Thursday, June 30, 2011

Buffy Blog: "Doppelgangland"

In my discussion of “Bad Girls”/”Consequences” I wrote about how the Slayers Buffy, Kendra, and Faith were doubles or doppelgangers of each other. In the Joss Whedon penned and directed “Doppelgangland”, a sort of sequel to “The Wish”, we learn that the alternative Scoobies we viewers met in “The Wish” are less alternative versions of Willow, Xander, Buffy, and Giles than doubles of Willow, Xander, Buffy, and Giles. So that Faith like loner cynicism of AltBuffy may be more than simply a product of the alternative universe of “The Wish”. She may be, as “Bad Girls”/”Consequences” seems to show, a part, a generally submerged part of Buffy, herself. Whither Buffy?

“Doppelgangland” is largely a Willow tale just as “The Zeppo” was primarily a Xander tale. In a sense both “Doppelgangland” and “The Zeppo” are continuations of season one’s“Nightmares”, season two’s “Halloween”, and season three’s “The Wish” where the inner fears of our Scoobies, be it Buffy’s fear of becoming a vampire, Giles’s fear that he will get his Slayer killed, Willow’s fear of what others think about her, her fear that she is boring, and Xander’s fear of clowns and fascists, and character traits and character development, be it Willow becoming more, though not fully, comfortable with herself, Xander becoming more heroic and less confused about his manhood, or Buffy becoming more comfortable with her Slayerness. The difference between “Nightmare”, “Halloween”, and “The Wish” and “The Zeppo” and “Doppelgangland” is that “The Zeppo” and “Doppelgangland” focus more on specific characters, Xander and Willow, and hence the character development of Xander and Willow.

The on the surface narrative of “Doppelgangland” centres around Anya’s attempt—yes Anya is back and her frustration with being a high school student without power is superbly played by Emma Caulfield and wittily written by Whedon—to get her power back first by appealing to D’Hoffryn (this is the first time we meet this master of vengeance demons), who refuses her pleas, then by getting Willow to help her cast a spell that will return her to the moment she lost her power. This being Buffy the spell Anya and Willow cast goes wrong, thanks, in part at least, to Willow putting an end to the spell because of the visions of the dark world, the world of “The Wish”, Anya wants to return to (an ironical act on Willow’s part as it turns out and we will see). What the spell ends up doing, once Anya breaks the plate with the representation of her necklace, her power source on it, on it is to bring the alternative Willow, Vampire Willow, VampWill from “The Wish” into the Sunnydale world most of us viewers know and love.

“Doppelgangland” is more than simply the Willow/VampWill tale, however. The Scoobies are still unaware that Faith is working with the mayor and is now playing the role of fifth columnist in the Scooby gang. While being rehabilitated and trained by Wesley Faith learns that Willow, on Giles’s orders, is trying to get past the firewalls the mayor has put in place to protect his electronic records to learn what the mayor is up to. Faith tells the mayor this little Scooby secret leading the mayor to arrange for the execution of Willow. Faith also gets a new apartment from the mayor suggesting that Mayor Wilkins, at least on some level, has some affection for his new Slayer. Cordelia is still angry at Willow for her role in the Xander/Willow fling and gets to express it to who she thinks is Willow accidentally locked in the cage in the Sunnydale High Library. Of course, the Willow she takes out her sense of betrayal out on (there’s that betrayal again) is not Willow but VampWillow. When Cordy lets VampWill out of her cage AltWillow tries to kill Cordy this time without Alt Xander and this time without success thanks to a semi-bumbling Wesley who comes to Cordy’s rescue with cross in one hand and holy water in the other. Whither Cordy? Whither Wesley? Is there a little Cordy/Wesley relationship in the offing?

While these other character tales are prominent in “Doppelgangland” the real focus of the episode, as I noted, is on Willow. Willow is once again feeling the sting of being “reliable” “Old Faithful”, as Buffy and Xander call her, and the sting of being the dormat of Principal Snyder who has not ordered ordered her to tutor star Sunnydale High School basketball player Percy West in history yet again (remember that similar tale in season two’s “Go Fish”?). Percy expects less tutoring from Willow and more of the you do my schoolwork.

It is just at this inopportune or opportune moment that VampWill, thanks to Anya’s and Willow’s mucked up spell, finds herself in the “normal” Sunndale universe. VampWill actually helps Willow out of several jams. She beats up the vampires sent to kill her by Mayor Wilkins making them her minions instead. She slams Percy down on a pool table at the Bronze resulting in, by the end of the episode, Percy actually doing his homework including papers on the two President Roosevelt’s since he did not know which President Roosevelt he was supposed to write on. Actually he didn’t even know there were two President Roosevelt’s. He even gives teacher Willow, in a comically touching moment, an apple.

Now back to the heart of the Willow arc in “Doppelgangland”. Willow and VampWillow despite Buffy’s claim that “… a vampire’s personality has nothing to do with the person it was”, are, as Angel almost admits, similar in personality. Both are “bored” by life. “The world’s no fun” both agree. Both have the teaching bug. VampWillow asks if anyone has any “questions” or “comments” in that teacherly way when she and her gang take over the Bronze. Willow is tutoring Percy. Both are dismissive (eye rolls and simultaneous pffts) of Anya’s claim that everyone, when she gets her power back, will “all grovel before me”. Both may be a little bit “gay”: VampWillow runs her tongue up Sandy’s (the human she kills and, as we will see turns) and Willow’s neck. And both are a little bit “skanky”: Just look at VampWill’s outfit; remember Willow’s come as you aren’t kit in “Halloween”? Whither Willow?

Mise-en-scene, as is almost always the case in Buffy, tells us something about the narrative of the episode and about the characters themselves. Clothing. “Doppelgangland” counterpoints the almost childish and largely asexual clothing, including that fluffy pink sweater, of nerdy “reliable” Willow with with the black leather in your face sexiness of Alt-Willow (“Gosh, look at those”, says Willow masquerading as Alt Willow, in reference to her now very noticeable breasts; Xander being Xander does try to look at “those”).

“Doppelgangland” with its playfulness, its comedy, its wit, its drama, its tragedy, its fascinating minor characters, its memory, its superb ensemble acting, its superb writing, its humanistic and existentialist heart represents in microcosm everything I love about Buffy. What a great episode. What a great television show.

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