Written by Drew Goddard
Directed by David Solomon
We open on an exterior shot of the Summers house. Dawn is coaching Willow on how to act when she returns to college, for some reason. Buffy and Xander are discussing Anya while helping pack Willow’s stuff for a dorm. Xander wants to start dating again, but he’s also concerned about Anya. He’s pretty sure that she’s no longer Anyanka.
Cut to a frat house full of frat boy corpses. They’ve all had their hearts torn out. Anya is sitting against a wall, wearing what would be a very cool dress if it wasn’t covered in blood. This massacre is her fault.
After the opening theme, we come back with a stylistically grainy and desaturated flashback to Anya in Sjornjost in 880. Wait, sorry, Aud. Her name was Aud back then, and she was a Viking! I feel like whatever still didn’t make sense about her personality can be explained by her being a Viking. She also really liked bunnies back then, so this looks like it will be the origin story of that phobia. Pre-troll Olaf comes home to brag about all the trolls he’s killed. She puts away his axe and serves him dinner. I’m actually kind of surprised they’re speaking...I don’t know anything about Scandinavian languages, so I’m gonna go with Swedish? In the flashbacks to when Angel was human, they should’ve been speaking Irish, but instead it was English.
Judging from their conversation, Aud is actually a rather thoughtful and generous person (in a pointedly non-capitalist way), so much so that Olaf thinks she’s ridiculous. He lets slip that he’s been to the tavern recently, which Aud isn’t happy about. He assures her she doesn’t need to worry about him cheating on her, because he loves her! He hugs her. She seems reassured, if naïvely so.
Back in the present, Anya is washing the blood off her hands. She missed a spot...everywhere.
In the school basement, Spike is talking to Buffy. He’s never sure if what he sees is real. He reminisces fondly about how happy Drusilla was to see the sky even when they were inside. He knows he’s in trouble. Buffy offers to help, but he doesn’t think he deserves it. The camera pans past them to...Buffy walking up to Spike, in a considerably less compassionate mood. Apparently the nice Buffy was an apparition. Good, because her being that nice to him would’ve made no sense. She bluntly tells him he needs to get out of the basement because there’s something evil there. He realizes the first Buffy wasn’t really her, but he thinks this Buffy isn’t either. Also, he has nowhere to go. Then go kill whatever demon took over your crypt!
At the university, Willow is anxiously assures one of her professors that she is already on top of all her make-up work. The professor doesn’t need to hear it; she’s already okay with Willow coming back. They arrange to meet during office hours. Then Willow spots Anya, who is carefully covering her dress with a trench coat. Willow gushes about how psyched she is to be back in college, and Anya seems suspiciously quiet and upset. She unsuccessfully dodges Willow’s questions by claiming she has a new boyfriend. Willow sees some blood Anya failed to get off her hand, and when Anya walks away, Willow goes to check the frat house. There’s blood everywhere, and she finds the bodies in the next room.
There’s a girl cowering in a closet, saying “I take it back” over and over. This girl, distraught, incoherently tells the story of what happened. Her boyfriend broke up with her in front of all his friends, to make a spectacle of her. She wished they could feel what it was like to have their hearts ripped out. A demon came and made the wish a reality. The demon spider is on the ceiling behind Willow RIGHT NOW.
It attacks, and Willow casts a really awesome force field to block it. But using magic seems to make her meaner, because she snarls at the crying girl to shut up, before using the force field to hurl the demon spider through a window. Then she apologizes.
Flashback! A troll is attacking the Viking village. The biggest troll they’ve ever seen! He tries to explain that he’s Olaf, but the villagers think he’s simply doing an Olaf impersonation. Holy crap these people are the best. Aud stands on the outskirts of the village, calmly watching the pandemonium. D’Hoffryn approaches her, impressed with her work. They speak English to each other. He tells her she is Anyanka, and he’d like her to join him and his order, since she’s not appreciated at all in her town. She’d get to help wronged women punish evil men. She likes this plan!
Buffy is balancing a pencil cup on her face in her office at the school when Willow calls to tell her about the demon spider and the dead frat guys.
Anya is curled up on her couch. Halfrek is psyched for her, getting her game back. Anya is not. She’s surprised and unhappy by her reaction to gory death caused by her. She’s grateful for Halfrek’s support, though. Willow shows up in full resolve face and tells Halfrek to leave. Halfrek reluctantly teleports out, and Willow confronts Anya about the frat guys. Anya tries to justify it with what the frat guys did to that girl. Also, she doesn’t want Willow’s help. Anya is definitely trying to convince herself as much as Willow that those guys got what they deserved.
Buffy and Xander are hunting the demon spider and discussing Willow’s return to college. They find a dead guy as they walk through the woods. They find gross black spider web stuff. The demon’s up in the trees. It jumps down. It has a really gross mouth thing for tearing hearts out. Buffy manages to fling it away, and it flees. Xander wants to go get more weapons, but Buffy throws her axe up into the tree. It kills it. Boom.
They get back to Buffy’s house to find Willow sitting there looking grave. Xander is particularly upset about this, and that Willow didn’t immediately tell them that Anya was the one who summoned the spider demon. Buffy isn’t upset; she’s resigned. If Anya caused a mass murder, then that puts her under Slayer jurisdiction, which generally only involves slaying.
Flashback to 1905, St. Petersburg. Anyanka and Halfrek sit at a long table of corpses, Halfrek congratulating Anyanka on a particularly excellent vengeance massacre. It seems She tipped off the Russian revolution. Holy crap. Halfrek wants to go celebrate somewhere, but Anya just wants to keep working because she doesn’t think there’s anything more fun or fulfilling than avenging scorned women, so she wants to celebrate with more work. Also, she fully supports the Communist revolution. Holy crap!
Buffy is trying to explain to Xander why she has no choice but to kill Anya. He’s not very convinced. They didn’t kill Willow when she went evil. What if they could bring Anya back too? He’s still in love with her. Buffy thinks that means he can’t see this clearly. She explains that Willow was an exception because she’s human (and because Xander talked her down before Buffy could try the Slayer approach, which she was definitely going to attempt, but I guess we’re not going to talk about that). Xander changes tact. Why does Buffy think it’s okay to kill Anya but never felt it necessary to kill Spike? Well, Anya chose to be a demon, whereas Spike was harmless and being helpful. (Oookay. Good point about Anya, but that’s nowhere near a good enough explanation for not dusting Spike.)
Xander wants Buffy to try understanding what Anya’s going through, but Buffy doesn’t feel particularly interested in empathizing with a mass-murderer. Xander doesn’t appreciate her being so high-handed. She reminds him that she sent Angel to hell, even though she loved him more than she will ever love anything. Holy crap we almost actually deal with Xander lying about what Willow wanted to tell Buffy in “Becoming.” But Xander’s too angry to feel ashamed, so we just gloss over it. Ugggggh. Buffy knows she has to make this call because human laws don’t apply in this area. She would love for him to find a different solution. He storms out.
Buffy gets a sword. Willow is still sitting in the same chair she’s been in this whole time, and she remains there, apologizing, when Buffy leaves. Then she goes up to her room and finds some spell stuff. Ooh! And that talisman D’Hoffryn gave her way back in “Something Blue”! Nice continuity! D’Hoffryn appears very dramatically, until he realizes it’s Willow. He’s very impressed by the way she killed Warren. Apparently it’s major office talk around vengeance demon...uh, offices? Or at least there’s a water cooler in that black void place he’s been every time Anya went to see him. Willow informs him that she’s not interested in vengeance, just Anya.
Anya is at the frat house, tracing the blood on the walls. Xander shows up. He wants to help her. She’s sick of people wanting to help her. He apologizes for everything he did to her. She’s very sarcastic about it. He tells her Buffy’s coming to kill her. Anya is basically in a “bring it on” mood. She, like Buffy, knew this showdown was inevitable. And here comes Buffy. With that sword. Anya swats Xander out of the way, and she and Buffy start fighting. It’s pretty brutal. Anya has the upper hand. Buffy impales her.
Xander is asleep on a chair...in the apartment the previous year. It’s a flashback to the day “Once More with Feeling” happened! Yay! Someone outside is singing the prequel song to “They Got the Mustard Out.” Anya sings a solo about how happy she is to be marrying Xander and how she has been discovering who she is since meeting him. While she sings, she switches to her wedding gown. Just when she’s in the middle of the rousing finale, it cuts abruptly back to her stuck to the wall with Buffy’s sword.
Xander comes to and is horrified. Anya wakes up too and pulls the sword out. She’s not very impressed by Buffy’s tactics. They resume the fight. Before Buffy can make another go with the sword, Xander knocks Buffy aside. D’Hoffryn appears and compliments Anya’s work. He helps Anya up. He’s still interested in recruiting Willow. Xander strongly objects to that plan. D’Hoffryn wants to find out what Anya herself actually wants. She, eyes full of tears, admits she wants to undo the wish. He’s not happy with her. It’s possible, but there has to be a balance. The life and soul of a vengeance demon. Xander objects to that too. Anya will do it.
But despite all his hilarious lines and office boss attitude, D’Hoffryn is still a very diabolical bastard. He summons Halfrek, then sacrifices her right in front of Anya, Xander, and Buffy. He always goes for the pain instead of the kill. Anya is out, like she wanted, and the wish is undone, but now she has to live with this. But probably not for long, what with the evil brewing in Sunnydale. He teleports out.
Anya turns to Xander, then walks out of the frat house alone. Buffy sends Xander after her. He catches her just outside. She’s still crying. He doesn’t want her to be alone, but she thinks that’s what she deserves. She’s sincerely grateful for everything he’s done for her. He starts to walk away. She admits she’s afraid she doesn’t have an identity of her own. He advises her not to be a dope. Aww. They walk off separately, and she watches him go for a moment before keeping going with her head up.
“Selfless” was the episode I was looking forward to most in season seven, and it did not disappoint! It was actually better than I remembered, because it isn’t just about Anya realizing she can’t do vengeance anymore, it’s about her having serious dilemmas about her identity. Bravo. I mean, in retrospect, that definitely should’ve occurred to me before because they’re not exactly subtle about it—it’s even in the title! And there were way more hilarious lines in this one than in many of the recent episodes. I wish they’d done a bit more to address this idea of human law versus Slayer justice, but perhaps the writers are aware that the justification for keeping Spike alive from S4-S6 would completely fall apart under closer examination. Halfrek’s death is pretty upsetting. She was a really fun side character, and her presence rounded out Anya’s social sphere better than it ever was in S4 or S5. I love the flashbacks to Anya’s past. The villagers in her hometown are freaking hilarious. I’m not a huge fan of Anya’s bonus “Once More with Feeling” song, but I do like how it was juxtaposed with her being pinned to the wall with a sword.
While I do agree with Buffy about what she had to do, as the Slayer, now that Anya was apparently a mass-murderer again, she should’ve had at least one conversation with Anya before this about what would happen if Anya ever took the vengeance to a murder-y place. I mean, Buffy wasn’t thrilled about Anya turning that guy into a worm demon, but instead of taking the opportunity to discuss that with Anya, she just ran off to find out what the heck was up with Spike. So now, when Buffy feels like she has no choice but to kill Anya, it does seem like a jarring escalation from her former stance on vengeance demon Anya.
Xander has been great for so long, leaving Anya at the altar aside, that it was not fun to see him returning to his old tactics of lashing out at Buffy and throwing things in her face. Best friends are not supposed to use painful, sensitive personal topics as ammunition in arguments. That’s playing super dirty. But I do like his continued faith in Anya. He probably should’ve felt a little more horrified about the twelve dead guys, but he was right that Anya’s heart wasn’t in the vengeance anymore.
I’m really intrigued by the idea that Anya has been defining herself by whatever happened to come along in her life. Which would mean that she’s been seriously adrift ever since she and Xander broke up. She’s been defining herself by her relationship to him, her job at the Magic Box, and vengeance. She lost the relationship, then the job, and she’s gradually been losing vengeance over the course of all the months since D’Hoffryn gave her back her powers. So who is Anya without any of those things? It’ll be interesting to see how she acts going forward as a more self-possessed person than she’s been so far. Will she still love capitalism and hate bunnies? Who knows! One thing is certain: she is done with vengeance. It was particularly fascinating watching her struggle to cling to her old justifications for vengeance, even though her heart was clearly not in it at all. I’m not entirely sure, but I think a part of her might’ve been hoping that Buffy would be able to kill her, because she felt so horrible about what she’d done. She certainly accepted D’Hoffryn’s offer without blinking. But she’s out of the vengeance game again, and this time it was by choice and she has Xander’s support.
Dawn is barely in this one. I’m not sure why she thinks she knows what advice to give Willow about returning to college, since she’s only a high school sophomore herself. Still, at least she’s not annoying about it.
Spike is still crazy in the basement and basically nothing has changed, but it seemed like they drew a deliberate parallel between him and Anya in this one. They both want help, but they’re so convinced they don’t deserve forgiveness that they push people away when they try to help them.
Willow is back in college and things are going well, but adjusting back to her old life is definitely not as easy as she’d hoped. She’s still got some scary rage issues. Are those connected to her magic powers? Because most people don’t vacillate between being kind and remorseful and being mean and condescending. It seemed like it just flipped on when she used magic. I love that she can do such cool magic, though.
“Her hips are large and load-bearing, like a Baltic woman. Your hips are narrow, like a Baltic woman from a slightly more arid region.”
“The troll is doing an Olaf impersonation! Hit him with fruits and various meats!”
“That was water cooler vengeance. Lloyd has a sketch of it on his wall!”
“Breathtaking. It’s like somebody slaughtered an Abercrombie & Fitch catalogue.”
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The Watcher's Diary
In this blog, I'll be reviewing, analyzing, and generally fangirling over excellent television. Exhibit A: the Whedonverse.