Characterization In The Buffyverse — ‘Buffy The Vampire Slayer’ Season 3, Episode 14

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.

The Chosen Two party around Sunnydale. Meanwhile, a death will bring about various consequences.

(Warning of spoilers from this point on!)

Buffy Summers (Sarah Michelle Gellar) and Faith Lehane (Eliza Dushku) are mostly analogues for the idea of a toxic friendship. Yes, there is some homosexual subtext, especially when they cut class and during the dancing scenes. But they mostly come across as having a friendship of the goodie-two-shoes (Buffy) and the wrong-side-of-the-tracks (Faith) variety. Though the unintentional death Faith causes does shake her, she is still an example of the wrong way to handle that subject. Buffy gets some growth in terms of cementing her no killing humans rule, but Faith gets more exploration overall. Yet, that only occurs due to the mentor and trainee roles seeing a reversal for Buffy and Faith.

Angel (David Boreanaz) gets the second major hero moment in this episode when facing Balthazar (Christian Clemenson). This foreshadows him acting as the titular protagonist of Angel. The rest of this episode has him acting like a stock side character in a detective story by providing information. He also acts like a jealous boyfriend who pops out of shadows at random. Thus, he sees regression to his early Buffy Season 2 self (Season 2, Episode 5, ‘Reptile Boy’).

Rupert Giles (Anthony Stewart Head) and Wesley Wyndham-Pryce (Alexis Denisof) essentially serve as mirrors of each other. This is partly to allow Giles to grow into a fuller character over time, and partly for the sake of comedy. One such moment occurs when both men clean their glasses at the same time. We also see hints of how Giles’s misdeeds as Ripper in the past make him a more capable watcher than Wesley (Season 2, Episode 8, ‘The Dark Age’). However, Wesley seems somewhat more knowledgeable than Giles due to his immediate recognition of the El Eliminati’s trademarks. Unfortunately, Wesley mostly comes across as a pompous buffoon who is in over his head.

Xander Harris (Nicholas Brendon), Oz (Seth Green), Willow Rosenberg (Alyson Hannigan), and Deputy Mayor Allan Finch (Jack Plotnick) are barely characters in this episode. Yes, Willow gets character development by describing herself as a “Wicca” for the first time while Xander lacking a plan post-high school foreshadows his future search for purpose. However, both they, Oz and Finch have little to no impact on this episode’s plot. In fact, Xander, Oz, and Willow are only here to try and act as voices of reason for Buffy. As for Finch, he is just a stock victim for this episode. Finally, Finch’s death only has consequences in that it shakes up the heroes later.

Cordelia Chase (Charisma Carpenter) and Joyce Summers (Kristine Sutherland) get stock characterization. Both also fail to have any character growth, or narrative purpose, in this episode.

Mayor Wilkins (Harry Groener) and Mr. Trick (K. Todd Freeman) serve as subplot characters. Minus Balthazar’s comments and a conversation about comic characters with Finch, they are still seeing an overall lack of development.

Balthazar and his vampire cult, El Eliminati, are episodic villains that will never appear again. Thus, they have no potential for character growth. However, Balthazar’s predicament — being stuck in a makeshift tub — has a duality that is both amusing and intimidating. It’s an unusual situation for an episodic antagonist, especially since his intimidating telekinetic ability should allow him to do more. Yet, this characterization is also arguably ablest due to how this same predicament causes him to be immobile and needing a caretaker.

This episode focuses more on the analogy and the heroes fighting the lesser threat than anything else. Like the previous episode (Season 3, Episode 13, ‘The Zeppo’) this one includes a lot of characters, but the figurative spotlight shines only on a select few.

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