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DVD Commentary: Cuckoo In the Nest (4/5)

Continued from DVD Commentary: Cuckoo in the Nest, Part 3.



As the kid leaves Tony suddenly feels this sense of release, like the dark shadow that has hung over his entire life is leaving with the kid and at long last leaving him in peace. He relaxes as he watches Jessica tuck the check in her purse and nearly smiles. A new beginning, the kid and his bad luck nowhere nearby, and seed money to start over. It feels like his luck is finally changing.

Mind over matter is a beautiful thing. Because Tony believes it, it’ll happen. At least until the next Xander-shaped trauma comes along and knocks him for a loop.


Jessica holds up the scrap of paper with a frown, “‘Lady Haversham.’ Royalty? How does he know royalty?”

Tony’s brain screeches to a halt. The kid’s got one last claw in them. He has to cut it off before Jessica changes her mind and calls the kid and the bad luck back. He desperately leaps at his wife and scrambles to get the paper out of her hand.

“Tony!” she screams as he lands into her.

Tony fumbles and fights with her until he rips her prize away. A quick glance shows him the row of strange numbers and the words ‘Devon, Lady Haversham’ underneath and confirms he didn’t grab the check by mistake. Jessica’s still getting to her feet as he runs into the bathroom, tosses the paper in the toilet, and flushes.

“What did you do that for?” Jessica yowls. “He’s our son!”

Tony marches out of the bathroom feeling freer than he has in years. “No. He’s your son. Yours.”

Finally Tony confronts Jessica about what he thinks. I deliberately placed the confrontation in the middle of the story to mark the beginning of their break with the past and their emotional break from Xander. It signals a significant change in Tony’s and Jessica’s marriage and the start of a new life where there’s no room for even the memory of Xander, let alone his physical presence.

It’s Tony’s attempt at kicking his personal cuckoo out of his mental nest. Considering that he spends quite a bit of time after this looking over his shoulder for Xander and the bill he’s presented the end of the story for his actions of the years, he’s never entirely successful.



Jessica’s face collapses in confusion. “What are you talking about?”

“Oh, don’t give me that,” Tony stalks forward and begins circling her. “I’ve got eyes. Does he look like me?”

“Tony, what—”

Tony grabs Jessica’s arm and gives her a hard shake that sends her to her knees. “I said, ‘Does he look like me?’”

“What’s gotten into you? You’re talking crazy.”

“Oh, am I?”

Jessica looks up at him with tearful pinpricks forming at the corner of her eyes. “What brought this on?”

“We just lost everything and you’re asking me what brought this on?” Tony wants to laugh.

Tony leans down. He’s breathing hard with something he can’t name. It feels like hope. It feels like promise. It feels like a new beginning. But if he’s going to get it, if he’s going to shake the kid and his bad luck off for good, he’s got to break clean with the past. He knows it. He can feel it.

It has to start right here. It has to start now. It can’t wait.

It has to be said: Tony’s timing for clearing the air really kind of sucks.


“That boy does not look like me. He doesn’t look like anyone in my family. He doesn’t look like you or anyone in your family.” Tony gives her a shake as Jessica lets out a sob. “Didn’t think much about it until the kid was six. Didn’t think about it at all. Then one day, know what happened?”

Jessica’s starting with the steady sobbing.

“Ran into one of my old high school buddies who told me a little story about you and some guy in a mask at a frat house.” Tony gives her another shake. “Sound familiar?”

“He’s yours he’s yours he’s yours he’s yours…” Jessica mumbles through the tears. It’s like she’s stuck on the two words.

I wanted to show with this part that Jessica was somewhat living in denial-land. She knew it was a possibility that Tony wasn’t Xander’s father, but she wanted to believe that he was. Because Jessica’s such a cipher in this story — and she was designed to be a cipher because she tends to go with whichever way the wind is blowing — I’d be hard-pressed to say whether she ever entertained any serious doubts or if she willfully denied “evidence” that Tony wasn’t Xander’s father until she came around to making herself believe that he was.


“You sure?” Tony lets her go with a shove and looms over her. “Because you know what? I know he’s not. That boy is nothing like me or mine. How stupid do you think I am?”

“I don’t—” Jessica begins.

“DON’T LIE TO ME! NO MORE LYING!” Tony screams.

He teeters on the edge for a crazy moment. Right now he could kill the cringing woman at his feet. It would be revenge — no, justice — for all the years she and the kid made his life a living hell. He pulls back his leg to kick her, but something in his brain clicks at the last moment and he spins around to kick the trashcan across the room. Next thing he knows, he’s grabbing anything and everything that his hands come into contact with and he’s blindly throwing it all away as he screams incoherently about all the years of his miserable, stolen life.

In the original version, “revenge” and “justice” are reversed in the above paragraph. I think it reads a lot better this way since the m-dashes around “justice” puts more stress on the idea that Tony believes that he’s been unjustly used.

Also, the above paragraph is a deliberate parallel to Xander’s vision of himself in ‘Hell’s Bells’ when he attacks Anya with a frying pan, his later attack on Spike with an axe in S7’s ‘Entropy,’ and the fact that he trashed his apartment in the aftermath of the ‘Entropy’ boondoggle, as we saw in ‘Seeing Red.’



Eventually he runs out of things to grab, or maybe he just runs out of energy, and he collapses to his hands and knees. He can hear Jessica whimpering and he looks up to see her crouched in a corner and looking at him with big eyes. There’s a cut on her forehead that’s bleeding like a son of a bitch.

“Wait,” Tony says, although he’s not entirely sure what he’s asking Jessica to wait for.

He crawls into the bathroom, grabs one of the cheap towels, and crawls over to her side. Jessica flinches away from him when he reaches out, but relaxes when he presses the towel against the cut. He suddenly realizes that through the whole operation that he’s been whispering to Jessica, “Please, please, please, please…”

I admit that I can be a contrary sort of gal. I wanted to go a little bit against fanon here and show that Tony did not physically beat his wife when he was drunk. I tried to show it by having Tony stop himself at the last minute and start taking his violent anger out on things instead of Jessica. I also tried to show it by having Jessica be terrified upon seeing this extreme display of violence from him.

The verbal abuse I portray throughout Cuckoo is plenty of abuse, as anyone who’s grown up with that kind of pain can tell you. Granted, Tony may have been quick with a smack when Xander mouthed off in this story. And granted, he and his wife threw things and screamed at each other when they were drunk in canon. And also granted, Tony may have been quick with the barbs in both ‘Hell’s Bells’ and this story. All of this is plenty bad enough, in my view, so I never felt the need to go overboard and add “hitting his wife when she’s helpless at is his feet on a regular basis” to the list of Tony’s multiple sins and failings to get across that he’s not a terribly nice guy.

It’s a strange sort of restraint, I know, and it’s one that I’ve stuck with as far back as Whisper. In some ways, the fact that Tony isn’t an over-the-top child- and wife-beater, and that he doesn’t rape Xander every night until he moves out of the house — both scenarios I’ve seen in fan fiction and fanon used to a distressingly often degree — the restraint makes Tony more monstrous in my opinion. He’s still got some semblance of an idea that there are lines that he shouldn’t cross and what constitutes civilized behavior towards a family member, so he’s got enough of a moral compass to know that he hasn’t exactly been a paragon of fatherhood or spouse-hood. The point in Cuckoo, though, is that Tony is so focused on his wounded pride that he ceased to care that he’s made life more miserable than was necessary for himself, his wife, and his son.

Okay. That was a soapbox moment and I apologize. But I admit that some of the over-the-top fanon characterizations of Xander’s home life have driven me a extremely crazy because of the sometimes “loving” descriptions come across as sensationalistic instead of realistic.



“I thought he was yours,” Jessica whispers back. “I thought sure he was…I wanted…I needed him to be.” She starts crying again, only this time the tears come softly.

Tony wants to hear the truth, and yet he doesn’t. He feels helpless, spell-bound into silence. All he can do is press gently against the cut and wipe away blood.

“You were camping and Gina, you know she broke up with her boyfriend around then, got invited to this frat party and she didn’t want to go alone,” Jessica says. “I went just for something to do and…and…”

I’m just following the Buffy-verse conceit that frat boys (or fat boy-wannabes) are really demon worshipping knuckleheads who are in it to gain power for themselves at the expense of a young, terrified, helpless girl.

I’m not the only one who noticed that pattern, right?



Tony stops. His hands and the towel drop into his lap and all he can do is watch her. Time may be moving forward normally for Jessica, but time is frozen for him. Hell, maybe it froze the day Jessica told him she was pregnant and said it was his.

“There was some drink. It made me, I don’t know, fuzzy I guess.” She sniffs as her head leans back against the wall. “Someone started lighting incense and someone started chanting some song, and next thing I know I’m…oh god.”

“Did he force you?” Tony asks. When Jessica looks at him, he realizes that he’s as surprised as she is that he not only thought to ask, but that the question doesn’t sound remotely like an accusation.
 
“It felt right, just so right.” Jessica’s talking like she’s remembering a distant dream. “We…unh…and it was…” She throws Tony a panicked look and cringes.

Tony can’t move. He can barely breathe. His hands are blocks of lead as he sits and waits for it to get worse. That’s the one thing he can always count on: his life can always get worse when the kid is involved.

When Jessica realizes that Tony isn’t going to hit her, she admits, “It was good, at first. Then it started to hurt. Really, hurt. Like I was being…like being torn in two and then…and then…”

“And then,” Tony echoes.

“I was screaming and this guy was roaring and I tried to rip off his mask to see…and it wouldn’t come off. It just wouldn’t come off. When he was…when he,” Jessica draws a shuddery breath. “He just yanked out of me which hurt me even more and he was yelling about something. I couldn’t figure it out and all these boys…they came in and they saw me and…and…”

Right about here I had a lot of people absolutely convinced that I was going the “Xander is really a half-demon route.” Most of the people who were convinced at this point bought it up until Giles showed with his revelation. I’m kind of proud that the red herring of tying Tony’s bad luck to Xander’s presence worked so well.


Tony’s fists clench. It’s worse than he thought. Worse than he was told. He was told that the rumor was one guy. Jessica’s about to tell him it was a gang-bang.

“And the guy in the mask was yelling something about ‘already filled up’ and something about waiting another hundred years and something about a contract. And all these boys were begging, like they were afraid of something. I don’t know. It just didn’t make sense.” Jessica is back in that distance, like she’s telling him a story about something that happened to someone else. “He kept saying it over and over again while he pointed at me. ‘Already filled up.’ The way he said it with that mask he was wearing…I was afraid I was going to die and…and…”

Only one or two people picked up on the “already filled up” and correctly guessed that Jessica was already pregnant with Xander when this incident happened. Granted, it would’ve been very early on for her to not know she was pregnant and for Tony to be able to count backwards and think that it was probable that “the frat boy in the mask” was really Xander’s father.

The whole point of Jessica telling this story is to flag that Tony had tragically leapt to the wrong assumption and that he really is Xander’s father. I’m not disappointed that people missed it at all, by the way. I just wanted to make sure it was there in case anyone went back to check to see if I had laid the groundwork for Giles’s revelation later in the story. It’s meant to be a clue you’ll pick up if you re-read the story, but not necessarily something you’d notice on the first pass.



A mask, Tony thinks. The other guy was wearing a mask and that’s why I got stuck with it. Tony is willing to bet his very soul that if Jessica had a choice, if Jessica could’ve only removed that mask, she would’ve pegged college boy for the daddy and he would’ve been in the free and clear.

Hunh. I just realized that Tony referred to Xander as “it.” That was completely unintentional, but since it fits Tony’s mindset so well, I’ve decided to let it stand.


“It gets fuzzy after that. Well, fuzzier.” Jessica bites her lip. “There are these screams and I see red everywhere and Gina’s shaking me, telling me we had to get out of there. We couldn’t find my clothes, so we had to wrap me in a sheet, and we just ran. We could hear the screaming outside and this roaring sound and…” Jessica’s face crumbles into tears.

Thus ends Jessica’s story about her Hawthornian snapshot.

Just to repeat what I said in the intro, Jessica ultimately remains unchanged and perhaps even willfully blind to it. The event didn’t change the direction where her life was going. There was nothing that was true about her after the event that wasn’t true before the event. If anything, Jessica’s sudden loss of friends and people she could rely on, which she details a little further down, was actually her motivation for clinging to Tony and insisting that he was the father of her child — irregardless of whether she harbored doubts about Xander’s parentage at the time.


Tony gets to his feet and walks to the hotel room door. He’s got grounds. He’s got an out. Jessica lied, his future died, and now he can walk. But the hell of it is this: He said “’till death” and that means something to him, goddamn it. The kid’s taken everything from him and has given him nothing in return. Breaking his promise, even if Jessica lied to get it, would be a victory for the kid.

I deliberately waited until now for Tony to view his relationship with Xander in terms of wins and losses. To get here, I had to walk Tony through his evolving thoughts on the role Xander has played in his life.

He starts with the basic layer of Xander being a constant reminder of his perceived failures as a man, which is present right at the beginning. He then adds a layer where Xander is responsible for all his bad luck, which comes in after Xander moves back into the house before the beginning of S4. He finally caps it with a final post-‘Chosen’ layer where Xander is his adversary in a life-and-death struggle, which is subtly added right here.

I wanted to introduce the “adversarial” idea right at the point that Tony’s about to embark on a new life to show that, no matter what Tony does, Xander’s shadow is always going to be in the background and that it’s a shadow he’s never going to completely outrun.

I also needed to start laying the groundwork for Tony’s “punishment” that occurs at the very end where an adult Xander (or someone who looks like him) is very much “the adversary” in Tony’s life-and-death struggle for the future direction of his life. In order for Tony to believably buy into his vision that an adult Xander is a true threat to him, I needed him to start seeing Xander as a threat. Right here is where the seed is planted.



“No,” Tony whispers.

“I thought, I really thought, he was yours. I did, I did. I needed him to be yours and I couldn’t tell you truth because after that it seemed everything fell apart,” Jessica says in a pleading voice. “Gina told a few people what happened at school, so my name was mud. Then Gina and a lot of my friends committed suicide or ran away, so I was all alone. I was pregnant and my parents were threatening to throw me out. I had no one else. You were…you are all I have left.”

Just another dollop of Sunnydale blindness for old time’s sake. You didn’t have sex with a demon, you were having sex with a frat boy in a mask. Vampires and other demons aren’t killing your friends, they’re committing suicide and running away.



Tony slams the door with the flat of his hand. “No.”

Jessica starts sobbing again and Tony turns to look at her. Christ, she looks fugly. Her face is bloated and splotchy from crying, her figure’s gone to pot over the years, and her whole body is heaving in such a way that every roll of fat is jiggling. But for all that, Jessica is still his, for better or worse, ’till death.

Calling Jessica “his” is a damn creepy way to mark his wife as “his property.” This after he lists all of Jessica’s “shortcomings.” It’s a crappy way to say, “My wife ain’t much, but at least she’s paid for.”


That’s when it hits him that maybe the kid did as much harm to Jessica as the kid did to him. They both were blessed with bad luck from the second the kid was conceived. With the kid on the other side of the world, they just might stand a chance of finally grabbing some of the good life for themselves.

Wow. Tony wakes up and smells the coffee that Jessica hasn’t exactly been riding the rollercoaster of life. Let’s substitute “the kid” with “Tony’s drunk ass,” and add Xander to the list of people that’s been done wrong, and he’d be something resembling correct.


He drifts over to Jessica’s handbag and riffles through it, tuning out Jessica’s quiet sobs. He finds the check and he unfolds it. His eyes bug out when he sees the amount written there.

Tony looks over his shoulder at his wife and says, “Pack whatever you got. We’re cashing this check, we’re buying a car, and we’re leaving.”

“We?” Jessica asks as she swipes the tears away from her face. Tony wants to laugh at the surprised expression that has replaced the heartbreak.

Tony crosses the room and crouches in front of her. “Oh, no. You’re not shaking me that easy. You and me? We’re running away from this shithole as fast as we can.”

Jessica edges away from him, as if she thinks he just might be dangerous. “Where are we going to go?”

Tony knows he’s smiling like he’s gone crazy, and maybe he has now that there’s an escape hatch opening right in front of him. “Let’s see where we end up.”

***

Tony knows exactly what everyone in his little Arizona town sees.

This is a call back to Jessica’s concern earlier in the story that the neighbors might think bad thoughts about them if they turn Xander away and left him homeless and sleeping in his car. It’s not about what’s real behind closed doors. It’s all about what other people see when they look at you.


He is one half of the happily married Mr.-and-Mrs.-Harris, owners of the local Fluff ’n Fold Dry Cleaning franchise, members in good standing at Our Savior Episcopal Church, weekly attendees of the AA meeting held in a storefront down on Dream Street.

He is a volunteer little league coach who knows how to wrangle the obnoxious stage moms and stage dads who dream little junior’s got what it takes to make the big leagues, but still takes his kids out for ice cream even when they lose.

She is a volunteer for the local Red Cross serving juice and cookies every other weekend at the blood donation center.

Get it? Get it? Sunnydale resident who was unknowingly surrounded by vampires her entire life now volunteers at the blood bank?

I feel very sad that no one ever picked up on the joke. Sometimes I think no one gets my sense of humor.

That’s okay. I was able to amuse myself with it.



They’re members of the Better Business Bureau, the Chamber of Commerce, the Lions, and the Shriners.

The kids love them, the parents adore them, and people look up to both of them. They are pillars of the community, fine upstanding citizens, just the way it should have been if it wasn’t for—

This part served two purposes. The most important purpose is to reinforce the red herring that “when Xander’s away, Tony has a good life” in the minds of readers. Since the connection had already been made between Xander potentially being half-demon in the previous part, it wouldn’t be too hard to leap to the conclusion that Tony may have had a legitimate reason to distrust and dislike Xander since it seems like Xander really is draining all of Tony’s “luck” when he’s around.

The secondary purpose is to show that Tony made a lot of surface changes to his life, but has yet to deal with his underlying problems. While the surface changes can carry you so far and can, in fact, improve your lot, if you don’t address the issues that lie beneath you’re going to hit a wall very hard the first time you have to deal with some real adversity.



Tony refuses to think about—

There’s this name that he’s heard the kids say that’s from some book they all read. It’s supposed to be said instead of the actual name of the bad guy because to say the name might attract his attention.

He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named.

It’s a prefect way to describe the distant, indistinct shadow. He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. Better the shadow stays in Sunnydale with the rest of a past that’s better forgotten.

Tony knows that he’s been given a gift; the very thing men would sell all they hold dear, up to and including their souls, to get. He got a clean slate, a complete break with the past, and a chance to start over where no one knows him or Jessica.

He’s happy. He’s good. All he needed was things to go his way just for a little while to prove it was possible.

Just the same, Tony looks over his shoulder, half expecting to see a shadow with dark hair and hazel eyes standing behind him. It’s stupid, he knows, because He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named doesn’t know where they are and won’t ever be able to find them. He highly doubts that the shadow would even recognize him because he has well and truly changed his spots. Tony Harris here in Arizona is not Tony Harris there in California.

This is to show Tony’s growing dread and conviction that Xander is an adversary that has to be avoided because he’s not entirely sure he’d come out the winner if a confrontation ever happened. I characterized this part of Tony’s life like he was a kid hiding under the covers from the monsters he just knows are going to eat him alive. He knows it’s coming, but he’s busy trying to convince himself that it won’t happen because he’s taken some pretty ineffectual steps to keep safe, like not giving Xander a forwarding address.

The funny thing is that Xander hasn’t done a damn thing in this story to plant the idea in Tony’s head. In fact, I’m not entirely convinced that there’s anything Xander could do (or maybe I mean would do) in either canon or in this story that would’ve led Tony to reach this conclusion. Tony managed to convince himself based on no evidence at all.



It took some doing to get Jessica on the same page, but she finally did. Life was getting better even without her letting go completely, but once she made her own mental break life flipped from sour to sweet with a suddenness that took Tony’s breath away. They’re both in a good place right now and neither one of them want to fuck it up. It took two years to get here, but here they are.

No, this is not a timeline screw-up. This part takes place two years after ‘Chosen’ and the next part takes place three years after ‘Chosen.’


Just the other day, Jessica was cooing over a baby. One of their regular customers stopped by to show them her newborn daughter and drop off her old maternity clothes for the clothing drive he and Jessica were sponsoring.

“You’re so good with children,” the young mother had said. “She’s been so fussy, but she seems to love you. Do you have any kids?”

Tony remembers freezing a moment, but Jessica stepped right up to the plate.

“If we did, you would’ve known,” Jessica had said. “I’m pretty sure we’d be bragging all the time and showing people pictures.”

The young mother had stumbled over an apology. “Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean—”

“It’s okay,” Jessica had interrupted. “Things have a way of working out for the best.”

This is meant to be a “peaceful interlude” showing that Tony finally got the life and the wife he always wanted. The really shitty thing is that the wife Tony wants is a wife he can completely claim as his. He gets what he wants because Jessica is finally willing to follow Tony’s lead and live the nasty lie that Xander never existed.

 
***

The kid sits across the table from him and Tony is struck anew on how this kid isn’t a reflection.

Dark hair. Hazel eyes. His face and body has reduced back down to its original shape. No, an even better shape than that body ever was. Tony idly wonders how much time the kid puts in at the gym to maintain the physique.

Fucking kid. He finally got Jessica all to himself. He finally worked past the years of lies, and the kid sails back into their lives and threatens to fuck it all up.

Tony’s worst fear comes true. Xander shows up to remind him and Jessica that there’s a very real person out there capable of blowing away their public personas as the nice, childless couple who loves kids and who have always been fine, upstanding people. It’s sort of like a cold-water bucket of truth in the face.


“Just passing through. I was in the next town on business and I thought I’d stop by to see how you were doing,” the kid had said when he showed up on their doorstep out of the clear blue sky. No word from the kid in almost three years, not even a call letting them know he was in town before coming over.

Tony could smell the hidden agenda a mile away.

Unlike the last time he saw Xander, Tony’s radar is spot-on.



When the kid offers to take him out for a little man-on-man talk, Tony settles on a small café in the next town because god knows he doesn’t want anyone he knows to see him with the kid. Plus, he got his two-year AA chip a little bit back and he doesn’t want to blow it by getting anywhere near a bar. While the ache has never gone away, when the kid showed up wearing expensive but casual clothes, the ache turned into overwhelming need.

Tony swears the kid’s a fucking vampire feeding right off his life’s blood.

Another joke everyone missed. Tony compares Xander to a feeding vampire.

It’s okay. I’ll amuse myself in the corner over here.



The kid skates around whatever it is he’s trying to say. No shock there. The kid always was a coward. If there were a way to back down from a fight, he always took it no questions asked.

“You’re doing really well. That dry cleaning franchise seems to be doing it for you.” The kid sips at his coffee and Tony sees his hand is shaking a little. “Blown away by the little league thing though. Those kids love you. You’re like the town’s cool adults.”

The kid’s trying to keep it light, but Tony can hear the accusation hidden in the voice. The kid just doesn’t have the balls to come right out and say it, though. Musculature aside, he still doesn’t have a solid bone in his body.

Xander physical presence at least temporarily puts Tony’s idea that Xander is his inhuman adversary to rest. Xander initially falls back on his old habits. Tony is back in his customary position of power over Xander — albeit only tentatively — since Xander has gone along with all of Tony’s conditions for a face-to-face talk. While not all is right with Tony’s world, it’s at least a familiar world and everyone is playing their expected roles.


The kid smiles, but it’s not a light-up-the-room smile that once made Tony want to forget. It’s unsteady and wavery at the corners. Kid’s got a new nervous tic, too. His left eye — the one that had the patch over it last time Tony saw him — constantly tears. The kid swipes the wetness under the eye away without even realizing he’s doing it. Tony childishly wants to rip the eye out if only so he won’t have to watch it water any more.

This is my subtle way of saying that Xander’s sporting a prosthetic eye. One of the issues with prosthetic eyes is that there’s a lot of tearing. If Xander’s had it long enough, wiping away the excess tearing is probably so second nature that it really is subconscious. To anyone who doesn’t know, it would look like a nervous habit.



He’s surprised when the kid comes right out with a question.

“Why?”

“Why what?” Tony casually asks.

The kid’s eyes scan the street and he suddenly looks like he’s eight and that someone has ripped out his heart and squeezed it in front of his eyes. “Why couldn’t you do this for me?”

This is a deliberate callback to the beginning of the story when Tony expresses the wish to rip out an 8-year-old Xander’s heart and squeeze it in front of the kid’s eyes. It’s also a callback to Xander’s dream in ‘Restless.’ Since Tony’s about to get his earlier wish and really is about to rip Xander’s heart out on an emotional level, I thought it was a good time to slide in the repeated reference.


Looks like the kid finally found a backbone. Tony can honestly say that he didn’t see that question coming. He fumbles a little because he’s been caught off guard by the kid’s never-before-seen attempt at bluntness.

The kid’s focusing on him now and he’s just so quiet, so very still, that Tony wonders if he’s looking at a picture instead of a real human being.

Poor Tony. Xander has just departed from the script and Tony doesn’t quite know what to do. Xander’s there for a reason.

Tony, it probably took him a hell of a long time to work up the courage to even get close to your town. He had to make an effort to even find you. Of course Xander’s going to start re-writing his portion of the usual script because he doesn’t know if he’ll have the opportunity or the courage to try again.



Tony keeps it simple. “There were a lot of things that happened in Sunnydale. A lot of things you don’t know about.”

The kid’s eyes widen and he sits up straighter. An inner light touches his face and Tony sees that some sort of realization is dawning. The kid starts breathing heavily and he reaches across the table, almost but not quite touching Tony’s hand. “You knew? All this time you knew and you never said anything to me? Why didn’t you say anything? I would’ve understood.”

Xander not only assumes that Tony is making reference to the Hellmouth and the demons that stalked Sunnydale on a nightly basis, he blindly walks right into a buzz saw because he’s excited by the idea that he and Tony might have common ground.

Is it bad of me that I enjoyed setting up Xander’s moment of hope just so he could be crushed under the weight of Tony’s revelation? Probably. I have to admit I got a mean bit of fun out of it.



The questions tumbling out the kid’s mouth makes Tony angrier than he’s ever been in his life. Angrier than when he realized the truth. Angrier than when Jessica finally admitted the truth.

Now it’s Tony’s turn to completely misunderstand Xander and assume that Xander knew all along that Tony wasn’t his father.



Tony’s got a few questions of his own. “Who told you? Was it your Cousin Carol? Cousin Rigby? Your mother? Did everyone in that fucking town know except me? You can’t tell me that you pretended you didn’t know all these years. Little pussy like you would’ve tossed it in my face after you moved out to your own apartment.”

The kid’s thrown. “What? I…I don’t understand. Wait. Back up.”

“Who told you I wasn’t your father?” Tony demands.

The kid stops breathing for a moment and his jaw goes slack. His eyes are bright, bright, bright with shock and confusion. Tony feels like he’s trapped in a spotlight as the kid openly stares and doesn’t say a word. The silence speaks volumes about what the kid would say if he ever got his voice working again.

My third repetition “bright, bright, bright,” this time to show Xander’s distress. Xander’s so thrown off that he can’t hide his emotional reaction to this bit of news. It’s an action akin to showing Tony his soft underbelly.


Son of a bitch. The kid didn’t know.

Tony decides that since the kid now knows, he might as well go all the way. “Do you know what it’s like raising a kid that’s not even yours? To find out that the woman you loved more than anything lied to you? That she took advantage of you because you were the one most likely to do the right thing? I supported you, I fed you, I gave you a roof over your head, and you weren’t even my responsibility. You were someone else’s, except he got off scot-free. I lost a football scholarship because of you. I lost my future because of you. Do you have any idea what it’s like to live with a lie for years and to be reminded every single day that you were cheated out of your life because your had to constantly look at a bastard that wasn’t even yours?”

And at long last, Tony follows through on his desire to wipe the “bright, bright, bright” out and put some real hurt on Xander when he sees it. It’s not the physically violent reaction he always dreamed of engaging in, but the verbal violence is bad enough.



Tony’s amazed he’s not screaming all the nasty truths he kept locked away from the kid by the end. His voice remains pitched low and even, almost gentle, like he’s breaking the news to the kid that the kid had a fatal disease or that his best friend had died.

The kid closes his mouth somewhere in Tony’s quiet rant. The cords tighten in his neck and he blinks rapidly. Even though the kid’s body is statue-still, the movement in his hair betrays a slight tremor. When Tony is done, the kid closes his eyes and swallows. When he opens them again, Tony swears he can see a flash of understanding there.

Xander’s “flash of understanding” is rooted in the memory of his ‘Hell’s Bells’ visions where his “daughter” was clearly the product of Anya’s extramarital affair with a demon.

This might be a good time to point out again that, in many ways, I based Tony’s actions in this story on Xander’s behavior and attitude towards his floppy-eared daughter and Anya in the ‘Hell’s Bells’ visions with all of its random cruelty.

Like Tony in this story, during ‘Hell’s Bells’ Xander is constantly confronted with a child that clearly does not physically resemble him, although in Xander’s case the evidence that Anya had an extramarital affair that resulted in a child is pretty much in his face. Anya engages in the extramarital affair because Xander’s very real failures as a husband. He’s descended into turning to the bottle to escape those failures, even though he’s not very successful because he can’t avoid having them shoved in his face. The loathing between the members of Xander’s vision family is so open that his daughter not only knows that Xander’s not her real father, she’s actually glad that he’s not and wishes him dead so she can be rid of him.

The ironic thing is that Xander’s vision daughter is a perfect copy of himself and his vision family is a perfect copy of his family situation. Xander paid for almost marrying Anya by (in a way) living Tony’s life, just like he’s paid for Tony’s mistaken belief that Xander’s not really his son.

So, yeah, definitely borrowed heavily from Xander’s vision of himself and his “family” in ‘Hell’s Bells’ for this story. It makes a pretty little circle and shows that Xander’s fears were grounded in a heartbreaking reality.



“It wasn’t my fault,” the kid quietly says as he ducks his head. “I didn’t ask for this. Blaming me is not fair.”

I wanted to tie in to the idea that even though Xander actually does see Tony’s point of view since he somewhat lived it in his wedding visions, he suddenly realizes that he’s actually been that floppy-eared vision girl in ‘Hell’s Bells’ all along. Both Xander and the floppy-eared girl did not deserve to get blamed for other people’s failings, but they both got stuck paying the butcher’s bill because they made easy targets.


“This ain’t about fair,” Tony tells the kid. “This is about the truth, and the truth is you don’t belong in my nest and you never did.”

Another reference to the title of the story. Once again, Tony’s using the idea that Xander somehow wants back in “my nest” as a weapon against him, just like he did when Xander returned from Oxnard earlier in the story.

There are some differences this time. Xander really doesn’t want back in, he just wants an explanation. While Xander probably didn’t expect a happy explanation, that is if he expected any explanation at all, he obviously didn’t expect the answer he got. The other big change is that, unlike in the earlier pre-S4 scene in this story, Tony this time outright denies Xander a place “my nest” and twists the knife home by stating that Xander should’ve never been in it to begin with.



The kid studies Tony a moment before jerking a quick nod. “Guess I now know why you don’t have any pictures of me in your new house,” he says as he stands up, fishes out a wallet, and tosses a $20 bill on the table. “Keep the change,” the kid adds. He practically runs out of the café and disappears almost the moment his feet hit the sidewalk.

Tony feels a little bad about how it all went down, but he feels strangely relieved at the same time. The kid always brought him bad luck. His life and Jessica’s life only improved once the kid was out of it. Maybe now the kid will finally stay away and keep his bad luck with him.

***

Tony sees the kid sliding out of the coffee shop right in front of him and he immediately turns to look in a shop window. He watches the kid’s retreating back out of the corner of his eye and he silently swears. He thought sure the kid left town yesterday right after he told him the truth.

There’s a high-pitched series of beeps and the kid immediately starts patting himself down for his cell phone. He finally finds it and flips it open with a professional greeting. The kid stands still a moment before ducking into an alley, probably to continue the conversation in private.

Tony knows he’s playing with fire, but he can’t resist. He needs to know if the kid is planning to make trouble for him and Jessica now that the truth is out. He sneaks up to the alley entrance and leans nonchalantly against the wall. The kid’s not that far inside and Tony can hear the kid’s end of the conversation.

“—waited until Tony left this morning.”

There’s a pause.

“I had to know if he was telling the truth. No. You know I can’t trust what Tony says. He always used to say things just to get a reaction and I thought this was the same-old, same-old.”

Tony angrily clenches his fists as the kid pauses, probably listening to the voice at the other end. The kid thought he was lying? Why the hell would he lie about this?

Tony’s issues about “shooting blanks” rears its head again. It’s also a good way to show that Tony’s definition of what makes a man and Xander’s definition of what makes a man has a universe of difference between them. Once Xander calms down, he thinks it’s possible Tony lied just to hurt him and goes to Jessica to get the story confirmed. Tony can’t imagine why Xander would think he was lying about Xander not being his son since his failure to father any children is a strike against Tony’s view of himself as a man.


The kid huffs a breath that sounds suspiciously close to a sob. “Yeah,” the kid says softly. “She backed Tony’s story and added a few details, like the part where she got drunk at some frat party and slept with some guy wearing what she thinks was a mask. My favorite bit is the detail where she tried to remove it and it wouldn’t come off.”

There’s a sound of rustling. The kid’s voice still sounds unsteady. “I got the samples you said I should get. There was a lot of throwing things at my head while Jessica screamed and yelled that I ruined her life and that she wasn’t going to let me do it to her again now that things were going so well for her, which kind of is the worst thing about this. I mean she sometimes tried to defend me when Tony’d get really bad. Tony is one thing, but Jessica? I never saw it coming.”

Although Tony and Jessica gifted Xander with a crappy childhood, he’s never been rejected outright by either parent. He reacts badly to Tony’s rejection, but is able to put it down to Tony being his usual asshole self. It doesn’t become real to Xander until Jessica adds her own rejection and states outright that she’s doing it for selfish reasons. In short: Jessica no longer thinks Xander is worth fighting for because it’s now very clearly in her best interests to fight against him.



Tony doesn’t get it either. It never occurred to him that Jessica just might resent the kid as much as he does. At least she never gave any sign that she did when the kid was around since she always took her precious baby’s side. He figured with the kid back in town and dressed like he was something resembling successful, Jessica would be falling all over herself to get in good with the kid.

This shows Tony always knew deep down that Jessica tends to go along with whomever she thinks is the “stronger person” in her life. Since Xander is obviously successful in his own right, he believed that Jessica might re-think and stop being Tony’s idea of “the perfect wife.”

Even though Tony managed to drive away his adversary (read: Xander), it isn’t until this point that Tony realizes that he’s “won” what he thinks is a permanent victory against Xander as a person. At the same time, Xander’s decision to get to the bottom of Tony’s and Jessica’s stories and settle it to his own satisfaction using his own methods, regardless of what Tony and Jessica claim, shows that Tony lost the war a long time ago.



“Yeah, despite that I was able to talk her into handing over some photos of her and Tony. I had to swipe the hair samples, toenail clippings, and toothbrushes, though. Oh, bonus, I also scored a bunch of used Kleenex.”

Tony starts. Why the hell would the kid want hair samples, toenail clippings, toothbrushes, and used Kleenex? And why the hell would he want photos after yesterday? He and Jessica were going to have to talk when he got home.

The kid’s probably still listening to someone, because this pause is long. “It’s not over the top. I need to know,” the kid finally says.

Another pause punctuated by a bitter laugh. “Conceived under questionable circumstances in Sunnydale, remember? What if I’m half…I mean what if I’m not…I guess if I wasn’t exactly 100% human it would explain a lot. It would explain too much. I mean, c’mon. How long have you known me?”

This shows Xander’s scrambling confusion in the aftermath of Tony‘s “truth” being shoved in his face. Xander’s been hit with new information about his parents, and his parents’ now-firm belief that Tony’s not Xander’s real father. Based on his background and his parents’ certainty about the questionable circumstances around his conception, Xander jumps to the reasonable conclusion that he’s half-demon. Or maybe I should say: it’s a conclusion that seems reasonable to him.

I always find it interesting how readers (and television viewers) will take a character’s words as absolute gospel. There’s always a tendency to believe that someone in the cast of characters has to be saying the truth to the power. There’s rarely any consideration given to the idea that at some point, every single character can be lying, self-deluded, and dead wrong about their conclusions.

To be fair, I’m guilty of the same thing.

But I like playing with the idea that it’s possible for every single person in a story can be dead wrong about everything. Because this fiction and not real life, the mess has to be sorted out, someone has to come out on top, someone has to be right, or the truth has to come out by the end. It’s the same principal as murder. In real life, not all murders are solved and the guilty aren’t always punished even if they’ve been caught dead-to-rights, but on television shows like Law & Order the case always is solved and the guilty are always punished.

It’s a long way of saying that between Jessica’s story and the red herrings planted around the relative goodness of Tony’s life with Xander absent vs. Xander’s presence, some readers were ready to believe that Xander was absolutely correct when he speculates that he’s half-demon because, as Xander says, it explains “an awful lot” about him and his situation.



Tony can feel his forehead crunch with confusion. Not human? Who did the kid think he was? Clark-Fucking-Call-Me-Superman-Kent?

“Yeah, yeah,” the kid says to whomever is on the other end, “I know I’ve got a medical and aura check record that’s almost three years long, but we’ve never checked for something like this. Plus, do I have to remind you what happened to me after I got to Africa? I thought I was going insane. I was well on my way to going off the deep end before I stumbled into the Binu shrine near Arou-by-Ibi. If it wasn’t for the Binukedine...”

The main point of this paragraph is to show that the new Watcher’s Council has improved the “care and feeding” of its field people by making sure they stay physically, mentally, and mystically healthy. The side benefit of this preventative and regular check is to catch problems before they tragically manifest. Think of it as similar to the regular psych evaluations that people in high-stress occupations need to undergo as a routine part of their jobs. It’s a practical move on the new Council’s part, since a significant population of active field personnel is now the norm rather than the exception.

The paragraph also exposes a weakness in these evaluations: if they don’t think to check for something — such as a demonic heritage in a very human Xander — they’re not going to look for it. A lot of that is because such tests (as in the case of medical tests) have to start with a baseline reading of an individual and all subsequent tests are then based on that baseline. If they didn’t check for a demonic heritage at that baseline reading, all of Xander’s subsequent readings would be “normal,” regardless of the presence — or lack thereof — of demon DNA. It was important to me to make reference to this loophole because gives Xander enough wiggle room to believe that a half-demonic heritage is entirely possible, despite the regular check-ups he has to undergo to comply the new Council’s regulations for field personnel.

Sorry. That’s my not-so-inner medical geek coming out.

Also, I’m a little amused by this paragraph because it seems that no matter what I do, Xander always ends up somewhere in and around Mali whenever I put him in Africa. The location of Arou-by-Ibi is in Dogon Country and a “Binukedine” is sort of a priest or a shaman in one of the Dogon animistic sects.

People have asked me about this paragraph, namely “What happened to Xander in Africa?” It’s left deliberately vague. Only that “something strange” happened to him, something that was strange enough that he needed magical intervention from a helpful shaman to set him back to rights and strange enough for it to be possible “evidence” — or at least evidence enough to Xander’s way of thinking — pointing to a half-demon heritage.

At the time I wrote this, I was married to my fanon idea that Xander had developed an “allergy to magic” or that he’d somehow acquired enough sensitivity to pick up on the presence of magic and magical creatures in the aftermath of ‘Chosen’ because he was subjected to an extreme exposure of magic/mystical energy without any protection to shield him. It’s in force for Xander’s character in the Whisperverse stories of Living History, Water Hold Me Down, and No Myth.

I’m now a lot less married to the idea, as can be seen in Facing the Heart in Darkness where Xander’s just one of many of a new breed of Watcher triggered by the ‘Chosen’ spell, and The Acme Heartbreak Repair Kit where Xander’s D’Hoffryn’s specific, if tragically hapless, target that keeps surviving the numerous attempts on his life.

It could be any of these, or none of these, since Cuckoo is a stand-alone story. I leave it up to the reader to decide what really happened to make Xander think that an incident that occurred during his African adventure — at least as far as Cuckoo is concerned — could be evidence of a half-demon heritage.



Jesus Christ, what does the kid do for a living? Tony wonders.

Tony can hear the kid’s breathing. “Right now you have more faith in my humanity than I do, which is pretty scary.”

This is another tie to Xander’s ‘Hell’s Bells’ vision daughter. In her case, her heritage was written on her ears. In Xander’s case, his potential demonic heritage has just bitten him in the ass, even tough there’s no physical evidence. In either case, the father (Tony/Xander) have made the innocent children (Vision Daughter/Xander) pay for something that couldn’t even come close to being their fault. What’s more, they were punished in the exact same manner for their “crime” of being born.


A pause.

“Hey, Will? Thanks. For talking me down last night. And for listening to me go crazy just now. And thanks for doing this for me.”

Crazy?
Tony wonders. If anything, the kid is being amazingly calm about the situation, especially if what he said about Jessica going off on him was true.

This illustrates just how little Tony knows Xander. In Tony’s world, going crazy means screaming and breaking things. In Xander’s world, going crazy is him calling Willow and spilling everything mere hours after Tony hits him with bad information. For Xander, going crazy is him pouring his heart out over the phone in a precariously public place. It’s a huge honking sign that Xander’s in a very bad emotional place.


“I don’t know what I’ll do if it’s true. Live with it I guess. What else can I do?”

I like this line. It shows that Xander’s grown up quite a bit. He’s not happy about the possibility that he’s half-demon. He needs to find out if it’s true. But whether it’s true or not, he’s just going to continue living his own life because it ultimately doesn’t change anything.


Pause.

“Yeah. Never thought I’d see the day when I actually wanted to be a Harris either.”

Tony blinks at that. He’s not sure what surprises him more: the sentiment or the kid’s weary tone of voice.

Please, Tony. After years and years of rejecting him in a million little ways, you just told Xander outright that he wasn’t really a Harris. Then managed to give him the only alternative that, to Xander’s mind, could be worse than being a Harris. And you have the nerve to be surprised that Xander’s not exactly proud to carry the Harris family name?


“Leaving now, in fact. Just stopped to get a cup of coffee for the road. You caught me while I was on my way to the car.”

There’s a sound of rustling.

“I’ll be in London around eight-ish tomorrow. After yesterday, I can’t wait to get home and hang with my real family. I never should’ve listened to the Council’s mental health specialist about confronting Tony about—”

This ties in to the statement above where Council field operatives are given regular checks.  I’m not entirely sure if Xander’s on a psychiatrist’s couch on a regular basis, or if he just goes whenever he has to fulfill  his obligation to meet Council regulations. Either way, it’s another point to show that Xander’s grown up. He’s at least using his session (or sessions, if you prefer) to actually deal with his underlying emotional and psychological issues. This is in sharp contrast to Tony, who never deals his underlying issues at all and only makes surface changes.


There’s another long pause like the person on the other end of the phone has interrupted the kid to say something. In the silence Tony wonders, Home? London? The kid lives in fucking London?

“Okay, yeah. She had a point. I guess it is better that I know than spending the rest of my life thinking it was something I did to make him…well, now that I think about it, it was something I did.” A soft laugh. “I was born, right?”

Right in one, Tony thinks. The kid finally smartened up.

“Look, I just can’t…I can’t do this right now, okay? Maybe later after I’ve had time to process. It’s still too fresh. No, I won’t clam up once I calm down. Willow! I promise.”

Which only goes to show: Xander is still Xander and he doesn’t always say something when he maybe should. Willow, at the very least, is now aware that Xander has a tendency to do that. It shows that their friendship has finally evolved over the years to the point that Willow is aware that it’s of one of Xander’s hidden failings and encourages him to stop indulging in it.


Tony startles when he hears the name ‘Willow.’ He wonders idly if this Willow is the same Jew girl friend he had when he was a kid. He somehow doubts it since she disappeared from the kid’s life after that fucked-up non-wedding, probably out of womanly solidarity to that Anya because women always stick together and blame the men for all their problems. Although it could be her because he finds it equally hard to believe that there are two girls running around in this godforsaken world with the name Willow.

“Yeah, see you at the airport. Thanks for the offer, but I don’t think a double-chocolate latte with triple-chocolate cake is going to fix this. I just…I don’t know. Just some company will be good enough. You, too. Bye.”

Tony scurries away from the entrance and makes it his business to stare into a shop window with a hand over the bottom of his face like he’s contemplating buying the green dress on display for himself. Out of the corner of his eye he sees the kid leave the alley and pause at the entrance while he shoves the cell phone in his pocket. He holds his breath and doesn’t let it out until the kid heads off in the opposite direction without so much as a glance in his direction.

Screw lunch. He’s heading back to the store. He’s giving Jessica a call to see what went down with the kid.

Continued in  DVD Commentary: Cuckoo in the Nest, Part 5.
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