Friday, September 4, 2015

BtVS: The Whirlwind: Season 4, "This Year's Girl" and "Who Are You?"

Covering “This Year’s Girl” and “Who Are You?,” in which unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless.

The title “Who Are You?” is possibly the laziest the show would ever employ. Though the credit “and Eliza Dushku as Buffy” is pretty fun.
            As I said back in the day, Wilkins only thinks he has fatherly love for Faith. In truth, he doesn’t. You can see that in his taped message to Faith. By his own admission, he has many contacts and is owed many favors. Even long dead, he is still a man of power and means, able to grant aid. Does he, then, provide her with some magical doo-dad that will instantly teleport her to Thailand, or render her invisible to 5-0, or create a psychic field about her that makes everyone think she’s nice? Of course not. He gives her a body-swapping device. Technically, this could keep her safe, but in doing so, she can’t be Faith any more. But his tape also hits all the familiar beats—she’s all alone, there is no hope, she can only count on him, so on—and he ends exhorting her to violence and death. His last message is full of manipulation, and his last act is more abuse.
            Said device plants the seed of her eventual turn away from darkness, but Wilkins never intended that. His expectations were clear—he wanted his girl Faith to be his instrument of revenge, and probably die in the process.
            There was more behind the choice to put Faith in a coma at the end of season 3 than just the desire to put an antagonistic force in the show’s back pocket for later use, because, of course, as a Slayer, if she dies, another is chosen. In effect, killing off Faith demands a character to be created to replace her—not necessarily as a dangerous wild card, or as Buffy’s nemesis, but at least as the next Slayer. That’d be no mean feat, because Faith is a pretty great character. If a great idea had come along, no doubt they would have used it, but honestly, Faith is just about the most perfect occupant in the post. What I wonder, though, is why the Council doesn’t try. After all, if she dies, a new Slayer is chosen (probably), and while there’s no guarantee the new girl will be one they’ve already been training like Kendra, well, it will be someone. But while the black ops team they dispatch to deal with her are pretty trigger happy, but their orders are to bring her back to London for a trial, and their agent spent 8 months monitoring her comatose body (presumably that agent called to warn Buffy, too, though that isn’t a certainty). Of all the episodes that never were, and especially as the show gets more experimental, an episode from the point of view of Travers and the Council is the one I want the most.
            Faith is, by necessity, far less opaque now, though she still tries to mask herself in glibness. Her nightmares are of a relentless, Terminator-esque Buffy against whom she is powerless and can only flee like a frightened child, though she describes them flippantly to Buffy as being “stabbed by a self-righteous blond chick.” She goes on to add that this tawny and judgmental specter keeps eviscerating her for the sake of a true love which Buffy (the self-righteous blond chick is Buffy) seems to have abandoned. Buffy is, as you might expect, righteously pissed at this characterization, but Faith’s grievance here is pretty legit—it was, after all, for Angel’s sake and the sake of true love and all that jazz that Faith got ganked, fell off a roof, and was in a coma for eight months. Lots of drama just for Buffy to end up with Riley, at least as far as Faith is concerned. But this, also as far as Faith is concerned, is typical of Buffy the ingrate, who takes for granted the things Faith would love to have, up to and including her own mother.
            The body-swapper allows Faith to not only see things from a different perspective, but to see herself from one, too. Faith never really faced the final exam on her moral alignment—she was unconscious for the Ascension, so she didn’t see what the Mayor became, and didn’t have to decide, with finality, if she would go along with it or not. Certainly, she was doing bad, and when she wakes up and starts wrecking Buffy’s life while she waits for her chance to abscond with her body, she’s still bad, but she hasn’t really embraced evil. Tellingly, she only knocks the girl in the hospital unconscious (not great, sure, but at least the girl is still alive), but kills the demon, so at least her instincts are still pretty sound. Some deep-down goodness (which both Buffy and Wes, in the crossover episodes, hope and believe she possesses), however, isn’t enough to actually be not bad for someone as confused and angry as Faith. She doesn’t help herself any by really infuriating the people who still have some…confidence in her.
            No, interestingly, what begins Faith righting her course isn’t fundamental goodness, but rather the experience of being seen and treated as Buffy—as a leader, a protector, someone to be actually intimate with, and someone who is expected to do good, unlike Faith, who people, including herself, only expect to do bad. “Who Are You?” ends with the very unsubtle symbolism of Faith in Buffy beating her own face, with Buffy behind it, and calling them garbage, as well a final, unironic declaration “It’s wrong,” a statement that got less and less mocking each time she made it during the episode, but before that there are her assertions that Faith deserves whatever punishments she has in store, or, most curiously her assurance to Willow that she wouldn’t let Faith hurt her. This comes right after she imagines herself stabbing Willow (in a fashion not entirely unlike how she herself got stabbed, and also, incidentally, no doubt what Wilkins intended for her to do), which comes right after Willow saying she’d like to give Faith what-for, by gum. It’s been a while, but it’s important to remember that when Faith first came to town, she really liked everyone (in Angel’s “Five by Five,” she even says she’s have been better under Giles’ tutelage), and everyone liked her edgy, free-spirited fun so much that it made Buffy feel inadequate (admittedly, this isn’t a huge feat). They may not have gotten close enough to be considered real friends, but it still has to sting a bit to hear these people she liked say she’s a maniac while enumerating all the havoc she’s wreaked. Shockingly, it’s Forrest who may have the most significant confrontation, when Faith takes his cutesy use of “killer” quite seriously. All of this conspires to drive Faith to, in the end, stand against something because it’s wrong.
            These episodes lead directly to the Angel episodes “Five by Five” and “Sanctuary,” which are also quite good and rich, and really are the first crossover episodes that truly warranted a crossover to complete them, as Angel has some unique insight into being abandoned and discarded, and Faith has an additional grudge with Wesley, but I’ve gone on for a bit here. So I’ll just say, “Five by Five” continues Faith being beholden to others expectations of her, as Wolfram and Hart expect her to be bad, so she is, but in “Sanctuary,” Angel mostly, but also Wes and even Buffy show they either believe in her somehow, or at least don’t want her thrown to the wolves, and in the end she truly does the true right thing, and turns herself in to the police.
            I really like Faith, if you haven’t noticed.

            Costuming Alert!: I admit, I’m not terribly confident in my criticisms of most of these outfits. Maybe that bizarre tea cozy Willow wears is super cool? But I’m more than happy to rip into Xander, because I dressed like Xander a good two years after I should have stopped. But thank Christ thank Christ I never did this to myself:

            Look closely, and you’ll note the shirt is untucked. An orange, short-sleeved shirt sticking out from under his ungodly sweater vest, with olive pants? Christ, dude. Christ.
            Also, shout out to Willow’s hat. It’s not a clown hat at all.

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