Posted by: thebuffyrewatch | October 8, 2012

Robin’s Review: S5, E03 – The Replacement

Synopsis: Toth, a powerful and sophisticated demon is hunting Buffy. He uses a device (like a gun) and fires at her but hits Xander. The gang take Xander home and he seems fine. But the next morning another Xander wakes up in the same spot where he was shot. This other Xander is anxious and follows the first Xander around all day amazed at his ability to get a job, an apartment and charm people. The second Xander seeks out Willow’s help and eventually Giles works out that they are the same Xander just split into strong and weak parts. The two are put back together and Xander moves out of the basement. As he does Riley admits that he doesn’t think Buffy loves him.

The Good: Riley’s surprising statement (that Buffy doesn’t love him) was the highlight of the episode. It was quite a shock, even on Rewatch. Considering how many times Buffy and Riley have had epic discussions about their love this wasn’t something I was expecting him to say. Yet there is an underlying plausibility to it, whether it be his insecurity or reality. His frustration at not being able to protect her and her preoccupation with her calling could both be undermining his belief in her commitment to him. Last episodes scene where she forgot about the plans they’d made now has a whole different slant when seen through his eyes. It’s one of the few times when Riley has been given something with depth to play and he delivered.

I was also impressed that Buffy and Riley did discuss something of that tension in their relationship. She senses that he might wish for a less super-powered girlfriend but he reassures her that he doesn’t. He probably doesn’t but he clearly can’t handle what they have.

We got a nice brief Spike scene where we were reminded that his frustration is still bubbling under the surface.

The Xander story had its moments but actually served Anya slightly better than him. I appreciated the continuity of her dislocated shoulder (from the attack by Harmony’s gang) and how that got her thinking about her mortality. Xander’s affection for her was sweet and it was good to see him move out of his parents’ basement and find a job that he likes.

There were plenty of fun lines throughout the episode. I laughed at Giles hitting Toth with the fertility statue and Anya suggesting they load Buffy up with moving boxes like “one of those little horses.” Even Riley got to be fun when he suggested they split the two Xander’s up and experiment on them. And of course I liked Willow recalling her own brush with an evil twin from “Doppelgangland” (316).

The Bad: However the way all of that was achieved was clunky and disappointing. The doubles story was clearly designed to remind us of the stronger qualities he possesses which have been lost amidst his aimless wanderings in season four. However I didn’t think this worked particularly well either as a metaphor or as an episode of Buffy. The episode was too neutral. I never believed that Xander was a demon (or robot) nor did I get the sense that he could achieve great things if he just got out of his own way.

The demon angle suffered from a lack of tension. Weak Xander never seemed in actual jeopardy even when he pulled the gun out. His discussion with Willow was played for laughs (which didn’t come) and it never seemed likely that Buffy would slay first and ask questions later. The differences between the two versions weren’t extreme enough either to suggest that one might be a demon, so we spent twenty five minutes waiting around to hear the obvious – that neither of them was.

The wider point being made about Xander’s personality was only achieved through shortcuts. The argument the writers were making was that Xander’s goofiness holds him back when it doesn’t have to. But since when does Xander have carpentry skills? We’ve never been told that and so it was a cheat to use Xander’s promotion to try and create confusion about whether the strong Xander was real or not. Similarly before Toth showed up Xander seemed concerned about his credit check. But when strong Xander takes the apartment the credit check comes back fine. So did normal Xander not understand the process or did strong Xander just not care or what? Finally the woman who rents the apartment to Xander clearly sees him on their first meeting as a less than ideal tenant with a girlfriend. On their second meeting she comes to him as if he is James Bond. Again it was a clumsy attempt to make it seem that a) there might be some kind of mind control going on and b) that Xander could attract women easily if he got out of his own way.

It seems like a season of feeling lost is being written off with the forced discovery of an aptitude for carpentry. I think it’s a shame that Xander’s whole story is being reduced to that. He confesses to Willow that maybe he has wasted his life and is always getting in the way. But he was saving Buffy when he got his by Toth’s weapon. It felt like he would realise his own worth through an act of heroism the way he did in “The Zeppo” (313). Instead we were just told that he’s grown and asked to accept it. Sadly it feels like this was a response to a season of ignoring his character and we probably won’t get any more soon given all the new characters to write for.

I also had to laugh at Xander hitting play on Anya’s answering machine and it helpfully playing only the last line of the message.

In the same episode as Riley got one of his best lines he also uttered one of his worst. Giles believes Toth is focussed on Buffy to which Riley responds sincerely “Where do we find him and how hard can I kill him?” It was a groan-worthy macho line but it also betrayed a foolish thought process. Every demon wants the Slayer dead; to respond as if this was somehow a more grave threat than usual was naive.

The Unknown: I hope we get some mention of Xander studying carpentry or learning on the job without mentioning it to the gang. Otherwise it’s a plot contrivance from a show that has been good at avoiding them.

Best Moment: Riley’s revelation was a shock but one which fit the character.

The Bottom Line: This was largely a failure but there was plenty going on to entertain.

53/100

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Responses

  1. While I agree that this episode felt somewhat contrived overall and painfully so at points, I think that you’re being a little too harsh on it. Perhaps the humour just landed more for me. It’s a shame that Xander’s turnaround episode had to be so on the nose but honestly, at this point the character had become a bit of a joke and a direct “no, he’s not” may have been necessary.

    I also agree with you that Riley’s confession was an episode highlight, though I think you’re off the mark in saying that “he can’t handle what they have.” Say rather, “what they have isn’t what he wants.” Blucas is quite good in this episode and I love the look on his face when he says to Buffy “There’s no part of you i’m not in love with” and she smile says they’d better hurry up. Relationship 101: If some says I love you, the response is “I love you too.”

  2. I’ve managed to stick with following you through the rewatch Podcasts.

    Every time I think the ‘laying into Xander unnecessarily club’ have packed it in somebody has another dig.

    Cordia spreading the nastiness to Tara’s physical appearance and dismissive comments to others’ opinion that they like her (the actress and the character) is infuriating.

    Also, I’m getting a cringe reaction to every utterance of the word ‘stoopid’. It’s probably used more than the word Buffy in these podcasts.

    I’m trying to follow you through to the end but all the ‘stoopid’ is really ruining my enjoyment.

    On the episode, I’m not that great at telling identical twins apart but I must know Nick Brendon’s face so well from the series that I could definitely see it.

    As for trivia about the actor, one thing is relevant to a recent comment (recent to the podcast at the point I’m listening to it). Somebody was thankful that Tara’s stutter wasn’t for comedy effect and a cheap joke. Nick Brendon suffered from a stutter when he was younger and getting into performing was what helped him control it. I think with that background he would have had something to say at a script read-through if a mean spirited joke about Tara’s stutter was made.

    Oh and he said in an interview that his identical twin didn’t have the problem, but would finish his sentences for him.

    Robin, thank you for your humour and even handed comments about the episodes and characters. Even when I don’t agree with you, you’ve never offended me with your opinion.

    • Hi Shari! Thanks for commenting. I’m sorry if you’re offended by my opinion. I tried to make it clear in the podcast that I have a lingering remembrance of disliking the Tara character for many reasons and some of them are irrational and emotional. Sometimes, people just feel ways. 🙂

      Your comment about Nicholas Brendon’s stuttering struggles is quite interesting! Thanks for sharing.


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