I've always had an unsteady relationship with Xander. Sometimes he's been petulant and moronic, other times straight-up obnoxious. There's also the fact that he's so self-consciously nerdy and awkward, something that has bothered me with other Whedonverse geek characters that seemed to be based somewhat on Joss himself (Andrew, Wash and Topher also spring to mind). But every once in a while Xander is portrayed in a way that doesn't entirely bug me, and The Replacement is one of those times.
This is partly because the concept depicted here is so fascinating. Jane Espenson nearly treads familiar territory with her script (there's even a reference to Willow's experience with an evil doppelganger in season three), but at the same time offers an intriguing explanation for what is happening, with both Xander's being facets of the same person, and the double not simply being an evil twin. Our Xander gets considerably unhappier, plagued with self-doubt and cursed with bad luck, while the other Xander gets promotions, satisfies Anya, buys a new apartment and generally becomes a successful, well-rounded young man. It's a great idea, the separation of different parts of his personality. Even Toth's original plan could have made an interesting episode, with Buffy separated into two versions, one with power and the other with nothing.
The story also has a bunch of great bits of dialogue, from Xander's determination to prove to Willow that he's the real deal, to that great moment at the end where both Xander's are together laughing over Star Trek and confessing that they compared the size of their dicks, Anya just wants a threesome, and Riley suggests locking them up and performing experiments on the two of them. Great character moment.
Away from the Xander story, the rest of the script is unfortunately messy. We get lone scenes with Spike and Dawn which feel too segregated to be effective; while the Buffy and Riley subplot is too interesting to be used so sparingly. It does, however, create a really moving final sequence, where Riley confides to Xander that Buffy doesn't love him. It's a painful scene, with Riley acknowledging what felt so obvious. And Xander is the guy everybody turns to, he's the confidante and the guy that sees things. It works so well as a true reflection on his character. Fun episode. B
Guest stars Michael Bailey Smith (Toth); Kristine Sutherland (Joyce Summers)
Writer Jane Espenson Director James A. Contner