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) both has a regression in terms of her characterization, and the start to her falling into a trope. Both center on the notion of normality — especially how Buffy desires it. This is something that gets some resolution in the second episode after she seems to accept being the Slayer. Yet, it crops up again in this episode with her trying out for cheerleading. It will become the reluctant hero trope after this episode since this false notion of normality never sees true resolution.
Rupert Giles (Anthony Stewart Head) is more stodgy and uptight in this episode than the previous two. The mainly occurs during the opening scene as he tries to talk Buffy out of cheerleading. It is also arguable that he even resembles Wesley Wyndham Price (Alexis Denisoff) from Buffy’s third season here. But Giles still gets involved where other watchers wouldn’t, such as when he investigates the Madisons. Unfortunately, he mostly acts as a typical authority figure and way of furthering the plot versus a full on character.
Willow Rosenberg (Alyson Hannigan) shows a bit of a crush towards Xander (Nicholas Brendan) in this episode. Well, either that or the restarting of one. It is just very unclear due to how the script and acting are suggesting either possible answer. What is clear is that Willow is knowledgeable about the periodic table. Also, that she is not overly squeamish when cutting animals. There is also the fact that she comes across as a bit petty when it comes to Cordelia’s (Charisma Carpenter) misfortune. All of these aspects of her character will reoccur in later episodes.
Xander Harris gets both good and bad development this week. One is the typical characterization of a teenage boy with raging hormones being, to some degree, a pervert. (Which is to some extent a true thing for a lot of teens no matter the gender.) Nevertheless, it potentially sends the wrong message to viewers due to how little countering it gets. There is also his crush on Buffy, which presents here as “obviously not going to happen,” but in a way that is relatable. We also get to see his trait of being oblivious to certain things, such as Willow’s crushing on him. This definitely continues to be an aspect of Xander as time wears on.
Amy Madison (Elizabeth Anne Allen) is, for the most part, not in the episode — thus her characterization is mostly to oppose the interests of her mom. She even talks about consciously becoming overweight. Since Amy’s mom abuses Amy verbally (and, technically, physically), this feels like a bit of rebellion. This characterization of Amy as a survivor of domestic abuse never gets an exploration in her later appearances. Later episodes in the series also fail to give more reasoning for her change in character.
Catherine Madison (Robin Riker) is obviously a witch, but she is also kind of a stage mom. One can see this in the fact that she literally takes over Amy’s life. We also get hints that Catherine may resent her daughter due to their weight differences. As for Catherine’s status as a witch, I would say she comes across as a practitioner with experience. Although, it is also notable that she does not think about how her spells might backfire. Thus her fate as a cheerleading statue can be seen as avoidable.
Cordelia Chase comes across as an insecure bully who could possibly become a villain. She is also insecure during the first two cheerleading tryouts. It is subtle enough that first time viewers of the show might not notice it. But it is hard to miss her vicious verbal confrontation with Catherine (in Amy’s body). This does raise an interesting question about whether or not the writers considered making her a villainous monster at any point during the show.
Joyce Summers (Kristine Sutherland) finally gets some actual characterization beyond just being an authority figure. We see two key traits to her character in this episode that will play out for a while. One is that she, like a lot of people, sees only so much of her child’s life. Meaning that she misses obvious clues that Buffy is more than average. Specifically, the moment when Buffy easily opens the crate Joyce previously couldn’t open with a crowbar. We also get a hint that Joyce is a strong, well-meaning woman with some sense of business. Finally, there is the fact that she gives Buffy positive comments, and then she is honest about not being sure of the topic.
This episode is more about fleshing out the characters than fighting the supernatural. Though, in some ways, it is still more about fighting the supernatural than, say, Season 6’s musical episode, “Once More With Feeling.” Yet, it also feels like it is still mimicking the 1992 Buffy feature film — mainly in Buffy being on the cheer team and a battle occurring during a Basketball game. However, this episode is still original enough to stand itself apart.