What the Buffyverse Means to Me
By William Fletcher
A couple of notes first:
1) There are no overt spoilers for Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Angel. I will refer to characters and their arcs, a few episodes vaguely, and the occasional plot point with some slight context. However, if you’ve never seen either show, this article will not spoil anything major. That being said, if you wish to know nothing about the two shows, I highly recommend not reading ahead.
2) I fully understand that Joss Whedon has become a majorly controversial figure and I fully understand anyone who wishes not to support the man. This article is not in any way justifying what the man did nor is it absolving him of any wrongdoings. This is simply a discussion of a franchise that means a lot to me and why I love it. If you are unable to separate the art from the artist and believe that engaging with it in any way is supporting the creator, I understand completely.
It’s difficult to write about this franchise. That’s partially because of my immense love for it, partially because of my self-imposed rule to not spoil anything, and largely because of how strongly I associate this show with my family. There is simply not enough time for me to go into detail about why I truly love Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel as shows, but I’ll do my best. I’ll begin with my general appreciation I have for the franchise before moving onto the more personal aspect of my love for it. I’ll also throw some quotes in throughout which is arguably quite cheesy but fuck it. My article, my rules.
The best place to start for these shows is the element that truly makes or breaks the show: the characters. It’s so rare for me to find a show, much less two shows, where I love every major character in some way or another. There are the occasional characters I’m not a fan of, but most of these are villains who I’m supposed to dislike. Both shows feature some of the greatest character arcs I’ve ever seen in a TV show. In fact, Angel includes my favourite character arc, and quite possibly my favourite character, in any media: Wesley (Alexis Denisof). His arc is a truly wonderful one, as Wesley starts off as this incredibly unlikeable dick before becoming one of the most tragic and heartbreaking characters I’ve ever seen (rivaled only by Jimmy McGill). Denisof gives a powerhouse performance throughout his run, making it fascinating to watch his character arc unfold throughout the seasons. His delivery of iconic lines like “There’s love. There’s hope… for some. There’s hope that you’ll find something worthy… that your life will lead you to some joy… that after everything… you can still be surprised” brings so much pathos to scenes and kicks you right in the gut. There are also some certain actions and choices he makes that are genuinely shocking and left me agape, but make perfect sense in hindsight. Honestly, that is why Buffyverse characters are so memorable to me: the joint prowess of the writing and the acting.
Along with Wesley, we follow some wonderfully realized character arcs with every major character receiving a satisfying conclusion by the end of both shows. There’s Spike, who’s arguably the most iconic character from either show (and for good reason) as a vicious, villainous character who is also immensely likable. As Spike, James Marsters gives an incredible performance that takes an inherently unlikeable character and makes you actually begin to feel for him at several parts throughout the show. But while the anti-heroes in the Buffyverse are always fascinating to watch, this show also nails much more purehearted and loveable characters like Winifred (generally called Fred). Her character brings a much-needed breath of fresh air and adds an entertaining dynamic with the other characters. She adds a real charm and cuteness to offset the much more serious characters she’s surrounded by while simultaneously having an arc that is some of the most emotionally engaging TV I’ve ever seen.
Though those were the characters that stuck out the most to me, there are no arcs that feel unjustified or unearned. Even the villains have compelling, realistic writing! I find that most villains are underdeveloped compared to the protagonists, but not in Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Angel. Both shows have superbly-written villains, whether they’re the main antagonists or hilarious one-offs. Some of these characters have a level of campy cheese that works far better than it should. And really, that’s a tenet that can apply to the entirety of both shows: they’re TV series that are able to take theoretically ridiculous ideas and make them both incredibly funny and very heartfelt. They can take concepts like a musical episode, memory loss, time travel, and even a puppet episode and not only justify their existence within the canon of the universe but also result in some of the best episodes of either show.
This show in general feels incredibly justified with what it does. Character arcs are all incredibly well plotted and are all set up throughout the seasons. A hero becoming a villain or vice versa are all justified and you see the character progression throughout the seasons. This is a show that is so expertly able to make me go from adoring a character and rooting for them to do well to begging them to stop everything they’re doing and quit digging their grave even deeper. I never had any moments throughout either show where I was questioning why certain events or character changes happened, which is a feat since combined, the shows have a total of 254 episodes.
Because of the earnest characterization and the excellent execution of practically every idea the writers could come up with, I actually found myself deeply invested in these shows’ romances. There are only a handful of shows where I genuinely care about the romantic relationships and want the characters to have their happy ending, and these are two of them! Every relationship feels justified within the context of the show. However, this being a Joss Whedon production, he gives you everything you could possibly want before immediately taking it away and pulverizing your heart into dust. That could be cheap and lazy in the hands of less capable writers, but here it feels devastatingly earned and brings me closer to tears than most shows are capable of.
As if having brilliant character writing, compelling relationships, and creative direction wasn’t enough, these shows are somehow also adept at being able to go from making you cry to making you laugh without feeling out of place tonally. This can be attributed to the phenomenal dialogue that can be comedic riots at points (with lines like “I’m 17. Looking at linoleum makes me want to have sex” and “Can I trade in the children for more cash?”) and heartbreakingly powerful at others (with lines like “Giles, I’m 16 years old. I don’t wanna die” and “Am I a righteous man? The world wants me gone”). You could write a book with a greatest hits medley of lines from both shows and you’d still have some glaring omissions.
Given the many qualities I’ve just stated, it should come as no surprise that Buffy the Vampire Slayer is one of most important shows from the past 30 years. Many major showrunners and writers have directly cited it as an influence to them, such as Russell T. Davis, Damon Lindeloff and Eric Kripke. This show also popularized the musical episode (a fairly commonplace staple in television at this point), as seen in shows like How I Met Your Mother, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia and Community. This show is even referenced through writing courses, though in that department it arguably has created slight problems: many shows and movies nowadays are written in a similar way to Whedon’s style without the tiniest understanding of how he writes or when that type of screenwriting is applicable.
But as I’ve mentioned earlier, beyond these shows’ technical merits and inarguable influence, the reason I wanted to write this article in the first place is because of its significance to me and my family.
Well, here comes the hardest part to write.
My two older sisters grew up and fell in love with the work of Joss Whedon since my dad wanted them to have strong female role models (which were few and far between in the 90s). That love was passed down to me when I began watching the show around 2014. There were many discussions about the show amongst my family that escalated into these massive debates about who the best character was, whether season 4 was the actual worst Buffy season, etc. The Buffyverse united us, even if we had a variety of different opinions on it. I’ll always treasure lightheartedly arguing in favor of my favorite characters and seasons with my family.
My dad passed away in January this year. Buffy has a great quote that I feel like really encapsulates how it all feels. “Bottom line is, even if you see ‘em coming, you’re not ready for the big moments. No one asks for their life to change, not really. But it does. So what are we, helpless? Puppets? No. The big moments are gonna come. You can’t help that. It’s what you do afterwards that counts. That’s when you find out who you are”.
It’s hard to deal with someone in your life passing and, trust me, it’s still really hard now. But I’m doing everything I can to keep going. I’m continuing to work on various projects and trying to keep myself busy. I keep writing reviews and the like for this website, producing a weekly podcast, and writing scripts for future projects because that’s what my dad would want me to do. He’d want me to keep going and not stop doing what I love.
There’s one more story related to Buffy and my dad. There’s a certain episode of Buffy that hit incredibly close to home, and I felt this really odd desire to rewatch it even though I arguably shouldn’t have.
I more or less spent the entire runtime of that episode crying, but there was something incredibly cathartic about that. Watching characters I truly love go through a situation similar to mine and be able to articulate what I was completely unable to was something that I really needed. I do regret the fact that I never got to finish watching Angel while my dad was still here, but it’s something I have to live with. I will always treasure the time I did have with him and the times that we were able to discuss these shows. Those moments still happened, and I’m eternally grateful for that. Time doesn’t always last, so you have to enjoy the time you do get.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this, and that maybe it’s even inspired you to start watching these shows (avoid the HD remasters though). I’ll leave you with possibly my favourite quote from either show, which I believe can speak to anyone and is a quote I believe that everyone should hear.
“If nothing we do matters, then all that matters is what we do”.