That’s me as a vampire?

I followed "The Wish," as I often do, with "Doppelgangland".
This episode is from later in season three, and it’s a direct follow-up to "The
Wish." We meet Anya the (ex) vengeance demon again, and, oh yeah, Evil
Vampire Willow makes another appearance. In fact, she gets a lot more screen
time here.

This episode was written and directed by Joss Whedon, so I could be cynical
and accuse him of just wanting to make Alyson Hannigan put on that leather corset
again. But, that’s okay, since all the fans of the show wanted to see
Alyson Hannigan in that leather corset again. And more, we get to see both Evil
Vampire Willow rocking that corset like nobody’s business, and Regular Willow
sort of awkward and cutely uncomfortable in it.

The Wish is one of very few Buffy episodes that I think is primarily horror,
"Doppelgangland" is one of a handful that is mostly comedy. The title,
for those of you low on German or poncey literary obscurities, refers to the
German concept of the doppelgänger,
or double-goer, a kind of shadow self that looks just like you. Season three
has an overall shadow-self theme with Buffy and bad-slayer Faith, so this episode
ties in nicely.

(Side note: all three Buffy principles have a doppelgänger at one point.
Willow’s is herself as a vampire, Xander’s is another aspect of himself, and
Buffy’s is a robot.)

(Another side note: Joss wrote and directed a few Buffy episodes and, with
just a couple of exceptions, they range from solid to outstanding.Unlike Mr.
Chris Carter and his X-Files. Mr. Carter wrote and directed a few very
good X-Files episodes, but, on the whole, he should be allowed nowhere
near the typing machine or the director eyepiece thingy. In fact, if they do
another movie, I will go watch it as long as somebody else writes the script.
Chris Carter has always seemed like a bit of an idiot-savant when it comes to
The X-Files, anyway. He created it, but I think he has no idea why
it’s good or why people like it.)

"Doppelgangland" begins by setting up the salient features of regular
Willow’s life — she is smart, hardworking, serious-minded, slightly nerdy,
and starting to feel like all that makes her boring and doormat-ish. Principal
Snyder forces her to tutor a lazy and conceited basketball star who assumes
that "tutor" means "do my work for me so I can get in valuable
hanging out time." She feels strangely crushed just by her friends’ expectations
that she is reliable, that she can be counted on. She threatens to "change
her look."

The contrast to this is her explorations with magic.

Magic is a big part of Willow’s overall story arc. It tends to mean slightly different things at different parts of her life, but in general it is about adulthood, autonomy, power, and self-knowledge. In this particular episode she embraces magic primarily for its glamorously dangerous qualities, for its contrast to concepts like "doormat" and "reliable."

Anya, whose power center was destroyed at the end of "The Wish,"
is now mortal and trapped in the identity she constructed for herself in that
episode — high school girl.

(Although, something that has always niggled a little bit about Anya’s story arc, where does she live, right at the moment? How does she get money? Does she have a stash of gold or whatever? Does her constructed identity have a birth certificate, can she get a passport? And what about her hypothetical parents, anyway?)

Anya needs Willow to help her perform a spell that folds time so that she can
retrieve her power center necklace from the alternate reality created in "The
Wish." When she first approaches Willow, Willow suspects she needs academic
tutoring and is clearly feeling put-upon, but the instant Anya says she needs
help with a spell, Willow lights up and starts enthusing about her affection
for "the black arts."

However, during the spell, Willow sees a vision of that alternate reality ("Some hell place"), and is taken aback ("That’s a little blacker than I like my arts."). She hesitates, and the spell goes askew — instead of the sacred sand falling on a representation of Anya’s necklace, it falls on Willow’s hand. Voila! Evil Vampire Willow is called.

(Although, a quibble — Anya explains that the spell brings the object forth
in the same place from which it was lost, and vampire Willow does appear
in the factory warehouse where she was physically located in the alternate reality.
So doesn’t that mean that Anya should have been performing the spell from a
location where her necklace actually was, like Giles’ house, or the library,
or something?)

Vampire Willow appears at an act break, and the next act begins by following
her as she discovers normal Buffyland reality. Just like at the end of "The
Wish," Sunnydale has never seemed like such a happy place, and she is clearly
out of her element. She goes to local hangout The Bronze, which in her reality
is a perverted vampire playground. (In this reality it’s only sort of perverted,
and only sort of full of vampires.)

At The Bronze she runs into Percy, the basketball star, who really is astonishingly
stupid in this scene. You would think that at least a little of Sunnydale reality
would have percolated into the subconscious of its residents, and that if you
saw somebody you assumed was a shy nerd, and suddenly they’re all pale and wearing
leather and copping attitude, that you would back away quickly. But
instead Percy gets in her face for not being at home writing his history paper
for him.

Evil Vampire Willow throws him across the room. Which is possibly the best
time ever in the whole series for a vampire throwing somebody across the room.
Because usually when the vampires do it, it’s evil, but in this case Percy clearly
deserves it.

She follows it up with a good strangling, which is interrupted before it can turn into a good bloodsucking, by Xander. Xander does the "get away from her!" thing, failing at first to notice 1. That SHE is strangling HIM, and 2. That she’s Willow.

In her reality Evil Vampire Xander has already been slain, so she’s excited
to see him. I love this little exchange here. Her face lights up and she says
"Xander! You’re alive!" and embraces him. He completely fails to absorb
what she’s just said, and, as her hands move off camera, all he can react to
is "Hands! Hands in new places!" She is uninterested in what he has
to say, and as he pulls away from her in sexual discomfort, she pulls away from
him with a disappointment verging on revulsion and says "You’re alive."

Buffy shows up and both of them babble in obvious consternation about Willow’s "new look." Buffy manages to annoy vampire Willow enough to get snarled at in vampface, and she and Xander come to the obvious conclusion: that regular Willow has gotten bit and is now not only dead, but the enemy.

They go to the library tell Giles and the three of them sit moping on the stairs
for a while. It’s a little cruel of Joss to play his characters’ very real grief
for humor, as he does in this scene, but what the heck, it makes me laugh.

Regular Willow shows up and there’s another moment I love, where she asks cheerily "Who died?" then thinks about it for a second and her face falls and she says, "Oh, God, who died?"

She is confronted with crosses and the gang concludes that she is not, in fact, a vampire. Group hugs ensue.

Meanwhile, this episode takes place while Faith is still a double agent, secretly working for wholesomely perky evil mastermind Mayor Wilkins in his quest to become a giant snake and eat Sunnydale. She tells him about Willow’s computer-nerdy attempts to break into secret files and he determines that she needs to be killed. I like the way Faith’s face falls for just a moment here while she listens to his plan to send vampire assassins after Willow, then he distracts her with a shiny new X-Box and all the moral complexities just poof away.

The vampires attempt to kill Evil Vampire Willow instead of regular Willow. Naturally, they don’t succeed, because she is a much badder-ass vampire than they are. She recruits them for an attempt to capture The Bronze and make it vamp central like it is in her world. When she learns of the existence of her other self, she goes to the library intending to kill regular Willow, but briefly attempts to seduce her instead.

"Well, look at me, I’m all fuzzy," vampire Willow observes. And it’s true, regular Willow’s outfit is particularly fluffy and pink in this scene. She looks like a stuffed animal. Which emphasizes the contrast between them, not entirely in regular Willow’s favor.

"This simply couldn’t get more disturbing," Willow says, after being lasciviously licked by herself. Then she shoots vamp Willow with the tranquilizer gun they keep around in case they need to use it on werewolf Oz.

The next scene opens with unconscious vampire Willow locked in the book cage and the gang in contemplation.

(And, can I just stop to wonder — why is there a book cage? There’s always
been a book cage, so I’m not complaining about its sudden convenient appearance
here. I’m not even complaining, really. I just want to know, why is
there a book cage? That locks? What is it supposed to be for? I mean, I know
what it’s for on Buffy — locking up hyena-possessed Xanders, and werewolf Ozes,
and unconscious vampire Willows — but what is it supposed to be for with regard
to the library? Rare books? Detention?)

"That’s me as a vampire?" Willow says, with obvious distaste. "But I’m so evil, and skanky! And I think I’m kinda gay."

Joss has said that this was not intended as foreshadowing of Willow’s later
propensity to date girls, but it does serve that function anyway. There is a
lot of fan debate about Willow’s sexuality, and what her later preference for
girls means in light of her (mostly unrequited) crush on Xander and her relationship
with Oz. Are these early relationships supposed to be "not real" in
some way?

Really, the simplest explanation is that she is actually bisexual, but being
raised in a backward hellmouth like Sunnydale means that she isn’t exactly hip
to the lingo. The closest she comes is "kinda gay."

She will make the same observation in the season six episode "Tabula Rasa"
— the obligatory "everyone forgets who they are" episode.(You know,
kind of like the obligatory evil twin episode.) She wakes up next to Xander,
wearing his jacket, and assumes that means they might be going out. But later
on, as she and her girlfriend Tara share a few moments of obvious sexual attraction,
she muses "I think I’m kinda gay."

So, she clearly has no problem imagining herself dating a guy, but she feels
something different when Tara is around.

Back to "Doppelgangland." Buffy assures Willow that a vampire’s personality
has nothing to do with their previous human self. Angel says, "Actually,
that’s … a very good point."

Obviously he was all set to tell her that it’s not true, that a vampire’s personality
does have a relation to their original human personality. Which brings
up something interesting about vampires in the Buffyverse. The metaphysical
explanation for vampires is clear, that your human soul departs your body and
a demon takes up residence. It’s not you, but it uses your brain and so it thinks
that it is you. The part I’m wondering about, is, does the vampire self have
a demonic identity of its own? Or is it just a demonic energy that
constructs its sense of identity entirely out of the remnants of the human self?

This episode, as well as Spike’s redemption story arc, seems to suggest the latter explanation is more correct — the vampire is a shadow of the human, a human minus a soul, rather than an entirely new entity in its own right.

This is also suggested by the "Dark Willow" persona introduced in the season six climax. After Tara is killed, Willow goes out of her mind with grief and embarks on a rampage of magical destruction and revenge. Her human soul hasn’t departed, exactly, but it’s like it’s been so deeply hurt that it’s gone into hiding. During this rampage, her body language and flat delivery of her lines is frequently reminiscent of vampire Willow’s, and she even utters vampire Willow’s signature phrase: "Bored now."

Back in Doppelgangland, vampire Willow and regular Willow swap clothes. Regular
Willow tries to keep the carnage at The Bronze to a minimum, while vampire Willow
wakes up and tries to talk Cordelia — who is just hanging around in a cocktail
dress hoping to run into Wesley — into letting her out of the book cage.

Then she gets to chase Cordelia through the school and Wesley gets to play
the hero and rescue Cordelia, so everybody’s happy. I just want to take a moment
here to mention how much I love the character of Wesley. He’s good looking,
intelligent, and even pretty heroic, and yet he still manages to come across
as hilariously pathetic. There is something deeply delightful about this. Also,
he makes Giles seem really cool and badass in comparison.

In the end, The Bronze is saved and Willow convinces Buffy that they should
send her vampire self back to the alternate world, rather than dusting her like
an ordinary vamp. This scene emphasizes the connection between vampire Willow
and regular Willow, by having a moment — the two of them rolling their eyes
at Anya’s grandiose threats about what she’ll do when she gets her powers back
— where they have exactly the same expression at exactly the same time.

In the episode’s final scene, Willow talks about how horrified she is by her
confrontation with her vampire self, that "she destroyed everything she
touched — I never want to be like that." She implies that she has now
fully reconciled with being viewed as boring or reliable. However, this speech
is somewhat undermined by the appearance of Percy the basketball star, obviously
chastened by his encounter with vampire Willow, who is eager to present regular
Willow with his completed history paper(s), and an apple.

I’m interested in the way Willow’s overt renunciation of her vampire self here
is reminiscent of Buffy’s overt renunciation of "bad boys" at the
end of the season four episode "Something Blue." In that episode,
a grief-stricken Willow, recently betrayed and then dumped by Oz, tries a spell
that goes wrong, and Buffy and Spike spend most of the episode thinking they
are engaged. (Hilarity ensues!) At the end of the episode Buffy is horrified
and declares that she is "over the whole bad-boy thing," and planning
to commit to her budding relationship with Riley the nice boy from Iowa.

Since Buffy eventually proves that she isn’t over bad boys at all, and instead
secretly wants to have lots of freaky, violent, and occasionally public sex
with Spike, I’m thinking that these pronouncements — "I’m over bad boys!"
or "I never want to be like that!" cannot be taken at face value.
They are things the characters say about themselves, because it’s what they
want to believe about themselves. But that doesn’t make them true. In fact,
they say them out loud because they suspect they’re not true.


  1. It’s funny, “The Wish” and “Doppelgangland” are the two eps I most often re-watch. (I would watch “Once More with Feeling” a lot but no longer have our season 7 set, for reasons too tedious to go into.)

    I assume the book cage is for rare books. Although it doesn’t make sense — Giles of course would have brought rare books with him, but I assume the school was built before Giles came, and a high school library would not likely have rare books. Since it’s a hellmouth, though, maybe some previous potential watcher pre-stocked the site.

  2. I don’t quite buy that Willow’s being raised in the backwards hellmouth is sufficient for her not having heard of bisexuality. For one thing, what happens when she gets to college? Still with the “Hello, gay now!” There’s no way that a nerd like Willow doesn’t hit the college library’s section on human sexuality.

    Bisexuality is a wee bit papered-over in Buffy, I’d say. I think it’s safe to guess that Joss has some discomfort with bisexuality, or at least with how he and Buffy would be perceived if Willow were admittedly bisexual:

    “The only thing that Marti and I admitted is that we debated about whether or not Willow was bisexual, experimenting, going back and forth, and we thought, after Tara, we think it really would be disingenuous of us to have her be anything less than gay.”

    “Less than gay”. Thanks, Joss. Kisses!

    I suppose there’s an against-the-grain bisexual reading that can be done of Willow, in which her renunciation of her past heterosexual desires is as empty as Buffy’s renunciation of bad boys. I’ve always just considered it a weak spot in the series, though.

    1. Author

      Okay, I admit that I just think it’s funny to suggest that Sunnydale is so backwards they’ve never heard of bisexuality. Perhaps not very likely.

      But also see the season seven ep. where she and Kennedy kiss for the first time. At one point Willow mockingly refers to “lesbidar” and Kennedy says “You know there’s a better word for that, right?”

      Some other possible explanations:

      1. Bisexuality doesn’t mean 50-50. In her case it’s more like 60-40, or 70-30, so “gay” seems more accurate.

      2. Willow did love Oz, of course, and Xander. But it wasn’t until Tara came along that she realized the difference between loving somebody, and therefore smoochies and even sex, and wanting it BAD, and therefore realizing you were in love.

      3. Out of respect for Tara, and later Tara’s memory, Willow will always think of herself as gay. But, on some level, she realizes this is a choice that she has made. Could things be different for her in the future? Who can say? In the season eight comics, Buffy slept with a chick without changing her fundamental heterosexual orientation.

    1. Author

      Okay, but how many high school libraries have a rare books collection?

  3. I always assumed the cage was for the text books. You really only need to get textbooks at the start of a semester or when a new student shows up, so lock them up to keep the students from stealing another copy of that book they’ve lost.

    1. Author

      Hmm, that might make sense. I imagine that sort of thing is a problem in Sunnydale.

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