Because this show can't go five minutes without dumping all over at least one of its cast members... Hell's Bells is the unsurprisingly maligned Xander/Anya wedding episode, something that strives to be engaging and sympathetic, yet comes off as yet another desperate attempt at throwing misery into the lives of the Buffy ensemble with little rhyme nor reason. It could have worked if the following episodes featured interesting new avenues for both characters to go down, but since Xander and Anya ultimately end up becoming even less integral to the Buffy ensemble, Hell's Bells is a total wash.
Breaking up Xander and Anya on its own isn't entirely hideous an idea, but the way it happened could not have been more ridiculous. Xander has always been susceptible to jackass behavior, but his actual proposal to Anya in The Gift was really the abandonment of all that -- it was Xander stepping up and becoming a man and acknowledging that he can actually be an adult in a serious relationship. His whole arc in season five, specifically in The Replacement, was about that evolution from boy to man and Anya's important involvement in that jump.
Here, a couple of vague visions that turn out not to be true are all that cause Xander to dump her. Leaving her at the alter, too, feels unnecessarily cold. Having Anya walk mournfully down the aisle to the wedding march felt unbelievable. Xander winding up in some grungy motel felt like more abject misery for abject misery's sake. It would have been a greater use of Nicholas Brendon and Emma Caulfield if the two of them had gotten married, with Xander's fears remaining intact for a long story arc. I think that is more in keeping with Xander as a character, going along with bad decisions despite feeling terrible about it, all the while being distracted by arguably irrational fears. I refuse to believe he'd treat Anya the way he did.
What's unfortunate is that, prior to the break-up, Hell's Bells isn't all that bad. I felt like a lot of the wedding comedy was a little on-the-nose and predictable, but I loved Anya's ultimately depressing vows and her obvious adoration for her soon-to-be husband. Sarah Michelle Gellar also showcases her knack for comedy and juggling, and is once again pretty adorable. I also liked the brief Buffy/Spike scenes, as they're being played actually real for once, their moments not devolving into abusive dreck like so many of their scenes together lately.
But it's that ending that hurts, and therefore spoils the hour. It's a decision that feels irrational and out-of-left-field, and even more so after watching the rest of the series and seeing how unnecessary it all turned out to be. Don't get me wrong, that last scene between Anya and D'Hoffryn is chilling (and I do like the initial follow-through to her storyline), but all it did in the long run doesn't at all seem to justify what happened here. C-
Guest stars Casey Sander (Tony Harris); Kali Rocha (Halfrek); Andy Umberger (D'Hoffryn); Lee Garlington (Jessica Harris); Jan Hoag (Cousin Carol); George D. Wallace (Old Xander); Amber Benson (Tara Maclay); Steven Gilborn (Uncle Rory)
Writer Rebecca Rand Kirshner Director David Solomon