Characterization In The Buffyverse — ‘Buffy The Vampire Slayer’ Season 2, Episode 16
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.
Xander Harris (Nicholas Brendon) messes with magic and deals with the consequences. Meanwhile, Buffy Summers (Sarah Michelle Gellar) receives attention from Angelus (David Boreanaz).
(Warning of spoilers from this point on!)
(Trigger warning for mentions of non-consent and rape.)
Xander gets conflicting developments to his character in this episode. He does not try to take physical advantage of anyone while they are under a spell. Yet, he’s still responsible for the spell taking place, especially as he reclaims ownership of the necklace by asking for it back. Not to mention his reasoning for wanting the spell is utterly petty. There is also the horrible development of a behavioral pattern which suggests he is, at the least, toxic and, at most, a potential rapist or abuser. Key examples being this spell, the bragging he does in the praying mantis episode (Season 1, Episode 4 “Teacher’s Pet”) and the attempt to rape Buffy during the hyena possession (Season 1, Episode 6 “The Pack”).
Buffy may be the titular character, but she is in no way the lead this episode. She also lacks relevance in this episode. If one looks at her characterization, she is way too forgiving of Xander. Yes, he does not take physical advantage of her, but he does take emotional and mental advantage of her, and nearly every female in this episode (albeit unintentionally). Despite that, she lets him off easy. As for the rest of her characterization, there is development on her fear about Angelus after receiving his ‘gift’. Unfortunately, the rest of her actions while under a spell makes it unclear as to how much is her and how much is the spell.
Cordelia Chase (Charisma Carpenter) displays a lot of insecurity when people she thinks of as friends show distaste for her relationship with Xander. We also see reluctance and regret when she is breaking up with him. There is also the display of legitimate feelings for him when she removes the necklace from her neck pre-spell. Unfortunately, she also shows a lack of awareness after finding out she is the original target of the spell, meaning that at the end of the episode she should be on the fence about Xander. Instead, we only get her becoming an emotionally stronger person by standing up to her friends.
Rupert Giles (Anthony Stewart Head), Oz (Seth Green), Jenny Calender (Robia Scott as Robia LaMorte) and Amy Madison (Elizabeth Anne Allen) are supporting players to this episode’s main plot. Although Giles also serves as a provider of information in the secondary plot featuring Buffy. Giles and Jenny also service this episode’s narrative to show how Angelus’s reemergence is causing rifts in their group. Despite representing physical and emotional consequence to the spell, Oz’s presence in this episode is of less import than the other characters. Amy serves the story by acting as the one who helps Xander with his stupid idea of a love spell. Yet, if one looks at what Xander uses to blackmail Amy, it really makes no sense why she assists him — particularly when one considers that she can both hypnotize people, like with Miss Beakman (Lorna Scott), and turn them into rats (such as with Buffy).
Drusilla (Juliet Landau), Spike (James Marsters), Joyce Summers (Kristine Sutherland), Harmony Kendall (Mercedes McNab), Willow Rosenberg (Alyson Hannigan), and Angelus are, at best, extras in this episode. Drusilla, Spike, and Angelus essentially serve as reminders that vampires exist and that they are the seasonal villains. Although, they also serve to show that Spike is unhappy with his group’s dynamics. While Joyce and Willow — along with the majority of Sunnydale’s female population — suffer from the spell, they really serve as support for Buffy’s storyline. As for Harmony, she serves as both plot device and the initial instigator which kickstarts the episode’s main plot.
This episode may feature the majority of the cast, but the characterization is minimal. It does not have much in the way of development, or regression, for any of them.