Characterization in the Buffyverse — ‘Buffy The Vampire Slayer’ Season 1, Episode 1
by Benjamin Hall
This is the first in a series about characterization in the Buffyverse. It will take a look at all the major — and some minor — characters in the television shows Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Angel from a longtime fan’s perspective. By “longtime fan,” I mean that I have been one since catching it on TV sometime during Season 3’s initial airing. I even still read fan fiction in relation to Buffy on the site archive of our own. Also, I am a fan of the Buffy Anne Summers and William “Spike” Pratt relationship. However, that bias will not play a major factor in this column due to the goal being to look at all the characters’ pros and cons.
Now, to begin we should look at the fact that this version of Buffy carries on some history from the movie, 1992’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Yet, that history is only to establish some of the movie as canonical, and to say that the show is not a full-on reboot. Instead it is more of a soft reboot where she has elements of a backstory already in place. Examples of this prior characterization come a reference to the gym fight at the end of the movie and the name of her previous school. Otherwise, Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar) is just a “blonde” character with a small sense of growth, and regression, since the movie. In this first episode of the series, we get a little bit more insecurity in how she reacts to characters not in the supernatural realm. At the same time, she exhibits more confidence when it comes to the supernatural — a departure from the movie version.
Darla (Julie Benz) is the first of the longer lasting characters we meet in the show. Her characterization varies a lot in this episode. For instance, we don’t get a hint that she is a going to last past the first season. Nor do we get any idea of her as someone older than she appears. Instead, we get the blonde schoolgirl fake-out and then the reveal of her as a vampire. In the scene where the vampire Luke (Brian Thompson) calls The Master forth in a ritual we get a young (relative for vampires) feeling from Darla. This is due to her giddiness and, visualy, her make-up style.
Alexander Lavelle Harris — or Xander Harris (Nicholas Brendon) — is a bit creepy here, but he is still likable. The creep factor comes from some of the lines he speaks to Buffy during their first two meetings. While the likable aspects come from him trying (and failing) to skateboard, and being observant. Xander using a skateboard is stupid from the outset due to how we quickly learn he hates studying. Thus, he probably wouldn’t put the time in for it. Later episodes will give the suggestion that the skateboarding is just an attempt to look cool. As for his ability to be observant it, and unfortunately his creepiness, will develop over time.
Rupert Giles (Anthony Stewart Head) re-frames a ‘Watcher’ as something other than the same reincarnated person the movie implies. Giles is more believable with his everyday attire than the movie’s Watcher Merrick (Donald Sutherland). As for his personality, he comes across as helpful, and even a tad creepy when showing the Vampyr book. Also, he’s slightly a creep when he gets unprofessionally close to Buffy in the hallway. However, I do get that some may ship Buffy and Giles in fan works due to this specific hallway scene. When it comes to the characterization of his age here, he seems a lot more of a vigorous individual than in later episodes.
Willow Rosenberg (Alyson Hannigan) is the most odd in terms of her initial characterization. Yes, there is the wallflower personality she grows out of in later seasons. But there are also hints of a more outgoing person with her scenes at The Bronze and at the graveyard. Also, we get a hint of her intellect with her initial conversation with Xander. As for her attire, it goes beyond being a wallflower personality into something potentially creepy — it looks like she might have Peter Pan Syndrome in this episode due to her initial dress.
Cordelia Chase (Charisma Carpenter) and Jesse (Eric Balfour) are, in my opinion, on the same level of importance in this episode. Yes, Jesse is not in the opening titles — and he goes away in the second episode — but he gets about the same amount of screen time as Cordelia. Also both Cordelia and Jesse are cast with actors who look too old for high school. Though in Cordelia’s case, it is partly the outfits Carpenter has to wear in this first episode. In fact, all of the initial costuming suggests a Beverly Hills 90210 (1990-2000) idea of characterization via fashion. Meanwhile, the initial interactions between Cordelia and Jesse are like those of Buffy and Xander: cringe-worthy.
Principal Bob Flutie (Ken Lerner), Joyce Summers (Kristine Sutherland), The Master (Mark Metcalf), Angel (David Boreanaz, and Luke are all very minor characters in this first episode. Yes, they all are characters, but they mostly service the plot. Although, they are like the major characters in that we are only seeing a brief characterization in lieu of setting up the series. What we do get of Flutie is a rather standard principal who is a bit nice and a bit of a officious jerk. Unfortunately, Joyce is just the mom and barely verges on being close to two-dimensional. As for The Master and Luke, we get more characterization via their make-up, and the ritual, than Angel’s cryptic act.
But that is all indicative of what we get with the first episode: a group of characters on the way to becoming characters while the world is established for the audience.