The Replacement
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Buffy vs Dracula
Real Me
The Replacement
Out of My Mind
No Place Like Home





Written by:  Jane Espenson

Directed by: James A. Contner



At the very start of this episode the writers go out of their way to show us LoserXander.  The humiliations heaped on his head are almost too numerous to recount.  But a brief synopsis would include that here was someone who lives in his parents basement but apparently has no access to their kitchen because his only means of cooking are a soiled hot plate and a dryer on which he can warm Spaghetti-os.  (As an aside I should mention here that someone has told me that a dishwasher poaches salmon to perfection but I have never quite brought myself to try it).  We next see why Xander doesn’t venture into his parents kitchen when they return to the house in the middle of a violent argument.  It’s little wonder he regards Hell as one step up from home.  And his homelife isn’t the only thing that causes Xander problems.  He just can’t seem to do anything right.  When he sees Riley administer a neck-rub to Buffy and tries to do the same for Anya he forgets she has a dislocated shoulder and is rebuffed.  But it’s not just the fact that these things keep on happening to Xander.  It’s the fact that the others are present to see his humiliation.  Even Anya’s rebuff of the neck-rub was witnessed by Riley.

The next day apartment hunting is just as bad.  First of all Xander in his loud floral shirt is ignored in favor of Riley by the building manager and  Anya embarrasses him by constantly reminding him of his parents’ basement.  But most telling of all is the fact that because it is a nice apartment Xander naturally assumes it isn’t for him.  He thinks he has to pretend to be someone called “Albert” because no-one else will give him a reference.  He assumes that a credit check bodes ill for him.  And he takes it for granted that his present job is going to come to an end shortly.  Anya’s anxiety that he take the apartment simply serves to emphasize to everyone else his conviction that he cannot get it.

And here we see the real point of this episode.  Xander was born into circumstances that had no control over but which must have affected his view of himself.  A child’s attitude towards him or herself will often be influenced by family.  And it would be hardly surprising if Xander’s well-developed sense of insecurity came directly from his home background – drunken warring parents who don’t have a good word to say about each other or probably about Xander either.  That is perhaps why he has such a good line in self-deprecating humor.  He thinks if he doesn’t run himself down first, someone else will do it for him. Equally if the face that you show to others is the one that has no confidence in yourself, then inevitably they too will pick up on that sense.  Everyone in the apartment with Xander was embarrassed for him because everything he said and did shouted out “I have no hope of getting this apartment”.  And equally significantly that was the view of Xander that the audience too was being invited to take.  After all wasn’t this the Xander who was always badly dressed, couldn’t hack it at school, couldn’t get into college and couldn’t keep a job; the same Xander who in “Buffy vs Dracula” (and other episodes too numerous to mention) had been reduced to a butt-monkey?  Wasn’t that why he was living in his parents’ basement in the circumstances we saw in the teaser?  Just like the apartment manager and his own friends, we believed that Xander couldn’t get that apartment because, no less than Xander himself, we were inured to the idea of him as a loser.


The Two Xanders

And it was those expectations of Xander that carried us through most of the rest of the episode.  After having been rendered unconscious, Xander’s first words upon waking up were:

 Anya? Are you trying to use the hot plate again?”

This very forceful reminder of his home circumstances was intended to make us identify this Xander as the real Xander and the other Xander as an impostor.  What works so beautifully about this is that this is also the manifestation of LoserXander.  In him and in his actions we not only see someone who is indecisive, afraid and powerless but someone who can comment on his own life and in so doing highlight the differences between the way he lived his life and the way it was lived by CompetentXander.   So –

While LoserXander is badly dressed and (after a night at the dump) filthy, Competent Xander is clean, tidy and well dressed;
While LoserXander is afraid to confront his alter ego, trips over his own feet and is flustered trying to get in contact with Buffy CompetentXander is purposeful;
While LoserXander struggles to find a small coin, CompetentXander coolly pocket some bills;

But in all of this LoserXander is conscious only of the fact that an impostor is living his life unconscious of the subtle differences.  So when Competent Xander is summoned to see the foreman he is almost glad:

“Welcome to payback, mister evil-plan face-stealer. You take my life, you get my being-fired absolutely free.”

But in the event the result of the interview is a complete shock to him.  On being told that he has only being working on construction for three months the foreman says:

“I gotta tell you that's surprising, 'cause your work's been first rate. We've got another job lined up in Carleton when we finish here. You ever think about staying on full time?… I was thinking I'd have you head up the interior carpentry crew. See how it goes. It's more responsibility,  but the pay is better.”

Xander cannot understand why he isn’t being fired.  But worse is to come.  In the new apartment LoserXander couldn’t afford, the apartment manager is treated “Mr Harris” very nicely indeed.  It seems his credit check came back just fine and now he has a permanent job the apartment is his for the taking.  And when the subject of his present living arrangements is brought up CompetentXander’s reaction is very cool indeed:

“There’s just a point where you either move on or you just buy yourself a Klingon costume and go with it.”

This isn’t the insecure Xander we have come to know.  This is someone who is self-possessed and confident.   Indeed the apartment manager is very taken with Mr Harris and really couldn’t do enough for him.

Parhaps an even more striking contrast  is between the two Xanders who go off in search of their friends.  CompetentXander seeks out Buffy who later describes his manner in the following terms:

“He was kind of... forceful and confident.”

As Willow then says:

That's not Xander!”

And indeed this is a Xander who knows what he wants:

Hold up. Do we really have to figure out what it is? Let's just                 go kill it.”

LoserXander by contrast is all over the place.  First he tries very hard to convince Willow he isn’t his own double when Willow doesn’t even know he has a double and then convinces her it is him largely by making a fool of himself (snoopy dance and all).  He is all over the place trying to figure out who or what the impostor is.  Finally he doesn’t even know what he wants because he is so discouraged by the apparent success his double is making out of his life that he is inclined to let him have it:

Xander: “I'm just... another great humiliation. And this time it's even worse. This demon, he's like,  taking my life and, everyone's treating him... everyone's treating him like a grown-up. Well, I'm starting to feel like...

Willow:  “Like what?”

  Xander: “Like, it's doing everything better, it's smarter and... I don't know. Maybe I should just let it have it. Take my life, please.”

Finally, we see how the two Xanders relate to Anya.  Loser Xander is basically intimidated by a temper tantrum.  Competent Xander on the other hand is gentle and understanding with her.  He knows almost instinctively what is at the bottom of her discontent:

“You haven't been hurt like this since you became human. Maybe it's finally hitting you what being human means….. You were going to live for thousands more years. Now you're going to age and... die. It must be terrifying."

But at the same time he is the one in control of the situation.  He knows when Anya is in her apartment listening for his call but pretending he is not there and he is confident enough to tell her when and where to come.


Perception and Reality

As we have seen the Xander  we met in the Teaser was very consciously identified with the LoserXander we see wake up in the dump.  The purpose here was to suggest that they were one in the same person and the CompetentXander we see in this episode was someone else.  But then we find out that is not the case:

Giles: “They're both real. They're both Xander. Neither of them is evil. There's nothing in either of them that our Xander didn't already posses.”

Then suddenly we are forced to re-evaluate everything we had seen.  The Xander who has money, who is good at his job, who has a clean credit rating that was the Xander who had been in Sunnydale all along.  What CompetentXander had been doing since he was split from LoserXander in the dump had nothing to do with it.  And as for the other aspects of CompetentXander’s behavior, were these really so different from the Xander we had also know before.  The Xander who wanted the demon who had taken his face killed, was this really different from the Xander who urged Giles to kill Angelus in “Passions” or who very nearly killed Angel in “Revelations”?  Was the Xander who was understanding of Anya very different from the person who gave good advice to Buffy in “the Freshman”?  Was the purposeful Xander very different from the organizer of the climactic battle in “Graduation Day 2”?  Was the Xander who caught the eye of the apartment manager so very different from the Xander who was in Willow’s words a “demon magnet” and who even attracted Cordelia against her better judgment?  The writers are saying to us that this is the real Xander – the person underneath.  What obscured him was the one thing that was different between LoserXander and CompetentXander – confidence.  Just as when he was trying to get the apartment for himself what marked LoserXander out as different from CompetentXander was that he did not believe in himself.  He thought he had to lie to get a reference for the apartment.  Equally he tried to disguise his lack of experience in construction.  When LoserXander saw CompetentXander promoted he couldn’t believe it because he had no idea how good he was.  LoserXander couldn’t confront CompetentXander but tried to hide from him.  And when they did confront each other their reaction when Buffy arrived was:

CompetentXander: “It's all right Buffy, I have him.”

LoserXander: “No! Buffy! I'm me! Help me!”

All along when LoserXander saw himself he saw (or thought he saw) what he couldn’t do.  What CompetentXander saw was what he could.  And that was the only difference between them.  And that fact was demonstrated by what happened when LoserXander thought that CompetentXander was going to harm Anya.

Here I am going to make an admission.  The overtly soap opera elements of BUFFY have never really appealed to me.  Partly that is just a matter of personal taste.  But sometimes it is more than that.  Of course the soap opera elements are often used to advance a theme or idea.  Where would the second half of season 2 have been without the Angel/Buffy romance of the first half of that season?   But more often now the emotional entanglements of our characters are the most important thing about them and everything else – dramatic effect, the mythology of the series, a character’s history – is simply jettisoned if it is inconvenient.  So, in a series whose stock in trade is the struggle against supernatural evil and how it devastates lives we have Anya the ex-demon destroyer of lives turned into purveyor of one-liners about how funny people are; her crimes retconned out of existence or worse still made into some sort of joke.  And the reason?  The writers wanted Xander and Anya to be an item.  Xander of all people!  Angel’s sternest critic; the person who made a point of pinning him with responsibility for his past actions.  And now Anya’s past is suddenly not an issue.

Having entered that protest, however, I will admit that in this particular context Xander’s relationship with Anya was put to very good use.  Up until now I have concentrated on the differences between CompetentXander and LoserXander.  But they do have something in common.  They both love Anya and while LoserXander is prepared to give up everything else to his doppelganger he is not prepared to lose her and so for her he will fight just as he has fought in the past for everyone he has cared about – Jesse, Buffy, Willow, Cordelia.  Even though as far as he knows CompetentXander is a powerful demon he will risk his life for Anya.  In the end loyalty and courage are the defining trademarks of Xander and just as in “Killed by Death” when called on to stand up for his friends the insecurities that otherwise bedevil him drop away.  Thus the similarities between CompetentXander and LoserXander no less than the differences between them simply reinforce the idea that all that was really wrong with Xander was the fact that he never gave himself the credit he deserved.

This is an example of where counterpoint really does work.  If we had simply seen Xander getting a promotion or a nice new apartment the significance would hardly have registered.  It is the use of contrast to highlight the differences between LoserXander and CompetentXander that emphasizes the point that the writers want to make about him.  And also very striking was the fact that for this purpose they relied upon seeming to confirm the audience’s view of Xander as a loser in order to help make the point that he wasn’t a loser at all.  And this is where I begin to have a problem.  Up until now I have referred to the audience’s expectations of the character.  That is misleading.  What has been involved here is the audience’s expectations of the way the writers treat the character.  There is a difference and I can illustrate that by the following quote:

Willow: “Xander, you sound a little…you have to help me figure this out, you know.

  Xander: “But I never help. I get in trouble and Buffy saves me.”

  Willow: “That's not true! Sometimes we all work together to save you!  And sometimes you're not in trouble.”

It would be impossible to count the number of times Xander had put his life on the line for the others.  And yet this isn’t mentioned.  Why would the audience have expectations of Xander being a loser if the writers hadn’t created those expectations?  The truth is that time and time again whenever the writers needed a cheap laugh they turned to Xander for the purpose.  The Renfield impersonation in “Buffy vs Dracula” was a case in point.  Certainly from time to time we were given Xander the hero, Xander the “heart” of the Scoobies, Xander the conscience of the group, Xander the loyal friend and also at times Buffy’s sternest critic. These were serious and important roles. But time and time again we were then back to Xander who couldn’t keep a job whose every plan to help himself fell apart in his hands and who knew nothing.  In this context the fact that he was written as knowing the difference between “olfactory” and “old factory” came as a surprise.  And it was the writers’ predilection for extracting humor from his travails that meant we had no sense of a character working his way towards dealing with his insecurities and finding his way.  He seemed stuck in a perpetual loop of hero to butt-monkey and back again.  The greatest single criticism that can be made of “the Replacement” is that this is an episode that should never have been needed.


Buffy and Riley

A familiar device on BUFFY is to have a sub-plot which in some way reflects the main plot.  And this is a device that is well used here.  As we have seen the basic theme is that a single person can have two quite different and even contradictory aspects to their lives.  So, just as we have LoserXander and CompetentXander so too we have SlayerBuffy and BuffyBuffy.  The idea for Toth was to split the slayer into these two different components.  But in truth we see the differences between them openly displayed.  At the beginning we see BuffyBuffy reading a book (an actual history book – on the Crusades honest!).  She is happy and relaxed just being with her friends.  She even enjoys Riley’s neck rub.  But there is a part of her that can never be anyone other than the slayer.  She cannot even watch a Kung Fu movie without talking tactics.  And when Toth appears she is instantly ready for action – “from axe to zee other axe”.  She is both and Riley knows this.  He even claims to accept it:

Buffy: “Riley, do you wish..?”

Riley: “No. “

Buffy: “No? You don't even know what I was gonna say.”

Riley: “Yes, I do. You wanted to know if I wished you got hit by the ferula-gemina, got split in two.”

 Buffy: “Well, you have been kind of rankly about the whole slayer gig. Instead of having slayer Buffy, you could have BuffyBuffy.”

Riley: “Hey. I *have* Buffy Buffy. Being the slayer's part of who you are. You keep thinking I don't get that, but...”

Buffy: “It's just ... I know how ... un-fun it can be. The bad hours, frequent bruising, cranky monsters... “

Riley: “Buffy... if you led a perfectly normal life, you wouldn't be half as crazy as you are. I gotta have that. I gotta have it all. I'm talkin' toes, elbows, the whole bad-ice-skating-movie obsession, everything. There's no part of you I'm not in love with.”

And certainly we have no reason to doubt his declaration of love for all aspects of Buffy.  Why then the evident unease with  SlayerBuffy.  Why the complaint that she cannot watch a movie without slipping into slayer mode?  Why the unhappiness seeing her armed to the teeth?  Could it be that when Riley says she doesn’t love him that he means that SlayerBuffy doesn’t need him the same way that BuffyBuffy says she does?  After all in the final battle with Toth he was tossed aside fairly easily while Toth himself was clearly no match for Buffy.  Certainly his final declaration “she doesn't love me” is about what she thinks of him rather than what he thinks of her.


One of the great strengths of ME productions generally is their willingness to take old and somewhat dated concepts and give them a complete makeover which in the end surprises and confounds the audience.  And that is really what we see here.  How many times have we seen the creation of an evil alter ego for one of our heroes?  How many times have we seen that alter ego insinuate him or herself into the hero’s life with some nefarious purpose?  So when we see the injured CompetentXander helped away from the dump and pan in on the unconscious LoserXander we were prepared to see a rerun of that old story.  Indeed the whole episode would not have worked thematically unless we had identified LoserXander as the real one and CompetentXander as the impostor.  So as we followed CompetentXander through his life we were constantly expecting him to make some move that would harm Xander or Buffy or Anya.  But, of course,  when we find out the truth we have to go back and look at the events of this episode with fresh eyes.  And here one of the strengths of the episode is that when we do so the events that unfolded before our eyes really make sense for the first time.  As I have already said Xander’s work record, credit rating etc had nothing to do with the so-called demon doppelganger.  But they had everything to do with his getting a promotion or a new apartment.   Equally CompetentXander never showed any sign whatsoever of doing anyone any harm, even before we knew he wasn’t a demon.  The only action he took that might have been construed as threatening was to try to get Buffy to kill Xander and even that indicated that, for CompetentXander, the fact that there were two of them was just as much a surprise as it was to LoserXander.  If he had been an evil demon intent on killing Xander and taking over his life wouldn’t he have gone to Buffy beforehand?  In fact wouldn’t he have just killed Xander himself?  The clues were therefore right in front of our eyes and we really should have picked them up and begun to question what we were seeing.  But we were misled by our own conventional expectations both for the character and for the plot.  Each reinforced the other in leading us astray.  I thought that was quite neatly done.

Of course the plot did have some limitations.  As I observed in my review of “Real Me” BUFFY as a series works best when there is real menace.  It gives both the drama and even the humor and edge that keeps our attention.  So the fact that we were waiting for something nasty to happen was a great plus. But, as we have seen,  a threat never really materialized.  We were waiting for something to happen but nothing did.  That necessarily limited the drama of the situation.  The only tension really arose after we discovered the true nature of the two Xanders and then we saw them threaten to kill one another.  But even here the writers pulled their punches.  Even introducing a gun into the confrontation never really convinced me that one Xander or the other was in any real danger and the whole thing resolved itself in confusion. This lack of any real tension only served to highlight the fact that the nominal villain of the piece was absent for all but a small part of it and proved ridiculously easy to dispose of.  Indeed Toth is one of the real weakness of the plot.  He appears at the Magic Shop and announces he is after the slayer for no better reason than to warn Buffy and the others that there was a demon after her.  He was tracked to the dump simply because he smelt bad and then he isn’t seen again until the end.  Then, just when the mystery of the two Sanders is solved he turns up at  Xander’s new apartment for no better reason than the fact that it was necessary to tie things up neatly by having him killed.  It’s luck that the plot carried us along with more than that.



8.5/10 (B+):  In some way this episode does niggle.  Was it intended as a sop the Xander fans?  An apology for making his the butt of too many jokes?  Was it intended to be a genuine effort to emphasize aspects of the character that had been overlooked recently?  Perhaps it was all of these.  And I can’t help but feel that buried in there was an admission by the writers that they had not really treated Xander with the respect that his character deserved.  But leaving that to one side I think that they did succeed in trying to reconcile Xander the butt-monkey with Xander the loyal friend who would sacrifice himself for those he cares about and what he believes in.  And they did so by contrasting the sort of person Xander Harris really was and the sort of person he perceived himself to be.  The counterpoint between the two Xanders was a very clever idea but it would only work if it revealed some truth about the character.  And although Xander’s lack of self-belief doesn’t exactly come as a great revelation it does express the truth of what has always held him back.  For that alone this episode deserved credit.  It also deserved credit for taking a tired and predictable ploy and turning it on its head to surprise us.  The rest of the plot may have been a little thin and lacking in any real dramatic tension but making the audience suddenly wake up to the fact that they were not actually watching what they thought they were is always worthwhile.