The world of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel is an expansive one filled with fascinating characters, from the leading protagonists to bit players who leave a big impression. To sort the Slayers from the Slayerettes, Alex, Tim and guest Buffyverse expert Imi Spencer-Dale have bracketed up 64(ish) characters, seeded them based on the number of episodes they appear in, and will be eliminating them one at a time in a knockout-style tournament.
Who will be the actual Chosen One? Follow us as we find out…
(147 appearances, debut: Buffy 1.1 “Welcome to the Hellmouth”)
(4 appearances, debut: Angel 3.2 “That Vision Thing”)
Tim: We kick off with one of the biggest characters in the Buffyverse, against one of our classic ‘barely appears but makes a big impression’ contenders. Does our big affable demon jailer stand a chance against the Wiccan Wonder?
Imi: I’m afraid he does not, Tim.
Alex: Something that develops over in the later seasons of these shows, and particularly on Angel, is taking these inhuman demons, whose appearance can vary from fearsome to a bit naff, and give them more human traits. Skip’s one of the best examples of that – he’s a gnarly monster whose body is made of knives, but he talks like a particularly chill security guard on his fag break.
Imi: I really enjoyed Skip, and he was definitely the kind of recurring character who got a mini-cheer whenever you saw him turn up. He’s similar to Clem in the way, who we’ll get to in next month’s instalment.
However, he got entangled with Angel’s whole messy ‘everything was created to get us to this point’ Tro-Clon storyline, and as discussed last time, that hurts my head if I think about it too hard, so minus points there. And frankly, he doesn’t stand a chance against Willow, who I think stands a good chance of winning this whole thing.
Alex: Apart from the sheer messiness of the whole Jasmine conspiracy, I think including Skip in that twist undoes a lot of what I’ve said is interesting about his character. He’s a scary dude who turns out to be a nice dude who, no, wait, turns out to be a bad dude.
Tim: I really like Skip in his first couple of appearances – as Billy Blim’s guard and as Cordelia’s ascension guide – but yeah, turning him evil and roping him into the Jasmine stuff really undermines that. It’s a shame, because if they’d have kept him as neutral and friendly, he would have made a great alternative to Drogan in Season 5, who never really seemed to develop a personality.
Imi: But everyone: Willow! Surely everyone simultaneously wants to give her a big hug and reassure her it’ll all be okay, but is also desperate to be chosen as her friend because she’s so very cool?
Alex: Interesting that ‘cool’ is the word you’ve gone for there. That’s something that Willow doesn’t necessarily have in droves – or so we’re told by her early appearances, anyway.
Tim: I think by the end, Willow is absolutely cool. We watch her gain so much confidence over the course of the show, and it’s great to see. Her evolution is a masterclass in character development, and Alyson Hannigan is a terrific actor, able to sell some of the less-convincing moments of Willow’s journey through sheer strength of her performance.
Imi: Also, even in those early days, she’s a computer whizz and saving the day. What’s cooler than that?
Alex: Also, a brief shout-out to Evil Vampire Willow, who basically does the ‘scary demon as chill dude’ thing in reverse, as well as helping Non-Evil Non-Vampire Willow find her confidence and cool, and would stand a good chance of winning this match-up all on her own. Flawless victory for the girl Rosenberg.
Tim: Yeah, I think Willow is going to be a serious one to watch in this tournament. Skip may be indestructible, but he’s nothing compared to our favourite witch.
Imi: Yep, no contest – Win in the Willow!
WINNER: Willow Rosenberg
(16 appearances, debut: Buffy 5.15 “I Was Made to Love You”)
(13 appearanced, debut: Buffy 7.10 “Bring on the Night”)
Alex: Two characters here who are strangely interconnected, because both of their stories are ultimately defined by their relationship to Willow, and in particular her grief over losing Tara. Kennedy represents her moving on from that tragedy – Warren is the reason it happens.
Weirdly, though, I suspect Warren might be the more popular character?
Tim: I never really connected with Kennedy, but I do think she’s a necessary character. When they made the decision to kill off Tara, I think it was important that we got to see Willow move on in some way. And I like that Kennedy is a very different type of character, and kind of abrasive. But neither of those facts make her easy to like.
Imi: And she’s always going to be held up in comparison to Tara, which are some big shoes to fill.
Alex: Plus, unlike other characters who fit the ‘different and abrasive’ description – like Cordelia or Anya – she doesn’t get a chance to develop much beyond the first impression.
Imi: I guess it’s because Kennedy is one of the good guys but is still hard to like, but Warren is a big bad, so being dislikeable means everything is present and correct.
Alex: Let’s talk about not liking Warren, because he really is one of the most detestable characters ever to darken the Buffyverse’s doorstep.
Imi: He’s basically the OG Internet Male.
Tim: He feels like a really prescient character given how much nerd misogyny has kind of oozed to the surface over the past 15 years.
Alex: When he’s introduced, as the throwaway villain of a Season 5 episode, I feel like the grossness of a dude building a robotic sex slave version of his girlfriend is glossed over a little. But Season 6 does a great job of peeling back his misogyny.
Tim: I think the way the series explores not just the depth of his bile and hatred for women, but also the way he manipulates Jonathan and Andrew is really important. He takes their worst qualities and encourages them to indulge them, which makes him a terrific villain.
Imi: Casting him as the big bad was an inspired move. How else could they have topped an actual god as the season’s main villain?
And yet it ended in the most tragedy of any villain’s actions, in a way that drove home the realism of it all. Buffy could be resurrected because it was all magic, but Tara couldn’t because, hey, that’s the reality of life.
Tim: The fact that in the end he does so much damage in this completely mundane way feels very appropriate.
Alex: So, despite Warren being The Absolute Worst, we’re all agreed that he is at least the best at being The Worst?
Imi: Yeah – if only because his storyline should probably become compulsory watching for young teenagers, as a warning on the potential consequences of internet trolls.
Whereas Kennedy was… fine? She was good for Willow but I feel like future seasons would have cast her as recovery/rebound girlfriend rather than the real thing. And she kicked Buffy out of her own house when she was the only one paying for anything! (No, I am not ever going to let that go.)
Tim: I think given the central thesis of the series, it’s great that we got to see a Warren-style character presented as the horrible (yet entirely human) monster that he was.
Still, I’m super glad he got all his skin ripped off and was set on fire.
WINNER: Warren Meers
(62 appearances, debut: Angel 2.19 “Belonging”)
(8 appearances, debut: Angel 3.7 “Offspring”)
Alex: We’ve talked about one pairing of fan-favourite nerdy woman and down-to-earth demon already today, but they’re like apocalypses – you spend ages waiting for one and then two come along at once.
Imi: Sahjhan isn’t quite as down to earth as Skip, though. He’s definitely a more ‘classic nefarious demon’, but on the brainy not brawny side.
Alex: If I remember right, though, he does love the Beach Boys and cracking open a beer in front of the TV. That’s pretty relatable.
Tim: For as important as he was to Angel’s overall plot for a good chunk of Season 3 and beyond, Sahjhan never really left much of an impression on me. I mostly remember him as ‘that demon with the messed-up face’ and my favourite moment with him involves Connor (shocking, I know) not really knowing who he is, despite being destined to defeat him.
Alex: I feel like there’s a lot you can do with a character unstuck from time, trapped in their own destiny, in a long-form TV series… but sadly Angel didn’t really run with that idea as far as I would have liked.
Tim: The fact that he hatches this hugely complex plan to ensure his own survival and it just ends up backfiring on him is amusing in a Looney Tunes sort of way, but he was never as compelling as Holtz, who was basically the tool he used to carry out his plans.
Imi: His storyline was the level of ‘things are all connected’ that I got on board with much more happily that the whole Jasmine thread, and it was a nice nod to get him back in Season 5 for his final showdown with Connor.
Alex: Also, apparently he invented daylight savings time. Or at least claims to have done.
Tim: Going back to Season 3… that’s the point at which Fred becomes a major presence, having first shown up in Pylea at the close of Season 2. It’s weird to think that she was only around for 60 percent of Angel’s episodes, because like Wesley and Gunn, she feels so central to the team dynamic once she arrives.
Imi: It was as if they realised Angel Investigations was missing a Willow-quivalent and went adventuring to find someone who could be the charming brains behind the whole operation.
Alex: Fred certainly follows a similar journey – from shy introvert to the heart of the team, and then to the dark side, albeit without Willow’s happy ending.
I do think she’s less convincing in the meek puppy-eyed nerd role than Willow, but once she gets into the swings of things, Fred becomes one of my favourite characters. It’s just that, to pick up what Tim said, that swing is surprisingly short.
Tim: I think my favourite Fred may actually be fresh-from-Pylea, still-crazy-as-a-bag-of-cats Fred, the one who creates an automated axe thrower. But like you’ve both mentioned, she is another character with a great journey, and Amy Acker manages to make it all feel very natural.
Imi: I enjoy seeing her in the first half of Season 5, totally happy in her work and being in charge.
Alex: Ultimately, I guess, this isn’t a World Cup of Freds, and the fact we’re pitting versions of her against one another probably tells you everything you need to know. Ms Burkle for the Win(ifred)!
Imi: Ooh, a World Cup of Freds!
Tim: The World Wrestling Frederation!
WINNER: Winifred Burkle
(29 appearances, debut: Buffy 2.4 “Inca Mummy Girl”)
Professor Maggie Walsh
(9 appearances, debut: Buffy 4.1 “The Freshman”)
Alex: We’ve talked a few times about minor characters who might have stood a chance of winning their match-up if only they had a few more episodes under their belt. For me, Jonathan is the ultimate realisation of that promise – outside of the recurring cast, he appears in more episodes than anyone other than Joyce Summers.
And Maggie Walsh is the exception to the rule. A character with nine appearances – one of which she’s just a zombie lab assistant – who had more or less worn out her welcome by the time she exited, courtesy of a spike through the chest.
Imi: I literally just did a giant yawn as I saw the name Maggie Walsh.
Tim: Walsh feels like a real wasted opportunity. It would have been great to see Buffy with a female mentor as a counterpart to Giles, but I feel like as soon as we knew she was a secret government demon expert, we also found out she was evil. There was never any real sense of betrayal because we never got to know the real her.
Similarly, I feel like her relationship with Riley could have been a lot more complex and interesting – but the show didn’t give us any of that.
Imi: It was interesting how she was set up as a big bad and then quickly dispatched, so her death genuinely came as a shock. And Tim’s ‘Walsh as Giles’ comment is an interesting one – I’d always seen the Riley/Walsh pairing as a gender-flipped contrast to Buffy/Giles.
Anyway, with that yawn out of the way, onto Jonathan. I’d love to know if the writers had a long-term plan for him. The way he keeps appearing for a few minutes here and there throughout early seasons was fun, especially on a rewatch when I noticed them more.
Alex: His appearances actually go as far back as the pilot, although he’s not named there.
I love the way he’s used – basically a damsel in distress for his first half dozen appearances, the butt of a few jokes, which then has a memorably painful pay-off in “Earshot” (B3.18). He appears just once in Season 4, in the brilliant format-bending “Superstar” (B4.17) – and I think it’s telling that the show feels safe assuming you’ll remember him, nearly a year since his last appearance.
Tim: Post-“Earshot” he also gets the moment of presenting Buffy with her Class Protector award, which in a lot of ways feels like the end of ‘High School Jonathan’, the perpetual victim.
Imi: And it makes his motivations in both “Superstar” and Season 6 much clearer, because you saw him as the helpless little creature of Seasons 1 and 2.
Alex: It’s kind of amazing how versatile he is as a character. The Buffy Wikia lists his ‘powers & abilities’ as: “an accomplished warlock, capable of performing reality alterations, time loops and glamours. Additionally, he could speak Latin and Klingon and construct a sniper rifle in a matter of seconds.”
But you know what his real superpower is? Being a favourite of Jane Espenson’s (she wrote both “Earshot” and “Superstar”). That’s a big fat tick in anyone’s ‘Winner’ column, as far as I’m concerned.
Imi: A recurring background character with a consistent character arc is clearly a winner
Tim: The fact that he can appear in relatively few episodes, most of them with only one or two lines, and still have an arc shows off how great a character he is. That his story takes him all over the place while also feeling consistent, that’s even more impressive.
WINNER: Jonathan Levinson
Next time on Chosen Ones: We rank Buffy and Angel‘s very own Scrappy Doos, as Dawn and Connor enter the fray. Also, Xander.
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