Love v. Domination: Xander’s Arc in Time of Your Life
Xander’s in a dark, dominating place at the start. It rears its ugly head lightly at first: “I’ll ask for help if I need it, but we can’t turn war councils into awkward pausathons because I lost someone close. We have to stay focused so . . . I need to know everything about the demon lover with the snake body, and don’t shield me from anything deviant or . . . I don’t want to say kinky –” Xander’s distracting himself with violence and sex, but very mixed violence and sex. He really does have to focus on the war against the slayers, and it really is important to plum Willow’s relationship with snake lady, but dealing with things we have to deal with can be a way of not dealing with other things we have to deal with, and he’s using his best friend, at least in comic conceit, for porn. Although, yes, it’s good that he can make light and funny in time of tragedy, it’s not pure light. And stressing the outre side of Willow’s encounter with the Great Green Whatever is likely to make her less forthcoming, so: counter-productive. But I am making close-ups of molehills.
His tender-supportive-but-healthily-challenging relationship with Dawn goes downhill. He unthinkingly drops the W bomb: “There must be a non-whiny way to deal with this [becoming a centaur thing].” Sure, it’s an echo of one common audience response to Dawn (“Shut up, Dawn”) and Dawn does need to confront her capacity to turn lemons into arsenic, but Xander was clumsy and thoughtless and stepped on her vulnerable toe of truth. Xander, having been her great support for seasons 7 and 8, has failed her.
And briefly goes sexist: “Who can fathom the mystery that is horse-slash-woman . . .” Well, anyone, in this case. The most hurtful things one can say are the true-ish things, the mostly accurate but not entirely true things that expose our big weaknesses. No mystery here. Xander is blaming her reaction on her, rather than showing his customary care for how his words affect her.
Missile Strikes Castle, Kills 7
Xander’s descent becomes clear in this exchange with Rowena:
“Get the slayers out.”
“Sir . . .”
“Or, yeah, maybe we should discuss the pros and cons and put it up for a vote. Go!”
Gone is the man who wouldn’t let Renee call him “Sir,” replaced by General Xander giving orders and not brooking — or even hearing — dissent.
Now comes a great moment for Dawn, who turns her curse into a blessing by rescuing Xander, mythical half-horse-half-woman-style. The sweetness is cut by the knowledge that she is proving Xander right by finding a non-whiny way to deal. Today Dawn’s a superhero, it must slightly embarrass her to admit. And the hint of romantic/sexual tension in her shy, eyes-averted suggestion that he ride her to safety is sweet. Xander’s words hurt because Xander matters; because Xander matters Dawn transforms herself from victim to hero. As with the homoerotic subtexts, the heteroerotic (apparently not an official word) subtexts are also all about the relationship. These two care about each other, which is much more rare than wanting each other.
Once Dawn carries Xander to safety she gets all Buffy-wisecracking about being ridden hard and put away wet and being “Chestnutty Beauty,” thank you very much. Good to see.
But the great momenty moment is still to come: Rowena and the slayers, rather than following Xander’s order that they get to safety, come and rescue him, Dawn and the flaming forest folk.
Key moment in the Love v. Domination theme: The dominated respond to domination by rebelling, and it is good. Their rebellion isn’t selfish. They rebel heroically, to rescue the dude they’re rebelling against, the one who doesn’t glean their inner potential heroism — or didn’t, until they shoved it in his face and rescued his sorry, funny-hatted ass. Xander, chastened and awed, responds well to being disobeyed and gives up a bit of feminist empowerment anthem:
“All the Ladies in the House Go ‘Yeah. . .'”