I have a recurrent stress dream. The details are usually different, but the generalities are all the same. In the dream, I am somehow indirectly responsible for or accidentally kill someone. The rest of the dream is about what I’m going to do about it — do I hide the body, do I confess? How do I convince people that it wasn’t my fault? I always feel tremendous guilt and often wake up panicking. The day afterwards is usually a bad one for me. The restless night always throws me off.
The crux of the dream is that I feel bad. I feel guilt. I’m terrified about defending my innocence. When I watched “Bad Girls” again this week, I couldn’t stop thinking about these dreams. Those of you who are familiar with this episode probably know why — this is the one where Faith kills a man.
The short synopsis is this. The Council sends a new Watcher for Faith and Buffy. An old, thought-dead vampire comes back to town to find a mystical amulet. The Mayor is preparing a ritual that will make him invulnerable for 100 days. The bad vampire captures new Watcher and old Watcher, and while fighting their way to the rescue, Faith accidentally mistakes a human for one of the bad guys and stabs him in the heart. When Buffy tries to help her deal with it, Faith claims not only that does she not care, but that she’s gotten rid of the body so there’s no proof it ever happened.
We’ve always known Faith is the anti-Buffy. I mean, they cast a brunette with a fake tattoo. Could they have gotten any heavier-handed on the light-dark symbolism? She’s hot-headed where Buffy is cautious. A loner where Buffy is grounded. She loves food, sex, breaking rules, and wearing leather pants. I’m sure if the show had been on some other network, Faith would have smoked and cursed a lot. She’s a bad girl.
But she’s also the Slayer. A Slayer. One of the Chosen Two. That means that she can do more damage in her carelessness and it’s a lot harder to reign her in. Buffy is appropriately in awe of her powers and responsibilities. She doesn’t love ‘em. She’s not so fond of dying all the time. She fights to have some semblance of love and normalcy in her life. In the end, she makes the sacrifices, shoulders the burden, and believes, honestly, that her powers come with an obligation to the world. Faith doesn’t. It’s that blunt. Her life has been shitty and her powers are the reward for that. If she were a bit older, a bit more centered, Faith would probably have already walked away from the Council. She’s there because she’s young and has nothing better to do.
We see several times in the episode Faith’s sense of entitlement. It’s been on display all season (remember the fry incident?), but the writers make sure to hammer it home in the build up to what happens in that alley. She breaks Buffy out of school, steals, ruins a cop car and assaults two cops in the process, lies, and has sex with Xander. By the time she’s reeling from stabbing another human, it almost seems inevitable that we’d end up there with her.
I’ve wondered a lot, if she, like Buffy, sensed he was a human being before she killed him. We don’t know how special Buffy’s powers are — she definitely exhibits traits other Slayers haven’t had, like her prophetic dreams — but the ability to tell a monster from a man seems like an awful basic skill set. Does Faith know why Buffy screams “Wait”? Does she know it and doesn’t care? Or can she just not stop herself? When she bundles him up to toss him in the river, I’m back to my dream again and wonder if she’s paralyzed by the same fear and guilt — It’s not my fault, but I did it just the same.
That look on Faith’s face when she realizes what she stabbed is like lightning. Her humanity is still there, it’s horrified. Because she can’t is or is unwilling to deal with the ugliness of the truth and the guilt — god, the guilt — so she shuts that humanity down. It’s the easier, craven road taken. She convinces herself that it’s her right to be absolved of killing him, because she’s saved so many lives otherwise. But the scales don’t balance like that. And Faith literally changes herself so that it does. Everything that happens from here on out with her happens in that moment when her face changes from horrified to resolute. Lightning fast.
Lighter notes: Everything that Giles does in the background in this episode is pure gold. Every roll of the eye, every look sent heavenward, every deadpan comment is amazing. Half the time he’s not even in focus — there’s an entire scene in the library where Giles is standing near his office while Wesley lectures Buffy about something or other, and at one point he looks a the ceiling for several seconds. We all know what he’s thinking because we’re thinking it to. How far you’ve come, Giles. How far you’ve come.
Also, this is genius: