Monday, April 30, 2012

Buffy: Selfless (7.5)

What is identity? That's the principal question at the heart of Selfless, another under-appreciated Buffy masterpiece and one of the most dynamic character studies I've ever seen on television. By the end of the episode, it's clear that no matter how long Anya has lived, no matter how much she has seen, and no matter how many varying emotions she has experienced, Anya isn't at all a person. She's drifted from one incarnation to the other over the centuries, mainly dictated by the men around her. The impressive title of this episode feeds directly into that, not only alluding to the human being she long ago was, but also the complete lack of self that she has today. In the end, however, there's a glimmer of hope -- Anya acknowledging all of the pain she has inflicted on others, and how much she strives to be someone better.

Selfless is wonderfully constructed as an episode, flying from elaborately-drawn flashbacks that detail how much Anya has been admired over time to the blood-soaked horror and inner sadness that she's become accustomed to in the present day. Is there any more saddening smash-cut than the shot of an ecstatically overjoyed Anya singing in her wedding dress immediately cutting to the Anya of less than a year later pinned to a wall with a sword through her chest? The flashbacks themselves are also genius. The lengthy year 880 moments featuring Aud and Olaf are hilarious, the literal dialogue that pepper these scenes crazily ridiculous ("Hit him with fruits and various meats!"). The visual detail during the St. Petersburg scene is gorgeously vivid, while both Halfrek and D'Hoffryn are by turns funny and intensely sinister during their appearances here.

As well as being an Anya showcase, Selfless also ties into the various themes that are becoming ever prominent this season. Buffy, once she discovers what happened at the frat house, turns into a take-no-prisoners hard-ass and opines that she must kill Anya, a decision that creates immediate ripples with Xander. It marks another example of Buffy becoming harsher and tougher this year, especially after her emotional attachment to Cassie last week resulted in so much hurt. But it's also a concept that is intriguing on a moral level. It can be argued that Buffy is only so determined to kill Anya because, generally, she doesn't like her very much. Compared to Willow's rampage last season, there isn't a huge amount of goodwill between Anya and the non-Xander members of the Scooby Gang, leaving the idea of supernatural rehabilitation looking pretty uninteresting. With all this in mind, it screams of disproportionate unfairness. But it says so much about where we're headed -- the loneliness of the Slayer, and what Buffy has to do in order to save the world.

Drew Goddard's freshman script also says a lot about his burgeoning talent, not only with the Anya story but also in the tiny moments, like Buffy balancing a cup of pencils on her head, or the wonderful lack-of-segue-way that is her 'Ripped out their hearts? Ugh... Hey, did you get that physics class you wanted' line, straight through to the sinister awkwardness of Willow and Anya running into each other on campus; what with Anya's shifty distress and the blood stain on her wrist. Goddard is also intently aware of this show's long history, referencing not only Angel's season two demise, but also Willow's one-time encounter with D'Hoffryn as well as Xander's 'kick his ass' lie back in Becoming. It's just a stunning script, every inch of it filled with horror, back-story and comic potential. It remains one of my Buffy favorites, and is by far the strongest hour in season seven. A+

Credits
Guest stars Abraham Benrubi (Olaf); Andy Umberger (D'Hoffryn); Kali Rocha (Halfrek); Joyce Guy (Professor Hawkins); Jennifer Shon (Rachel)
Writer Drew Goddard Director David Solomon

5 comments:

  1. You said it all, really. A masterpiece.

    This is really Anya's last time to shine on her own, other than a few random scenes here and there, and it's her greatest moment.

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  2. Absolutely. I felt like it could have been a good coda for her, since she never really does anything for the rest of the season. Besides penis jokes.

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  3. I'll agree with the script being really powerful, that Angel line was used so well but I didn't like the meat and fruit line however- just too much! Anya's story was very interesting, it's been needing to be told especially now that she's been so lost. It did annoy me however that the frat house wasn't discovered by the police or anyone. I think the episode felt quite on and off but it certainly gave me a lot to think about and left me feeling sad. I'm glad you covered Buffy's dilemma, she definitely was less sympathetic because it was Anya but humanity versus demon is her code of conduct and the way she justifies what she does (interesting to see that they approached this in Angel too). In fact I think that's the small thing that annoyed me in this episode, how we didn't really get to explore enough of a journey from Anya being human and loving bunnies to defining herself as a blood thirsty demon with a job to do. The way I see it, Anya's struggling with her humanity (perhaps made stronger because she fell in love) as a demon but it seems as if becoming a demon automatically rewires you and changes what you consider decent, I would have liked to have seen that side of things considering the switch-over shown more- a thrill of power has a lot to do with it but it's even more intriguing that Anya wasn't born a demon she just became one and it spiralled out of control. It was her friendship with Halfrek (plus Spike and Buffy's scene) that intrigued me most this episode, maybe because they had the themes around identity and selflessness floating around them, but Anya doesn't care about any of the hurt she causes to the women or people surrounding the men she kills yet throughout time Halfrek has been someone she's shown love to and shared sympathies with so you would think she understood friendship- then again it has been Halfrek by her side who has delighted in whatever brutal events Anya's created. (though she tried to encourage Anya to live a little outside work!..) The demon mindset boggles! Maybe the clues are all there and I'm asking for too much! I think you're bang on the money (lol) with your interpretations considering Anya's lack of self and final understanding that there are consequences and a balanced limit to how you conduct vengeance (D'Hoffryn's poisoned chalice really brought that home) .. Great work!

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  4. I think that was my general interpretation of the episode's meaning, though: that she has just sort of drifted through life and jumped on board whatever comes along. It's been this vacuous existence, where everything is pretty meaningless. She didn't come off as hugely smart as Aud, so it's not hard to imagine that she didn't necessarily lose a conscience when she became Anyanka, it was more like she never had one in the first place. A total lack of self. Heh.

    Great comment, like always. This show has so many layers that you could analyze. It just adds to the fun of the Buffyverse.

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