Characterization In The Buffyverse — ‘Buffy The Vampire Slayer’ Season 3 Wrap-Up

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 wraps-up the examination of Buffy The Vampire Slayer Season 3. The following seasons will still be put under a figurative microscope, but I think it is important to examine where select characters are after each season. And as each concludes, we will also see who holds the titles of “most negative characterization” and “most positive characterization.” Also, in these wrap-ups, we will see who gets the most and least focus, respectively. Lastly, later wrap-ups will refer back to previous ones where appropriate.

(Warning of spoilers from this point on!)

(Trigger Warning for mentions of torture and toxic relationships!)

Buffy Summers (Sarah Michelle Gellar) both develops as a character and yet acts as a rubber band. She gets some new traits, but remains a sad teenager from the beginning of the season to the end. One of her new trait is her street smarts, seen when she finds a job while being an under-eighteen-year-old runaway (Season 3, Episode 1, ‘Anne’). She also, apparently, inspires her whole graduating class teams up to help her and her friends (Season 3, Episode 22, ‘Graduation Day: Part 2’). However, she never stops being an angsty teen thanks to the show’s focus on her and Angel’s (David Boreanaz) romance. Thus, by the end of the season — and despite certain developments — she remains lesser then she can be.

Faith (Eliza Dushku) goes from anti-hero to villain despite not having many appearances. She mostly acts as a example of what Buffy could become. Yet, she also exposes how Slayers are different from normal people. This is most obvious in her line about hungers post-slaying (Season 3, Episode 3, ‘Faith, Hope & Trick’). Finally, there is some lesbian subtext between her and Buffy in this season, but it never becomes text (Season 3, Episode 17, ‘Enemies’).

Angelus/Angel/Liam displays further evidence of being a toxic individual with or without his soul. One example: when he walks to Buffy’s house while Joyce Summers (Kristine Sutherland) thinks he is evil (Season 3, Episode 8, ’Lover’s Walk’). Also, his supposedly suffering possibly hundreds of years of torment in a hell dimension with little affect on his psychology or physiology is questionable. One would think he would at least have trouble remembering certain things. Thus, his recovery from inconsistent symptoms can come across as toxic behavior. Viewers also see his lack of control over his urges in various episodes (Season 3, Episode 10, ‘Amends’). There is also the fact that he continues to lie about Angelus and Angel being different individuals.

Angel also continues to lack proper and healthy communication with Buffy and others. One key example of this is how he breaks up with Buffy, but chooses a time before a big battle — which causes a near-deadly distraction for her and him (Season 3, Episode 20, ‘The Prom’ and Episode 21, ‘Graduation Day: Part 1’).

Rupert Giles/Ripper (Anthony Stewart Head) becomes a clear father figure for Buffy by the end of this season. Yet, he also comes across as a heel toward both her and her mother in two separate ways. In the case of the former, he drugs and lies to Buffy about her loss of powers (Season 3, Episode 12, ‘Helpless’). In Joyce’s case, he treats her musical choices as less than dirt which in turn is belittling her (Season 3, Episode 6, ‘Band Candy’). Viewers also get some more hints as to how dangerous Giles can become when he wants to be. Unfortunately, there are no realistic ramifications in relation to Angel’s return after torturing Giles (Season 2, Episode 22, ‘Becoming: Part 2’).

Wesley Wyndham-Pryce (Alexis Denisof) is a gag character. At least for the most part. He comes in to this franchise as an overconfident sad sack, yet he leaves this season with some level of actual experience. One very clear example of his growth is how he offers to help despite no longer working for Buffy or The Watcher’s Council. Finally, his failure of a romance with Cordelia Chase (Charisma Carpenter) allows him to start to become less stodgy and inept in that area of life.

Willow Rosenberg (Alyson Hannigan) starts to develop a confidence with magic. She also begins to rely on magic more than tech toward the end of the season. There are hints of her being bisexual via her vampiric doppelgänger’s visit (Season 3, Episode 16, ‘Doppelgängland’). This will never truly see exploration, though, except with her insisting she is a lesbian in the next several seasons. Unfortunately, she gets some negative characterization via her affair with Xander Harris (Nicholas Brendon), which also shows she is getting better at lying.

Anya/Anyanka (Emma Caulfield) may see her introduction in this season, but she lacks any firm characteristics that will continue to later seasons. Thus, there isn’t anything to say about her other than she has more investment in Xander than he does her.

Mayor Richard Wilkins (Harry Groener) has a lot of surface character traits, but only hints as to who he is as a person. We only really know that he is an over 100-years-old political founder of Sunnydale who wants to be a pure demon, and that he fears germs.

Xander gets to be verbally abusive toward Buffy in a way that is slightly more overt than in previous seasons (Season 3, Episode 17, ‘Enemies’ and Season 2, Episode 1, ‘When She Was Bad’). He also continues to avoid consequences for negative actions, including his affair. Case in point: Willow and he suffer at the hands of Spike (James Marsters) when he kidnaps them, but this is (arguably) not a true consequence of their affair; instead, Cordelia getting a serious injury is. Thus, he continues to get rewards like Buffy’s friendship and a relationship with Anya, while others bear punishments he should probably receive. On the plus side, he is a great help in the fight against the Mayor by leading the student army. Lastly, Xander saves the others from an unknown bomb threat (Season 3, Episode 13, ‘The Zeppo’).

Cordelia arguably gets the most development this season. First in actively trying to become part of the vampire hunting (Season 3, Episode 2, ‘Dead Man’s Party’). Secondly, by moving on from Xander after he cheats on her. While this second development may not seem like much, it reveals how alone she is. She also gets her first job at a clothing store. Finally, she remains single post-Xander despite a failed attempt at romance with Wesley.

Ethan Rayne (Robin Sachs) continues being a recurring villain who makes guest appearances which help explore Giles’s personality and/or past. Although, in this season, we also learn that he sometimes contracts out his chaos-making magical skills.

Oz (Seth Green) receives little characterization outside of being a werewolf who Willow loves. This leads to him having not much to contribute to most of the plots.

Jonathan Levinson (Danny Strong) gets some mental health issues in relation to his self-esteem (Season 3, Episode 18, ‘Earshot’). While this is a good development, it never gets proper exploration in future seasons.

Larry Blaisdell (Larry Bagby) has some positive development regarding his personality being nicer post-coming out (Season 2, Episode 15, ‘Phases’). Unfortunately, he never becomes more than a token character before he goes the way of a bad trope with his death.

Percy West (Ethan Erickson) only sees development in actually trying at school work after getting a scare from the vampiric version of Willow. Other than that development, he has no substantial or relevant characterization in this season.

Joan/Chanterelle/Lily Houston/Anne Steele (Julia Lee) first appears as part of the vampire cult that Spike attacks (Season 2, Episode 7, ‘Lie To Me’). At the beginning of her second appearance, she is not doing much better. Yet, by the end, she essentially stops being a runaway who takes on various aliases. Yes, she becomes Anne in her last episode, but that is her final alias, at least as far as viewers know. Also, her final interaction with Buffy starts her on the path to learning self-reliance.

Joyce Summers attempts to understand the supernatural and Buffy’s life, but ultimately fails to learn how to adapt. A key example of her confusion about various things occurs during the kitchen confrontation between Spike, Buffy, and Angel.

D’Hoffryn (Andy Umberger) and Harmony Kendall (Mercedes McNab) do not have any real growth or importance in this season. Though they will see some development in the future.

Amy Madison (Elizabeth Anne Allen) goes from being a witch in a small coven with Willow to being a rat (Season 3, Episode 11, ‘Gingerbread’). She will get more development in several seasons.

Quentin Travers (Harris Yulin) and the Watchers council have no real growth this season. Yes, Travers makes his first appearance, but we only get the same information from Season 2: the council views the slayers as disposable weapons (Season 2, Episode 10, ‘What’s My Line? Part Two’).

Willy The Snitch (Saverio Guerra) sees a small amount of development this season. He comes across less sleazy and more helpful, especially during the winter holidays.

Principal Snyder (Armin Shimerman) does not seem to develop in any way other than possibly going insane before dying. One can argue his actions under the influence of the band candy shows growth, but I personally argue that his cowardly and selfish traits remaining afterward negate this possibility.

Spike displays some tolerance for sunlight, which is something that will play into future seasons. He also shows he can be pathetic when dealing with heartbreak — like his drinking to the point of almost accidentally dusting via the sun. Additionally, confiding romantic woes to an enemy’s friends and family is also pathetic. Yet, Spike shows the ability to be perceptive, such as when he makes his big speech about Buffy and Angel’s non-friendship.

While this season has more characters, the amount of robust character arcs is lacking. Yes, the show’s characters must, and will, see develop in future seasons. Yet, that does not mean their respective arcs could not use more developments this season. Buffy’s entire arc for this season, for example, goes in a circular pattern. Whereas last season ,she goes in a linear manner to what we get at the beginning of this season.

Future installments of this column will switch between Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Angel. Hopefully, upcoming seasons of one of these shows will have a better balance between the amount of characters per episode and their respective developments.

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