Characterization in the Buffyverse — ‘Buffy The Vampire Slayer’ Season 1, Episode 2

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 the 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.

(Warning of spoilers from this point on!)

Buffy Summers (Sarah Michelle Gellar) is a horribly inconsistent fighter in this episode. Of course, the vampires also lack a certain prowess, especially with the slow movements. Buffy does certain showy moves, such as flips, that should cost her the fight. Yet, we do see inventiveness with weapons hidden away in her room. Not to mention, some character development seemingly occurs when she somewhat accepts her role as the slayer. We also see the characteristic of being horrible at cover stories continuing in this episode from the last. Case in point: her interaction in this episode with Principal Bob Flutie (Ken Lerner).

Xander Harris (Nicholas Brendan) steals the focus from Buffy in several ways. He saves her during their escape from Jesse and the other vampires tunnel trap, for example. Yes, this shows some loyalty and bravery, but Buffy should be able to kick at the vampire in that moment. It is arguable that both Buffy and Xander are the focal characters in this episode though. This is due to how Xander acts like a sidekick to her in the tunnels and The Bronze. Also Xander and Buffy both get character development in this episode. In Xander’s case, dusting Jesse begins his prejudice towards demons.

In this episode, Rupert Giles (Anthony Stewart Head) is not really as unadventurous as he will come across in later episodes. This is not to say that he is very outgoing — just that he is willing to join fights. He also services the final bit of series set-up via his demon history speech,  which actually mentions demons having souls. While the scene serves its purpose, the mention of demonic souls arguably fails to affect later character and plot developments. I will be talking about Giles and other characters views on demons and souls later. But for now, he is on the educational front and he still gets too close to Willow Rosenberg; and this probably is the moment shippers took notice of the two.

Willow (Alyson Hannigan), like Xander, is not yet multidimensional. She is also arguably less of a character at this point than Giles and Xander. This is due to her defining roles as Buffy’s first new friend and the group’s computer expert. But there are two hints of how rebelling could lead her down a bad path. One is the useful, but morally questionable, hacking she does for the group. While the other is the clearly mean method of getting back at Cordelia Chase (Charisma Carpenter) via trickery with the delete button.

Angel (David Boreanaz) acts very cocky during his conversation with Buffy. Though I don’t think it is the same kind of attitude his human self (Liam) or the uncursed Angelus would subsequently take. Yet, it is also unlike any of the kinds of temperaments Angel exhibits as the series progresses. I think it more resembles Tom Cruise as the vampire Lestat in the movie adaptation of Anne Rice’s book Interview With The Vampire (1976 for the book, and 1994 for the movie). Meanwhile the verbal hint that he is a vampire is substantively hurt by the lighting of the scene. Arguably, there isn’t really any visible chemistry between Angel and Buffy in this scene either. Overall, this episode’s version of Angel is vastly different from the character that we will get later.

Jesse (Eric Balfour) is both a plot device and a character in this episode. The Master (Mark Metcalf), Luke (Brian Thompson), and Darla (Julie Benz) deciding to use him as bait services the plot. But at the same time, there is no reason for Buffy or Giles to think he would still be human. Thus, he is mostly a Mcguffin to help fill out the time of the episode. He is briefly a one-to-two dimensional before his revealing he is the undead. He then ends his brief time on the show as a plot device when Xander converses and subsequently dusts him.

Cordelia accuses Jesse of stalking her in the episode prior and yet consents to dance with him. Not only is this horrible characterization, but it presents bad social message to viewers — saying false accusations of stalking are fine and stalkers aren’t that bad. There is also the late 20th century stereotype of school kids not knowing what certain keyboard functions. Yes, there are certain keys most people still don’t know how to use, but a high-schooler in 1996 would know what a delete button does. My reasoning is in relation to using computers in the early 1990s for elementary school. (Also, while this episode premieres in 1997 the first few episodes are in 1996.) 

The Master is a bit of a joke in this episode. Yes, we still get impressive acting from Metcalf, especially with the make-up and prosthetics. But he gets some really generic lines to spew. Also, there is not yet enough build-up to make us fear him. It is arguable even whether one can look at him in this episode and think he will usher in the era of seasonal Big Bads.

Luke is a character who feels more like the potential lead villain than he has any right to. This is mainly due to Thompson’s imposing physicality and from the bit of backstory we get here. There is also the factor of how he mentions almost becoming dust in the mid-19th century. Not to mention there seems to be a history as a favorite of The Master which potentially includes a sexual relationship. Though that possible relationship is something I am assuming on the basis of a certain eroticism in the scene where Luke bites The Master. It really is odd that we don’t see him appear again (or for that matter even get a mention of him) in subsequent Buffy episodes or on Angel.

Joyce Summers (Kristine Sutherland), Harmony Kendall (Mercedes McNab), Flutie, and Darla all come off as either stock characters or plot devices. Harmony is the most like a stock character, and thus it is odd that she will become a supporting character in the years to come. As for Flutie and Joyce, they are more servicing the plot than getting any embellishment. Both act as sentient obstacles Buffy has to get around. They do receive some dimensionality through their dialogue and the way their respective actors portray them. Lastly, Darla comes across as less of a favorite Childe of The Master with a lot of experience than more of a stock Fledging.

In conclusion, this second half of the series’s two hour pilot makes it seem like the writers had an initial plan for the characters. But there are also signs that none of these plans were necessarily firm. Although, this is true for many pilot episodes across the TV spectrum (Which is a practice that should become a thing of the past with binging series being a thing). Hopefully, when the time to write the article wrapping up this season comes, I will be able to say the rough plan mostly works.

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