Written by: Jane Espenson
Directed by: James A. Contner
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.
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.
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.
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?”
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 –
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:
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
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:
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
“He was kind of... forceful and
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?
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...
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:
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
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.”
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.”
“No! Buffy! I'm me! Help me!”
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.
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
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.
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.
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:
“Riley, do you wish..?”
“No? You don't even know what I was gonna say.”
“Yes, I do. You wanted to know if I wished you got hit by the ferula-gemina,
got split in two.”
“Well, you have been kind of rankly about the whole slayer gig. Instead of
having slayer Buffy, you could have BuffyBuffy.”
“Hey. I *have* Buffy Buffy. Being the slayer's part of who you are. You keep
thinking I don't get that, but...”
“It's just ... I know how ... un-fun it can be. The bad hours, frequent
bruising, cranky monsters... “
“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.”
certainly we have no reason to doubt his declaration of love for all aspects of
Buffy. Why then the evident unease
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.
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
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.
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.
(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.