Posted by: thebuffyrewatch | August 5, 2013

Cordia’s Review: S6, E16 – Hell’s Bells

Hell’s Bells
Season 6, Episode 16
Original airing: 3/5/2002

My Rating: 63

The Good: The destruction of Anya and Xander’s relationship has been coming for a long time. The show has been forecasting it since the beginning of the season. It hasn’t always done a great job of building the tension, but it wasn’t a surprise that things would go poorly at the wedding.

In general, I thought the show did a good job of finding a reasonable way to break up this couple. Xander’s parents show everything Xander doesn’t want in a marriage. And the visions just compound the possibility that Xander could become an abusive drunk like his father. I think it’s incredibly heartbreaking and yet so strong for Xander to say he’s not ready. He doesn’t know for sure that he can avoid the future presented to him and he’s not willing to take the chance.

I think the tragedy is only made worse by the fact that Anya can’t really understand Xander’s reasons. Even after the demon attack, she bounces back and wants to get married. She isn’t looking to the future, not really. She knows she’s happy right now and with a certain naïve innocence, she assumes this happiness will continue with absolutely no problems for the rest of her life. She isn’t thinking about the struggles that become inherent in a relationship the way Xander is at this time. It’s very sad to see Anya’s heart broken when she doesn’t even understand why. Her lost and stunned expression as she walks down the aisle just make me want to gather her up and console her.

I really liked how this led into the scene with D’Hoffryn at the end. He’s kind to her, but also uses the opportunity to try to bring her back into the fold. Halfrek hinted earlier in the episode that Anya was always a favorite of D’Hoffryn’s, so I thought this was a pretty cool motivational moment for him. The hint that Anya might go back to being Anyanka is particularly interesting when I think about how that will affect her character development as a human.

As for the other Scoobies, I thought Willow’s attempts to spend time with Tara were pretty transparent, which made them pretty cute. Willow is absolutely giddy over the fact that Tara can even look at her and smile.

The Bad: There’s an unfortunate attempt at balancing the seriousness of this episode by having the guest interactions be humorous. The problem is, the demons act as if they are human. The cover story is they are circus people, to explain their odd appearances. But that doesn’t do anything to explain why they would be offended by people hinting their “heritage” is less than noble or thinking Xander’s drunk father is inappropriate. They behave just as humans and act more like this is a wedding between two uncomfortable ethnic parties, as opposed to humans and inherently evil demons – which even Spike uses as an excuse for why he brought a date to annoy Buffy.

Basically, this all makes it feel fake and stupid. Except for the introduction of Clem in the past few episodes, we’ve never seen demons behave in this manner. I can’t imagine a bunch of demons getting together to attend the wedding of two humans. It’s too absurd and doesn’t fit the universe and characterizations created by the show.

This reached a particular high note of failure for me after Xander kills the demon who caused all the problems and EVERYONE claps. Humans and demons are celebrating the death of this creature who grew out of the image of an old man. I can’t believe I just even typed that sentence.

The Confusing: My temporary third category this week is created in honor of Buffy and Spike. I think Spike bringing a date to the wedding to hurt Buffy is quite in character. Even the pettiness of it feels right for Spike. But I don’t know how to feel about their conversation. She acknowledges a bit of pain and he actually apologizes to her multiple times. But he also says he’s going to go home and have sex with the girl, because… you know… he’s evil.

At the same time, I think the calm interaction is very interesting, but it also feels really wrong. After all he’s been through to get Buffy into his life, it seems like he’s taking all of this quite calmly. Their quite conversation doesn’t fit for their volatile relationship and comes across very much as any other heartbroken couple on TV might in a weekly drama show. It doesn’t have the Buffy spin I expect from the writers.

Favorite Moment: It really is a heart wrenching moment when Xander pulls Anya aside to tell her he can’t marry her. As Willow says later, it makes me want to hate Xander, but I can’t. His reasons are actually very good and decent and I think it shows a certain level of maturity in him. In all honesty, it would have been a lot easier at that moment to go through with the ceremony, but it probably would have been the wrong decision.

At the same time, I think the portrayal of Anya’s response was very strong. She’s completely bewildered and it fits so well with the final scene.

The Bottom Line: I liked the dissolution of Anya and Xander’s relationship and where it leaves them. This feels like a strong moment for them both as Xander makes an incredibly mature and painful decision which leaves Anya teetering on the brink of demonhood. But the surrounding stuff was a poor distraction and felt very false in the understanding of the Buffy universe which has been developed for over 5 seasons.

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