Characterization In The Buffyverse —’ Buffy The Vampire Slayer’ Season 4, Episode 1
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.
Buffy Summers (Sarah Michelle Gellar) faces an awful start as a freshman in college. Also, she and the rest of the Scooby gang reconnect.
(Warning of spoilers from this point on!)
Buffy is ageist when it comes to Rupert Giles’s (Anthony Stewart Head) private life even though it is obviously hypocritical due to her past relationship with Angel (David Boreanaz). She also seems not to know how to sign up for college classes, yet she manages to get an unrealistically large dorm room. These two things make her overall characterization feel inconsistent. Also inconsistent is how she seems to forget her training in the first fight with Sunday (Katherine Towne), but remembers it by the end of the episode. On the plus side: Buffy does start to be less insecure about various things, including college, by episode’s end.
Xander Harris’s (Nicholas Brendon) primary purpose in this episode is to give an affirming talk to Buffy and get her back-up. The only new development in terms of character is that he spent one night as a stripper, yet he still somewhat disparages the profession.
Joyce Summers (Kristine Sutherland) in this episode represents both the parent who repurposes their college age progeny’s room and the saying, “you can’t go home again.”
Giles essentially represents a parental figure who fails to realize that teaching a child does not fully stop even when they are adults. In other words, he can have a personal life, but he needs to help teach Buffy ways to rely on herself.
Oliva (Phina Oruche) is an old friend of Giles from his misspent youth, which is obvious because she calls him “Ripper.” She seems very comfortable with her body due to her comment regarding putting on clothes.
Willow Rosenberg (Alyson Hannigan) comes across as the person who blossoms as an individual post-high school. Although, she still displays some extreme insecurity when it comes to assuming she is a bad friend to Buffy.
Oz (Seth Green) has some knowledge of college life due to his band previously playing at places like UC Sunnydale. Other than this bit of insight into his character, there isn’t really anything new.
Riley Finn (Marc Blucas) displays unreal endurance after getting hit by the textbooks. Buffy and Willow should be thinking he is either super-lucky or supernatural. Also, despite being Buffy’s future love interest, he does not remember her name, but does remember she is pals with Willow. Throw in the fact that he arguably has more chemistry with Willow and it seems like Buffy should not be on his radar for romance. These two things — and the fact that he is a teacher’s assistant — are reasons why he obviously will not work as a love interest.
Kathy Newman (Dagney Kerr), Buffy’s Céline Dion loving roommate, comes across as overly chipper and relatively annoying.
Professor Maggie Walsh (Lindsay Crouse) is Buffy’s stern psych professor. She is also apparently famous in the profession of psychology.
Sunday, Dav (Shannon Hillary), Rookie (Mike Rad), and Tom (Mace Lombard) are rather crafty in how they hide the deaths of their victims. But they don’t have much going for themselves otherwise. An example: Rookie clearly lacks intelligence, yet thinks he is witty. Also, Sunday is overconfident to the point of failing to finish Buffy before they steal her stuff. On a personal note, it is due to writing this column that I now realize that we do see Tom again later this season (Season 4, Episode 7, ’The Initiative’).
The Residential Advisor/R.A. (Scott Rinker), Angry Girl (Evie Peck), Unserious Guy (Jason Christopher), Student Volunteer (Denice J. Sealey), Paul/Passing student (Mark Silverberg), Conservative Woman (Jane Silvia), and Earnest fellow (Anil Raman) are all episodic characters. They serve as either stereotypical jokes or, in the case of the R.A., a way to give exposition.
Eddie (Pedro Pascal as Pedro Balmaceda) is a seemingly good individual who could be a friend or possible love interest for Buffy. Unfortunately, his immediate turning by Sunday and her group — along with Buffy dusting him — negates these two possibilities.
Professor Riegert (Robert Catrini) is a stereotypical pompous college professor. He only really exists as another reason Buffy has a bad start at college.
New Vampire (Walter Borchert) is a gag character who seemingly serves the purpose of establishing the tone of the episode, representing Buffy’s bad luck and how she will have to overcome it.
The majority of this episode feels like a play with three leads (Buffy, Xander, Sunday) and a lot of plot devices or allegorical characters. This results in a weaker then normal beginning to a season of this show.