Joss Whedon's meanness seems...uncalled for this time.
The details can be found here, thanks to the all-knowing Wikipedia.
Let me defend Whedon and his staff for a minute first, before I bitch and moan. From an abstract psychological perspective, the characterization is intact and the events of this episode are logical. From what I know about family dynamics and their impact on the marriages of children, it does not bode well for Xander that his parents are boorish animals who hate each other and that Xander has, therefore, never had a role model for how to be in a committed relationship that works. Nor does it make a ton of sense for two families to come together where one is full of assholes and the other is full of people who expressly do not have souls. They kind of threw the dysfunction of that situation at us out of the blue, rather than developing it, but I understand the reasoning (in the abstract) behind Xander's decision to break off the wedding. I am not going to be overly hard on this episode despite how it makes me feel because I want to be fair and I want to see it from the perspective of the writers. They're not wrong to question the marriage and they have dropped some hints that Xander might be feeling rushed into something for which he is not emotionally ready. I get it.
But...*sigh*...why do you have to be so mean, Joss? Really...tell me why you feel the need to hurt your fans? We have been abused so often by you and your motley crew (and, admittedly, loved a lot of that abuse because it was well-crafted to make us feel the anguish and grow more deeply attached to your characters) that we have made rules for your universe that include charming things like:
- Happiness in the Jossverse must be punished and destroyed. Not all at once or when you expect it...but it's only a matter of time. Loving, functional relationships are particularly the target of this rule.
- Pain will be inflicted without warning and in whatever way is most effective.
- Honest mistakes and bad choices by our heroes will always result in CRUSHING consequences.
These rules sound like something out of the Tower of London, not a delightful rollicking fantasy series about vampires and girl power. It works most of the time because you try to chase sorrow with hope, pain with love and betrayal with friendship. You paint realistic characters, they pay consequences when they screw up just like we do, and we root for them because they are likable people. Most of the time, you won't get a peep out of me. But this time...you went too far.
- You didn't set this one up well enough emotionally. There was the secret fears of "Once More with Feeling," the drumbeat of criticism from Anya about Xander's reluctance to move forward at breakneck speed into his married life, the deep concern Xander expressed over Anya's dislike of his loyalty to Buffy...it's not like there was nothing there. But in every instance when some fear cropped up, you shot it down with a beautiful, hope filled bit of romance that made just as much sense as any reason for skepticism. In the immediately previous episode, Anya was mad that Xander seemed to like Riley's marriage better than he liked his own relationship, given his fretting over wedding plans, but Xander eloquently pointed out that he was perfectly comfortable with their impending marriage and fraking out only about the wedding itself.
- There's no reason that Xander's doubts necessarily needed to result in the end of the relationship. They could simply have postponed the wedding and tried to work through it together. Why would Xander want to hurt Anya unnecessarily? Why couldn't he just ask for time to figure things out?
- Why craft your story like a Buffy dramady and then end it like a melodrama, complete with Anya being talked into the vengeance demon gig? Why should we rush headlong into reasons to keep them apart?
I think, and this is sad, that the reason you wanted to break up their marriage in the first place (and their relationship) is that you felt you didn't have a story to tell about those characters - especially Anya - if you gave us a happy ending for once. You thrive on writing drama and needed to inject some into their lives. I think that's sad. I don't think this story does anything to illuminate the human condition, nor does it feel necessary to their character growth to me. We could have spent the last year+ of the show playing with Xander and Anya in a happy, yet somewhat dysfunctional, marriage complete with all kinds of hilarious and touching hijinx...you could have explored how marriage...and even CHILDREN...causes your characters to grow and learn about themselves.
Actually...keeping them single feels like a rip off to me. BtVS has explored every other step of the maturation process, from know-it-all teenagers with too many hormones to sexuality changes to college experimentation to parenting and learning about working in the real world. All of it...except for functional marriage and what it takes to make it work. You had a chance for that and you threw it away for no good reason.
Here's the bottom line...your brand of cruelty is only uplifting and worth watching if you're going to teach us something about ourselves in the process...and this episode doesn't succeed there. It just feels...mean. Just because you CAN tell a story and have it make sense doesn't mean you SHOULD.
Like I said...there's torture for the sake of outcome uncertainty or realism or teaching a life lesson...and then there's just being a dick. This time, Joss...you were a dick. There's nothing functionally wrong with the script, but it was a little on the mundane side for such an important plot point.
The performances, however, were all very solid...including most of the guest characters.
What, exactly, is the message here? That marriage is forever and therefore, if you really love someone, don't get married? No...I know it isn't that...but that's what we have in this episode. It's not until later that Xander figures out what a dumbass he was.