Anya, Anya, Anya. Emma Caulfield’s ridiculously blunt ex-demon wasn’t always a favorite favorite of mine. I found her amusing, enjoyable, but I didn’t latch onto her like I do to some characters. She definitely did grow on me, though, and even if a lot of what is notable about her is her one-liners of tactless humor, what she ultimately does is teach us in the series that anyone can have redemption and it always doesn’t have to be cheesy or romance-motivated. And that’s cool.
I enjoyed Anya’s first appearance not because of Anya herself but because it led to what is still one of my favorite Buffy episodes, “The Wish.” Then, with “Doppelgangland,” also one of my favorites, it could be assumed that she was just wrapping up a tiny, tiny arc, but there were still moments of what comes to be trademark Anya humor.
“Do you have any idea how boring twelfth graders are?”
“If she’s a vampire, then I’m the Creature from the Black Lagoon.”
“I’m just so tired of being around human beings and all their baggage. I don’t care if I ever get my powers back. I think he should eat you.”
Turned into a human thanks to the loss of her source of vengeance demon power, a lot of Anya’s purpose is to offer awkward, insensitive commentary on human foibles. She’s trying to relearn human niceties, even though a lot of them seem stupid to her; she became a demon in the 800s, so it’s been a while. She’s older than anyone else who has considerable time in the series, including the vampires (the “Fanged Four” are circa 160s-1800s and even the Master [Mark Metcalf] can only be traced back to the 12th century), so she’s seen a lot. And now she’s having to cope with it on a new level, a level where she’s actually involved in it and not just watching.
Because of Anya’s attempts to fit into the world she has to be involved in now, she ends up asking Xander (Nicholas Brendon) to the prom, and though it’s a disastrous night by all standards, she finds herself interested in him. It’s meant to be somewhat ironic, because Xander and Willow’s (Alyson Hannigan) miniature affair is what sparked her arrival in Sunnydale at all, but it leads also to an interesting point on her moral journey.
Graduation day is rolling around; they all know that the Mayor (Harry Groener) is planning an ascension, and Anya does share about what that would be like, but then she gets the hell out of town. She doesn’t want to face it. We think this may be the last of Anya, but it’s worth noting for comparison to later seasons.
Upon her return in season four, she and Xander soon begin dating. It seems just to be sex at first, which Anya, being Anya, is very straightforward about, and invites openly; it then evolves. The rest of the Scoobies don’t really like her, and sometimes they downright facepalm at her, but she’s helpful and Xander likes her, so they learn to accept her, if grudgingly.
We still just get Anya-as-purveyor-of-amusing-remarks for a while. Anya drops more one-liners, there are more personality clashes between her and the others, and they’re all fun to witness. Anya makes a lot of cracks about consumerism, and it’s amusing.
Then along comes 5×16, “The Body.” It’s one of the most tragic episodes of Buffy, or considered that way: not even because of Joyce (Kristine Sutherland) but because watching everyone react to this completely natural, non-supernatural, sudden death is heartbreaking. None of the Scoobies know what to do; they’re all struggling to cope in their own ways. And there’s Anya, who’s been on the planet for more than a thousand years, Anya who’s killed and seen people be killed. She’s asking inappropriate questions, making inappropriate comments, then:
“But I don’t understand. I don’t understand how this all happens. How we go through this. I mean, I knew her, and then she’s- There’s just a body, and I don’t understand why she just can’t get back in it and not be dead anymore. It’s stupid. It’s mortal and stupid. And-and Xander’s crying and not talking, and-and I was having fruit punch, and I thought, well, Joyce will never have any more fruit punch ever, and she’ll never have eggs, or yawn, or brush her hair, not ever, and no one will explain to me why.”
Even having seen and been the cause of so much death, Anya doesn’t understand it now, in this context. Anya is shocked by her own grief, basically; she doesn’t see why things have to be this way. She’s in touch with her humanity, and not just the part of it that hates high school coursework. It’s one of the most devastating monologues in the series, and one of the most accidentally insightful.
As things progress, Anya and Xander become engaged, one of those disastrous “it’s an apocalypse” engagements that really never end well, but there’s always the off-chance, right? Anya is pleased by this development, though a part of her is perplexed by it; she’s spent a disproportionate amount of time wronging men who’ve wronged their women, why would this case be any different? Yet she believes in her heart, fully, that it will be. She’s hopeful.
And she never stops being Anya. She’s thoroughly capable, really: she works very efficiently at the Magic Box, she helps as best she can in Scooby projects. She’s always been someone singlemindedly devoted to her work: she was the kind of vengeance demon that was never off the job, she says in flashbacks. Now her job is being a Scooby, working at the Magic Box, being with Xander, being human, and she tries her damnedest.
This is a good time to include this:
And then Xander has to go and be deceived by a former enemy of Anya’s on their wedding day. Anya, who believes so completely in Xander being her ticket to happily ever after:
“I, Anya, want to marry you, Xander, because… I love you and I’ll always love you. And… before I knew you, I was like a completely different person. Not even a person really. And I had seen what love could do to people, and it was… hurt and sadness. Alone was better. And then suddenly there was you, and… you knew me. You saw me, and it was this… thing. You make me feel safe and warm. So, I get it now. I finally get love, Xander. I really do.“
But it’s the Whedonverse, so it’s not to be. And when he breaks off the relationship, gunshy and paranoid (because of the trickery leads to a sudden fear of inadequacy) Anya turns back to the life of a vengeance demon. She still helps out the Scoobies, she’s devoted to that task by now, but she’s also devoted to wronging men again, and she certainly does.
She recognizes Willow’s pain when Tara’s murdered, even if there isn’t much she can do but help the other Scoobies out. She does care for them, even when she tries not to show it: especially adorable is her and Giles’ friendship, previously discussed. And they do care for her too. She sticks around, even not tied to Xander romantically, and does her best to help them in the fight against the First next season, devoting a lot of her time to it once her demon status is again revoked (she found she was too human to put her whole self into it).
And by the end of things, all I can say is beautiful, wonderful Anya. Anya whose awesomeness is, again, best described by her own words:
“Well, I guess I was kinda new to being around humans before. And now I’ve seen a lot more, gotten to know people, seen what they’re capable of and I guess I just realize how amazingly… screwed up they all are. I mean, really, really screwed up in a monumental fashion…. And they have no purpose that unites them, so they just drift around, blundering through life until they die. Which they-they know is coming, yet every single one of them is surprised when it happens to them. They’re incapable of thinking about what they want beyond the moment. They kill each other, which is clearly insane, and yet, here’s the thing. When it’s something that really matters, they fight. I mean, they’re lame morons for fighting. But they do. They never… They never quit. And so I guess I will keep fighting, too.”
Through all the demon-fighting, all of the terrible times, all of the suffering she’s experienced in her brief mortal life, she’s learned, really learned, why sometimes humans are pretty okay. She’s saying it all in her way, her sometimes too blunt way, but she means it all so sincerely that it’s kind of wonderful. And she does die for it; so suddenly, so upsettingly. Emma Caulfield herself once said, “She didn’t get a big, maudlin send-off, it was very quick and to the point – very Anya in that respect.”
Anya, the ex-demon, Anya, the abrupt capitalist, Anya, the fiercely loyal: everyone on Buffy teaches us a little about humanity sometimes, but none quite as well as Anya, going through her desire and frustration and grief and joy and resignation and hope and beautiful conflict.
–your fangirl heroine.