WARNING: Contains many, many Buffy spoilers!
If you haven’t seen Buffy the Vampire Slayer, then stop reading now, sort your life out and start watching. It is a sublime example of television.
My girlfriend Guppy (whose new blog on beauty products can be found here, if you are so inclined) and I just finished rewatching Buffy the Vampire Slayer – her first rewatch, my, um, hang on, let me count, oh jeez the whole way through must be around six or seven by now.
We both cried at the same time in the finale. Not when Spike died in his awesome, awesome way, not when any other character died, but at precisely this moment.
Anya dies in the midst of battle, and her body is never found by Xander. This in itself is heartbreaking, but it’s the moment when Xander asks Andrew what happened, what he saw, and Andrew replies, “She was amazing. She died saving my life” that makes me cry every damn time I watch it, or come very close.
I’ve been thinking about why this is since finishing this latest rewatch. I think it’s to do with the fundamentally realistic, and very human, tragedy of their relationship. For two and a half seasons, they were the strongest couple in the show, even outlasting Willow and Tara. They were also the most human couple, being the only time in the show (post-season 3, in which Xander and Cordelia’s relationship ended) when two people with no powers were together like that. Willow and Tara were both witches, after all, and ultimately magic tore them apart (or rather addiction behind the mask of magic), before a single gunshot ended their relationship for reals.
I think it’s this that makes their break-up in season 6 so tragic – unlike any of Buffy and Willow’s relationships, which all ended because of a big issue that was made more extreme through the supernatural (Angel turning evil, Riley going to vamp-whores, Buffy’s whole self-loathing thing with Spike, Oz’s wolfiness, Willow’s magic addiction), Xander jilted Anya at the altar because he simply wasn’t ready for marriage. It was simply through suppression of his little niggling doubts, and the inevitable father issues that most characters in the show seemed to have (anything up with that, Joss Whedon?) that he was ultimately scared off committing to his perfect woman.
But that isn’t the end of their relationship, and after a while they become friends again, comfortable with admitting that they still love one another, and even having some breakup/end of the world sex before the end of season 7. There’s a sense that they could still get back together one day, that these two are meant for each other, which is only hindered by Joss Whedon’s tragic trigger finger.
Because this is the thing about love which permeates throughout Buffy – the most happy relationships end abruptly; but so too do the lives of those in those relationships. And it is not until there is that glimmer of hope for happiness in the distance that Joss kills off his characters. Tara was shot after a perfect day in bed, reunited with Willow – and meaninglessly, as the bullet that hit her was meant for Buffy. Spike died heroically saving the world and destroying Sunnydale, just after his relationship with Buffy had matured into something healthily platonic. Angel was sent to Hell the moment after getting his soul back. Anya, well…
That’s what happened to Anya.
But that’s not all that happened…
Maybe this is another element of their tragedy – they never got to say goodbye. Buffy had her final moments with Angel and Spike, and besides, their bodies weren’t going to be locatable. Tara died suddenly and instantly, but it was in Willow’s arms. Anya died not only apart from Xander, but her body was (by necessity) left to crumble with the rest of Sunnydale.
Xander and Anya’s relationship could have been saved by emotional openness, but that’s not the point. It’s a mistake which any couple could make, and many do. It’s this that makes them so relatable, and realistic. They love and accept each other’s personalities and quirks, even when others do not. They are the model of a happy adult relationship, and if they are not perfect it’s only because none of us truly are. Their tragedy is not one fundamental flaw, but one tiny one that hits home when it most matters. And that is why we cried when Xander heard about Anya’s death.
Here’s an image from Spike’s death scene, which, though less sad, certainly looked pretty fucking cool.