FEATURE: Buffy the Vampire Slayer - Doppelgangland
Previously on Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Anyanka finds herself dethroned of her powers after the events of The Wish during which Cordelia wished everyone into a Bizarro Sunnydale where Buffy was an emotionless badass and Willow was an overly-sexual vampire fond of leather.
The most overt callbacks to The Wish in the third season, Doppelgangland finds Vamp Willow transported to regular Sunnydale and causing all sorts of chaos after a spell with Anya goes awry. In the course of the spell, she glimpses the events of The Wish and accidentally pours the magic sand over her own hand (and not Anya's necklace), bringing for Vamp Willow. Willow herself is now tutoring sports star Percy, flunking history but an excellent basketball player and starts getting a little aggravated with her dependable nature. As Buffy said, she's 'Old Reliable' and it's not exactly what she wants to be known for. Elsewhere, the gang are as yet unaware that Faith is now working with the Mayor and feeding information back to him about their activities, namely Willow trying to hack into the Mayor's electronic files.
Doppelgangland is a formative part of Willow's ongoing character arc, one that comes with a lot of confidence building and a boatload of foreshadowing: 'I think I'm kinda gay.' Willow's starting to transition from the mousy doormat to the badass Wicca that she will one day become (via going through her own evil patch). The use of doubles is something that the series plays around with a lot, most obviously with the Buffybot later on, but also with Xander in The Replacement. It's a good way of exploring the various sides to different characters without having to really take one version to extremes. In this case, all the latent dark stuff in Willow is poured in Vamp Willow's rather figure-hugging leather outfit.
For Willow, it gives her the chance to try on being badass for a bit, to mess around with the darker side of herself with no repercussions. Like Halloween, it's another opportunity for Willow to increase in confidence and get more comfortable with herself. Whereas the ghost costume was more about getting comfortable with her body and physical image, here it's about her identity within the group and individually. The foreshadowing about her sexuality is a particularly obvious nod now, but not something that was too apparent initially and here, she's still pretty reticent about using really dark magics. Obviously that's all going to change over the course of the next few seasons, but the third does a lot of leg work in setting up many of the ongoing developments that we see later.
It's a very funny episode too, wittily written and using the conceit of two Willows to really mine the comedy of the situation. The way Vamp Willow handles Percy is one of the episode's best moments, followed up by the delivery of his Roosevelt report and an apple to usual Willow's lap. Likewise, Buffy's initial reaction to Vamp Willow, Devon's 'check out your girlfriend' to Oz when Vamp Willow takes over the Bronze, Angel's arrival in the library to tell everyone Willow's dead only to say hello to her are all great little sequences. Also, despite the obvious emotional sequence where everyone reacts to Willow's 'death' is nicely played, from Giles agreeing with Xander that Willow was much better than her friend to Giles hugging the life out of her when they realise she's alive or Giles reacting to Willow's boobs. Giles pretty much rules in this episode.
It's also pretty action packed for more of a character piece. The final fight in the Bronze at the climax of the episode is a great fight sequence, utilising the different areas of the club to great effect. The camera swings around the various pairings of the club and is coherently structured so the audience is aware of which character is where. Buffy and Angel get some of the best moves, naturally, including using both the pool table and pool cues as weapons. Angel even smashes a ball into someone's face though. However, the best punch thrown is Willow's hero moment as she takes down Anya with a mean right hook.
The episode also happens to feature one of my favourite songs from the first Buffy soundtrack album, Virgin State of Mind by K's Choice. I've not really spoken much about the musical choices of Buffy so far, but it's worth saying just how well they often work with the content of the show. Willow's insularity and the way in which others perceive and speak for her is nicely paralleled in the song's lyrics without it feeling too literal (The O.C. was guilty when it came to this - I'm still surprised they didn't just ask artists to write songs about their exact plots). Also, if like me, you played your Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The Album to death, it's great to revisit some of these songs and remember which episodes they slot into.
Quote of the Week:
Giles: Something very strange is happening.
Xander: Can you believe the Watcher's Council let this guy go?
Willow: I'm a bloodsucking fiend! Look at my outfit!
Let's Get Trivial: Faith has a PlayStation. D'aww. Remember when that was the ultimate in cool?
Demonology 101: Sandy, Vamp Willow's first victim, returns as the vampire who hits on Riley during his seriously lame phase.
You can read Becky's look at previous episode, Consequences, here.