Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Buffy the Vampire Slayer- The Replacement

Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Season 5, Episode "The Replacement"
Broadcast October 10, 2000

1100

Cast:
Sarah Michelle Gellar as Buffy Summers
Nicholas Brendan as Alexander "Xander" Harris
Alyson Hannigan as Willow Rosenberg
Anthony Stewart Head as Rupert Giles
Marc Blucas as Riley Finn
James Marsters as Spike
Emma Caulfield as Anya Emerson
Amber Benson as Tara
Michelle Trachtenberg as Dawn
Kristine Sutherland as Joyce Summers



Someone is taking over Xander’s life.... and he looks an awful lot like a better-adjusted Xander.

PROLOGUE

Xander, Anya, Buffy and Riley watch kung fu while Xander contemplates finding a new place to live-- far from his parents’ fighting. Meanwhile, a demonic sorcerer at a bubbling cauldron plots Buffy’s death.


ACT I

The gang checks out an apartment for Xander, but it’s way out of poor soon-to-be unemployed Xander’s league. Anya’s feeling pretty discontent.

After the demon of the week, a Toth, roughs Giles up looking for Buffy and wanders away, Buffy and the gang wonder where the Toth would be. Judged by the demon’s smell they look for him at the city dump.

The Toth attacks them and Xander pushes Buffy out of the way of a demon blast, taking the full brunt of a mystic staff-missile. The demon leaves and so does the gang, but unbeknownst to them, an exact replica of Xander has sprung up where Xander fell-- and the real Xander remains behind while the new one walks off with his friends.

ACT II

Xander I wakes up the following day at the city dump and heads home to discover Xander II living at his place. (Xander II dresses better.)

While Buffy and sister Dawn drive their mother batty, Spike plots the death of Buffy, as well, practicing his kicks on a blonde mannequin.

While Xander I skulks in the background, Xander II manages to get a promotion at the job site, then not only gets the apartment he applied for but gets the apartment manager to come onto him. (Xander II has a shiny coin that hypnotizes people.) Xander heads to Giles’ to get Buffy’s help, but finds Xander II.

ACT III

Xander I does the Charlie Brown Christmas "Snoopy dance" to convince Willow that he’s himself. He tells Willow the whole problem while Xander II tries to convince Buffy and Riley to find the doppelganger and kill it right away. Both parties assume it’s the Toth. “A demon has taken my life from me, and it’s living my life better than I do.”

“I never help; I get in trouble and Buffy saves me,” says Xander I. He’s upset that Xander II does everything better-- maybe he should just let Xander II have his life. “It’s not like I was doing anything so great with it.”

Xander II sweet-talks Anya at the new important, astutely dissecting her fears of sudden vulnerability. (Anya’s recent shoulder injury is a new experience for the formerly invulnerable demon.) Xander I busts in on the two kissing, but Anya sticks beside Xander II.

When Willow goes to Giles, the gang surmises that the demon spell was designed to split Buffy into two parts-- instead it’s done the trick on Xander, splitting him into a strong and weak half. Both are genuine Xander and neither can be killed, or both will die. They need to be rejoined.

Meanwhile, Xander I desperately pulls a gun on Xander II.

ACT IV

While Xanders I & II grapple, Buffy and Riley rush to the apartment. Riley consoles Buffy that he would not prefer a non-Slayer “weak Buffy.” Buffy puts a stop to the fight and reveals to the Xanders that they are both Xander. Turns out the shiny coin Xander II toys with isn’t hypnotic after all; it’s just a cool flattened nickel.

Later, the gang marvel at the identical Xanders. “Psychologically this is fascinating,” Riley says. “Doesn’t it make everyone wanta lock them in separate rooms and do experiments on them?” Anya has some experiments of her own she’d like to try, but Willow reverses the spell, leaving us with a whole Xander once more.

Xander tells Riley he envies how Riley has always been as confident as Xander II was. Riley says he's lucky, especially regarding Buffy. He soliloquizes about how “Buffy is the one” for him... “But she doesn’t love me.”



NOTES

Of course I'm bound to give a good review to "The Replacement" because I have a soft spot for Xander-oriented episodes of Buffy, but as usual, my enthusiasm is not misplaced. This is the second time a character's spawned a twin on the show (Willow acknowledges this, nicely) and it has a different twist this time. Xander thinks that he's been replaced by an evil version of himself, but in fact he's merely given flesh to all the parts of Xander that we rarely see: his bravery, intelligence, wit and confidence. It's telling that Xander interprets these attributes as not him, almost as telling as the fact that we, too, feel as though "Weak Xander" is "Xander Complete" on first blush.

I love the concept that if we could strip away our doubts we could become a far more powerful version of ourselves. If anything, the character Xander should retain some of the lessons learned here, but I wouldn't count on it too much-- he's learned a lot of lessons along the way, and his gradual improvement has been agonizingly slow. Note, though, that Xander's plight stems from an act of bravery in the first place, as Xander pushes Buffy out of the way of the Toth's blast. Incidentally, Xander II is played by Nicholas Brendan's identical twin, and he does a fine job, although the script wisely leaves the funny lines to Brendan, who is a master at comic delivery.

On more minor notes, Buffy's sister Dawn remains in this episode, very realistic as an irritating young teen in her sister's hair. I personally applaud the whole Dawn sub-plot because of it's very daring. Whedon and the powers that be knew what they were doing bringing this character on in the fifth season. As with every other choice in the series, Dawn is a commentary on late-season cast additions with a Buffy twist, in that slowly but surely the whole world is going to realize she shouldn't be here. It's a cool idea, and it's irked me to no end that critics, always eager to write cliches lest they waste time thinking, have merely sniffed at the addition without considering the whole point.

I enjoyed seeing Buffy analyze the fighting in the David Chiang movie the gang watches at the beginning. She whines at the stage fighting, telling Riley, "it would drive you crazy if we watched an army movie and they were saluting backwards and invading all willy-nilly."

But where on Earth does Riley's soliloquy at the end come from? I watched the junior super-soldier wax about how very lucky he is to have Buffy, although he knows she "doesn't love me." He's just thankful to have known her, he says. She's made him a better person. I heard this and my first thought was: this guy is so very, very doomed.

And that's my bet. Doomed.


QUOTES:

On demon exits:

Buffy: “He ran away, huh?”
Giles: “He rather more turned and swept away majestically, I suppose.”

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