Anya's identity quest gives the season a lift. Not only that, says Rachel Lovinger, but the major characters hold their own in a story that's both funny and dramatic
Emma Caulfield, Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Credit: Emma Caulfield: UPN 2001

Anya’s identity quest gives the season a lift

Now we’re talking. With this week’s episode of ”Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” the season finally hit its stride. This time, the credit goes to Anya, a character who usually provides comic relief (or some key piece of demon lore). In ”Selfless” Anya gets the back-story treatment that, two seasons ago, helped transform Spike from a recurring character with little purpose to a central figure in Buffy’s ongoing personal and worldly challenges. Now that Anya’s character has become three-dimensional, she too could play a more interesting role in future storylines.

It’s been awhile since ”Buffy” had such a perfect balance of drama, humor, and action. Inter-cutting scenes of Anya’s pre-demon life with current-day scenes of her post-vengeance numbness is a brilliant touch. Who would have guessed that she used to breed bunnies (creatures that she now fears)? Or that she annoyed her cohorts with her tendency to be overly literal about everything long before she became a vengeance demon? Or that her transformation was her destiny?

Instead of falling into the background during Anya’s big moment, the other major players hold their own. Buffy’s ”There’s only me. I AM the law” speech shows a determination that wasn’t as evident last week (or is she overcompensating? Hmmm). Meanwhile, Xander comes across as emotional, human, and very funny. One highlight: While arguing for Anya’s life, he makes the point that, ”This isn’t new ground for us. When our friends go all crazy and start killing people, we help them!”

This conflict can’t be easy for Willow to watch. Aside from having to choose sides in an argument of life and death between her two closest friends — and having to decide if one of her allies needs to be destroyed — Willow has to face the fact that SHE was most recently the friend who went crazy and started killing people. But she doesn’t flounder; though she still seems to lack some control over her powers, she has strength and focus and does what she can to help.

Even Spike, still lurking in the shadows of his mind and the high school basement, shows signs of his eventual re-emergence. True, he has an entire conversation with an imaginary Buffy, but at least he makes sense in his hallucination. The good news is that both the imaginary Buffy and the real Buffy seem to want to help him (though the two Buffys have a somewhat different bedside manner). It’s a small hint that it won’t be long before Spike pulls himself together.

The main event in ”Selfless,” of course, is Anya’s attempt at self-sacrifice in order to undo the vengeful slaughter that leads Buffy to retaliate. But the episode’s title also refers to Anya’s admission that she really doesn’t know who she is. As she says to Xander, after being relieved of her vengeance demon status, ”My whole life I’ve just clung to whatever came along.” Ultimately, Anya seems to want some time alone, which could be a good thing since it’s not clear that the Scooby Gang is ready to welcome her back into their ranks. But that doesn’t stop me from hoping Anya will continue her search for identity in future episodes.

What did you think of the show?

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