Tony Fyler gets pre-wedding jitters.
Shakespeare tackled a number of primal emotions as the sources of specific weaknesses in his tragedies, predicting the fall of man and woman through jealousy in Othello, ambition in Julius Caesar and Macbeth, vengeance in Titus Andronicus, and indecision in Hamlet.
He never really tackled the idea that men and women could be brought down by their own fear.
That he generously left to Joss Whedon and the Buffy team, and in particular Rebecca Rand Kirshner, the writer of the Hell’s Bells episode which would have seen Xander Harris (geekboy and by that time hottie builder and ‘sex poodle’ of Sunnydale) and Anya Jenkins (vengeance demon, retired, of Hell only knows where) married – but ultimately didn’t.
Xander and Anya were an unlikely pairing from the very beginning – but then, at the start of the show, Xander and anyone would have been an unlikely pairing. The fact that on a number of occasions, Xander turned the head of arch-snob Cordelia Chase was mystifying to everyone, most particularly Cordelia herself, but with Xander’s history (he got off with a teacher who turned out to be a giant insect-lady, intent on ripping his head off after mating… and of course there was the whole penile syphilis thing, inflicted on him by the spirit warrior of the Chumash Indian tribe) it was actually bizarrely fitting that when vengeance demon Anya was rendered relatively powerless and stranded in Sunnydale, Xander would find her.
Anya for her part was societally and culturally dislocated in the late 20th century – many of our concepts were beyond her, and she was unafraid of speaking the truth that was on her mind at any given moment. But she also brought the bizarre perspective of someone who’d been alive for centuries, and had worked to bring wronged women their vengeance, so Anya was never just a clueless adjunct to the Scooby Gang.
The relationship between Xander and Anya grew from pure surface – they were attracted to each other physically – to a more comfortable, multi-faceted relationship: Xander had an urge to protect Anya, Anya had an urge to do physical violence to those who wanted to harm her ‘sex poodle.’
But underneath it all, theirs was a relationship governed by fear. Not grand, end of the world fears – which in itself was surprising given where they lived and what they knew – just the ordinary, grinding, mundane fears that can turn a relationship to stone over time – am I going to be able to live up to their expectations, what if they want more than I can give, am I doing it right for them, will they still love me when my looks change. Not expressing these fears, but masking them behind a bright smile and an ‘Everything’s fine’ slowly managed to turn those ordinary jitters into big concerns. Everyone remembers Once More With Feeling as ‘the musical episode’ but it was far more cunningly constructed than the description gives it credit for – in the main number for Xander and Anya, the whole growing relationship dynamic was played out: quirky comedy, turning on the idea that they’d never express all the secret fears and insecurities that dogged them when the other was around, for fear of starting a fight from which their relationship couldn’t recover.
Practically alone among the Scoobies, they seemed to treat the events of Once More With Feeling as if they’d never happened afterward, as if they were just one of those ‘magic’ things wrapped up in the usual end-of-the-worldiness of their lives. And so the store of things about which they couldn’t, didn’t dare talk grew, undermining their bedrock day by day.
Fast forward to Hell’s Bells, to the day when the Harrises and the Jenkinses were due to unite, humans and demons (and Scoobies, oh my!), in a celebration of Anya and Xander’s wedding. Xander is visited by ‘a future version of himself’ who, Scrooge-like, shows him visions of that future, which is miserable and dingy – he’s injured and can’t work, so she has to support them. Their kids are brats, ruling and adding ruination to their lives. It’s every bride and every groom’s biggest fear – the bright future forecast on their wedding day never comes true, and they end up not even with the energy to despise each other, wasting their lives in sniping and bickering, the promise of their loving union squandered.
As it turns out of course, the ‘future Xander’ is actually an embittered man who Anya in her Vengeance Demon days had cursed. He gets his own back by destroying her potential happiness on her wedding day. (a Shakesperean cyclic theme – one who has suffered at the hands of the hero gets their revenge and poisons their delight). But even when the falsehood of that future comes to light, Xander says he can’t marry her that day – the fears are real, the inability to talk about them real. Buffy as a show rarely took the easy road of sentimentality, and it didn’t here either.
So is that the end for Xander and Anya? Far from it – there’s revenge sex with a vampire, there’s an attempt to curse Xander which goes badly wrong, there’s a slow and painful process of re-establishing a way to work together, and gradually over time, there appears to be the rekindling of their flame on a once-bitten basis of cautious optimism and honesty.
The end, for Anya and Xander, comes in Chosen, during the final battle for Sunnydale, when again, the determination not to be sentimental about love or life kicks viewers in the chest. Having seen those beginnings of a rebuilding of trust between Anya and Xander, the show reminds us that being the hero in the movie of your own life means precisely nothing to outside factors, whether those factors are scary demons or vampires from the dawn of time, or a drunk driver, or cancer, or any of the mundane appalling realities that can end a human life, without any hint of mercy or narrative ‘rightness’. You’re not guaranteed a time.
So Xander loses an eye in the final battle, and Anya, poor Anya, fights valiantly (as she always did, sometimes without especially knowing why), and is killed while saving Andrew, the sniveling coward and ex-Trio member.
‘That’s my girl,’ says Xander. ‘Always doing the stupid thing.’
The story of Xander and Anya is a story of two lovers who could have been rock solid, undermined by ordinary human fears, and finding a way back to each other when Fate intervened to part them forever. The message of their love, if love can be said to have anything as banal as a message, is that the point about relationships is not to sweat the small stuff, but to share it, and share the time you have and the time you can together – you never know how long you’ve got.
Tony Fyler lives in a cave of wall-to-wall DVDs and Blu-Rays somewhere fairly
nondescript in Wales, and never goes out to meet the "Real People". Who,
Torchwood, Sherlock, Blake, Treks, Star Wars, obscure stuff from the
70s and 80s and comedy from the dawn of time mean he never has to. By
runs an editing house, largely as an
excuse not to have to work for a living. He's currently writing a Book.
With Pages and everything. Follow his progress at FylerWrites.co.uk