Characterization In The Buffyverse — ‘Buffy The Vampire Slayer’ Season 3, Episode 8

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.

Buffy Summers (Sarah Michelle Gellar) faces the prospect of going to College. Meanwhile, the return of Spike (James Marsters) disrupts the Scoobies’ lives.

(Warning of spoilers from this point on!)

Buffy displays a reluctance to face a possible future without Angel (David Boreanaz). Yes, there are other factors causing her to be hesitant about going to a college, but if one looks at this episode’s central theme of relationships breaking apart then one can see this. Of course, one also has to consider how unhealthy their relationship is as a romance — especially with how little she knows of him. For as fan fiction writer TheDanishBird points out in their work, Beneath The Surface, Angel and Buffy never really talk. One can argue that he and Buffy do have a conversation in this episode, but it is only about Buffy’s possible future and nothing else. Thus, this episode highlights the overall shallowness of their relationship.

Angel has a mixture in his characterization in this episode. On the one hand, his Angel persona is clearly solid at this point. Both his grim sounding vocals and how he broods being the prime examples. While on the other hand, his actions and reactions are still dictated by the plot; the door that takes him out of a fight is due to the demands of the over-arcing story. Also, he comes across as utterly stupid when he tries to get into Buffy’s house. One would think he would remember the earlier conversation with Buffy about Joyce Summers (Kristine Sutherland) not knowing about his return.

Rupert Giles (Anthony Stewart Head) is mostly cast aside in this episode. Although there is a noticeable, fatherly concern for Buffy’s future, it is odd that he does not show more concern about Buffy’s “friendship” with Angel. One would think he would be insisting they find some way to anchor Angel’s curse so the escape clause no longer exists. Lastly, Giles seeming love for certain outdoor activities seems episodic at best.

Joyce does not get much characterization in this episode. She really only acts as a stock mother who is clueless about her offspring’s life.

Willow Rosenberg (Alyson Hannigan) and Xander Harris (Nicholas Brendon) are mostly plot device characters in this episode. They are here mainly for Spike to kidnap them. Also, we see the negative development of Willow early attempts to solve problems with magic. Although, this is something that will be more prevalent in Season 6. As for Xander, there really isn’t any development with his character, at least none that is obvious.

Cordelia Chase (Charisma Carpenter) and Oz (Seth Green) also have little to do with this episode’s narrative besides learning of Willow and Xander’s affair. Yet, we do get character development for both. In Cordelia’s case, we see her actively trying to help by offering suggestions concerning the latter pair’s disappearance. Both this, and her reaction to Xander’s betrayal, display her real emotional investment in the relationship. Thus, we see she is not as shallow as when she first appears (Season 1, Episode 1, ‘Welcome To The Hellmouth’). Unfortunately, Oz only exhibits a new character trait in his enhanced ability to smell.

Spike is mostly drunk and emotional in this episode. This results in mercurial displays of depression and anger. At the same time, there is a kind of childish vulnerability to certain moments in-between, as seen in his conversation with Joyce. It can also be seen in his questioning about curses with the Clerk (Suzanne Krull). We also get the sense that Spike is more loyal to Drusilla (Juliet Landau) than is healthy. Not to mention, his ability to be observant is on display when giving his “brains” speech.

Mayor Richard Wilkins (Harry Groener) displays an odd —  and somewhat sinister — sense of humor. While this expands his personality a bit more, there is nothing else new about his character.

Deputy Mayor Allen Finch (Jack Plotnick) and Lenny (Mark Burnham as Marc Burnham) are simply stock characters in this episode. Although, the respective conversations Finch has with Wilkins and Lenny has with Spike add minuscule depth to the four characters.

The Clerk is a stock character. But she does have some bits of actual characterization. One trait she exhibits is a small amount of knowledge about magic. She offers alternatives to help with Willow’s spell. There is also the eccentric choice of decor in the form of that rather adult art piece hangin off one shelf. Lastly, when she re-engages Spike, she forgets the negativity of their previous discussion. Thus, she could possibly be somewhat flighty.

This episode does not use all of the characters in a way that helps them grow as respective individuals. However, we do get some food for thought about how each character communicates (or fails to) with their respective love interest.

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