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Faith: The Fall and Redemption of a Slayer

Season 3 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer introduced a few new characters, one of whom would continue throughout the show’s run, as well as the spin-off Angel. No, I’m not talking about Wesley. The character I’m referring to is Faith Lehane, who entered the series in the Season 3 premiere “Faith, Hope & Trick,” as the new Slayer, given Kendra’s awful demise the previous season.

Faith, played to perfection by Eliza Dushku, is my favorite character in the “Buffy-verse.” The reason for this has to do with the multi-season/multi-series arc she has. Faith begins her journey as a free-spirited young woman and ends it as a strong, capable, if fallible, woman, and through all the twists and turns, we not only buy this journey of self, but we also understand it. Faith’s story is ultimately one about empathy.

Part One: The New Slayer

Faith contemplates things in the Season 3 premiere of Buffy.

Everyone essentially likes Faith as soon as she arrives in Sunnydale, except for Buffy. This makes sense. After Buffy killed Angel at the end of Season 2 to save the world, she packed up and left. After her return, things were not great between her and those she had left behind. Then, along comes a fun, energetic new Slayer with stories to tell. Buffy is understandably jealous. Just who the heck was this new girl?

Faith, we’re told, didn’t have the greatest upbringing, and even witnessed the murder of her Watcher at the hands of a vampire named Kakistos. We understand the effect the latter had on her when Kakistos shows up and Faith immediately begins packing her things to get away from him.

Although, with the help of Buffy, she’s able to defeat Kakistos, just a few episodes later, in “Revelations,” Faith is betrayed by the woman who is supposed to be her new Watcher. In addition to this, everyone finds out Buffy’s secret regarding Angel’s return. No one was privy to this information. Still, Faith takes this as yet another example of someone close to her betraying her trust.

At the end of the episode, though, Buffy visits Faith at her motel room and explains that even with what happened, Faith can trust her. But Faith isn’t having it:

FAITH: I’m on my side, and that’s enough.

As Buffy begins to leave, Faith seems to have a change of heart, calling out for Buffy to stop. However, when Buffy does so, all Faith can say is, “Nothing.” Faith came to Sunnydale as someone with an open future. She didn’t grow up well, witnessed the murder of her Watcher, and was then betrayed by not only someone claiming to be her new Watcher but by Buffy herself.

It makes sense that Faith begins her downward spiral toward what she does in “Bad Girls.” She goes from being an anti-hero to something else. However, it’s the turn at the end of “Consequences” that marks an incredible twist nearly on par with Angel going bad in the second half of Season 2. Faith kills a man in “Bad Girls” and then tries to pin it all on Buffy in “Consequences.” When that ultimately fails, it seems as if Faith is going to have to start making some real changes to get back to her old self. However, her old self was just as damaged.

It’s interesting that her killing monsters is not seen as unhealthy. Killing is killing. It’s only when it’s a human being (in this case, Finch, who works for this season’s primary villain, the Mayor) that things get dark. Fair enough, but while killing Finch is seen as Faith going to the dark side, her killing Trick to save Buffy’s life is seen as heroic?

Faith seems to represent the kind of person who gives off the impression of being too cool to care about things but more than likely feels more than the average person. The background she has seems to be compounded with her duties as a Slayer, which means witnessing a lot of death and doing a lot of killing. Evil beings, yes, but again, still killing.

Faith’s mental state reaches an interesting apex at the end of “Consequences.” Does she really become the show’s new secondary villain, after the Mayor? Or is she merely entering the kind of place where she presumes she belongs? After all, the mayor literally opens the door to her when someone like Buffy was forced by her mother to invite Faith to Christmas Eve dinner in “Amends.”

Part Two: The Villain

Faith confronts Buffy in the episode "Enemies."

The second half of Season 3 sees Faith do some more lying and killing, specifically in “Enemies” and the two-part finale “Graduation Day.” She plays the role of villain well, with Dushku outdoing herself in the former episode.

Three important things happen in “Enemies”:

  • It fools audiences into thinking Angel’s gone Angelus on us again, a very real possibility given Faith.
  • It moves the plot along and sets things up pretty well for the finale.
  • It shows the psychological conflict inherent in Faith.

The episode by no means excuses her choices and actions. More than anything, the show re-enforces the very notion that Faith is no longer on the good side. However, we get a genuine sense that Faith is starting to feel accepted.

If only she could’ve understood what Buffy felt at seeing everyone accept Faith so quickly at the beginning of the season. At the start, Buffy seemed like the jealous one. At this point, though, Faith is so clearly jealous of Buffy that she wants what she has. She goes after Angel through the power of magic, and the two end up a couple. However, given that Faith had to use magic, Buffy calls her out on this during the episode’s climax:

BUFFY: And how did you get him, Faith? Magic? Cast some sort of spell? ’Cause in the real world, Angel would never touch you and we both know it…You had to tie me up to beat me. There’s a word for people like you, Faith. Loser.

Faith wants to kill Buffy at this moment. If anything, I feel like her life has led up to this moment. This is the chance she has to kill the person who represents everything that’s ever hurt her. Buffy was never truly her friend. Not only that, but she is also the Slayer Faith could never be and she has the love of family, friends, and Angel.

Her plans, of course, backfire, but she does get another opportunity to not only get Buffy but also Angel, the guy who said he’d be there for her but ultimately lied to her (which I understand, because, well, Faith needed to be lied to in order to get information on the Mayor’s nefarious plans). She puts Angel in mortal danger and then fights Buffy, which concludes with her ending up in a coma.

Oddly enough, though, the Mayor really did care for Faith. In fact, it’s with the knife she used on Faith that Buffy is able to get the mayor to chase her to the library where he meets his death. That Faith couldn’t be conscious to know this is sort of tragic. For all the horrible deeds she committed, I do understand that Faith wanted to be loved and accepted, not either/or. With the mayor, she got that. She just never had the chance to truly know.

Part Three: The Lost Slayer

Faith in a train car or the back of a truck in Buffy.

We don’t see Faith again until the back half of Season 4, in a multi-episode/series arc, wherein the first half she wakes up from her coma and, thanks to a little gift from the mayor, switches bodies with Buffy. These episodes allow for Faith and Buffy to literally be in each other’s skin. At first, for Faith, it’s a fun time messing with Buffy’s life, but she starts to realize a simple truth: she hates herself.

After saving a girl by acting like Buffy, Faith doesn’t like how that makes her feel. After seducing Riley, she can’t stand that he tells her (as Buffy) that he loves her. She knows he doesn’t love her.

In the episode’s heartbreaking climax, Faith and Buffy go at it again, with Faith managing the upper hand this time. She pummels Buffy, who is still in her body, and says this:

FAITH: You’re nothing. Disgusting. Murderous bitch. You’re nothing… You’re disgusting.

After they switch back, neither knows how to proceed. Faith ends up just taking off, running. She ends up in L.A.

The arc concludes with two episodes of Angel, “Five by Five” and “Sanctuary,” the former being the most important of the two. We’re given a flashback to coincide with Faith’s journey. In it, Angel has just gotten his soul back, but he is torn between the two individuals he once was. He’s no longer either, but he is unsure how to proceed. He was a vampire who did horrendous things, but even with a soul, he’s still a vampire. Does he simply carry on? As it turns out, no, he can’t.

Faith, too, is no longer the girl she once was. And although she lives a life of violence still, there’s something ugly about the way Wolfram & Hart manipulate her. She gets this, but, well, it’s who she is, right? A killer is a killer. Might as well kill Angel.

But it’s not that simple. It never was. In one of modern television’s most powerful scenes, Faith tries to kill Angel, but he won’t fight back. He empathizes with Faith. He was a murderer once, too. If he could change, so can she. Soul or not, Angel has the free will to still kill humans for their blood. He chooses not to. Faith has the same power. She must decide to be better.

At the end of “Sanctuary,” she does. She voluntarily turns herself into the authorities and confesses her crimes. She begins the rest of her journey, not back home, but somewhere even better.

Part Four: The Prisoner

Faith on the phone in prison on Angel.

We meet Faith again, albeit briefly, at the beginning of Angel’s second season, the premiere episode “Judgment.” In the episode’s final minutes, Angel visits Faith in prison. She seems more at peace than we’ve ever seen her. She tells Angel about how a girl came at her with a knife and how she managed to hold back from killing her. It’s important to note how Faith still has the constitution to kill, but she’s now controlling it.

FAITH: “The road to redemption is a rocky path.”

ANGEL: “That it is.”

As a prisoner, Faith learns the freedom of choice, away from a world that expects specific things from her. She now knows who she was and who she is. We will not see Faith for two more years, but when we do, she’s so close to completing her journey.

In the second half of Angel’s fourth season, Angelus returns. Wesley seeks Faith’s help, but knowing she’s better off behind bars, she tells him no. It’s only when she’s informed that Angelus is on the loose that she breaks out to help the one individual who’s always wanted to help her. In the next scene, she tells Wesley this:

FAITH: “I’m not gonna kill him, Wesley…Angel’s the only one in my life who’s never given up on me.

Back in “Revelations,” Angel tells her that he’s essentially there for her, and in “Enemies,” Faith goes to see Angel and confesses to killing Finch and liking it. She wants help, and even though she wants to get close in order to use magic on him, there’s real sincerity between the two when Angel agrees to help. I don’t believe she ever forgot either of these moments, which is why she wastes no time in escaping prison.

In a sense, like “Who Are You?” the Angel episode “Orpheus” involves a level of intense empathy, wherein Faith enters Angel’s mind, and both are able to gather the strength to fight and go on living.

Faith may have left the physical prison she resided in for years, but the prison in her mind wouldn’t allow her to get past herself. It’s one thing for her to know she deserves to be punished, but she deserves it for what she did, not for the person she was (or, rather, became). Faith was a troubled young woman who did bad things, but she was never a villain. She was never evil.

It took Angel becoming Angelus again for her to see that. And it takes going back to Sunnydale one last time to confront the past so that she can be free of her prison forever.

Part Five: The New (and Improved) Slayer

Faith Lehane listening intently on Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Instead of going back to jail, Faith decides to go back to Sunnydale with Willow to help in the fight against The First. How will things play out, given what she did all those years ago? Well, with the end of everything in sight, Buffy seems willing to let Faith into the inner circle, even as Andrew tells the potentials in “Dirty Girls”:

ANDREW: Faith…has a history not to be taken lightly. She’s a killer. Never forget that. You must stay on guard around Faith at all times. Your very lives may depend on it.

He’s being, well, Andrew about the situation, but his comments underline a real point regarding Faith in the series’ final episodes. She’s not Buffy, and more specifically, she’s not Buffy because Buffy is not a killer.

But she is. That is what a Slayer does. She kills. Again, the difference is context, something Faith has always struggled with. It is one thing to kill a demon. It is another to kill a person. It is one thing to kill a vampire with a soul, as long as the act saves the world. It is another to do so out of jealousy.

Buffy kills, but she is not a killer. Faith kills, but after all this time, is she still a killer? Plenty still believe this. However, leading the potential slayers into a trap (which results in injuries and casualties) at the end of “Dirty Girls,” new leadership is wanted, and Faith is bestowed the title. However, she, too, fails. Interesting how Faith and Buffy are alike here.

Perhaps that is why, at this point, the two finally make good with one another:

FAITH: Me, by myself all the time. I’m looking at you, everything you have, and, I don’t know, jealous. Then there I am. Everybody’s looking to me, trusting me to lead them, and I’ve never felt so alone in my entire life.

BUFFY: Yeah.

FAITH: And that’s you every day, isn’t it?

BUFFY: I love my friends. I’m very grateful for them. But that’s the price. Being a Slayer.

They finally get one another, and we’re back at the beginning in a way.

When Faith first arrived, she was a kid. They all were. She was worldly and confident. At least, that’s the bravado she gave off. It wore off quickly. What was there was a damaged child who was forced into a life that meant killing. After all, to slay is to kill. Buffy was the Slayer, though. Even though she seemed to envy Faith in those early episodes, Faith was the envious one.

This took her down a dark path, and many suffered because of her. She went to prison, physically and mentally, but when the time came, she answered the call to do what she was really born to do: be a hero. Perhaps not the hero, but a hero nonetheless. By the time “Chosen,” the series finale, comes to a close, Faith is once again a Slayer.

Conclusion

Faith on a window ledge in Angel.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines empathy as, “The power of projecting one’s personality into (and so fully comprehending) the object of contemplation.” Faith existed, like so many of us, unto herself at the start of her story. She had her life, and it collided and conflicted with the lives of others. It was only when she switched places with Buffy that she could not only begin to understand another person but also herself. This was further developed when she went inside Angel’s mind.

We act like we know what another person has gone through, or what they’re feeling in a given moment, but even if we’ve lived similar lives, we’ll never truly know. However, thanks to the fantastic nature of shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel, we can take a journey with a character like Faith and come as close as possible to true empathy.

Life can be difficult, but when we allow ourselves to understand one another, that’s when real growth can begin. Faith Lehane fell and then redeemed herself. It was hard, but with the help of others, it was possible. A Slayer can have a lonely life, but she is never truly alone.

Written by Michael Suarez

I write and occasionally teach English classes. When I'm not doing either, I'm watching something awesome, reading something awesome, listening to something awesome, eating something awesome, or resting. Actually, not everything I do is awesome, but I'm okay with that. My loves include Lost, cinema from the '90s and aughts, U2, David Bowie, most of Star Wars, and - you know what? I love a lot of things. More things than I hate.

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