An Examination of Xander Harris's Character in Light of the Buffy Episode "Hell's Bells"
(and Why That Episode Did and Didn't Work)

Standing on its own, out of context from the rest of the last two seasons, "Hell's Bells" was a very well done episode. It was classic Buffy in that magic and the supernatural were used to show real-life crises and comment on them. Xander's fears made perfect sense. There've been hints all along -- particularly during the fourth season, when Xander was living in the parental basement -- that Xander was abused (emotionally, if not necessarily physically, though after meeting his father, the latter is possible) as a kid.

For one thing, it explains why he jumped so wholeheartedly in the Scooby Gang back in sophomore year of high school. We know he read comic books, and here he's met a real-life superhero -- and he gets to help her out in such a way that enables him to not be home so much anymore.

Xander's always had an inferiority complex, and we can certainly trace that to his thoroughly unpleasant parents, but it also explains his relationship choices. Everyone Xander has fallen for has been a woman who is bad for him and/or with whom any relationship was doomed to end and/or he can't possibly have: Ms. French the praying mantis, Ampata the Inca princess who had to devour life essences to survive, Cordelia who was not of his social class, Willow who was his best friend and with whom a fling wound up causing emotional pain, Buffy whom he could never have, Faith who was only using him for sex, and then, finally, an ex-vengeance demon.

True, Anya lasted longer, and it seemed to be the real thing, but I think that's as much a reflection of adulthood versus adolescence. When you're an adult, you try harder to make the relationships work long term than when you're a teenager and things are expected to burn out quickly.

Mind you, I wanted Xander and Anya to work. I wanted them to be married because goddammit I wanted somebody to be happy on this show. But the minute they did that shot at the end of the wedding of Xander standing in the doorway looking at his father yelling at his mother again, I knew he wasn't going to go through with it, because the thing that scares Xander the absolute most of anything in the entire world -- more than vampires and demons, more than the end of the world, more than any danger he might face as a member of the Scooby Gang -- is becoming his father.

The visions the guy from Chicago hit Xander with were perfect, too, because they played, not only on that fear, but Xander's other overriding mental concern. Even when he's had nothing to contribute, Xander has always been the first to jump into the fight, from leaping into the fire-filled room to rescue Cordelia in "Some Assembly Required" to helping Buffy go after Angel and rescue Giles in "Becoming" to being a substitute vampire slayer between the second and third seasons and again between the fifth and sixth to facing down the zombies with bombs in "The Zeppo" to participating in the group spell against Adam to last night when he whammed the guy from Chicago with a fake column.

The catalyst for the downward spiral of Xander and Anya's relationship in the visions? Xander destroying his back, ending his construction career, in order to help Buffy -- an action that wound up not helping save Buffy's life. Thus playing on Xander's second-greatest fear: failing Buffy.

Terri was saying that Xander still carries a torch for Buffy, and I'm not sure I agree, but there are definitely strong feelings there of some kind, and those won't ever go away. (TNN showed "Relics" last night, the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode that brought Scotty back, and there was a line about how you never forget your first love; Buffy pretty much was Xander's.)

"Hell's Bells" was a very well done episode of Buffy in and of itself. (Though why no mention of Giles? I can't imagine he wasn't invited. Are we to forget that the Watcher ever existed now? Sheesh. And I thought for sure that Cordelia's absence from the last two Angels was so Charisma Carpenter could make a surprise cameo at the wedding...)

What it most certainly wasn't was welcome.

For the last two seasons, Buffy has been almost unrelenting in despair. Buffy and Riley had an ugly breakup. Joyce died. Buffy killed herself. The Scooby Gang ripped her from heaven. Buffy has been moping in a post-resurrection funk. Giles left. Dawn has turned into a kleptomaniac and the whiniest of whiny adolescents. Willow and Tara broke up and Willow turned into a magic addict. Even Spike has been beaten down by his messed-up relationship with a messed-up Buffy.

The one ray of light has been Xander and Anya, even with the undercurrent of Xander's nerves (brought into focus by finally meeting his family in "Hell's Bells"). To pile that on top of EVERY OTHER DAMN THING these last two years is just too frelling much.

It was well done. It was in character. It set up many angsty possibilities, particularly with the spectre of Anya becoming Anyanka again. But it came at the complete and total wrong time.

[First posted on sff.people.krad at on 6 March 2002.]


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