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.
(Warning of spoilers from this point on!)
(Trigger warning for mentions of a sexual assault attempt.)
Buffy Summers (Sarah Michelle Gellar) displays good fighting abilities during the training scene even if we don’t see her whupping Xander (Nicholas Brendon) during his possession later on. Instead he gets the upper hand for a time because she is reluctant to fight him. Yet, she allows herself to unintentionally kill Dr. Weirick (James Stephens). This makes her feel a bit inconsistent as a character. Though there is regret for the latter, this trait of not wanting to hurt, or kill, humans is one that is arguably a failing of the character. It is definitely the case when it comes to certain villains she will face and standards she espouses in the future.
Xander Harris goes from somewhat creepy to noble to distasteful. This due to how, in prior episodes, he would make inappropriate jokes; such as in pilot episode, ‘Welcome To The Hellmouth’. While he is noble in trying to save Lance (Jeff Maynard) from bullying, he becomes distasteful for his attempt to rape Buffy, albeit while under possession. Then, when he lies about amnesia to avoid consequences, he effectively negates any positive character growth up to this point.
Willow Rosenberg (Alyson Hannigan) is given very little new characterization. Although, in this episode, she comes off more like a prototype of Tara Maclay (Amber Benson) in how demure she acts throughout. This creates an inconsistency in Willow’s characterization with regards to prior episodes and who she will become in subsequent stories. Also, Buffy and Willow’s discussion about Angel (David Boreanaz) and Xander tells more about all of them. But this is a visual medium, simply telling viewers things about characters does not really add much to their characterizations.
Rupert Giles (Anthony Stewart Head) displays two new character traits that we will see again in the show. The first is his willingness to lie to other characters for what he believes is their own good. This occurs when he assists Xander’s amnesia lie. It stops anyone from dealing with the issues Xander created during his possession. The second trait is Giles tendency to be knocked out or incapacitated during a confrontation — though it debuts here for more plot contrivance than comedy.
Principal Bob Flutie (Ken Lerner) is arguably at his most interesting and relatable in this episode. We finally get some idea of his past via the conversation with Buffy while she is holding the pig. We also learn he actually seems to care about both the school and the students. That is a rare thing in a TV high school principals and this makes him relatable. Flutie displays this trait in both the opening bit with Lance and that conversation with Buffy.
Dr. Weirick is a rather obvious villain. In fact, he feels more like a villain from Goosebumps (1995-1998) than one meant for a primetime network show. Yeah, there is the attempt to misdirect the audience with the scene where he is offering to help. Unfortunately, this attempt is too late to effectively work. Although he is a better villain than what we get for most of the episode, his motivations are somewhat unclear. All we learn is his thirst for power and hunger to eat people, but he gives no reason why.
Kyle DuFours (Eion Bailey), Tor Hauer (Brian Gross), Heidi Barrie (Jennifer Sky), and Rhonda Kelly (Michael McCraine) are bullies collectively known as “The Pack.” They have no real characterization beyond being rather lame antagonists. Lance, Mr. Anderson (David Brisbin), Mrs. Anderson (Barbara K. Whinnery), and Joey Anderson (Justin Jon Ross) are the Pack’s surviving victims. Just like The Pack, these victims have no characterization. Lastly, Coach Herrold (Gregory White) is a cliche of teachers who allow and thrive on abusive behaviors.
All in all, this episode’s characterization is rather weak in comparison to what we’ve seen up untill now. Yet, it still adds something to each of the main characters — though most of these are negative elements. Yes, there is the obvious toxic masculinity with Xander’s rape attempt. However, Buffy just brushing it off as if it never happened is also a bad element. In conclusion, this episode features a good example of one of the worst characteristics present in the show: denial.