Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Character Growth

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It took me six years to finish Buffy the Vampire Slayer, nearly a decade after it has been on the air, and now that I’m finally through it all I can’t shut up about it.  Friends, acquaintances, and strangers have all fallen victim to my renditions of “Once More With Feeling” (among other related topics).  Slowly, I am publishing my thoughts on the series.  Other topics covered so far include: The Beginning, Fun vs. Serious, and ‘Ships.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer ran for seven seasons. (Originally my idea for posting my thoughts on the show was to talk about each season individually, but obvs that didn’t happen.) Buffy and her friends start the show as high school sophmores, around 16 years old. By the time the show ends they have seen each other through seven apocalyses, a graduation, multiple successful and less so relationships, depression, addiction, and so many other things, I couldn’t possibly list them all here. In the end they are 21, and now have to embark on finding a new place for themselves after their town blew up.

Over so many years, there is no doubt that the characters should grow, but the ways that they change turn them into completely different people. If you told season one Willow that she would become the most powerful witch around, she wouldn’t have believed you. Season two Spike would have laughed at you if you told him he would fallen love with the slayer (then he would have tortured you for good measure). The vengance demon Anya would have cursed you for calling her human.

The characters are not the only parts of the show that change over the years though. As the characters grow, the show itself matures along with them. Season one included ridiculous  but wonderful, plot points such as a giant praying mantis teaching science (“Teacher’s Pet”), or students turned into killer hyenas (“The Pack”). But you would be hard pressed to find episodes that casual in season five or six. The overall tone of the show became more somber from season to season.

Even the big bad’s get heavier and heavier as the years go by. The Master and the annointed one — literally a child — would never be able to face the First.  The progression and transitions make complete sense as the big bad determines the tone of the season, and each season grows older with the group.

The way that this progression of growth seems so normal is probably the best part of it.  While all the characters grow in some way or another, their choices always seem logical for the situation they are in.

Buffy was always very mature. From the beginning she would choose to save the world before she would get out of a situation to save herself.  If fact, she died to do just that (“Prophesy Girl”).  Twice (“The Gift”). Even amidst saving the world, she starts off the show as a your typical selfish teenager. She wants to have a social life, not fail out of school, and she wants Angel. In later years she learns to make sacrifices for the people she loves.

But as time goes on she learns to trust those around her to help her when she needs it (“Primeval”). She learns to take care of Dawn after her mother dies (“Forever”), and she helps Willow to get over her addiction to dark magic (“Gone”). In season seven she becomes the leader of an army, something the old Buffy would never be able to do.

Willow starts the series as a socially awkward, timid girl. It’s easy to tell that she’s not very fashionable, even among the catastrophes that are 90’s fashion to begin with. As the series continues she gains confidence and power through magic. Season one Willow would have never been responsible for an apocalypse, even if her girlfriend died.

The most changed character in the entire series is without a doubt Spike. From season two’s big bad to his death in season seven to destroy the hellmouth. It’s phenomenal how much he changes. In the beginning his relationship with Drucilla is his defining trait. Their love and humanity (mentioned in “Surprise”) is only a small taste of what’s to come. Spike shows this humanity again when he decides to help Buffy stop Drucilla and Angelus from ending the world (“Beginning”).

After Drucilla breaks up with him, Spike’s outlook changes. He goes off into the world to remind her of what she’s missing. A plan that clearly doesn’t quite work as he is back in Sunnydale the next fall to terrorize the locals (“The Harsh Light of Day”). This time around his plan is to be back and badder than ever, but when the Initiative captures him and plants a chip in his head he can’t hurt anyone and is rendered defenseless.  For a good portion of this season, Spike is their hostage (a comedy all on it’s own), but when it is discovered that he can fight demons he begins to work with Buffy and the Scoobies.

Eventually this fighting for the good guys thing turns into a he’s sort of in love with Buffy thing (“Out of my Mind”). Spike has no way of explaining his feelings toward Buffy as a vampire being attracted to the person who is supposed to kill him is not something that is within the natural order of things. But it’s in an attempt to convince Buffy that he’s good enough for her that Spike goes on a quest to get back his soul (“Grave”).

At the end of the series it is Spike now who gives the ultimate sacrifice to save the world. He is the center of the explosion that blows a Sunnydale sized hole in the ground. As she is leaving, Buffy tries to get him to come with them, not caring that he has to stay in order to close the Hellmouth for good. After all the love he’s shown her Buffy tells Spike that she loves him too. His response  “No you don’t love, but thanks for saying it.” (“Chosen”) His last moments on the show include him slowly disintegrating into dust, smiling all the while.

Meanwhile, in season three we are passively introduced to the character of Anya. At first she is a vengeance demon, trying to grant a wish to Cordelia after her break up with Xander (“The Wish”). By the end of the episode, Giles strips Anya of her powers by breaking her amulet, leaving her human. Anya doesn’t really like being human, but she becomes involved with Xander who helps her to adjust to her humanity.

But when her relationship with Xander falls apart at the alter, she seeks solace as a vengeance demon once again.  Unfortunately she is unable to compel the same amount of enthusiasm for bloodshed she had before she was human and makes a wish that she thinks will kill her.  Instead D’Hoffren, the master of vengeance demons, kills her friend Helfrek and returns Anya to her human state.  For the remainder of the series Anya helps (or at least tries) the Scoobies and the growing army of Potentials to prepare for the battle.

This last one is going to cause a lot of eye rolling, I know. Because I’m about to talk about the reasons that I love Dawn and for some reason that is the unpopular opinion of the century. Hear me out. Yes, Dawn shows up in season five as a somewhat bratty little kid. We don’t understand why she’s there and the plot is not super clear on what her deal is either. But she grows up so well.

In season six she get’s smarter, supporting the Scoobies and befriending Tara. She even starts to fight and do research near the end.  When Buffy sends her away to protect her from the final battle she wont hear of it.  Dawn forces Xander to turn around and help fight (no, I don’t understand why she has a taser either, suspension of disbelief).

There are so many wonderful things to say about each character that I could probably go on forever.  Some of my friends are in fact a little bit annoyed with me for how in depth I talk about Buffy when they don’t understand what I’m talking about, but that’s it’s own issue.  For today I’ll leave it with the fact that I love these characters indefinitely, and there’s nothing anyone can do about that.

This week in Whedon Wednesday: Eulogy for Tara McCoy.

Next in my Buffy rants, Foreshadowing.

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4 thoughts on “Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Character Growth

  1. Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Foreshadowing « Rachel Ann

  2. Buffy the Vampire Slayer: ‘Ships « Rachel Ann

  3. Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The End « Rachel Ann

  4. My Year in Television « Rachel Ann

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