Xander and Anya’s wedding is a letdown
”Hell’s Bells” — in which Xander and Anya’s wedding day finally arrived — is the kind of episode you would think ”Buffy the Vampire Slayer” could hit out of the ballpark. Weddings are marked by comedy and drama — elements ”Buffy” knows how to blend to perfection. Better yet, this is no ordinary marriage, but the union between a mere mortal and a former vengeance demon. Indeed, ”Bell’s” best moments were in juxtaposing Xander and Anya’s contrasting if equally loony lineage. A joke that was mined extensively may have been obvious but it was still the source of much funny: In the end, it was Xander’s monstrously dysfunctional family — an alcoholic, abusive father; a bitterly trapped mother; a lonely, esteem-challenged aunt — that provided the greatest wedding day horrors.
The characterization of the Harris clan was effectively unsettling and powerfully set up the motivation for Xander to call off the wedding. His parents’ example of a marriage that’s rotted into something thoroughly toxic taps his own fears about his relationship with Anya. As shallow as Xander can be, he’s been self-aware enough to recognize in the past that his snippy, bantering rapport with Anya may not be conducive to long-term harmony. Moreover, Xander harbors a deep insecurity over his own destiny as a man. Does he have the goods to provide for his family? Does he have the potential to end up like his father? Until he can sort these questions out, he realizes he has no business getting married.
This is all great dramatic stuff. And yet, ”Bell’s” didn’t ring true. For starters, the marriage of Xander and Anya — what a milestone event in the ongoing ”Buffy” narrative! — demanded and deserved 100 percent of the genius that fuels this show. Instead, it got about 60 percent — and I’m being generous. In the end, ”Bell’s” wasn’t as funny, dramatic, clever and imaginative as it should have been.
”Bell’s” also suffered from this season’s diversion from the show’s winning formula. In choosing to focus more on the mundane and less on the fantastic, to be more literal where it has always been more figurative, ”Buffy” seems out of whack. Worse still, it’s all kinda boring. The show has always been marked by drawn-out storylines, yet the writers used to come up with something to keep it interesting. Not so this year. The Xander/Anya marriage, the Buffy/Spike romance, Willow’s addiction — the audience has been at least one step ahead of these storylines all year.
The good news may be that the writers have finally caught up with us. From the start, we’ve known Buffy was going to ditch Spike, that Willow would end up in rehab, and Xander and Anya would be undone by cold feet. At last, this season has brought us to a place where we could start to be surprised again. It’s just a shame that it took this long.