Ordinarily, the following mini-essays would appear in the episode in which we last saw the characters (or relationship) in question. However, "Chosen" was the final episode for many characters because it was the final episode. Therefore, the goodbyes are all here.
Buffy is the title character. Therefore, she is the character we know the most about. In fact, it is difficult to summarize the character without summarizing the entire show.
As best as we can tell, Buffy used to be a conceited, popular girl, resembling a character whose name rhymes with "Spordelia." By the time she reached Sunnydale, she preferred to stay out of the spotlight, except for a brief reversal in "Homecoming." She did appreciate the recognition that she received in "The Prom."
Buffy always had an ambivalent attitude toward her status as a slayer. In "Welcome to the Hellmouth," she resisted Giles's efforts to make her take up her duties in Sunnydale. However, her resistance quickly ended as soon as a dead body turned up. When Kendra showed up in "What's My Line? Part 2," Buffy simultaneously fantasized about giving up her duties and jealously guarded her status as the slayer. This ambivalence continued into the seventh season, when Holden Webster diagnosed her as having both a superiority complex and an inferiority complex about her superiority complex, all involving her status as a slayer.
I like Buffy, but she is not one of my favorite characters. This is probably because I identify with sidekicks better than I do with heroes. The heroes have superpowers that allow them to accomplish great things, whereas the sidekicks have to make do with their limited abilities. I do not have superpowers, so I cannot relate to those who have superpowers. Like most sidekicks, I make do with what I have.
One of the most important reasons why the show was so successful is that Joss Whedon has a great eye for talent. This can be seen in the cast, writing staff, and crew of the show. Perhaps the most important example was casting Sarah Michelle Gellar as the lead actress of the show. The other cast members, as great as they were, were merely supporting actors. Gellar was the one responsible for carrying the show onscreen. The show would not have worked with a lesser actress.
Buffy leaves the show with 36 MVPs, 33 Sherlock Holmes Awards, and ten Goats.
Willow Willow is probably my favorite character across all seven seasons of the show. Her only competition was Tara, when she was on the show, and that was largely due to the fact that Tara was about the only person worthy of being with Willow.
Willow did not think much of herself. Even as late as "Restless," her greatest fear seemed to be that she still was the nobody that she thought she was in the beginning of the show, and that the other characters either knew this or would figure this out. As late as "Wreaked," she wondered why anyone would want to be "plain, ordinary Willow." My response is that I have no idea what "plain, ordinary Willow" was like as Willow has never been plain or ordinary.
After Spike, Willow had arguably the most complex character arc of the major characters. In the beginning of the show, she was a common victim, particularly once Joss Whedon realized that the best way to get the audience emotionally involved in an episode is to put Willow in danger. However, she was always stronger than she first appeared. Her timely application of holy water on Darla helped save Giles in "The Harvest." In "I Robot You Jane," she "broke up" with Malcolm (really Moloch the demon) using a fire extinguisher. By "Halloween," she was capable of taking on a leadership role when Buffy was unable to do so. Willow's natural intelligence and computer skills helped the group get information on non-supernatural matters and sometimes helped the group find supernatural information that not even Giles knew.
In hindsight, Jenny Calendar's death affected Willow more than it affected any other character, even Giles, because it sparked Willow's interest in magic. Despite what some remember, Willow's first spell was the uninvitation spell that she cast in "Passion" around the time that Angel killed Jenny. However, Willow continued her interest in magic only because she studied Jenny Calendar's files. This led to Willow's attempt at exorcism in "I Only Have Eyes for You" and climaxed with her attempts to return Angel's soul in "Becoming."
My hypothesis is that Willow's second attempt at returning Angel's soul sent her on the path toward Dark Willow at the end of the sixth season. After her injuries at the end of "Becoming Part 1," it was clear that she would not have the physical strength to perform such a powerful spell. She was very weak until she suddenly snapped her head up and finished the spell at full strength. I believe that, probably unconsciously, she allowed herself to be infused with enough dark magic to complete the spell. However, this dark magic did not simply go away when it was no longer needed for its immediate purposes. Instead, it pushed her into darker areas.
The first hints of darkness was in "Wild at Heart," when she started to curse Oz, and in "Something Blue," with her "my will be done" spell. Aided by her inability to follow through in cursing Oz and by her guilt over the consequences in "Something Blue," she was able to keep this darkness in check until Glory brain-sucked Tara in "Tough Love." Willow's vengeance spree pushed her even closer to Dark Willow.
Buffy had more screen time, but the sixth season was really about Willow. It started with Willow raising Buffy from the dead. To do this, Willow sacrificed any control she had over dark magic. In a far too blatant addiction metaphor, this caused her life to spiral out of control as she alienated herself from those who cared about her, most notably Tara. After "Wreaked," she tried to keep the dark magic in. However, it was too late. This was like a balloon trying to hold an increasing amount of air. If there was no release, bursting was inevitable, which happened in the final three episodes of the sixth season.
In the last five seasons of the show, magic alternated between being largely utilitarian in odd numbered seasons and being a metaphor in even numbered seasons. In the third season, magic was useful, like in "Choices." In the fourth season, it was a metaphor for things that the WB network was too timid to show because they involved two people of the same sex. (Note how often Willow and Tara made "spells" together.) In the fifth season, magic went back to being useful, especially in "Spiral." In the sixth season, magic was an addition metaphor. This led to a problem in the seventh season. The pattern indicated that was time for magic to be useful again. However, it was hard to justify ever using magic again given what happened in the end of the sixth season. The writers solved this problem with a New Agey (see, I can write in Buffyspeak) explanation about how there was good earth magic and dark emotional magic. This way, Willow can perform useful magic, such as in "Get It Done" and "Chosen," without throwing away everything that happened in the sixth season.
Willow was a very complex character, so it is surprising that so many people describe her with the two-word phrase "lesbian witch." I covered the "witch" part, which did not apply until the third season, so I should cover the "lesbian" part, which did not apply until well into the fourth season. I will just say that the Willow/Tara relationship may have been the best relationship on the show for reasons described elsewhere.
Joss Whedon has said that Willow was his favorite character. As a result, he ensured that she had such an interesting character arc. However, Alyson Hannigan deserves a lot of the credit as well. She was one of the best actresses on the show and gave what might be the best single-episode performance of the show in "Doppelgangland." (Sarah Michelle Gellar's performance in "Who Are You?" is the only competition.) Hannigan's ability to make Willow so lovable made Willow be more than just a victim and a computer geek. Alyson Hannigan is probably the best crier on the show, which is saying a lot considering that she was on a show with Sarah Michelle Gellar and Amber Benson. Hannigan's ability and willingness to (appear to) lose control is quite rare among actors, who are usually too vain to do so. This helped raise the emotional stakes in episodes like "Wild at Heart," when I really want to comfort her and assure her that the next person who comes along will be ten times better than Oz (which Tara was).
Willow leaves the show with 13 MVPs, 18 Sherlock Holmes Awards, and nine Goats.
Xander is generally viewed as having an arc similar to Willow's in which he starts as a geek and grows into a strong character. However, a detailed episode analysis shows that the opposite was true.
In the first season, Buffy had the superpowers and the screen time, but Xander may have been the more heroic character. He actually earned more MVP awards than Buffy did during the first season and was tied with Buffy for the most after two seasons. Unlike Buffy, he had already accomplished most of what he was going to accomplish on the show. He never became irrelevant, but his importance as a character diminished after this point.
However, the show kept trying to tell us otherwise. Both "The Zeppo" and "The Replacement" were supposed to show a change in Xander to a more mature and more able character. However, the fact that he was more heroic and more successful before these episodes showed otherwise. Furthermore, the episodes themselves did a poor job in making their case. Xander spent nearly all of "The Zeppo" estranged from the other characters and from the major event that occupied them. He took over Buffy's old duty as the doughnut fetcher and dealt with routine monsters of the week. If anything, the episode suggested that it was best that he was kept out of the big battle because he was more fit to deal with relatively minor problems than with major crises. In "The Replacement," we were led to believe that the weak Xander was the real Xander. Weak Xander was the one with the most screen time, was the one that Nicholas Brendon consistently played, and was the one that the other characters concluded was the real Xander when Willow rejoined the rest of the group.
Given this arc, I go as far as to say that Xander should have been the one who was killed at the end of "Seeing Red" instead of Tara, and not just because a shot killing Xander would have been far more plausible than a shot killing Tara. Willow had a strong connection to Xander, so his death would have upset her enough to spark the end of the sixth season. Furthermore, it became clear by the seventh season that the writers had completely run out of ideas for him. If anything, I would say that Tara's absence in the seventh season affected the plot more than Xander's presence did.
Xander is the character with the most active love life. It seemed as if every important female character on the show was either attracted to Xander or the object of Xander's attraction, even if only for a brief period.
To this list, one could add his very brief attraction to Kendra in "What's My Line?" and single-episode encounters with the Praying Mantis Lady ("Teacher's Pet), the Inca Mummy Girl ("Inca Mummy Girl"), Julie ("Where the Wild Things Are"), a woman in the Bronze ("Seeing Red"), Nancy ("Beneath You"), and Lissa ("First Date"). He also had an interesting dream involving two potentials in "Dirty Girls," and curious potentials gawked at him in "Potential." Of all the female characters with at least 140 lines, Glory may be the only one who was never attracted to Xander and who never attracted him, assuming that Kennedy was one of the gawkers in "Potential," although there is reason to believe that she was not.
I put Nicholas Brendon in the same category as David Boreanaz and Marc Blucas in that they are all objectively good actors who looked weak only because their co-stars were even better. This may be why he had one of the weakest character arcs on the show. Still, nearly any other show ever made would love to have an actor of his quality as the weak link.
Xander leaves the show with 16 MVPs, 15 Sherlock Holmes Awards, and three Goats.
Giles easily could have been just a stuffy British character, mostly because his main job was to supply exposition. Many of the things he was providing exposition about involve fanciful material, so a serious demeanor and an upper-class English accent help lend enough gravitas to make the material believable. However, Giles was more than just this.
Joss Whedon viewed the characters as being a family (something that Whedon made most explicit in the episode, "Family"). Giles was the patriarch and the adult figure in this family. Spike, Angel, and Anya were older, but, in terms of maturity, they appeared to be stuck at the age they were when they first achieved immortality. To varying extents, they still looked to Giles to provide mature leadership.
Giles's fatherly role was most explicit with Buffy—as in his song, "Standing in the Way," from "Once More, with Feeling"—but he was clearly a father figure to several other characters such as Willow, Xander, Anya, and Dawn. In fact, he was briefly a father figure to Spike in "Tabula Rasa" (and in Xander's dream from "Restless" if one counts that).
Giles's stuffiness appears to be in part because watchers were supposed to be stuffy. However, he was not always this way. Well before the show took place, he rebelled against his calling and spent a fair amount of time with bad company. The death of one of his friends pushed him back toward being a watcher, where he seems to have been accepted. As a response, his stuffy image may be overcompensation for his previous recklessness. He always retained a dark side that he could call upon when needed, and he was not someone to be underestimated.
In general, the actresses on the show tend to outshine the actors. Anthony Stewart Head is one of the few important actors who looked good even when he was sharing the screen with his female colleagues. He added a lot of depth to what could have been a one-dimensional character.
Giles leaves the show with seven MVPs, 28 Sherlock Holmes Awards, and five Goats.
Dawn may have spent a fair amount of time as the most hated character on the show, but I always liked her. I understand that, unlike the other characters who behaved as adults even when they were teenagers, Dawn behaved as a teenager complete with full teenage mood swings. This may have been annoying at times, but most teenagers are annoying at times.
Michelle Trachtenberg had complained that Dawn appeared to grow less mature as the show progressed, but this was not true. However, her maturing did not progress in a straight line. Dawn started the fifth season as a bratty sister, but her mother's illness forced her to mature quickly. She took her mother's death hard for understandable reasons, but she remained mature for a bit. By early in the sixth season, however, she regressed because she believed that she was not getting enough attention. This manifested itself most specifically in her kleptomania. She started maturing toward the end of the sixth season after Anya discovered her stash of stolen goods. By "Two to Go," she was willing to take risks in order to help Willow. During the seventh season, she behaved almost like an adult. She may have been a little envious at the attention that others received, but she was willing to do what was necessary for the common good.
Michelle Trachtenberg deserves a lot of credit for her work on the show. There were many times in which Dawn could easily have been a caricature of a whiny brat, but Trachtenberg always ensured that Dawn had more depth. Unlike critics of Tara, who also spent a period being an unfairly hated character, most of Dawn's critics seemed to make a point to state explicitly that their criticism was of the character, not of the actor.
Dawn leaves the show with one MVP, seven Sherlock Holmes Awards, and three Goats.
Faith was a very well developed character even though she appeared in fewer than 15% of the episodes. She started as a character meant to contrast with the two other slayers that we have seen previously, namely serving as the id to Buffy's ego and Kendra's superego. Faith’s desires ruled her regardless of what anyone else expected of her. However, at least in the beginning, she was willing to work with the other characters, even if she did things her own way. She envied the friends that Buffy managed to make and, at least in Buffy's eyes, tried a little too hard to move in. However, as a slayer, she believed that she was entitled to be the center of attention.
As the id, she tended to act without thinking about the consequences. This became a real problem when she accidentally killed Allan Finch. She felt a bit of remorse but was too proud and self-centered to show this to anyone. When Buffy pushed, Faith concluded that they were entitled to get away with such accidents. The Watchers Council tried to intervene, but Faith was too much for them to handle. As a result, she fought on the side of Mayor Wilkins. He lost, but he at least left her the ability to become Buffy. Faith took advantage of this, but she did not count on Tara figuring her out. Still she concluded that she preferred to be Buffy than to be what Faith used to be.
It is difficult to describe Faith's full arc without describing what happened to her on another show. However, I do not want to assume that readers have already watched Angel yet, so I will not give away too much. However, I can say that she was a changed woman when she returned to Sunnydale. She no longer craved attention nor did she feel that she was the center of the universe, although she still enjoyed dancing with several men at the same time. She accepted leadership when it was thrust upon her, but she gave it up willingly when Buffy took it back.
Overall, I consider Eliza Dushku to be an average actress when compared to her co-stars, which means that she is much better than most actresses overall. I did not find Faith to be as compelling as other viewers did, but I admit that Dushku did help create an interesting character. Furthermore, she did a great job playing Buffy in "Who Are You?"
Faith leaves the show with six MVPs and two Goats.
Andrew was primarily a comic relief character, something he was good at. He first played this role in the sixth season as one of the three nerds, who mostly served as a contrast to the heavy drama that the regular characters were going through. He was brought back in the seventh season, which was supposed to be lighter than the sixth season, to share comic relief duties with Anya.
Andrew's character arc was weak compared to most important characters on the show even though it was stronger than what most characters on other shows get. He started as the demon summoner in the nerds and the one who was most deferential to the other two. Initially, he sided with Jonathan in his anti-killing views, but this was more due to a fear of getting caught rather than a moral objection to murder. Once Warren got away with murdering Katrina, Andrew sided more with Warren.
After Warren died, Andrew went back to Jonathan out of desperation. The First Evil, however, saw Andrew as a prime instrument for its ends and used him to start the process to open the Seal of Danzalthar. Fortunately, as a comic-relief character, Andrew was a bumbler. He did not do a good job for the First Evil and soon fell into Willow's hands. While in the custody of the main characters, Andrew soon experienced Stockholm Syndrome and decided that he was on the side of good. He even fought in the final battle, albeit so poorly that his partner, Anya, was killed.
TV Guide put Tom Lenk on its dream Emmy ballot for best supporting actor in a drama, which I find a little amusing given that he generally played a comedic role. (I know that it would be for acting in a drama series rather than dramatic acting). He was good, but I would not have nominated him over James Marsters. He did everything he was asked to do well, but his role was limited mostly to comedy, except for a bit of drama in "Dead Things" and "Storyteller."
Andrew leaves the show with one MVP and two Goats.
Principal Wood was not a great character, but he was not as bad as he could have been. His character development was limited during the first half of the seventh season because he was supposed to be an enigma. Admittedly, he was an enigma mostly because the writers had yet to figure out which side he was on. The delay in character development did give the writers time to settle on a good background: the son of one of Spike's victims. I generally find revenge stories to be tiresome, so I did not like Wood as much as I could have. However, I thought that this was good for a revenge story.
Some of the commentary on Tara's death spread from the immediate issues to the lack of diversity among the characters. A cynic might observe that the casting of D.B. Woodside, an African-American actor, was a response. I hope that this was not true, because he was good enough to get the role on his own merits. He was not one of the best actors on the show, but he was not one of the worst either.
Principal Wood leaves the show with one Goat.
Kennedy was probably the most ill-defined major character on the show. It was clear that the writers had no consistent view of what she was like as a character. As a result, I have concluded that there were three different characters whose only resemblance is that they all had the same name and all looked alike. First, there was Whiny, who kept complaining about anything there was to complain about. Second, there was Gung-Ho, who loved nothing more than training and fighting. Finally, there was Lusty, who ignored all other important matters in favor of trying to get inside Willow's pants, although Whiny and Gung-Ho also had that as a goal.
Iyari Limon might be a good actress, but I saw no evidence of that on the show. I include the qualification mostly because I saw little evidence of talent in Alexis Denisof when he was on Buffy, but I saw ample evidence on Angel. Limon did not have much to work with, but she failed to make any version of Kennedy interesting. She never added anything to the character beyond what was on the page.
In a way, my frustration at Kennedy is a sign of the depth of characterization on the show. If the importance of a character is measure by the number of lines the character has, Kennedy is the 22nd most important character on the show. Still, I am upset that the character is not clearly defined. There are not man shows that have over 20 well-defined characters.
A note should be made about Kennedy's age. Many fans claim that she is 19 years old, based on a note in a shooting script for "Bring on the Night." However, the same script said that Molly was East Indian. These notes are not canon. The closest to a canonical statement was in "Potential" when Rona described herself, Kennedy, Vi, and Molly as being a bunch of 15 year olds. From what we have seen, Kennedy was never one to ignore a statement that she disagreed with. She probably would have pointed out that she was 19 years old if she were. This is hardly definitive, but it is the best evidence that we have.
Fans also note that in "Showtime," Kennedy thought that she might be too old to be a slayer. The point of this conversation was that the potential slayers really did not understand what it meant to be a potential slayer. This might mean that Kennedy was a bit short of her sixteenth birthday, but this is not evidence that she was an adult.
Kennedy leaves the show with one Sherlock Holmes Award and one Goat.
The Willow/Kennedy Relationship simply did not work. It started with a huge handicap: the obvious comparison to the Willow/Tara relationship. Some would say that it was not possible for any relationship to match up to it. However, in the beginning, there was a question of whether the Willow/Tara relationship would be accepted by people who wanted Willow with Oz. It was accepted. In fact, there was a question of whether the Willow/Oz relationship would be accepted by those who wanted Willow with Xander. The Willow/Oz relationship was also accepted. The Willow/Kennedy relationship would have been accepted if it were any good.
There were many problems. One of the problems was the lack of chemistry between Alyson Hannigan and Iyari Limon. Hannigan is heterosexual, but she felt comfortable with Amber Benson, who was already her friend when Benson auditioned for the part of Tara. I do not think that Hannigan ever had the same comfort with Limon. Furthermore, Benson is as good an actress as Hannigan, whereas I saw little evidence of Limon's abilities.
Another problem is the fact that the characters were not suited for each other. A big reason is that Willow was an adult, whereas Kennedy was a minor. Beyond statutory rape concerns, which should not be taken lightly, Willow was simply far more mature than Kennedy was. Furthermore, Willow was recovering from her magic addiction. She really did not need to have someone try to push her back the way Kennedy did in "Showtime" and "Get It Done."
That being said, I sort of see why they got together. The 15-year-old Kennedy was unappealing, but I can definitely see the attraction for the 26-year-old Iyari Limon. There were three clear reasons why Kennedy would be attracted to Willow:
A Faith/Kennedy makes sense for another reason. Part of the reason why the Willow/Tara relationship worked is that Tara was initially conceived to be like a younger Willow. Kennedy is very much like a younger Faith in that Kennedy is self-centered and has the "Want, take, have" attitude Faith had. If it were necessary to pair Kennedy with an adult character, Faith would have been a more logical choice.
Barring this, Kennedy should have been killed off. Both Buffy and Xander lost loved ones in the final battle in "Chosen." For the sake of balance, Willow should have as well, although I do not believe that Kennedy meant as much to Willow as Spike and Anya did to Buffy and Xander respectively. I do understand that the fallout surrounding Tara’s death might have made the writers squeamish about killing off another lesbian character.
The Other Potentials were mostly dislikable brats. There were too many of them to make them all well-developed characters. Instead, they existed just to make Buffy's life that more stressful. It would have been better if only three or four survived bringer attacks. This way, they could be developed as characters. Otherwise they could have been a mass with no attempt at character development save for one episode from their perspective similar to "Lower Decks" on Star Trek: The Next Generation or "A View from the Gallery" on Babylon 5. However, the writers chose a middle path in which there were token efforts to get the audience to identify with them but not enough of an effort to be successful.
That being said, they were not all identical. Chao-Ahn was always amusing in what little screen time she had. Amanda—the potential we saw the most after Kennedy—became bearable by the last few episodes, and Vi showed some potential (pun unintended but not unwelcome) in "Chosen." However, I still hate Kennedy, and neither Rona nor Molly ever did anything to make me warm up to them.
When I rewatch the seventh season and see "Help," I often think of the wasted potential (I keep using that word). Azura Skye was about the same age as some of the actresses who played potential slayers, yet, unlike these other actresses, Skye showed real talent. I sometimes wish that the show saved her for later in the season and made her a potential. Things might have been better. However, unlike the actresses who played potential slayers, Skye had the benefit of great writing. Such a switch might have simply made "Help" a weaker episode without improving the latter half of the season.
Other than Kennedy, no surviving potential slayer received any awards. Before dying, Amanda earned an MVP, and Annabelle received a Goat.
The First Evil looked like it would be one of the most intriguing villains of the show. A villain who desired to manipulate rather than destroy would have been an interesting change from the main villains in the previous six seasons. Furthermore, its ability to take the guise of departed characters could have been a useful way to tie the final season with the rest of the show.
Unfortunately, its potential as a villain never materialized. As the seventh season wore on, it evolved into another villain with another evil plan that the other characters must stop. Furthermore, budget constraints and the inability/unwillingness of important actors to return meant that the First Evil usually took the guise of either Buffy or Spike. After all, Sarah Michelle Gellar and James Marsters were already contracted to be on the show and would not need to be paid extra to read the extra lines.
The First Evil leaves the show with two MVPs and two Goats.