Buffy the Vampire Slayer was an extremely popular, two-time Emmy-winning television series created by Joss Whedon about the adventures of “the One Girl, the Chosen One of each generation,” selected as the Slayer and responsible for ridding the world of Vampires, DEMONS, and other forces of darkness.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer aired from March 1997 to May 2003. The show’s clever writing; inside allusions to past or future episodes, movies, and books; appealing cast; and the defeat of vampires much different from Bram Stoker’s Dracula or Anne Rice’s Lestat gave rise to worldwide fans, a host of Internet sites, merchandise, and even scholarly articles on Buffy’s themes, symbolism, and universe: the “Buffyverse.”
Unlike past Vampire HUNTERS, Buffy Anne Summers does not fight evil alone but is supported by her friends Willow, Xander, and Oz, joined by others as the show progresses. Her Watcher, Giles, posing as a high school librarian, tutors her and the others in slayage, weaponry, self-defense, and recognition of monsters and demons.
Angel, a vampire who was given a soul in a GYPSY curse and falls deeply in love with Buffy, helps the teens hunt demons and struggles with the memories of his horrific past. He leaves BtVS in the third season to form his own demon-hunting firm, Angel Investigations, and star in a spin-off, angel.
The first three seasons of BtVS take place in Sunnydale High School, which serves as a metaphor for Hell with its cliques of popular girls and jocks tormenting the geeks, while the final four years are set in Sunnydale University, a haven for mad professors, difficult roommates, and unfaithful lovers. Buffy overcomes most of these trials with cunning and a great fashion sense, but not always: Over the seven-year series she loses friends, family and, even her life—twice.
First the Movie
Before Academy Award– and Emmy-nominated creator Joss Whedon (Toy Story, Alien: Resurrection) took Buffy to series TV, there was Buffy the Vampire Slayer on the big screen in 1992, a predictable film in which Whedon introduces the Buffy concept: A beautiful, blond young woman, usually a victim in horror or slasher films, fights back. Kristy Swanson plays Buffy, a typical Southern California airhead interested only in boys, clothes, shopping, and cheerleading.
But fate shows her a different path when the mysterious Merrick (Donald Sutherland) explains that she is the Slayer and begins teaching Buffy the fine art of vampire extermination. Her main adversary, Lothos (Rutger Hauer), is convincingly menacing but is not as exciting as Buffy’s later TV nemeses. The best villain is Amilyn, played with camp humor by Paul Reubens, better known as Pee Wee Herman. Smaller parts are filled by young actors who command much meatier roles now, such as Ben Affleck, Hilary Swank, David Arquette, and Luke Perry.
Then the Television Series
Whedon did not feel the movie adequately explored the Buffy concept, whereas with television he had the creative freedom to expand plots, flesh out the characters, and play with the villains. None of the actors from the movie transferred to the TV show. Sarah Michelle Gellar became the new Buffy. She and her mother, Joyce (Kristine Sutherland), move from Los Angeles to the suburban town of Sunnydale, where Buffy might have an easier time at a smaller high school. Joyce doesn’t know that Buffy has a different destiny:
In every generation there is a chosen one. She alone will stand against the vampires, The demons and the forces of darkness. She is the Slayer.
Unfortunately for Buffy and Joyce, Sunnydale is a hotbed of demonic activity situated on a Hellmouth: a portal into the abyss. In medieval plays, a large skeleton of a whale’s jaw often represented the Hellmouth, and demons would enter the stage from the orifice accompanied by smoke or fetid smells. Sunnydale’s Hellmouth is under the high school. The original pilot never aired.
Unlike the eventual show, the pilot Buffy had brown hair and was ditzier. The school was called Berryman, and the friends’ school hangout, the library, was enormous. Some of the plot elements, such as finding a dead student’s body in a locker, were kept for the real first episode, “Welcome to the Hellmouth,” which aired on March 10, 1997, on the WB network.
Synopsis of the First Season
Although Buffy started as a spring show for the WB, the quirky program about a girl whose destiny is to kill vampires immediately caught on. Buffy’s tough stance was not the only appeal; viewers appreciated her ambivalence to “slayage,” her desire to fit into high school, the establishment of close friends, and her attraction to edgy guys who had great sex appeal and maybe even a dark side, like the vampire Angel.
The story line for season one went as follows:
Episode one and two, “Welcome to the Hellmouth” and “The Harvest,” aired in March 1997. Buffy arrives in Sunnydale only to discover that the small town sits atop a demon portal, and that the Master vampire will soon appear to take control. But with the help of Giles, her assigned Watcher and mentor, and the support of new friends Willow and Xander, Buffy dispatches her duties while trying to be a normal teenager facing the usual problems of homework, rules, and overly critical peers.
Buffy prepares to confront the Master, who plans to break out of his prison in the sewers through a ceremony called the Harvest. He fails. The remainder of season one deals with Buffy’s attempts to attract a boyfriend, the exorcism of an evil hyena spirit from Xander, keeping Willow out of trouble on Internet chat rooms, saving the cheerleader Cordelia from the vengeance spirit of an ignored classmate, and fighting the vampire Master for control of the world. The friends call themselves the “Scooby Gang,” a reference to the cartoon series “Scooby Doo, Where Are You?” In “Scooby,” four friends—Daphne, Fred, Velma, and Shaggy—and the dog Scooby hunt the perpetrators of what appear to be supernatural crimes, just as the Scoobies (Buffy, Xander, Willow, and Giles) hunt evil forces.
The vampire Angel also figures prominently in the first season, guiding Buffy or Giles in the ways of darkness and falling in love with Buffy. However, can the Slayer fall in love with a vampire? Angel is really the cruel and sadistic Angelus, over 240 years old. He was made a vampire, or “sired,” in 1753 by a female vamp named Darla, who was also his lover. Darla was a whore in Virginia before gaining immortality from the Master in 1609. A person cannot become a vampire by being the victim of feeding but must drink blood from the vampire.
Angel sired Drusilla, a former nun who appears in season two. Cursed by Gypsies in 1898, he regained a soul, but the curse also forced him to remember his atrocities. In the last episode of season one, “Prophecy Girl,” Buffy resolves to shoulder her responsibilities as Slayer and confront the Master. But she is not quite strong enough, and the Master feeds on her and leaves her to drown in a pool of WATER. Buffy actually dies briefly but is rescued by Xander and Angel. Since at the time of airing Whedon and his cast did not know if the WB wanted more of the show, this last episode of the first season had the finality of a complete story.
Synopses of Seasons Two and Three
Seasons two and three take place at Sunnydale High School, completing Buffy’s early training. She returns from summer vacation following season one distant and depressed, especially when she learns that the vampires are still trying to resurrect the Master. She battles two students who have been killing teenage girls to use their body parts to create the perfect teen queen, and she overpowers an Incan spirit who resided in an ancient mummy.
Vampires feed on a drunken Buffy at a fraternity party, she loses her powers while costumed as an 18th-century noblewoman at a Halloween party, and the Scoobies uncover Giles’s wild past, in which, known as the Ripper, he dabbled in the occult. Two important new characters join Buffy in the second season: Spike and Drusilla. The vampire Spike, a hip, edgy personality with nearly white hair, comes to Sunnydale to restore the health of his ailing lover and sire, Drusilla. Spike’s bloody past equals Angel’s, and he boasts that he’s already killed two Slayers. When Buffy dies in season one, the Watcher’s Council in England—Giles’s governing body—sends Kendra to be the next Slayer, but Drusilla kills Kendra by the end of the season.
The romance between Angel and Buffy dominates season two. Even though Angel is a vampire, Buffy senses a kindred spirit. They barely escape Spike and Drusilla’s attempts to reassemble a demon called the Judge, whose body parts have been buried all over the world (much as Isis reassembled Osiris), and are unaware that Giles’s new love interest, teacher Jenny Calendar, is actually Jenna Kalderash of the Romany clan that cursed Angel so many years before. While hiding from the Judge, Angel and Buffy make love—and that one moment of perfect happiness lifts the curse on Angel’s soul, returning him to his vampire persona, Angelus.
He cries out Buffy’s name in extreme pain and becomes her adversary. At the end of the season, in episode 21 entitled “Becoming 2,” Buffy realizes she has to stake Angel/Angelus in order to save him from descending into Hell with the demons Drusilla has called. She stabs Angel just as her friend Willow, a budding Wiccan, completes her spell, restoring Angel. Overcome with grief, Buffy leaves Sunnydale. Buffy begins season three in Los Angeles, working as a waitress and trying to forget she ever was a Slayer. Since she has gone, the council appoints a new Slayer, Faith, who does not share Buffy’s scruples about killing humans. Homesick, Buffy returns to Sunnydale.
Various evil events, such as the mauling of a student by a Werewolf (possibly Oz, who has been turned by a bite from a relative), the affair of the band candy that resulted in her mother, Joyce, and Giles having sex twice on the hood of a police car, and the return of the Master, force Buffy to again accept her duty as the Slayer. Her very existence is wished away by Cordelia, however, who resolves to wreak vengeance on Xander for choosing Willow over her and blames everything on Buffy. Cordelia’s plan is furthered by the demon Anyanka, patron saint of vengeance.
Meanwhile, Angel, who has returned to earth with his soul, remains tortured over his love for Buffy and its consequences. Knowing the risks, he refuses to escort her to the senior prom, an event Buffy had wanted to attend as a normal part of high school life. Anyanka reappears as Anya, no longer a vengeance demon, to warn the Scoobies that Faith, now completely without morals, has joined Mayor Richard Wilkins to facilitate his ascension into total evil. Faith has also poisoned Angel, and the only antidote is Faith’s own blood. In the last two episodes of season three, “Graduation Day 1” and “Graduation Day 2,” Buffy and Faith fight ferociously, but Faith manages to escape, albeit in a coma.
To save Angel, Buffy offers herself, and he feeds reluctantly but hungrily. Revived after a few hours in the hospital, Buffy joins her classmates at the graduation ceremony, where the mayor turns into a huge serpent and eats Principal Snyder. The entire student body has been enlisted to fight the snake, enabling Buffy to lure the enraged monster into the school library, packed with explosives. The school explodes, the snake dies, the ascension is averted, and the Scoobies reflect on their survival: not only the recent battle but high school itself. Angel says good-bye to Buffy and disappears into the smoke (and into his own spin-off show).
Synopsis of Season Four
Buffy begins season four trying to adjust to college life at Sunnydale University and balance her course work with her slayage. She detests her roommate, Kathy, sleeps with Parker Abrams but finds him indifferent, and copes with the return of Spike, accompanied by Cordelia’s old friend Harmony, now a vampire. Oz, fighting his Lycanthropy (wolf behavior), escapes from his cage during a full moon and encounters Veruca, another werewolf.
She encourages him to embrace his wolfy self, and they sleep together until Veruca tries to kill Willow. Oz kills Veruca instead and leaves Sunnydale and Willow. Spike, meanwhile, has been captured by a group of secret commando dedicated to demon eradication called the Initiative, who operate underneath the university. The Initiative soldiers put a chip in Spike’s head, rendering him helpless to hurt humans but able to fight demons.
One of the Initiative, Riley Finn, falls in love with Buffy, but she is reluctant to reveal her true nature, and Riley also keeps his Initiative membership secret. Episode 10, “Hush,” was nominated for an Emmy award for best writing in a drama series. Creator Joss Whedon wrote and directed an innovative plot in which a group of fairy-tale demons called the Gentlemen (a scary, skeletal group of men with macabre grins who float above the ground upright, followed by even uglier accomplices in unhooked straightjackets) invade Sunnydale and steal everyone’s voices, then cut out their hearts. There is no spoken dialogue for most of the episode, only music, as the Scoobies and Giles frantically try to break the spell so Buffy’s scream can dispatch the Gentlemen.
Unbeknownst to the other, Buffy and Riley rendezvous in the old clock tower to fight the Gentlemen, and while they succeed, they realize that their secrets are out. Another significant event in “Hush”: Tara (Amber Benson), a member of Willow’s Wicca gathering, becomes Willow’s friend and eventual lesbian lover—a breakthrough for TV. Throughout the rest of season four, Buffy and Riley consolidate their relationship and spend a great deal of time in bed. Buffy’s psychology professor, Maggie Walsh, is the secret head of the Initiative and has been giving Riley drugs to make him stronger.
When he leaves the Initiative for Buffy, Walsh turns to Adam, her half-man, half-robot monster, to exact revenge, but he kills Walsh instead. Faith, meanwhile, has regained consciousness from her coma and uses a special device to switch bodies with Buffy. Once Buffy regains her body, she and Riley defeat Adam, but only after Spike defeats the Initiative, who were demons all along. Faith warns Buffy to “be home before Dawn,” an allusion to the forthcoming mysterious appearance of Buffy’s sister Dawn (Michelle Trachtenberg).
Synopsis of Season Five
Count Dracula appears to the Slayer in episode one of the fifth season, materializing after she has “dusted” (dispatched to dust) a vampire. He flatters her by saying all vampires know her, and that she is beautiful and desirable. Dracula does not have the pinched nose and reptilian features that identify Sunnydale vampires, nor does he look like BELA LUGOSI. Instead, he more closely resembles the vampire LESTAT: youngish, long hair, and penetrating gaze. And unlike other vampires Buffy has met, Dracula has the ability to shape-shift: to become a BAT or dissolve into a mist. He can enter homes at will (ignoring the need for an invitation, a restriction on other vamps) and doesn’t stay dead when staked. Dracula tempts Buffy to taste immortality after he feeds on her, and she considers it but refuses.
Illness and hospitals dominate the plot as Riley nearly dies from the drugs given him by Professor Walsh. Joyce, Buffy’s mother, suffers from a brain tumor and requires surgery. Most puzzling is the appearance of Buffy’s little sister, Dawn, who was unknown before. As the season develops, Buffy learns that a group of monks created Dawn from an energy called the “Key” then gave her a human form. The monks implanted familial memories in Buffy, Joyce, and Dawn, making it appear that Dawn was always in the family.
The Hell-Goddess Glory, who shares the body of Ben, a hospital intern, is the fifth season’s Big Bad (as in Big Bad Evil). She is seeking the Key but does not know it is Dawn. Some of her efforts to locate the Key include a huge snake (Buffy chokes it); frequently changing bodies with Ben to confuse and perhaps trap the Key; and sending a group of Knights of Byzantium (reminiscent of the Knights Templar) to attack Buffy and kidnap Dawn. The Knights attack twice, confiding that Glory wants the Key so that she can return to Hell. But once the Key is activated, all the dimensions of earth become Hell.
Although the Knights do kidnap Dawn, Glory becomes increasingly frustrated with her life on earth and possession of Ben’s body. She and Ben fight in a bizarre body-switch back and forth, and Ben eventually gives Dawn to Glory to save himself. Riley realizes that Buffy can never love him as deeply as he loves her. He begins consorting with female vamps and eventually leaves Sunnydale after Spike tells Buffy of Riley’s late-night escapades. Spike, meanwhile, reveals his love for Buffy, even offering to kill Drusilla for her. Buffy does not reciprocate his affection, and in frustration Spike obtains a robot Buffy, dubbed the Buffybot, which substitutes for a while.
Joyce dies from an aneurysm toward season’s end, and Dawn attempts a spell to bring her back but ultimately accepts her mother’s death. Glory kidnaps Dawn to use her as the Key to unleash the apocalypse. The Scoobies prepare for battle, knowing some may not make it. Xander and Anya, who have had a rather lukewarm relationship, pledge to marry if they survive. The shocking ending: Once Buffy realizes that she and Dawn share the same blood, Buffy knows that she can give Dawn life by sacrificing hers. Her headstone reads:
Buffy Anne Summers
She Saved the World
Synopses of Seasons Six and the Final Season Seven
Seasons six and seven were broadcast on the UPN network, part of Universal and Paramount Pictures. While the WB offered $1.6 million per episode, UPN offered to pay $2.3 million per episode for 44 episodes, or two seasons. The original cost to the WB had been $1 million per episode. Buffy the Vampire Slayer changed networks. This arrangement ended the plot and character sharing between Buffy and angel, but those prohibitions fell by spring 2003, when Willow guest-starred on Angel.
Season six opens several months after Buffy’s death. With no Slayer to watch, Giles—who loved Buffy as his daughter—plans to return to England. Willow, Anya, Tara, and Xander cast a spell to resurrect Buffy but are interrupted by demon bikers and leave without knowing whether the spell worked. The spell succeeds, but a very disoriented Buffy must dig herself out of her grave.
She reverts to the Slayer to dust the bikers but yearns for the peace of Heaven, which she has left. The Buffybot, severely damaged by the bikers, informs Dawn of Buffy’s resurrection. Buffy tries to take Joyce’s place as homemaker and parent while remaining in school but is overwhelmed by demons, plumbing leaks, and Dawn’s rebellious behavior.
Episode six, “Once More, With Feeling,” features a strange force that compels the citizens of Sunnydale to reveal their innermost thoughts and feelings in song, and Buffy and the gang admit their failures and fears. Original score, songs, and lyrics were written by Joss Whedon, with music composition by Christophe Beck. Willow continues magick (the real thing, not tricks) more vigorously, casting a spell to make Buffy forget Heaven but causing everyone else to have amnesia. Tara disapproves of Willow’s growing addiction, and they break off their relationship.
Spike pursues Buffy, this time successfully. Willow encounters a warlock who introduces her to some powerful magick, and she actually gets high casting the spells. Buffy takes a job as a fast-food worker to make ends meet in episode 11 but finds the customers dying from a “secret ingredient.” The sponsors hated this story line. Buffy turns 21 and receives a visit from her former lover, Riley Finn, and his wife, Sam. Their romance reminds Buffy that her relationship with Spike lacks something. Xander abandons Anya on their wedding day, afraid of turning into his father.
Willow and Tara reunite, but Tara is accidentally shot and killed by Warren, creator of the Buffybot. Willow calls on Osiris to bring Tara back, but the spell fails. Consumed with anger, Willow vows to destroy the entire world. She is held back momentarily by a newly empowered Giles, who has returned from England, but her desire for vengeance is so great she nearly succeeds in her plans for Armageddon. Xander finally stops her.
Sunnydale High School reopens at the start of the seventh and final season, with Buffy hired as a new guidance counselor. Robin Wood is the new principal. Buffy contends with Dawn and her friends as well as bigger issues such as Willow’s kidnapping by a demon, the raising of several undead and unwanted Baddies with the reconstruction of the high school, and the discovery of a student cult playing with the dark side.
Invisible forces trash the Summers’s home, depositing Joyce’s body on the sofa. In episode six, “Conversations with Dead People,” many of those who had passed, including Joyce, return to harass their loved ones. These spirits are not ghosts but demons representing the First Evil. The Scoobies become suspicious of Spike’s possible role in some recent murders and hold him captive in Buffy’s home until they investigate.
Strange, hooded figures called Bringers trash the Summers’s house and take Spike to Sunnydale High, where they try to raise an old vampire. While helping clean up Buffy’s house, Giles reveals that the First Evil is killing off Slayers so that the Hellmouth can open. Many of the new Slayers, or Potentials, are on their way to Buffy’s home. Buffy confronts a particularly powerful vampire, a Turok-Han, barely defeating him and saving the Slayers.
Buffy searches for Spike, who has endured excruciating torture. Buffy and Spike train the remaining Slayers and Potentials for the final battle. Principal Wood tells Buffy that his mother was a Slayer in New York—and that Spike killed her. Meanwhile, Faith returns yet again to guide the Potentials, resulting in animosity between Faith and Buffy. Spike refuses to let Buffy concede her influence to Faith, and he and Buffy learn that a man named Caleb is living at a nearby vineyard as leader of the Bringers.
Caleb and his minions battle Buffy and the Potentials, but finally confront Xander as “the one who sees things,” blinding him in one eye. Buffy returns the next day to fight Caleb, and although he strikes at her again and again she is unhurt. Buffy discovers a hidden room containing a large weapon called a Scythe, and Faith and the Potentials search the sewers for more weapons, but find a ticking bomb instead. Caleb is furious that Buffy so easily pulls the ancient Scythe out of its stone (like Excalibur).
The bomb explodes, leaving Faith unconscious and some of the Potentials dead. Unsure of the Scythe’s history and power, Buffy finds an old woman at a tomb who explains that the Scythe was created to destroy the last pure demon. Caleb arrives and snaps the old woman’s neck then attacks Buffy, overpowering her. Angel, who has returned from Los Angeles in the night, knocks Caleb to the ground and then steps back to let Buffy finish the job.
Buffy guts Caleb, leaving him for dead, then kisses Angel passionately. Spike watches them, heartbroken. Caleb rises one more time, and Buffy slices him in half, starting with his genitals. She turns to Angel, but he jealously senses Spike’s smell on her. The First Evil appears and tells Buffy that it is everywhere and will never die, and that the Slayer will always fight alone. Buffy realizes that she need not be a solitary killer and asks Willow to cast a spell that divides the Scythe’s power equally among all the Potential Slayers.
The remaining Scoobies and the new Slayers enter the Hellmouth and engage in a huge battle. The powers of an amulet prevent Spike from fighting, and he begins to burn inside. A beam of pure SunLIGHT shoots outward from his soul, instantly dusting the powerful Turok-Han vampires. Most of Sunnydale has been swallowed by the Hellmouth, but the remaining citizens flee on a bus. Spike and Buffy embrace, then Spike enters Hell while Buffy runs for the bus, smiling with the knowledge she is no longer the One but one of many. The epic story closes, leaving the fans—as always—to debate how well the closing was done.
Themes and Appeal
What was it that made Buffy the Vampire Slayer a good, possibly great, television show, appealing not only to teen audiences but to older fans as well? Comments on over 750,000 Web sites and opinions expressed in scholarly essays and panel discussions, university seminars and dinner party conversations, say the show was clever, humorous, well-written, edgy, cool, hip, and different from other books or programs on vampires.
While the appeal may have been its trendiness, the themes explored by Buffy and the Scoobies were timeless: the fight of good versus evil and the ambiguity of that conflict; the metaphor of high school as Hell (not much has changed at high school—there are still the same patterns of behavior); the security of family and the bonds of friendship; the realization that life’s pleasures are priceless; the nature of love, female empowerment, and the right to do things “her way”; and the need for sacrifice to gain redemption.
Sarah Michelle Gellar was not comfortable with descriptions of Buffy as feminist programming, saying, “Feminism has sort of a negative connotation. It makes you think of women who don’t shave their legs.” Yet Buffy was empowered and made no excuses for being a young woman who would assume the role of Slayer and perform daily acts of necessary violence for the common good. Neither did she apologize for a fairly active sex life with several partners over seven seasons. At least two of her partners were practicing vampires.
In other words, Buffy “kicked ass,” a most favorable character trait. According to Rhonda V. Wilcox, in her essay “Who Died and Made Her the Boss?: Patterns of Mortality in Buffy,” her affair with Angel is not a match made in Heaven. They come from separate worlds, they often hurt each other yet risk their lives for each other, but their relationship is based first on friendship and transcendent love, not a one-night stand. And coincidentally, the lovers (nearly all of them, not just Buffy and Angel), practice safe sex. Buffy’s ability to exact violent retribution against the forces of evil does not mean she is indiscriminate.
To her, even vampires and demons are not necessarily entirely evil, and deserve respect and perhaps love if they express guilt over their past actions and seek redemption. Essayist Mimi Marinucci notes that Buffy extends such consideration first to Angel and later to Spike. On the other hand, humans do not necessarily get a break for their humanity if they are evil, like Mayor Wilkins. Buffy argues with the Slayer Faith when Faith tries to convince her that as Slayers she and Buffy are better and therefore above the rules: “People need us to survive. In the balance, nobody’s gonna cry over some random bystander who got caught in the crossfire.”
When Buffy protests, Faith replies, “Well, that’s your loss.” Buffy’s ethos can be distilled into seven precepts, according to Richard Greene and Wayne Yuen in their essay entitled “Morality on Television: The Case of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” To summarize, Buffy believes that harm should not come to those who pose no threat to humans, or no immediate threat at all. And unless there is an urgent matter, take fairness into account, controlling only those that do harm.
Nevertheless, if the benefits of a good opportunity outweigh the risks of a situation, attempt the good. Buffy’s independence from the strictures of an earlier age is evidenced in her decision to share her burden of slayage with her friends so that together they were stronger than she alone. And if traditional methods fail, don’t give up: Try a rocket launcher instead. One of the most pervasive influences on the show is the music that appears in the episodes, either as featured pieces or background. In the essay “My Boyfriend’s in the Band!: Buffy and the Rhetoric of Music,” S. Renee Dechert notes that, “music is at the heart of the Scooby Gang . . . it functions as a form of rhetorical discourse every bit as important as the lines characters speak. . . . [and] provides a common ‘language’ for characters and fans.”
Dechert says that Buffy uses popular music in three primary ways: first as a contributor of mood to various scenes, providing a backdrop, and secondly as a way to establish the identities of characters. The third use is to reinforce the “communal identity” between the music of Buffy and the show’s fans. Whereas most shows feature a “card” of the band—its album cover and a five-second promotional spot of the song at the end of the show—Buffy chooses simply to incorporate the music. Knowing the songs and bands allows fans to be insiders.
Artists are encouraged to submit their own material for consideration, so little-known musicians get the chance to shine. Such an approach fits right in with Buffy’s main theme: accepting those who are different, who don’t quite fit in—yet. However, what defines Buffy for many viewers is its sense of humor. According to Steve Wilson in his essay “Laugh, Spawn of Hell, Laugh,” without the jokes the show “would be little more than your average teen melodrama action horror hybrid. And a silly one at that.”
The writers employ slapstick, puns, satire, inside jokes and allusions, dry wit, sight gags, and irony to lighten the plot without relying too much on any one comedic form. Wilson maintains Buffy has mastered its own brand of comedy: really weird dialogue. Wilson continues: “Without . . . levity, the rhythm of emotion, suspense and action would lose its potency.”
Shakespeare understood the importance of comic relief. “A little ho-ho and ha-ha and even the most credulous viewer is looking past the fright masks,” notes Wilson, “not quite suspending disbelief, but willing to be entertained, moved, perhaps edified and, above all, to refrain from dwelling too long on the absurdity inherent in watching a show about a vampire slayer with the dubious name of Buffy.”
As noted earlier, there are over 750,000 Web sites devoted to the Slayer, offering fans the latest on the episodes, the plots, the characters, the bios of the actors, access to Buffy merchandise and the opportunity to submit fan fictions, also known as “slash fiction.” Slash stories present fantasies about two or more of the characters having a relationship who might not otherwise have been together, signified by a name, then a slash mark, then the other name. They are not horror/slasher tales in the traditional sense.
The list of characters for Buffy the Vampire Slayer expanded over the seven seasons to include brief appearances by demons and vampires, lovers and other friends, but the main roles were as follows:
Buffy Anne Summers: the Chosen One of her generation, the Slayer, a teenage girl from Southern California selected to rid the world of vampires and demons. Meanwhile Buffy makes close friends to counterbalance the angst of high school. She has superhuman strength and heals faster than regular humans. Her fashion sense is impeccable, usually featuring leather pants. Her parents are divorced—Mom’s name is Joyce and Dad is Hank. She is an only child until season five when Dawn enters the family as her younger sister. Buffy’s birthday is January 19, 1981.
Rupert Giles: a Watcher, the Slayer’s trainer and mentor, disguised as the librarian at Sunnydale High School. Giles is English and attended Oxford University but left before graduation to dabble in the black arts and spend much of his time prowling about the British Museum. In his younger, wilder days he was known as Ripper. Because he loves Buffy like a daughter, the governing Watcher’s Council feels his judgment could be compromised and fires him. He stays in Sunnydale anyway, only returning to England at the beginning of season six. Fortunately, Giles returns to Sunnydale late in season six to confront the vengeful Willow and play a role in the final apocalypse of season seven.
Xander (Alexander) Harris: One of Buffy’s first friends at Sunnydale High School. Although scared of Buffy’s powers and her encounters with demons and monsters, Xander joins the Scooby Gang and remains a loyal ally and soldier. He is unique among the friends in that he possesses no supernatural powers at all. He dates Willow and Cordelia and nearly marries Anya in season six, although he’s always loved Buffy.
Willow Rosenberg: Another original member of the Scooby Gang. Willow embraces Wicca and becomes a powerful witch, casting spells to resurrect Buffy after death and nearly destroying the entire world in season six. She has a crush on Xander at first, then falls in love with Oz. In season four she meets Tara McLay, also a witch, with whom she has an intense lesbian relationship.
Angel: The vampire with a soul who loves Buffy and helps the Scoobies in their fight against evil. Angel’s real name was Liam, a form of William. He was born in 1727 and died in 1753, at which time he was “sired,” or made a vampire, by Darla, who became his lover. After his conversion, Angel returned to his home to murder his family. His sister, astounded at his rise from the dead, proclaimed him an angel—hence the name. As a vampire, Angel—or Angelus as he was notoriously known—performed some of the worst atrocities in recorded history. He sired Drusilla, a Victorian-era psychic and nun, in 1860, but not before he drove her insane.
In 1898 Gypsies cursed him, giving him a soul and the ability to remember all his horrible crimes. Angel reverts to his vampire persona only on occasion, otherwise appearing normal, but he must feed on blood. Angel loves Buffy deeply, but when they make love—thereby giving Angel a moment of bliss—the curse is lifted and Angelus reappears. Angel leaves Buffy and starts his own business in Los Angeles as well as his own show. Contrary to fictional vampire lore, Angel has a son, Connor, by his old flame, Darla.
Spike: also a vampire with a soul deeply in love with Buffy. He has almost white hair and dresses very coolly in black and leather, resembling British rocker Billy Idol. His real name is also William, and he wrote Victorian poetry. After he was sired by Drusilla, he tried to save his dying mother—the only family member he loved—by vamping her. But she turned on him, trying to seduce him, and he had to stake her.
Like Angelus, Spike has had quite a past, although its memories do not torment him. He has killed two Slayers, one of whom was Sunnydale High School principal Robin Wood’s mother; she died in 1977 on a New York City subway. Buffy goes hot and cold on Spike, attracted by his dangerousness and repelled by his past. In season five, Spike casually mentions that for a little crunch he crumbles Weetabix cereal into his cup of blood. Oz (Daniel) Osbourne: One of the Scooby Gang by the second season, Oz became a werewolf after being bitten by his nephew Jordy (in another source Jordy is identified as Oz’s cousin).
He performs at The Bronze with his band, Dingoes Ate My Baby, making him quite cool. He loves Willow but betrays her by sleeping with Veruca, another werewolf who encourages him to give in to his wolf side. Oz leaves Sunnydale and a heartbroken Willow. He returns later to find that Willow has chosen Tara, and this time he leaves for good. Cordelia Chase: Originally a bitchy cheerleading queen at Sunnydale High, Cordelia eventually becomes a Scooby. Her high school followers, including future vampire Harmony, were known as the Cordettes.
Xander falls for her early on. Cordelia moves to Los Angeles to help Angel at Angel Investigations and pursue her dream of an acting career. She’s not very talented, but she does inherit the ability to have blinding visions that foretell events and evil forces. She has a daughter, Jasmine, by Angel’s son, Connor.
Sarah Michelle Gellar (Buffy):
Born on April 14, 1977, in New York City. Gellar is five feet, three inches tall and married actor Freddie Prinze Jr. in September 2002. She was discovered by a casting agent at age four while eating in a fast-food restaurant. Not long afterward Gellar made her first film, An Invasion of Privacy. McDonald’s named Gellar as a defendant in the fastfood giant’s suit against Burger King, in which little Gellar had to mention McDonald’s unfavorably. In her early 20s, Gellar became the spokeswoman for Maybelline cosmetics. Movie credits include: Scream 2, I Know What You Did Last Summer, Cruel Intentions, Simply Irresistible, and Scooby Doo.
Nicholas Brendon (Xander):
Born Nicholas Brendon Schulz on April 12, 1971, in Los Angeles. Brendon has a twin brother, Kelly Donovan Schulz, and during the summers Brendon often grows a goatee so that people can tell him from Kelly. He is married to Tressa di Figlia, whom he met on the set of Piñata. Shy and a stutterer, Brendon pursued acting to help overcome his speech disorder. He also worked odd jobs, in and out of show business, trying to catch a break. He had bit parts on several soap operas and did commercials, finally getting some experience as associate producer of Dave’s World. His big movie appearance was playing Starcat (a play on Moondoggie in Gidget) in Psycho Beach Party; he also appeared in Children of the Corn 3.
Anthony Stewart Head (Giles):
Born on February 24, 1954, in the Camden neighborhood of London. Besides his role in Buffy, he’s known for appearing in Nescafe (UK) and Taster’s Choice (US) ads, borrowing coffee from beautiful neighbors and perhaps staying to play? Head has had starring roles in Manchild, Jonathan Creek, and VR.5, and has appeared as a guest star in numerous series and television shows, both in the United States and Great Britain.
Alyson Hannigan (Willow):
Born on March 24, 1974, in Washington, D.C. Hannigan is five feet, six inches tall and is married to actor Alexis Denisof, who plays Wesley on Angel. She began her acting career in Atlanta, also at age four, doing commercials for McDonald’s, Nabisco Oreo cookies, and Six Flags amusement parks. Television work included Picket Fences, Roseanne, Touched by an Angel and The Torkelsons. Movie credits include American Pie, My Stepmother is an Alien, Boys and Girls, and Beyond City Limits.
James Marsters (Spike):
Born James Wesley Marsters on August 20, 1982, in Greenville, California. Marsters is five feet, 11 inches tall and has a scar on his left eyebrow as a result of a mugging in the Queens borough of New York City. He is the front man for a band called Ghost of the Robot, which released its first album, Mad Brilliant, in February 2003. Marsters has a huge fan following in the sci-fi/fantasy community with hundreds of Web sites devoted to him alone. He performed in live theater in New York, Chicago, and Seattle, and appeared in the movie House on Haunted Hill.
Seth Green (Oz):
Born Seth Gesshel Green on February 8, 1974, in Philadelphia. His parents, Herbert and Barbara Green, already had a daughter, Kaela. Green began acting at age six when he appeared in a summer camp performance of Hello, Dolly! He followed that debut with appearances in various commercials, one of which was with Sarah Michelle Gellar when she was four. Television credits include The X-Files, The Wonder Years, Beverly Hills 90210, Evening Shade, and seaQuest DSV. Green has an extensive movie résumé, with parts in Hotel New Hampshire, Radio Days, My Stepmother is an Alien with Alyson Hannigan, Pump Up the Volume, Stonebrook, Idle Hands, Enemy of the State, Can’t Hardly Wait, and a part in the original Buffy movie that ended up being cut. Besides his role as Oz in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Green is well known for being Dr. Evil’s son in the Austin Powers movies.
David Boreanaz (Angel):
Born David Patrick Boreanaz on May 16, 1971, in Buffalo, New York. Boreanaz is six feet, one inch tall and is married to Jaime Bergman. They have a son, Jaden Rayne, born on May 1, 2002. Boreanaz was previously married to Ingrid Quinn. He is the son of Philadelphia weatherman Dave Roberts, has two sisters, and was discovered by an agent while out walking his dog. Boreanaz has appeared in several commercials, including a “Got Milk?” ad in 2000. People named him one of the “50 Most Beautiful People” in 1999.
Charisma Carpenter (Cordelia):
Born on July 23, 1970, in Las Vegas, Carpenter also uses her married surname of Hardy. She is five feet, seven and one-half inches tall and married Damien Hardy on October 5, 2002. Their son, Donovan Charles Hardy, was born on March 24, 2003. Carpenter notes that her mother named her after an inexpensive perfume. Her credits include the starring role of Ashley Green on Malibu Shores and appearances on Miss Match, Strange Frequency, Hey, Arnold, Boy Meets World, Baywatch, and Celebrity Undercover. Movies include See Jane Date, The Groomsmen, and Josh Kirby, Time Warrior.
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