If you recall, when we left our dubious heroine last Friday, Faith had gone slightly round the twist and, hating herself, committed to a suicide-by-Angel assassination plot. In a touching moment, Angel offers her the forgiveness she needs (if not necessarily from him), and she agrees to turn herself over to the police. For the rest of the series, it seems Faith is seeking redemption, often coming close to throwing her life away in an effort to save others.
She returns to Sunnydale in the final (television) season of Buffy to join in the battle against the First. For the most part, she causes few problems, and most of them are “problems” only from Buffy’s point of view. Buffy, trying to prepare the Potential Slayers for the almost inevitable painful death that awaits them, treats the Slayers with a cold detachment, while Faith tries to help them keep their spirits up and embrace their potential.
When the Potentials vote Buffy out, Faith leads them into a trap. Although my instincts are constantly to side with Buffy (I mean, come on! She’s the true Slayer!), Faith never sought to replace Buffy or even to undermine her. Faith is who she is, and she and Buffy are two sides of the same coin: the “I fight because I can and must” Slayer and the “I fight because I can and want to” Slayer. And Faith nearly dies in the trap with the Potentials.
And as much as I will side with Buffy (I have a strongly ingrained sense of responsibility myself), she doesn’t always treat Faith fairly. After Faith kills a civilian, Buffy keeps it a secret until it starts eating away at Buffy herself, and it’s too late for Faith by then. Instead of helping Faith, Buffy rats her out. She also never fully trusts Faith again, even though Faith saves the love of Buffy’s life more than once. I have to look at it from Faith’s side: she admired Buffy, even envied her, and Faith gets to see firsthand the revulsion that do-gooder Buffy has for Faith. Faith feels that disgust and turns it against herself rather than her upbringing and actions. The low-points where, as Buffy, she beats herself up, and later tries to get Angel to kill her, are the climax of Faith’s education in hating herself.
We could argue that she’s just being selfish, trying to “buy” redemption with reckless attempts to make her life more worthwhile, but I don’t think that’s the case. After getting a taste of how it feels to have a life full of love and true worth to those around you, she realizes how much her devil-may-care attitude was hurting people she cares about–and herself.
Faith suffered abuse and horrible trauma in her past, and she watched people she cared about die. A girl she briefly called friend killed her father figure. She saw a Watcher she cared for die brutally at the hands of a monster, and felt she failed to protect that Watcher. By the time we meet her, she’s pushing people away and trying to control her life in the only way she knows how: by destroying it.
Angel’s treatment of her makes her realize that she can’t always drive people away. Sometimes others are willing to love us more than we love ourselves, and we have a responsibility to those people, to live up to that love and to protect it.
I could probably write a thesis about the Faith-Buffy relationship, but I won’t do that here. Instead, I’ll turn it over to you readers: How does Faith turn her rage into remorse? How does she decide to turn her life around? Will she ever forgive herself? Is she trustworthy? What’s your favorite aspect of this truly nuanced character?