Characterization In The Buffyverse — ‘Buffy The Vampire Slayer’ Season 3, Episode 18

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.

This week: A demonic infection results in Buffy Summers (Sarah Michelle Gellar) gaining telepathy. Meanwhile, a killer is on the loose at Sunnydale High.

(Warning of spoilers from this point on!)

(Trigger warning for mentions of suicide and murder) 

Buffy gets a temporary ability to read minds which eventually goes away. While having the seeming control of this ability, she tries to resolve how people see her as a student. In other words: she cheats by reading others’ minds. Both this and her attempt to read the mind of Angel (David Boreanaz) shows a decidedly negative trait of hers — avoiding major issues that could help her grow into a better person. This trait will see further study in later seasons. She otherwise does not learn or do anything of value in this episode to grow as a character.

Angel gets to play the hero when he obtains the final ingredient for a potion to save Buffy. Other than that —  and him being Buffy’s love interest — we get a plot contrivance reason for his being immune to telepathy.

Rupert Giles (Anthony Stewart Head) and Joyce Summers (Kristine Sutherland) act like a parental unit during Buffy’s illness. The only other growth that happens occurs from the humiliation when Buffy learning of their tryst (Season 3, Episode 6, ’Band Candy’).

Oz (Seth Green) shows high intelligence via the questioning of suspects and via his internal thoughts. Yet, this and his stoic personality are nothing new.

Xander Harris (Nicholas Brendon) is really only a gag character in this episode. His two most notable bits of comedic relief are the slapstick in the cafeteria and the stereotype of men having constant sexual thoughts.

Cordelia Chase (Charisma Carpenter) only complains and critiques. Thus, one can say that she regresses as a character in this episode.

Wesley Wyndham-Pryce (Alexis Denisof) has thoughts concerning his romance with Cordelia that suggest he is a teacher at Sunnydale High. Besides this hint, there is nothing to suggest what he does at the school.

Willow Rosenberg (Alyson Hannigan) gets some progression in her social life thanks to the existence of Percy West (Ethan Erickson) and the events of a past episode (Season 3, Episode 16, ‘Doppelgangland’). We see this through their conversation at the lockers and her sudden interest in sporting events. She also gets to show leadership potential via the death threat investigation. But her main characterization is being a best friend to Buffy. Willow also regresses a bit when displaying some insecurity about herself and her romance with Oz.

Larry Blaisdell (Larry Bagby) and Percy West are both recurring characters (Season 2, Episode 15, ‘Phases’). Although, in this episode they serve no narrative purpose.

Jonathan Levinson (Danny Strong) gets the character traits of low-esteem and depression due to feeling like an outsider. This leads him to try and kill himself at Sunnydale High. Yet, there are things that make his characterization in this episode odd. The first bit is his choice of the school bell tower as the setting. Yes, it is a location where he could presume not to have someone stop him. And yet, the rifle seems too hard to conceal, as well as too big for him to correctly use it, at least for this purpose. Finally, his past date with Cordelia is suggestive of an active social life — albeit that has nothing to do with his mental or emotional health (Season 2, Episode 5, ‘Reptile Boy’)

Ms. Murray (Molly Bryant), Hogan Martin (Justin Doran), Freddy Iverson (Keram Malicki-Sánchez), Mr. Beach (Robert Arce), and Nancy Doyle (Lauren Roman) are all plot device characters. Yes, they have a few character traits, but they service the plot more than they are full characters.

Lunch Lady (Wendy Worthington) is a joke villain as she is caught by accident in the most amusing way. Unfortunately, she is clearly mentally ill. Thus, her take down via violence arguably negates the positive message that this episode gives with Jonathan. Not to mention, she has only facial expressions and a few lines of dialogue to define her personality. In other words: she is mostly a negative stereotype.

This episode suffers — like much of Season 3 — in that there is very little character growth. Primarily, this is due to the overly large cast. Also, the attempts to do various types of genres at different moments (such as comedy, mystery, and supernatural) does not help. Additionally, Giles and Wesley bring up the seasonal plot, but no action occurs on that front while Buffy has a useful power. Instead, there is a nice speech that no one apparently learns anything from.

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