Characterization In The Buffyverse — ‘Buffy The Vampire Slayer’ Season 2, Episode 3
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: vampires Spike (James Marsters) and Drusilla (Juliet Landau) arrive in town. And while Buffy Summers (Sarah Michelle Gellar) deals with them, she also faces two other battlefronts at home and at school.
(Warning of spoilers from this point on!)
Buffy is a superb fighter in the latter part of the episode. Nevertheless, we see her being rather sloppy in her first fight this week. Also, we see some meekness in her behavior when it comes to threats like expulsion. We also get to see some normal teenager behavior, like when she wants to de-stress at The Bronze. Buffy also acts like a true leader during the invasion of the high school. Finally, we se her willingness to give Spike the benefit of the doubt; though this is also probably due to teenage hormones running rampant.
Spike shows devotion to Drusilla in the way he treats her. He also shows a lust toward Buffy in this episode. Yet, despite what some shippers of Buffy and Spike would like to believe, it’s probably only in a predatory sort of way in this episode. His referencing of The Empire Strikes Back (1980) shows that he is aware of the world. We also see him as a match — and possible superior — to Buffy in a fair fight. Although, it is arguable that Buffy could still pull out a win against Spike without the last second axe to his head.
Drusilla gets an introduction which clearly marks her as different. It is arguably the only moment where she demonstrates her insanity and weakness in the actual show. Yes, we get moments where her mental health is obviously not too well in subsequent appearances, but we don’t really get them in any form other than riddle-like speeches. Also, we never get them at the same time as the hints of her being sick. The vision she talks about in her first scene comes off as just a possible imagining due to her insanity. As for her relationship with Spike, it feels only border-line unhealthy in this episode.
Xander Harris (Nicholas Brendon) is mostly spinning his wheels in this episode. Yes, we see his insecurity on display after he says the wrong thing in the first episode. Yet, there is nothing else he gets in terms of development. His characterization in this episode also feels rather generic. By that I mean he plays the same role he has in previous episodes — only with less relevant screen time.
Angel/Angelus (David Boreanaz) is a bit of a plot device here; mainly in that he provides the Scoobies with Spike’s name. One can also argue that his attempt to fool Spike is simply another way to provide an information dump by providing more of Spike’s backstory and a reason for why Angel knows him. Yet, they don’t really seem to know each other that well considering later episodes of this show and Spike’s time on Angel. Also, Spike says Angel would be willing to fight slayers, yet we learn the opposite in Buffy The Vampire Slayer Season 5, Episode 7.
Cordelia Chase (Charisma Carpenter) has inconsistent characterization in this episode. She is still a reluctantly helpful member of the Scoobies, as seen while she whittling stakes and complains. Yet, she also is unnecessarily happy about Joyce Summers (Kristine Sutherland) talking to Principal Snyder (Armin Shimerman). This behavior comes out of nowhere, and to my mind does not fit her character.
Willow Rosenberg (Alyson Hannigan) essentially has the same level of characterization as Xander and Cordelia. She is similar to Cordelia in that she has inconsistent character moments, such as when Willow asks for painkillers. This moment occurs as a joke, but it feels to me like she would listen for the sounds of violence to stop. She is also similar to Xander in how she is almost as petty and mean when getting back at Cordelia. It is a hint of negative traits Willow will display later on in Season 6, but otherwise, she has no real development in this episode.
Rupert Giles (Anthony Stewart Head) and Jenny Calender (Robia Scott as Robia La Morte) arguably have lesser characterization in this episode. Mainly, they are around for jokes and exposition. Other than those two actions they have no relevant lines. Although, Giles and Jenny do acquire the job of getting Joyce and other nondescript civilian characters to safety. Thus, their total characterization is that of two authority figures in a relationship providing support to the hero.
Joyce Summers is definitely abusive to Buffy in the scene set in Buffy’s bedroom. She then becomes a supportive — but distant in a clueless manner — parent when seeing the parent/teacher night banners. This begs the question: Why don’t Buffy and the other students confide to their parents about Principal Snyder’s abuses of power? Anyway, Joyce next goes into a disapproving, and somewhat angry, parenting mode. Finally Joyce is a helpful, proud, and supportive parent by the end of the episode.
Principal Snyder, Collin/The Anointed One (Andrew J. Ferchland), Sheila Martini (Alexandra Johnes), and Police Chief Bob (Brian Reddy) are pretty much surplus stock characters. Although, Snyder and Bob do have dialogue that shows the police and the principal know a little of what is really going on. Unfortunately, the police knowing about the supernatural will never get further exploration on this show. As for Collin, he is just in the episode to facilitate the idea of Spike being unpredictable in comparison to The Master. Sheila, on the other hand, furthers the idea of Snyder being a weird tyrant of the school. She also acts as a plot device to introduce the fire axe Joyce uses against Spike.
In conclusion, this episode features some great character moments. However, there are three such moments that never get further exploration. The first concerns the police knowing the truth. The second — Joyce’s abusive parenting moment; we never learn why she talks to Buffy as if Buffy is the actual cause of the move and divorce. Lastly, we never learn in the show why Spike killing only two slayers makes him more fearsome than other vampires. Like is it a record number for a vampire and is that why Giles is afraid?