Characterization In The Buffyverse — ‘Buffy The Vampire Slayer’ Season 1 Episode 11

by Benjamin Hall

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) displays inconsistent abilities due to her mystical nature. Meaning that she recovers fast from the numbing agent, but is too slow to avoid in the first place. Athough this is not the first inconsistency we see, it definitely displays a problem with her characterization. Going forward, we never get full clarification of what a slayer can and can’t do. In terms of Buffy as a person, we also see more of her wanting to return to a way of life she considers normal. While I believe there is no such thing as a “normal” lifestyle, everyone goes through a time where they question themselves.

Willow Rosenberg (Alyson Hannigan) gets a moment with Xander (Nicholas Brendon) where she is a little more outgoing. This moment is also highlights how long they have been friends. Thus, it is understandable why she is so outgoing here. Besides this moment, though, she arguably doesn’t get much development. She also does not display any new traits.

Xander Harris gets one moment where he shows some knowledge of Greek mythology. While this is a good moment of characterization it is not really a development. In order for it to be a true development, it would need to be something which remains — or comes from — part of his character. As far as development goes, we only learn that his family eats out a lot. Also, he continues to have the negative character trait of joking about non-consensual activities.

Rupert Giles (Anthony Stewart Head) displays some knowledge of science. I find this notable because it establishes a school subject that he apparently thought interesting as a youth. Another notable development is when he lies to Buffy later on and how this displays distrust. This is not fully on display, but it is hinting that he does not fully trust her judgement about Angel (David Boreanaz). One can even argue that this episode is the first to show Giles as a character with flaws.

Cordelia Chase (Charisma Carpenter) comes across as intelligent, but not fully aware of others. Yes, this is somewhat a plot-centric characterization, but it is also just how the character’s personality works. We even see that she may be more compassionate than she lets on when she somewhat informally joins the group. Although this is something viewers will probably miss on a first viewing once Mitch (Ryan Bittle) questions her. There are also moments of high intelligence, such as when she asks for aid from Buffy and the gang. She does this without actual warning that she is a target. Lastly, there are hints of how vulnerable she can be throughout the episode.

Angel gets about as much screen time as Ms. Miller (Denise Dowe) and Mitch. He is definitely more important than the other two, however, due to actually furthering this season’s plot. By telling Giles he knows where to get a book of prophecies we also get to see Angel finally act to save people. Well, people besides Buffy. As for Ms. Miller and Mitch, both seem interesting enough to appear in later episodes. However, like most side characters on shows, they never appear again.

Marcie Ross (Clea DuVall) comes across as partly a public service announcement character. Specifically, she is the victim of bullying. She also seemingly falls into a cliche of mental illness (via extensive isolation) causing her to turn murderous. This second part of her characterization is a very negative stereotype. Last, but not least, is the fact that her becoming an assassin is a good bit of character growth. Yet, the show wastes this development which in turn makes her forgettable.

Harmony Kendall ( Mercedes McNab) and Principal Snyder (Armin Shimerman) exist in this episode to provide some levity. Other than that, they really serve no purpose. Although Snyder still acts a bit like a tyrant, we also get to see him act like a standard principal. By that I mean he fears lawsuits and is grudgingly compassionate — of course I am basing this off my own experiences with principals. Meanwhile, Harmony does not seem as dumb as she seemed in Season 1, Episode 2 ‘The Harvest,’ nor as she will appear in future episodes.

In conclusion, this really isn’t an episode of Buffy The Vampire Slayer. Yes, it features the characters of Buffy, but it is more a weak episode of The X-Files (1993-2002). Well, The X-Files with a sprinkling of an anti-bullying public service announcement. As it stands, I think the truth is not here.

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