Revisiting Buffy season 7 – episode 5

Buffy season 7 continues to get darker and darker, and Sarah continues to watch it and get more and more depressed...

Buffy Selfless

Previously on Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Anya dated a troll, Willow came home, Spike was insane in the basement, and Anya was conflicted over being a vengeance demon all over again.

Selfless was written by Drew Goddard, who also wrote the best horror movie of 2008 in the perfect form of Cloverfield, so I’m disappointed that I didn’t like it more than I did. The more I watch, the more I’m reminded of why I really didn’t like season 7 the first time around. Weirdly, though, I don’t think it’s necessarily bad, it’s just that I don’t enjoy the direction everything is intentionally moving in. Hmm. I don’t know.

The episode opens with Dawn giving Willow some pretty terrible advice on going back to college – basically, that she should act in exactly the same way as everyone else, wear exactly the same clothes as everyone else, and pretend to understand everything everyone else says. Er, in a way, I could understand someone giving season 1 or season 2 Willow that advice – though even then she was awesome with her quirky little sweater-and-coloured-tights outfits – but in season 7? This is the girl with the power to end the world if she wants to. I’m not sure how much advice she needs from a high school kid.

While Dawn chatters, Buffy and Xander move boxes (I’m not clear on what they’re doing; is this Willow’s new college digs or something?) and talk about Anya. Xander over-enthusiastically talks about how great it is to be single, which would be more convincing if he hadn’t already bemoaned his single status in a previous episode, and expresses worry over Anya’s mental state. He seems sure she’ll somehow be okay, though, which is a painfully obvious lead in to one of Buffy’s oh-so-beloved end of scene gags – we cut to a room full of corpses, and a blood spattered Anya looking bewildered in the middle of all of it. Cut to credits!

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Somehow, the music played over the credits is seeming less and less appropriate as time goes on. It’s too upbeat and rocky, and all of these episodes are sad and full of pain. Meh.

After the credits, everything’s gone scratchy and sepia-tinted: we’re in Sjornjost, and the year is 880. Sjornjost doesn’t seem to be a real place, and I can’t identify the language they’re all speaking, but basically this is Anya’s home life before she was Anyanka. Back then, she was called Aud (pronounced “odd”, apparently) and she was the complete opposite of her present day self: generous, not interested in money, and she loved bunnies. It’s a little too self-referential, this scene, and it’s also slightly misguided: Aud is characterised as tactless, speaking her mind and annoying people all the time, never able to fit in; pretty much like the modern day Anya. Except, aren’t we supposed to believe that Anya is the way she is now because she’s spent centuries being a vengeance demon, and thus has forgotten all human niceties? It doesn’t work so well if she was like that to begin with, somehow.

Back in the present day, Anya is washing the blood off her hands. Surely she doesn’t usually get quite that involved? Eww.

Meanwhile, Spike explains to Buffy that he’s been seeing visions, much like Drusilla used to, and she assures him that everything will be okay and she’ll help him in whatever way he needs… only then, another Buffy walks in, and tersely tells him he needs to move out of the basement, because it’s doing bad things to his head. Uh oh.

And over at the Sunnydale University, Willow’s being all over eager with her professor when she runs into Anya, who’s just leaving a frat house. Anya lies that she has a new boyfriend now and he lives on campus, but Willow spots the blood on her arm and goes to investigate. Inside the frat house is the carnage we saw earlier, along with a whimpering girl in a closet who explains to Willow that the boys ritually humiliated her, and she wished that they’d feel what it was like to have their hearts ripped out. A CGI monster appears on the wall behind Willow, and she creates a CGI forcefield to keep it at bay, going all black-eyed and nasty into the bargain. Double uh oh.

Back in 880, Anya’s boyfriend Olaf has been transformed into a troll, and the subtitles are trying way too hard to be funny and landing up somewhere around “really, really irritating.” The graininess disappears, and the language changes to English, as we see Aud talking to D’Hoffryn. Triple uh oh! Seems this is how Anya originally became a vengeance demon: she turned her boyfriend into a troll for cheating on her and D’Hoffryn popped up to whisk her away into a life of visiting vengeance upon all men. Did we know this before this episode, or not? I kind of feel like we did, but it’s been so long I can’t remember.

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Back in Sunnydale again, Buffy’s balancing a cup of pencils on her head and not doing any work when Willow calls to tell her about the CGI monster. Buffy and Xander go demon-hunting, and there’s a nice Spider-Man gag, while Halfrek and Anya’s cosy little vengeance demon tea-party is interrupted by an angry Willow, who tells her she has to stop killing people, and also that she wants to help. Anya blows her off, and Willow explains everything to Buffy and Xander. Cue one of those really annoying scenes in which characters argue over why someone didn’t tell them something earlier, when the obvious answer is “because she didn’t know any of this earlier, and she’s telling you now, you idiot.”

We cut to Halfrek and Anyanka in 1905, sitting at a banquet table surrounded by corpses and a random man on fire, chatting about how great vengeance is while Russia burns. Cute.

Annnnnd back in Sunnydale once again, Buffy and Xander argue over what’s going to happen – Buffy says she’ll have to kill Anya, since she’s turned into a demon again and is killing people, while Xander maintains that since she didn’t kill Spike, she doesn’t have the right to do that, and that there must be another way. Buffy plays the I-killed-Angel card, with a little more melodrama than I’d have expected all this time later, and the fact that Xander lied to her about what Willow’s message was, all those years ago (he was supposed to tell her that Angel’s soul could be restored, but he actually told Buffy she said “kick hiss ass”) is brought up. Wow, that’s been nearly five years and no-one’s mentioned that yet? That’s, like, continuity porn or something. The argument ends badly – Xander stalks out and Buffy follows soon afterwards with a sword.

Xander finds Anya at the frat house first, and tries to talk to her, but Buffy’s not far behind, and Anya demons out to fight her. Eventually, Buffy manages to stick the sword through her, which, for some unknown reason, triggers a flashback to Sunnydale, 2001. It’s a missing scene from the musical episode Once More With Feeling, in which Anya sings about how she’s never really had an identity before, but now she’s going to be Mrs Xander Harris, and that’s fantastic.

Right, I’ve just about stopped rolling my eyes now, I think. Seriously, the highest point in Anya’s life was when she planned to give up her totally lame made-up maiden name to become Xander’s bride? Seriously? I really think this episode did bad things to Anya’s character that she didn’t deserve.

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Back in the frat house, Anya pulls the sword out, because it’s totally harder to kill a vengeance demon than that. Right, don’t you have to smash their power centre or something? Only she doesn’t seem to have one any more. Hmm. Luckily, before anyone stomps over The Wish any more, D’Hoffryn arrives, and Anya asks him to undo her massacre. (Wouldn’t life be so much simpler if we all had a handy dandy CTRL-Z like D’Hoffryn hanging about?) He tells her it’s not that easy (doh!) as undoing vengeance requires the sacrifice of the life and soul of a vengeance demon. Life AND soul seems like a pretty hard bargain, but Anya says she’s willing. I wish I couldn’t remember what happens next, because I really liked this scene the first time I saw it – instead of killing Anya, D’Hoffryn summons Halfrek and burns her alive from the inside. With CGI fire, but still. He explains that you should never go for the kill when you can go for the pain, but that still seems a tiny bit illogical in retrospect. He chucks out a “from beneath you, it devours” before disappearing, and Xander and Anya have a cute-yet-heartbreaking moment where it’s obvious they still love each other, but it’s all too painful, and they walk away as the horribly inappropriate credits music plays.

Eeeesh. This season really is heavy. Buffy has become completely unlikeable – her monologue where she explains that, in the end, the Slayer is alone and “I am the law” makes her completely impossible to sympathise with unless you, too, are a budding dictator – and everyone else is so damaged it’s hard to see how anything is ever going to be okay, ever again. Considering this is the last season, it’s all bound to be intentional, but it’s also really hard to watch, considering I’d previously given around six years of my life to obsessively watching this show. Wahhh.