The Big Damn Buffy Rewatch S03E16 “Dopplegangland”

CW: Brief mention of CSA.

In every generation, there is a chosen one. She alone is suffering from extreme vertigo, so please bear with her. She will also recap every episode of Buffy The Vampire Slayer with an eye to the following themes:

  1. Sex is the real villain of the Buffy The Vampire Slayer universe.
  2. Giles is totally in love with Buffy.
  3. Joyce is a fucking terrible parent.
  4. Willow’s magic is utterly useless (this one won’t be an issue until season 2, when she gets a chance to become a witch)
  5. Xander is a textbook Nice Guy.
  6. The show isn’t as feminist as people claim.
  7. All the monsters look like wieners.
  8. If ambivalence to possible danger were an Olympic sport, Team Sunnydale would take the gold.
  9. Angel is a dick.
  10. Harmony is the strongest female character on the show.
  11. Team sports are portrayed in an extremely negative light.
  12. Some of this shit is racist as fuck.
  13. Science and technology are not to be trusted.
  14. Mental illness is stigmatized.
  15. Only Willow can use a computer.
  16. Buffy’s strength is flexible at the plot’s convenience.
  17. Cheap laughs and desperate grabs at plot plausibility are made through Xenophobia.
  18. Oz is the Anti-Xander
  19. Spike is capable of love despite his lack of soul
  20. Don’t freaking tell me the vampires don’t need to breathe because they’re constantly out of frickin’ breath.
  21. The foreshadowing on this show is freaking amazing.
  22. Smoking is evil.
  23. Despite praise for its positive portrayal of non-straight sexualities, some of this shit is homophobic as fuck.
  24. How do these kids know all these outdated references, anyway?
  25. Technology is used inconsistently as per its convenience in the script.
  26. Sunnydale residents are no longer shocked by supernatural attacks.
  27. Casual rape dismissal/victim blaming a-go-go
  28. Snyder believes Buffy is a demon or other evil entity.
  29. The Scoobies kind of help turn Jonathan into a bad guy.
  30. This show caters to the straight/bi female gaze like whoa.
  31. Sunnydale General is the worst hospital in the world.
  32. Faith is hyper-sexualized needlessly.
  33. Slut shame!
  34. The Watchers have no fucking clue what they’re doing.
  35. Vampire bites, even very brief ones, are 99.8% fatal.
  36. Economic inequality is humorized and oversimplified.

Have I missed any that were added in past recaps? Let me know in the comments.  Even though I might forget that you mentioned it.

WARNING: Some people have mentioned they’re watching along with me, and that’s awesome, but I’ve seen the entire series already and I’ll probably mention things that happen in later seasons. So… you know, take that under consideration, if you’re a person who can’t enjoy something if you know future details about it.

After the moral struggle of the past two episodes, it’s nice to return to a fun one-off. And Anya!

The very first scene introduces D’Hoffryn, who has to be one of my favorite evil beings in the Buffyverse. Though we don’t see it in this episode, D’Hoffryn turns out to be one of those bad guys who’s really just doing his job, and you can imagine him having interests outside of vengeance on the side. Anyway, Anya has apparently been bothering him with requests to get her magic back after Giles smashed up her necklace in “The Wish”:

Anya: “For a thousand years I wielded the powers of the wish. I brought ruin to the heads of unfaithful men. I brought forth destruction and chaos for the pleasure of the lower beings. I was feared and worshipped across the mortal globe and now I’m stuck at Sunnydale High. Mortal. A child. And I’m flunking math.”

D’Hoffryn is like, yeah, well, that’s not really my problem, and Anya is all, well, I’ll get my power back whether you help me or not. If she doesn’t get her power back, she’ll end up living out her mortal life until she dies. Probably right there in Sunnydale.

Pardon me while I turn away and stifle my tears by biting my knuckles.

Anyway, Anya says she’ll find someone to help her get her power back, and we cut directly to Willow, who is floating a pencil. Floating a pencil was the only way you could prove you were a witch in the 1990′s. It’s history. Look it up. Buffy is doing sit-ups and talking about all the weird psychological tests and exercise stuff Wesley has been putting the Slayers through, and Willow guesses correctly that Buffy wants to get ahead of Faith. Which Buffy feels bad about, because she feels bad for Faith:

Buffy: “She had it rough. Different circumstances, that could be me.”

The whole Buffy/Faith thing is where we really start seeing Buffy mature past the “woe is me, I’m a Slayer” theme that dominated the first two seasons. Buffy’s starting to realize that yeah, being the Slayer sucks, but being a different, non-Buffy Slayer is probably worse, especially since other Slayers don’t have the kind of support Buffy has been receiving for the bulk of her Slayer career.

Buffy apologizes to Willow for talking about Faith, since she knows that Willow doesn’t really like Faith, and though Willow insists that she’s fine with it, the pencil she’s floating starts spinning out of control then shoots off and embeds itself in a tree. (#4)

So basically, no, she’s not fine with anything remotely Faith related.

After the opening credits, Willow is in Synder’s office with Percy West, Sunnydale’s basketball star. Percy isn’t going to be able to play anymore if he flunks history, and it’s important to Snyder that they have some kind of sports win since their whole swim team got turned into fish monsters last season. Willow doesn’t really want to tutor Percy, but Snyder says he knows she’ll do it.

In the library, where Buffy is wearing the creakiest pair of pleather pants the Delia’s catalog had to offer, Willow takes a crack at the Mayor’s files while Faith and Wesley return from a training exercise. Faith is her usual wise-cracking self, but when Giles reminds her that the testing they’re doing is required for the council, she’s instantly subdued. In fact, almost too subdued. Supportive of Buffy, even. After Buffy leaves with Wesley, Faith asks Willow what’s going on with The Mayor’s files, and wants to know if Willow can actually hack into them. Willow tells her that she’ll get in eventually, and we cut to The Mayor, receiving this info from Faith as he shows her the new apartment he bought for her:

The Mayor: “No Slayer of mine is going to live in some fleabag motel. That place has a very unsavory reputation. There are immoral liasons going on there.”

Faith: “Yeah, plus all the screwing.”

It’s a really cool apartment, but she still has to keep her room at the motel for meeting the Scoobies, so they won’t know something is up. Faith, who doesn’t know how to respond to generosity that doesn’t have strings attached, turns it into something sexual:

Faith: “Thanks, sugar daddy.”

The Mayor: “Now, Faith, I don’t find that sort of thing amusing. I’m a family man. Now let’s kill your little friend.”

He tells her they need to orchestrate some kind of vampire attack to take care of Willow, and while she seems hesitant, all that hesitation goes out the window when he tells her he bought her a Playstation.

To be fair, I think a lot of us would have killed someone for a Playstation back then.

Faith trying to cozy up to the Mayor and calling him her sugar daddy has always struck me as very sad. I remember girls who were like that toward adult men in middle/high school and then it would always come out that they were being sexually abused or groomed for abuse. This is where #32 is really, really sad, because I’m not sure if the conclusion we’re supposed to draw is “Faith was obviously abused as a child” or just “Ha ha, that Faith, always slutting it up!”

Back at Sunnydale, Willow sees Oz in the hall and is like, “I didn’t see you yesterday.” And I’m like, yeah, where the fuck have you been, Oz? Because it feels like we haven’t seen him for a long time. Also, his hair is like, black now. And it’s not a great look on him. Seth Green was not made to go dark. Anyway, he was with his band at an out-of-town show and ended up missing school. Willow is hurt that he didn’t invite her, and he says he didn’t think she’d want to miss school, too. Then he tells her to come to his show at the Bronze later, but she has too much homework.

Part of that homework is going to be Percy’s. Because when she catches up with him and tries to set up a time to work on a social studies paper with him, he makes it clear that he won’t be doing the work. He tells Willow to write the paper, but not do too good a job or else he’ll get caught. He also makes an insulting remark about how she doesn’t have anything better to do. She’s still steaming over that when Buffy and Xander approach and ask her if she has biology notes they need:

Buffy: “See, I told you. Old reliable.”

Willow: “Oh, thanks.”

Buffy: “What?”

Willow: “‘Old Reliable?’ Yeah, great, there’s a sexy nickname.”

Buffy: “I-I didn’t mean it as–”

Willow: “No. It’s fine, I’m ‘Old Reliable’.”

Xander decides, unhelpfully, to compare Willow to Old Faithful, and then to Old Yeller, and all of this pushes Willow over her breaking point.

Willow: “Maybe I’ll change my look. Or cut class. You don’t know. And I’m eating this banana, lunch time be damned!”

Inside, Anya notices Willow alone and introduces herself as one of Cordelia’s friends. Anya asks Willow if she can help with a spell, and of course, Willow is like, yes, absolutely. She’s positively delighted to be asked to call upon dark powers:

Willow: “Is it dangerous?”

Anya: “Oh, no.”

Willow: “Well, can we pretend it is?”

Anya tells Willow that she’s trying to find a necklace that’s been in her family for generations, but was recently stolen. The spell they do will create a temporal fold and the necklace will be returned from the time and place it was lost.

So like, remember where it was lost? In that weird parallel everybody-is-vampires-now wish dimension?

The spell unleashes a montage of “The Wish” that culminates in vampire Willow vanishing instead of getting staked. Willow sees all of this and freaks out, telling Anya that she saw a hell dimension and she knows that Anya isn’t telling her the truth:

Anya: “I swear, I am just trying to find my necklace.”

Willow: “Well did you try looking inside the sofa in hell?”

Anya berates Willow for her cowardice, but Willow won’t be moved. She refuses to help Anya with the spell a second time. She leaves, and Anya smashes the plate they used in the ritual. At the same moment, Vampire!Willow wakes in the exact spot where she would have died in the wishverse.

Vampire!Willow wanders around Sunnydale, wondering why humans are all uncaged and free to roam after dark. And it is bumming her out. She runs into Percy, who threatens her, saying that he better not flunk history or Snyder is going to do something nebulous and consequency. Whatever he’s getting at, Vampire!Willow ain’t having it. She throws Percy over the pool table (as in, completely over the pool table, not onto the pool table) and then strolls over and chokes him until a completely flummoxed Xander intervenes. Vampire!Willow gets all handsy with him, then disappointedly declares that he’s alive. Buffy, startled by Willow’s new appearance, tries to compliment her, but Vampire!Willow just declares that she doesn’t like Buffy and walks off. When Buffy tries to stop her from leaving, Vampire!Willow throws her a vamp face, and Buffy and Xander realize what’s going on.

Kind of.

But it’s still heartbreaking. This is Buffy’s best friend, and now she’s a vampire. A thing that Buffy is supposed to kill. So, her face goes like this:

Buffy is in the foreground, in focus. Xander is in the background, slightly out of focus. Both are shocked, but Buffy's expression is one of hurt, fear, and confusion. Also, her hair is half-up and super pretty, I don't know why they don't have her wearing it that way more often.

Vampire!Willow stalks the alleys of Sunnydale. Two vampires approach her and call her by name, but she beats them down. When the vamp she has pinned says there’s been a mistake and they were looking for a human, Vampire!Willow starts breaking fingers and asking who the guy is working for. It takes a couple of fingers, but the vampire finally gets to the right answer: they work for Vampire!Willow now. And they just listen to her, because she’s super authoritative and spooky. Which makes me think she should probably become a special needs student advocate because sometimes you need to get super authoritative and spooky with school administrators.

Do I sound bitter? Because I’m still super bitter.

Anyway, back at the library, our heroes mourn the loss of one of their own:

Buffy, Giles, and Xander sit on the steps in the library, in the dark, all with shocked/numb expressions.

Giles: “She was truly the finest of all of us.”

Xander: “Way better than me.”

Giles: “Much, much better.”

While Buffy is deep in the throes of blaming herself, Willow, non-vampire edition, comes in and asks what’s going on and if someone died. After some frantic cross-wielding, they realize that she’s not a vampire after all. What follows is the expected enthusiastic friend hugs from Xander and Buffy, but also the super adorable “Awwww!” moment when Giles practically tackles Willow and crushes the life out of her.

Willow: “It’s really nice that you guys missed me. Say, you all didn’t happen to do a bunch of drugs, did ya?”

They try to explain what they saw, but nobody is really sure what they saw:

Buffy: “Giles, planning on jumping in with an explanation any time soon?”

Giles: “Well, uh, something. Something um…very strange is happening.”

Xander: “Can you believe the Watcher’s Council let this guy go?”

At the Bronze, Anya tries to buy herself a beer. The bartender asks her for an I.D.:

Anya: “I’m eleven-hundred and twenty years old, just give me a frickin’ beer!”

And while loading in their equipment, Oz runs into Angel. This is, conveniently, when Vampire!Willow’s henchmen bust in and start shouting about how if nobody moves or tries to leave, they won’t get hurt.

Angel: “Why don’t I believe him?”

Oz: “Well, he lacks credibility.”

Oz suggests that maybe Angel should try to get away, but Angel is like, I’m needed here, and Oz is all, yeah, that’s great, but there are a lot more of them than you. Before either of them can do anything, in strolls Vampire!Willow. When Oz sees Willow is a vampire, he’s like, get Buffy. And Angel takes off.

In a sexually charged, sapphic show of dominance, Willow picks one girl from the crowd (who looks an awful lot like Buffy, if any of you ship the two and want ammo) and eats her. That’s when Oz tries to approach. To Vampire!Willow, Oz is still one of the White Hats, the vampire hunters from Wishverse Sunnydale. So she thinks it’s kind of odd that he would act like they were friends.

In steps Anya, who explains to Vampire!Willow that she’s not in her world anymore. Then she asks if Vampire!Willow wants to get back to that world, and the answer is obviously yes because there is apparently…pony play?

Speaking of kink, back at the library, Willow is freaking out that a vampire version of her is walking around dressed like a dominatrix.

Willow: “Oh right. Me and Oz play ‘Mistress of Pain’ every night.”

The day the Scoobies were traumatized.

Luckily, they don’t have time to imagine that too much because Angel bursts in to tell them, near tears and out of breath (#20), that something has happened to Willow. Then he sees her and is like, “Hey, Willow.” And then he’s on the same WTF train as everyone else.

They decide it’s time to storm the Bronze, and tear off, weapons in tow. They don’t call Faith, because Giles doesn’t want her doing anything Slayer-ish around civilians. Also, they don’t bother to call Wesley, because despite being the new Watcher, he’s not even an afterthought to them.

Willow asks Buffy what they’re going to do to Vampire!Willow, and Buffy tries to awkwardly hedge around the fact that they’re going to kill her. Which obviously doesn’t sit well with Willow, because she’ll have to watch her best friend fight and murder herself. Or get murdered by her. Oh my gosh. Under all the humor in this episode, the unspokens are really intense.

But Willow has an idea! She races into the library, presumably to grab her various witchy tools, but someone’s waiting for her:

Willow, wearing a pink sweater with daisies  on it because she's goddamn adorable, is standing in front of Vampire!Willow, who has her hand over Willow's mouth, restraining her. For reference, though not much of the outfit is seen in the picture, Vampire!Willow is decked out in a black leather corset shirt thing and matching black leather pants. Her skin is paler and she's wearing dramatic dark makeup.

Vampire!Willow is disgusted with her doppelganger:

Willow: “Well, look at me. I’m all…fuzzy.”

She tells Willow that she was going to ask to get sent back to her world, but now that she’s there with her alternate self, basically they should just have sex. Like, Vampire!Willow comes on real, real strong. Which freaks Willow out, and I’m not sure it should. Not because we later find out that Willow is a lesbian, but because it would be the ultimate form of masturbation. No one else is going to attain that level. You become some kind of minor deity at that point.

Don’t pretend you all wouldn’t jump at the chance.

Willow mouths off and gets thrown over the counter, which is convenient because that’s where the tranquilizer dart gun is that they use on Oz. Yup. Sitting, undisguised behind the library counter where school kids come to check their books out and whatnot is a big fuck-off hunting rifle. And nobody has ever noticed? Not in “Gingerbread,” when they searched the library (and also seemed to find no weapons)? The janitor never noticed it? It’s just that easy to hide a gun at Sunnydale High?

I mean, we already knew it wasn’t a real safe school to attend, but #8, you guys. Paranormal baddies aside, I don’t think we can trust a school to keep students safe when a barely concealed rifle goes unnoticed.

Anyway, Willow grabs the gun and shoots a tranquilizer dart into Vampire!Willow, who calls her a bitch and promptly collapses. Note: tranquilizers work on vampires. Good to know.

Buffy and Xander and Giles and Angel have returned for some reason. Maybe Willow caught up to them and was like, “Hey, guess who I found?” It doesn’t really matter unless you’re wondering why they’re suddenly back. Angel and Xander drag Vampire!Willow into the cage and lock her up.

Willow: “It’s horrible. That’s me as a vampire? I’m so evil and skanky. And I think I’m kind of gay.”

Buffy: “Willow, just remember, a vampire’s personality has nothing to do with the person it was.”

Angel: “Well, actually… that’s a good point.”

SO MUCH HERE! SO MUCH!

Okay, first of all, we have to tag Willow’s line with #6#23, but also #21. All three!

#6 because of the “skanky” line. Willow finds Vampire!Willow’s overt sexuality and provocative manner of dress to be a sign of unsavory behavior, when the fact that she’s, you know, a vampire and kills people and attacked her give her more than enough to dislike. Although honestly, it’s tight and all, but Vampire!Willow’s outfit is long-sleeved and has full-length pants. It even covers her wrists. Yeah, it’s black leather and has a wide neckline that shows some cleavage, but considering how many short skirts, sports bras, and sheer tops we see, this outfit isn’t revealing at all by comparison. Which…means…oh my gosh. Vampire!Willow has retained the sartorial modesty of her human incarnation. That’s some costume characterization there! Good job, guys!

#23 because Willow finds it “horrible” that her vampire-self is “kind of gay.” Gayness here is listed as a negative up there with “evil”. However, this is something I can give kind of a half-pass to, because, shocker, a lot of closeted people can be homophobic (ranging from casual to extreme). We know that Willow ends up identifying as a lesbian later in the show, so that’s where the half-pass comes from. When the show first aired, no one would have had any idea that this was going to happen, so it still gets dinged.

But the writers already knew that Willow was gay. How? Because if season four hadn’t already been outlined by the time they pitched the show to the network, it would almost certainly have been by the time the writers sat down to draft season three, so this remark is very likely intentional. #21

I suppose I could use this moment to make the case that Vampire!Willow was actually bisexual, since she seems to be attracted to both men and women and therefore there would have been nothing wrong at all with the writers having Willow identify as bi from season four on, but they went with lesbian and it’s how Willow identifies, so I’ll refrain from throwing my messy bisexual headcanon all over the place.

But wait! There’s more!

Angel clearly knows at this point that Willow is “kinda gay.” Wanna know how I know? He stops short of outing her. He doesn’t say, “Well, actually that’s a good point.” He says, “Well, actually…” thinks better of it, and quickly tacks on, “that’s a good point.” So, good for you, Angel. You picked up the vibe but knew it wasn’t your place to put it down.

What’s super interesting to me about Angel saying, “Well, actually…” is that it fully contradicts everything we’ve been told about vampires and why Angel’s soul makes him so god damn special and totally not-killable. We’ve been told over and over in the first two seasons that a vampire is a demon wearing a person suit, like a possession. But here we have the show subtly changing direction. And now I have a reason to write my scathing essay about the Hunters on Supernatural not recognizing the need for nuance in their line of work.

Anyway, moving on. Even though they have Vampire!Willow locked up, they still have the problem of all those vampires at the Bronze who could still go rogue and kill everyone. Which wouldn’t be good, but they’re still not sure how to handle the situation.

So, let’s see. In the scene when the vampires first come into the Bronze, Oz says there are ten of them. The Scoobies have a Slayer, a Vampire, a Watcher, and two humans who fight vampires all the damn time, and the element of surprise in a venue they’re super familiar with. Plus, they’ve charged headlong into situations like this with less on their side. But I don’t care if this is suddenly incongruous with how they usually do things because the solution to the problem is Willow dressing up in Vampire!Willow’s clothes and making her friends uncomfortable with her sudden cleavage:

Buffy: “Are you okay in that?”

Willow: “It’s a little binding. I guess vampires really don’t have to breathe. Gosh, look at those!”

Cut to Xander and Giles, determined not to look at those.

So yeah, vampires don’t have to breathe, but Angel is out of breath when he arrives at the library just a few scenes ago. #20, show. #20. Don’t pee on my leg and tell me it’s raining.

They get all their ducks in a row, Willow promises not to be brave, then she strides into the Bronze, prepared to act like Vampire!Willow.

Willow: “Hi. I’m back.”

Nailed it.

Vampire: “Did you find the girl?”

Willow: “Yup. I did.”

Anya: “Where is she?”

Willow: “I killed her. And…sucked her blood. As we vampires do.”

Damnit, Willow.

She manages to dupe at least one vampire into going outside, where he’s promptly killed by Buffy and Angel. Anya is like, what the hell, why would you kill the only person who could help you, and Willow threatens to have her minions take Anya out back and kill her. Midway through the threat, Willow spots Oz:

Willow is giving a little wave to Oz, totally breaking what little character she's managed to adhere to.

You had one job.

She goes on to explain why she killed Willow:

Willow: “She bothered me. She was so weak and accomodating. She’s always letting people walk all over her and then she gets cranky with her friends for no reason. I just couldn’t let her live.”

Come on.

It is at this point that Vampire!Willow wakes up in the cage. Which is just in time for Cordelia to wander into the library dressed like a nightclub singer:

Cordelia is wearing a black dress with a pattern of silver sequins on it. Her hair is pulled up. She's carrying a single book and not looking all that interested in it.

She’s looking for Wesley under the pretense of needing books. After hours. At school. Hey, why is that closed sign on the counter? Obviously, they’re closed. It’s a school and it’s night time.

Anyway, she spots Vampire!Willow locked in the cage and asks how she got in there. Because Vampire!Willow is just about as good at acting as Willow is, she stumbles through an explanation of getting locked in the cage by accident because she likes books and is shy. Not being a master of noticing that which is obvious, Cordelia gets the key from under the counter and is about to let Willow out when:

Cordelia: “Wait. It occurs to me that we’ve never really had the opportunity to talk. You know, woman to woman. With you locked up.”

Vampire!Willow: “Don’t wanna talk. Hungry.”

Cordelia: “What could we talk about? Hey! How about the ethics of boyfriend stealing?”

Oh shit.

At the Bronze, Willow says she’s bored with killing because it isn’t fun anymore. Her minions are getting restless and wanting to eat, and Anya is finally catching on. Willow says they should let everyone go and give them a thirty-second head start, but Anya spills the beans:

Anya: “If she’s a vampire, then I’m the Creature From The Black Lagoon.”

Meanwhile, at the library:

Vampire!Willow grasps the wires of the cage and leans against her prison, incapacitated with boredom and despair.

Cordelia is now seated, talking animatedly, gesturing with one hand while holding a mug in the other.

Look at the mug. That’s one of those little details that, when you notice it, really makes the whole scene so much funnier, especially when you realize that it’s intentionally put there to denote the passage of time. At some point, Cordelia stopped talking at Vampire!Willow long enough to go and make herself a cup of tea or coffee or what have you, then came back to talk at her some more. And unlike some other visual gags, this one becomes funnier the more you analyze it.

Anyway, Cordelia is going on and on about how she was never actually into Xander, she was just victim to circumstances that threw her into life and death situations that made him seem heroic. Vampire!Willow has no choice but to apologize and promise not to steal any boyfriends from Cordelia again, which only insults Cordelia further. But she lets her out of the cage, anyway, citing her “humanitarian streak.” Willow immediately vamps out with the intention of killing Cordy.

After the commercial, Cordelia runs from Vampire!Willow, screaming and promising that Vampire!Willow can totally have Xander. Wesley has returned to the school, and he overhears the commotion and runs to the rescue. He threatens Vampire!Willow with a cross and holy water, and she grudgingly leaves. When Cordelia approaches Wesley to thank him for saving her life, she startles him and he screams like Goofy. That doesn’t stop her from falling into his awkward embrace.

Wesley: “Was that–”

Cordelia: “Willow. They got Willow. So, are you doing anything tonight?”

Back at the Bronze, Anya has had just about enough of humans. She says she doesn’t care if she gets her powers back, she just wants someone to eat Willow. Willow asks “can a human do this?” before screaming at the top of her lungs. Unimpressed, Anya and one of the vampires agree that humans totally do that. But the scream was just the signal for Buffy and Co. to come to the rescue. A fight ensues, and Willow punches Anya, which is a moment she probably revisits in her fondest memories as the series goes on. Vampire!Willow arrives and knocks Willow to the ground. She starts choking her, which, like, wouldn’t really be a vampire’s first choice when it comes to human necks, but whatever. Buffy rushes to stake Vampire!Willow, but Willow shouts for her to stop, and she does, just in the nick of time. Captured and defeated, Vampire!Willow says sadly:

Vampire!Willow: “This world is no fun.”

Willow: “You noticed that, too?”

It’s a sad moment because you suddenly realize that season three has been really hard on Willow. And this whole time, she’s been peppy and supportive of her friends, and none of them–or us–noticed how deeply depressed she’s become. As an audience member, I feel guilty.

The Scoobies take Vampire!Willow back to the spot where she crossed into this world, so they can use a spell to send her back. Buffy expresses concern about letting a vampire live but says she can’t really kill her.

Willow: “We send her back to her world and she stands a chance. That’s the way it should be, anyway.”

Back up the what the fuck train. How much is this season going to blur the line between who can and can’t be killed? Because Vampire!Willow is undoubtedly evil, a vampire, a remorseless killer, and they’re letting her go? Just because she looks like Willow? We need a ruling here. We can’t kill humans, even if they’re collaborating with evil. We have to kill all vampires, no exceptions because they’re demons. Oh, but a few exceptions because Angel has a soul and this one looks like Willow. Also, Spike has a chip and Harmony is someone they knew from high school, but the guy in season seven who went to high school with Buffy? He’s a vampire, he has to be killed. Demons are right out, even Anya in season seven because even though she’s been a huge part of their lives for several years at that point, she’s a demon again and must be killed.

Look, I’m a writer. I know that it’s impossible to world-build in such a way that there’s no wiggle room when necessary. But I feel like on this show, they don’t try too hard to explain why the rules apply in some situations and not others. That inconsistency is maddening when it’s happening alongside what the characters consider unbreakable laws and absolute truths. Just like we never get an explanation for why Angel believes the “vampires are demons wearing human skin” thing until he just suddenly doesn’t in this episode. Because the show is so well written, these inconsistencies stick out even more.

They get Vampire!Willow ready to go back to her world, and Willow tries to give her a supportive hug. Vampire!Willow takes the opportunity to grope her. Vampire!Willow rematerializes in her world, just in time for Oz to push her onto the broken piece of two-by-four that ends her life. She starts to drop an f-bomb as she dissolves into ash.

The next day, Willow explains to Buffy that being a nerdy doormat doesn’t seem so bad, now that she’s seen the alternative. Percy approaches Willow, who starts to explain that she didn’t have time to write his paper. Instead, Percy hands her the paper he wrote, then a back-up paper because he couldn’t tell the difference between the presidents Roosevelt. He’s super nervous and eager to please. He even brings her an apple.

So, worldbuilding/bending frustration aside, this is a great episode. The foreshadowing of Willow’s homosexuality still blows me away. This is one of the few shows in this genre that didn’t fall into the trap of queer baiting the audience. They showed us “kinda gay” Willow in season three, and in season four, they delivered. Yes, they did sorta kick off the trend of killing off a gay character for love and tragedy etc. on TV, but the way this introduces Willow–and us–to the idea of possibly-gay Willow is so well done and honestly innovative not just for its time, but better than most shows pull this off today.

On a list of favorite Buffy episodes, this one is always going to be way, way towards the top.

37 thoughts on “The Big Damn Buffy Rewatch S03E16 “Dopplegangland”

  1. By far and away, my favourite episode of Buffy. Willow’s character became so much more well-rounded following it, it sets up her future arcs, and Anya’s, and that song that plays when Vamp Willow goes to the Bronze, the K’s Choice one, makes me wet as October.

    I know exactly what you’re saying re: “are vamps demons wearing human skin?” In retrospect, when Angel said that, he may have been in denial. Rather, looking at Vamp Willow, and then Spike, and that vampires often have the same general personalities and habits as their human counterparts, it’s quite apparent that vamps are not completely separate entities (like, say, the demons in Supernatural.) Rather, it seems that vamps act out the repressed, perhaps ill-thought of traits of their human. Hence why Willow’s vamp was happily sexing ladies and men in the 90s, whereas sheltered, 17yo human Willow was freaked out by it (and probably writing off any crushes she had on ladies as a “phase.”) It also makes sense as to why Spike was, in some ways, very similar to his human self – passionate, emotional, desperate for love, it’s just the vampire does it violently, openly and shamelessly. It’s like that book “The Bluest Eye”, where love is only as good as the person it comes from.

    Pretty sure this has been discussed here before, but it’s an interesting topic, and this ep raises all sorts of intriguing subpoints to it!

  2. I haven’t even read the recap yet but I kudzu have to go on record saying that this is one of my favorite episodes EVER. Allyson Hannigan plays four different Willows and just kills it. Also, I quote more from this episode than any other single episode in the series.

    “And I’m eating this banana. Lunchtime be damned!”
    “And I think I’m kind of gay.”
    “I believe these are MY chicken feet.”
    “Hands! Hands in new places!”

    And those are just Willow’s lines!!!!

    Oh my goddess – and when Willow walks into the library and and Xander thrusts the cross out at her, and she doesn’t react, so he shakes it a little and thrusts it out at her again? I laugh at that EVERY. SINGLE. TIME.

    Did I mention that I love this episode?

  3. Buffy: “Willow, just remember, a vampire’s personality has nothing to do with the person it was.”

    Angel: “Well, actually… that’s a good point.”

    I’ve always had a sneaking suspicion that Angel has always knowingly lied about the whole “demon in human skin” thing to turn Buffy off of the idea that he and Angelus are pretty much the same person. We’ve seen several vampires get turned in this show and stick around long enough to show their personalities; each one is pretty much the same as who they were, but with a little bit of a vamp-face problem.

    Spoilers ahead:
    –Spike was liberated with his vampdom, but we can see a logical slide in his behavior from the poncy, sheltered-as-hell gentleman to the total uncaring rebel. When he got his soul back, he was still Spike. Just a leashed version of himself.
    –Harmony… was Harmony.
    –We got a taste of what Xander would be like as a vamp, and really? Wasn’t that different. It was Hyena!Xander all over again, drunk on power and loving it, very similar to Jesse’s short-lived vampness.
    –Vamp!Willow foreshadows Dark Willow, who wasn’t possessed by anything other than a bad dye job and an overwhelming urge to monologue incessantly.
    –And a whole bunch of one-offs that weren’t too different at all.

    Really, vampires are pretty much shown as their human selves without the restraints of a moral code. Like, “Hey, human. How about a life without guilt? How about a severe lack of consequences? How about some risk-free steroids and all the food you could ever want, walking around like Happy Meals on legs? How about immortality? Now, how about a little voice in your head that encourages you to do everything you’ve ever wanted to do?” Vamps are humans with two little devils, one on each shoulder, instead of humans with the balance of an angel and a devil.

    Giles has mentioned “demons in human skin,” but I’ve always questioned whether that was the truth, or an acceptable lie to tell the Slayers (that he might not even know, himself) so they don’t hesitate to kill vampires. Considering how easy it is for Buffy to ignore the rule of “kill ALL vampires” when she decides that she can’t for some reason, I’m leaning toward that explanation. Especially since she tends to hesitate when she has the chance to sit down and talk to them, a la Holden from Conversations with Dead People.

    I really do think Angel just rolled with it to avoid the guilt trips and still have a chance to get in Buffy’s pants.

    1. ^^ What you said, but I’m not sure if it was so much Angel lying as it was Angel in denial. He might want to believe that unsouled vampires are completely different from souled vampires and the humans they were before they were turned in order to distance himself from the things he did as Angelus.

      That’s always been my headcanon for vampire personalities, too. With Spike, especially, through flashbacks we see him get progressively less William-y and more Spike-y until he settles into a new persona–which makes sense, since 100 years would be enough to change anyone’s personality.

      I also got the sense that even besides having no moral compass, vampires actively/instinctively wanted violence. Not just as in “killing people so I can eat them” but Spike’s love of fighting, Dru’s killing pets, Angelus’s torture, etc. I’m not sure how much of that is canon and how much is headcanon, though.

    2. I always felt Angel was avoiding outing himself. Because if he said that vampires retained the characteristics of the original human, then he outs himself as a horrible horrible person. I never viewed it as a reference to Willow but a realisation that if he kept with the original thing he was going to say, they’d all realise he actually is the kind of guy who would torture and abuse people before killing them.

      The morality of who has to die dates back to at least “Lie to Me” when Buffy kills Ford.

    3. Yeah, I always thought that Angel stopped himself because he suddenly realised that: ‘Oh shit, I can’t have Buffy & Co thinking that Angelus and me are alike.’ Though I also like the idea that Angel didn’t want to out Willow. I like both interpretations, basically.

      1. I think with Angel he is a special case. I believe Liam and Angel are different people and Angel is very much shaped by what he doesn’t want to be – Angelus.
        What we know about Liam is that he was hedonistic and wanted adventure and thrills, and that translates well to the sadism that defines Angelus. Angelus is made up of Liam’s hedonism and the vampire’s violence.
        But Angel is someone else. I think he has worked hard to be everything Angelus isn’t. Obviously he’s an asshole in other ways, especially in BtVS – his co-dependency, paternalism, manipulativeness – which I don’t excuse but it does make sense considering how much he’s isolated himself. Angel is unhealthy, but he does want to be and do good. He wants to not be Angelus, and so he rebuilds himself to not be.

          1. I like the idea of Liam, Angelus and Angel as three significantly different beings, but they’re not partitioned identities – as you say, Kate, Liam’s immature and feckless life of excess would have easily translated into a vampire who took particular love in murder (when we first see Angel as Liam, he’s telling his friend that they should rob his own father for more booze money – he wasn’t a nice guy.) And Angel, his inability to cope and own up to his actions also reminds me of how crap Liam was at life. Spike wasn’t anywhere near as detached from his wrongdoing when he got his soul back.

  4. I always thought that Buffy was intentionally lying to Willow to make her feel better and Angel automatically started to correct her before realizing that’s what she was doing, hence the backpedalling.

    1. I agree with this. It’s a while since I’ve seen the episode but I’m sure Buffy gives Angel a look as he says “well actually” and that makes him change what he’s going to say.

      I thought it had been established quite early that vampires retained some personality and characteristics of the human they used to be but that their conscience and humanity is lost. I agree that it gets more blurred as the series continues but I don’t think this episode is a huge departure.

  5. This is one of my Top-5 favorite episodes. So many inside jokes.

    Angel is an asshole. He’s an asshole before he gets turned into a vampire, and he’s an asshole afterwards, because that’s his personality. What he isn’t, is a killer. The demon is the killer. Angel being a dick is where his personality meshes with the demon and there’s some kind of blurred line. But he’s not a killer. Angelus is the killer. That’s why Angel feels remorse when his soul comes back. Because at heart, he’s not killer.

    I also like that Cordelia is drinking out of Giles’s favorite tea mug, and he would be pissed if he knew.

  6. Re: Faith and the Mayor, I’ve always thought his fatherly affection for her was genuine. I think when he tells her she’ll have a place in his new regime, he means it, and that’s why Faith is so completely taken in by it. Their friendship feels warm and real, and that lends it an element of tragedy it wouldn’t have if he was always planning on betraying her.

    Dear Jenny, PLEASE write that post about Supernatural. It drives me crazy how there’s so little nuance in the way that show treats monsters. Even if an individual episode has a morally ambiguous creature, the show almost always brings them back and kills them later in some stupid way. It’s sort of implied that there are non-destructive beings out there (some of the gods and fairies) but it’s not really ever engaged with.
    Whereas Buffy not only has important reformed characters like Anya and Spike, it has Clem (oh, how I heart Clem) and the various denizens of the demon bar, and it seems like a lot of them just peacefully do their thing.

    1. I loved Faith and the Mayor’s relationship, it actually gave me warm fuzzies. There is a small conversation they have later on in the series where Faith tells the Mayor she was the only kid in the neighbourhood who would jump off a high rock into the resevoir, and the Mayor tells her how he can absolutely see how she would be brave enough. It’s delivered so perfectly, with Faith being almost shy but still proud – you really get the sense she never told anyone this, as she had no reliable or emotionally invested adults at the time, and the Mayor is finally giving her the parental support she never got. It also explains why she was so freaked out when her first Watcher got killed. Whatever the down sides of this show, the characterisation is freaking AMAZING.

      1. I think the Mayor was the only adult that did give Faith that parental support. Initially Faith tries to make the relationship sexual, but I always felt the Mayor treated Faith as a daughter. I saw it as the “reverse” image of the Giles/Buffy parental relationship (yes I know Jenny sees that differently, but I see it as parental).

        The Mayor has a parent’s pride in his Slayer.

  7. “And now I have a reason to write my scathing essay about the Hunters on Supernatural not recognizing the need for nuance in their line of work.”

    Please, please do.

    1. Yes, do … absolutely. That series of episodes from earlier in Supernatural (although I’m not sure if it’s season one or two) when one of the brothers befriends a girl and finds out she’s a demon (Amy I think her name was) and Dean eventually kills her despite Sam not wanting him to… that really pissed me off. Evidently there’s no shades of grey in S/N, if you’re a demon, you die. Same with Madison (the girl who turned into a cougar). What is it with Sam and chicks who turn out to be demons, anyway?!

  8. This is one of my favourite Alexis Denisof moments. That scream is amazing.

    Also regarding the show’s black-and-white morality, I find it very interesting that in season five, Buffy monologues about not killing humans after she had pretty obviously killed several Knights of Byzantium in the fight atop the Winnebago. (By which I mean it’s always bugged me.)

    1. I guess when the life of her sister is at stake Buffy will kill just about anybody. Which I don’t get, personally. Dawn was such a pain in the ass.

  9. I have always read that Angel scene so differently. As Angel starts he stops because of the look given to him by Buffy. She tells him with her eyes not to go on. Buffy knows by now, vamos are just the ultimate id of their human personality.

    1. yeah, because that’s exactly what it was. That’s why he stops saying what he’s saying when he looks at Buffy.

      Also, the whole reason Willow came out in Season 4 was because Seth Green chose to leave the show. On the interviews with both him and Joss on the Season 4 DVDS, they talk about how there was supposed to be a love triangle between Oz, Veruca, and Willow that was to take up most of the season, but they had to scrap and rewrite it when Seth came to Joss at the end of Season 3 and wanted off the show UNLESS he could get significantly more screen time. So yeah, they may have had Season 4 plotted out when they were filming Season 3, but all those plans had to be changed. Joss didn’t plan some things so far in advance so much as the writing team was really good at looking back at past seasons and referencing stuff.

      IE: Spike’s throwaway line in Season 2 about Angel being his sire. They then changed it so Druscilla made him and Joss has come out with the whole…. “well anybody above them in the vampire chain is considered their sire.” explanation, which again doesn’t hold water because that would make the Master Angel’s sire as the Master was the one who made Darla.

  10. Not sure who wrote this one, but they should get extra props. In addition to just being really well-done in the storytelling/character development/foreshadowing nuts & bolts sense, it’s also incredibly funny. I didn’t realize how many golden one-liners there were, but this is a great episode for comic relief too.

    Gotta be honest — and maybe it’s not my place to rant, so please feel free to correct — but it always annoyed the hell out of me that there was no such thing as bisexuality in the show. I mean, I wouldn’t argue with a real person who lived Willow’s experiences and identified as gay, but seeing as these are TV writers, and TV is still TERRIBLE when it comes to bi representation*, it just annoys me that Willow was straight, then she was gay, and there is no room for middle ground. It just sort of undermines her relationships with Xander and Oz, and it seems so easily avoided.

    In any case, fantastic episode that really shows off how great Alyson is. (And Sarah Michelle Gellar. But when isn’t she amazing?) And I love how insightful your analyses always are, so thank you! Your recaps are the highlight of my work day.

    *Except for Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. If you haven’t watched that show, you really, really need to, because it’s brilliant and original and diverse and realistic and no one’s watching it.

    1. Also advocating for “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend”. The continuity and characterizations on this show are incredible, and they pay tribute to a lot of movie tropes, and pop-culture references. It’s the type of show where the entire cast gets to shine, no matter how small their role is. Admittedly, there are certain scenarios are are difficult to watch (in a cringey, second-hand embarrassment type of way) but the tone is presented in a way where we’re meant to be laughing at the character, but rather sympathize with her for her unyielding need to succeed. I think you’ll like it, Jenny.

        1. Eh, we kinda laugh at her too. But in a “she’s oddly relatable” way.

          So excited to see support for it here. No one I know watches it, which is such a shame.

      1. Adding that it has a fantastic portrayal of crippling anxiety and depression, as well as the many (mostly unhealthy) ways we deal with it. If anyone says they don’t relate to a single character, they’re terrible garbage people.

  11. The sex-with-your-doppelganger thing can go either way, I think–either it’s masturbation, or it’s like screwing your twin, AKA your sibling. For me, it comes down on the side of creepy, but I can see both points of view.

    As for other issues, I don’t give a pass to the bisexual erasure that goes on with Willow. It’s fine if she identifies as lesbian later–but the way it happens, as I recall, doesn’t pass muster for me.

    Basically, at one point, having never discussed her sexuality before that we saw, she sarcastically responds to someone with, “Helloooo? I’m gay now?” like it should be obvious. Which is fine–except that nobody calls her on it. Young people totally do make abrupt shifts in identity that they just expect their friends to psychically intuit. But if it’s Willow, the character, making this jump, and not the show, then to be in keeping with the characterization of the Scoobies’ interactions, surely *someone* should step in. One of her friends needs to be like, “Uh, but what about Oz? And Xander? How on earth was I supposed to *know* that you identify as lesbian and not as bisexual (trisexual/pansexual/polysexual/etc.)?”

    The fact that this doesn’t happen makes me believe the show’s writers are adhering to a certain limited philosophy of life. It’s the one that says, “Once you have gay sex/makeouts, you never go back, and also everything you did before that gets erased.”

    If Willow identifies as lesbian, that’s her right, and that’s what she is. But when she starts expecting her friends to understand this without ever actually having articulated it, that’s where it becomes bi erasure, imho. That way of framing things comes from the belief that somewhere, there’s a giant piece of paperwork in the sky, and you either get to check the “gay” box or the “straight” box, never both. In the real world, though, the fact that you’re currently dating someone of the (apparent) same gender does not, in fact, mean I should automatically assume you’re gay.

    I feel like I’m doing a really poor job of explaining why the later depictions of Willow’s sexuality rubbed me the wrong way. Also, I’m being a lazy jerk and not double-checking that I even remember the scene right. So I’ll be curious what you say when you get to that point, but since it kind of came up here, I hope it’s fair of me to vent a little. :-)

    1. Awesome points! Personally, I always hated that “Hello? I’m gay now?” line for all the reasons you stated, but also because it really seems to bring up some . . . uncomfortable implications. Like she was straight, then chose to become gay, and presumably can hop back into heterosexuality should she choose. Maybe I’m reading too into it, but the wording just made it sound either like a phase or a choice, and it made me feel icky.

    2. Speaking as a lesbian, yeah, I agree. I consider Willow to be a lesbian, since that’s how she was written, and lesbians realizing attraction they thought they felt for guys wasn’t real when they come to terms with their sexuality isn’t uncommon.
      I personally thought I had a crush on my male best friend I’ve known since childhood and wanted to marry him. It wasn’t until I actually fell in love with a girl and had sexual experiences with girls I realized what I had felt towards him was friendship. So I can see those experiences in Willow.

      Or it could be her sexuality did change, who knows.

      But the way it was written, that’s where bi erasure comes to play since I don’t think it was realistic? Maybe bring it up as a possibility, maybe have her wonder if she’s bi or a lesbian, have her re-evaluate her relationship with Oz…

      Also both Buffy and Faith should have been bi…

      BTW, was Tara’s sexuality ever labeled in any way? I don’t remember.

  12. When Xander tries to fend off “Vamp” Willow with the cross and she doesn’t react, and so he shakes it and tries again– legit tears in my eyes from laughing every single time.

    Also can we give Wesley props for being the only person in the history of the show that holds a cross the SMART way? All the other characters always wrap their fingers around the bottom of the cross and on multiple occasions the crosses get easily knocked away by vamps. But Wesley is smart enough to wrap his fingers around the cross where the T lines intersect, which is just overall a ton smarter, because it’s harder for a vamp to knock out of your hand. Wesley isn’t usually very good with demons and such so it’s kind of a big deal.

  13. Oh, Jenny, please do write that Supernatural essay. That would be awesome! It makes me so mad sometimes they way they treat non-humans, even the ones who don’t hurt humans. Amy Pond is an obvious one, but for me Kate the Werewolf is another one that’s really unfairly treated by the Winchesters. She killed her own sister because she was a murderous werewolf who couldn’t be stopped, but you think you still need to /threaten/ her that you’d come after her if she kills anyone?! And there was that time when Dean implied that he’d kill Benny if he killed any hunters in self defence if they were to come after him not knowing that he doesn’t kill people.

    On the subject of Willow’s sexual orientation, I’ve always thought of it as bi-erasure when she’s called a lesbian. It doesn’t make me angry the way it would if BtVS was made in more recent times, because it’s great that it actually had a queer, heroic main character in the ’90s, and I love that Joss Whedon fought for Willow and Tara to have an on-screen kiss, and did it in a totally non-fetishising way, so I’ll cut it a bit more slack.
    I should clarify that I would never presume to challenge any real-life woman with the same experiences as Willow identifying as lesbian, but Willow is not real. She’s a fictional character, so when she says she’s a lesbian it’s what the writers want her to be. It’s not a matter of respecting someone’s sexual identity if that person isn’t actually real. Y’know, kind of like when a (typically male) writer writes a female character who has no ambitions or existence out of her male partner and people go, “But it’s her CHOICE!” Well, she’s not real so she’s not capable of making choices.
    Um. I should probably cut this rant short xD. So, Willow was not only attracted to Xander and Oz (the former so much that she cheats on her extremely sweet boyfriend with him) but she also had a crush on Dracula long after coming out. I vaguely recall a couple more examples, but I’m not sure about those.

    Honourable mention to that cross-shaking scene, which is legitimately one of the most hilarious things I have ever seen in my entire life. That is on no way an exaggeration.

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