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.
Buffy Summers (Sarah Michelle Gellar) evades the police while trying to stop Angelus (David Boreanaz). Meanwhile, Willow Rosenberg (Alyson Hannigan) performs a spell.
(Warning of spoilers from this point on!)
(Trigger warning for mentions of torture and abuse!)
Buffy gets some characterization in this episode. She makes a truce with Spike (James Marsters), indicating she has an ability to see — and act on — moral shades of gray. The other developing trait is a belief in herself toward the end of the episode. Although, this is also a negative development due to how she leaves Sunnydale at the end. Unfortunately, the rest of her time on screen is hurt by the weird pacing; specifically, she both has time to get updates on her friends yet no time to properly talk to anyone else.
Xander Harris (Nicholas Brendon) gets some minor character developments. He suddenly, and with no foreshadowing, confesses to loving Willow. This is a development that really does not serve the character well due to the lack of build-up and how nothing will come of it. Yet, like the guilt he feels when Oz (Seth Green) arrives, it is a development. In fact, Xander feeling guilty displays that (sometimes) he has an internal emotional consequences for what he says and does. Unfortunately, the latter development is undercut by his lie about Willow’s message.
Cordelia Chase (Charisma Carpenter) gets only the superficial characteristics of being too literal and a supportive girlfriend. Other than that, she fails to get any characterization or development.
Rupert Giles (Anthony Stewart Head) does not get any new character developments. His previous characteristic of being tougher than he looks — via his past as Ripper — is on display while taunting Angelus. He also demonstrates his intelligence again by knowing that if Angelus kills him, it will at least delay Acathla awakening. Yet, because the plot needs to move forward, we immediately lose these character traits when Drusilla (Juliet Landau) thralls Giles. Thus, he is essentially nothing more than a character giving exposition under torture and mind control.
Angelus is very much lacking dimension to his characterization in this episode. We mainly hear about his love for torture. However, the amount we see of Giles’s suffering does not look to be a sizable amount. That, plus how easy to anger he is when (to his knowledge) there is no way of stopping him, makes him a puppet of the plot. Even when he gets the curse back, he just has surface characterization and continues to exist on the plot’s strings. The return of his Angel persona only serves to frame the narrative as a tragic romance versus what it is: an abuse story.
Drusilla gets very surface level characterization here. Yes, we learn how people she enthralls can view her thrall, but we don’t get anything else.
Willow gets to do the curse on Angelus! Yet, while doing so, she either gets an overwhelming feeling from her first magical high or the original curse caster’s spirit inhabits her. Whichever it is, this is an interesting moment on her journey from hacker to magical powerhouse. Also, while she is unconsciousness, we learn how deeply she feels for Oz — she calls for him. Unfortunately, she does not get any other moments, or developments, in this episode.
Oz, Whistler (Max Perlich) and Principal Snyder (Armin Shimerman) arguably serve no real purpose in this episode. Yes, each of them serve to advance the scenes they are in, but they don’t truly advance the overall story. Oz, for example, really exists only to support Willow, and serve to make Xander feel guilty about his declaration of love. Whistler just delivers exposition and sets up the idea of higher powers existing. Though both Oz and Whistler could (and, in the latter’s case, should) help more, neither do. As for Snyder, he only serves to further Buffy’s trouble with the police, and (stupidly) expel her from school. Though Snyder thinks he is being smart by doing these things, it should realistically cause more trouble for him and the Mayor.
Spike is a bit of a coward in this episode — a bit of characterization that will get more exploration in later seasons and on Angel. There is also the firm establishment that he has a habit of smoking. We also get more hints of the workings in his, Drusilla, and Angelus’s prior relationship. Also, we get the true beginning of his and Joyce’s (Kristine Sutherland) positive relationship. Lastly, he apparently likes the Manchester United football club since he mentions them in the “save the world” speech he gives Buffy.
Joyce Summers is possibly an alcoholic due to her drinking while dealing with the reveal of the supernatural. Fortunately, this is more an episodic development than a something that will last. Then again, if she is an alcoholic, it would somewhat explain why she previously fails to notice all the signs, such as blood in clothes. If not, then it is weird how she reacts to Buffy’s comment about her drinking.
Although this season finale features a lot of characters, only a few of them get anything to do that creates lasting developments.