You all know me to be a huge Buffy the Vampire Slayer fan. Celebrating the show’s 15th anniversary this month, I want to start out by pointing out some things I didn’t like.
Namely, what could have been.
Buffy is known for its characters, many of which were fully actualized, well rounded people that went on amazing journeys throughout the course of the series. Besides Buffy herself, Willow is the prime example of this. Willow went from a meek nerd to a confident fighter to a lost woman to a calm source of power, all within seven seasons. On another note, Giles, already an adult when we meet him, is a character that came ready-made and developed, and part of the fun of watching him was peeling back the layers to see how he became the loveable mentor the gang knew him as.
Many auxiliary characters, such as Tara and even Amy, are given similar arcs over the course of the series.
So why couldn’t the writers do the same for Xander Harris?
While re-watching the fourth and fifth seasons, it became abundantly clear to me that the writers just did not know what to do with a character like Xander. When I was a kid and first started watching Buffy, Xander was my favorite! He was funny, he was deeply in a one-sided love with Buffy, and he was an idiot when he needed to be and brave when he needed to be as well. The first three seasons showed a Xander that I liked – he was actually a complex human being. He hated Angel for reasons both right and wrong. He supported the team even when they didn’t support him. He dated Cordelia, which was never not funny. And who could forget “The Zeppo,” Xander’s shining moment?
And then Xander stopped making the jokes and just became one. His only useful addition to the team in the fourth season was constantly harking back to his one night of military experience (how long could they keep that shtick going?) and the fifth season proved him to be even more useless, serving only as Riley’s sidekick (and no, writers, making an episode that points out the problem of Xander – “The Replacement” – does not mean that you’ve fixed the problem, you’ve just made it more obvious to the viewers. What is this, Glee?). His relationship with Anya was funny, but after a re-watch you might start to realize that all of his jokes about Anya were rehashed from his relationship with Cordy – she’s frank! She’s immature! She can’t read a situation! Haha! Both girls were essentially the same in that respect, and it got tired when Xander’s only purpose was to make some remark about his girlfriend. Xander never really matured until his “yellow crayon” moment at the end of season 6 (a season in which he was mostly downright despicable) and continued to grow somewhat through season 7, once he had a job to do – fix the damn house! – and Andrew to pick on.
What happened to the great character we started with?
Imagine this, if you will. A Xander that, after sick of being so useless in season 4, decided to come to Giles during the opening of season 5 and ask to be trained as a Watcher. He’s had tons of experience fighting evil at that point and now he’s ready to buckle down and learn unlike he ever did in high school – similar to how many slacker boys are in real life when they get to college and find a real passion for something.
Or how about this scenario – couldn’t Xander have taken a self-defense course or something? Maybe “That’s my purse, I don’t know you!” doesn’t quite work on the undead, but it would have been a bit more helpful than what he was able to contribute. I understand that Xander should never gain superpowers, and I appreciate that. We love Xander because he’s not one of the special ones. But he could at least elevate himself to the level that Giles can fight at! Come on! I’ve always wanted to see Xander as a Ron Weasley character – he cracks his jokes and occasionally is hesitant to fight, but when push comes to shove he can be a powerful ally. He’s “the heart,” but with no heart.
Or even this – much like the night he discovered Angel was alive in season 3, Xander patrols by himself, or with Willow, and discovers plot points all by himself throughout the course of the series! What a thought!
You know, they tried to make Xander “Dude Who Sees Things,” which would have been badass, but they only introduced this concept of Xander being cool for ONE EPISODE, so he could get his eyeball popped out. Talk about pulling a Tara!!
“What could have been” was thankfully, at least somewhat addressed in the “Season 8” comics, where Xander is given half a brain and command over a cell of Slayers.
But Xander wasn’t the only main character who got the shaft, although he was the most important one.
How about a second question – Anya? Why couldn’t she get some real character development, too?
In the show, as is, Anya is completely loveable, sure, but completely half baked as a well-rounded character.
Here’s how I would have hoped Anya would have grown over the course of the series: Starts off confused and lost in the world, but still helps out by giving the Scooby Gang vital information about the demon world. Slowly, she adjusts to the human world and develops a flair for business, but can’t resist picking up some old demon spells or ways or friends – much to Xander’s chagrin. She’s torn between her old life of immortality and power and her new considerably more domestic one with Xander, and Mr. Harris ultimately decides to call off their wedding, leaving her heartbroken and demon once again. Anya can’t help herself but continue to assist the Scooby Gang and work at the Magic Box, though, keeping her constantly torn between two worlds. Obviously, she gets into funny situations along the way, but her confusion and troubles aren’t just always played for laughs.
And you know what the funny thing is? I think this is EXACTLY what the writers thought they wanted for Anya’s character, too! But the execution was not what was on this page. Instead of using her for interesting demon information (the gang does this maybe four or five times throughout the whole series), she just sits around and makes weird jokes about her old demon days. Umm…she was a demon for hundreds of years, YOU SHOULD BE ASKING HER QUESTIONS! FIRST, BEFORE YOU GO TO GILES OR A BOOK! There’s NO real reason for Xander to leave her at the alter (still my LEAST favorite story in the history of the show) except for him being a total dipshit, and although she was introduced as a savvy, clever enemy in season 3’s The Wish, she never again showed any of the same prowess for adaptation or quick thinking.
At the end of the day, I still love these two characters, but sometimes, especially while watching season 5, the frustration is too much for me to handle.
And do you know what I think the culprit of all this is? The writers needed more time to develop the character of SPIKE. Really. Xander and Anya were pushed aside not because the writers hated them, but because there wasn’t enough screen time while competing with such a great character like SPIKE. (Please feel my sarcasm through the Internet.)
And don’t get me started on Dawn.
Anyway, any frustrations you want to vent? Do it here!