Okay, first of all, I've just gotta list some of the things we learned about Anya in this episode (which reminded me a lot of "Fool For Love," the Spike flashback episode), combined with stuff we already knew:
- As a human, she was affectionate, sweet, obsessively loving, and socially excluded.
- After being romantically devastated, she flipped out, and ended up becoming a demon.
- As a demon, she revelled in murder and mayhem with no hesitation or remorse.
- When deprived of her demon powers, she desperately wanted them back, and tried to get them back even if it meant hurting or killing others.
- She only stopped trying to get back her demon powers (or at least actively resenting their loss) when she fell in love with a human.
- Her love for this human (Xander) was not initially returned, and she behaved in a stalkerish fashion, refusing to leave him alone regardless of his repeated rejections.
- Eventually, the human began a purely sexual relationship with her.
- Just as she had done with her first love when human, just as she had done with her evilness when she was a demon, she identified herself exclusively through her love for Xander. She clung to someone/something else, rather than stand on her own two feet and figure out who she truly was.
- Eventually, she reached a point where the murder and mayhem she had once wrought so happily now filled her with guilt and pain. She offered herself as a sacrifice to make things better, but it didn't turn out quite as she had planned.
Okay. This can't be coincidence. This is Spike's story, too. Lots of people called this episode "Spike-lite" (just as they did with "Same Time, Same Place"), but I once again don't see it that way. The way I see it, the ME writers are telling us the same basic story from many different perspectives this season: Willow (especially in "Same Time, Same Place"), Anya (especially in this episode, "Selfless"), Spike (especially in "Beneath You"), and potentially other characters to come. The details vary from one character's story to the next, but the basic tale remains the same ... the basic issues remain the same.
Love. Need. Pain. Cruelty. Selfishness. Guilt. Responsibility. Sacrifice. And the journey toward true strength, rather than the shadows and tricks and chimerae that the characters have called strength previously.
I, personally, think that Buffy's tale, too, fits into this model.
She loved Angel, but he turned on her when he became Angelus, which caused her horrible anguish. As a result, she had to harden her heart in ways unfamiliar to her before that time. She became more of a killer, and less of a person, which was incredibly painful and difficult. Over time, she walled up parts of herself that were vulnerable, so that she could kill, hurt, and ignore others without remorse or hesitation. She called this "strength," but ... I think it's time for her to find a definition of strength that does not require the belittling or hurting of others.
I, personally, think that Season 6 Buffy was Buffy at the height of the stage which in Anya and Spike's stories is their demonness. It was the stage of selfishness and cruelty to assuage her own pain. And I interpret her tears in "Beneath You" as the beginning of a recognition of her own guilt and responsibility. I think she's struggling with that concept, but I hope that in the end she -- and Willow and Anya and Spike -- will find a different, healthier, more adult way to be strong.
A different definition of "power".