Characterization In The Buffyverse — ‘Buffy The Vampire Slayer’ Season 3, Episode 20
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: Angel (David Boreanaz) gets a visitor who encourages him to end his romance with Buffy Summers (Sarah Michelle Gellar). Meanwhile, demons are attacking those wearing outfits for prom.
(Warning of spoilers from this point on!)
(Trigger warning for mentions of suicide!)
Buffy essentially is an optimist at the beginning of this episode. But Angel abruptly calling off their relationship in the sewer arguably breaks that in her. Yes, she will have some optimism left, but it will not be the same after this season. On the plus side, her school mates acknowledgement of her work makes it so she is no longer an invisible hero. Unfortunately, this only holds true for the remainder of this season.
Angel, meanwhile, comes across as both cruel and cowardly in this episode. An example of the cruelty is what he says to break up with Buffy and the time and place he chooses for it: in a sewer sometime before a major battle (Season 3, Episode 22, ‘Graduation Day: Part 2’). His cowardice is on display with his dreaming mind viewing Buffy as the one who will burn in the sun light. But showing up at the end of the episode to dance with Buffy — as if he isn’t leaving her — is possibly both.
Cordelia Chase (Charisma Carpenter) exhibits fear throughout a good portion of this episode. For one: she worries about the Scoobies finding out she works at the clothing store April Fools. When Xander Harris (Nicholas Brendon) finds out, she offers an angry tirade about why she works there. While this is believable of her to do, it is something that should result in losing her job. Presumably, the supernatural threat of the week crashing into the store negates the job loss from happening. She also continues to be the aggressor in a potential romance with Wesley Wyndham-Pryce (Alexis Denisof).
Willow Rosenberg (Alyson Hannigan) visually displays some development when slightly rebelling against school rules by sitting on top of a table. Although this is not much of a development, it displays how far she is from her first appearance (Season 1, Episode 1, ‘Welcome to the Hellmouth’). We also see some cementing of her disdain for Anya (Emma Caulfield). This occurs when Xander announces Anya is his date to the prom and Willow threatens her. Lastly, Willow is arguably uneven when it comes to how she supports Buffy over the break-up, but does not blame Angel; meaning that one can argue she lays the blame for the break-up on Buffy.
Oz (Seth Green) gets no character development or any real characterization. The most he gets to do is reassure Willow at the beginning of prom.
Xander acts as a toxic ex-boyfriend to Cordelia via his verbal assault. This is a severely negative action due to the lack of provocation, and the fact that his cheating is why they are exes to begin with (Season 3, Episode 8, ‘Lovers Walk’). That said, covering up the fact she is essentially broke and working at April Fools is a step toward redemption. Also, his paying off her dress seems to be both an apology and a peace offering. Xander also gets a new love interest in the form of Anya.
Wesley serves as the knowledge source regarding the identity of the monster for this episode. There is also the small development of finally fully committing to a romance with Cordelia.
Rupert Giles (Anthony Stewart Head) does very little in this episode. He really only assists Wesley by confirming what the demon is, and that Cordelia is eighteen years old.
Anya displays her trait of brutal honesty in this episode. Yet, it is not with the same lack of social awareness she will display in later seasons (Season 4, Episode 3, ‘Harsh Light Of Day’). She also starts a relationship with Xander here. While doing so, she oddly classifies Xander — and other members of the male gender — using the term “Alpha.” This is at odds with her previous work as a vengeance demon. Speaking of which, Anya does go on about her experiences as a demon, which sets up another of her traits.
Joyce Summers (Kristine Sutherland) comes across as being a mother with reasonable concerns. However, she also acts as a plot device to give Angel more reason to break-up with Buffy.
Tucker Wells (Brad Kane) has the weak motivation of facing rejection from (apparently only) one person and seeking deadly revenge. Yet, why he goes after those attending the prom versus specific people is odd. One would assume that he would be less angry at the concept of the prom versus the rejection(s). Also baffling: how he acquires the three supernatural beings. Although, the source may be his spell-casting brother, Andrew Wells (Tom Lenk). As it stands, Tucker is definitely unrepentant over his actions when Buffy confronts him.
Mrs. Finkle (Bonita Friedericy) is Cordelia’s manager at April Fools. Other than that description, and her stern look at Cordelia suggesting a stern disposition, we know nothing of this character.
Jonathan Levinson (Danny Strong) gets more inconsistent characterization in this episode. First, he apparently has a date to the prom. Second: he is the one who makes the special class protector award announcement. Both are rather odd considering, not too long ago in this series, he tries to kill himself with a weapon at school. One would think he would have to go through various legal obstacles to even get back into school in the same year. Not to mention the social stigma from his actions, and mental health in general, would negate a date and being an announcer. These two positive details will also fail to play into future events when it comes to his appearances.
The majority of this episode is like a two-person play with Buffy and Angel as the leads. Yes, other characters get some focus and development, but most of their actions, and the resulting consequences, are in service to this play.