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…
(110 appearances, debut: Buffy 3.14 “Bad Girls”)
(6 appearances, debut: Angel 2.1 “Judgement”)
Alex: Two characters who started out life as a comedic foil to the hero, intended for just a handful of appearances – but who went in very different directions from there.
Tim: I know Wesley doesn’t have a lot of fans in this room, and there are certainly times when he is the absolute worst (and the show doesn’t seem to recognise that) but his journey from essentially a parody of Season 1 Giles to a morally grey quasi-protagonist who is willing to do the worst in the fight against evil is astonishing. It never feels forced, and he manages to retain some of the same lightness we see early on right up to the end.
Imi: I don’t really have massive love for Merl, he was quite annoying and just there to deliver exposition. To my recollection, Angel could just have gone out, come back in and said ‘word on the street is that x is doing y’, and that’d have covered it?
Alex: I like Merl as an example of how later seasons really humanised the demons, and found ways that they fit into recognisable society – but he’s certainly not the best example of that.
Tim: If we’re comparing which character I’d want to hang out with, Merl edges out Wesley because he’s a karaoke fan, but in terms of who is more compelling, more interesting and more watchable – my vote is for Roger Wyndham-Price’s least favourite son.
Alex: We should probably address the lack of fondness for Wesley – or, as he’s known in this household, ‘Overly Randy Giles’. For me, the character is emblematic of two of the biggest problems I have with Whedon’s stuff.
Imi: I feel like if Wesley had stayed asexual, everything else was mostly enjoyable about him – but there’s just too much of the creepy nice guy about him. His obsession with Fred just because she’s a girl he knows and gets along with, that then seeps into his relationships with everyone around him, is very damaging. He wouldn’t have run off with Connor if he hadn’t been bitter about not being with Fred. It’s especially damaging because I saw Fred seeing him as a father figure, so when he started to creep on her it felt so wrong.
And let’s not forget we first meet him hitting on Cordelia, which I didn’t actually mind at the time as he wasn’t a teacher or anything but that’s not a great pattern, especially when you then see how he treats Lilah too.
Alex: Yup, and the fact he’s lusting after a high-school student goes pretty much unexamined. I realise we’ve given Angel, a man who is hundreds of years his senior, a pass on that one, but the couple of years’ age difference between the two actors – and the fact that Wes is an authority figure – is vital there, I think. Given recent revelations about Whedon’s behaviour with some of the staff on his sets, it’s hard not to feel icky about that.
The second problem is Whedon’s determination that the best plot engine is constantly putting characters through hell. Wesley has a harder time of it than pretty much anyone else, with a lot of dead female lovers along the way, all in service of making him ‘darker’ and ‘cooler’.
Tim: I think those are both fair points, and like I mentioned, there’s a lot of actions that he takes that are terrible which the show seems to gloss over, especially in his relationships with women. But I don’t think there’s any denying that he’s a fascinating character, and that Alexis Denisof plays the hell out of him. I guess it comes down to whether ‘problematic but complex’ wins out over ‘simple but entertaining’.
Alex: I agree that Alexis Denisof is a great screen presence – and I think the character is also emblematic of one of the very best qualities of Whedon’s work. The ability to spot something in an actor and the willingness to be flexible with story plans to make them fit.
The original plan was to kill Wesley off after a few episodes, but the writers liked writing for Wesley, and Denisof, so much that they found a way to keep him around – including a move to Angel when his role in Buffy had been exhausted – and evolve him in the ways that you mention, Tim.
Imi: I enjoyed a lot of Wesley moments – the ‘rogue demon hunter’ stuff is excellent, and Wesley/Cordelia/Gunn is a good group – it’s just every time he came back round to Fred and used his ‘quiet and smiley voice’ I felt my insides shrivel.
Alex: Returning to the way you laid out the choice, Tim… Given that we’re doing this project, it’s probably clear that I can make time for ‘problematic but complex’. For all his flaws, Wesley has to win this one.
Imi: Wesley wins because he’s against someone who I don’t actively like at all – but he’s going to fall at the first charismatic side character he encounters, I’m afraid.
WINNER: Wesley Wyndham-Pryce
(26 appearances, debut: Buffy 3.3 “Faith, Hope & Trick”)
(12 appearances, debut: Angel 1.1 “City of”)
Tim: I’m gonna leap in with a potentially controversial opinion – I never liked Doyle.
Alex: You’re not going to find much argument around here.
Tim: He struck me as a creep far more than Wesley did, and his demon form looked stupid.
Imi: I feel they could’ve done his story so much better. Secret demon, plagued by whether to use it to fight or keep it hidden, whether to tell people or not, having Angel be a mentor – it could’ve been great, but instead it all fell a bit flat.
Honestly, between Doyle and Kate Lockley, I didn’t love Season 1 of Angel. If it wasn’t a Buffy spin off, I probably wouldn’t have given it the benefit of the doubt.
Alex: Doyle feels like a retread of Whedon archetypes – he’s Angel’s Xander, right?
Tim: He felt like Xander meets Willy the Snitch, and that’s not a great combo.
Also – and this is obviously a conversation we could have many, many times over – Doyle felt like a truly wasted opportunity to inject some diversity into the cast. Instead, they went for someone who looked basically identical to Angel. When he’s wearing a dark leather jacket and Angel’s in his big swooping jacket, they look like a hero and the knock-off Poundland action figure version of the same hero.
Alex: The best bit about Doyle is his death. That VHS of him doing the Angel Investigations advert? “Come on over to our offices and you’ll see that there’s still heroes in this world… Is that it? Am I done?” Just thinking about that makes me shiver a little.
Tim: Yeah, that is a good moment – it’s a shame we didn’t see more of that version of Doyle.
Meanwhile, though, you can tell Faith is amazing because you could pair her with basically any single character in either series and get a fantastic dynamic.
Alex: When I’m sufficiently drunk and on a reasonably busy dancefloor, Faith is the person I most want to be. And that is only one of the many, many great things about her.
Imi: Faith was played by an amazing actress and had a good – not as in positive but interesting – effect on almost all the characters around her.
A key Faith scene for me is when you see her in the motel room, upset having killed the Deputy Mayor, and there’s a moment where she could turn to Buffy for help, but just can’t bring herself to do it, so Buffy thinks she’s a monster. It felt extremely human, and showed the two sides of her character, which pretty much fought each other throughout her entire journey.
Alex: This feels pretty decisive… We all agree that you gotta have F-F-F-Faith, right?
Tim: Absolutely. Boston’s finest (in every sense of the word).
WINNER: Faith Lehane
(91 appearances, debut: Angel 1.20 “War Zone”)
(6 appearances, Angel 4.17 “Inside Out”)
Alex: The world of Buffy and Angel is incredibly white. Gunn and Jasmine, as played by Gina Torres, are two of the few people of colour on this list – so naturally we find ourselves pitting them against one another in the first round.
Tim: Interesting, too, in that being an African-American man is very central to Gunn’s character and storylines throughout the series, while Jasmine just sort of happens to manifest as a black woman.
Alex: Gunn’s early appearances, looked at through this lens, are a bit rough. He starts out as a stock character – the street-smart tough guy – and that’s a stereotype which fits uncomfortably with him being black.
I love the way he evolves from there, but it always feels in reaction to that first stereotype. The reveal of him of as a Gilbert-&-Sullivan-humming super-lawyer in season five is great, but it works at least partly on the basis that ‘ha, this should be a white guy’. Something that only gets more problematic when you consider that the deal Gunn had to make to gain those skills – they aren’t inherent, aren’t natural.
Imi: Gunn had always been essentially ‘the muscle’ when they were literally fighting, so it’s fun that he had to become ‘the brain’ when it became more of a mental fight.
Tim: There’s a lot of problematic elements to Gunn’s hot lawyer injection. But I think when it is handled well, it becomes a really interesting commentary on how he’s perceived and his desire to be more. It’s just a shame it gets tangled up with a bunch of other stuff.
Imi: Gunn had a wide story arc over the seasons of Angel but Jasmine, despite only being in half a dozen episodes, tries to claim she’d had the widest story arc of all… by apparently making it all happen? Her storyline is basically very enjoyable if you don’t think about it too hard.
Alex: I did a spot of online research in preparation for this, and you’ll be unsurprised to learn that the internet has thought about it too hard.
Imi: The whole ‘villain who actually wants everyone to be happy’ is a nice twist, especially as it comes after a character literally just called The Beast, who is the most monstery Big Bad of them all.
Tim: I’m always a fan of evil monsters that treat everyone around them with care and tenderness [it’s why Tim + I are friends – Editor Alex]. I think the biggest shame in Jasmine’s story arc is that in the end, that facade falls away. I’d have loved if she’d just stayed floaty and pleasant the whole time.
Imi: Especially because you end the season feeling a little bit conflicted over whether she had a point or not.
Tim: Having Lilah show up at the end and say “Congratulations on ending world peace” is the perfect cap.
Alex: Ultimately, though, Jasmine is a plot twist more than she is a character. The initial reveal is a great moment, and she creates a really interesting status quo for the characters to respond to – but I don’t feel like I know much about her. Or that there is much to know.
Imi: Yeah, I have two points I started to make and then realised it was about what the story does to other characters… I don’t really have much to say about Jasmine herself?
Alex: Meanwhile, Gunn – for all the problematic stuff around him, and some inconsistent characterisation – is essentially a real person. Plus, occasionally he gets to be James Bond, and that shit is excellent.
Tim: Knowing what we do about the behind-the-scenes shuffling that led to Jasmine, she ends up feeling like the ultimate ‘shoved in to serve a purpose’ character, whereas Gunn is introduced organically from the setting and evolves in some really smart ways. He gets my vote all the way.
Imi: Gunn is excellent. Him joining the group is probably the moment Angel first finds its groove.
WINNER: Charles Gunn
(27 appearances, debut: Buffy 6.4 “Flooded”)
(10 appearances, debut: Buffy 7.4 “Help”)
Alex: First, a quick word about our choice to group the Potentials together. They’re one of two examples on this list where we’ve combined multiple characters into a single gestalt personality, and that’s because I don’t think I could tell you much about them individually.
Imogen: The Potentials were a fun storyline, no problem there, but the individuals were pretty dull, or in some cases infuriating.
Alex: Their role is to act en masse and push against Buffy – like Jasmine, they’re essentially personifications of the plot. But I love the idea of the Potentials, and especially where the storyline ends up: the hopeful overturning of this arbitrary patriarchal rule that only one exceptional woman can exist at a time.
Tim: Apart from Kennedy (who we’ve separated out) and Dawn’s classmate Amanda, I’d struggle to think of any Potential with more than one personality trait, and more often than not their identifiers were basically ‘Cockney’ or ‘Chinese’.
Imi: And the practicalities of them all living in that house was mind boggling.
Alex: True. But do you know who else was living in that house at the time, friends? Andrew ‘Guestage’ Wells.
Imi: I really like Andrew, he was comic relief but also had some good angst going on. Obviously there’s some troubling stuff there, given he and his ‘pals’ are not just anti-Buffy but anti-women, but you get the feeling that Andrew specifically just got dragged in by wanting to be included.
Alex: The best thing about Andrew is that they use him to address that – and in the process, do some of the same work that the Potentials’ evolution does, in terms of exposing some of the internalised misogyny under Buffy’s ostensibly feminist surface.
“Storyteller” is an all-time great episode, as far as I’m concerned, an examination of why ‘harmless’ nerds take such popcorn-scoffing pleasure in telling stories about the suffering of women.
Tim: In a lot of ways, the Nerd Trio feel like extremely prescient villains when you look at modern culture. The internet has more than its fair share of Warrens and Andrews at the moment.
Watching him be redeemed suggests there’s hope for people who get manipulated and swept up in hate and the search for belonging, and it certainly provides us with some wonderful moments.
Imi: Also, how can you not love him for the way he says ‘Vampyr’ – especially when he then gets Angel saying it. A running joke crossing over across programmes is pretty neat.
Tim: But there’s also a hell of a lot of jokes along the way that don’t play well with 15 or so years of perspective, particularly his various crushes.
Heavily implying that he’s in love with Warren feels like both an easy punchline and a missed opportunity to explore how someone can be manipulated not because they love someone, but because they’re just searching for some kind of social connection. And then we get a lot of jokes about him developing similar crushes on Spike and Xander.
For a show that did so much for LGBT representation with Willow’s storyline, it strikes a very odd tone.
Alex: I’m just looking into the character’s life in the post-TV comics, and he is confirmed as gay, and actually goes on to have what sound like reasonably healthy relationships with men. There might not have been any room for that in Buffy, but it would have been good to address that when he popped up in the final season of Angel.
Tim: The way it ties into his desire to belong and be cool is a fascinating angle, and “Storyteller” does eventually touch on it in interesting ways, if memory serves, but I think there certainly missteps along the way.
Overall though, I do like Andrew. Like Faith, he’s one of those figures that has a fascinating relationship with any other character you put him with. His moments with Anya are especially delightful.
Alex: I think Andrew has to win this, for – strangely enough – similar reasons to Gunn. He has some problematic elements in his conception, but Tom Lenk is an incredibly charismatic performer and he gets some fantastic moments – which funnily enough also include playing at being James Bond, in the final season of Angel. Up against characters who are mostly a plot device? It’s no contest.
Imi: Agreed. Andrew weasels his way into your heart, the potentials just annoy you. And I’m never going to vote for a group of people who kick Buffy out of her own house – especially when she’s the only one paying for anything. Good luck with the mortgage, kids.
Tim: Very true. Andrew takes the win as far as I’m concerned.
Alex: Although, to be fair, he wasn’t contributing anything to the mortgage either.
Tim: I bet he sold some action figures to chip in towards the Hot Pockets, though.
WINNER: Andrew Wells
Next time on Chosen Ones: We complete the Trio of villainous nerds, and rank our first two Scoobies.
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