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+
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