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 + 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…
(150 appearances, debut: Buffy 1.1 “Welcome to the Hellmouth”)
(3 appearances, debut: Buffy 2.9 “What’s My Line, Part 1”)
Alex: Now, here’s a thing: Bianca Lawson, who plays Kendra, was originally offered the part of Cordelia in Buffy‘s pilot. She couldn’t do it, for scheduling reasons (presumably she was busy bathing in the fountains of eternal youth) but it’s interesting to consider what might have been.
Imi: That’s a great bit of trivia, and she’d have been really fun as Cordelia. But presumably then we wouldn’t have been allowed to have Lawson remain 17 years old on every TV programme I’ve ever watched, so I’m glad.
Alex: I think some of the handling of Kendra is fairly wobbly: her accent being the thing that sticks out. Apparently it was a last-minute addition, and though she worked with a dialect coach, no one – including Lawson – was happy with the results. Buffy and Angel are no strangers to dodgy accents, but with Kendra being the first prominent POC in the show, this feels like a more important stumble.
Imi: I really enjoyed Kendra as an embodiment of ‘what the Slayer is supposed to be’ to help cement the idea that Buffy is a new kind of Slayer, plus it’s a great chance to learn more Slayer lore.
Alex: Agreed. I think finding that loophole in the ‘every generation, one Slayer’ rule is one of the smartest things the show does early on, because it opens up to show us other ways this premise could have gone – with first Kendra and then Faith, in two opposing directions.
Tim: I really wish we’d got more of Kendra. She never really got a chance to turn into a proper character. But she definitely earns some points for introducing Mr Pointy, and when Kendra reappears during “Becoming” (Buffy 2.21) she already feels much more rounded. I’d happily watch a spin-off series of her earlier adventures.
Alex: The thing is, though, looking at who she’s facing… well, the role Lawson turned down grew into something really special. At her peak, Queen Cordelia Chase is a strong contender for the top spot of this whole competition.
Admittedly, on the far side of that peak is a sudden cliff edge with jagged rocks below, but still…
Tim: If Kendra is a character who never got the growth she perhaps deserved, Cordelia is a case study into how to turn what could be a one-dimensional stereotype into a fully-realised person.
Alex: It’s fascinating to consider how that might have been handled in the beautifully-manicured hands of a different actor. But the fact is, we got Charisma Carpenter and… well, she’s a pretty strong argument for nominative determinism. (Well, the first half, at least.)
Imi: Although I suspect she’d be an excellent woodworker. Cordelia can do anything she puts her mind to. Which is obviously the best bit about her – she’s confident, go getting, high-achieving, and… dare I use the word ‘sassy’?
In a way, she’s the non-superpowered version of Buffy, a cheerleader who takes what life throws at her and make it work for her.
Tim: The only thing that takes the shine off Cordelia is how dirty the character is done during Season 4 of Angel. Other than that, she is Her Imperial Majesty Queen C, long may she reign.
Alex: All hail Queen Cordy!
WINNER: Cordelia Chase
(15 appearances, debut: Angel 1.2 “Lonely Hearts”)
Forrest Gates & Graham Miller
(13 appearances, debut: Buffy 4.7 “The Initiative”)
Alex: Welcome, friends, to what I suspect is the single dreariest match-up in this entire tournament. I’m sure we’ve all got plenty of grievances to air here, but I will relinquish the floor to our resident #1 Detective Kate Lockley fan… Imogen Spencer-Dale!
Imi: I think Kate Lockley might be the official opposite of the word sassy. Bland, a little bit bigoted, and fairly whiny.
Alex: I’m never sure if you can really separate a character from the stories they’ve appeared in, but Kate really does feel like she’s mistreated in how the show uses her. Tim has mentioned before that Justine Cooper’s storyline was originally meant to be the end of Kate’s arc, and that might have helped things – but honestly I think Angel’s writing staff, especially in the first couple of seasons, just aren’t that good at writing women.
Apparently an early episode idea that the network forced them to ditch was Kate going undercover as a prostitute, and… well, let’s just say she wasn’t willing to blow her cover. This is a story the writers still tell with an air of ‘executive meddling, amirite?’ but for me it’s indicative of a problem with the writers.
Tim: I feel like you can get everything you need to know about Kate from the fact that she appears in the second episode of Angel. They clearly realised that having a cop for Angel to interact with could be an interesting angle, but she’s not important enough to the show’s dynamic to show up in the pilot. Plus, she’s tied to those early episodes where the show is still working out what it wants to be.
Alex: It feels like Whedon takes another run at the concept in Dollhouse, of all places, with Paul Ballard – another cop so obsessed with the secret supernatural world that it endangers their job.
Tim: Ugh, you’ve just reminded me about Paul Ballard, Alex. You owe me a cookie.
Alex: I actually think Ballard is a better example of the archetype, because in Kate it comes coupled with what is, as Imi points out, basically metaphor-wrapped bigotry. That makes sense if they were setting her up for the big Holtz team-up but as it is, her resistance to Angel’s help often feels contrived. With her story chopped off, the role Lockley actually ends up playing is essentially the fun police.
And speaking of the fun police… It’s time to discuss the Initiative’s best boys, Forrest Gates & Graham Miller. The lads who are there to make Riley look charismatic.
Imi: I had to look up which was which before this chat and I’m not going to lie, I’ve already forgotten.
Tim: I am going to put up a meagre defence for Forrest and Graham here. I agree that they are very thinly written, and never really get secondary personality traits. But I think they serve their purpose admirably, and give us a bit more insight into the Initiative mindset.
Graham is more of a soft jock type and actually seems to appreciate Buffy. He reminds me of Percy, Willow’s basketball friend that she tutored in Season 3. Also, apparently there was a dropped subplot where he was gonna become a werewolf, and I’m kind of sad we never got to see that play out.
Meanwhile, Forrest is obviously ‘shoot first, ask questions later’, and his resistance to Buffy not only as the Slayer but also as Riley’s girlfriend only really makes sense if you read him as in love with Riley, which makes their dynamic a lot more interesting.
Alex: I’m not sure that’s true. To me, Forrest just comes off as a shitty dude who doesn’t like his mate’s new girlfriend. He reads like a representation of the misogynist environment that military organisations – or honestly, just about any boys’ club – can produce.
Imi: Forrest feels like the most full-on version of Riley’s issues with Buffy being better than him at the thing he’s dedicated his life to. Although I guess if Forrest hadn’t turned into a literal machine, he might have had chance to evolve.
Tim: I agree Forrest is probably just meant to represent boy’s club territorialism, but it’s more fun if you throw an extra layer on there. That said, even without that other reading, I think he and Graham both serve the purpose the story needs them to, while Kate never fits comfortably into a role. For that reason, they get my vote.
Alex: I agree she never finds a place, but to me there’s much more potential within Kate than either of these boys. Maybe that’s just Elisabeth Röhm, who more recently popped up for a short role in Jane the Virgin, reminding me that she’s an agreeable screen presence when not saddled with a role that pits her against the entire premise of the show.
Alex: So that puts us at an impasse, giving the deciding vote to our #1 Detective Kate Lockley superfan… Imi, what’ll it be?
Imi: Honestly, I’d vote for Balthazar over Kate Lockley, and neither of these boys are a flesh-oozing demon in a bathtub, so they get my vote.
WINNER: Gates & Miller
(150 appearances, debut: Buffy 1.1 “Welcome to the Hellmouth”)
(8 appearances, debut: Angel 1.21 “Blind Date”)
Alex: Joyce and Holland [I think I’m going to have to refer to him by his surname, calling someone ‘Holland’ just feels wrong] are obviously very different characters, but I think they’ve got something in common. They both exist primarily as concepts.
In the case of Mr Manners […nope, still don’t like it] that’s the concept of ‘big business’, and more specifically of how Wolfram & Hart operates. He’s the very definition of a company man – and to be fair, of all the characters to fill that role in Angel, I think he might be the best example.
Tim: Oh, I have a different take, but please continue.
Alex: For me, Holland Manners [yes, both names, that feels right] is all about where brutality and banality meet. The boring suit-and-a-handshake face of capitalism’s evils. But that’s all I have to say about him.
Tim: My opinion isn’t a million miles from that, but I think he’s emblematic of a very specific kind of older male condescension. I think it’s telling that he and Quentin Travers, the Head Watcher, first appear within about six months of each other – but for me, it’s a lot more interesting to see Buffy butt up against Travers. Manners hits all the notes you mention, but I just don’t think Angel is the right kind of hero to confront him, if that makes sense?
Alex: I think what he does manage to bring out in Angel is a feeling that whatever good he does in the world, there’s this huge machinery that he can never fully undo.
Imi: He was always more just a figure lurking around, and having a hand in lots of things going on, rather than a proper Big Bad. I guess a big part of it is that he’s in charge but also just a cog in the machine Alex mentioned, so he doesn’t need a big triumphant defeat.
As a result, it’s hard to particularly like or dislike him. So, spoilers, he’s probably not getting my vote.
Alex: Returning to my idea of what these competitors have in common… For all her appearances (the most of any recurring guest actor on either show), Joyce remains basically a representative of ‘mom’, or occasionally ‘the adult population’. Occasionally she breaks out of it, as in the wonderful “Band Candy” (Buffy 3.6), but too often she doesn’t get a character beyond that three-letter word.
Tim: I’d argue that Kristine Sutherland does a lot to imbue Joyce with some internal life beyond the simple role you’ve described. Obviously there are episodes where she very deliberately plays against type, but I can think of plenty of moments where she’s still playing ‘mum’ without feeling one-note.
Imi: Also that role is itself quite important for grounding Buffy in reality, which has always been the thing that has supposedly set her apart from fellow Slayers. And a mum isn’t just one thing: Joyce can be anything from supportive to judgey to frustrating, and she can be a friend or a foe to Buffy depending on the situation.
Tim: Agreed – and while Joyce plays a number of roles in Buffy’s life from episode to episode, she never feels inconsistent.
Alex: What tipped me over to this way of thinking was that, as soon I saw Joyce’s name pop up on today’s roster, the first thing I thought of was “The Body” (Buffy 5.16). She’s one of those characters who’s defined by their absence, and the thing about that episode that rips your heart out isn’t so much that missing Joyce as knowing what she means to Buffy.
Tim: I think that’s only natural in a series where we largely encounter the world through Buffy’s eyes. I’d say Joyce gets closest to becoming a character in her own right during her illness arc, because it’s the first time Buffy starts to see her not just as ‘mum’ but as a person. That’s something many young people go through around that age, but Buffy never really gets to finish that process.
Besides, I don’t want to come across as a single-issue voter here, but Holland Manners never smacked Spike in the back of the head with a fire axe, and at the end of the day, that’s always gonna win my support.
Alex: Oh yeah, don’t get me wrong – I really like Joyce, and Holland Manners was never going to stand a chance in this match-up. I just wish the show had done more with her across those 58 episodes.
WINNER: Joyce Summers
(31 appearances, debut: Buffy 4.1 “The Freshman”)
(9 appearances, debut: Buffy 4.12 “A New Man”)
Tim: It’s finally time for us to rank everyone’s favourite grotesque-looking robotic military man.
Alex: Also, Adam is in this match-up!
Alex: Riley and Adam really are similar, though: the Initiative’s (and Maggie Walsh’s) two favourite sons.
Tim: And they’ve both got chips in them!
Alex: As the record will show – I mean, just scroll back up the page – I really do not care for the Initiative. Every moan I had about Miller and Gates applies to Riley: he’s a big square jock, a member of the supernatural fun police and, as becomes increasingly apparent across the seasons, has a nice (un)healthy dose of that boys’ club misogyny himself.
Imi: I actually quite liked Riley on our last rewatch. I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop, and while it absolutely did – as with Cordelia, the writers just eventually went overboard with him – there’s a lot more than I’d remembered to enjoy before that.
Alex: I think that’s been the running theme of this set of match-ups, actually: characters who we (variously) feel were badly treated by their creators.
Imi: Riley’s obviously not the most exciting fun or sassy guy, but he mostly seems to care for Buffy, especially early on, he’s nice to the gang, and has to deal with some quite traumatic stuff.
Tim: I actually quite like Riley when he’s paired with other characters – he has some fun interactions with Willow early on, and a couple of really pivotal conversations with Xander.
Imi: Plus, as Buffy’s only human boyfriend [yes we’re ignoring Parker] it’s an interesting dynamic to watch, compared to the gallons of angst with Angel and Spike. And the final scene of Buffy running after him and Riley not being able to hear her over the helicopter was genuinely heartwrenching.
Alex: That’s a large part of how Riley was originally conceived, I believe – as a direct counterpoint to Angel. Maybe that’s why he never quite feels whole to me: he’s a mirror of another character. The Wario of Buffy’s love life.
In this analogy, yes, Adam is Waluigi.
Tim: Riley and Adam are both characters who, if you told me their broad strokes and plot points, I’d be pretty interested in, but they never quite land.
Alex: I’m honestly unsure how I feel about Adam. It’s cool to see a Big Bad who comes from a slightly different generic lineage – Frankenstein and the science-fiction it birthed, rather than Dracula – but maybe it’s just that I kind of like the visual of him? I mean, he’s got a floppy disc drive for a heart.
Tim: Adam does make for a great visual, camo pants and all, and I really like the idea of him being this sort of inspirational figure for demons who is capable of making the various types work together. But overall he’s a Big Bad who spends a lot of time waiting around doing nothing.
Alex: I think the big problem is that, for a villain who’s big on speechifying, Adam lacks a clear philosophical argument. The way he’s positioned, it feels like he should be attacking the core of something about the show’s premise or characters, but that never quite comes to fruition. Ultimately, like Waluigi, he’s a reflection of a reflection, and that doesn’t leave much room for an actual character.
Tim: Even his masterplan seems sort of half-baked, and almost like his heart isn’t really in it?
Alex: That’s because he doesn’t have one. Floppy disc, Tim
Tim: As is very fitting for a Frankenstein-type villain, Adam feels incomplete, and unlike Riley, he doesn’t stick around long enough to even try to address his problems. Riley at least has the bones of an interesting character, whereas Adam is an interesting skin stretched over a hollow frame.
Imi: I actually have a surprising amount of …okay, not love, but like for Riley. Whereas Adam is a weird machine who is maybe the single worst Big Bad. This time, at least, I’m a Finn fan. [foom – ed.]
WINNER: Riley Finn
Next time on Chosen Ones: It’s raining men (and demons who present as men) in the last of our qualifying rounds.
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