“This Year’s Girl”
Written by Douglas Petrie
Directed by Michael Gershman
Buffy is making her bed at her house…with Faith’s help! Dream sequence time! There’s some tension, big surprise. Their dialogue is appropriately vague and dream sequence-y, about little sisters and forgetting people and preparations. I’m sure none of it is foreshadowing. Then Faith starts bleeding on the sheets. From a gut wound. From the spiffy knife Buffy stabbed her with, which Buffy is still holding in her gut. Then she rips it out. Cut to reality. Faith is still in her coma in the hospital. Lightning and thunder crash outside.
Xander is trying to repair the taser gun thing Buffy was using in the sewers, and he has somehow found a sweater-vest even more hideous than the periwinkle camo one. Willow’s ensemble is only slightly less baffling.
Xander is doubtful his fuzzy Private Harris memories will be of much use here, and Giles doesn’t think tinkering with unfamiliar technology is worth the risk. Buffy doesn't seem to be listening to any of this, because she still wants to know if Xander can fix it.
Buffy sits down and puts her head in her hands. Giles thinks she’s in danger of burning out. She doesn’t want to drop her guard or leave the town defenseless in case Adam makes his move. Which is also why she wants the taser gun fixed. Adam swatted her like a fly last time they fought; she intends to go in with better weapons and preparation next time. Another reason Buffy’s in kind of a bummed out mood is that she still hasn’t heard anything about Riley. The Initiative guys aren’t letting him in to see her and all the info about him is “classified.” For all she knows, they could be torturing him. (That seems like quite a leap, though.) On the other side of the room, Xander electrocutes himself, but it barely interrupts Buffy, Willow, and Giles’s conversation. He quietly goes back to work without disturbing them. Buffy’s worried that Riley might see the business end of some behavioral modification technology if the other army guys don’t like his new outlook on life.
Riley is still in a hospital-like bed, and he’s still hanging onto Buffy’s headband. He tries to leave the infirmary, but there’s a soldier at the door. He won’t stand down on Riley’s order, but he does when Forrest tells him to. Forrest is super annoyed that Riley wants to go see Buffy. Riley doesn’t much care what Forrest thinks. Graham tries to stop them from arguing. Aww, Graham. Forrest thinks that they should be sticking together at a time like this. Riley disagrees.
Back on Faith, who is still comatose. She’s dreaming of having a picnic with the Mayor while a thunderstorm approaches. She’s in a pretty cute outfit—the kind of thing the Mayor liked her wearing, not her usual bad girl thing. The mayor catches a little snake on the blanket and sets it free in the grass. He reaches into the basket for cheesecake, when Buffy, wearing dark clothes and wielding the spiffy dagger, slits his throat and guts him. Because in Faith’s dreams, Buffy is the villain! Faith screams and tries to escape while Buffy stalks towards her.
In reality, the Scoobies are looking for Adam, I think. Also, Buffy is wearing a leopard print peacoat. Noooo your other peacoats were so much prettier.
They find a demon strung up between two trees, doing its best imitation of a frog at the end of dissection day. They go back to Giles’s basement to discuss it. Adam is learning what he can about the biology of humanoids. Rescuing Riley is now Buffy’s top priority. She wants Willow to hack into the Initiative’s security system and give her a ten-minute window. She wants Xander to help her get in with tow cables and explosives. Holy crap. Fortunately, none of this is necessary because Riley has just arrived. Buffy’s face lights up and she hugs him, but he’s still recovering, so hugs aren’t comfortable. He apologizes for his behavior while he was suffering withdrawal. Buffy’s feeling more confident about being able to handle anything now that he’s back.
In the dream world, Faith is still running from Buffy, but now she’s wearing a more Faith-like outfit. She trips into an open grave, Buffy hops in after her, and it starts raining. I really like the directing of this scene. Then Faith claws her way back out, having defeated Buffy. She stands in the rain, face towards the sky. In reality, she wakes up.
She looks around, taking in her hospital surroundings. Seems like Slayer strength and healing have an unknown perk: keeping the body in good shape even through a coma that lasts most of a year. She rips out her IV and walks down the hall. A rather ditzy girl comes in, trying to find a patient friend of hers so she can give them a get-well bear. She’s about Faith’s size. Faith tells her she needs to get to the Sunnydale High graduation ceremony. The girl tells her about the explosion and that the Mayor was one of the people who died there.
Cut to Faith walking away from the high school wearing the girl’s outfit. Uh oh. I hope she’s still alive. Buffy’s voiceover says “You know, I never stopped thinking about you” during this shot, which is really brilliant. Buffy is talking to Riley, but Faith’s spent the last nine months in a coma, apparently dreaming about Buffy the whole time. Buffy hasn’t mentioned Faith more than once or twice all season, if at all. That line is much more about Faith’s attitude towards Buffy than the other way around, and I don’t think Faith will take it well that Buffy hasn’t thought much about her all this time.
Buffy and Riley are at her dorm, and he’s showing her the headband he kept holding onto while he was in the facility. She’s touched. He’s also really antsy about the Initiative watching him. She wants to help him. He doesn’t know what she can do. He’s struggling to figure out his purpose if he’s not a soldier. She tells him about the Watchers’ Council, and how she quit working for them after years of sort of following their orders. Riley can do the same thing. He can try to change the Initiative for the better or he can quit and redefine his fight. He says “I’m a soldier. Take that away, and what’s left?” I don’t know if that was a deliberate parallel with “Becoming: Part 2,” but I’m going to treat it like one. Unlike Buffy, Riley isn’t sure he has enough of himself left to keep fighting if this big chunk of his identity is suddenly gone. She believes in him, though. She kisses him, then keeps kissing all over his head, teasing him that she’s looking for brainwashing chips. It might just be the cutest they’ve been. She’s very good at being supportive.
A nurse is explaining to a doctor and a detective that she has no idea where Faith went. They didn’t think it was possible for her to just walk out, and they’ve checked the whole hospital for her. Another guy comes in to tell them about the girl Faith was talking to, who they just found. She’s unconscious, badly beaten up, and missing her clothes. The detective and doctor leave with this guy, and then the nurse makes a very intriguing, very brief phone call.
Faith, accompanied by her creepy new music, goes to the high school, which is still in the same condition it was in “Doomed.” (Are they ever going to demolish it? That’s super unsafe.) She walks down Main Street. A little girl and her dad go past, obviously a parallel to Faith and the Mayor. Everyone seems to be contentedly going about their lives, not caring about her or the Mayor.
Next, Faith creeps up outside Giles’s flat. The Scoobies seem to have decided the Initiative isn’t a direct enough threat for them to continue holing up in Xander’s basement, because now they’re all gathered at Giles’s place again. Including Riley. They’re discussing Adam. Riley fixes the taser gun in like a second, to Xander’s indignation. Faith notices Buffy being all cozy and affectionate with Riley. Riley isn’t sure how much use he can be to them in their Adam investigation, but he’s no longer going to be hiding classified information from them.
The phone rings, and Giles gets it. It’s the Council, for Buffy. About Faith being awake. Outside, Faith seems to have gathered as much. She ducks down and leaves. Buffy announces to the room that Faith’s awake. Everyone gets super serious, except Riley, who isn’t in this loop yet. Buffy intends to go patrolling and see if she can draw Faith out. They can’t turn her over to the cops, the Council proved rather inept at handling her last time, and they don’t trust the Initiative enough to hold her, so that means it’s up to Buffy once again. All the time Faith was in a coma, though, has given Buffy some perspective. She’s hopeful that Faith might have amnesia or feel bad about what she did. Maybe they can be friends again! The others do not share her optimism. Willow in particular is rooting for Buffy to kick Faith’s butt.
The next day, Buffy and Willow are walking on campus, and what is Willow’s shirt? It looks like a page out of one of those felt children’s books you read to toddlers at bedtime.
Buffy told Riley a highly condensed and edited version of her history with Faith. Why? If Buffy feels like there’s a chance that Faith can be rehabilitated, then she clearly isn’t still hurting from all the crap Faith did to her and the people she loves. Why hide any of it from him? She has also apparently told Riley nothing at all about Angel. Hmm. Secrets and lies. That’s promising for their relationship. And just when they seemed so solid after all the crap with Riley’s disillusionment about the Initiative and Walsh. Buffy and Willow’s conversation is interrupted when one of the random bystanders on campus turns around and is actually Faith.
Standoff time! Faith quickly kills Buffy’s hopes that she might suddenly be one of the good guys again. Faith wants a round two at their death match. While Faith is telling Buffy about her recurring dreams of Buffy stabbing her, Willow tries to sneak around so she can hit Faith from behind with her backpack, but Faith pauses her chat with Buffy long to threaten Willow with dismemberment, so Willow backs off. Faith is particularly annoyed because Buffy isn’t even still dating Angel, the guy for whom she put her in the hospital. Buffy doesn’t appreciate Faith’s interpretation of her life, and then they hear sirens in the distance. The fight is on! And Willow gets in her hit too. Faith bowls through the cops and tears for the edge of campus. Buffy chases her. Faith vaults a stone wall, and Buffy fails to see where she went after that. (She doesn’t look down, though. What if Faith was just crouching there?)
Willow is telling Tara about Faith. Tara is impressed/amused with Willow’s cool monster-fighting jargon. She herself is not super confident when it comes to physical confrontation. She mimes a few punches, which are so awkward and weak-looking that Willow thinks she’s miming a doggie paddle or something. (It’s okay, Tara. I knew you were air-boxing.)
Xander and Giles are creeping down Main Street. Xander is talking about how they should be considering the possibility that Faith will come after him, personally. For sexytimes. Giles isn’t listening. They hear noise down an alley and go investigate, Xander wielding the taser gun. It’s just Spike, though. He mocks them for creeping about, and Xander indignantly informs him that they’re hunting a rogue Slayer. He’s interested and offers to help. Xander keeps describing her and admits that she’s probably after them. Spike says that he’ll find her and point her in their direction, because he still hates them, remember? Hahaha. Yeah, why, again haven’t they staked him yet? Just because he can’t personally inflict any damage doesn’t mean he isn’t dangerous. Spike struts off all pleased with himself, and Xander laments his and Giles’s stupidity.
The nurse lady is waiting out on a lawn somewhere as a helicopter lands. Three guys in leather jackets, carrying briefcases disembark, and the four of them go inside the adjacent building.
Faith wanders her way past a sporting goods store, but before she can get any ideas, a cop car pulls up. She walks with a group of teenagers so she won’t be noticed, then heads into an alley. A demon finds her back there. He’s got a message for her. Instead of waiting to hear it, she breaks his neck, takes the package in his coat, and leaves before the cops can catch her. And seriously, guys? You didn’t spot those boots going up the ladder?
The package contains a tape from the Mayor. One of those “if you’re watching this, I’m dead” things. He’s being his typical wacky evil-yet-wholesome self, and Faith has a bittersweet smile as she watches. He’s very sad that there’s nothing he can do for coma Faith, and if he doesn’t win at Graduation, then she’ll be on her own. He was the only thing protecting her from the law, and he was the only one who cared about her. He’s left her a little clockwork trinket. We don’t know what it’s for yet.
Buffy is trying to convince Riley that Faith is too dangerous for him to get involved. She proves it by tossing him a ball and watching him wince when he catches it. She’s still not telling him what Faith did to make this so personal for her. If she doesn’t want him to think it’s a joke, then maybe she should tell him more details.
At Buffy’s house, someone knocks on the door, and Joyce goes to answer it. It’s Faith, to the surprise of no one. Faith says hi, then punches her in the face and comes in. Next scene, Faith’s going through Joyce’s lipstick while Joyce sits on her bed, very nervous. She puts on a dark red shade right over top of the lipstick she’s already wearing. (I’ve only put on lipstick once in recent years—is that how it works? Can you just layer it like that, or is it better to clean it off between colors?) She kisses the mirror, leaving a lip print. She asks Joyce how she looks.
Joyce seems remarkably calm, even annoyed. She’s confident that Buffy will be there soon, and she’d be perfectly fine if Buffy killed Faith. Faith grabs a stack of letters from Buffy and jumps on the bed, flinging the letters out as she reads the envelopes. It seems that Buffy has been writing home a lot, but not actually visiting. Faith interprets that to mean Buffy has been thinking about Joyce as little as she’s been thinking about Faith or Angel for the better part of a year. This is starting to seem more and more like Faith just wants attention and affection, and she wants to be able to make Buffy the bad guy. Her vulnerability is showing through. Joyce isn’t interested. Alas, with Faith, vulnerability tends to turn into yelling and violence pretty quickly. She grabs a knife and is about to attack Joyce when, sure enough, Buffy comes home to visit, bursting in through the window and tackling Faith.
It’s Buffy vs. Faith round…five? Same music as in “Graduation Day: Part 1,” too. Nice touch. Joyce calls the cops, and Buffy and Faith fight all the way down the stairs and into the dining room, breaking lots of stuff. Faith tries to poke Buffy’s boyfriend button, which Buffy finds pretty unimaginative at this point. Buffy has more success poking Faith’s abandonment issues button.
When Giles gets home to his flat, he finds the leather-clad dudes there. They’re from the Council, and they’re in town to collect Faith.
Buffy and Faith keep fighting, and there are now sirens in the background. The fight goes into the living room. Faith straps on her little clockwork device, then clasps hands with Buffy. A weird light goes through their hands, they look surprised (particularly Faith), and then Buffy punches Faith out. Somehow Buffy is now the one wearing the device. Joyce asks if she’s okay. She smashes the device. She doesn’t know what it is, but she doesn’t think it worked. The police are here for Faith, and Buffy says she’s five by five. Ohhhhhhh snap. Time for bodyswap shenanigans.
The Initiative half of this episode is a very welcome breather after the plot marathon we just ran in the last two episodes. No sign of Adam (except the dissected demon corpse), but it’s sort of nice to take it one step at a time. If Adam isn’t immediately wreaking havoc, then we can focus on the other issue: how much of a threat does the Initiative pose to the Scoobies and to Riley right now? Apparently very little, because most of the badness was coming from Walsh. The gang acts like Faith choosing now to wake up from her coma is horrible timing, but it doesn’t feel that way. If Adam were attacking and the Initiative wanted to take them all prisoner (or worse), then it would be horrible timing. The only negative consequence of Faith popping back up at this particular moment is that it’ll rob them of the chance to stop Adam from quietly working on the early phases of whatever he’s up to. On the other side of things, there’s the Faith half of the episode. I really like how it’s told largely from Faith’s perspective, and it actually makes it stronger that the two halves have nothing to do with each other, since Faith’s whole beef is that the world just got up and left her behind. She thought she was Buffy’s equal, perhaps her better, but Buffy seems to have had no trouble moving on from everything that was happening the last time Faith was awake. She feels like yesterday’s trash or something, and it’s something she can latch onto to make it easier to blame other people for her situation. It’s all extremely well done, and it may be the best episode since “Hush.” It seems like what season four needed to get good again was a little more of what made season three so good.
Two episodes ago, I thought it was potentially a red flag that Buffy wasn’t confiding in Riley about her own problems even though she was keen to hear more about him. Now, it’s definitely looking like a red flag. As is Riley’s seeming inability to understand the deal with Buffy and Faith. Maybe it’s not easy for Buffy to explain the sister-like connection between Slayers, and how they went from being pretty close friends who could battle evil together to being on opposite sides of the fight. Riley’s such a straight-forward, cornbread kind of guy, and it’s like Buffy and Faith’s dynamic is in an entirely different genre of human interaction than anything he’s experienced. Even so, it’s less that Riley can’t understand it and more that Buffy isn’t trying very hard to make him. She trusts that Riley is a good guy and she very much wants to be there when he needs her, but she’s starting to seem subtly reluctant to let him be there for her. And then there’s Buffy’s initial optimism and compassion regarding Faith. I wonder if things would’ve been different if Faith had stuck around outside Giles’s flat long enough to hear Buffy saying that. Would she have felt a tug of something? Or would she just have been angry that Buffy was implying Faith had anything to be sorry about? Faith isn’t really one for introspection, so I sort of doubt that she would’ve found Buffy on patrol and asked if they could talk.
Xander is mostly just comic relief, except when he’s obsessing about his and Faith’s “history.” Where is Anya while he’s yammering on and on about this stuff? She could tell him how it’s not good boyfriend form to be boarding such trains of thought. And besides, the last time he and Faith interacted, she was strangling the life out of him. You’d think that would trump the one-night stand for most memorable Faith-related experience.
Willow may not be introducing Tara to the gang, but at least she’s keeping her informed of current threatening situations. And we get an inkling in that scene of how protective Willow is of Tara, which also tells us how important Tara is to her. Hmm. I just had a thought. Whether or not Willow and Tara are platonic at this point, I think Willow’s approach to this friendship/relationship has been greatly influenced by how things ended with Oz. She had no control at all over that situation, but now she’s sort of controlling everything with Tara. Most of the time when Tara appears in a scene, it’s because Willow goes to visit her, or they’re discussing stuff Willow is working on. Their interactions have been very much about Willow. We’ve only learned tiny bits and pieces about Tara, but we’ve learned enough that it shouldn’t be surprising that she doesn’t mind the way the dynamic is playing out. She’s so shy and timid with other people that it seems likely that people don’t usually notice her, and when they do, it’s not always pleasant. Not so with Willow.
I didn’t want to forgive Riley for his behavior last episode, but his apology this time was so sincere that I don’t really have a choice if I don’t want to feel like a biased jerk. Now that he’s had some time and his body is no longer on strike at its sudden lack of drugs, he’s handling the adjustment to his new reality pretty well. He’s a little depressed and uncertain, but willing to help Buffy and her friends even if that means he has to betray his team. I think Riley might be a Hufflepuff too.
Thank you, Spike, for reminding the gang and the audience that you’re still evil. It’s a funny joke, sure, but it also kind of makes me want to agree with Xander when he says “We’re dumb.” Is that the explanation the writers are going with now, for why the Scoobies haven’t staked Spike already? Because they’re dumb? Anyway. This particular bit of smug vindictiveness from Spike definitely shouldn’t be unexpected, considering how things went for him at Willy’s last time. He doesn’t just want to sic Faith on them for the sake of being evil; it’s also for revenge for his lost status in the demonic community. And I’m suddenly struck by the similarity between him and Cordelia. His “And here I thought the evening’d be dull!” is delivered in almost the exact same way as Cordelia’s “There was no part of that that wasn’t fun!” I remember something in a commentary or interview that one of the reasons they wanted Spike in the main cast was as a replacement for Cordelia’s brand of perceptive tactlessness, and it looks like that’s exactly what they’re doing with him now. Personally, I think the show was strong enough to handle alterations to its original character formula, so that seems like a weak reason for bringing on Spike, especially when Anya does almost the same thing (except her lack of people skills makes it even funnier).
Giles is the only member of the gang who seems willing to entertain Buffy’s hopes that things can still turn out well with Faith, but I don’t think he really believes it. He’s just willing to follow where Buffy leads, and I love him for it.
“Yeah, too bad. That was the funnest coma ever.”
“As far as fighting, I’d be lucky to bruise her fist with my face.”
The Watcher's Diary
In this blog, I'll be reviewing, analyzing, and generally fangirling over excellent television. Exhibit A: the Whedonverse.