Selfless (Buffy episode)

Infobox Television episode
Title=Selfless


Series=Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Season=7
Episode=5
Airdate=22 October 2002
Production=7ABB05
Writer=Drew Goddard
Director=David Solomon
Guests=Abraham Benrubi
(Olaf)
Andy Umberger
(D'Hoffryn)
Kali Rocha
(Halfrek)
Joyce Guy
(Professor Hawkins)
Jennifer Shon
(Rachel)
Episode list=List of Buffy the Vampire Slayer episodes
Prev=Help
Next=Him

"Selfless" is the fifth episode of the seventh and final season of television series "Buffy the Vampire Slayer".

Plot synopsis

Summary

Anya finally gets back into her old vengeance demon ways by helping a girl get revenge on an entire fraternity by having a spider demon tear their hearts out. Willow, returning to college, discovers this and she, Buffy and Xander fear the worst of Anya.

While Buffy is determined to kill Anya, Xander cannot believe she could do such a thing, as he is still in love with her. Anya, meanwhile, is feeling deep remorse about the event - even though Halfrek tries to convince her that what she did was a work of art.

Buffy and Xander track Anya back to the Frat house, where the two women fight. Buffy stabs Anya, seemingly killing her, but Anya's demon side prevents her from dying. Xander begs Buffy to stop, and Anya realizes that she does not want to be a demon anymore. Willow has called forth Anya's boss D'Hoffryn, using the amulet he gave her while trying to recruit her as Anya's replacement. When he interrupts the fight between her and Buffy, Anya begs him to reverse the spell she did - even though she knows the cost of reversing such a spell is the life and soul of a vengeance demon.

Anya is ready to die, even if Xander does not want her to, but D'Hoffryn instead summons Halfrek and kills her. He wants Anya to feel the pain and suffer for leaving him. A distraught Anya leaves, Xander attempting to follow her. She now is alone.

Flashbacks:
* 880, when Anya first became a demon, after turning her lover Olaf into a troll
* 1905, when Anya and Halfrek were involved in the onset of the Russian Revolution of 1905
* 2001, a few months before Anya and Xander's failed wedding. Part of "Once More, With Feeling" (see below).

Expanded overview

Dawn helps Willow move into her new room at the Summers' house while giving her advice on how to fit in with people at school. Buffy and Xander contribute to the effort as well while talking about Anya. Buffy wonders about Anya's evil intentions, but Xander thinks she's getting better and isn't a threat. At a frat house, dead male bodies litter the room, each one with his hearts ripped out. Anya Jenkins sits on the floor, covered in blood and in complete shock from the killing she's done.

Flashback (in grainy early-days-of-film archival-footage style) to Sjornjost, Sweden, 880 A.D., a pre-demon Anya, named Aud, cares for her Viking husband Olaf after he returns home from what he claims has been a hard day of fighting trolls, although she doubts him. She waits on him, promising requested sex after he's eaten, and rhapsodizing about "the sense of accomplishment that stems from selflessly giving of yourself to others" and her plan to give away free meat to the villagers (both attitudes contrasting with her present-day miserliness). She clearly worries obsessively about whether he's rewarding her selflessness with infidelity.

In the present-day school basement, Spike talks to Buffy about his mental struggles and remembers Drusilla. Buffy is warm and reassuring, but this Buffy is shown to be an illusion as without cutting the camera pans to the real Buffy entering and coming upon Spike, who has not moved but is exasperated and clearly alone. She insists that she must take Spike out of the basement and away from whatever is making him so crazy down there.

On the college campus, Willow talks an old professor into reinstating her in class and sees Anya leaving one of the fraternity houses in a trench coat. Anya's very distant and claims she's dating one of the frat boys before quickly rushing off. Willow spots a streak of blood on Anya wrist before she runs off and goes to investigate the building. Willow finds the frat house full of blood and corpses: there is a young co-ed whimpering in the closet that she "takes back her wish". She tearfully explains how in response to a cruel fraternity stunt she made a rhetorical wish about "having their hearts ripped out," which a giant spider demon immediately materialized to carry out. The spider attacks Willow and the girl, but she uses dark magic to hold it at bay, actually making a harsh "Dark Willow"-style comment to the girl (and manifesting her Dark Willow black irises) before tossing the spider through a window and comforting the girl, her normal self again.

In another flashback to Sjornjost, 880, Anya watches as Olaf, who she's magicked into a troll in punishment for cheating on her, runs from a mob of villagers seeking to kill him. Vengeance Demon D'Hoffryn is there in his full demon appearance and praises her magical skill and vengeful resolution. D'Hoffryn insists that Aud is a born vengeance demon, Anyanka, and offers to make her one in reality, which she accepts.

At work, Buffy receives a call from Willow about the frat house and the spider demon. Meanwhile, Halfrek is in Anya's room praising her return to enthusiastic vengeance while Anya expresses regrets. Willow barges in and orders Halfrek out. Anya rejects her assistance and considers Willow a poor judge following her excesses in Season 6. Buffy and Xander search the woods for the spider demon and are surprised by it as they inspect another of its victims - the spider nearly kills Buffy before she tosses it and kills it in a prodigious feat of axe-throwing.

Buffy and Xander return to the Summers house and find Willow waiting with an explanation about where the demon originated and the damage it caused. Xander blows up at Willow because she didn't tell them, but realizes she delayed because now Buffy will have to kill Anya.

In a flashback to 1905, Anyanka and Halfrek drink champagne in a banquet room full of massacred men as the city of St. Petersburg, Russia, burns outside the window. Anyanka accepts Halfrek's compliments for starting the Russian Revolution, but rejects her offer to go celebrate, as her work (wreaking vengeance) is all she is or wants (humorously she sees the success of revolutionary communism as inevitable and desirable, again in contrast to her ardent present-day capitalism).

Back in the Summers home, Xander furiously denounces Buffy's plan to kill Anya. He insists Buffy always protects demons she loves, but Buffy reminds him how she killed Angel at the end of Season Two because it was necessary, and asserts that as Slayer her judgements regarding demons are absolute: "I am the law." Xander insists there must be another way and rushes off when Buffy advises him to get busy finding it. She takes weapons from her cache and leaves to find Anya alone, Willow pleading that she can't bear to accompany or help.

Left on her own, Willow rushes to her room and uses the summoning talisman that D'Hoffryn had given her three years prior. D'Hoffryn is happy that Willow has called him as he'd been impressed with her flaying of Warren Mears and her surrender hatred as Dark Willow (which he'd sensed her returning to that afternoon). He assumes Willow has called to accept the role of a vengeance demon, but Willow insists she's called him to discuss Anya's recent actions, which he resignedly agrees to do.

Xander finds Anya at the fraternity house but Anya rejects his help, reminding him of his breach of promise of marriage, which he insists isn't a good excuse anymore. Buffy arrives and after Anya turns demon-faced and throws Xander aside, attacks her. They seem matched until Buffy impales Anya through the chest with a sword. In a sudden, wistful flashback, we see a moment occuring during 2001's Once More, With Feeling musical episode with Anya bursting into a (magic-induced) solo musical number about how her future role as Xander's 'missus' is now all that she has to define her. In the present, Anya comes to, and, impervious to such apparently mortal injuries, rips the sword out. Buffy fights the sword away from her and gets another shot at using it when Xander tackles her away from Anya.

Suddenly D'Hoffryn appears, interrupting the battle. He first approvingly inspects Anya's scene of carnage in the other room, then reminds Buffy that attacking him is futile (she desists). D'Hoffryn compliments Xander's gallantry and Willow's solicitousness, and notes Buffy's bloody-minded resolution, but concludes by asking Anya what she wants to do. Anya asks to undo her act of vengeance, which is possible as her victims died "mystical deaths." Anya insists on it despite D'Hoffryn's warnings that the price would be the life and soul of a vengeance demon (she assumes, her own) and over Xander's impassioned protests. D'Hoffryn surprises all by rapidly summoning and annihilating Anya's vengeance demon friend Halfrek, explaining that he wants Anya to suffer in guilt as punishment for betraying him: "Never go for the kill when you can go for the pain!" Assuring them that the coming threat will kill them all anyway (reminding them that "from beneath you, it devours"), D'Hoffryn teleports away, having restored Anya's victims to life and Anya herself to human status.

Hurt and scared, Anya walks out alone, but Xander follows. She voices her dread at now facing life for the first time without a role to lose herself in, as vengeance demon or girlfriend or wife or even buisnessperson, claiming she's always been without a self of her own (as per the episode title). Xander argues with this and tries to comfort her, but backs regretfully away so that Anya, walking off tearfully in the opposite direction, can face her future, as she insists on doing, herself.

Acting

tarring

*Sarah Michelle Gellar as Buffy Summers
*Nicholas Brendon as Xander Harris
*Emma Caulfield as Anya Jenkins/Anyanka/Aud
*Michelle Trachtenberg as Dawn Summers
*James Marsters as Spike
*Alyson Hannigan as Willow Rosenberg

Guest starring

*Abraham Benrubi as Olaf the Troll
*Andy Umberger as D'Hoffryn
*Kali Rocha as Halfrek
*Joyce Guy as Professor
*Jennifer Shon as Rachel

Co-starring

*Taylor Sutherland as Villager #1
*Marybeth Scherr as Villager #2
*Alessandro Mastrobuono as Villager #3
*Daniel Spanton as Viking #1
*John Timmons as Viking #2

Production details

Music

In a flashback to the musical episode "Once More, with Feeling", two songs are heard, both written by Joss Whedon.

* Marti Noxon & David Fury - Mustard/Parking ticket song. - A brief off-screen number sung by David Fury and Marti Noxon. In the original episode, they played respectively a man ecstatic that the drycleaner had gotten mustard out of his shirt, and a woman complaining about a parking ticket. Here, in a flashback set the night before their numbers, we hear the aftermath of Noxon's character spilling mustard on Fury's character.
* Anya - "Mrs". Sung by Anya (Emma Caulfield). Xander has fallen asleep and she muses over how good her life will be once she becomes Mrs. Xander Harris. One of the lyrics briefly references marital doubt similar to the number the two sing in the original episode, "I'll Never Tell": "He's my Xander and he's awfully swell, it makes financial sense as well, although he can be... I'll never tell."

Translations

* Italian title: On TV "Altruismo" ("Selflessness") or, on DVD, "Disinteressato" ("Selfless": curiously, in male gender: Anya, Buffy and Willow - the heroes of the episode - are all female, instead)
* German title: "Wandlungen" ("Changes")
* French title: "Crise d'identité" ("Identity Crisis")
* Spanish title: "Desinteresadamente"

Fullscreen vs. widescreen

Writer Drew Goddard originally questioned whether or not the "Mrs." scene should have been shown in widescreen for American audiences since it was a flashback to "Once More, with Feeling", the only episode of "Buffy" shown in widescreen in the US. Director David Solomon thought it would have been too confusing to switch between full-frame and widescreen, so it was not done.

Quotes and trivia

:Olaf: "You speak your mind, and are annoying." "Olaf explains to Anya why he loves her.":Anya: (After Willow offers to help her) "Well thats great, Willow. Flayed anybody lately, have you?" "Anya Referencing Warren Mears's death by the hands of Willow"

* All of Kali Rocha's (Halfrek) shots in her death scene were green-screened due to time-constraints.

* Sarah Michelle Gellar was only available for three days of shooting on this episode because of her wedding to Freddie Prinze, Jr.

* In the DVD commentary for this episode, writer Drew Goddard says that the Sjornjost scenes were written in Swedish but he intended for the lines to be dubbed badly in English, so Emma Caulfield and Abraham Benrubi were told that they did not need to memorize the Swedish that carefully because it would not be heard. Both actors memorized all of the Swedish phonetically and the show creators were so pleased with their performances that they decided to subtitle the scenes rather than dub them.

* Goddard also says that he chose the name Aud for Anya's original human name because while researching Viking names he found a Viking king named Olaf who had a wife named Aud, known for her sense of humor and her ability to manage money. The description of Aud fit Anya so well that he had to use the name.

* In Xander and Buffy's confrontation with the Grimslaw demon, Xander gets a black slash of sticky stuff across his left eye that looks a lot like a cut. The mark could be foreshadowing for Xander's eventual loss of his left eye in "Dirty Girls."

* Drew Goddard considered setting the "Once More, With Feeling" flashback during "Hush," but he realized that it would be difficult to show Anya defining herself through Xander without dialogue.

*During Anya's song there are numerous pieces of triva. Before she begins to sing the viewer can hear people singing outside about spilling mustard on their clothes, and worrying it will never come out. In "Once More With Feeling" a group of ecstatic people sing happily about mustard being removed from a man's clothes just outside the Magic Box. Also, Anya references in her song that she is good at math, most probably a nod towards her love of money, yet in Anya's second appearance on the series in Season Three she remarks on how she is stuck in Sunnydale High and "flunking math!" A reference to Xander and Anya's duet "I'll Never Tell" is also included with the line "Although he can be — I'll never tell."

* During the battle, Anya asks of Buffy "Are there any of your friends you haven't tried to kill?" This is most likely a reference to Buffy's trauma in "Normal Again," in which, under the influence of a hallucination, Buffy sets a demon lose to kill Xander, Willow, Dawn, and Tara, along with her fight with Willow at the end of the previous season, and such fights with Angel and Spike.

* When Anya rouses herself after Buffy stabs her through the chest, she says that Buffy should know better, that a sword through the chest doesn't kill vengeance demons. She is referencing "Older and Far Away" in which Halfrek, a fellow vengeance demon, is stabbed through the chest and calls it a "flesh wound."

Continuity

*Anya's history with Olaf the troll (who appeared in "Triangle" and mentioned their history briefly) is fleshed out in this episode.

Arc significance

* The Xander and Anya problem is reversed in Buffy and Spike, which would be fully explored in further episodes.

* Willow finally discovers that Xander never told Buffy of her plans to restore Angel's soul (season 2), when Buffy quotes the message that Xander had instead invented.

* In this episode we learn that Anya's outlandish behaviour throughout the series is not because she is an ex-demon, rather she has been an outcast all her life.

Timing

* Stories that take place around the same time in the Buffyverse:

External links

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