Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Buffy Blog: "The Replacement"

Last week’s “Real Me” was a Dawn centred episode. If Dawn had been around for “Nightmares”, “Halloween”, “Fear Itself”, and “Restless”, “Real Me” would have to be seen as yet another key moment in Dawn’s journey toward growing up and conquering her inner "demons" in the same way that “The Replacement”, a Xander centric episode, an episode that, like “Nightmares”, “Halloween”, “The Zeppo”, “Fear Itself”, and “Restless”, takes us inside the mind of a Xander who is having trouble in his journey toward adulthood particularly after high school.

Xander is still living in the dark and dank basement in his parent’s home that he kept returning to against his will in “Restless”. Over the course of season four Xander has moved from one job to another, from bartender, to construction worker, to pizza delivery guy, to ice cream truck driver and salesman, and back again, at the beginning of season five, to construction worker. Throughout season four Xander was unsure whether he is taken seriously by the other Scoobies or contributes much to the Scooby fight against evil in their midst. He can’t even afford to rent the wonderful “above-terranean” art deco apartment he, Anya, Buffy, Riley, and Willow go to look at because the construction job he has had for three months is ending to Anya’s great displeasure.

“The Replacement”, like so many other character centred episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, takes the inner emotional turmoil in our Scoobies minds and gives it flesh in fantasy narrative form. On the story level “The Replacement” is about this week’s monster of the week, Toth, the only survivor of the Tothric Clan who is out to, as he says, kill the Slayer. It is Toth, who, after the Scoobies find him in the city dump after he attack Giles in the Magic Box. “So you bought the magic shop and you were attacked before it even opened. Who's up for a swingin' chorus of the "We Told You So" symphony?, wisecracks Xander. During the battle between the Scoobies and Toth, Toth shoots a blast of magic force from his rod at the Buffster hoping to kill but Xander, the Xander without superpowers, pushes Buffy out of the way saving her once again who is hit by the force of the blast instead. With Toth gone from the scene of the crime the Scoobies rally around Xander to see if he is all right. He says he is and off the Scoobies go.

The camera, however, doesn’t follow the Scoobies to wherever they are going. Instead it remains in the dump, as do we viewers. The kino eye soon takes us forward across piles of garbage to find half hidden among the garbage another Xander, another Xander?, lying unconscious. Since the camera stays in the dump and moves in on an unconscious Xander writer Jane Espenson and director James Contner force us viewers to identity with the unconscious Xander lying amidst the detritus of Sunnydale. When he wakes from unconsciousness the camera and we follow him as he returns “home” to his basement.

For most of the episode we believe that this Xander, the Xander of the garbage, this clumsy Xander who slips as he leaves the city dump, who can’t get in his apartment when he gets there, who hurts his foot kicking the door when he can’t get in his apartment, who trips and falls when he sees another Xander living his life in his place, is the real Xander. When our Xander follows the other Xander to work we think, as does our Xander, that the other Xander has managed to get a full-time job heading the interior carpentry crew of the construction company he works for thanks to the hypnotism he is doing with a shiny object he occasionally takes out of his pocket. When our Xander follows the Xander-Double, as the script calls the other Xander, to the apartment he looked at earlier we believe, like our Xander, that he’s too clean to be the real Xander. When our Xander attacks Xander-Double in the hallway outside the apartment we believe that Xander-Double is too violent to be our Xander. When Xander-Double goes to Giles’s apartment to tell Buffy, Riley, and Giles that someone has stole his face and needs to be killed we believe, like our Xander who peers through the window at the surreal scene within, that Xander-Double has managed to hypnotise them as well. And when Xander goes to Willow’s and Buffy’s dorm room to tell Willow that he believed at one time that Willow set fire to a home next to his when he didn’t get the toy fire truck he wanted for his seventh birthday and that he does the Snoopy dance—and he does do the Snoopy Dance for Willow—every Christmas after he and Will watch Charlie Brown, we believe him. We may not believe our Xander when he says that Xander-Double is an evil robot but we do believe Willow when she hypothesizes that it is Toth in disguise and part of his plan to kill the Slayer.

Buffy, when Xander-Double comes to her for help, comes to the same conclusion. It is Toth. Almost simultaneously—something that should tell those of us who are paying attention something—our Xander and Xander-Double realize that Anya may be in danger. Xander-Double, who called Anya after he took the apartment leaving a message for her to meet him at the apartment when she refuses to pick up the phone, heads off to his new digs. Meanwhile our Xander heads over to Anya’s apartment—the first time we see it—to protect her from the demon with the Xander face. When he gets there she’s gone. He hears the phone message, searches for Anya’s gun—you have a gun Riley asks Anya later—and heads over to the apartment as well.

The showdown at the not so wild art deco apartment begins. Anya is confused by the two Xanders but after some hesitancy our ex-vengeance demon gone capitalist success mad chooses Xander-Double as her real Xander. While the Xander on Xander showdown is going on, a researching Giles comes to a different conclusion than Buffy and a Willow who comes walking through a front door Giles was sure this time he locked—the saga of Giles’s front door continues—one that requires two oh my lords to get Buffy’s, Riley’s, and Willow’s attention. I love it when characters in the Buffyverse metacomment on the narrative of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. But back to Giles’s conclusion. Both Xanders, he says, are the real Xander.

With Buffy and Riley off in Giles sexy new BMW to get to Xander before one of the Xanders kills the other simultaneously, as Giles says, killing himself, our Xander pulls Anya’s gun on Xander-Double. Buffy and Riley arrive just in the nick of time to stop Xander from killing himself but just as they break up the Xander on Xander battle Toth appears and tries to kill the Buffster. The plans of demons and vampires rarely work out in Buffy, however. Buffy kills Toth, Buffy and Riley take the Xanders back to Giles’s, the two Xanders have a bad influence on themselves, and Willow reunites the two Xanders through a very easy magic spell.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, as I note in my discussion of doppelgangers in Buffy in my Reading Buffy Synoptically blog on this site, is full of doubles. We have seen doubles of Buffy, including Cordelia, Faith, Kendra, and now Dawn (the Buffy-Dawn snarky sisters double act is giving Joyce headaches), doubles of Giles, including Ethan Rayne and Ripper, doubles of Willow, Vamp Willow from the alternative universe of “The Wish” and “Doppelgangland”, a double Willow references when Xander wonders how she will handle it when she has an evil double, I handled it fine she says as Xander heads off to Anya’s, and doubles of Xander, the Vamp Xander of “The Wish” and “Doppelgangland”. We have even seen the two Xanders of “The Replacement” before, we have seen the confident and witty Xander since the beginning of the show and we have seen the unconfident loser Xander since the beginning of the show and especially in that other Xander centric episode “The Zeppo”. We have also seen nerd Xander before but now we know that he has seen the first season "The Enemy Within" episode of the original Star Trek (6 October 1966), an episode, not surprisingly, with a double in it, and has a collection of Babylon 5 commemorative plates.

The Chorus. What Buffy is so good at and has been so good at since it began is its ability to mix and match tone, to mix and match comedy, melodrama, drama, and tragedy. There is a lot of humour in “The Replacement” from Anya wanting to have sex with both of the Xanders to clumsy Xander doing the Snoopy Dance for Willow while soaked from the rain in her dorm room. But while there is a lot of comedy in “The Replacement” there is also some of that bittersweetness that occasionally rises out of the humour of Buffy. To wit: Our Xander at one point wants to let what he thinks is a demon take his life because he wasn’t really do anything with it and the demon is living it so much better than he is. And then there is that remarkable and incredible scene on which “The Replacement” ends. Riley, Buffy, and even Anya, with some prodding from a newly more confident Xandman, are helping Xander finally move out of his dismal parent’s basement. Things are, sorry for the pun, loking up for the Xandman. As Xander and Riley discuss love and relationships Riley, from out of the blue, tells Xander that while Buffy is the love of his life that burns through him and makes him feel at peace he knows that our Slayer doesn’t feel the same way about him, that Buffy doesn’t love him. What an emotional kick to the gut. What a mirror of the real emotional horror and terror at the heart of the growing up life. What a bad omen for the Buffy and Riley relationship. Great episode.

And hey, didn’t you love it when Riley mentioned Buffy’s bad ice movie obsession? Michelle Tractenberg would go on to star in one of these in 2005, Ice Princess. By the way, Nicholas Brendon’s identical twin brother, Kelly Donovan, played Xanders in scenes that required the two Xanders but didn’t require dialogue.

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