Retro Recap: Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Episode 3.14, “Bad Girls”

“When are you going to get this, B? Life for a Slayer is very simple – want… take… have.”

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:

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5 Comments Retro Recap: Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Episode 3.14, “Bad Girls”

  1. Avatar of [M] freckle[M] freckle

    Like how all I wanted for Buffy was a life with a genuine, soul-linking love, all I wanted for Faith was the most basic-ass normal life of home, family, dog. Even during the first watch my horror was doubled with “Can’t you see you’re digging yourself into a bottomless pit? Turn back! Stop!”

    1. Avatar of Sheena is ready for spring but still knitting cold-weather thingsSheena is ready for spring but still knitting cold-weather things

      OMG, yes. Buffy wanted/needed that deep, understanding love (Xander needed purpose, Willow needed to find her niche and flourish, Giles needed his library and his Slayer to guide and maybe a bird for company). Faith always needed some sort of stable, normal life. Parents who gave a shit, somewhere safe to live, a pet to take care of and hang out with. She needed to be able to argue with a parent about prioritizing slaying over homework, like Buffy did. And, not to blame Buffy for Faith’s spiral, but…I’m fairly certain Joyce would have made space, time, and adjustments for Faith rather than leaving the girl to fend for herself at some disgusting motel (we have and will see Joyce make sacrifices like that for others, notably Dawn, and she even said during the “Faith, Hope, and Trick” that Buffy should try harder to make her feel welcome).

      But, this is where the Scooby Gang is weak: Buffy didn’t like having Faith around, so Xander and Willow tried to make Faith feel welcome without disrupting the peace. Giles didn’t love that Faith was so wild, and that the methods that worked with Buffy didn’t work with Faith (and he seemed to think that she’d have her own Watcher before too long, otherwise I bet he would have sat Faith down for a chat about the importance of putting up with high school classes so she would graduate). Even if it was unintentional (or only subconsciously intentional), they aren’t as open to Faith as they were Kendra. Faith saw what Buffy had, and wanted in — but she wasn’t given what she expected or wanted. At this point, Faith was still trying to prove that she was a Good Slayer. And none of this includes Wesley, who didn’t exactly ingratiate himself from the beginning (though he kind of gets better); Wesley arrives with new rules and expectations, Giles tacitly supports Buffy’s resistance, but not Faith’s. Not to excuse murder, but they didn’t exactly treat Faith like a new member of the club (hell, they welcomed Cordelia because she kept being in the wrong place at the wrong time and managing to survive).

      I think at this point, Faith is trying to prove herself as a Badass Extraordinaire. As much as Faith claims she doesn’t care about murdering a human, she freaked out as much as Buffy did. She freaked out the same way when she realized that Taquitos followed her to Sunnydale. Faith may be good at wearing a mask, but when it cracks — she’s a scared kid.

  2. Avatar of DescaradaDescarada

    I think Faith at this point is irritating and overdrawn as a character but this episode is really great because it shows you what Buffy could be if she weren’t so earnestly GOOD.  It makes you wonder how this whole slayer thing ever works out because most people would be drunk with power.  And I like Faith later on.  She’s a godsend when she shows up on Angel.  But when she first came on Buffy I think she overdid it with the over the top acting and I’m so bad stuff.

  3. Avatar of AlexAlex

    I think what really always got me about Faith was really, how alike she and Buffy were – at least in potential. I saw her less as an anti-Buffy than “Buffy Without” – without the same love, the same mother, the same care, the same friends. She’s also (at least to my mind) the “working class Slayer” – as a kid, I certainly empathised with her past far more than Buffy’s divorce (and I’m a child of divorce!). For me, Faith is actually a much more ordinary underdog hero – in any other story, she could be the protagonist (and indeed eventually she is, after a fashion).* The fact that she’s in some way ‘deconstructed’ is always something I’ve loved – she’s the “anti-hero” shown for what it really could be; destructive and massively out of control.

    *one of the things I always loved about Buffy was that its protagonist was a girl who really could be “that bitch from high school” – popular and pretty. Though it’s implied she was shallow and materialistic before and now isn’t so much, that actually fits so much to me; every popular girl I’ve ever known mellowed out and got nicer and more mature as she got older. When Buffy’s in her last year of high school and there’s way less of the “OH GOD POPULARITY”, it seems very true-to-life – Whedon sidesteps sexist “pretty girl” stereotypes by setting both Buffy and Cordelia up as charismatic, extroverted girls who have character development as the series goes on; and some of those shallow “pretty girl” flaws are actually played up as STRENGTHS for Cordelia – she’s bracingly honest, forthright, and more than any other character in Buffy demands normalcy and ‘her life back’, while Buffy shows the other side of that coin – accepting her duties and still defining normalcy for herself (admittedly not so successfully, but swings and roundabouts).

    1. Avatar of Sheena is ready for spring but still knitting cold-weather thingsSheena is ready for spring but still knitting cold-weather things

      Yes, great point about Faith being “Buffy, without”. If Faith had a supportive parent who tries to understand, a kind, compassionate, tough watcher (who wasn’t murdered by the cloven-footed vampire Taquitos), friends to blow off steam with and rely on…Faith might not be such a loose cannon. She might not be so angry and hurt. She might not enjoy the killing parts of being a Slayer so much. But then again, there’s no guarantee — Faith isn’t just Buffy with brown hair and dark lipstick. She’s not even the “Buffy x1000″ that we saw in “The Wish”. That Buffy shut down her emotions so she could do her job; she was all work, all the time. Faith still feels deeply (as much as she tries to convince herself that she doesn’t care, she definitely does care), and plays as hard as she works.

      And as much as I disliked Cordelia at first, I’ve recently discovered what you mentioned. Yes, she’s a bit self-centered, but she’s not a terrible person. Cordy thinks/thought that popularity is the most important quality in life to pursue, until she noticed that there is a LOT more to Sunnydale (and the world) than she expected. Sure, she’s still very image-focused, but as the series progressed she wasn’t so oblivious and started considering how her actions affected others. Plus, even though she never seemed to be a big fan of the Scooby Gang, Cordelia respects them (especially Buffy) and tries to maintain her own life while helping prevent two apocalypses and a Mayor Massacre.

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