TV Rewind: 25 Years Later, Faith Is Still the Buffyverse’s Greatest Guest Star

TV Features Buffy the Vampire Slayer
TV Rewind: 25 Years Later, Faith Is Still the Buffyverse’s Greatest Guest Star

Editor’s Note: Welcome to our TV Rewind column! The Paste writers are diving into the streaming catalogue to discuss some of our favorite classic series as well as great shows we’re watching for the first time. Come relive your TV past with us, or discover what should be your next binge watch below:

25 years ago, during Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s third season, Eliza Dushku made her splashy debut as the rough-and-tumble Bostonian Slayer Faith Lehane in “Faith, Hope, & Trick,” and changed the series as we knew it. That first episode was just the beginning of a series-long arc for Faith, the second Slayer to be called after Buffy’s death in the Season 1 finale, establishing herself as an unforgettable pillar of the Buffyverse in just 26 television appearances across both Buffy and Angel. All these years later, Faith’s story of loss and redemption still remains some of the two series’ most poignant character work, all underscored by Dushku’s heartbreaking performance and the series’ own steadfast belief in its characters’ capacity for change. 

Upon her introduction, it’s easy to see what Faith is supposed to represent within the word of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Having grown up with an absent father and an addict mother, Faith’s Watcher acted as her only support system before she was ripped to shreds in front of her by the demon Kakistos. When she arrives in Sunnydale, she’s introduced to the mythical Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar) and her Scooby Gang, composed of her best friends Willow (Alyson Hannigan) and Xander (Nicholas Brendon), her own Watcher Giles (Anthony Stewart Head), her loving mother Joyce (Kristine Sutherland), and even Oz (Seth Green) and Cordelia (Charisma Carpenter) as a solid foundation of strength and support around Buffy. As her polar opposite, Faith is a cautionary tale, a look at what Buffy could have become without her friends around her, but in the grander scheme of both Buffy as well as Angel, she’s so much more than that. 

For starters, while acting as Buffy’s perfect foil, Faith also brings out the worst in Buffy and her Super Friends, holding up a mirror to the sometimes untouchable image portrayed by the series of its titular heroine and those around her. Though Buffy the Vampire Slayer allows Buffy to be much more morally gray than a number of other supernatural teen dramas with superpowered main characters (she’s selfish and morally fallible and not always the perfect Slayer), Faith still represents a walking, talking manifestation of Buffy’s biggest failing—while Buffy (almost) always stakes the big bad and walks away triumphant, she couldn’t save Faith, but she couldn’t kill her either, leaving her as a weak spot in Buffy’s armor for the rest of the series. Every member of the Scoobies failed Faith to some extent—Giles and Joyce both had enough room to house her, but left her to fend for herself in the nastiest motel in Sunnydale; Buffy, Willow, and Xander never truly included her within the group, only calling her in on occasion when they desperately needed help; Faith even had to share a Watcher with Buffy after Giles was fired. Faith may have presented a cool girl facade, but she was ultimately just a scared, jealous kid, who (like The First pointed out in Season 7’s “Touched”) wanted nothing more than for Buffy to love and accept her. But when faced with the less-than-warm welcome by Buffy and her Super Friends, it’s understandable that she chooses herself first in every scenario, and just gives in to the expectations those around her have already set. She’s a high school drop-out with a tattoo and a lower-class background, and the Scoobies are presumptuous. They make deadly mistakes throughout the series, of course, but one of their biggest isn’t a single world-changing decision, it’s actually all the little things that altered Faith’s course towards one of death and destruction. 

In Season 3’s fourteenth episode, Buffy and Faith’s wild Slayer’s-night-out turns tragic when Faith accidentally stakes a human straight through the heart, setting her down that path of darkness in the wake of the Deputy Mayor’s murder. Allegedly, the original plan for Faith was for her to commit suicide after being overwhelmed with grief and self-disgust in the wake of the accident, which would have been a truly dark turn for her character. But the story that emerged instead has withstood the test of time as the right decision. Because, after all, even though Faith did not choose to take her own life in Season 3, her actions are still those of a woman on the path of self-destruction. In the third season, she aligns herself with the Mayor, kidnapping Willow and attempting to kill Angel (David Boreanaz); in Season 4, she holds Joyce hostage and then causes general debauchery and mayhem in Buffy’s body during the series’ excellent body-swap episode; and finally in Season 1 of Angel, Faith crosses over to torture her former Watcher Wesley (Alexis Denisof) and attempts to kill Angel again.

In each of these circumstances, she is goading both Buffy and Angel to kill her by targeting the people they each hold most dear, to put her out of her misery. The implicit nature of her wishes becomes strikingly clear when, in “Five by Five,” she begs Angel to kill her in Dushku’s most haunting performance in her tenure. The self-hatred she holds in her heart (a loathing so potent that, after Buffy is returned to her own body in Season 4’s “Who Are You?” she grabs at her chest as if she can still feel Faith’s hurt lingering) is indicative of her guilt and shame—she believes the world would be better off without her, she just can’t bring herself to do it. However, with Angel’s help and support, she makes the decision to turn herself in rather than implode, and she spends a number of years serving time for her crimes. 

Faith’s conscious decision to change and atone represents the series’ belief in humanity and the capacity for change present within all of us. While Angel and Spike (James Marsters)—both reformed vampires that ultimately attempt to make amends for their years of torture and murder through aiding Buffy in her fight—have outside forces to steer them down a better path in Angel’s magical human soul and Spike’s unwanted brain chip (and, later, a soul of his own), Faith’s path of darkness and redemption is done of her own volition each time. She willingly chooses to help the Mayor, chooses to kill an innocent professor in the later half of Season 3, chooses to assault Xander and torture Wesley, all with her soul perfectly in-tact. However, most importantly, she also chooses to change. When she hits rock bottom during Season 1 Episode 19 of Angel, she chooses to turn herself in, to commit to being a better person, and most importantly, she does so for herself. While Spike embarks on his path of redemption in order to earn Buffy’s love, Faith remains in prison (a conscious choice as well, as proven by her easy escape during Angel’s fourth season) as her first act of self-care in the wake of all that self-destruction. 

Faith chooses to change for herself, but not alone, of course, as her origins already warned of the unbearable weight of Slayerdom that simply cannot be shouldered alone, but this time with help from Angel himself—someone who truly understands exactly what it’s like to succumb to and overcome the darkness within. Aside from visiting her in prison (frequently, as implied by Angel’s Season 2 premiere), Angel shows Faith that he messes up and makes mistakes, and it’s alright for her to do the same. In Season 4 Episode 13 of Angel, Faith destroys Wesley’s bathroom as a way to blow off steam after being unable to capture Angelus during their salvage mission, but it’s also a brief relapse into old habits. Her mind-trip with Angelus through Angel’s lowest times in Episode 15 of Season 4 (when he feeds on an innocent and helpless human despite having his soul) shows Faith that even her “vampire sponsor” is fallible, and that it’s all just part of recovering and making amends. Angel reminds her in that dream world that their time is never up, that they must continue to make the world a better place until they leave it, and those words give Faith the strength to keep going—for herself, for Angel, and for this newfound belief she has in the world. 

When Faith finally rolls back into Sunnydale during Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s seventh and final outing, it’s four seasons and over 100 episodes since she first arrived at the Hellmouth, and so much has changed. A new big bad is making major moves, Buffy and her friends have been through the unthinkable, the familiar home on Revello Drive now houses countless “potential slayers” all waiting for their time, and Faith herself is different—in all the best ways. She’s responsible, and acts as both a leader and a confidant to the new recruits, especially after the gang’s controversial choice to kick Buffy out of her own home. She even takes the potentials to the Bronze for one last night out before the end of the world, a decision that feels like Faith trying to give these girls a more warm welcome than she originally received when she first arrived in Sunnydale during Season 3. She helps save the world, finally at Buffy’s side after they make amends in the 21st episode of Season 7, and she’s a hero. 

In the series finale, after everything that’s happened between the two of them, it’s Faith who Buffy trusts to hold the line when she goes down. As Faith wields the scythe to protect Buffy and the rest of the now fully-fledged Slayers against the onslaught of ubervamps, it’s representative of everything she’s gone through to finally find herself redeemed and wholly worthy of being the champion of that weapon, even if only for a moment. However, she’s still not perfect, but that’s the most important part. She is simply a person (albeit a superpowered person) trying to do her best and make up for what she’s done, and the series allowed her the time and space to do so, and in 26 episodes or less, to boot. 

More than any other character on both Buffy and Angel, Faith represents the most human parts of us all—the ease with which we can both inflict harm and impart love—and offers a hope for redemption on the other side of every mistake we make. Her presence on the show solidifies that even if the paths we take are dark, as long as there’s an effort and determination to come back into the light, things will eventually be five by five. 

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Anna Govert is an entertainment writer based in middle-of-nowhere Indiana. For any and all thoughts about TV, film, and the wonderful insanity of Riverdale, you can follow her @annagovert.

For all the latest TV news, reviews, lists and features, follow @Paste_TV.

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