Posted by: thebuffyrewatch | August 5, 2013

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

Synopsis: Xander tries to keep the peace between Anya’s demon friends and his own family while Anya tries to memorise her vows. Spike brings a date to the wedding and Buffy admits that it hurts. An old man then accosts Xander and tells him that he is Xander from the future. He shows Xander a vision of a terrible future with Anya and encourages him to leave her now. He runs away while the Scoobies stall and try to keep Anya in the dark.

The Good: It was definitely sad to see Anya and Xander break up. The nightmare future Xander imagined contained some plausible concerns (about him continuing to fight demons) along with unknowns he sang about (Anya’s demon nature) earlier in the season (607). To see him mournfully break up with her and watch her broken tears was all just…sad.

The Bad: I’m not sure what this achieved though and I will leave that discussion for the Unknown.

Most of the rest of the episode was poor. Since his off screen starring role in Xander’s nightmare (422) Mr Harris has been an intriguing figure. To see him actually portrayed by an actor was always going to be tricky but this was very disappointing. He was a cliché of the drunken, bitter father figure and his taunts of the “carnival folk” were tiresome the instant they began.

Of course the fact that demons were at the wedding makes little sense. Although Clem is being played up as a harmless guy, it’s still not been established that there are “good” demons. We certainly know that Halfrek and D’Hoffryn aren’t. So why wouldn’t Buffy slay them? And why would Xander let them anywhere near his relatives? More worryingly still what does it say about Anya’s morality that she wants killers and human haters (presumably) at her wedding? More of that in a moment.

The tiresome back and forth just felt like any old bad wedding movie complete with lost items, a runaway groom and inappropriate uncles. The fights between the two families should have been far more serious given the involvement of demons and the fact that they all stopped when Anya shouted was farcical. There was also a streak of inappropriate jokes including Xander asking Buffy if she wanted to sleep with him which given their past seemed bizarre. Spike’s appearance did not please me either. He behaved in an appropriate manner and treated Buffy with respect and care. It seemed totally out of character for “love’s bitch” to not make a scene and throw the kind of fit he did just last episode.

The Unknown: How does Anya’s conscience work? Does she have a soul? These are questions that really should have been answered by now. I’ve said all along that I didn’t feel a connection to her character and this episode brought it all home. She suffered no Angel-like guilt trip for all the murder and mayhem she caused for a thousand years. In which case one has to question what kind of being she is and whether she was ever right for Xander. The problem here was that when the demon was taunting her about how she ruined his life and he had come to ruin hers I felt nothing. Vengeance is a dead end in the real world. It only brings more bitterness and so to see Anya crying because of one of her victims felt more like justice than it should have. The physical dynamics of the scene didn’t help either. Anya didn’t seem at all afraid of this hulking beast and Buffy took about five minutes to cross the room and save her.

Xander then claimed that it wasn’t Anya that he had been afraid of in the vision. But then he said maybe they had moved too fast. So it must have been a bit her right? Is Xander just afraid of commitment and turning into his father? That’s understandable and relatable but we’ve spent so little time focussed on his character for the past three seasons that it doesn’t have any resonance. Meanwhile we end the episode with Anya being offered the chance to return to being a demon. I really think her character should have been developed to the point where I know what her response to that offer will be. If she is capable of going back to killing then she’s just as bad as Spike and Xander would be completely vindicated in fearing a future with her.

Best Moment: On Rewatch the most poignant moment was hearing Anya excited to spend the rest of her life with her “best friend.” It would have been a sad moment anyway but I think Xander is her only friend. Her only human friend anyway. She really is alone now in a way which won’t be easy to deal with if she stays human.

The Bottom Line: The time travelling twist was a clever way to give us the super natural version of the Groom getting cold feet. And it’s not like the clues weren’t there that Anya and Xander might not be right for one another. But without either receiving enough attention to feel like main characters anymore the emotions in this episode were always destined to feel a bit manufactured. When Buffy and Spike get emotional I feel like I’ve been there every step of the way. When it comes to Anya and Xander I don’t really believe they exist when not on screen. It’s a common problem on TV shows but a sad reflection on Buffy because Xander was once very prominent.

52/100

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Responses

  1. I have always thought that having Xander abandon Anya was a major mistake. The rest of Buffy would almost certainly have been better if they had gotten happily married.

    Having Anya go back to being a demon takes away one of the show’s best comic characters and replaces her with a humourless, mustache twirling villainess. I understand Wheedon’s theory that inflicting psychic pain on your characters is a great way to generate drama. But Season 6 already has more than enough psychic pain to go around. Any more just removes all the contrast from the season’s overwhelmingly gloomy tone. There is such a thing as too much of a good thing, even of something as good and enjoyable to watch as people being torn apart by heart rending torment and despair.

    I also think that Anya is the one character who should get a fairy tale happy ending. If pain is to be inflicted on good characters for the sake of drama, then, by the twisted logic of the Wheedonverse, the demon who terrorized men for a thousand years must therefore deserve to get the man of her dreams and to live happily ever after. Nothing else completes the irony of life in Sunnydale.

    What’s more, having Xander betray his girlfriend—- again— is just repetitive. It would have been dramatically better for him to have learned something from his past mistakes. And it would have been better for the series if it had tried something different (a happily married couple) instead of plodding over the same old territory.

  2. You know, I’ve always thought that the loss of Cordelia was huge for the show and that Anya, as her replacement, was never quite up to snuff.

    But actually, they’re not all that different. They’re both superficial in their own way. They’re both comic relief. Neither of them get much character development (though Cordelia did on AtS). When they do, they often revert back to their former selves as quickly as one episode later.

    The beauty of Cordelia’s character was that she enlivened Xander. He was fully formed and an integral part of the story back then. A lot of the interesting drama concerning him involved Cordelia. But as soon as they stuck him with Anya his development ceased.

    And that’s probably the only reason I liked Cordelia better.

    (also that quote from the pilot. “What is your childhood trauma!?!?” That line will forever stay with me.)

  3. I think the Cordelia/Xander breakup had basically the same problem as the Anya one—– what is there for Cordelia’s character to do after that? Having her snipe at Xander is fun—– for a couple of episodes. But do you really want to watch that for a whole season?


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