This is part of a bi-weekly series concerning the characterization of Buffyverse characters. The first installment in this series can be found here. Arguably the best place to begin reading this series is at the beginning, but that is up to each reader. As a reminder this column will cover major and some minor characters from the shows Buffy The Vampire Slayer (1997-2003) and Angel (1999-2004). Other Buffyverse media, such as the graphic novel Spike: Into The Light (2014), are not pertinent to this series.
(Warning of spoilers from this point on!)
Buffy Summers (Sarah Michelle Gellar), Willow Rosenberg (Alyson Hannigan), Rupert Giles (Anthony Stewart Head), and Xander Harris (Nicholas Brendon) all get around the same level of character development — although one could argue Buffy and Xander get more growth in this episode than the other two. Yet, Willow is definitely the one with the least characterization due to her fear being on display in the prior episode (Buffy The Vampire Slayer Season 1, Episode 9: ‘The Puppet Show’). While Giles has three nightmares on display, only one featuring the death of Buffy is important. His speech at the grave site shows he cares for Buffy and is the sort of thing you’d expect from a father figure or mentor. As for Xander and Buffy, we see how insecure and afraid they are of life. Yet, in the end, we also see them as people who can overcome their fear of living.
Cordelia Chase (Charisma Carpenter), Joyce Summers ( Kristine Sutherland), and Hank Summers (Dean Butler) are simply supporting characters. While Cordelia and Hank have more screentime than Joyce, it is more to do with developing the main characters. That said, Joyce is arguably more of an actual character in this episode than in her previous appearances; at least as far as a not fully observant parent character can be. As for Cordelia, we actually see how she uses outer beauty and (stereotypical) popularity to hide her insecurities. There is even a hint of how she is smarter than she lets on with the Chess Club nightmare. Also, we get some actual signs of a slight friendship between Cordelia and Buffy prior to the history test nightmare.
When it comes to Hank Summers, we get two characterizations. One is the nightmare version who loathes and hurts Buffy and the other is the possibly okay parent. Unfortunately, we get more of the former characterization in subsequent moments during the series (Buffy The Vampire Slayer Season 2, Episode 1: ‘When She Was Bad’ for example). Thus, we will never truly know how much is meant to be truth versus fiction in this episode. Yes, future episodes overall weigh in that he is a bad parent. Yet judging just by this episode alone we get an unreliable portrayal; meaning Hank’s characterization is arguably less thought-out than Joyce and Cordelia’s characterization.
Billy Palmer (Jeremy Foley) is similar to Collin/The Anointed One (Andrew J. Ferchland) in that both are creepy kid characters. Also, both are arguably rather pointless since they each do very little to affect the course of events. Not to mention that both have horrible authority figures — the Coach (Brian Pietro) and The Master (Mark Metcalf), respectively — that along with the Hellmouth’s energy make them supernatural. However, this is where the characters, and their authority figures, differ. Billy and his Coach are nothing more than shoddy public service announcement characters by episode’s end. The Master and Collin, meanwhile, are just extraneous characters put in the episode to remind viewers they exist.
This episode is more about the plot than the characters as no one fully gets any good amount of character development. Also certain characters, such as The Master and Xander, get moments of stupidity. In The Master’s case it is simply not ensuring he remains free. While Xander follows a trail of candy after learning about fears manifesting in the real world. Lastly, the unmasking is clearly a reference to Scooby-Doo, Where Are You? (1969-1970). In conclusion, “Zoinks!” does not even describe how terrifyingly poorly thought-out the characters are.