In any other scenario, empathizing with a vengeance demon would be troubling.
But not when that vengeance demon is Anya from “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” and not when you’ve just watched the season 7 episode “Selfless.”
“Buffy” is one of those shows with a really well-balanced male/female cast, with members of both sexes subverting and confirming gender archetypes. Anya is one such character, whose sexuality is wielded with as much finesse as a battering ram, whose abrasiveness stems from ignorance and whose personality development is so nuanced as to be overlooked, since her outsider status prevents her from having the same uniquely “human” emotional weights that other characters like Buffy hold.
She’s also one of the saddest characters on the show, because unlike many of the other major characters on the show, she doesn’t have a built-in support net, she doesn’t know what she’s doing wrong. She loves Xander, and she thinks that devotion alone is enough. She measures her success in money, because she’s so accustomed to counting her metaphorical coins in the form of bodies that capitalism seems easy to comprehend in comparison. She speaks her mind because she doesn’t understand the trivialities of social conventions, because honestly, these conventions can be restricting and stupid and dumb and confining and confusing and obfuscating and insidious and
I may or may not still be talking about Anya here.
No, I am, I am, but it’s just, out of all the characters on the show, I *get* her the most. Buffy suffers from a combination of hero syndrome and self-questioning, Xander can’t roll with the punches and worries too much, Willow is still learning to walk the line between control and meekness, Giles is too adult, Dawn is too annoying, so it’s Anya, Anya who looks at tragedy and puts it in perspective, Anya who doesn’t come to believe in anything too easily but when she does, she’s all in, Anya who responds to heartbreak with frustration and anger and fury but only because she never had a heart to break before.
She tries so hard, and when it all falls to pieces, she tries to repent
and is robbed of the chance to do so.
She had it all, and when it was taken from her, she made do, and she made her life anew, and when it all splintered again, she went back to what she knew, and it was different, but she tried again and again and then
it all falls to pieces.
Her flashback in “Selfless” plays a little too much into the heteronormative dream that is her and Xander’s relationship, but oh come on, like you’ve never been with someone and imagined the perfection that is that connection, that is a certainty of a shared future.
She’s the most unlikely romantic force in the show, and it works it works it works. Until it doesn’t.
And when she snaps, it’s not because she’s inherently bad (again) or has an uncontrollable self-possessed fury the way Willow did. It’s because she’s been bent so far back one way that in her attempt to establish some sort of normalcy (in her own demonic way), she swung too far forward, like a child flying off a swingset.
It just so happens to be that her deep end, so to speak, is death and destruction.
Which brings me back to thinking why it is that I like her so much. When her character first appeared on the show, god, how I loathed her. She was coarse and upfront and blunt and
every other adjective that’s ever been used to describe me.
Every emotional and personality tic that I use to describe myself.
Down to the shyness coated with arsenic.
So in watching her face her battered fortunes, I see myself and the fights I flee from.
And it makes me sick.
(Image: Untitled by Sol Allen)