bit reckless, and her eagerness to show off her spellcraft, along with the fact that Anya asks for help rather than demanding it feeds her choices.
            Even though the Vampire Willow already existed in continuity as a character, and one with a role independent of our Willow (by which I mean, “The Wish” is really a Cordy episode), it’s important not to think of her as something other than an embodiment of Willow’s inner conflict (as some sort of…doppelganger, if you will)—indeed, the fact that she appeared in an earlier episode tricks you into thinking otherwise. But that is what she is, she gives Willow a window into what could be if she wasn’t so giving, such a doormat. Vampire Willow would never be cowed by Snyder or Percy, and you’d never give her a nickname that gets confused with a dog or a geyser. She speaks her mind and takes no shit. And Willow hates her.
            The rather sad reveal of “Doppelgangland” is that Willow rather hates herself, too. When she assumes her alter ego’s ego, part of her cover is that she murdered the main Willow, which is herself, because she, herself, was too weak, too accommodating, and most tellingly “always letting people walk all over her” and accordingly “getting cranky with her friends for no reason,” discounting for one that as much as her letting people walk all over her is on her, that they choose to walk all over her is on them. But guilt and self-reproach while all others (including Buffy, who ran away and left her fighting evil ill-equipped all summer, and Xander, who’s been trodding all over her heart for who knows how long) are given an infinite benefit of the doubt is a prime Willow issues.
            Also, Jesus H. Christ, where did Willow find that fucking sweater? I mean, it’s supposed to be awful, but still, that deserves a medal.
            Like “The Wish,” this episode also provides a sort of perverse “What If” thrill when it shows the crew in mourning over the (usually not) dead Willow. There’s nothing particularly surprising or enlightening here about the survivors’ despair, it’s just interesting to see how, say, Buffy gets paralyzed by numbness, or how Xander readily admits Willow is better than he, while Giles can’t help but express that Xander has underestimated just how so that is.
            And, of course, we’d be remiss not to consider the Vampire Willow. Somehow, it seems mete that, as the embodiment of Willow unrestrained, she does two very significant things, beyond the hostage taking at the Bronze and taking hilarious umbrage at being tranqed (I do laugh out loud every time I watch her whine “Bitch!”)—she intercepts an assassination attempt by the Mayor (which Faith seems disquieted by, but does nothing to stop), and she had to endure a lecture by Cordelia, who, it should be noted, is the second only to Oz in suffering as a result of letting her id fly.
            At its heart, though, “Doppelgangland” is another chance for everyone to be funny. Xander hopes shaking a cross will make it work. Buffy’s all dazed and clingy when she realizes Willow is alive. Giles rushes in for a surprise hug. Oz knows of bands that know in upwards of 6 chords (fruity jazz bands, his singer says). Anya just wants a frickin beer! Even Angel gets in on the action. As Willow expresses confusion that her vampire self is so evil and skanky and kinda gay, Buffy says that the vampire self has nothing to do with the mortal self. “Actually,” Angel begins. “…That’s a good point.” That Angel, he may just be right. That is a good point.

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