Archive for May 25th, 2023

Until recently, I had never seen the Buffy the Vampire Slayer TV series.  Frank showed me the movie on video (IMDB says it came out in 1992? I thought it was earlier.) and though I found it amusing, it didn’t move me to watch the TV show when it appeared in the late ’90s.  But somewhere along the line Grace had picked up the first season on DVD, so late last year we decided to watch that with the understanding that if I liked it, I’d buy the rest of the series.  Well, I did like it; in fact, I liked it a great deal.  Now, you might think that it was a foregone conclusion that I’d like a horror-superhero soap opera, but poor implementation can ruin even the coolest concept; fortunately, the implementation was anything but poor.  I found the series clever, witty, funny, touching, thought-provoking and even inspirational, so I’ve been meaning to share a few thoughts on it ever since we finished its spinoff Angel a couple of months ago.

First and foremost, the thing that hooked me was the series’ wealth of dynamic, well-developed characters.  It’s hard for me to really appreciate a show with flat, static characters, but the ones in Buffy kept engaging and surprising me.  This isn’t to say I liked them all, or that I always liked the ones I did like; what I mean is, even characters I liked very much, such as Willow and Giles, would sometimes make decisions which annoyed or even angered me.  But that’s what makes a character interesting: if I don’t believe in the character, I mean accept them as “real” in the part of my brain which assesses verisimilitude, then I start losing interest in them, the situations they’re involved with, and everything else.  But the writers of these shows (both Buffy and Angel) clearly share my views on the importance of well-defined characters, even when those characters were villains.  Again, it wasn’t 100%; the primary villain of the 5th season, “Glory”, failed to capture my interest in any way.  But the 3rd season’s villain, the Mayor, was an amazingly complex personality; instead of a stock power-seeking evil wizard, we were shown a man who, though as awful as any of the other main villains of the series, was both a complete square and capable of genuine affection, to the point where it proved the weapon which allowed Buffy to defeat him in the end.

Some of the series’ villains even became heroes, or at least supporting non-villains; the vengeance demon Anya, who started out as a serious menace, later lost her powers and became an interesting member of the Scooby Gang, and though I never stopped disliking the goofy Andrew, I can’t say he wasn’t interesting.  And then there was Spike, a character I was determined not to like who had already mostly won me over by the end of the first season in which he appeared; I suspect he won the writers over in the same way, because his return and his slowly-expanding role in the series, from secondary villain to full hero, felt so organic I can’t quite believe it was planned that way from the start.  His genuine human emotions made the character stand out from among the other vampires, including Angel, despite not having the benefit & burden of a soul.  The credit for this memorable character goes not only to the writers, but to an absolutely masterful performance by actor James Marsters (later the villain Captain John Hart on Torchwood), who handily stole practically every scene he was in.

But even the Buffyverse’s formulae were sometimes turned upside-down and backwards, and heroes could also become villains.  Angel, Willow, and Cordelia all became villains in various story arcs, while Faith and the aforementioned Anya went back and forth as their twisty paths led them, and even Wesley, who started out as a naive klutz, eventually became a very effective, then a very dark character (though never truly a villain) before his painful redemption.  There is essentially no such thing as a static characters in these shows; even one-season characters and nasty villains often developed over time.  But of all the characters in both Buffy and Angel, the one whose growth was most compelling to me was Cordelia.  Even when she was a shallow high-school “mean girl” I loved watching her brilliant bitchiness, her attempts to pretend she was stupider than she actually was, and her core of decency working to turn her into a force for good despite her very vocal protests.  By the latter seasons of Angel, she had changed so much the writers had to sneak in a plot complication where everyone was regressed to their 16-year-old personalities and memories, so audience members who had forgotten could be forcefully reminded of just how far the character had come.

I have a great deal more to say, but it’s so much I’m going to divide it up over several weeks.


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