Characterization In The Buffyverse –‘Buffy The Vampire Slayer’ Season 3, Episode 16
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.
A former demon tries to regain their powers and status. Meanwhile, a vampire version of Willow (Alyson Hannigan) from an alternate universe appears.
(Warning of spoilers from this point on!)
(Trigger warning for mentions of sexual abuse)
Buffy Summers (Sarah Michelle Gellar), Angel (David Boreanaz), Rupert Giles (Anthony Stewart Head), Oz (Seth Green), and Xander Harris (Nicholas Brendon) are all victims of the plot. Their usual levels of intelligence become mostly inert for the sake of the narrative. Buffy’s plan, for example, serves no purpose since the group goes into The Bronze the same way Xander suggested. Also, Angel should be able to smell the alternate universe version of The Master (Mark Metcalf) on vampire Willow — not to mention that no one calls Angel out about his comment on vampires retaining their human personalities. Instead, that moment, like the majority of conversations in this episode, becomes a throwaway gag. This also means that none of the five characters gets any real development.
Anya (Emma Caulfield) is, with the exception of certain areas of school work, very intelligent and capable. She comes across more like an adult than the youth she describes herself as. Also, she is quite capable of communicating in a way that most people consider appropriate. Thus, it is odd that she will see a reversal of these aspects in the succeeding seasons. Although, her feuding with Willow will continue into later seasons (Season 5, episode 11, ‘Triangle’).
Wesley Wyndham-Pryce (Alexis Denisof) continues to be a comedic foil. An example: he tires himself out by apparently going through the same obstacle course he is testing the Slayers on.
Cordelia Chase (Charisma Carpenter) gets to be three types of characters in this episode. The first is a woman dealing with someone she has contempt for due to a betrayal. In this case, she thinks vampire Willow is the regular one. Therefore, Cordelia decides to express her feelings about the affair of Xander and (human) Willow. Cordelia quickly becomes a damsel-in-distress after releasing the vampire Willow from the cage. Lastly, Cordelia acts like a flaky comedic stereotype when asking Wesley out right after quickly mourning the apparent loss of Willow. Due to these rapid changes in characterization, she fails to receive any true development in this episode.
Willow Rosenberg and her alternate universe self are essentially mirrors of each other. Yet, there are three key differences between them beyond the clothes and living status. The first: the alternate Willow comes across as lethargic. One can assume that with the analogy of magic as a drug — and Willow mentioning it — that her alternate may be on them. There is also the talk of Vampire Willow being bisexual which regular Willow will never declare herself as being. Finally, Vampire Willow is a more capable physical fighter than regular Willow is or will ever be.
Faith Lehane (Eliza Dushku) and Mayor Richard Wilkins (Harry Groener) get a brief scene that defines what type of relationship they will have. Wilkins will act as a bad guy father figure to Faith. Yet, before the reveal of this definition, Faith assumes this will be a sex for rewards type relationship. Thus, this scene features a nice mirroring of their respective personalities while also hinting at each of their origins. With Wilkins, there is the stereotypical idea of the family man. While in Faith’s case we get more hints of a sexual abuse survivor. Consequently, this one scene allows for a good deal of character growth for both characters.
Devon MacLeish (Jason Hall), Principal Snyder (Armin Shimerman), D’Hoffryn (Andy Umberger) and Percy West (Ethan Erickson) are all recurring characters. The latter two will reappear in later episodes (Season 4, Episode 9, ‘Something Blue’ and Episode 11, ‘Doomed,’ respectively). They all have surface level characterization that adds little to the episode. In Devon’s case, he is a shallow homophobic friend/bandmate to Oz. Snyder is an analogy for dictatorial school administrators who care more about the perception of the school than the students. D’Hoffryn, meanwhile, is simply a boss who won’t give a job back. Finally Percy is a standard jock who gets his comeuppance from a nerdish protagonist, much like in 1984’s Revenge of the Nerds.
The majority of this episode is just the show spinning its figurative wheel and it is to the detriment of Buffy and her allies’ development as characters. Arguably, this episode also fails as a character study with Willow as the focus. Also, the inclusion of the respective scenes featuring Faith and Wilkins, as well as Cordelia and Wesley, are more placeholders than relevant ones. Nevertheless, there is at least some character development with Faith and Wilkins. Therefore the episode is not a complete failure.