Characterization In The Buffyverse — ‘Buffy The Vampire Slayer’ Season 2, Episode 18

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.

The Slayer suddenly falls ill and requires a reluctant hospital stay. Also, the hospital has a demon that attacks the sick and innocent infesting it.

(Warning of spoilers from this point on!)

Buffy Summers (Sarah Michelle Gellar) gets some additional characterization in this episode. One new characteristic is the rarity with which she gets sick due to the mystical nature of being a Slayer — though we only really learn this via dialogue from this episode. Also, the flashback with Little Buffy Summers (Mimi Paley) and Buffy’s cousin Celia (Denise Johnson) in which she pretends to be a superhero suggests, at least to me, that she possesses a long-time desire to be a protector.

Angelus (David Boreanaz) displays uncommon reckless by directly attacking Buffy at the start of this episode. Though he also comes off a bit like a coward when it comes to the crosses that assault him. One would think he could move past the crosses to grab and carry off Buffy. Also out of character: he does not try to visit Buffy in a more stealthy way. I mean he is able to leave things for Buffy without her knowing his comings and goings, such as in Season 2, Episode 16, “Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered.” Thus, he is either acting out of character or just wants to mess with Xander Harris (Nicholas Brendon).

Joyce Summers (Kristine Sutherland), Rupert Giles (Anthony Stewart Head), and Willow Rosenberg (Alyson Hannigan) all get minor character developments. In Joyce’s case, we learn that she accepts being a surrogate parent to Xander and Willow. We get evidence of this from how her tone sounds like she is barely tolerating Xander and Willow’s requests in the end scene. Joyce also mentions she “babbles” when she is talking to Giles, and this is a similar trait that Buffy shares. Meanwhile, Giles starts to display the somewhat immature attitude that we will see in countless later episodes of this show. We mainly see this when he reluctantly takes Cordelia Chase (Charisma Carpenter) as an aide in researching. As for Willow, we get the firm establishment that she fears frogs she originally mentioned in Season 2, Episode 9, “What’s My Line, Part One.”

Xander gets a weird mix of friend, possible romantic interest, and audience surrogate. While none of these types of characterizations are really new for Xander, it is odd how much focus they get. Not to mention that being an audience surrogate has been unnecessary for his character since Season 1, Episode 1, “Welcome To The Hellmouth.” The possible romantic interest comes about by virtue of how much focus he gets, and via his arguing with Cordelia and Angelus. Yet, this is also more proof that Xander — at this point, anywah — is a very toxic person who is arguably on the border of mentally ill. He acts like a friend, but he just does not genuinely accept Buffy’s multiple rejections. Therefore I argue that he may to an extent be delusional.

Cordelia is all over the place in terms of how she acts. For example, one moment she will be clever and brilliantly act like the Security Guard (Willie Garson) is interesting. While the next, she will be dumb and a bad actress. She also exhibits the exact same tactless personality as Anya Jenkins (Emma Caulfield) will have later on in the scene where Buffy is in a wheelchair. There is also how her egocentric manner after she learns how the demon feeds. Finally, she acts as a more loyal and caring partner to Xander than he deserves.

Der Kindestod (James Judy Courtney) is really just an episodic villain. The only two characteristics this demon displays are an odd sense of dress and intelligence. The former is due to the fact that the fashion just seems tailor-made, but that in itself is odd because he can make the clothes invisible. Also, since it can be invisible (except to the sick and young), why does it feel the need to dress fancy? Der Kindestod’s intelligence is on display by realizing Dr. Stanley Backer (Richard Herd) is reducing the food supply by helping the kids.

Dr. Backer and Dr. Wilkinson (Juanita Jennings) are about equal to the Security Guard — at least when it comes to having very little characterization beyond being plot devices and/or red herrings with stock personalities.

This episode’s early scenes could be better to make Buffy feel less like an unreliable witness. Those early moments in which Buffy has a fever are too dream-like. Thus, early on, it seems like she could simply be thinking she is witness to a murderous demon. At the same time, the Security Guard or Dr. Wilkinson being a human form for Der Kindestod would vastly improve this episode. Or, at least, it would improve the red herring element of the mystery angle.

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