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) just wants to settle back into her routines in Sunnydale. Unfortunately her friends, family, and a demonic mask hinder her plans.
(Warning of spoilers from this point on!)
Buffy uses ableist language when talking about different schools with her mother, Joyce Summers (Kristine Sutherland). It is a blink-and-you-will-miss-it type moment that arguably does not greatly impact the character. It is still a bit of toxic characterization, though. There is also the neutral characteristic of her feeling vulnerable due to her uncertainty — which is logical due to how little proper communication occurs before she leaves and immediately after she returns. Finally, there is an illogical scene where Buffy can’t tell the walking dead from the undead.
Joyce Summers is mostly a stock parent in this episode. Unfortunately, this means there isn’t proper character development for her, much less decent characterization. What exists is episodic elements, such as her being part of a book club and being physically affectionate with friends. Yes, she does make attempts to communicate with Buffy, but it isn’t about important topics, such as throwing her out. Nor do the majority of attempts occur in healthy ways. Though the possibility of Joyce being an alcoholic comes up again with her drinking while various unknown people trash her home.
Angel (David Boreanaz) is just a figment of Buffy’s dream. Thus, his characterization is non-existent.
Rupert Giles (Anthony Stewart Head) displays some fatherly feelings about Buffy’s return in his kitchen, and when he goes against Principal Snyder (Armin Shimerman). Besides these two moments, though, we only get two more bits of growth. The first is when we learn that he knows how to hot-wire cars, which reveals more of his past. The second: we see his less dry, more childishly and petty sense of humor. This occurs right before he hits a zombie with his car.
Oz (Seth Green), Willow Rosenberg (Alyson Hannigan), Cordelia Chase (Charisma Carpenter), and Xander Harris (Nicholas Brendon) act much like an ensemble that is virtually in sync. If it wasn’t for Xander and Willow having more toxic moments to their respective characterizations, the four could easily be one character. As it is, Cordelia and Oz are the peacemakers of the argument that happens towards the end of this episode. Willow and Xander act like they are both Buffy’s ex-lovers’ that she “intentionally” hurt. Although that aspect comes from the subtext that their hurt is overt. At the same time, both Xander and Willow come off as toxic when they make Buffy’s experience as a runaway about themselves. Not to mention that none of the four properly communicate the idea of a party, or anything else, with Buffy in this episode.
Principal Snyder is a stereotypical villain in this episode, although we do see some development when he displays overconfidence in the face of Giles’s legal threat.
Pat (Nancy Lenehan) is part plot device and part actual character. At best, she is a two-dimensional civilian antagonist for Buffy. This is mostly in evidence when she talks at Buffy in a way that introduces herself while casting blame. However, it is not fair to say that she is a villain due to the fact that she is a victim. In this, she also services the plot when the demonic mask possesses her. Nevertheless, her lack of knowledge of what really is going on leads to unfair assessments of Joyce and Buffy. But that may be moot as her potential to be a full character goes away with the end of the episode.
Devon MacLeish (Jason Hall) and Jonathan Levinson (Danny Strong) are just stock characters here. Alhough Jonathan’s inclusion here is worth noting as it will negatively impact various later points when he is an actual character.
This episode continues the frustrating trends toward a lack of proper characterization and the bare minimum of character development. Future episodes this season will inevitably stop these trends, but they will also return in other subsequent seasons of this show and, probably, Angel.