Characterization In The Buffyverse — ‘Buffy The Vampire Slayer’ Season 4, Episode 3

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: Buffy Summers (Sarah Michelle Gellar) faces two old foes. She also goes on a date with Parker Abrams (Adam Kaufman).

(Warning of spoilers from this point on!)

Buffy seemingly develops some kind of psychological complex from her experience with Parker and Angel/Angelus (David Boreanaz) (Season 2, Episode 14, ‘Innocence’). Both men hurt her in different, yet similar ways involving a sexual relationship, so developing a complex is understandable. Nevertheless, it is also a negative bit of development because it hurts her health as an individual. Yes, mental health is not really a factor that gets exploration in this show. Yet, this season’s focus on psychology would make this a good development to address. Meanwhile, giving the ring to Angel is possibly a reaction to Spike’s (James Marsters) comments.

Rupert Giles (Anthony Stewart Head) gets no new development in this episode other than the appearance of a television in his home. In fact, Giles sees a reduction in character to just being a comedic straight man and font of exposition.

Willow Rosenberg (Alyson Hannigan) is in this episode just as a minor character supporting Buffy. The most interesting thing going for her is how her view of life and relationships is more like Buffy’s in the pilot (Season 1, Episode 1, ‘Welcome to the Hellmouth’).

Xander Harris (Nicholas Brendon) has things happen to him in this episode, ranging between stupidly entering a fight with Spike to Anya (Emma Caulfield) flinging herself at him. While he does have some agency to his actions, one could argue that he is a puppet to the needs of the plot. Arguably, this is especially true in his attempt to distract Spike. As far as his relationship with Anya goes, it shows maturity to point out they don’t really have a relationship after one date. Unfortunately, Xander also displays a slight reset to his character by not understanding that relationships require work and don’t just occur.

Oz (Seth Green) is lustful of Giles’s record collection. The admiration leads to a conversation between Oz and Giles which then leads to Xander finding the television tuned to the exposition channel. This moment is really his main action in the episode. Yes, Oz gets other actions, such as rescuing Willow, but his development focuses only on the one main action. Thus, Oz is not so much a character in this episode as a talking plot device.

Anya begins a dramatic change to her personality: it is becoming socially blunt. Whereas, previously she displayed significant enough ability for understanding social interactions, including lying (Season 3, Episode 16, ‘Doppelgängland’). Her first date with Xander, for example, involves her failing to notice how uncomfortable discussing her past job makes him (Season 3, Episode 20, ‘The Prom’). Nonetheless, her characterization is more “person on a personal mission” than what it will become.

Parker Abrams is clearly a manipulator. See the way he uses the story about his father allegedly passing away to sleep around. He also comes across a bit sociopathic as he feels no guilt for using people in such a way.

Spike is clearly abusive to Harmony Kendall (Mercedes McNab). Whether this is due to a lack of affection or just getting sick of her constant complaining is unclear. Also unclear: whether his behavior is a side effect of his vampiric teachers’ — Drusilla (Juliet Landau) and Angelus — lessons in love or just the recent break-up with Drusilla. Yet, what is clear is that Spike has more intelligence than a lot of the prior vampires in the series, as seen when he tests the gems. Although, why he doesn’t hide the gem in his body comes across as both an issue of plotting and simple impulsivity.

Harmony is still stereotypically dumb in most matters. Yet, she seems shrewd during certain moments, such as when she talks Spike into taking her out.

Devon MacLeish (Jason Hall) and Spike’s minion, Brian (Melik Malkasian), are neither plot devices nor characters. Yes, both get interactions with the main characters. Also, one can argue that Brian has a trait of intelligence regarding excavation. However, nothing Devon or Brian do in this episode is something an actual character is incapable of doing for themselves; both Devon and Brian have little to no impact on the plot.

This episode has a decent amount of characterization, but not for the entire ensemble. It also features a lot of things that are just lacking an explanation, such as how Spike and Harmony first meet. There are also plot contrivances — like Giles and Xander not speaking out about giving the ring to Angel, who could easily lose his curse. One would think after the events of seasons 2 and 3 that Giles or Xander would immediately smash the ring. Instead, their characterization and agency faces submission in order to prop up the Angel spin-off.

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