Welcome to the Hellmouth! If you haven’t been around this week, we’re celebrating Buffy the Vampire Slayer‘s (the show’s, anyway!) sweet sixteen with a month of Buffy-related posts, character analyses, and tours of the show’s many philosophical themes.
As usual for these sorts of posts, beware of SPOILERS.
Today’s character is one who I’ve always really liked. In fact, she’s been part of the inspiration for a new project I started working on just for the funsies. Faith Lehane is a character who as always intrigued me, both in her role on Buffy the Vampire Slayer and her appearances on Angel. She has some fascinating relationships with the other characters on both shows, and she’s the perfect example of character evolution.
The Dark Slayer
First of all, I always love characters who explore the “what might have been” sides of existing characters, and Faith Lehane is a perfect picture of what Buffy could have been had she not had the support system of her family, friends, and Giles. When we meet Faith, she talks a big game, but she’s terrified out of her wits and on the run. The vampire chasing her is old, old enough to still have cloven hooves. And Faith had to watch as he tore apart her Watcher. Where Buffy had a loving mother and friends who stuck with her in spite of the monsters who populated her life, Faith was alone in the world and terrified.
Everyone reacts differently to terror and guilt, and Faith was dealt an abundance of both. After she accidentally kills the deputy mayor of Sunnydale, Faith doesn’t know how to deal with her guilt. Instead of choosing to trust Buffy (who has admittedly often pushed Faith away, jealously guarding the life she’s cultivated from what she perceives as Faith’s encroaching), Faith puts her trust in the Mayor.
Faith and the Mayor
I think that what Faith wants more than anything is for someone to accept her and value her for her strength and who she is. Her relationship with Buffy is too adversarial for that kind of bond, but Faith finds what she’s looking for in Buffy’s season three Big Bad: Mayor Wilkins. It’s an unexpectedly beautiful relationship that brings out emotion every time I watch it develop. Evil or not, Mayor Wilkins sees the value in Faith. Beyond the fear-hardened Slayer, he sees someone desperate for acceptance, and he loves her. It’s something Buffy never quite figured out — the way to gaining Faith’s trust and loyalty is, quite simply, to accept and love her for who she is. The two people who do that gain a strong, intensely loyal ally. Those who distrust her and seek to use her find out how dangerous she is.
Faith and the Mayor form a beautiful bond that persists even after his death, as evidenced by how the First chooses to manifest itself to Faith in the form of the Mayor. I think that bond is what allowed Angel to eventually reach Faith.
To Pull Faith from Darkness
Whether out of a sense of sadism or some other draw, Faith is pulled toward Angel from the first time she meets him. I don’t feel that her reasons are based on causing Buffy pain necessarily — I think she relates to him because of his past and hers. And in truth, her relationship with him is based on a mutual sense of understanding. After Faith kills the deputy mayor, Angel is the one who starts to get through to her. It’s her deranged replacement Watcher who manipulates her and messes with her mind enough to negate Angel’s influence.
All that said, Faith’s relationship with Angel is most explored in the spinoff when Faith arrives in LA. While Angel’s decisions regarding Faith after she tortures Wesley may seem insensitive from Wesley’s perspective (I wouldn’t be too Faith-friendly after that if I were him either), it’s Angel’s continued belief that Faith can become a better person that allows her to make the choices she needs to make. And Buffy doesn’t help with that, swooping in and freaking out.
Their experiences bond Faith and Angel in a way that Buffy can’t quite grasp or compete with. Buffy is, almost without exception, the epitome of the heroic archetype. Faith as an antihero is someone who has to make her own decisions and isn’t used to deciding for others. Angel and Faith can get through to one another in a way that no one else can. Theirs is a decidedly no-bullshit bond, but it’s also one of clarity and understanding.
Almost everyone is a product of her circumstances. When we first meet Faith, that’s who she is. She’s gone from rough upbringing to a tragic and overwhelming calling. What sets her apart as a character is how she manages, through the course of many years, to rise above simply being a churned out Slayer from a hard knock life.
Faith is able to make a choice to be something more, and while she’s still not perfect, she pushes herself beyond the girl who chose to work for the Mayor. She makes the active decision to be something more. I think that Faith’s eventual acceptance of herself is showcased in the final season of Buffy when she is able to return leadership to Buffy and admit that she wasn’t the best person to lead the Potentials — and incidentally, that moment is where Buffy gives Faith more acceptance and trust than she ever has before.
What do you think of the other Slayer? Who is she to you? Do you think that she would have been less of a tragic character if she had the kind of support system Buffy had? Do you think any of Faith’s development is Buffy’s fault?