Characterization In The Buffyverse — ‘Buffy The Vampire Slayer’ Season 1, Episode 12

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) gets some characterization by way of dialogue. This mainly occurs when Rupert Giles (Anthony Stewart Head) mentions to Angel (David Boreanaz) that Buffy has a history of stopping prophecies. There is also the way she breathily says Angel’s name — as if they have had way more encounters. He characterization also comes across by way of her actions. Wanting to run away with her mom, Joyce Summers (Kristine Sutherland), shows how young and vulnerable she still is. Lastly, there is thw way she says she feels stronger after her death. We never learn why this is, but I think she gives off a sense of maturation.

Rupert Giles comes across as more of a caring mentor than a father figure; at least from my perspective. Although this episode’s characterization definitely shows him in the process of moving from mentor to father figure. I am also willing to argue that his distrust of Jenny Calender (Robia Scott as Robia De LaMorte) is both smart and dumb. It is smart in that he knows little about her reasons for helping, but the moment he chooses to question her aid is dumb.

Angel has a rather bland and contradictory kind of characterization going for him in this episode. The blandness comes from being an eye candy type love interest for Buffy. Then he becomes a reluctant bit of tour guide/extra muscle for Xander Harris (Nicholas Brendon). The only thing new is that we see a bit of Angel’s brooding, and his reluctance to interact, during the apartment scene. Therefore there is nothing one can really argue makes him a charismatic character.

As for the contradictory bits of characterization, there are three-fold. First, Angel argues with Giles about finding a way to prevent Buffy from dying. He then does nothing to help until Xander forces him to. Lastly, there is the lie that he has no way of providing breath for medical aid. Angel can talks, smells and has even be seen during a panicky round of breathing heavily. All these things require creating breath of some kind.

Jenny Calender comes across as less useful in this episode versus her first appearance (Season 1, episode 8 ‘I, Robot… You, Jane’). This is due to how she knows computers and magic can combine, but she fails to use this advantage. Yes, magic spells are not a thing the heroes rely on at this point, but the plot does mention divination. Thus she could be more useful by asking her message board pals for help interpreting the prophecy. As for her feelings for Giles, she exhibits them mostly via body language. However, we do also get her standing up for herself when he demands she blindly follow his orders. This shows her as having both a backbone and self-respect.

Xander Harris gets both good and bad characterization in this episode. One good aspect is when he actually realizes Willow has feelings for him. Another is when he seeks Angel’s help to find and assist Buffy. Also, the fact that he knows how to assist a victim of drowning is a definite plus. What is not so good is how he treats Buffy after she explains she does not see him as a romantic interest. There is also the fact that it takes Willow rejecting him for him to realize her feelings.

Willow Rosenberg (Alyson Hannigan) is somewhat obvious with her crush on Xander. This makes the fact that she immediately rejects Xander’s offer seem a little sudden. Then again, most people aren’t willing to be a consolation prize, and thus her decision is understandable. I also think there is a bit of brattiness in her behavior to Miss Calender’s inclusion in the group. Yes, Xander does act negatively as well, but he comes across as more of a jerk. The last bit of characterization Willow exhibits is being somewhat friendly to Cordelia (Charisma Carpenter), which is believable due to prior events across the season.

The Master (Mark Metcalf) is arguably rather pathetic as a season-ending villain. While there is some build up to his being a a major threat, he is more of a straw man argument for villainy than a villain. An example of what I mean is that he has to use a thrall to win the fight. Also, he has no real characterization beyond being an older vampire with a title, apparent bad breath, and a weird connection to a monster. Yes, he leaves a skeleton behind after his staking, but that only leaves a few more questions; such as what makes him so special that his skeleton remains? Overall, he is only slightly two-dimensional

Cordelia Chase comes across as a more realistic character. Mostly, this is due to her nicer treatment of Willow in this episode. Also, there is the way she acts decisively when it comes to getting Willow, Jenny, and herself to the library. (Though one would expect that Buffy would get the big action moment in this episode.) Yes, Cordelia is still a bit of a stereotypical television character, but that only really happens when Willow stops paying attention to Cordelia mid-conversation about the preparations.

The Anointed One/Collin (Andrew J. Ferchland), and Kevin (Scott Gurney) are plot devices. Kevin assists Cordelia at showing the sweeter side and dies to illustrate the threat level. The Anointed One is only a tunnel map in the form of a vampire boy, and this means he is just pointless.

When it comes to Joyce Summers, she is arguably both a supporting character and a plot device in this episode. By keeping Buffy from skipping the prophecy’s time frame she functions as a plot device. Yet, her entire interaction with Buffy, including relating how she met Buffy’s father, gives her enough characterization to reach supporting character status.

This episode, overall, is probably the weakest any of the season finales in terms of the characterizations. Nevertheless, there is still some positive growth for certain characters. Also, we see a nice homage to the monster from Little Shop Of Horrors (1986) with the Hellmouth Monster. Though, one has to wonder why we don’t see this monster again in Season 7.

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