Posted by: thebuffyrewatch | January 8, 2012

Robin’s Review: S3, E16 – Doppelgangland

Synopsis: Willow is tired of being a doormat after Principal Snyder pushes her into tutoring basketball star Percy West. She is delighted when Anya wants her help with a spell. However during the spell she glimpses the alternative dimension from “The Wish” (309) and pulls out. Instead of bringing Anya’s necklace the spell brings forth vampire Willow. Meanwhile Faith reports to the Mayor that Willow is hacking into his personal files. He orders her killed but Vampire Willow takes control of the vampires sent to kill Willow. They take control of the Bronze where Anya explains what is really going on.

The Good: There are three parts to this terrific episode. One is the story of Willow and the changes and consistencies of her character. The second is a wonderfully plotted story which was as entertaining and clever as the show can be. The third was comedy and there was plenty of it.

The reason I say the changes and consistencies of Willow is that although she is growing in maturity and confidence she remains deeply good. I am more convinced than ever that the reason Buffy works so well as a show is the strong moral centre to its main characters. Willow is a lovely, sweet girl with a gentle spirit but she is also firm and strong when it comes to knowing what is right and wrong.

That gentleness is played up wonderfully throughout the episode and the writers understand how to draw the line between gentle and timid. Willow’s brief rebellion ends quickly as soon as she recognises that Anya is dealing with something genuinely dark. Even then though she has to try and teach and cajole Anya into doing the right thing rather than yell. Similarly there was something terribly sweet about her affection for the demon who had stolen her body. Even when faced with soulless evil she still saw something redeemable.

Clearly Willow is changing though. The writers have been thorough at drip feeding us her growing knowledge of magic so that seeing her levitating a pencil didn’t seem silly. She has also gained in confidence to the point where she was willing to set foot into a club full of vampires and risk her life to save others.

Alyson Hannigan was really good throughout the episode. She plays Willow with a nervous, childish energy all the time and so her shift into a cold and calculating vampire was effective. Even better was when she then had to play Willow again but now in the bondage outfit. Suddenly you could see her craft on display as she had to play Willow pretending to be something she isn’t. Great job.

So to the plot and its wonderfully logical twists and turns. So many ducks had to be put into rows to make this work and it worked. Just think about how many ongoing stories were slotted beautifully into place. First you had the dystopian universe from “The Wish” which none of the characters except Anya would recognise. Then we had the Mayor using Faith to get information on what the gang were up to and Snyder leaving Percy’s education in Willow’s hands. This set up a string of hilarious confrontations as Vamp Willow surprised everyone who came across her.

Then things got really clever as Anya explained to Vamp Willow what was really going on and she headed off to the library to find Willow. Willow was able to tranq her and the subsequent clothes swap led to the fun of Willow pretending to be a vampire. Even more extraordinary was what followed back in the library (see Best Moment) as the writers finally rediscovered how to use Cordelia. Again the budding Cordelia-Wesley romance was played into with him able to save the day in heroic cowardly fashion. The final punch lines were excellent too with Vamp Willow returning only to be run through by Alt Oz as she was meant to be and Percy handing in his homework with an apple on top. It was a breathless and brilliantly structured story that made the most of all those involved.

So to the comedy. Sometimes Buffy is better at comedy than actual comedies. This was one of those times. There were jokes that I remembered which I laughed at then (Xander shaking his cross to see if it still worked, Giles hugging Willow after everyone else has finished) but didn’t this time simply because I knew they were coming. Then there were a bunch of jokes which I had forgotten (All the Willow as Vamp Willow stuff, Anya being 1120 years old but too young to buy a drink) which were delightful to relive. Sometimes the writers just resorted to sit com dialogue and nailed it:

Giles: “Well, uh, something, something very strange is happening.”
Xander: “Can you believe the Watcher’s Council let this guy go?”

Again though I direct you to the best moment of the episode which I thought was tremendous.

As if the episode weren’t brimming with enough good stuff there was yet more. I liked that Snyder was presented as a smart guy who didn’t pretend that Percy wasn’t a jerk. I thought the Faith-Mayor scene was fascinating. The weird Father-daughter relationship and the horrible price Faith is willing to pay to live in luxury sets up good stuff going forward. Then you had the interesting exploration of Vampire-human psychology. Since Spike appeared it’s become clear that some vampires retain large chunks of their human emotion. Here it would seem Willow’s straight laced “fuzziness” could still contain hidden depths of kinkiness, strength and perhaps homosexuality. The moment where they both gave a snort of derision toward Anya was a nice touch. I also liked seeing Angel use pool balls in a fight, which was just cool.

The Bad: I suppose it’s worth questioning a couple of things that happened. A tranquiliser dart knocking out a vampire raises some questions about how their biology works. I didn’t like Cordelia being able to move from acknowledging that Willow was dead to asking Wesley out. The writers have often pushed her character too far for a punch line and this was needlessly unkind.

The Unknown: What is Faith willing to accept in exchange for a Playstation? Mayor Wilkins has a family or is just a family man? So is Anya just stuck here now and how are the gang going to keep an eye on her?

Best Moment: Vamp Willow wakes up to discover she is wearing Willow’s clothes and locked in the book cage. In walks Cordelia, clearly hoping to see Wesley. Vamp Willow recognises an opportunity and watches her tongue as she tries to talk Cordelia into letting her out. Cordelia puts the key in the lock but then pauses. Suddenly tension turns to laughter as Cordelia suddenly recognises the chance to talk about Xander. Again the writing is so strong because we haven’t seen them really talk since it happened (308) so it made perfect sense for Cordelia to use this position of strength to witter on and on and reach some catharsis. Of course Vamp Willow couldn’t let on that anything was amiss so we got a great jump cut to her hanging off the cage looking terminally bored as she waited for Cordelia to stop talking.

The Bottom Line: In a season already replete with brilliant episodes this is another one. This didn’t have the transcendent qualities which I saw in “The Zeppo.” But it was just Buffy at its best. As usual when the monster of the week is a character we know and care about things get really good. The comedy and storytelling were hugely impressive and you will have to work hard to find light drama better than this.

82/100

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