I'm the same anon who asked you if you could write a Faith meta a month ago. I just read what you were looking for. I want a meta on why Faith acts the way she does, what attracts her to the "darkness" inside of her, why she compares herself to Buffy, why she is so sexually aggressive, and how she deals with her redemption and trying to be a better person.
You know, Nonnie, the reason this meta has taken so long to complete is because I have really struggled with it, and I have no idea why. Faith Lehane is a character I know inside out, and yet every time I have attempted to write this meta and answer your questions, I’ve gotten stuck. So, I’m just going attempt a method I use when I have writers block, and that is simply to write and see where I end up. So, apologies in advance, because this meta may not end up covering all of your questions, but at the very least, it will finally be done and will hopefully still be a good read.
I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say that I have never identified as deeply with a character as I once did with Faith Lehane. This girl was everything I was in my youth – lost, guarded, self-destructive, promiscuous, aggressive and above all ridiculously broken. When she first turns up in Sunnydale, she is initially presented as a light, carefree personality, but within that very first episode we see that all is not as it seems with Faith, as she ends losing control and pummelling a vampire into a bloody mess while patrolling with Buffy. The revelation that her Watcher was brutally murdered in front of her goes a way to explain her behaviour, but as we see over the season, there is something very broken in Faith.
We know little about Faith’s background other than she was raised by a single, alcoholic mother, who passed away at some point before Faith arrived in Sunnydale. From her overall demeanour and attitude, it would be safe to say that Faith suffered some sort of abuse as a child, as she projects a very tough and invulnerable front to the world, and clearly hates feeling or being perceived as weak, something a lot of abuse victims have in common. Her attitude towards men suggests some sort of sexual abuse or, at the very least, sexualisation from a young age. When girls are sexualised from young, they can come to both loathe and grow attached to their perceived attractiveness and “sexiness”, believing that not only is it their fault that they attract unsavoury and/or older men, but also that this is all there is to them, that their sex appeal is their only weapon and that no man could ever see past this and actually want them for who they actually are.
We certainly see evidence of this with Faith through many of her interactions with male characters. She attempts to call The Mayor “Sugar Daddy” indicating that she believes that he will demand some sort of sexual payment for her new digs. Later in the series, we see her seduce Robin Wood, then rebuff him the next day, only for him to actually persist in his romantic pursuit of her, throwing her off-guard when she realises that he may actually want to get to know her and start a relationship. And then there is her rape of Riley, after which he says “I love you” to her while believing that she is Buffy, and her reaction to his words, which shake her so badly that she immediately tries to escape the situation, tearfully asking Riley “What do you want from her?”.
Faith’s disconnect from emotion-based sex is, I believe, another indicator of possible sexual abuse or assault in her past. Victims of rape often detach from the act of lovemaking, unable to associate the act with positive emotions, because it was turned into something violent and ugly. This is one of the reasons a lot of women who were abused/assaulted as children/teenagers enter the sex industry, as sex becomes something unemotional, something easily given and forgotten about. We certainly see this with Faith, who speaks of men in terms of things to be used and discarded, never allowing her emotions to get in the way.
Faith is also a very sexually aggressive person, once again indicating that she may be a victim of sexual assault. Abuse is like a cycle, with many victims growing up to be abusers due to the deep psychological scars they carry, and Faith certainly seems to fit this pattern, attempting to rape Xander and later actually raping Riley and possibly Buffy too (it’s unclear as to whether she did rape Buffy, given that Buffy’s consciousness was not actually in her body at the time of the rape). But this aggression, coupled with her general aggression and sadism, could definitely indicate sexual assault or abuse.
Outside of her sexual activity and attitude, there is still so much to unpack when it comes to Faith. Like Buffy, she suffers simultaneously from an inferiority and superiority complex, both sides of which drive her over the course of Seasons 3 and 4. When she arrives in Sunnydale she and Buffy are equally jealous of each other, but while Buffy’s jealousy (mostly) disappears after one episode, Faith’s jealousy of Buffy follows her through pretty much the whole series, and is a major driving factor in her hatred towards and victimization of Buffy.
Part of this jealously comes from her romantic feelings for Buffy, but I believe the deeper reasoning for this jealousy comes down to everything Buffy has versus everything Faith doesn’t. When Faith first arrives in Sunnydale she is confronted with a life she could have had – a Watcher, a loving mother and a close friendship group. She sees how all these people adore Buffy, how they are all there for her and support her. Faith, never having had any of these (bar the Watcher part, and even then, only for a short period of time) naturally grows extremely jealous of Buffy, wondering why Buffy gets everything Faith has ever desired while she is left out in the cold. And, to be perfectly frank, Buffy doesn’t exactly do much to sway Faith from this frame of mind.
In-Universe (and even in the fandom) everyone (including Faith once she starts her redemption) claims that Buffy was always there for Faith, that she tried so hard with her, that Faith was so lucky to have Buffy as a friend. Except, this isn’t really true. In my opinion, Buffy never really tried with Faith. She was openly jealous and distrustful of Faith when Faith first turned up, she kept Faith out of the loop when Angel returned, made a half-hearted attempt to talk to her after the Gwendoline Post incident, but gave up before even really trying (even though it was painfully obvious Faith wanted to open up but didn’t know how), talked about hanging with Faith but never followed through, and really only genuinely tried with Faith when she had Angel try to talk her down after the murder of the deputy mayor, an event which I feel Buffy herself should take some responsibility for, and an action which I suspect was fueled partially by Buffy’s own guilt.
When you add all of this together, the jealousy, the inferiority complex and the lack of friendship and reciprocity from Buffy, it’s easy to see why Faith turns on Buffy (and by extension the Scoobies) so completely, especially when you compare their treatment of her to the way the Mayor treats her. Where the Scoobies and Giles never seemed to much care for Faith, treating her with apathy and even downright mistrust (even before she had done anything to earn said mistrust), the Mayor not only instantly accepts her, but makes it very clear that he cares about her. He moves her out of the flea-bag motel the Scoobies and Giles were happy to leave her in, makes her feel welcome and loved and, above all, special. In the Mayor, Faith finds the parent she has always wanted, the love and acceptance she has always craved, and the feeling of belonging she has been striving to achieve ever since she arrived in Sunnydale.
Now, I am in no way condoning Faith’s actions towards Buffy and the Scoobies, nor am I trying to excuse the evil that she has done. Faith alone is responsible for her actions. However, given her history with the Scoobies and their treatment of her, it is easy to see the reason why she turned on them so completely. She sought love and acceptance with them, and instead received distrust and disdain. When she falls into her coma, they barely give her a second thought, and upon waking, she finds that everyone has moved on without her, a fact which greatly distresses her and puts her back on her path or darkness.
Post-coma, however, something has changed in Faith. Possibly tied to the fact that the world has moved on without her, possibly influenced by her grief over losing the Mayor and possibly tied to the nightmares and psychological trauma she underwent while in her coma, the Faith who emerges in Season 4 is far more self-loathing and suicidal than we have ever seen her. While Faith was never a great example for self-esteem, the Mayor’s love and support gave her enough hope and light that she was able to overcome her suicidal tendencies (which are evident almost from her first appearance) and learn to accept and even moderately like herself, even despite all her evil. Without the Mayor, she is lost, with no one in her corner, and so all her old issues come to the surface, not to mention several new ones.
The Faith who comes out of the coma is not the same girl who fell off the roof at the end of Season 3. The Faith who comes out of the coma is lost, self-loathing, weighted down by the guilt of her past actions and unable to see any solution except death. She still goes after and severely victimizes Buffy (and by extension Riley), but this time around she’s not driven by hatred or jealousy or even her own sadism, but by a desire to escape herself. She steals Buffy’s body and identity, and through this, starts to realise that there may be more for herself out there, the opportunity to have love and acceptance, to do good the way Buffy does, and this exacerbates her self-loathing, culminating in her brutal beating of her own image before she escapes to L.A.
Her appearance in the two-parter AtS episode is Faith at her lowest, most broken and most self-hating and suicidal, as we see her kidnap and brutally torture Wesley. Wesley’s torture is probably one of Faith’s most heinous crimes, showing just how far she has fallen. While Faith is and always has been a dark person, her torture of Wesley is less about her own sadism and more about her self-loathing and desire to end her life, as she uses Wesley’s torture to try to push Angel into killing her. The weight of her guilt, her darkness and the memories of her crimes have pushed her to a place where she believes death is not only the only option for her, but also the most fitting punishment, evidenced as she screams at Angel “I’m bad, I’m evil” and begs him to end her life.
Luckily for her, Angel refuses to do so, recognising a soul who needs saving and identifying with the darkness that lies within Faith’s heart. Through Angel, Faith is able to take her first step towards redemption, because Angel offers her safe haven and sanctuary, while simultaneously making sure Faith knows that she must make amends, that she can’t outrun her past and that she must face the consequences of her actions, and through all of this, Faith finally realises that she will never find peace or happiness unless she makes a genuine attempt at redemption, until she truly faces the repercussions of all her crimes. As she sits in the jail cell in the final shot of Sanctuary, we see, possibly for the first time, an accepting Faith, a Faith ready to face consequences, a Faith who might finally find some inner peace.
While Faith does eventually find some peace and learn to accept herself, she continues to struggle and fight against the darkness within. While Faith is, in part, shaped by her circumstances, the abuse she has suffered and the rejection she has dealt with, there is a part of her which is just dark, part of who she is at her core. This innate darkness is what Faith struggles with on a day-to-day basis, an inner demon she must learn to control and live with. Similar to the darkness which resides within Angel, Faith’s more sadistic side genuinely enjoys inflicting pain, and the fight to keep it under control will probably follow her for the rest of her life, especially since she gave in to it, let it free and got a taste of it. Because she let the beast out, it tasted blood, liked the taste, and keeps demanding more. Similar to the way alcoholics must resist liquor, Faith must resist her darkness, which we see her do time and again when she returns to AtS and BtVS in later seasons.
I feel like there is more to write, as Faith is such a complex character that she could probably inspire novels of meta, but I also feel that I have rambled on long enough, so I am going to tap out here. I cannot apologise enough for how long this meta has taken, and I also apologise that it may not have covered everything you asked for, but hopefully it has provided you with a good read and a greater appreciation for the amazingly complex character that is Faith Lehane.