Characterization In The Buffyverse — ‘Buffy The Vampire Slayer’ Season 3, Episode 21
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: Mayor Richard Wilkins (Harry Groener) makes final preparations to become a demon. At the same time, Buffy Summers (Sarah Michelle Gellar) tries to save Angel (David Boreanaz).
(Warning of spoilers from this point on!)
(Trigger warning for a mention of torture!)
Buffy apparently, honestly, has trouble killing in cold blood. This is despite previously allowing villains like Billy Fordham (Jason Behr) to die at the hands of others (Season 2, Episode 7, ‘Lie To Me’). Yes, there is a difference between the two types of killing, but the end result is the same. In this case, though, killing is not really necessary since she could simply donate her own blood — within reason — to Angel. In others words, get a transfusion going, possibly with magic to aid the healing process. It is also worth noting that Buffy acts inconsistently throughout this episode. At times she behaves like a grim hunter, but most of the time she acts like an apathetic teenager.
Angel does not get much new to his characterization. Well, besides the fact that he is not always stealthy and that he can be childishly churlish.
Rupert Giles (Anthony Stewart Head) gets to literally and figuratively show-off his expertise at fencing when having a match against Wesley Wyndham-Pryce (Alexis Denisof). The boastful display comes from Buffy’s observance and his reading a newspaper while doing so. He also displays a combination of his more ruthless interior and his fatherly protectiveness when stabbing Wilkins. This fatherly affection is also seen when Giles sides with Buffy against Wesley and the Watcher’s Council. Considering Angel is Giles’s former torturer, one can understand how trying this is for him.
Mayor Richard Wilkins gets to speak in a stereotypically ostentatious way while eating from the box of demons. He also shows a fatherly concern for Faith (Eliza Dushku), especially when his meal gets interrupted.
Faith is, as one sees right before her fight with Buffy, apparently a fan of comic books. There is also a slightly overt subtext in Faith’s dialogue during this fight that makes her sound like a jealous ex.
Willow (Alyson Hannigan) still displays knowledge of hacking. Yet, why her knowledge has not come into play sooner in attempting to find Faith is odd. As far as developments go, she finally moves forward in her relationship with Oz (Seth Green). Although the moments afterwards could see an endless debate between her just being insecure or her just metaphorically hiding in the closet. Personally, I believe the former is more likely.
Xander Harris (Nicholas Brendon) gets a moment to act noble and courageous by turning down an offer to run away with Anya (Emma Caulfield). This is despite him consistently assuming he will die at graduation. Unfortunately, he tells her his decision with a bit of cruelty. On the plus side, Xander shows a bit of growth by not complaining about aiding Angel. Granted, one could argue that his attempt to talk Buffy out of going after Faith still counts as complaining.
Anya acts a little more like she will in later seasons. This is arguably a negative thing since it means her intelligence and experience will not see consistent use as it does when it comes to the Ascension.
Oz gets only two bits of characterization beyond being his usual stoic self. First, he acts relatively passionate with Willow. Secondly, there is the reminder of him being a computer genius. Yes, he reveals the cure for the poison, but this is something any character could do.
Wesley is arguably reset to how he first appeared at various times in this episode (Season 3, Episode 14, ‘Bad Girls’). For instance, he acts pompous while trailing behind the discussion Giles and Buffy have about the murder of Lester Worth (Hal Robinson). He also appears to fluster when Buffy mocks him in the library early in this episode. Yet later, while Buffy fires the Watcher’s Council, he shows some of the fortitude he will display on Angel. The fencing match with Giles also proves he he has some prior knowledge of the art (Season 3, Episode 14, ‘Bad Girls’).
Cordelia Chase (Charisma Carpenter) is mainly in this episode to make sure viewers are up to date on certain events. Other than expositional conversations, and providing a reminder of high school graduation approaching, she has nothing to do.
Joyce Summers (Kristine Sutherland) gets reset to the stock characterization of being a mom; there is no growth or importance to her in the scene she is in.
Principal Snyder (Armin Shimerman) seems to genuinely fear the Mayor now. Previously, Snyder would show jubilation or worry about his association with Wilkins (Season 3, Episode 6, ‘Band Candy’ and Episode 19, ‘Choices’).
Harmony Kendall (Mercedes McNab), Percy West (Ethan Erickson), and Mr. Miller (James Lurie) all get a moment in this episode. None of them serve a narrative purpose besides filling time, however.
Lester Worth may as well be a non-entity since he is mostly a plot point to provide a way to defeat the Mayor. His brief existence has so little substance to it that his death may earn little to no empathy.
This episode is like most in that it has a plethora of unnecessary characters. Yet, it does show the potential this franchise has to have good moments of characterization.