Chosen One - purple

The Mirror Cracked: Dopplegangers on BtVS (Xander)

ETA 1/03/13: Nominated for Round 9 of the No Rest for the Wicked Awards, "Not Fade Away (best fandom meta/essay)" catagory.

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mcjulie challenged me to write a meta about dopplegangers on BtVS in the convo thread of her wonderful meta "Where Did I Go? A Farewell to the Buffybot". The jist of her meta is that the Buffybot represents the "I'm Fine" mask that Buffy puts on to cover her grief and depression, starting with her mother's death in mid S5, and continuing through S6. (She also pointed out to me that Buffy is the only character on the show who gets two dopplegangers: the Buffybot and The First.)

First things first: a doppleganger ("double walker") is simply an exact "double or look-alike" of any person.  The double cannot be explained away by an optical illusion or reflection in the mirror, they are not an identical twin, and generally seems to have a physical presence and is glimpsed by the person themselves or someone who knows them. In other words, not a double seen only in a dream or hallucination, but seeming to have a real physical presence. (Mark Twain's The Prince and the Paupe is a relatively well-known literary example.)  In old folklore, the sight of a doppleganger was taken as a sign of imminent death or misfortune to the person so copied. Nowadays, the use of a doppleganger can be comic, tragic; they can be an antagonist or a means of self-awareness.

On BtVS, the dopplegangers that the Scoobies encounter serve a bit of all of these functions, but most specifically they represent the efforts of Buffy, Willow and Xander to grapple with personal identity, with selfhood, and especially with the difficult transition from childhood to adulthood.



[I'm writing about Xander and I've got a lot of feelings - the apocalypse really has arrived]In each case the dopplegangers serve slightly different functions. Willow's transformation into her own shadow self, into the darker, wilder self  (her rage, her sexuality, her desire for power and control) that she tried in early season to hide and deny - from Vamp Willow to Dark Willow - is well known enough that I hardly need mention it; instead I'll link to norwie2010's meta "Giles and the Wild Woman";  an local_max as posted some superb in-depth analysis of Willow's personality here and here, as well as a look at how the finales of S2 and S6 mirror one another in terms of Willow, Xander, and Buffy's arcs.

Interestingly enough, Willow has only one doppleganger: Vamp Willow.  VW becomes a doppleganger when she enters the world of the "real" Sunnydale in "Dopplegangerland".  Whereas her counterpart, Vamp Xander (NB in an unfairly underrated performance), is not technically considered a doppleganger because he never is similarly transported to the other side, merely an AU version of Xander, a "what if?" variation. Xander's literal doppleganger is the second self he sees in The Replacement: he has been split by the ray from a Toth demon and divided into two halves, the goofy, nerdish class clown familiar from the early seasons, and a successful, confident adult who dresses well, earns a promotion, and signs a lease on the mortgage: in other words, the more mature or "adult" side of Xander.

But there's a complication here: if a doppleganger is a double glimpsed by the person or someone who knows them, and if from a Doylian standpoint, the viewers function as residents of Sunnydale and friends to the Scoobies, even though as spectators rather than participants; or, going a bit further, the various characters represent "us" through our identification with them and so we as audience members are actually "in" the story as participants, then for us the AU versions of the characters are also "dopplegangers", even if the Scoobies themselves are not aware of them. And so Xander can be said to have two dopplegangers: Vamp Xander and Mature Xander ( or MX; I'll call him that for convenience sake).

VX, like VW, obviously represents Xander's darker sides at that point in the series.  As a fannish aside, NB is wonderful in The Wish: dark, sexy, dangerous; the scene in which VX and VW kill Cordelia together and VX cups his mate's head in his hand, as the camera circles around them is one of the most chilling AND erotic moments in the series. (Yeah, I said it.)  He never makes the transition to the "real" Sunnydale, and Xander never becomes aware of his existence.  But it isn't necessary on a story level because I think that Xander's less pleasant traits are much closer to the surface than are Willow's, and in fact they are not even hidden: sexual urges, slut-shaming (first Cordelia, later Anya and Buffy), jealousy (initially of Angel, later Spike), lying (Xander's lie in Becoming contributes to the trauma of S2's finale for Buffy and is not addressed until S7, Selfless), having an "affair" (if it can be called that) with Willow behind his best male friend's (Oz) back, and so forth.

This is not to bash the character, and I don't mean to be overly-hard on him, because these qualities are interlaced with his loyalty, humor, courage, supportiveness, friendship, generosity and kindness. He is, in other words, a real and complex character and it's the combination that makes him so. And in some ways, the fact that these qualities are not particularly hidden may be healthier in the long run than Willow's attempts to quash her shadow selves, which ends up backfiring spectacularly and tragically in S6.

The Self that Xander has a difficult time coming to terms with is his literal doppleganger, Mature Xander. Since S4 in particular, Xander has been experiencing a crisis of confidence, trying to find his way in the world.  After Graduation Day (S3) Xander, like many young people who had no particular focus or plans, has been set adrift after high school.  While Buffy and Willow seem safely occupied with college, Xander struggles to find a job, to remain part of Buffy and Willow's world; in addition, he grapples with his new relationship with Anya, and to define himself in relation to his parents, to extricate himself from their house and the abusive, dysfunctional family dynamic. (Portrayed vividly in his nightmares in "Restless".)

 But as with Willow's transformation into Dark Willow, a crisis arise when he tries to become MX.  Throughout S5 and S6 he goes through the motions of being a proper, functioning, mature adult, doing all that proper, functioning, mature adults are "supposed" to do in our society: the job, the girlfriend etc.  To that end he proposes to Anya at the end of S5, in part because the world is going to end, in part because he genuinely loves her (I saw nothing on the show to suggest his love wasn't genuine).  He has obviously been thinking about it - the proposal seems spur of the moment but he has a ring in his pocket to present her with, so it's something he's been thinking about - even if only for an hour beforehand.

But there's another motivation I think, and that is, he is proposing to her because that is what one does, that is what a man does.  The apartment, the job, a marriage: they all fall together in our society's vision like dominos, one naturally following the other.  And certainly he wants to be the man, the husband, that his father never was. He is also acting from "the heart" rather than from the brain. (Remember, in "Primeval" Xander was the "Heart" in the spell to call the First Slayer.) He loves Anya, the world might end, therefore it seems right to propose.  But acting from the heart without the brain can lead to rash decision-making; once the threat of imminent doom is over, he acts again from the heart - in this case, through fear - rather than logic or reason, and rather Anya to reveal the engagement. Later in Hell's Bell's he again acts from fear, observing the demon's visions and his father's behavior and leaves Anya at the altar; then in S7 he runs to rescue her ("Selfless") but throughout the season is unable to articulate his feelings, to fully reunite or release her.

I don't know that he can be fully faulted even though  I don't condone his actions on many occasions and it's unpleasant to watch.  All the more so because some of the key moments in his arc feel somewhat "shoved" into the narrative, especially in Hell's Bells; this I consider a failure of the writers to craft his arc as carefully, or with as much attention, as they did to Buffy and Willow's (whatever the flaws of their arcs might be.)  Within the story, however, Xander has no strong male father figure or role model to look up to.  This is a major theme within BtVS: the lack of caring, nuturing parental figures, and the absence of functional, healthy relationships that would provide models to the Scoobies.  They have to grapple their way to adulthood surrounded by adults who are, on some level or another, abusive, neglectful, dysfunctional, etc.

In Xander's case, his father is abusive (verbally at the very least; and we can see where Xander gets his slut-shaming tendencies from in Hell's Bells); Giles never fully warms to Xander, and never seems to really particularly like him; and Angel and Spike are both rivals for Buffy's time and affection. The only males Xander really connects to are Oz, who is the most laid-back, non-threatening male on the show - except for those three days a month; and Riley.

Riley is almost a "special case" in that, as a soldier, he is on some level Xander's alter ego - remember that Xander transforms into a soldier in S2's "Halloween" - and while he is also Buffy's lover, Xander doesn't seem to regard him as a rival in quite the same way, probably because he isn't a vampire.  No, Riley is human, a sort of "improved" Xander, and if Xander identifies with him (as well as likes him) the way viewers identify with favored characters, then it makes sense that Xander pushes Buffy towards Riley in ITW.  (And I have no wish to get into in-depth discussions of that episode for obvious reasons, ie, I go all ragey and stabby at the thought of it.  Enough said.) And he may perceive Riley as being "more together" than he himself is, although the events of S5 prove otherwise.

So Xander has no males to really connect to, or that he is able to connect to, especially ones older than himself who could "show him the way" to manhood.  One of the unfortunate aspects of this is that IMO, he and Spike have chemistry - and I don't mean in the 'shippy way, although there's that as well - and actually seem like they could be genuine friends once they got over their differences.  Think of the way they work together in "Him" to solve the problem of the love spell that plagues the women on the show, for instance.  Or the comedy gold of Spike in Xander's basement apartment in S4 - which is repeated for dramatic rather than comic effect when Xander takes him into his apartment again in S7.  It may be at Buffy's insistence, but it's a reminder of Xander's capacity for loyalty (Buffy) and kindness (Spike).  I think there may actually be a streak of genuine brotherly liking or affection between the two; and like brothers - or like Spike and Angel - it's hidden in most cases behind snark and insults.  (Xander possesses the warm humanity and the friendly, nonsexual connection to Buffy that the man in Spike craves; Spike has is her confidant in ways he used to be but isn't after Bargaining, as well as the sexual connection to her he wanted so badly. And so it goes.)

So the task of Xander's arc in the end of S6 and throughout S7 is to come full circle, to truly become a man, to fully inhabit "himself": goofy Xander, Vamp Xander (wonderfully called back at the end of S7 when chloroforms Dawn) and Mature Xander.  This includes reconnecting with Anya, the woman whose heart he ripped out carelessly, not out of deliberate cruelty, in  HB.
There's a lot of talk in fandom - and in the show itself - about Buffy's inability to love, about her inability to articulate or say the word "love" or her struggle to define it. In this way her struggle mirror's Xander's own: both Buffy and Xander, in rejecting and then accepting their demon partners, even if in flawed and imperfect ways, are learning to come to peace with their own inner demons.

Of course, it always comes back to Buffy in my head...and I have many thoughts about Buffy's dopplegangers that I'll save for another post.
Great post, and I agree with your assessment of where Xander stands w.r.t. both his other selves, and the other men in the show. I do think that much of the preparation for the wedding was Xander on autopilot, trying to get all the things that one is supposed to do, and I do think that it's the same for Anya, whose extreme materialism is representative of her need to collect and achieve in order to fill a gap that's missing inside; I think we can see this as reflecting something in Xander, who (like everyone) needs external things to help him find internal security, but does so through non-supernatural trappings. I do think he loves Anya, but marriage is kind of a big deal for a 21-year-old, and Xander has not actually been able to process what that would actually mean, or whether he even wants that, I think. That his full commitment to Anya is bookended by Riley episodes (he commits more fully at the end of ITW and leaves her the episode after AYW) suggests the extent to which he is going through the motions of a ritualistic thing in order to define his self-worth (Riley is the show's big symbol of issues related to authenticity, "following orders," traditional generally-well-meaning-but-still-kind-of-a-jerk patriarchy, IMHO). I also agree that Xander's flaws being closer to the surface actually works in his favour in some ways, since he doesn't repress them to the same degree.

Egregious self-(&company) pimp, though: Doppelgangland, which is maybe my favourite thing I've written. (It's the only set of notes in which I took lead, hence why I take most of the credit for it, though there is wonderful material from Maggie and Strudel also.) Is there interest in more Willow meta / some Dark Willow meta when/if I fully de-hiatus?
Riley is the show's big symbol of issues related to authenticity, "following orders," traditional generally-well-meaning-but-still-kind-of-a-jerk patriarchy

Very true!

I have always thought it was quite telling that Buffy's Restless dream puts Riley and Adam on the same side, and it's not her side.

(Willow's subconscious casting him as Cowboy Guy is possibly the funniest moment in the entire series.)
Yeah, def. I even like Riley, overall, but I think that he is someone who ultimately tries to, but doesn't, break out of the patriarchal system that nurtured and created him. That doesn't make him a villain; as a soldier, post-ITW, he's presumably not doing any more experiments on demons, and he seems to have an equitable relationship with his wife. But he's not really able to handle Buffy and an environment that lacks the structure he craves, and that structure is not Buffy's structure.

While the fact that Willow's dream is about her fears that she's pretending gets all the press (as it should), the fact that she seems to think nearly everyone else in the world is in costume, playing roles, too, suggests that subconsciously she doesn't think anyone's fully authentic, even Buffy. (Well, her present/former lovers, Xander, Oz and Tara aren't involved in the production, so.) Though as a flapper, Buffy is still way closer to the modern era than "cowboy" and "milkmaid" are.
I have always thought it was quite telling that Buffy's Restless dream puts Riley and Adam on the same side, and it's not her side.

Very good point. That episode is probably Marc Blucas' best performance in the series - not just the Cowboy Guy bit, but the table with Adam and that small, telling moment "Ok, killer" to Buffy.

In the end he stays with "the organization" even if it's "Less evil" than before. And Buffy never has the benefit that an organization can offer -a steady paycheck, health benefits, access to therapists, etc (I assume he has access to similar resources as my brother who was in the Navy for 30 years.) And those are resources Buffy is in desperate need of, IMO. What she manages to do without all of that is amazing.
(Willow's subconscious casting him as Cowboy Guy is possibly the funniest moment in the entire series.)

I had another thought on this - I mention downthread somewhere that I initially thought that they might pair Riley with Willow when she and Buffy first meet him; Willow seemed to have more interest in him and I think AH and MB actually had a fair bit of chemistry. Your remark about Cowboy Guy also reminded me that some of MB's best moments in S4 are interacting with Willow, which tend to be comedic: asking what Buffy likes, the "a vague disclaimer is nobody's friend" scene; and also in Restless in Buffy's dream, him and (human) Adam at the conference table, acting like politicians, talking and behaving illogically with synchronized precision. (Whereas with Buffy it's a lot of angst and drama that I'm not sure MB had the chops for, at least at the time.)
Oh welcome back! And thank you for the compliment and reply. I was going to send you a message and ask if you'd have a glance at this, so I'm delighted to see you back in action. And yes, egregious pimpage is always allowed here, esp when it leads to the good stuff.

I think of you as the "authority" on Willow, or her #1 fan - you certainly have examined her character more thoroughly than anyone I know of. (You wrote in one of your metas that you think you "woobify" her, I don't see that myself at all. Being sympathetic towards a character is not the same as rendering them somewhat pathetic, which you don't do at all. Anything you wish to write about Willow/Dark Willow is always welcome - I need to take time and return the favor with your metas, actually.

As to your post, 100% agreement. At the time I was first watching I couldn't see why Xander left Anya at the altar in HB (other than the plot device), but I was watching the show at a very fast clip so it's taken me a while to parse it out. (I think I am trying to understand the boy better and be a bit more compassionate towards him, as he's the character I connect with the least.) I'm not sure in hindsight if it was my failure to really notice what was going on, or the writers not handling as well as might have been.

I do think that it's the same for Anya, whose extreme materialism is representative of her need to collect and achieve in order to fill a gap that's missing inside;

Very much so. norwie2010's meta on Giles and the Wild Woman actually has prompted some thoughts about Anya, and how she fits into his thoughts ( he barely mentions her). I didn't add it here, but I think, following norwie's line of thinking re: Giles as tamer of Willow and Buffy, that Xander tries to do the same - not consciously, and not because he doesn't love her, but because she's not well socialized, she "owns" her sexual desires to an embarrassing degree, and because Giles is the closest thing he has to a positive male role model. So when Xander walks away from her in HB (as Giles left Buffy at the worst possible time, from her POV) it's particularly painful for me to watch, not only because she was so happy to be getting married, but because, like Buffy trying to be the Slayer, Anya had pretty much been "tamed" or "domesticated" - she had certainly been trying her best to fit in, and was going to get married, was part owner of a shop, etc. She was also doing all the "proper adult" things, following Xander's lead. And yet she's "punished" for it - damned either way - and unmoored from family/friends, from the extra income he provides, from home/apartment.

That his full commitment to Anya is bookended by Riley episodes (he commits more fully at the end of ITW and leaves her the episode after AYW) suggests the extent to which he is going through the motions of a ritualistic thing in order to define his self-worth

Good call! I remembered his speech to her in ITW (and his speech to Buffy before that being a "warm up act" that, like his lie to her in Becoming, has devastating consequences for her emotionally IMO). I hadn't even noticed the relationship of AYW and HB. Its interesting that Riley and Sam were giving Xander and Anya a "pep talk" about marriage; which might have been nice - finally a positive role model for marriage - except that Riley and Sam were depicted as almost impossibly perfect: Gary and Mary Stu.

Riley is the show's big symbol of issues related to authenticity, "following orders," traditional generally-well-meaning-but-still-kind-of-a-jerk patriarchy, IMHO

*Nods* The perfect summation of his character. I may have to quote this sometime if that's ok?

I also agree that Xander's flaws being closer to the surface actually works in his favour in some ways

Of the core four, the male characters don't undergo the same "psychotic break" that Willow and Buffy do in S6, although Xander comes closest in Hell's Bells. His is more of an extreme panic/anxiety attack, but it's pretty much what Buffy did at the end of Bargaining, leaving town. xander doesn't seem to have been criticized for it within the story in the way Buffy was, though - she and Willow accept him back with open arms- I'm not sure about fandom opinion.

one of the most chilling AND erotic moments in the series. (Yeah, I said it.)

Vamp Willow and Vamp Xander definitely rival Spike and Drusilla for "sexiest vampire couple."

And in some ways, the fact that these qualities are not particularly hidden may be healthier in the long run than Willow's attempts to quash her shadow selves, which ends up backfiring spectacularly and tragically in S6.

Xander does tend to "own" his dysfunction -- and the fact that we follow the less-competent Xander half around for most of The Replacement really underscores this. Less-competent Xander is how he sees himself.

that is what a man does

My favorite way to look at Xander's function on the show is as an investigation of masculine identity in world where feminine power is a given. Willow and Buffy struggle a lot with identity issues, but it doesn't seem tied into their sexual identities in the same way.

He is also acting from "the heart" rather than from the brain

Now I want to see a BTVS mash-up with The Wizard of Oz. But maybe that's because I just saw the touring production of Wicked here in Seattle.

Giles never fully warms to Xander, and never seems to really particularly like him

Good point -- I'm crafting the poll for All the Way and that come up in that episode.

Riley is human, a sort of "improved" Xander

Agreed.

I think there may actually be a streak of genuine brotherly liking or affection between [Spike and Xander]

It does come out now and then. Just like Riley, he seems at his worst toward Spike when he sees him as a romantic rival.

Buffy's inability to love, about her inability to articulate or say the word "love" or her struggle to define it.

I go with the spirit guide: "You are full of love, you love with all your soul. It's brighter than the fire... blinding... that's why you pull away from it." Buffy takes love seriously.
Vamp Willow and Vamp Xander definitely rival Spike and Drusilla for "sexiest vampire couple."

Absolutely. They gave me chills - the good kind - when I watched them onscreen together. I found myself wanting more of THAT from NB, although everyone talks about AH.

Less-competent Xander is how he sees himself.

Very much so, particularly in S4, we see that a lot; Restless, for example, his fear of being unneeded by Buffy (and thus unheard) in Fear Itself - which isn't logical but when is fear ever logical? (And we're back to Hell's Bells) Xander is the anti-Giles in that respect, no wonder they don't get on. (Whereas Anya is likewise ruthlessl logical/rational in a child-like way as well. Hmmm.) It's ironic, in terms of being "less competent" that Xander is the one who ends up in the best financial situation of the Scoobies in S6 - after spending S4 feeling inferior class-wise because he wasn't in college. (I don't know if the writers were intending a commentary on the earning power of men vs women, although the situation reflects statistical realities.)

My favorite way to look at Xander's function on the show is as an investigation of masculine identity in world where feminine power is a given.

disagree slightly - the superhero powers of the Slayers is a given, but they have been handed to her without her consent, and within that, the Slayer has very little autonomy or freedom, and Buffy has to fight, not for physical power, but for the freedom to use it as she choses, and have her decisions honored, every step of the way. (Which is part of what makes the Slayer spell in Chosen deeply problematic IMO.)

Willow and Buffy struggle a lot with identity issues, but it doesn't seem tied into their sexual identities in the same way.

Really? I would say quite the opposite. Could you clarify what you mean in more detail? I don't want to make assumptions.

Now I want to see a BTVS mash-up with The Wizard of Oz. But maybe that's because I just saw the touring production of Wicked here in Seattle.

*lol* I kept wanting to bring the spell to call the First Slayer into this - that's another meta in its own right, but related. Just as identifying too much with any one alternative self or doppleganger causes problems, identifying overmuch with their labels in the spell has the very same effect. Giles, for instance, hides behind his intellect and rational, and cuts off meaningful connections with Joyce, with Buffy, etc and so on. Buffy as "the hand" using physical acts - violence, sex - to alleviate her pain as no other therapy is available to her.

A mash-up might be fascinating, though. Illustrated fanart form?

I'm crafting the poll for All the Way and that come up in that episode.

Good excuse for me to rewatch it - S6 really speeds along, doesn't it? At least the first third. I've seen a lot of fannish opinion that really hates ATW, but I found Dawn's longing and disappointment palpable and heart-wrenching; not as much as Buffy's in S2, but all the Summers woman have bad sex lives. (Have you read gabrielleabelle's meta "Buffy's Bad Sex Life"?)

Just like Riley, he seems at his worst toward Spike when he sees him as a romantic rival.

Xander towards Angel, Angel towards Riley and Spike (and vice-versa) - all the men in the show who have a romantic interest in Buffy try to assert ownership over her in some fashion. Which reflects on a more intimate scale patriarchial norms as represented by the WC and Giles. And that of course is a huge part of her struggle. The Slayer spell in Chosen can be seen as the subversion of that, breaking free of the patriarchy - but it's problematic. Does she break free of the patriarchy, or confirm it's norms, remain the Flapper, writ large, rather than the Wild Woman? I think it can be argued both ways.

Buffy takes love seriously.

Completely this. I misspoke when I said "her inability to love"; what I meant was her perceived (by fandom) inability to love. I see her as full of love; when fans say she didn't love Riley (despite all she does) or that she didn't mean what she said to Spike in Chosen I just know we're not watching the show through the same lens.
Thank you for the prompt! It's become a lot more complex than I expected; I went to write about Buffy and wrote this in one piece today. Which means, no editing/proofing, but if I do a "draft" it never gets posted.

I hope this isn't too long to take in? The one on Buffy's dopplegangers is going to be a monster - I will probably have to break that down into parts unless I can control myself.
Great meta! I'm not particularly fond of Xander, but I also understand why he's so interesting and how much it's complex his journey as human being. Buffy, Xander and Willow are really complex characters an very, very human. I do love flawed characters, they are much more realistic.
Yes, exactly this - if they weren't complex I wouldn't care. As I mentioned upthread, I'm trying to understand Xander better - and I don't think it began as a conscious effort, per se; but as I thought more and more about Buffy's arc and, to a lesser degree Willow's, I began to see the ways that Xander's story parallels and intersects with theirs, esp in S6. It's like all three arcs "come together" and run in parallel in S6, before diverging again somewhat in S7.

Thanks for commenting!
Very interesting - and while I love talking about Buffy and Spike, it's nice to see some meta on other characters!
Thanks! I really was surprised with the turn this took when I sat down to write it - I was planning on focusing on Buffy, actually. (I don't do drafts. When I try, they sit on my computer forever and nothing gets posted.) Which was a lot like writing a fictional story, actually.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on the subject (if you have any)? I'm just beginning to articulate my own here.
I'm really tired and brain-dead right now, but I have to comment to say this is a good post; I really like and agree with all your Xander thoughts, and hope you'll write more on the rest! This theme fascinates me.

[p.s. I was wondering if you forgot to put this under a cut? It takes up quite a bit of space on the flist page.]
Thank you! I'm eager to hear your thoughts whenever you're up to it (no hurry). I admit I had never given Xander much conscious thought until I sat down to write this and it just came spilling out, which was sort of fascinating. Like when I've acted onstage and suddenly, in the middle of a rehearsal, just known how to inhabit a character (how they'd hold their cigarette, walk, etc).

I was wondering if you forgot to put this under a cut?

Actually, not "forgot" - don't know how and didn't occur to me. (Newbie here.) Can you tell me how I to do it and I'll edit it?
This is excellent and thought-provoking. I sort of see Hyena!Xander as the template for Vamp!Xander. There's a lot of feeling in fandom that that since he was possessed, it was all the demon. But it seems to me that there was a lot of Xander's darkest urges coming out — although eating the mascot was probably not one of them. ;-) And yes, the eating of Cordelia is sizzling.

Xander has a lot of alter egos: Hyena, Soldier, Vamp, Competent Guy. I always enjoy it when the characters are NOT themselves, as it ends up emphasizing what it is that makes them authentically themselves. When I see scary!sexy Xander, it makes me appreciate goofy!friendly Xander more. I just rewatched "Never Leave Me" and seeing Andrew and Xander bonding over Wonder Woman, to Xander's horror, it's just the cutest thing!

Um, my comment is not deep...

Oh, and further evidence for a lurking Spike/Xander friendship is their Bronze time in "Triangle". *nods*
Um, my comment is not deep...

I beg to differ, actually - you've got some wonderful and SUCCINCT ideas here that I hadn't even thought about. (I wish I had a mind that worked like that. Or rather, I can distill and express complex ideas verbally but in writing? Not so much.)

I sort of see Hyena!Xander as the template for Vamp!Xander. There's a lot of feeling in fandom that that since he was possessed, it was all the demon. But it seems to me that there was a lot of Xander's darkest urges coming out

I hadn't even considered Hyena!Xander in this, but you're quite right. I thought the episode was "relatively dark" watching it this year ("they ate the Principal? The show went there? Shit just got rea.") but because it's S1, it's still pretty much played for laughs. I may need to rewatch that ep.

The scene where Xander admits to Giles that he remembers trying to rape Buffy (played for a laugh, unfortunately) makes explicit exactly what you say, that it's his darker urges and not just the spell, so I'm surprised anyone thinks the opposite. But as we've been talking about, his darker urges are pretty right up there on the surface throughout the show.

Contrast that with Oz, who is VERY mild-mannered and laid-back, so the fact that he's a werewolf (the exact opposite) comes as a huge surprise. His darkness isn't on the surface at all except for those "three days of the month", at least until S4.

Xander has a lot of alter egos: Hyena, Soldier, Vamp, Competent Guy.

*nods* Again, I don't think I'd realized how complicated the guy is until I started writing this meta; mostly because I'm so focused on Buffy up until now, but you're right.

Hyena!Xander also complicates the whole idea of "dopplegangers" : bespelled versions, alter egos and AU versions (whether technically "dopplegangers" in the traditional sense or not) all represent some aspect of the "Self", or dream/nightmare versions of the characters (what they long for, what they fear). For instance I was watching Him the other day (a fun episode IMO although not popular in fandom? It reminds me of Beer Bad in it's a comedic ep in which the female characters are affected and it's up to Xander to discover the cause of the spell) and Buffy under the love spell reminded me of S1 Buffy, Something Blue Buffy, the Buffybot, etc. It gets pretty damn complex.

I just rewatched "Never Leave Me" and seeing Andrew and Xander bonding over Wonder Woman, to Xander's horror, it's just the cutest thing!

Oh I know - that sudden look on his face is wonderful and subtle. I really like NB/Xander in S7, once I forgave him for leaving Anya at the altar. (I needed time to process that.) I think Beneath You is also a wonderful episode for Xander, although everybody focuses on the last scene in the church. "She's never going to call me again, is she?" is one of my favorite Xander moments, so quiet and subtle and I really feel for him there in a way I rarely do.

further evidence for a lurking Spike/Xander friendship is their Bronze time in "Triangle".

*nods* And what's the S4 episode where Xander comes down to his basement apartment and finds Spike wearing his clothes? The scene that launched a thousand ships - or one 'ship, to be precise. That whole scene is played with a faintly "I love Lucy" vibe.
Good stuff, here. I've thought a lot about the Buffyverse dopplegangers too (and other selves I guess, since we are including people like Vamp!Xander in the mix). In some ways (although tangentially), I think even lead vampires like Angelus, Spike, Trick and Holden might qualify in this group, as they are essentially alternate versions of their "real" selves, instead of merely grotesque parodies of human beings in general.

But particular to your points about the alternate Xanders, I think you are on to something in the sense that Xander is, in essence, constructing himself over the course of the show (which is why I think he finally finds his niche in *physical* construction), and to build this identity he uses the materials at hand. That's what's so brilliant to me about "The Replacement"; the metaphor is obvious, but because it is obvious it is also beautifully effortless. "The Xander Project" has a lot of standardized components on hand, as you say - the career, the apartment, the girlfriend/wife - and so gathering these components and assembling them in a logical way becomes Xander's meta-job.

I think the problem for Xander is that he really can't see himself. The Xander Project seems to have a (very simplistic) blueprint, but building a lifestyle isn't the same as building an identity, because that inward looking "third-eye" is the foundation for identity, and Xander despises what he sees. I recall having a neat conversation once about all the Scoobies' super-powers, and I posited the theory that for Xander (like Willow), the source of his super power is also the source of his greatest weakness. Because he hates himself, he is sometimes able to perform acts of amazing heroism (such as the way he ultimately defeats Jack in "The Zeppo"), but ultimately it will cause his ruin and the ruin of those he loves (as it does in "Hells Bells"). In the Replacement, Unconstructed Manchild Xander cannot imagine Constructed Adult Xander being anything other than a trick, just as Young Xander can't imagine Old Xander as being anything other than the truth. The irony of Caleb's line when he blinds Xander ("You're the one who sees everything, aren't you?") is that Xander is always seeing everyone else so clearly because he can't see himself.
I hadn't intented to include VX originally but I couldn't see any way to write about Xander in this context without cheating. I'd forgotten about HyenaXander until rebcake mentioned him upthread, but that's a "bespelled" version rather than true doppleganger anyway.

I think even lead vampires like Angelus, Spike, Trick and Holden might qualify in this group

Excellent point! *ponders* There's a great deal of variation that I'm sure that no one in the writers' room predicted back when Jesse was turned in S1; he's more like VX, his insecurities discarded & dark ego impluses in control; Holden Webster seems more or less "himself", implying he was more confident & mature than Jesse (or Spike) before he was turned. I've been thinking since I wrote this about the notion that both Spike and Xander are performing masculinity on various levels, as are Angel and Riley. It's a reversal of what used to be generally taught or implied in this culture, that masculinity (Man=Human) is an essential, stable identity, and femininity is a costume, an unstable construct.

which is why I think he finally finds his niche in *physical* construction), and to build this identity he uses the materials at hand

YES. Ironically it's Xander, not Buffy, who becomes the Hand by S7, while Buffy tries to take over the speechifying role. Obviously Xander does better with window frames than Buffy does with morale; she can't be the Heart when her own is so closed-off. "Materials at hand" also ties in with what Buffy has always practiced: "in a Slayer's hand, anything is a weapon" (as when she decapitates a vamp with a cymbal in TH.) A key theme of the series is that over-identifying with any one role or task to the exclusion of any other stifles growth: not only do the Hand, Heart, Mind, Spirit ("we're off to see the Wizard, the wonderful Wizard of...") need one another on the literal level (fighting demons), but in order to be whole human beings. I think of Giles burrowing behind reason & logic to mask emotional pain; IMO by the end of the show Xander could teach Giles a few lessons in emotional maturity. I DON'T consider the comics canon, but it's no wonder Xander is at Buffy's side in S8 and Giles isn't.

I think the problem for Xander is that he really can't see himself.

I hadn't thought of Old Xander as a doppleganger but that absolutely fits here. And I love the irony of Caleb's line. A lot of fandom seems to take Caleb literally and complain "since when is Xander the Eye"? It's more complicated than that; Caleb is a villain with his own agenda, complete with Bad Guy Snappy Line. D'Hoffryn is closer to the truth: Xander "sees with the eyes of love", i.e he's "the Heart". That's NOT the same as saying his interpretions/reactions are always true or right. Running to save Anya in Selfless is the reversal of running to kill Spike in Entropy on one level, on another level it's the same thing: putting what he wants ahead of everything else. It's no accident that Selfless is the episode where Buffy finally mentions The Lie from Becoming, one of the key moments where Xander was acting out of "love" for Willow and Buffy, at his most selfless and self-serving all at once.

In her episode notes for Anne & Dead Man's Party, 2maggie2 & local_max assume that underneath the surface Xander feels somewhat guilty about The Lie; I'd have to rewatch those episodes, but my initial reaction was that he doesn't even see it as something to apologize for because he was convinced he did the right thing. I certainly don't think he meant to hurt Buffy, but his failure to acknowledge that he did is one of the less pleasant sides of his character. Prior to Selfless, to the growth that's come after Entropy, Seeing Red, Grave, having to really go outside of his preconceived notions and comfort zone, having to "step up to the plate", so to speak, I don't think he would have been ready to hear the truth from Buffy about that incident. He doesn't apologize but he doesn't deny it, either. He just runs to the frathouse and tries to make things right.