If you are a lesbian of a certain age, you know that nothing on television has ever been as formative to nascent girl-on-girl feelings as Buffy the Vampire Slayer. And I am not talking about Willow and Tara. Willow and Tara are lovely; they are attractive and accomplished and their relationship is nuanced and interesting and one time they sang to each other while dressed up for the Renaissance Faire (for reasons which will forever remain shrouded in brocade and mystery). And all of that is great. But when I speak of the one true sapphic couple of Buffy and also my heart, I’m referring to the hot Slayer-on-Slayer subtext of Buffy and Faith.
(As an aside: No, I haven’t read the Season 8 comics. Yes, I’m aware that Buffy gets her lesbian on temporarily. Yes, my heart broke into a thousand pieces when I found out that it isn’t with Faith. I don’t want to talk about it.)
Faith made way more sense than any other romantic pairing the show offered up for its perpetually-crossed-in-love heroine. Angel was stilted, Spike was overwrought, and when I try to remember Riley’s face, all I can see is the word “bland” written in Helvetica. Faith combined all of their most appealing qualities: Spike’s complicated-yet-theoretically-intriguing emotional darkness, Angel’s leather pants, Riley’s ability to punch a hole through a fake rock wall. On top of all that, she had Eliza Dushku’s face, which is among the most perfect faces ever crafted by angels and was gifted to the human race as compensation for Eliza Dushku’s acting skills.
But more than anything else, Faith was perfect for Buffy because she understood Buffy. Better than her true love Angel, better than her best friend Willow, better than her fake sister or her mother or the vampire shrink who psychoanalyzed her that one time right before she killed him. This isn’t just about the burden of having superpowers, either; Buffy and Faith’s bond went deeper than that. Sure, Buffy was the “good slayer,” and Faith was the “bad slayer,” but after only a few weeks of fighting side-by-side, their roles as opposites, which had never been much more than arbitrary anyway, started to melt away. They were starting to synchronize, to move in unison, to fight in unison, to predict each other’s movements. They were, in short, showing classic symptoms of the Lesbian Merge, and as is always the case when it’s happening to you instead of someone else, they were finding it pretty wonderful.
The thing about “Bad Girls” that breaks my heart is how amazing things are just before they all go bad. When Faith breathes on the windowpane and draws that heart with her fingers, then ushers Buffy out the window, all soft-butch gentleman swagger – I die every time. When they dance together at the Bronze, the chemistry is so overwhelmingly, perfectly right.
If you were never an awkward teenage girl with a nearly life-threatening crush on another girl and zero idea what to do about it, I don’t know if there’s any way to convey to you how bitterly poignant Faith actually is. She comes off all bravado and feigned sexual confidence and stories about fighting vampires in the nude, but it’s largely sleight of hand. She talks about her loser ex-boyfriends, and she asks a lot of questions about Buffy’s sex life and how she feels when she looks at Scott Hope (remember Scott Hope?) and how she felt when she slept with Angel and whether she’s ever been attracted to Xander, and you can feel in your gut that the only thing she wants more than to know how Buffy feels when she looks at her is for Buffy to never ever ever guess that that’s what she wants.
After things go bad between the two of them – after Faith “goes evil” because things get scary and she doesn’t trust Buffy to stand by her – that chemistry from the Bronze isn’t gone. You can see it when they fight, when they exchange bitter barbs and hold knives to each other’s throats. You can see it in their shared dreams. You can see it when the time comes for their final showdown, when Faith says “Give us a kiss,” when you know that if Buffy would just kiss her already, goddammit, this whole charade would be over and everything would be fine.
Because really, everything that’s wrong with Faith, everything that’s pain and rage and panic and lonely and the blind urge to make ‘them’ all pay – it’s so clear that what she needs isn’t a weird, evil-yet-delightfully-folksy father figure. What she needs is the love of a good woman. Faith is the classic anti-hero, rebellious and sexy and guided by an unorthodox moral compass, tormented by a past filled with loss that’s too cliché for her to ever admit how much it hurts. Buffy is the girl who can make it right by believing in her. (Ed. note — please do not try fixing murderous, tormented, closeted lesbian Slayers by loving them; this should be tried only on Joss Whedon shows.)
When Faith goes bad, she becomes a caricature of every lovestruck, rejected, miserable, obsessive lesbian that every one of us has ever known (or been). She’s always around, reminding Buffy that all this is her fault, with the unspoken subtext being, “You could fix all this if you’d just take me back.” She tries to hurt and/or fuck Buffy’s friends. She tries to hurt and/or fuck Buffy’s boyfriend. This, above all, makes a terrible sort of sense: If Faith can’t have Buffy, she’s not going to let Buffy have Angel.
And, real talk, why else would she try to get with Angel? Faith and Angel have about as much chemistry as my coffee table has with my couch: they’re both attractive, and they look nice in proximity to each other, but picturing them getting in union with one another is just weird. It doesn’t even make enough sense to be disconcerting. You can tell the whole time she’s trying to put her Serious Vulnerable Slayer Face on his Concerned Responsible Vampire Face that her heart/vagina isn’t truly in it, because Buffy is the only one for her.
Look, as emotionally invested as I am in this pairing, I can be honest about it. Would Buffy and Faith make a healthy couple in the long term? Probably not. They’re young and confused and drawn to all the qualities in each other that they hate in themselves, and that is a recipe for a really fucked-up toxic friendship/star-crossed romance/hate-sex marathon. There is a lot of darkness in this pairing, but what Buffy relationship isn’t fraught with tension, resentment, lies, betrayal, infidelity, and uncertainty? I’m not saying I need them to live happily ever after, but I wish they’d gotten the chance to knock down a few houses together. I think they could have taken out the high school all on their own – no explosives required.