The Replacement
Written by: Jane Espenson
Directed by: James A. Contner
Air Date: October 10, 2000

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AKA: The episode where Xander starts growing up. Wherein Xander gets an apartment, a better job, a bit of confidence, a chick’s phone number (one that isn’t a demon!), and also almost gets into a three-way with himself and Anya. Its also the episode where Xander gets to re-fill his time-worn role of “guy who sees” – as in, the guy people turn to with major problems, like Riley at the end of the final scene. All in all, its a great episode with our main nerd at the center. But I’m getting a bit ahead of myself, here. And I’m also not talking about Toth, one of my all-time favorite looking demons on the show, or the spectacular effects (practical and special) throughout. Let’s go!

Cliche as it is, the sequence in the basement at the start of the episode is a great bit of easy set-up with some solid comedy thrown in for good measure, as well as helping to show the downfall of Buffy’s “normal” life – she studies, ignoring the poorly-dubbed action movie and only giving in to another normal thing: a PDA in the form of a shoulder rub from her too-good-for-her boyfriend, Lord Edmond von Doofington III, Riley. This is awesome for building the character up as someone who can successfully juggle it all, and as we see for the next few episodes, it continues to blossom as she dedicated herself to both school and Slaying. It will all come down around her soon enough. But this is also telling, because the episode features a LITERAL plot device meant to split Buffy into two halves: Primal Slayer and normal Girl. That it gets used on Xander instead is nothing to sneeze at, though, because the message is still clear. But we’ll get there.

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Speaking of Toth, can we talk about how badass that dude is? His vocal patterns, his skin and coloration, and his awesome cloak effects are standout. And I love that he uses a cauldron even though the joke about “no one using them anymore” is predictable and easy. I read somewhere, once, that he was named Toth simply for the joke about it being “British slang” could be used and even if that’s true it doesn’t detract from the imposing nature of the entire character. He is “sophisticated” and even taunts Giles when he pulls out a fertility goddess statue as a weapon. Everything about him is either cool, interesting, or even hilarious. Spike is on his side until he blasts a lamp he was going to take from the dump. Just a good “monster-of-the-week” that has no bearing on the overall narrative of the season or series but is still fully realized within the context of his one-off episode.

The meat of the story, though, is the two Xanders: one who is clumsy, wears awful clothing, is awkward and whiney, and doesn’t do anything right; the other wears the right things, says the right things, and gets ahead in life. The comedy between these two is awesome but subtle most of the time. And the episode plays up the possibility that the “Suave Xander” is a demon in all the right ways: hitting on chicks, using a shinny object to get people to do what he wants, and calmly convincing Anya to sleep with him. And the Snoopy dance moment between the “real” Xander and Willow is cute (and an awesome callback to “Passion”), as is both his pleading to her being real, him getting a gun, and Willow and Buffy trying to figure it all out at Giles’ place. It all culminates with a reveal that is well-earned, as is the tension in the scene that follows, with the fight over a gun and the chance that both Xanders may die by the end of the episode.

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The climax of the episode – convincing Xander(s) that they are two parts of a whole – is mixed in with one final confrontation with Toth. This sequence is a bit on the drab side, however. The fight is largely uninspired, the scenes where Xander is beside himself are OK (its Nicholas Brendan’s own twin playing the other role and acting as body double throughout the episode – feel like this whole episode was writing around this fact) but really the best part of that encounter is the finale with them acting goofy together before being put back together. I don’t know, the whole thing resolves so quickly and cleanly. I get that the lesson was “Xander, you’re a big boy and actually successful” but it just seems so lazily put together at the end. And I doubly get that it is supposed to raise more questions about Buffy’s life (with Riley and as a Slayer) per her conversation with Riley on the drive to Xander’s new apartment. And this part of the episode works at the foreshadowing I’d mentioned earlier. I just wish the episode had used more of its time to devote to things like this.

However, everything else in the episode is either good enough or not insultingly stupid enough to warrant a bad score, and it continues to make its sudden inclusion of Dawn not stick out by having her show up briefly here and there, and it also shows the first signs of Joyce’s poor, poor head. And it also begins to showcase the growing and complex feelings Spike is developing for Buffy, what with his stupid mannequin. Anya is helping in the shop, Tara is further integrating, and Giles is less comfortable with kids tromping around his home. And then that ending: Riley’s admission that Buffy doesn’t love him, at least not like he loves her. I didn’t use to like Riley all that much, felt he was bland and one-note. And maybe that’s the point. He’s the “average guy” in Buffy’s life. There’s a charm there, one I hadn’t really noticed much before. His time on the show is running out and we’ll see how right he is.

Episode Rating: 79

Additional Notes:
-Quote of the episode: “Sandlewoody?” “Um. Not even remotely.”
-Buffy always wears the grossest collection of rings
-The construction crew is ending a job… but what were they building? Still looks like a dusty ol’ empty lot to me
-Anya’s launguage usage is still awesome, from mangling words to bluntly “tellin’ it like it is”
-Slowly turning into a pro-W+T fan
-Didn’t that realtor lady remember Xander came in with a girlfriend? Or did she just not care that she came off as disgusting and desperate?
-Xander’s self-awareness of his “old factory” joke is appreciated

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