Characterization In The Buffyverse — ‘Buffy The Vampire Slayer’ Season 2 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 2. 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. And as each 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 ones where appropriate.
(Warning of spoilers from this point on!)
(Trigger warning for mentions of torture, sexual assault, and abuse!)
Buffy Summers (Sarah Michelle Gellar) goes from being a powerful huntress at the end of Season 1 to an insecure teenager by the conclusion of Season 2. Her long-term defining characteristics are her uncertainty, ability to quip, and a failure to properly communicate. That said, she seems to be a slightly more resourceful and skillful fighter in this season. At the same time, her strength and skill still fluctuate too much (Season 1, Episode 11, “Out of Mind, Out of Sight” and Season 2, Episode 5, “Reptile Boy”). And, unfortunately, her positive character traits continue to only surface in particular moments.
Xander Harris (Nicholas Brendon) holds the title of most negative characterization for this season. This is due to the amount of screen time, focus, and the continuing growth of his negative traits. He appears a lot as the focus; with such prominence, in fact, that his name may as well be in the title. As for his negative traits, this season solidifies his worst traits from Season 1, especially when enacting the love spell (Season 2, Episode 16, “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered”). Certain moments, many centering on his relationship with Cordelia Chase (Charisma Carpenter), are arguably the few positives to his character’s existence.
Cordelia gets clearly wins the most positive characterization for this season. Yes, part of this is connected to her relationship with Xander. But she also actively helps the group more as time goes by. Also, her speech at the pool (Season 2, Episode 20, “Go Fish”) shows she can be a kind and mature individual. Unfortunately, in the build-up to these developments, there is a lot of inconsistent moments of characterization. Thus, it is hard to say exactly how much growth she actually experienced.
Angelus/Angel/Liam (David Boreanaz) is primarily a toxic love interest. While some would argue that is not real characterization, it is more than he had in Season 1. Also, we see a solidification of him separating his personas as a coping mechanism. Much like self-medicating via alcohol or drugs, this is unhealthy for Angel. We also start seeing in this season how much he avoids analyzing himself, instead preferring to analyze others, usually in order to better torment them (Season 2, Episode 17, “Passion”).
Drusilla (Juliet Landau) has relatively minimal characterization throughout the season. Her main character traits are insanity, false vulnerability, and being fickle. The foremost trait is both consistent and the most obvious. The latter two traits come and go depending on her role in a given episode. In terms of character growth, it is almost a tie with Oz (Seth Green). Yet, like Angelus, she is integral to the overall season — not to mention she starts solidifying as a character in the latter half of Season 2.
Rupert Giles (Anthony Stewart Head) gets a past this year. Or, rather, glimpses of a past that is both dark and terrible (Season 2, Episode 8, “The Dark Age”). He is also part of one of the healthiest romances in this franchise, despite the doom that comes to pass (Season 2, Episode 2, “Some Assembly Required” and Season 2, Episode 17, “Passion”). We even get to see more of him acting fatherly to Buffy in this season (Season 2, Episode 7, “Lie To Me”). Thus, he is firmly out of a narrow, expositional role.
Willow Rosenberg (Alyson Hannigan) comes out of her shell a bit more this season; primarily when it comes to both dating Oz and being a surrogate leader. The latter is also factor in starting her journey with magic. Yet, we also get a negative character trait in her willingness to lie (Season 2, Episode 7, “Lie To Me”). Also, she reverts to pining for the Xander after rejecting him (Season 2, Episode 1, “When She Was Bad” and Season 1, Episode 12, “Prophecy Girl”). Therefore, one can say that her character grows with just a little wilting.
Joyce Summers (Kristine Sutherland) gets a range of characterization. Whereas in Season 1, she is barely a character. This year, she gets to act like a parent to Buffy. Although there are probably more scenes where she is stern and feeling disappointment toward Buffy, we also see her worry (Season 2, Episode 17, “Passion”) about her child. Also, there is the continuing element of her politeness — even with her ex-husband, Hank Summers (Dean Butler), and Spike (James Marsters) (Season 2, Episode 22, “Becoming: Part 2”)! This trait is originally on display when first meeting Angel (Season 1, Episode 7, “Angel”). Finally, now that she knows about the supernatural means she can grow into a more intelligent and understanding mother for Buffy.
Spike gets a weird type of growth thought the course of Season 2. His introduction suggests that he will likely be a season villain, or at least a great re-occurring menace. Yet, once both he and Drusilla switch statuses, we start seeing a decline in the character’s villainy. This spiral downward continues further after Angelus’s return, specifically how his view of the past, and his relationship with Drusilla, has a rose tinting that fades fast. Finally, there are his character traits of bragging, being a decent fighter, and a romantic that we see at various times in this season that will wax and wane as he continues to play a role in the series (and others).
Oz gets the least character growth despite being a noteworthy character in more than one episode. Yes, some will argue that Principal Snyder (Armin Shimerman) and Jenny Calender (Robia Scott as Robia La Morte) get the same level of focus. But Oz’s presence is less integral to the episodes he is in this season. Also, his character traits are mainly in flux throughout most of these appearances. The only traits that are consistent from Season 2 onward are: his love for Willow, werewolf status, aloof responses, and his changing hair colors.
Jenny Calender grows from being a teacher who allies herself by happenstance with Buffy’s group to a reluctant spy. Unfortunately, she does not get character growth beyond that and becoming Giles’s love interest. Like the rest of Buffy’s group, she exhibits intelligence, but often fails to have common sense. This intelligence is on display when she suggests confiding about Angel’s curse to the group (Season 2, Episode 13, “Surprise”). However, her common sense fails when it comes to working on the curse at a place where vampires frequently attack … which definitely leads to a negative consequence for her.
Principal Snyder grows as a character, surprisingly. Sure, it is all negative developments, but it is still character growth. An example: overlooking sexual assault attempts by students on a sports team (Season 2, Episode 20, “Go Fish”). Another is his lack of regret when people die — even when he shares some blame (Season 2, Episode 3, “School Hard”). We also learn he knows about the supernatural. Granted, this fact does seem odd since he, like other dictatorial types, is a coward and should fear that he is heading for a bad afterlife; which, in the Buffyverse, unquestionably exists.
Season 2, like the last, displays more negative than positive character growth. However, more actual consistency and personality among the characters seems to exist in most of this season versus in Season 1.