Characterization In The Buffyverse — ‘Buffy The Vampire Slayer’ Season 1 Wrap-Up
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. Also there will be no referencing real world events in this bi-weekly series.
This week wraps-up the examination of Buffy The Vampire Slayer Season 1. The following seasons will still be put under a figurative microscope, but I think it is important to examine where select characters are after each season. As each season concludes, we will also see who holds the titles of most negative characterization and most positive characterization. Also, in these wrap-ups we will see who gets the most and least focus, respectively. Lastly, later wrap-ups will refer back to previous wrap-ups where appropriate.
(Warning of spoilers from this point on! Also a trigger warning of talk of non-consensual assault and gaslighting!)
Out of the main cast Buffy Summers (Sarah Michelle Gellar) gets some of the least focus even if she still has enough screentime to make the title of the show relevant. Yet, one can easily argue that she does not have the most consistent development. Yes, we see her wit, some insecurities, and her powers, but we truly don’t know her personality. For instance, in Season 1, Episode 1 — “Welcome To The Hellmouth,” we see her as confident and reluctant. However, by the first season’s conclusion we still know less about her than most titular characters.
Her romantic interest, Angel (David Boreanaz), has little to no screen time. The means a great deal of telling versus showing in regards to his development. We learn he is a vampire with a curse making him feel guilt, and witness him kill his sire Darla (Julie Benz) on screen. Also, we learn in Season 1, Episode 12 — “Prophecy Girl,” he knows how to find The Master’s (xx) lair, but this is only due to plot convenience (this lattermost detail will have a retcon occur that will make this a negative character moment). We also get hints that Buffy and Angel, as well as the rest, have adventures off-screen. Unfortunately this, and Rupert Giles (Anthony Stewart Head) and Xander Harris’s (Nicholas Brendon) assumptions about Angel’s feelings, make him a weak love interest.
Next to Angel, the characters of Rupert Giles and Cordelia Chase (Charisma Carpenter) get the least amount of screen time — at least as far as anyone from this season who is, or will become, a main character goes. These two are arguably neutral in terms of their overall characterizations. When it comes to Giles, he is mainly just around to answer questions this season. Meanwhile, Cordelia gets positive and negative moments and traits in almost equal proportion. It is also worth mentioning that Cordelia actually gets more character development than Giles. This is due to how much we learn about her, especially how terrible she is at singing (Season 1, Episode 9 — “The Puppet Show”).
Xander Harris is the worst character this season. He gaslights Buffy and Willow about the hyena spirit possession, with Giles backing up his lie (Season 1, Episode 6 — “The Pack”). In that same episode, he also tries to rape Buffy. Throughout the season, he insults various women and makes very inappropriate jokes or comments. At the same time, he helps Buffy and the gang at various times and feels guilty about the rape attempt, and is therefore not irredeemable. Unfortunately, he does get way too much screen time and a rare (for Buffy) fantasy sequence.
Willow Rosenberg (Alyson Hannigan) arguably gets the most positive character moments and development this season. It is odd in light of how she will change in later seasons — though one can also see some negative traits in her Season 1 characterization, such as the fact she is a hacker. Also, she gets too many moments where her naivete results in her becoming a damsel in distress. It really makes one question how inactive her parents actually are in her life.
In conclusion, Season 1 is unarguably very misogynistic. Also, the program could really use a show bible — or someone enforcing it — to help keep the characterization more consistent and believable. As is, though, this season and the characterizations are very much products of the time of their conception.