Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Season 7


Beneath You

Same Time, Same Place





The Metaphysics of "Lessons"

Warning: this page contains info about episodes up through season 7 BtVS/season 2 AtS. If you're in danger of being spoiled, proceed with caution.

Manifest spirits are another form that dead people can take in the Buffyverse. Like a ghost, a manifest spirit is the surviving personality of the dead person trapped in an emotionally stunted state. Unlike ghosts, however, manifest spirits take physical form as rotting dead bodies. Manifest spirits are raised from the grave using a talisman--a small bone fastened to twigs and feathers with string. It is unclear who raised these manifest spirits, but they are ex-students and employees of Sunnydale High, intent on scaring the Slayer away from the Hellmouth. But their presence only makes Buffy more determined to stick around. And that might be exactly what Buffy's new adversary wants.

Thwarting the manifest spirits: Based on long experience, Buffy hypothesizes that destroying the talisman will send the manifest spirits back where they came from. She calls Xander on her cell phone and sends him to find the talisman. In the girl's restroom, Xander is attacked by one of the spirits. He doesn't let that stop him though. He snaps the talisman in half and the spirits disappear.

The Hellmouth: Someone, either through ignorance or on purpose, has commissioned the construction of a new Sunnydale High on the very ground it once stood upon--the Hellmouth. And, as Xander points out, this gateway to hell is right below the principal's office. A third of the way around the planet, Willow senses the malevolent energy of the Hellmouth and collapses where she stands. "It's going to open," she tells Giles. "It's going to swallow us all."

Buffy finds Spike living in the basement of Sunnydale High, and he is clearly not himself. He mumbles incoherently, laughs inappropriately, and he has mutilated his own chest--and it wasn't to rip out his unbeating heart. Spike is being tormented by the presence of his soul, by the evil deeds of the demon and the memories of the human William.

More on the morality and metaphysics of souls.

Evil and Good in "Lessons"

The robed assassins: Someone is killing teenaged girls throughout the world. In Istanbul, Turkey, a girl desperately tries to escape several robed men, but they catch her and stab her to death with a curved knife.

The Shape-shifting Evil: In the basement of Sunnydale High, Spike is taunted by a presence that takes the form, successively, of the many evils that have plagued Sunnydale since Buffy's arrival--Warren, Glory, Adam, Mayor Wilkins, Spike's sire Drusilla, and The Master. This entity has plans for both Buffy and Spike. It is also the "something older than the Old Ones" that the vengeance demon Halfrek says "is rising", and quite possibly also the danger from the Hellmouth that Willow senses.

Unanswered question: What does Robin Wood, the new principal, know about any of this? Is he a collusive insider? Or will he get eaten? Or both? The mystery of Principal Wood revealed.

Buffy and Dawn

"The stake is not the power."

Buffy proves she has the goods to fight the shape-shifting evil when she trains Dawn in self-defense. Buffy wants to empower her sister so that Dawn can take care of herself. But "empowering" her doesn't mean just teaching her how to fight. It also means teaching her about the realities of her situation. Being on the side of Good doesn't guarantee that you will vanquish Evil. Most of the time, the winner is whomever has more power. Dawn is for all intents and purposes an ordinary teen-aged girl. She can employ various fighting techniques and weapons, and might even vanquish vampires and other adversaries, but in the end, these adversaries are stronger than she is. She has to know when it's smarter to avoid a fight or run. When Dawn and her new friends Kit and Carlos find themselves at the mercy of the manifest spirits in the Sunnydale High basement, Dawn rises to the occasion. She calls the Slayer to the scene, then constructs a weapon to hold off the spirits until Buffy arrives.

Moral Ambiguity in "Lessons"

Buffy: Is it slayer caution or post-traumatic stress that has Buffy running around the new Sunnydale High looking for problems on Dawn's first day of high school? At first, Dawn is annoyed, but then Buffy's fears prove to be well-founded. Principal Wood is impressed by the effect Buffy has on troubled students Kit and Carlos and offers her a part-time job as a counselor at Sunnydale High. Buffy, who wants to keep an eye on the Hellmouth, accepts.

Anyanka isn't the demon she used to be, and it isn't just her old buddy Halfrek that has noticed. "The single most hard-core vengeance demon on the roster" hasn't been dishing out the death and creative torment she used to before her three human years in Sunnydale. Anya's underworld colleagues are keeping an eye on her.

Philosophies Represented in "Lessons"

Beyond good and evil: Most moral philosophy is predicated on the idea that some actions are "right" while others are "wrong". A "good person" is someone who tries to do what's right and who struggles against doing what is wrong, no matter how tempting it might be. The principles that decide what is right and wrong might differ between different moral philosophies, but the idea that the concepts of "right" and "wrong" and "good" and "bad" have meaning is held in common. The shape-shifting evil taunts Spike for buying into this assumption. Even before he got his soul back, Spike had rudimentary concepts of "good" and "evil". "Good" could be identified with "those actions Buffy approves of" or "those actions that don't set the chip off" and "Evil" as "those actions Buffy doesn't approve of" or "those actions that set the chip off".

Now that he has his soul back, Spike has an emotional compass that causes him torment when he remembers particular deeds done in his soulless state. Like any souled being, he can learn to ignore these feelings or he can let them motivate his actions. Spike wants to do the latter. The shape-shifting evil, however, takes the Nietzschean line that the concepts of "good" and "evil" are mere fabrications of the powerless. The self-possessed man, the Superman, doesn't buy into these concepts; he does what is in his own best interests and takes what he wants. "It's not about right. Not about wrong," the evil says. "It's about power."

Ecophilosophy and Gaia

In contemporary Western society, the principle "everything is connected" came to prominence through various Ecology movements of the twentieth century. The Deep Ecology of Norwegian philosopher Arne Naess, the ecological principles of Barry Commoner, the Gaia Hypothesis of James Lovelock and Lynn Margulis, and the ecofeminist movement have each given expression to the idea that human beings are not separate from the natural world, but a part of it. The Earth is not merely a ball of dirt with various creatures living and feeding on it, nature is an interconnected, self-sustaining system (even, perhaps, a single living entity), and we are merely a part of that system. It follows from this that everything we do to the Earth will effect us in some way eventually. We cannot, therefore, treat the Earth as a "resource" created for us to exploit for our own purposes--not without repercussions.

This we know.
The earth does not belong to man;
Man belongs to the earth...
All things are connected,
Like the blood which unites one family...
Man did not weave the web of life;
He is merely a strand in it.
Whatever he does to the web,
He does to himself.

--Chief Seattle, Suquamish Tribe, 1854

Willow has spent her summer at the Westbury coven rehabilitating from the darkness she descended into after Tara's death. The witches cannot take away Willow's magical powers--they are a part of her--so Willow has to learn to think about those powers in a different way than she did before. Willow's attitude towards magic has always been very utilitarian. I want A; magic spell B will get me A; therefore I will perform magic spell B.

The philosophy that Willow has learned at the coven, a philosophy that Tara already knew and tried to convince Willow of many times, is that magical power is connected to things beyond the specific outcome you are trying to accomplish. This is a well-established reality in the Buffyverse. Magic has consequences that will impact everything around you to some degree or another--those you care about, your environment, and you as well. Willow couldn't destroy the man who caused Tara's death without harming her town, her friends, and herself. She is now learning to take responsibility for her gift.

Beneath You

The Metaphysics of "Beneath You"

Sluggoth demons are large, predatory worm-like creatures that burrow beneath solid ground. And one is tearing up the asphalt in Sunnydale. Which is odd, because Sluggoth demons haven't been around since the Crusades. And this Sluggoth seems to only attack the same woman, Nancy, over and over. Xander wonders if perhaps Nancy's abusive ex-boyfriend, Ronnie, raised the demon. But when Nancy mentions "wishing" that her ex-boyfriend's stalking would end, Xander realizes there is another explanation--the demon is Ronnie, and someone with the power to grant wishes made him that way. Xander asks Anya(nka) to reverse her spell.

Psychic dream: The robed assassins take a second victim in Frankfurt Germany, and this time, the Slayer sees the girl's death in her dreams. Before she dies, the girl says, "From beneath you it devours." Buffy wakes up screaming. She tells a concerned Dawn that there are more girls out there who will die as well. Later, Buffy wonders if the Sluggoth demon might be what the girl in her dream was referring to. But (the admittedly crazed) Spike tells her that the Sluggoth is just "a warm-up act". "From beneath you, it devours," refers to something else entirely.

Spike's identity crisis

"...everybody's in here, talking. Everything I did, everyone I... and him... and it... the other. The thing beneath... beneath you. It's here, too. Everybody. They all just tell me go."

"So what'd you think? You'd get your soul back and everything would be Jim Dandy? A soul's slipperier than a greased weasel. ...Well, you probably thought that you'd be your own man and I respect that. But you never will." --the Shape-shifting Evil

Who is Spike now? That's something he hasn't figured out for himself yet. One moment he's a tormented soul, babbling nonsense and random bits from the life of the human William; the next minute, he's the prudent, swaggering demon Spike we've come to know; then he's a malicious monster taunting Anya and Buffy with Angelus-like cruelty. Spike's demon and his soul are at war within him. He wants to be the "Big Bad"--the demon unfettered seemed to be truly "his own man" in a way William never was. But Buffy rejected the demon over and over. So Spike sought to be the man she "deserves". He wanted to be a man with a soul.

But he is both--a demon with a soul. Spike must find the balance between them. And as grand-sire Angel could tell him, that's not easy. It may not even be possible. Angel was hardly coherent, either, after his soul was returned to him. And when Angel finally made the choice two years later to let the demon within him hold sway, he realized quickly he couldn't live that way. Even then, it took him years to make peace with his urge to do good in the world. Today, doing good is a choice Angel makes on a daily basis, and sometimes fails to make, as many non-demons with souls do as well.

Spike has more support in making his choice than Angel did when he was cursed. Will Spike find his balance sooner?

Moral Ambiguity in "Beneath You"

The still-so-very-human Anya(nka) isn't comfortable with being a vengeance demon, and she tries to blame this turn of events on Xander. Xander is willing to take responsibility for dumping her at the alter, but he won't accept fault for Anya's own choices. In the meantime, Anya is feeling the heat from her demon bosses. She has to impress the lower beings with her commitment to vengeance, or else. So when a woman wishes that her boyfriend was a worm, Anya embellishes and makes him a Sluggoth demon. That's sure to win points. But then Xander asks her to reverse the spell, and Anya loses every brownie point she's gained by complying. There will be hell to pay for that.

Xander is trying to get back into the dating scene and is having a bit of trouble. Then he meets Nancy, a victim of a demon attack who takes an interest in him. They bond over exes that won't go away. But there's a reason the gang always ends up dating vampires, demons, werewolves and witches. All the death, mayhem, and bad mojo that comes with being a Scooby doesn'impress the normal folks. When Nancy gets enough of what for Xander is a tame evening, she's gone.

When Spike comes to Buffy's door to offer his help with the latest Bad, he seems his old lucid self again. Buffy accepts his offer, but she's not letting him off the hook for trying to rape her. She'll let him help only as long as he behaves. Spike explains that his insanity the week before was a temporary thing, brought on by the manifest spirits. But he's hiding the truth from her about the pesky little parasite inside him, also known as his soul. The demon Anyanka isn't fooled. She senses Spike's soul almost immediately and confronts him. Spike grows violent, beating on Anya to keep her from revealing his secret. Anya returns his blows, and when Buffy tries to break up the fight, Spike taunts the Slayer about the rape and their sexual relationship. Then he follows Buffy to find Ronnie the Sluggoth and attacks the creature himself with a rebar.

At that moment, Anya reverses her spell. Ronnie reverts to human form. The rebar goes through his shoulder. Spike cringes from the pain of the chip, then looks in horror at what he's done. His brief period of lucidity crumbles. He is once again mumbling, out of his mind. He runs away and Buffy follows. She finds him lurking in a church, muttering about how Buffy used him for his flesh and rejected him for having no "spark". Buffy doesn't understand. Then Spike mentions Angel's name. Suddenly his talk of a "spark" has a whole new context. Buffy realizes that Spike got his soul back. He tells her he did it for her, then rests his arms and cheek on a cross, letting it singe his flesh.

The moral ambiguity of Dawn

Same Time, Same Place

The Metaphysics of "Same Time, Same Place"

The not-seeing magick: When Willow returns to Sunnydale, she doesn't see Buffy, Xander and Dawn at the airport gate waiting for her. Likewise, Buffy, Xander and Dawn don't see Willow exit the plane. Willow and Buffy/Xander/Dawn both search Buffy's house and Xander's construction site for each other to no avail. In actuality, they are both in the same place at exactly the same time. But they are invisible to each other and can stand or sit in each other's space without bumping into each other. Oddly enough, however, they can still hear evidence of each other's presence, such as shutting doors and squeaking ladders. Spike and Anya, who are unaffected by this magick, are able to see both parties at the same time.

Undoing the not-seeing magick: The power behind the magick is psychological--Willow's fear of seeing her friends and being seen by them manifests itself in reality without her intending it to happen. She does not do any kind of deliberate magic--that is, a spell. When Willow gets into a desperate enough situation with Gnarl and longs to be seen by Buffy and the others, the magick undoes itself.

Is this spell part of a hex on Willow?

Gnarl is a parasitic demon who looks something like an bony, gnarled elf. He is unaffected by spells, as Willow quickly discovers when she tries a protection spell against him:

"Protect me, goddess. In thy name, I supplicate myself. Take the powers from my enemy and lay him lower than the lowest field..."

Gnarl may also be able to prevent Willow from removing the rocks from the entrance to the cave by magic. The paralysis Gnarl uses to disable his victims is permanent until he dies. When Buffy kills Gnarl, both Willow and Dawn can move again.

The spell to detect demons: Willow and Anya do a non-incantatory version of the spell to detect demons in Sunnydale that Willow once tried with Tara. Willow spreads a map of Sunnydale on the floor. She and Anya throw enchanted powder on it simultaneously. This time the spell is more successful. The sand lights up where there are demons. Anya(nka) sees herself on the map. Willow sees Gnarl in a wooded section of town near where a flayed body was found.

The spell to find Buffy, Xander and Dawn: We don't see this spell, but apparently it went all kaflooey and didn't work. It told Willow that Buffy, Xander and Dawn don't exist. Well, of course it would say that, after she created the not-seeing magick and all.

Evil and Good in "Same Time, Same Place"

Gnarl is a demon who preys on humans for their skin. He secrets a substance through his long sharp fingernails that paralyzes his victims. Then he cuts strips of their skin while they're still alive and eats them, taking the time to lick the wounds dry of blood. Gnarl is a classic example of predatory evil. Not to mention... ewww. He also disables his victims by playing on their insecurities--he taunts Willow with the fact that her friends were there and left, trapping her with him.

Dawn is becoming quite the Scooby these days, doing demon research and filling Willow's shoes in the computer skills department. But being a hero has its dangers. When the gang enters the cave, Dawn separates herself from the group and is attacked by Gnarl. Buffy and Xander take her home, inadvertently sealing Willow alone in the cave. Buffy calls Anya to look after the paralyzed Dawn, but as it turns out, Anya knows how to kill Gnarl and believes it is likely that Willow is in his cave. Anya returns with them to the cave, where Buffy stabs Gnarl in the foot and pokes out his eyes. Again with the ewww.

Poetic Justice?

Moral Ambiguity in "Same Time, Same Place"

When the gang finds a flayed body on Xander's construction site, they fear that Willow might be responsible. It's not fun thinking the worst of a friend, and Buffy feels guilty about it when it proves not to be true. But it's certainly not an implausible hypothesis. And they did entertain alternative theories.

Are Anya and Willow on their way to actually maybe liking each other? Or perhaps just getting along? The two have a lot in common now--powerful magical abilities, a scary dark side, and they're no longer in a rivalry over Xander's affections. But the most telling thing they have in common is their mutual fear of their own dark powers.

Anya admits to Willow that she doesn't feel the same way about being a vengeance demon as she used to. She used to enjoy her work; now it is actually upsetting to her. Willow can relate. She fears once again crossing that line where she no longer listens to the pangs of conscience when using her powers. Once she crosses that line, she knows, she is no longer in control of herself. Anya fears crossing the same line if she lets herself get swept up in her power. She hasn't been letting that happen. She's been going about her vengeance demon gig half-heartedly, not letting herself go too far.

Both women want to feel good about themselves. Willow certainly does when she sets out to discover the true cause of the boy's flaying and to kill the demon that did it. And Anya desired this when she reversed a vengeance spell at Xander's request. Both women want to control their power as well. But that is another challenge entirely. When Willow finds out that she was the one that made her and her friends invisible to each other, she realizes she has a way to go in that respect.

Xander's analogy of the hammer (from "Help"): ...there are two ways to use a hammer: You hold it way at the end, and you have lots of power but little control--you're bound to smash your finger some of the time. So you "choke up," hold it near the head, and you have lots of control, but no power--and it takes ten strokes to hammer in a nail. ...Anyone who has used a hammer will recognize that neither of the ways that Xander describes is the proper way to use a hammer. ...Missing from his analogy is of course what is really most important: the third way--the "right" way--to use a hammer. A hammer is designed to be held at the point that provides the best balance of power and control. So used, it augments one, without the loss of the other. ...This is, of course, also what Willow needs to do with her magic. ...Willow is just at the starting point of her journey toward finding this balance (Dyna, 10/20/0 18:22).


The Metaphysics of "Help"

Psychic powers: Cassie Newton wants to live. Desperately. But there are some things she just knows, and she knows she's going to die on Friday night. Cassie has special knowledge of the future. She warns Buffy to cover her shirt and Buffy subsequently spills coffee on it. Cassie tells Buffy her own short future will involve lots of coins and coins end up giving Buffy a vital clue in investigating the events that lead to Cassie's death.

After Buffy saves Cassie from a group of boys that are out to murder her, the two girls head outside, setting off a booby-trapped door. Buffy catches a cross-bow's arrow before it hits Cassie. But it doesn't matter. Cassie collapses and dies. Her family has a history of heart irregularities that she was never told about.


If ever we had an example of the concept of fate in the Buffyverse--that an event will happen no matter what you do or fail to do--this is it. The concept of fate is a troubling one because of its implications for human action. Humans like to believe that outcomes in our lives are at least partially, if not substantially, controlled by our conduct and choices. Of course, we realize that not everything is under our control, but we hope that events in the world are at least predictable in ways that we can understand and overcome, or that they are random and therefore as likely to work in our favor as not.

The idea that events in the world are set up to have one and only one outcome regardless of human action is troubling, because it makes us insignificant and even laughable creatures, thrashing in vain to have any effect on anything. Buffy certainly doesn't like this idea, and so it is ironic and little bit twisted when the pre-cognitive Cassie assures her "you will make a difference"--as if Buffy is fated to make a difference in the world no matter what she does. But that's just absurd, right?

The sacrifice to Avilas: A group of boys wearing red robes and holding white candles form a circle. Their leader holds a meat cleaver at Cassie's throat. "Extinguish" he says. The boys pinch out their candles. The leader incants:

Almighty Avilas, please accept our sacrifice
Please appear before us, oh mighty soldier of the dark
Please appear before us, and grant us with infinite riches
And we will pay you with our sacrifice
We kneel before you with the gift of flesh

At this point in the ritual, the demon Avilas is supposed to appear, but he takes a few minutes to show up.

Good and Evil in "Help"

Buffy: When Cassie comes to counselor Buffy claiming she is going to die, Buffy wants to help. She and her friends go into familiar research mode. But except for a melancholy obsession with death, Cassie seems like a pretty normal kid. Buffy confronts the girl's father, who is an alcoholic and prone to violence. But Cassie assures them her father isn't the one who will kill her. Buffy then confronts Cassie's friend, but he is an easy-going guy who can accept the fact that Cassie won't go to a dance with him.

Then Buffy sees the principal going through some lockers. A collection of coins tumbles to the floor, just as Cassie mentioned. Buffy confronts the owner of the locker. He tells her that he knows some guys who want to kill Cassie because her disappearance will be passed off as a suicide. They are a "cult" of arrogant boys out to sacrifice a girl to a demon in exchange for material riches (kind of a Sunnydale tradition).

Buffy infiltrates the boys' ritual circle and fights off the ring leader. Then a lumpy, spiny-looking demon appears behind her. She engages the demon with the meat cleaver. The boys go after Cassie. Just then, Spike appears with a torch (the fiery kind). Buffy uses the torch to attack the demon. Spike hits the boys holding Cassie, even though it sets off his chip. Then he cuts Cassie's bonds with the meat cleaver. The demon rises from its ashy remains briefly and bites the ring-leader of the boys, then explodes.

Moral Ambiguity in "Help"

Buffy is now a counselor at Sunnydale High. But she isn't a licensed professional. Her job is to listen to the students, not evaluate them or be their friend. But Buffy's not exactly the type of person who can hear about people in trouble and not take action. And she has a lot of experience tracking down the guilty and defending the innocent. "Sunnydale High counselor" might prove the right job for Buffy after all. But Buffy's self-image is tied up in her ability to help. She has a hard time dealing with fate, with the notion that no matter what she does to help someone, that person will die anyway. Her tireless efforts in this episode are not just evidence of a dedicated Slayer and counselor, but a woman desperate to disprove the very concept of fate itself.

Willow worries that she will not be able to help Buffy the way she used to. Her healthy concern over controlling her own powers borders on paralyzing fear. Xander offers her some perspective on her anxiety over losing control:

"Figuring out how to control your magic seems a lot like hammering a nail. ...If you hold the end of the hammer, you have the power, but no control. It takes, like, two strokes to hit the nail in. Or you could hit your thumb. So you choke up. Control, but no power. It takes, like, ten strokes to knock the nail in. Power. Control. It's a trade-off."

Fan thoughts on Xander's analogy

Spike has hurt a few girls in his time, and now he is wallowing in the memory of it, injuring himself and moaning that "William is a bad man". It seems his unlife is defined now by the throbbing pain from his scorching soul. But when Spike gets a chance to redeem himself by saving a girl from being hurt, he takes it.


The Metaphysics of "Selfless"

The wish: When Anya comes out of a UC Sunnydale fraternity with blood on her hand, Willow's curiosity is piqued. She goes into the fraternity and sees the bodies of a dozen boys, their hearts ripped out. Then Willow finds a girl in the closet, rocking back and forth and moaning, "I take it back" over and over. The girl was duped into coming to a fraternity party by her boyfriend. She thought everyone would have dates, but she was the only woman there. Her boyfriend chose that night to break up with her, and his friends were there to taunt the girl in her pain. Anya(nka) appeared and heard her wish, "Just once, I wish you could all feel what it's like to have your hearts ripped out!"

And then it came. The spider.

Grimslaw demons are large spider-like demons who rip out people's hearts. They leave a black sticky webbing on the trees where they nest. The Grimslaw that killed the boys is still in the fraternity house. Willow stops its attack with a magical force field. She throws the demon out a window. Later, it attacks Buffy, who has come to kill it, then escapes to the trees. Buffy throws her ax into the branches and impales it. It falls to the ground.

The spell to summon D'Hoffryn: Willow has an amulet to summon D'Hoffryn, It was given to her to use if she ever decided to take him up on his offer to become a vengeance demon. But Willow has no such desire. She just wants to talk to him about Anya. In the bathroom, she pours red sand on the floor in a circle and says,

beatum sit in nomina D'Hoffrynis

She picks up the amulet

fiat hoc spatium
porta ad mundum Arashmaharris

Light blazes. D'Hoffryn appears and says, "Behold D'Hoffryn. Lord of Arashmaharr." He recognizes Willow immediately. He is well aware of her recent vengeance against Warren and assumes she wants to be part of his fold.

Undoing the vengeance magick: Anya wants to take back what she did in response to the girl's wish. She wants the boys back alive. D'Hoffryn is willing to do this for her. But the scales must balance, he says. In order to restore the lives of the victims, "the fates" require a sacrifice--the life and soul of a vengeance demon. He summons Halfrek, and incinerates her.

"The soul of a vengeance demon": Do vengeance demons have souls? D'Hoffryn makes it sound like they do. And given that he recruits his demons from among human women, it is in the realm of possibility that they retain their souls while working for him. Corrupting souls is always so much more fun than simply removing them, if you're evil.

Making trolls: Aud performs a Thorton's Hope spell, which shouldn't turn someone in a troll normally, but Aud used eelsbane. Impressive.

The time when everyone spontaneously burst into song

Moral Ambiguity in "Selfless"

Anya is struggling to be the demon she once was, even as she fears it. When she gets creative with a girl's wish again and creates a demon to literally "rip out people's hearts", she is devastated with the resulting slaughter. Anya's demon friends are pleased with her work, though. They see it as a sign she is back in the fold. Not Anya. She wants to die. She defends herself against Buffy, but it seems that she is only trying to provoke Buffy into kill her. When that doesn't happen, Anya tells D'Hoffryn to take back the wish she granted. Anya believes this will mean her own death, and she is willing. But D'Hoffryn won't show that kind of mercy to her when he can go for the hurt. He kills Halfrek instead.

Aud is a Swedish housewife in the year 880, living with Olaf when he was pre-troll. She is generous and good, but a little jealous. Olaf defines her world, and she doesn't like his sojourns to the local tavern, where he spends too much time with the "bar matrons". When he crosses the line, Aud grows cold. She turns him into a troll, to Olaf's confusion and consternation. Aud's vengeance spell attracts the attention of the demon D'Hoffryn, the patron (or is that pimp?) of a family of vengeance demons. He tells her that she is "Anyanka", that she should "help" wronged women punish men.... Only those that deserve it, of course. But then, according to his ruthless logic, they all deserve it.

The next time we see Anyanka is during the Russian revolution of 1905. This revolution predated the revolution of 1917, but Anya(nka) has always been good at smelling what's in the wind, and of sensing opportunities around her. "The worker will overthrow absolutism and lead the proletariat to a victorious communist revolution resulting in socio-economic paradise on Earth", she quips. This from our favorite capitalist? Well, Anya herself admits that she clings to whatever comes along--Olaf, vengeance demonhood, communism, capitalism, Xander. Maybe now she'll have the chance to find out who she really is.

Xander still loves Anya, and doesn't want to believe that she is happy in her revived vengeance-demon career. When Willow tells him that Anya helped bring about the deaths of a dozen men, Xander is still determined to help Anya in any way he can. He finds Anya in the fraternity house brooding over what she has done. He has come to warn her about Buffy's intention to kill her. But Anya is still trying to believe in duty--the duty of vengeance demons, of Slayers. When Anya and Buffy begin to fight, Xander tries to intervene, even though he is outmatched. Later, he tries to stop Anya from sacrificing her life and soul to turn back the wish she granted.

When Willow has to use her powers to stop the demon spider, her eyes go black. She snaps at the girl who sits, emotionally shattered, in the closet. But Willow has more control over her magic than she fears. She goes to Anya's and commands the demon Halfrek to leave. She wants to help Anya deal with her own darkness. But not by undoing the deaths Anya caused--a spell like that would require more power than Willow is willing to risk. Instead, Willow chooses a spell that will allow her to plead Anya's case to D'Hoffryn. A very human way to deal with the problem, unlike reversing deaths. Willow is learning that maintaining moral control is all in the reason you use magic.

When Buffy goes after Anyanka, she takes a sword. But she should know better; swords don't kill vengeance demons. Buffy puts the sword through Anyanka's heart, just as she did Angel. When Anya recovers, Buffy only tries to spear her again. It is possible Xander's argument got through and she decided to give Anya(nka) something to think about, rather than trying to really kill her.

Spike spends time in the basement with an illusory version of Buffy who listens to him and supports his struggle for sanity. This Buffy sees what he desperately wants the real Buffy to believe--that he is different, that he is not the same man who tried to rape her. Then the real Buffy appears, less sensitive, but still concerned for his well-being. She tells him to get out of the Sunnydale High basement, where evil lurks. "Don't have anywhere else to go," he replies.

Ethical Quandaries in "Selfless"

Should Anya be slain?

When Anya(nka) appears to be back with a vengeance, it is Xander who argues the ethics of the care-taker while Buffy takes the side of the warrior. Xander has made the argument more than once (Angel, Revelations) that Angel needed to be killed to save the lives of his potential victims. But this time, it is Xander's demon beloved whose life is at stake and whose future actions are up for debate.

Xander argues that Anya is their friend, and that when their friends "go crazy and start killing people", they help them; they don't kill them. Buffy replies that the situation is different than it was with Willow. Anya is a demon now; she is not the same person as the human being they knew. Willow, on the other hand, remained human when she went on her spree. The same Willow was still under there, if only they could get to her.

Xander takes the care-taker position when he points out that what's different in this case is that Buffy doesn't care for Anya the same way she does for Willow. He believes it is easier for Buffy to detach herself emotionally and think "like a Slayer" because of this, when what Buffy should be doing is paying attention to friendship and emotional ties, even if she doesn't feel them as strongly in this case as Xander does.

Buffy responds that she has made the warrior's choice before. When push came to shove, she harmed the person she loved the most. She was willing to send her demon boyfriend to hell when he crossed the line. That time, as this time, she set aside her feelings to do what was required to save a much larger group of people she didn't even know. She tells Xander that Anya made the choice to be a demon. Anya's feelings about her choice are irrelevant in the decision about how to deal with her.

In actuality, of course, Buffy hoped that Angel could be reformed rather than killed, just as Xander now hopes for Anya. And the likelihood that Anya might be reformed is relevant in the Utilitarian decision about whether or not to kill her "in order to prevent the deaths she will cause in the future". If Anya is capable of being reformed, those deaths will never occur.

But Buffy seems determined to kill Anyanka. "There has to be another way," Xander pleads. "Then please find it", Buffy replies. After Xander leaves, Buffy goes to her weapons chest, pauses only for a second, then picks up a sword.

Was Angel "killed" when Buffy sent him to hell?

Philosophies Represented in "Selfless"

The ethics of the care-taker vs. the ethics of the warrior

"It is always different. It's always complicated. And at some point, someone has to draw the line. And that is always going to be me. You get down on me for cutting myself off. But in the end, the Slayer is always cut off. There's no mystical guidebook, no all-knowing council. Human rules don't apply. There's only me. I am the law." --Buffy

"And the young man. He sees with the eyeballs of love," --D'Hoffryn, on Xander

Buffy is the kind of slayer who usually chooses the morality of emotional connection in her work. She defends the innocent and chooses the individual she is emotionally connected to, even over the good of the majority (Choices, The Gift). But this time, Buffy appears to chose the morality of the warrior, the morality that eschews emotional connection and friendship, and uses the death of the few or one to save the lives of the many (the morality, incidentally, of the Watcher's Council). Buffy doesn't like having to make this choice, however. It goes against her grain. She still lives in the moment she sent Angel to hell, even though that eventually came out O.K. In the end, Buffy doesn't kill Anya to save all of Anya's potential future victims. Would she have, if D'Hoffryn hadn't intervened? The jury is out on that one.


The Metaphysics of "Him"

R.J.'s lettermans jacket has an odd effect on women. It makes them infatuated with the man who wears it, eager to do whatever they can to please him, whether it is doing R.J.'s homework for him, or shoving a rival football player down a flight of stairs to move R.J. back up to quarterback. Men do not seem to be affected by the jacket, as we see with R.J.'s continuing problems with his coach and Principal Wood. The most likely explanation for the jacket's effect is that someone in the past put a spell on it, although it is not clear who. Now the jacket is a talisman--an object imbued with mystical properties. Destroying the jacket is therefore the key to breaking the spell.

An individual girl's response to the jacket depends on her personality. Generally speaking, though, it makes the girls lose their strongest inhibitions; it makes them do things that it might occur to them to do in an uninfluenced state of mind, but that they would never ordinarily do--not unlike what happens when vamped humans lose their soul. Dawn, queen of teenaged drama, becomes the stereotype of an infatuated teenaged girl. She throws herself at R.J., gets in fights over him, and attempts to kill herself to "prove her love". Likewise, Willow tries to use magic to solve her problem--that nagging little gender issue that stands between her and romance with R.J. Anya steals from a number of Sunnydale businesses. And Buffy-the-high-school-counselor makes a sexual pass at underaged student R.J., who, while not a vampire, is still "forbidden fruit" she's not supposed to take a carnal interest in. When that is thwarted, she tries to use her Slayer skills to rid R.J. of his "principal" problem.

The women can't be held accountable for their actions while under the influence of the spell, but it does shed an interesting light on the kind of people that they are, spell or no spell.

The gender-reassignment spell

Willow sits down next to a small rug. The rug has four candles surrounding a bowl with crystals in it. She incants:

Oh Hecate, I call on you,
I humbly ask your will be done.

Mystical energy swirls out of the bowl of crystals.

Hear my request: a simple change
Create a daughter from a s--

This is as far as she gets. Xander interrupts the spell.

Evil and Good in "Him"

D'Hoffryn is the department head of vengeance, so when his best employee decides to give up her demony ways, he wants pay-back. He sends a demon after the now human Anya. Buffy slays the demon, but she knows that isn't the only danger Anya's in. Anya wants to be on her own to figure out who she is separately from the Scooby Gang, but it's dangerous around the hellmouth lately--well, more dangerous than usual--and Buffy wants her friends where she can keep an eye on them.

When Xander sees the effect R.J. is having on the Summers women, he concludes they are under a spell. He and Spike head to the Brooks' house where they meet Lance, R.J.'s older brother. Lance, a football god in high school, is a loser now, gaining weight and working at the Pizza Barn. Spike points out a picture of Lance wearing the jacket in high school. The new roomies also hear about R.J. and Lance's father, who had the jacket when he was in high school as well, and won the heart of a beauty queen. Xander realizes the jacket is the common denominator in the Brooks men's success. He returns to Buffy's house just in time to stop Willow from turning R.J. into a woman. Then Spike stops Buffy from killing Principal Wood. Willow performs a locator spell to find Dawn, who is lying on a set of railroad tracks, waiting for the train. Buffy pulls her to safety in the nick of time. Xander and Spike rip the jacket off R.J. and set it aflame.

Moral Ambiguity in "Him"

Spike is moving in with Xander, and Xander isn't happy about it. Buffy argues that being down in the basement of the school is contributing to Spike's craziness, and they can't just leave him there. Spike has a soul now, and she cares about what happens to him. Having a soul is a difference that has always made a difference to Buffy. She goes out nightly and kills vampires and other dangerous creatures without souls. And she protects any creature who is capable of change and conscience, even if they aren't human (e.g., Clem) or are humans who have gone over the edge with evil (although she usually has a lot of attitude for the latter).

Buffy: When Dawn turns into the pushy queen of slut-town, Buffy has to step in and play mom. But trying to get Dawn to see the impulsive wildness of her ways isn't working--Dawn is under the influence of a spell that is making the teenager, well, more teenaged than usual. Later, Buffy falls under the spell as well, but is frightened right out of it (temporarily, anyway) when Dawn tries to kill herself "for R.J." Not a spell so strong that sisterly love can't break it.

R.J., his brother and father don't appear to know the power they carry around on their backs. As far as Lance Brooks is concerned, his fleeting popularity in high school is gone, and brother R.J. simply "blossomed" naturally from a poetry-writing nerd into a campus jock. So you can't claim that the Brooks men are knowingly using the jacket to their duplicitous personal advantage. They see their good luck with women as charm and charisma, even if it's not. That doesn't mean they aren't using their influence deliberately to get whatever they want. So while R.J. may not understand the real reason why he can get girls to do his homework or get the principal off his back, he's still guilty of using that advantage purposefully. Ah, the temptations of lust, greed, and power.

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This page last modified 2/17/03


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