You think you matter, you think you’re a part of something, and you get dumped. It’s like the whole world is moving, but you’re stuck. Like those animals in the tar pits. It’s like you just keep sinking a little deeper everyday, and nobody even sees!
Confession: I don’t really like Faith. I know from the comments here over the years that there’s a strong showing of Faith supporters in the ranks. Something about Faith always rubbed me the wrong way ““ not the bad girl stuff, I think the idea of the character is really fascinating ““ but Dushku’s performance of her. I think I would have liked to seen more subtly in the portrayal, a sense of depths of feeling and tragedy that aren’t painted in broad strokes. I hope we can still be friends.
I mention this because “This Year’s Girl” (named for the phenomenal Elvis Costello song) heralds in Faith’s return to the Buffyverse.
Since the events of “Graduation Day”, Faith has been comatose in (apparently) the basement of Sunnydale General, forgotten and all but abandoned, to judge by the condition of her surroundings. While she sleeps, she dreams, and the opening of the episode gives us insight into the way Faith sees herself. That’s the recurring theme of “This Year’s Girl” ““ Faith’s perception of self (its companion episode, “Who Are You” is all about her confronting how other people see her). We rarely see any non-Buffy dreams in the Buffyverse ““ there’s Angel’s nightmare and the final episode of this season ““ but in this episode we get three from Faith’s point of view. The first is a reworking of Buffy’s dream in “Graduation Day”, where the two Slayers are making the bed for “˜Little Sister’. The first version is from Buffy’s perspective; the second is Faith’s.
In Buffy’s dream, Faith offers clues on how to stop The Mayor and predicts two things ““ Dawn’s arrival and Buffy’s death at the end of season five. It’s heavily implied that Buffy and Faith may actually be communicating, not just Buffy’s subconscious working her guilt out. In Faith’s version of the dream, Faith again talks about Dawn’s arrival, and the two Slayers are having a sad, but calm conversation over the bed they just made. And then Buffy, without warning or provocation, stabs Faith in the gut. Important tonal change, don’t you think? And unlike the dream sequence from season 3, it seems important to note that this isn’t a shared experience; these are Faith’s thoughts, trapped inside her own head.
The following two dreams share a similar theme (and a call out to The Shawshank Redemption). In the second, Faith and The Mayor share a family picnic, laughing and joking, laying out in the sun. Then Buffy shows up to slit her “father’s” throat and chases after a terrified Faith as Faith tries to crawl to safety. In another dream, Faith is running through one of Sunnydale’s many cemeteries while Buffy tracks her, moving slowly, unhurriedly, knowing she’ll catch Faith sooner or later. When Faith trips and falls into an open grave, Buffy leaps in after her. There’s an unseen fight and then Faith claws herself to the surface ““ and wakes up, still thinking its Graduation Day and she needs to go help The Mayor.
If there was ever a character who suffered from a tragic lack of introspection, it’s Faith. Her nightmares all cast herself as the victim, pursued by monsters. But the first thing she does when she wakes up is attack another lost wanderer, steal her red cloak and head back out into Sunnydale, a wolf who’s deluded into thinking she’s Little Red Riding Hood. When she chooses her own clothes, both in her body and Buffy’s, she’s in black leather. Aggression, sexuality, violence – she chooses her clothes specifically to match an image she wants to project. Her attitude changes as well ““ when Buffy protests the fight that’s about to come, saying that there are innocents around, Faith replies, “There’s no such animal.” That includes her, in her black leather and red lipstick ““ she may pretend to the victim role, but something in her knows the truth.
In her running around town, Faith runs into ““ and by runs into I mean “stabs to death some guy who tries to talk to her” ““ a messenger from The Mayor, who delivers her a strange device and a videotaped “if you see this, I am dead” message. He appeals to her love for him and her jealousy of the Scooby Gang, and knows that she won’t even bother asking what the strange device is or what it does, she’ll just use it, because he told her to. Even in death, The Mayor is aiming her at his enemies and pulling the trigger. I don’t doubt that The Mayor loved Faith in his own way. And he might be genuine in his desire to give Faith the ability to seek some revenge ““ but he’s not being honest about who it’s for. This is his revenge. His reach across the grave to strike at those who beat him. And Faith laps it up, because he’s the only person who loved her who allowed her to indulge in her worst excesses and didn’t push her to be a better person ““ only a better killer.
As an aside, timeline wise, this video casts an interesting shadow over the events of Graduation Day. It has to have been made after The Mayor finds Faith in the hospital and tries to smother Buffy to death. He was still absolutely certain at that moment that he’d win ““ so what happens in the couple of hours between his visit to the hospital and the ceremony? Why the doubt?
Faith does what she does best, wrecks havoc on Sunnydale and Buffy’s personal life, showing up on campus to have a bit of a brawl, stalking the gang at Giles’s house, where she reenacts Angel’s “outside looking in” shtick from “Pangs,” and finally showing up at Buffy’s house to take her mom hostage. Hi Joyce! We’ve missed you this season!
Without much prompting, Faith starts vomiting her jealousies and insecurities all over Joyce, unable to understand why she didn’t end up with the loving mom and the stable of friends even as she threatens to kill Buffy’s mom. She feels entitled ““ The Mayor told her she was entitled to anything she wants, based on the quirk of her birth, where she ended up a Chosen One and not some other, normal girl. And because she’s figuratively blind to the situation, she’s literally blind to it as well, tackled from behind when Buffy bursts through her mother’s second story bedroom window.
The two Slayers fight viciously throughout the house, while Joyce calls the cops, who are on Faith’s trail, at the same time (unbeknownst to most of them) a special Watcher team is coming to collect the rogue Slayer. When Faith finally has a second, she slips the device onto her hand, and still not knowing what will happen, locks hands with Buffy. There’s a light, a moment of confusion, and then Faith-as-Buffy punches her old body in the face, knocking Buffy-as-Faith unconscious.
One last side note that didn’t fit into my narrative above, Buffy’s guilt over what she did to Faith manifests itself in interesting ways. She refuses, despite the many ways in which Riley asks the question, to explain exactly why Faith is so dangerous. How do you explain to your new, Midwestern boyfriend that you attempted to gut someone to save the life of your last boyfriend? How do you explain that you hate her so much because she represents what you could become if you allowed your moral code to slip, even just a little? We’ll get more of this story line later on, but its brewing here and will always cast a massive pall over the relationship between the two Slayers.
Images courtesy of Broken Innocence Screencaps and Goodbye Piccadilly Circus Farewell Leicester Bloody Square and property of 21st Century Fox.
Bonus tracks: Elvis Costello, “This Year’s Girl”