Friday, 6 June 2014

Buffy The Vampire Slayer, "The Replacement" Review (5x03)

Brief Synopsis: “The demon Toth fires a strange device at Buffy that’s supposed to split Buffy in two. However, it misses its target and hits Xander instead. Suddenly, there are two Xander’s. One with all of Xander’s best traits and qualities and one with all of Xander’s insecurities and weaknesses. Can Buffy put the two Xander’s back together before Xander kills himself?”

"Real Me" (5x02) quick link here                                                                                                                           "Out Of My Mind" (5x04) quick link here

Three quick notes before we get started...

1) This review will almost definitely contain spoilers for episodes after this one.
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With that being said, let’s get started, shall we?

“The Replacement” might be Xander’s most important episode from a character development standpoint. “The Zeppo” (Xander’s last legit central episode) is important for Xander’s self-esteem and sense of self-worth, but he doesn’t mature of evolve much after the credits roll on “The Zeppo”. “Restless” is important in understanding Xander’s fears and insecurities, but it’s not until “The Replacement” that these fears are openly addressed. You could consider “Restless” part one (presenting Xander’s insecurities through a cryptic dream sequences) and “The Replacement” part two (the start of a resolution to those insecurities). Since “Welcome To The Hellmouth”, Xander has been portrayed as a character that has major self-esteem issues and someone who uses humour to mask his insecurities about his own identity and masculinity. Over the next four years, we’ve watched Xander grow increasingly paranoid about his place within the Scoobies and what he has to offer, as well as watching Xander drift through life and dead-end job after dead-end job since graduating from Sunnydale High. At present, he lives in his parent’s basement, he’s directionless, and he’s growing more and more frustrated with his life. I can’t say I blame him for feeling this way. His friends all have superpowers or something to offer the Scoobies, whereas Xander feels he’s ordinary. Mundane. His two closest friends, Buffy and Willow, have gone off to college without him and now even Giles (his fellow directionless friend last year) has an invigorating new career after purchasing The Magic Box in the last episode, “Real Me”. Everyone is bettering themselves, but Xander is stuck in place. Even his girlfriend is a 1,122-year-old former-Vengeance Demon! Not only do all these things get explored here, but by the end of the episode, Xander is more mature, has a career, has a house, and has a direction in life again! That’s a lot to accomplish in 42 minutes of television! 

What’s great about Xander’s journey through this episode is that it isn’t sudden or out of the blue. Xander has been slowly starting to evolve and find his place in the world since “The Yoko Factor”. In that episode, Spike lied to Xander and told him that Buffy and Willow were laughing about him behind his back. Even though it was a lie, I think this was the last catalyst that Xander needed in order to bring about change in himself. In “Buffy vs. Dracula”, Xander declared to the Scoobies that he was done being everyone’s butt monkey. After “The Replacement” (just two episodes later), Xander really does stop being the butt monkey of the group and grows into the more mature man who sees everything. Don’t get me wrong, he still makes some major mistakes along the way, but when you compare the Xander of Sunnydale High to the Xander of seasons 5-7, the growth is apparent. One of the problems that Xander’s faced throughout his life is that he has no adult role models to follow after. His parents are alcoholics and argue constantly, his father is abusive towards his mother, and based on “Restless”, they show him very little love or affection. Who has taught Xander how to be a responsible man? How to find his place in the world? How to become an adult? Some people could argue Giles, but Giles has never treated Xander the same way he treats Buffy and Willow. Giles sees Xander as more of an annoying inconvenience a lot of the time. They spent some one-on-one time together in season four, but that was more due to Giles having nobody else to hang out with.

The episode opens with an adorable double date scene between Buffy, Riley, Xander, and Anya. I feel like I’m saying this for the thousandth time, but I LOVE IT WHEN THE SCOOBIES GET TO HANG OUT AND BE NORMAL PEOPLE FOR A WHILE. What this scene offers us right from the beginning is a reminder of Xander’s insecurities from “Restless” that are about to be addressed throughout this episode. Xander is living in a dirty basement where something recently urinated on the hot plate, his parents are interrupting the date with their loud arguing above, and Xander is getting fed up with the situation. Notice that Xander decides to look for a house before being split into two? That shows big character growth before being hit by Toth’s gadget of doom. The events of “Restless” and “Buffy vs. Dracula” have shown Xander that it’s time he stops drifting and starts moving on. If only he could get rid of those pesky fears and feelings of inadequacy that keep getting in the way...

Before moving on from the double date scene, there are two further things to address. Firstly, I wish that the show had explored Xander’s home life more! With the exception of “Hell’s Bells”, which takes place after Xander has grown up, matured, and moved away, how often do we see Xander’s parents? Once, AND THAT WAS A DREAM! Getting to know more about Xander’s parents and seeing them interact with Xander would have given his younger character much more depth as it explains everything that’s wrong with his identity. From his objectifying of women, to his masculinity issues, to his masking fear with humour, to his infrequent bouts of all stems from his parents (more specifically his father). Xander’s father is a hyper-masculine douchebag. Xander had to use humour to cover insecurities at home because he’d have been chastised for showing ‘weakness’ in front of his father. We know from “Hell’s Bells” that Xander’s father is a sexist, racist slimeball, and that can’t have been easy to grow up with. Hell, Xander sleeps outside on Christmas Eve to avoid his parent’s drunken Christmas fights. Being told this is one thing, but seeing it is an entirely different thing. Not meeting Xander’s parents more during the high school/college era is a disservice to his character. Why was this story never shown until after it was too late? There was so much mileage for story here! Secondly, Xander, note to self, don’t try to massage someone’s shoulder when one of them is dislocated. It’s not going to end well. Even in this scene, we see Riley massaging Buffy (to an enthusiastic response from Buffy), which prompts Xander to try it on Anya too because he’s feeling insecure about his masculinity due to Riley gaining that reaction while he isn’t.

I do appreciate that season five instantly addresses Giles and Xander’s directionlessness that ran throughout season four. Within three episodes, Xander has a career and a house, while Giles has The Magic Box, a new car, and has become Buffy’s unofficial Watcher again. Great stuff.

Willow: “If you get the apartment, this will be your hallway. We’ll walk down this hall and we’ll say ‘la, la, la, I’m on my way to Xander’s.’”
Buffy: “Just warning you, Xander, I probably won’t be doing that.”
Riley: “Really? I will.”

Typical, Riley gets a sense of humour just when he’s about to leave.

Xander isn’t the only character going through emotional turmoil and an identity crisis during this episode, Anya is as well. Since breaking her arm and dislocating her shoulder in “Real Me”, Anya has realised that she’s no longer immortal. It’s the first time she’s had a major injury since losing her Vengeance Demon status nearly two years previously. This is making Anya face her humanity for the first time. She has to come to grips with the fact that she will one day grow old and die. After over a thousand years of immortality, this has got to be quite the slap to reality for Anya and it’s not a reality that she’s comfortable with. We get more character development for Anya here than we did during the entirety of season four. Finally! 

Toth has an excellent voice. He should read audiobooks or give breaking news announcements or something. I love the fact that Giles really goes to town when he’s trying to beat Toth up with a fertility God statue. Sadly, it has no effect on Toth and Toth knows Giles over with ease. However...

Giles: “Well I’m not dead or unconscious, so I say ‘bravo for me.’”

That’s a first. Congrats, Rupert. No more brain damage for you! I also adore Giles’ equal enthusiasm at re-enacting the fight scene with Toth for the Scoobies. Never change, Giles.

Spike: “Oh, there’s a nice lady vampire who set up a charming tea room over the next pile of crap.”

Toth appears, aims at Buffy, Xander pushes Buffy out of the way, gets hit with Toth’s cool-looking device, and the Scoobies take Xander home. There’s just one problem...another Xander has been left behind. For those of you unaware, Nicholas Brendon is a twin. He has an identical twin called Kelly Donovan. During the filming of this episode, Nicky was ill, so Kelly stepped in and did some of the shots of confident Xander. That’s a highly convenient sibling for an episode such as this one.

I know it’s revealed that they’re both Xander, but I always preferred dorky Xander to confident Xander. Part of the reason might be because Kelly does some of confident Xander’s work and I can tell them apart, so I feel like confident Xander is an imposter, but I think it goes much deeper than that. It’s an interesting insight into Xander’s character that we (the audience) were all completely ready to believe that dorky Xander was the genuine Xander and that confident Xander was a fake. Remember, both of these Xander’s are Xander. One has Xander’s positive traits and confidence, whereas the other Xander has all of Xander’s insecurities and more negative traits. Us believing that dorky Xander was the real Xander shows me that Xander always lets his weaker characteristics and insecurities shine through over his confidence and positive traits. It’s not surprising at all that we believed that! How often have we seen Xander confident? When he was possessed by a hyena in “The Pack” (not himself), when he was a soldier in “Halloween” (not himself), at the beginning of “Fear Itself”, when he was wearing a costume (not himself), and at the end of “The Zeppo”, when he found a renewed confidence in himself, which had disappeared by the beginning of the next episode. It’s a rarity. What “The Replacement” does is show us that Xander is capable of being a confident, mature, intelligent man just as he is now, if he could eliminate his fears and insecurities. It’s a rather beautiful message to send out into the world, isn’t it? We’re all capable of greatness and weakness, but we’re also capable of choosing which aspects of our identity we choose to portray and believe in.

Spike’s obsession with Buffy also truly begins in this episode. We see him make a plastic doll of Buffy, stroke its face, and then subsequently attack it until it breaks apart. It’s a good metaphor for how Spike’s feeling about Buffy at this time – conflicted. He has feelings for Buffy (even if he isn’t consciously aware of them until the next episode), yet he also despises Buffy and would try to kill her if he didn’t have the chip in his head. He should visit Dr. Phil.

Due to Xander’s newfound confidence, he’s able to grasp a full-time job in construction. Good for Xander! He has a career! Of course, dorky Xander thinks it’s been done via witchcraft because he doesn’t have the confidence to realise that he could possibly have got the job because he was good at it. I must admit though, I do absolutely adore dorky Xander. I know I shouldn’t because it represents all the worst traits inside of Xander, but sometimes it’s nice to see a character lacking confidence and special abilities in the Buffyverse. One of the reasons why dorky Xander dislikes confident Xander is because “his socks are all matchy!” can you not love him? Then, he busts out the ‘Snoopy Dance’ and I forget every problem I’ve ever had in my life and burst into a hysterical giggling fit. Nicky does this dance at practically every convention he goes to too. He’s awesome.

The conversation between dorky Xander and Willow is heart-warming. These two characters have more history together than any other Scoobies. When Xander explains to Willow that he’s been split in two, Willow instantly believes him. There’s such a love and trust between these two people. I’ve said it before, but they’re my favourite non-romantic pairing in the Buffyverse (I’m skipping over that abysmal affair). Oh God! Now I’m having ‘Yellow Crayon’ feels! Dorky Xander confides in Willow that Toth can have his life because he’s not doing anything important or worthwhile with it himself. How sad is that? Being so directionless and insecure that you’d voluntarily give up your life. Toth’s device brings to the surface everything that’s been bubbling away inside of Xander for a long time. Dorky Xander tells Willow everything that regular Xander is too proud to share. Make no mistake, Willow was the correct choice of person for dorky Xander to confide these fears in. Not only is Willow highly empathetic, but she’s known Xander for much longer than anyone else. After some moping, dorky Xander realises that confident Xander has Anya. This, above all else, is what prompts a confidence-free Xander to act. Dorky Xander is terrified, but his love for Anya outweighs his fear and lack of belief in himself.

Xander: “Hey, wait until you have an evil twin. See how you handle it.”
Willow: “...I handled it fine.”

Love the call-back to “Doppelgangland”!

Confident Xander (who has now bought the apartment that pre-split Xander couldn’t afford, due to his new job security as a construction worker) throws the ultimate red herring at us, when he explains to Anya that he can imagine what it’s like to be newly human. Curse you, red herring! I fell for it!...then dorky Xander bursts into the apartment with a gun. DORKY XANDER HAS A GUN! If the little dorky nerdling can figure out how to use it, run for your lives!

Giles: “I said ‘Oh dear Lord’”
Buffy: “You always say that.”
Giles: “Well, it’s always important!”

It soon becomes apparent that both Xander’s are the real Xander. Toth had intended to split Buffy into Slayer-Buffy and regular-Buffy, which would allow him to kill regular-Buffy. The two halves can’t live without each other, so Slayer-Buffy would have been killed as well. This revelation comes just as dorky Xander is aiming a gun at confident Xander. Buffy and Riley quickly race over to Xander’s new apartment to stop Xander from killing know what I mean! While in the car, Buffy asks Riley if he’d prefer regular-Buffy to the Buffy that she currently is. Riley tells Buffy that he already has everything he wants. He wants a Buffy that has Slayer powers, a bad ice skating movie obsession...all of her. I love Riley in that scene, but I also feel like it’s the final nail in the coffin for them as a long-term couple. It’s clear that Riley is besotted with Buffy and loves everything that she is (for now), but it’s also clear that Buffy doesn’t feel the same way about Riley. Riley will soon come to resent Buffy’s Slayer strength and her ability to act alone and not be reliant on him, but even before that it was apparent that Buffy loved Riley, but wasn’t in love with Riley. This will become more important at the conclusion of this episode.

Buffy and Riley stop dorky Xander and confident Xander from killing each other and explain to them that they’re both Xander. As soon as they realise this, they become friends and it’s the funniest thing in the world. As Giles puts it, “he’s clearly a bad influence on himself”, which extends beyond the split-Xander hilarity. Xander’s self-deprecation attitude isn’t doing him any favours in increasing his self-esteem and sense of self-worth. Then, Anya loudly requests to keep both Xander’s for a while so that she can have a threesome with them and I nearly choked on my chocolate milk. I love that Anya is completely serious when she makes this request. I also love that the Scoobies quickly pretend that the conversation never took place.

So, all is well that ends well, right? Xander’s fixed a lot of his insecurities and everyone can go home happy...wrong! We’re in a Whedon show, people! There is no ‘go home happy’!...

Riley: “Buffy’s like nobody else in the world. When I’m with her, it’s like I’m split in two. Half of me is just on fire, going crazy if I’m not touching her. The other half is so still and peaceful. Just perfectly content, just knows this is the one....but she doesn’t love me.”

I’m going to talk about this in much more depth as the season rolls on, but Riley’s words here are significant and true. Since finding out about Buffy and Angel’s past in “The Yoko Factor”, Riley has realised more and more that Buffy doesn’t love him in that way. Plus, regardless of what he says, we’ve seen him act insecure over Buffy being stronger and more together than he is. When you combine these insecurities with the fact that Buffy definitely holds Riley at a distance, you can start to see why Riley downward spirals for the rest of this season before eventually departing Sunnydale. Riley doesn’t help himself by not telling Buffy about his fears and insecurities! If he’d told Buffy how he was feeling, perhaps they could have worked it out before all the vampire biting began! Riley has just witnessed Xander and Anya’s love for each other first-hand in this episode and it was the last piece of the puzzle for him to realise that Buffy doesn’t feel that way about him. It’s kind of heart-breaking when you think about it from an objective point of view. Also, can I say how much I like Xander and Riley’s ever-growing friendship by this point? Xander hated Angel, Xander hates Spike, but Xander has a certain amount of liking and respect for Riley. It’s nice to see two male characters in the show becoming close because it’s much rarer than you realise. Xander and Riley are both civilians that are battling insecurities about everyone around them being stronger and better than them. While Xander learns to deal with these fears and grows into the person who sees everything, Riley can never get over it and leaves.

Quote Of The Episode

Giles: “Toth.”

Riley: “What?”

Buffy: “He called you a ‘toth’. It’s a British expression. It means, like, ‘moron’.”


What are your thoughts on "The Replacement"? Did you enjoy this episode? Dislike it? Let me know all your thoughts in the comments section below!

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  1. Well, let me just say I liked both Xander's because they both ended up dorky and funny! Cute as buttons! Anyway, they were both such an important part in the apocalypse that I'm glad we got to see them individually. This episode made me laugh and cry so one of my favorites!

  2. Good review. (Although what I've read is that the Kelly standing in for an ailing Nicky was another ep where he's in the clsoing credits as an "And," not as "Xander Body Double" like here.. In this one they used Kelly mainly to avoid split-screens for the scenes together, although he did have some solo shots.)
    One thing that really bugs me is the Hollywood msiudnerstanding of blue collar, again. Just having the starting job, let alone the new job he gets hired for as crew chief, wouldn't just happen. That would only be given after soem years as a carpentry apprentice. Unlike his digging job in "Pangs," you don't just walk into a skilled labor job.

    It wasn't a cosncious inpiration (there were a couple others) but I can't hlep but wonder if I was thinking of Any's experiemnt idea when I set a fic in an itnerdimensional tavern and had canon Kennedy and an alternate Kennedy (from a dimension where's she's datign Tara) tkae a room together upstairs. D'C'A'

  3. I’ve nominated your blog for the Versatile Blogger Award because I think you’re awesome. (Acceptance optional and I apologize if you’ve been nominated recently—I tried to find fab bloggers who hadn’t been. Either way, pop over to my post nominating you: Cheers!

    This episode was hilarious. Love your review but I would bump it up from a 7. Either way. Good stuff. And Willow's pouty "I handled it just fine..." still cracks me up.

  4. I like your review. I also like that you like Xander because it makes my deep, flaming dislike of him a bit more tame.
    I liked this episode from an objective point of view (as in, it advances the plot for Riley x Buffy - who I also dont care about, but oh well -, for Anya, for Xander x Anya, etc). Personally I have never felt too much feelings or interest for Xander so for me this episode is "meh".

    I just love all your reviews, even when we feel so so so differently about characters and arcs and stuff, theyre very insightful and interesting.

  5. This ep makes me cack myself. Also, "Nicky does this dance at practically every convention he goes to too. He’s awesome." - This just made my life. are you serious? i love that this happens. I will never see it but I know it exists!

    - Rachel

  6. Ok, so The Replacement. It actually was kind of sad that I instantly thought that the dorky Xander was the real Xander. Is that what we really think of him? He's proven himself at least once a season up to now. Nevertheless, the twist was still pretty well handled. I thought something was off when Xander got hit by that blast and yet the supposed real Xander was in a completely different spot from where he initially landed upon getting shot.

    Moving on, Xander and Anya's conversation about her mortality was a definite highpoint for her character up to now after being little more than "The Cordelia" for the past season as you pointed out Shangel (though I'm laying claim to the term "The Cordelia". lol). If there is any doubt that Xander loves Anya, though's doubts can be given the boot with that scene. Granted there was a certain artificiality to suave Xander, but it's nice to know that It was sad though seeing dorky Xander breaking down throughout the course of the episode, so thank goodness Willow was there for him.

    It's funny how Giles is still the subject comedy relief despite that he now owns The Magic Box and should be exempt from anymore butt monkey status. lol.

    All in all, it was a solid step in the right direction of Xander's journey of self discovery.