On my seventh birthday… I wanted a toy fire truck, and I didn’t get it, and you were real nice about it, and then the house next door burnt down, and then real fire trucks came, and for years I thought you set the fire for me. And if you did, you can tell me. For a while last year, I thought I was lactose-intolerant, but it was just some bad Brie. Oh! Every Christmas, we watch Charlie Brown together, and I do the Snoopy dance.
In previous reviews, I’ve mentioned that season 4 and season 6 have a lot of kinship in that they’re largely about the gang dealing with moving into the adult world. Storylines over much of both seasons focus on transition and change, and how well they cope or don’t with their situations. Sandwiched in between is season 5, which has the heavy burden of also giving us one of the best Big Bad story arcs – which at the time was also a possible series finale – but transitioning the characters from one set of uncertain circumstances to another.
Two episodes in, we’ve already seen some growth that’s come out of season 4. Buffy spent much of last year completely out of sorts until she’s put in touch with the essence of her Slayerness in a very literal way, and can define herself to her own ancestor. She’s come into this year wanting to know more about her lineage and what it means for her, so that she can better understand this mystical birthright.
Giles basically spent season 4 bumbling around, unemployed and directionless. With the kids growing up, he found himself less needed, and with Buffy going her own way with the Slayer thing, even the Watcher role was becoming superfluous. His relationship crashed and burned, he was turned into a demon, he went blind. At Giles’ lowest point, he watched Passions with Spike, his prisoner-turned-roommate. Season 5 found him ready to move back to England, until Buffy asked that he resume his duties as her Watcher, training her as a Slayer.
The third episode, “The Replacement” turns its attention to Xander. As his friends went off to college, Xander found himself quickly fired from a series of dead end jobs. One week he was a ditch digger. Another he was a barkeep. His attempt at an adventurous drive cross-country ends with the engine falling out of his car and a month-long stint as a dishwasher to afford the drive back. On Thanksgiving, Xander gets the funny syphilis. “Buffy vs. Dracula” dishes out more of the same, with Xander becoming the Sunnydale Renfeld, but by the end of it, he’s declared he’s done with being everyone’s “butt monkey.”
Despite this, episode three finds Xander still in his parent’s basement, sleeping on a fold out sofa bed and unable to fix any food for himself because the cat peed on his hot plate. This is an inauspicious beginning to the butt-monkeyless part of life. At one point, he takes the gang to see a very nice one-bedroom apartment – an adult apartment – which he quickly backs out of applying for when Xander is confronted with normal adult things like “making rent” and “filling out an application.” He seems to be going nowhere at all.
Enter in our monster of the week, a demon named Toth who wants to kill The Slayer for whatever random reason any monster decides this is the week to try to kill Buffy. He’s got glow in the dark make-up and a blasty stick, because all the demons have to have something to make them slightly different from the last demon plot-device. While the entire gang is out looking for the demon, Xander gets hit with a shot from the blasty stick and passes out in the garbage dump they’d been fighting in. The next morning he wakes up and heads back to his basement where he finds – shockingly!! – “he” is already home. There are two Xanders! One of them is the twin brother of Nicholas Brendon. Most of the fun of the episode is trying to figure out which one is the twin.
As “meaty” episodes go, there’s not a lot here. One Xander gets all the “good” traits and one gets all the irritating man-child traits, and most of the time is taken up with man-child Xander stalking “grown-up” Xander. Grown-up Xander gets a promotion at work, gets a swanky new apartment, and makes his girlfriend happy by behaving responsibly, and then insightfully understands Anya’s anxiety of her frailty as newly-human. Man-child Xander gets increasingly dirty, to the point there should have been comical stink lines CGIed over him and does the Snoopy dance for Willow to prove he’s not a demon Xander impersonator. There’s some ambiguity in the episode over whether grown-up Xander is actually a demon, because, and this is the joke, no one in the Scoobies can believe Xander to be a competent and resourceful human being, given as they mostly get butt-monkey Xander. Grown-up Xander happens to be a lot like Army-guy Xander, which everyone sort of forgets is a thing.
What the audience gets, and what Xander is forced to confront, is that he has the potential to be a contributing member of the Scooby Gang and a fully functioning adult human being that doesn’t screw his life up as a matter of course. And it is a turning point for him, at least through this season – he back slides quite a bit, probably more so than any other character on the show. It doesn’t help, thematically, that once the two Xanders spend time together, grown-up Xander becomes quickly and increasingly more like man-child Xander, but man-child Xander doesn’t become more like his other half. I know that this is played for laughs, but it’s still an ominous twist.
The day is easily saved, and Anya does not get to have a three-way with her boyfriend, though we all get to hear about it. Let’s all make like Giles and pretend it never happened.
As in “Buffy vs. Dracula,” a lot of what makes this episode important are the seeds that are planted for events later in the season. A good portion of dialogue asks, “Is the other Xander a robot?” The question is raised multiple times, with Xander even articulating that it could be a life-like robot that no one can tell isn’t human. Of course, this leads directly to “I Was Made to Love You” and Warren, which in turn leads to the Buffy-bot, and her importance in the coming events.
Much of Riley’s interactions with Buffy hint at anxiety over his diminished ability as a fighter. He keeps insisting that he’s OK being the vanilla human in their relationship, but his actions don’t support it. Later, he confesses to Xander that Riley thinks Buffy is the most amazing woman he’s ever met and he knows she’s the one. But, she doesn’t love him. Marc Blucas nails this scene out of the park — it’s a real moment of heartbreak.
And slyly, but perhaps cruelly, during Dawn’s only appearance in the episode, Joyce makes reference to having a teenager-induced headache, which at the time seems a perfectly innocuous thing for a mother to say but yet has dire notes when viewed in retrospect.
Season five is going to be brutal, y’all.