Retro Recap: Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Episode 3.17, “Enemies”

[E] Slay BelleLadyGhosts of TV Past4 Comments

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What isn’t? You know, I come to Sunnydale. I’m the Slayer. I do my job kicking ass better than anyone. What do I hear about everywhere I go? Buffy. So I slay, I behave, I do the good little girl routine. And who’s everybody thank? Buffy.

You get the Watcher. You get the mom. You get the little Scooby gang. What do I get? Jack squat. This is supposed to be my town!

I said a couple of weeks ago that Faith couldn’t pause in her downward spiral because it’s the only way she can live with herself. If she takes a breath, if she thinks about what she’s done, the guilt will catch up with her.

She hasn’t slowed down in the least by the time we get to “Enemies.”

The short of it: Faith and Buffy meet up with a demon offering to sell them “The Books of Ascension.” He’s under the impression that the Slayers already know what’s really going down in Sunnydale vis-à-vis the Mayor. One of them is, and Faith trots right back to the Mayor to let him know what’s going on. This sets in motion a plot to rob Angel of his soul and murder Buffy, which seems a bit extreme for a girl who played for the white hats less than a month ago. The Mayor lets her work up to it by murdering the demon brokering the books. It’s not like he’s human, right?

Murder-diddly-urdering done, Faith sets her sights on Angel, working a horizontal mambo angle in her quest to unleash Angelus.

I find it amusing that literally almost every person on the show defines Angel’s “˜”moment of happiness” trigger as the ability to have sex. Just any sex. Sex with anyone. One orgasm, pay with your soul. It’s a decidedly phallic-centric approach to the concept of the curse and everyone buys into it. Except for Angel. He’s implied that he understands it wasn’t the act of sleeping with Buffy that cost him. It was the fact that he loved her, and she loved him back, and they were able to fully share themselves with each other. I observed once before that Whedon sets up a dynamic where traditionally masculine/patriarchal ideals repeatedly cause trouble in his world – people who can’t evolve beyond that mode of thinking are left behind and frustrated. The whole sex=happiness debacle falls firmly under this umbrella. Faith wouldn’t have been any closer to Angelus if Angel had slept with her, but she has no way of understanding this. She’s bought into a whole host of patriarchal rigmarole that colors the way she views Slaying, how she relates to her friends, and how she views sex.

When seduction doesn’t get what she wants, the Mayor hires a sorcerer to rip Angel’s soul from him, and the two of them team up to get Buffy out of the way. Instead of just killing her, Faith relishes the idea of maiming and torturing Buffy – a fellow Slayer, a former friend, and more importantly a human being – all because she feels like she plays second slaying fiddle. So gleeful that she’s finally one-upped Buffy, Faith spills everything she knows about the Mayor’s planned Ascension. This is when Buffy and Angel reveal they’ve been playing her all along – Angel has his soul, they have the information they needed, and more importantly, Buffy’s not really chained up. Faith’s treachery is out in the open and after a brief throw down, she flees to the Mayor’s side.

Unlike last week’s “Dopplegangland,” “Enemies” is a slow burn, with few moments of humor and a depressing pall cast over the entire episode. The last third of it, where Faith and “Angelus” go on their tear, is a stunning example of how well Whedon and company handle dark storylines. It’s difficult to watch at times, especially the way that Faith is just so happy about torturing Buffy. She absolutely relishes the idea. The reveal of the torture instruments and her delight in describing exactly what she’s going to do with them is unsetting, to say the least.

On another show, such a turn about in personality – from savior of the world to villain in a handful of episodes – might have seemed inauthentic, but BVTS has been seeding the season’s episodes with hints of how deeply Faith covets everything Buffy has. So when Faith is standing in the mansion, knife in hand, and all the bile is spewing out of her, it’s completely understandable how Faith moved from feeling guilty about killing the demon earlier in the episode to plotting her friend’s murder with a song in her heart. It’s deep and ugly and real. Jealousy will fester. It will corrupt. And in someone as unstable as Faith, it’ll take over.

Faith: Why? So you can impart some special Buffy wisdom, that it? Do you think you’re better than me? Do you? Say it, you think you’re better than me.

Buffy: I am. Always have been.

There’s no coming back from this moment for either of the Slayers. Everything that is said in the mansion will color every interaction they have, all the way through the show and into the comics. Faith’s return in season 4’s “Who are You?” just reiterates the same themes, and later in season 7, when she handles the Scythe for the first time, Faith says though she feels like it was meant for her, that just means it really belongs to Buffy. And Buffy – who is able to separate Angel from the actions of Angelus, who forgives Giles for betraying her in “Helpless,” who remains friends with Willow after the close of season 6 – never, ever forgives Faith. She never gets over Faith’s betrayals. Maybe if Faith had just beaten her up a bit, or even if Faith had just slept with Angel, Buffy might have eventually moved on. But Faith betrayed what it means to be a Slayer and for someone like Buffy, who feels the burden of her responsibility so deeply, that is an unpardonable sin.

Next week: “Earshot”

Bonus Content: You’re welcome.

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[E] Slay BelleRetro Recap: Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Episode 3.17, “Enemies”

4 Comments on “Retro Recap: Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Episode 3.17, “Enemies””

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  1. Profile photo of Sheena really wouldn't mind an early autumn
    Sheena really wouldn't mind an early autumn

    Oh, Faith, honey. What are you doing? What, what, WHAT are you doing? Look at your life. Look at your choices. You have to be a friend to have friends; murdering people prevents solid friendships; and, also, go for a bold eye OR a bold lip, not both. 

    The contrast in surrogate father figures here is interesting. Giles has repeatedly shown that he will give Buffy guidance, but that he sees her as strong, intelligent, and capable of making her own choices (and will help with consequences when necessary). He treats Buffy like a young adult. The Mayor treats Faith like a misbehavior-prone little girl. He’ll reward her for being “good” (with a nicer apartment, pretty dresses, toys) but scolds her when she’s bad. Giles has given Buffy hell for bad choices before (um, all of the post-Angel’s-return drama), but makes it clear WHY he’s angry and will still give Buffy the support she needs to make better choices and do the right thing. The Mayor just goes for Stern Daddy Face, and expects Faith to comply. Which she does. Because, as we’ve mentioned a billion times already, Buffy was raised with the expectation that she would do the right thing, and that was only emphasized further when she was called as a slayer. Buffy has learned HOW to make good choices, even when the possible outcomes are scary, and to ask for help. Faith didn’t have any kind of positive parental figure until her first watcher, then she had Gwendolyn Post…And everyone assumed that the Council would send a new watcher for her, so Giles didn’t take on the responsibility. The Mayor was her first actual parent, and, well. That said, the Mayor and Faith as daddy-and-daughter does have some cute moments (like when he buys her the dress).

    And, Wesley isn’t a father figure for anyone. He’s more the annoying cousin who thinks that going to a “better” college makes him smarter, though he lacks any practical knowledge or application skills. Throwing him into the mix basically adds another “kid” for Giles to “raise”.

  2. Profile photo of [E] Sally Lawton
    [E] Sally Lawton

    This was an amazing recap! I remember hearing somewhere that part of why they introduced faith is because they wanted to explore Buffy’s dark side but didn’t want to make their heroine unlike able in future seasons.

  3. Profile photo of freckle [M]
    freckle [M]

    I feel like sobbing a bit for a couple of fictional characters right now.

    Faith’s entire story line was/is a building storm. In some episodes you feel like it died down, but it just wasn’t meant to be. I can remember desperately wishing for Angel not to be touched by her taint because no matter what, Buffy needed him. Now I’m suddenly wondering what the backstory of the Mayor would be. But for the demon ruling the world thing he would be a helicopter daddy and Faith the kid that would be called tomboy and ‘maybe she should try playing with dolls instead of climbing trees?’.

    I love how a tv-series can make me wonder like this, even after all these years.

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