'Buffy the Vampire Slayer': "Who Are You?"

Sarah Michelle Gellar in 'Who Are You'
I wouldn't call "Who Are You?" one of my favorite Buffy episodes, but it's definitely a season-four highlight even though it leads to an appearance of sanctimonious and downright unlikable Buffy in "Sanctuary." I love the dynamic between Faith and Buffy, and even though you know they're stunt doubles, there's just something viscerally appealing about watching these two characters fight. Eliza Dushku tries to play all coy at "Oh, people thought Faith and Buffy had this deep down love for one another, I'm not sure why," but how can we not think that when she's saying lines like, "Let's have another go at it. See who lands on top," so dirty-like.

But as much as I like this episode, I’m always slightly annoyed by the TV conceit that a character’s closest friends and family wouldn’t realize that a body switch happened. Or short of that, that they wouldn't at least realize something was wrong. Especially when Faith is being about as discreet as a foghorn in some scenes. At least Tara notices. I really like Amber Benson’s performance in this episode. I love her delivery of "She was kind of mean," and her small, pained smile after Faith teases her about stuttering breaks my heart every time. But I don't like how Tara confronts Willow about being kept a secret from her friends. I wish Joss had found a less passive-aggressive way to get to the "I am, you know...Yours." But otherwise, Tara is very endearing here and it’s nice that she gets to be the intuitive one, even though it's at the expense of making Joyce, Willow, Riley, and Spike look like idiots. Well, I don't really care that Spike looks like an idiot. Or Riley either, actually. But note to Riley: if your girlfriend starts coming on to you sexually in a completely different way than she has before, even if you can't figure out that her soul has been mystically swapped with that of a self-loathing psychopath, maybe you shouldn't have sex with her. Try talking about it next time.

This episode is obviously a showcase for Sarah Michelle Gellar's fantastic mimicking skills that she puts to use again in seasons five and six with her portrayal of the Buffy-bot. At times in this episode I think she goes a little over-the-top with the physical mannerisms, but they're not too distracting. Her delivery is spot-on, and she even takes a stab at saying "about" the way Eliza Dushku does. (Is that a Boston accent? I've always been curious. It sounds almost Canadian to me.) But SMG doesn’t wear leather pants quite as well as Eliza does. Sorry, Sarah.
Amber Benson & Sarah Michelle Gellar in 'Who Are You'
Yes, Eliza’s performance doesn’t stand out as much as SMG’s, but to be fair Buffy doesn’t have as many obvious mannerisms as Faith does. Buffy puts her hands on her hips a lot when she is speechifying and crosses her arms for various reasons, but that’s all I can think of offhand. Faith is a psychologically traumatized murderer while Buffy is a pretty average college student: these actors can play Faith a little more heightened where Buffy should be more subdued. Buffy also spends half of this episode tied up or semi-conscious, which means that Eliza doesn’t have as much obviously Buffy dialogue as SMG has Faith dialogue. The only time I felt like Eliza really wasn't Buffy was when she threatens to kill one of the Council's goons. I think Eliza rocks Buffy's conversation with Giles, giving especially the “What’s a stevedore?” line a perfect SMG-style delivery.

Ah, the "Passage to the Nether Realm" spell (snigger!), also known as the big flaming O. (OK, but why a "flaming" O? There isn’t any fire. I think it's more of a sparkly O.) I admit that when I first saw this episode I didn’t quite realize the sexual connotation of the spell. I remember thinking, "Huh. That spell is a lot of work. Look how sweaty they are." I was 16 and very naive. Now that I’m, um, more informed, I’m amazed that they got away with it, especially in combination with Faith's pretty sexually explicit conversation with Spike. The spell could have been really hokey, but Joss manages to make it sexy, even though both actors have all their clothes on and are only touching hands. Hmm, a metaphorical lesbian sex scene directed by a man that eroticizes hands? Not bad, Joss. You might even argue that because it's not a literal sex scene Joss could actually show more, i.e. Willow "comes" in a more graphic way than I usually see on network TV.

Though "This Year's Girl" and Angel episodes "Five by Five" and "Sanctuary" don't quite measure up to "Who Are You?" I like Faith's post-coma arc because it leads to the Faith of "Orpheus," the Faith who is trying to make amends. Also, her reappearance in season seven of Buffy was a small bit of happiness in an incredibly boring season.
Eliza Dushku in 'Who Are You'