Buffy the Vampire Slayer
(February 23, 1998)
Synopsis by Jason Henderson
What's a sadistic, hyper-sexed vampire to do? When she's good, she's very good, and when she's bad, she's still Willow, but in a leather outfit that would scare Emma Peel. Sunnydale has suddenly become "Doppelgangland."
Screenplay: Joss Whedon
Direction: Joss Whedon
Buffy: Sarah Michelle Gellar
Cordelia: Charisma Carpenter
Angel: David Boreanaz
Willows: Alyson Hannigan
Xander: Nicholas Brendan
Giles: Anthony Stewart Head
Wesley Price: Alexis Denisof
Remember Ananka, the holder of The Wish, who introduced us all to an alternate world where Xander and Willow ruled Sunnydale in a vampiric reign of terror and answered only to the Master? Ever since that episode ended with Ananka's loss of power and the reversal of the alternate-world switch, Ananka has been trapped in the body of a seventeen-year-old at Sunnydale High. She hates it, she wants her power back, and we open with her pleading with a demon for a return of The Wish. Request denied.
Willow, meanwhile, is making frighteningly fast progress with her magic: now she's spinning pencils in the air while she lounges in the schoolyard with Buffy. Buffy, meanwhile, is prepping for a battery of physical and psychological Slayer tests from Wesley, the bottom line is she wants to do better than Faith. (In the psych portion, Willow suggests, this is a cinch.)
Willow has a new job: she's been tapped by Principal Snider to tutor a bruiser football player who is allergic to work. Giles also has demands, sending her to the computer to access the Mayor's files.
Faith has run new Watcher Wesley half to death on the Watcher test, then hurries off to report in to Satanic Mayor, who's set Faith up with a really swell apartment. (She'll keep the fleabag motel to meet friends.) Oh, and the mayor thinks it's time to kill Buffy.
Willow really begins to feel put upon when she finds out the football player expects her to write his papers for him, and begins to lose it, in a Willow sort of way, when Buffy and Xander assume she remembered to tape Biography, which she did. She is "Old Reliable," and it's driving the poor girl nuts.
But Ananka comes to Willow and says she wants to work a spell to retrieve a lost necklace. (This is her attempt to get back into the Mirror Mirror Buffy Universe.) But it fails, because Willow gets a solid glimpse of that other world and the cataclysmic battle in which Willow, Xander and Buffy die, and Willow calls the spell off.
But by just before her death in the other dimension, Dark Willow has drifted through Ananka's temporal fold and landed in our Sunnydale, complete with leather bodice and a really snazzy dark lipstick that Willow 1 would do well to adopt. Dark Willow slinks down the street into a Kaye's Choice concert at the Bronze, where she kicks the bruiser football player's ass before Xander steps in. Dark Willow recognizes Xander as her dark lover, but she realizes she's in the wrong place. When she snarls away from Buffy, the Slayer realizes Willow is a vampire.
Vampires sent by the Mayor arrive to kill Willow and find Dark Willow instead, who promptly breaks a few vampire fingers and commandeers the whole posse. Within an hour of her arrival, Dark Willow has a crew.
Buffy, Xander and Giles mourn Willow for about three minutes before Willow 1 reappears at the library, very much alive and not a vampire. Across town, Dark Willow takes over the Bronze, dispersing her crew and dispatching at least one victim on the spot. Oz sends Angel to get Buffy ("Dude," says the drummer, "check out your girlfriend.") Dark Willow's feeling blue, though, because this world is "dumb," and not nearly as stimulating as her own, and Ananka proposes they both work to get back.
Off goes the Slayer gang to the Bronze, leaving Willow 1 to be attacked by Dark Willow, who's come looking for her mirror image. Luckily (for us), Dark Willow has an auto-erotic thing for her sweater-girl counterpart. "This just can't get more disturbing," Willow 1 says, and after Dark Willow puts the moves on Willow 1, Willow 1 shoots her with a tranquilizer gun.
The Slayer Gang lock Dark Willow up in the book cage and decide to dress Willow 1 up as Dark Willow, to infiltrate the Bronze thereby. ("It's really binding; I guess vampires don't have to breathe," Willow reports on the leather bodice, staring at her constricted chest. "Gosh, look at those.") But the subterfuge doesn't last long because Willow 1 lacks a certain knack for acting like Dark Willow, and Ananka isn't long fooled.
Dark Willow wakes up in the book cage just in time to be found by Cordelia, who decides to bend her ear about Xander and infidelity before setting her free. Wesley the watcher manages to save Cordy from being vampirized just yet, so Dark Willow heads off to bust into the Bronze just as the Slayer Gang head in to save Willow.
At the last moment, Willow begs Buffy not to stake Dark Willow, and instead they send her back to the Mirror Mirror Buffy dimension. (Of course, she goes straight back to the battle where she's immediately staked by Oz the White Hat.)
The next day, Willow feels like being reliable. "I see now where the path of vice leads," Willow somberly intones. But the football player brings her two outlines for the paper (he's had a change of heart now that he fears her) and an apple, of all things. As the football player vaults away, Willow changes her mind about staying in.
Good god, what a marvelous thing is Alyson Hannigan. This is a Willow episode that gives us now less than two Willows plus a hybrid: it bends the brain to watch Hannigan playing Willow playing Dark Willow and getting it wrong. (The performance is so convincing that at times I forgot I was watching one actress.)
Dark Willow is just wonderful, an S&M dream for anyone with a Willow thing, not that that would be me. Sure, it's an obvious trick- - the sexy, slightly perverse counterpart to the pure character; every speculative fiction show has had a variation on this theme. But it works, thanks to Hannigan and not a little bit of leather.
Even before the mirror cracks, though, we have Willow demonstrating her burgeoning telekinetic skill by accidentally driving a pencil deep into a tree. I can't wait to see this power put to use in battle. Willow's on her way to becoming an anime-style sorceress, which is almost as cool as a leather-festooned vampire, perhaps more so. One worries, though, about Willow going off the deep end someday and trapping the whole school in a raging cafeteria conflagration. She hates Faith with an unbecomingly purple passion, and I have this sinking feeling that if Buffy doesn't finish Faith off, Willow just might.
Cordy's hitting pretty fiercely on Wesley. She wanders into the high school wearing what a regular gal would wear to the prom, and what luck, manages to get saved by the strapping new watcher. (Incidentally, how is it that this High School is open all night, but only those close to Buffy bother to hang out there? Or does the Slayer Gang have a set of keys, and they forgot to take Cordy's back?)
I'm pleased to see that Wesley and Giles have settled into something of a status quo as active and unofficial watcher, respectively. The upshot of this is fairly simple: the powers that be have introduced another watcher character, presumably to act as a nebbishy sort of romantic interest.
Lastly, in this episode we also see that Faith's road down the dark path is well underway. She doesn't lift a finger when the Mayor announces he's sending his vampire cronies to off Willow, even if Faith can't stomach doing it herself. If we had any hope Faith were putting on an undercover act, this clinches it: Buffy undercover would have sabotaged the attempt. Faith is going bad, fast.
So there we are. Fantastic ep.
"I know Faith's not going to be on the cover of Sanity Fair, but she had it rough."
- Buffy on Faith's prospects in a psych test
Giles: She was truly the finest of all of us.
Xander: Way better than me.
Giles: Much, much better.
- On the stairs, reeling from the news of Willow's apparent vampirization.
"I'm eleven hundred and twenty years old, just gimme a freakin' beer!"
-- Ananka, having no fun in her teenage body
And the best dialogue of the episode:
Buffy: I told you. Old Reliable.
Willow: Oh, thanks. Old Reliable; there's a sexy nickname.
Buffy: I didn't mean it as...
Willow: No, it's fine. That's me. Old Reliable.
Xander: She just means, like the geyser. You're like a geyser of fun that goes off at regular intervals.
Willow: That's Old Faithful.
Xander: Isn't that the dog that the guy had to shoot...
Willow: (growling) That's Old YELLER.
Buffy: Xander, I beg you not to help me.