Good as “This Year’s Girl” was, “Who Are You?” is even better. Buffy and Faith have been each other’s mirrors from the get-go and the body swap is the natural culmination of that dynamic. And this is a culmination. I’m not sure if it was by design or circumstance, but Faith wouldn’t appear on Buffy for another three years and, once we get there, both characters have clearly moved beyond being defined in contrast to each other. Deliberate or not, this episode serves remarkably well as the breaking point, stripping away all illusions the characters might have about each other and forcing them to get over one another.
The conceit here is more complicated than just having the two slayers walk a mile in each other’s shoes, it’s about the way we are and are not defined by other people’s expectations. Faith gives us a summation of her perspective on Buffy via the bathroom mirror, mocking her self-righteous attitude and alleged penchant for murder. It’s clearly a “false” image, in terms of how we understand Buffy, but that’s not what matters here. As established by the dream sequences last week, Buffy’s the villain of Faith’s story, and the line between the two of them gets thorough blurred in the mirror sequence. This is Faith’s vision of Buffy and, as staring into the mirror drills home, it’s really just a distorted, “dishonest” version of herself.
Faith’s perspective on Buffy is challenged in that she loses it. She’s no longer an observer of the Slayer, but is now the one being observed, and this shift has a profound impact on her understanding. She’s confronted with the sincere gratitude of some she’s saved, the respect of friends, and the love of a boyfriend, experiencing Buffy as seen by pretty much everyone but Faith. All this positive perception has a positive impact on her as she comes to internalize the expectations of others. She needs to save the people in the church because that’s what Buffy would do.
Buffy’s experience in assuming Faith’s identity is just similar enough to be markedly different. She doesn’t really lose her perspective on Faith because the view of others, most notably the Watcher goons, is remarkably similar to Buffy’s own; Faith is evil, and deserves what she gets. Things are bit more extreme, as Buffy would never spit in Faith’s face, but the expectation of evil doesn’t drive Buffy to do evil. Given an opportunity to kill one of her captors, she doesn’t, in clear contrast with the dark Slayer.
Buffy’s response has the effect not letting Faith off the hook for her bad acts. Yes, positive reinforcement can encourage people toward positive behaviour, but that doesn’t mean that negative reinforcement excuses bad. Faith’s life has been radically different than Buffy’s, and it’s clear that she could’ve been the “good” Slayer under other circumstances, but she’s still responsible for the things she’s done. Buffy has enough moral character to rise above negative expectations. Faith’s guilt is mitigated, but not eliminated, by what she’s been through.
Dushku delivers a decent performance as Buffy through most of this episode. The one real exception is her scene with Tony Head, where its elevated to awesome. Capturing the same character dynamic with a different actress has got to be tough, but these two pull it off admirably, bravo.
I’d forgotten that this was the first time Riley says “I love you.” Ouch.
Adam’s actually in this episode, although he’s largely peripheral, mostly seeming to be here to remind us he exists.
“Because I’m a stuck up tightass with no sense of fun?”
The Watcher goons really are sadly ineffectual here. Giles telling us that they’re “the best” doesn’t really add much credibility when they’re so quickly outclassed.