Crumbs: Reviews » Dramas » Buffy the Vampire Slayer » Season 6 » Hell's Bells
Critical reviews of U.S. TV shows
and analysis of what makes them
good, bad, irritating and enlightening.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Buffy the Vampire Slayer is a drama about a young girl who inherits the powers to fight the demons that threaten the Earth. She lives in Sunnydale, California which happens to be the Hellmouth and must learn to master her powers while also trying to have some semblance of a normal life. The WB 1997 - 2001. UPN 2002-03.


Episode 16 - Hell's Bells

13 March 2014

So Sad

Synopsis: Xander tries to keep the peace between Anya's demon friends and his own family while Anya tries to memorise her vows. Spike brings a date to the wedding and Buffy admits that it hurts. An old man then accosts Xander and tells him that he is Xander from the future. He shows Xander a vision of a terrible future with Anya and encourages him to leave her now. He runs away while the Scoobies stall and try to keep Anya in the dark.

The Good: It was definitely sad to see Anya and Xander break up. The nightmare future Xander imagined contained some plausible concerns (about him continuing to fight demons) along with unknowns he sang about (Anya's demon nature) earlier in the season (607). To see him mournfully break up with her and watch her broken tears was all just...sad.

The Bad: I'm not sure what this achieved though and I will leave that discussion for the Unknown.

Most of the rest of the episode was poor. Since his off screen starring role in Xander's nightmare (422) Mr Harris has been an intriguing figure. To see him actually portrayed by an actor was always going to be tricky but this was very disappointing. He was a cliché of the drunken, bitter father figure and his taunts of the "carnival folk" were tiresome the instant they began.

Of course the fact that demons were at the wedding makes little sense. Although Clem is being played up as a harmless guy, it's still not been established that there are "good" demons. We certainly know that Halfrek and D'Hoffryn aren't. So why wouldn't Buffy slay them? And why would Xander let them anywhere near his relatives? More worryingly still what does it say about Anya's morality that she wants killers and human haters (presumably) at her wedding? More of that in a moment.

The tiresome back and forth just felt like any old bad wedding movie complete with lost items, a runaway groom and inappropriate uncles. The fights between the two families should have been far more serious given the involvement of demons and the fact that they all stopped when Anya shouted was farcical. There was also a streak of inappropriate jokes including Xander asking Buffy if she wanted to sleep with him which given their past seemed bizarre. Spike's appearance did not please me either. He behaved in an appropriate manner and treated Buffy with respect and care. It seemed totally out of character for "love's bitch" to not make a scene and throw the kind of fit he did just last episode.

The Unknown: How does Anya's conscience work? Does she have a soul? These are questions that really should have been answered by now. I've said all along that I didn't feel a connection to her character and this episode brought it all home. She suffered no Angel-like guilt trip for all the murder and mayhem she caused for a thousand years. In which case one has to question what kind of being she is and whether she was ever right for Xander. The problem here was that when the demon was taunting her about how she ruined his life and he had come to ruin hers I felt nothing. Vengeance is a dead end in the real world. It only brings more bitterness and so to see Anya crying because of one of her victims felt more like justice than it should have. The physical dynamics of the scene didn't help either. Anya didn't seem at all afraid of this hulking beast and Buffy took about five minutes to cross the room and save her.

Xander then claimed that it wasn't Anya that he had been afraid of in the vision. But then he said maybe they had moved too fast. So it must have been a bit her right? Is Xander just afraid of commitment and turning into his father? That's understandable and relatable but we've spent so little time focussed on his character for the past three seasons that it doesn't have any resonance. Meanwhile we end the episode with Anya being offered the chance to return to being a demon. I really think her character should have been developed to the point where I know what her response to that offer will be. If she is capable of going back to killing then she's just as bad as Spike and Xander would be completely vindicated in fearing a future with her.

Best Moment: On Rewatch the most poignant moment was hearing Anya excited to spend the rest of her life with her "best friend." It would have been a sad moment anyway but I think Xander is her only friend. Her only human friend anyway. She really is alone now in a way which won't be easy to deal with if she stays human.

The Bottom Line: The time travelling twist was a clever way to give us the super natural version of the Groom getting cold feet. And it's not like the clues weren't there that Anya and Xander might not be right for one another. But without either receiving enough attention to feel like main characters anymore the emotions in this episode were always destined to feel a bit manufactured. When Buffy and Spike get emotional I feel like I've been there every step of the way. When it comes to Anya and Xander I don't really believe they exist when not on screen. It's a common problem on TV shows but a sad reflection on Buffy because Xander was once very prominent.


Cordia's Second Look
Hell’s Bells
Season 6, Episode 16
Original airing: 3/5/2002

My Rating: 63

The Good: The destruction of Anya and Xander’s relationship has been coming for a long time. The show has been forecasting it since the beginning of the season. It hasn’t always done a great job of building the tension, but it wasn’t a surprise that things would go poorly at the wedding.

In general, I thought the show did a good job of finding a reasonable way to break up this couple. Xander’s parents show everything Xander doesn’t want in a marriage. And the visions just compound the possibility that Xander could become an abusive drunk like his father. I think it’s incredibly heartbreaking and yet so strong for Xander to say he’s not ready. He doesn’t know for sure that he can avoid the future presented to him and he’s not willing to take the chance.

I think the tragedy is only made worse by the fact that Anya can’t really understand Xander’s reasons. Even after the demon attack, she bounces back and wants to get married. She isn’t looking to the future, not really. She knows she’s happy right now and with a certain naïve innocence, she assumes this happiness will continue with absolutely no problems for the rest of her life. She isn’t thinking about the struggles that become inherent in a relationship the way Xander is at this time. It’s very sad to see Anya’s heart broken when she doesn’t even understand why. Her lost and stunned expression as she walks down the aisle just make me want to gather her up and console her.

I really liked how this led into the scene with D’Hoffryn at the end. He’s kind to her, but also uses the opportunity to try to bring her back into the fold. Halfrek hinted earlier in the episode that Anya was always a favorite of D’Hoffryn’s, so I thought this was a pretty cool motivational moment for him. The hint that Anya might go back to being Anyanka is particularly interesting when I think about how that will affect her character development as a human.

As for the other Scoobies, I thought Willow’s attempts to spend time with Tara were pretty transparent, which made them pretty cute. Willow is absolutely giddy over the fact that Tara can even look at her and smile.

The Bad: There’s an unfortunate attempt at balancing the seriousness of this episode by having the guest interactions be humorous. The problem is, the demons act as if they are human. The cover story is they are circus people, to explain their odd appearances. But that doesn’t do anything to explain why they would be offended by people hinting their “heritage” is less than noble or thinking Xander’s drunk father is inappropriate. They behave just as humans and act more like this is a wedding between two uncomfortable ethnic parties, as opposed to humans and inherently evil demons – which even Spike uses as an excuse for why he brought a date to annoy Buffy.

Basically, this all makes it feel fake and stupid. Except for the introduction of Clem in the past few episodes, we’ve never seen demons behave in this manner. I can’t imagine a bunch of demons getting together to attend the wedding of two humans. It’s too absurd and doesn’t fit the universe and characterizations created by the show.

This reached a particular high note of failure for me after Xander kills the demon who caused all the problems and EVERYONE claps. Humans and demons are celebrating the death of this creature who grew out of the image of an old man. I can’t believe I just even typed that sentence.

The Confusing: My temporary third category this week is created in honor of Buffy and Spike. I think Spike bringing a date to the wedding to hurt Buffy is quite in character. Even the pettiness of it feels right for Spike. But I don’t know how to feel about their conversation. She acknowledges a bit of pain and he actually apologizes to her multiple times. But he also says he’s going to go home and have sex with the girl, because… you know… he’s evil.

At the same time, I think the calm interaction is very interesting, but it also feels really wrong. After all he’s been through to get Buffy into his life, it seems like he’s taking all of this quite calmly. Their quite conversation doesn’t fit for their volatile relationship and comes across very much as any other heartbroken couple on TV might in a weekly drama show. It doesn’t have the Buffy spin I expect from the writers.

Favorite Moment: It really is a heart wrenching moment when Xander pulls Anya aside to tell her he can’t marry her. As Willow says later, it makes me want to hate Xander, but I can’t. His reasons are actually very good and decent and I think it shows a certain level of maturity in him. In all honesty, it would have been a lot easier at that moment to go through with the ceremony, but it probably would have been the wrong decision.

At the same time, I think the portrayal of Anya’s response was very strong. She’s completely bewildered and it fits so well with the final scene.

The Bottom Line: I liked the dissolution of Anya and Xander’s relationship and where it leaves them. This feels like a strong moment for them both as Xander makes an incredibly mature and painful decision which leaves Anya teetering on the brink of demonhood. But the surrounding stuff was a poor distraction and felt very false in the understanding of the Buffy universe which has been developed for over 5 seasons.



Add your comments on this episode below. They may be included in the weekly podcasts.

Post your comment


  • I really like this episode and it brings out the emotion in me every time I watch it. Xander’s conversations with Buffy and Willow are definitely highlights, especially on rewatch. Xander first talks with Buffy and something struck me watching it this time. At first the conversation seems very sweet. Buffy is helping him with his tux and they are quipping. (ex. “You’re glowing. Oh my God, maybe your pregnant!”) Listening to Buffy words though, she seemed to be a little self-centered. She tells Xander, who is getting married and seems to be masking his fears of the wedding, that his marriage make her feel better about herself. She even mentions how life is like a “long, long nasty tunnel,” for her. Buffy has had a rough season and this was an example of her bringing up how hard it was. However this is Xander’s day. Buffy genuinely telling Xander he was one of the good ones was nice but ironic in hindsight. Buffy is a great hero in part to having human faults. I think being self-centered is one of hers.
    Xander’s talk with Willow was my favorite part. Their friendship was one of the most genuine and heartwarming parts to this show. Willow finds Xander unknowingly after his fake vision but still looking nervous and hiding in the kitchen. Willow then immediately compliments him and jokes a little to put him at ease. I love the moment right after when he hugs her and she embraces him. My theory on the next part is that Willow’s next words in a way help Xander make the decision to not marry Anya. It’s sad in a way but while they are hugging she says just because, “Do you know how much I love you?” I think this is the point where he decides to walk because he has to make the “right” decision at the worst time. Knowing Willow loves him unconditionally, he knows he will still have a friend after this sucky situation.

    Viewer score: 88 / 100

    Posted by Jarrid, 13/03/2014 2:42am (6 years ago)

  • To add to Andrew's list, I've also seen him in a brief role as a cop or FBI agent (can't remember) in Kevin Smith's movie Red State. He was quite intense in that movie and *SPOILERS* if you ever wanted to see him get shot in the face then go see it.

    Posted by Joe, 03/08/2013 12:10am (7 years ago)

  • I have nothing to say about this episode but I will answer Cordia's question as to what Marc Blucas has been in since Buffy. His biggest roles.

    1. Real-life Fred from Scooby Doo in Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back. Not sure if that was some kind of Buffy joke because he is part of a Scooby gang.

    2. Meet Dave. The movie here Eddie Murphy plays a robot piloted by a tiny Eddie Murphy alien. Was robbed of the Oscar. He played Elizabeth Banks's boyfriend.

    3. Boyfriend of Cameron Diaz and shot by Tom Cruise in the shoulder in Knight and Day. Another movie robbed of an Oscar.

    4. Just random 1 episode appearances in different TV shows over the last 5 years.

    Viewer score: 70 / 100

    Posted by Andrew the Geek, 31/07/2013 10:45pm (7 years ago)

RSS feed for comments on this page | RSS feed for all comments