Please note that this Entry contains some significant spoilers for all seven series of the programme.
While science fiction and fantasy genre TV shows have been a major part of American TV programming ever since the 1950s, it's fair to say this has generally been an area aimed at teenage boys. Buffy the Vampire Slayer still had its fair share of male fans - its attractive female leads saw to that - but this was a rare cross-over hit where a large proportion of the fans were teenage girls and young women. It boasted positive role models for its audience and acted as a metaphor for the problems of growing up: bullying, peer pressure, sexuality, ambition and personal loss. What was all the more surprising was that this particular series was based on a feature film that everyone - including its writer - believed to be a complete flop.
Rocky Foundations - 'Buffy': the Film
Writer Joss Whedon cut his teeth on TV comedies such as Roseanne before he finally got the chance to write a feature film. He wanted to challenge the idea of the blonde woman always in peril and instead make her the tough, ass-kicking heroine. The film starred Kristy Swanson as Buffy Summers, a cheerleader who discovers that she's a powerful vampire slayer. Sadly, the film that resulted was not the one he'd hoped for: the studio executives just didn't get the joke of the film's title, feeling Buffy the Vampire Slayer didn't have the right kind of impact for an action movie. Co-star Donald Sutherland, in the pivotal role of Buffy's 'Watcher' Merrick, didn't understand the film either and Rutger Hauer, in the role of lead villain Lothos, chose to play up the camp elements of the part, undermining any threat it might have carried1. Joss ended up walking off set, as he saw his vision being turned into a second rate, tongue in cheek 'B' movie. The film was a complete flop at the box office and received a pounding by critics.
After the failure of the movie, Joss shelved Buffy and concentrated on a number of other projects. Then in 1997 he was approached by Hollywood casting agent Gail Berman. Gail had noticed a niche in the market, the likes of the Spice Girls had unleashed 'Girl Power' on the world, but it was still in its infant stages and TV still didn't have a female hero as such, they both agreed that now was the time to bring Buffy back from the proverbial grave.
After much discussion with several networks and network heads, Warner Bros - who were experimenting with a fledgling network, called 'The WB' with a mission to concentrate on the out-of-the-ordinary shows - picked up on the show and gave the go ahead for a 20-minute pilot.
The Perfect Combination
The hunt was now on for the perfect combination of actors to take on the leading roles. Sarah Michelle Gellar was finally chosen for the role of Buffy Anne Summers2. Unknown actor, Nicholas Brendon had all the qualities for Xander Harris and British actor, Anthony Stewart Head3 was awarded the role of Buffy's Watcher, Rupert Giles. The role of Willow Rosenberg was landed by actress, Riff Reagan.
A Phenomenon Begins
With the primary cast in place, filming began on the pilot. It was here that a few concerns about the casting became noticeable and though the series was green-lit4, it would be without Riff Reagan. The character of Willow Rosenberg would instead go to experienced young actress Alyson Hannigan, who won the part after just one casting session. Further characters were added, including David Boreanez in the role of Angel, a vampire with a soul and Charisma Carpenter as 'rich bitch' Cordelia Chase. The dynamic was now complete and on 10 March, 1997, Buffy the Vampire Slayer hit US screens to a choir of critical acclaim.
In the Beginning
Millennia ago, tribal men imbued a young girl with the essence of the demon, giving her the strength and skill to fight the vampires and demons of the world and so the quote goes:
Giles:Into each generation, a slayer is born… One girl in all the world, a chosen one… One with the strength and skill to hunt the vampires...
Buffy (overlaps):...with the strength and skill to hunt the vampires… Stop the spread of their evil blah, blah, blah, blah...
From episode 1, 'Welcome to the Hellmouth'.
On moving to Sunnydale, CA, with her mother, Buffy is soon confronted by the one thing she had tried so desperately to leave behind, namely her duty as the Slayer. Inconveniently, Sunnydale was built over a Hellmouth, which, as the name suggests, is literally the mouth to hell5. The Hellmouth attracts all manner of evils, from vampires to Zombies, flesh-eating demons to monomaniacal Gods and before too long Buffy is thrown back into the Slayer's life. However, this Slayer is not alone: Willow, Xander and Giles (known as 'The Scoobies'6) help her with the fight against evil.
Buffy also discovers that the lines between good and evil are not as clear as one would think. Indeed, one of the key characters of the show is Angel, a vampire with a soul and as time goes by Buffy and the ever expanding Scooby gang meet other demons who are not entirely evil.
What's It All About?
However, the demons and vampires that inhabit Sunnydale, or indeed the fighting and slaying, are not the reality of the show, they are a necessary evil of the shows title. The truth lies behind the vampires and other evils. The show touched on a wide variety of 'real' subjects, such as addiction, rape, grief, vengeance, love, loss, loneliness, death, sexuality and the darker sides of life, the list goes on. The writers attacked each subject with ferocity, never apologising for the sometimes graphic nature with which they conquered each subject matter.
Then there was the complexities of the character relationships, from Buffy and Angel, a Slayer dating a vampire, to Willow and Oz, a geeky girl dating the lead guitarist of a band, who also turns out to be a Werewolf. The characters also grew with the show, never remaining stagnant and always full of surprises.
In the end, the show is about the reality of life, ones own inner demons and how we deal with what life throws at us on a day to day basis. It just brings those demons to reality for our heroine to fight.
The Leading Cast
Buffy Anne Summers (Sarah Michelle Gellar)
Buffy was always the reluctant heroine, preferring to be the ordinary teenage 'All American' girl. She never really accepted her calling, trying everything she could to run a normal life alongside her Slayer duties.
Willow Rosenberg (Alyson Hannigan)
Buffy's closest friend. Before meeting Buffy, she had a shy, introvert personality. However, as time passed by, she became a beautiful and very powerful Wicca. Suffering many difficulties on the way, including addiction and the death of her lover, Tara.
Alexander 'Xander' Lavelle Harris (Nicholas Brendon)
Willow's oldest friend. Considered as the fool of the group, Xander was always good for a laugh. However, he grew into a strong individual, becoming the strength behind the Scoobies7
Rupert Giles (Anthony Stewart Head)
Buffy's Watcher and brains of the outfit. Giles' character was always one of hidden surprises and talents, from his impeccable taste in music to his not so impeccable past. One would almost say that his relationship with Buffy was comparable to that of a Father and Daughter.
The Supporting Cast
Angel - AKA Angelus (David Boreanez)
Angel is a 240+-year old vampire, who, about 100 years ago, was cursed by Gypsies who restored his soul, leaving him to live with the pain of all those he had killed. He was also Buffy's first love, though he eventually left her, as he knew that it could never work between them. For another aspect of the curse is that, if he knows just one pure moment of happiness, he will revert to his original demon form. Knowing the devastation that he caused in his life as Angelus, Angel is destined to always avoid any situation that might lead to happiness.
Spike - AKA 'William the Bloody' (James Marsters)
Spike started out as the season 2 'Big Bad'8. His plans were constantly thwarted by Buffy, leaving him frustrated. He became obsessed with killing Buffy, an obsession that eventually led to Spike falling in love with her and Buffy allowing things to go much further than she was really happy with. The on-off relationship lasted up until Spike's heroic death in the battle against 'The First'. Prior to his conversion into vampirism, he was a poet known as 'William the Bloody'. He often claimed that the 'bloody' referred to his ruthlessness, though in truth it was because his poetry was 'bloody awful'. The nickname 'Spike' was one he did earn, thanks to his habit of dispatching enemies with a railroad spike.
Cordelia Chase (Charisma Carpenter)
Cordelia was the most popular girl in Buffy's school. She came from a rich family and aspired to be an actress. She was a reluctant addition to the group, preferring to shop rather than fight. After her father was imprisoned for tax fraud, she left for Los Angeles to live her dream (and joined the regular cast of the Buffy spin-off series, Angel in the process).
Daniel 'Oz' Osbourne (Seth Green)
Willow's first love, lead guitarist of a band called 'Dingos Ate My Baby', and Werewolf. Oz left to find a way of controlling the Werewolf inside him.
Faith (Eliza Dushku)
Faith played the alter ego of Buffy - a Slayer gone bad. She became a Slayer due to an odd complication where Buffy was technically dead for a short period of time. A new Slayer, Kendra, was summoned and when she died, Faith became a Slayer. But there was only ever supposed to be one Slayer at a time, and with Buffy more than capable of handling things herself, Faith became driven by pure anger and eventually fought against Buffy at every corner. After a spell in prison, she redeemed herself and eventually helped Buffy in defeating a powerful enemy.
Anya Jenkins - AKA Anyanka (Emma Caulfield)
A thousand-year-old ex-demon called Anyanka, who spent her time avenging wronged women, found herself stripped of her demonhood and banished to Earth, forced to spend time as a human. As 'Anya', she had a love for money and capitalism - and a morbid terror of bunny rabbits. During this time, she became Xander's girlfriend. Anya had a plain - often tactless - way of speaking, mainly due to her previous inhuman status. Anya was killed in the final fight against 'The First'.
Tara Maclay (Amber Benson)
Willow's lover and fellow practitioner of Wicca. Willow's and Tara's relationship was one of true love and despite a few bumps along the way, they managed to stay together. However, Tara was killed by a stray bullet, a tragic event that pushed Willow over the edge and allowed her darker, evil side to take control.
Dawn Summers (Michelle Trachtenberg)
Buffy's sister, Dawn, started out life as a mystical key, pure energy able to open the gateways between dimensions, in an attempt to hide 'The Key' from an evil God, she was transformed into a person and sent to Buffy in an effort to protect her. The only thing was, neither Buffy nor her mother was aware that anything had changed. As far as they knew, Dawn had been a part of the family ever since she was born. This was one of the cleverest tricks Joss Whedon ever played on the fans as, prior to season five, they knew Buffy to be an only child. Thanks to magical influences however, from season five onwards, Buffy had a younger sister.
Joyce Summers (Kristine Sutherland)
Buffy's mum, Joyce, worked as a curator of a Museum and was Buffy's rock. She was never really able to accept Buffy's status as the Slayer ('have you tried not being a Slayer?'), but never faltered from being a good Mother. She died after a massive aneurysm9.
Riley Finn (Marc Blucas)
A former soldier and Buffy's second long-term lover, Riley was part of a secret government group, set up to control the demons and vampires. After the destruction of the secret facility (known as 'The Initiative') and a confrontation with Buffy about their relationship, Riley left to become part of another secret government group.
What is a Slayer?
As long as there have been demons, there has been 'The Slayer'. One girl in all the world, a Chosen One, born with the strength and skill to hunt vampires and other deadly creatures, to find them where they gather and to stop the spread of their evil.
'Into every generation one Slayer is born'. However, there are a large number of 'Potentials', generally trained from an early age by a Watcher, they wait until they are called. Significantly, not all 'Potentials' are called - an element of the prophecy that becomes important in the show's final year.
The first Slayer was a raw, atavistic 'cave Slayer'. Chained to the Earth and empowered with the essence of the demon, this gave her the super strength she would need to fight the vampires and demons of the time. It is unclear exactly when this happened, how long she survived and if she had a Watcher of any kind.
What is a Watcher?
When one Slayer dies, another is called and trained by a Watcher. It is the Watchers responsibility to teach the Slayer or Potential about her calling, demons, vampires and all manners of evil. The Watcher must also physically train the Slayer to use various weapons and also her mind. As a general rule, Watchers do not get involved in the actual physical fighting of evil but research the best ways to defeat them.
The Watchers are trained by the 'Watchers Council' from an early age. The Council provide the information about all demons and have a complete database on every imaginable creature. Sometimes, their methods are haphazard and, while they believe that what they are doing is for the good of all mankind, they can often cause more harm than good to the Slayer.
As they are based in London, England, their knowledge of Buffy's activities is basic, they do keep track of what is happening but aren't aware of everything that goes on. The Council are much better at the political side of things rather than the hands on fighting that is required to save the world on a regular basis.
During the fight against 'The First', the Watchers Council was destroyed and all of their information on demons and other evils was lost. However, after the fight against the First, Buffy's Watcher and a few chosen people started to re-build the Council.
- The Master (Played by Mark Metcalfe)
An ancient and powerful vampire who became trapped in an underground prison during an earthquake. He spent his time organising for 'The Harvest', a ritual blood letting which would release him from his underground prison, leaving him free to wreak havoc and take over Sunnydale10.
He faces Buffy, becoming the first vampire to taste her blood11, eventually killing Buffy by drowning her in a shallow pool. Without the Slayer to hold him back, the Master did indeed rise. However, Xander and Angel discover Buffy's body in time and manage to revive her, just in time to catch up with the Master on the roof of her school, and the newly resurrected Buffy defeats the Master, but not without leaving some mental scars.
- Spike (Played by James Marsters)
- Drusilla (Played by Juliet Landau)
- Angelus (Played by David Boreanez)
Angelus is the alter ego of Angel. When the Gipsy's cursed him with a soul, they meant for him to suffer, they didn't want him to experience even one moment of happiness, therefore, should he experience a true moment of happiness, he would lose his soul. After sleeping with Buffy, he did experience that one true moment and reverted back to Angelus, the evil persona within him. Along with Spike and Drusilla they cause Buffy no end of trouble. Rampaging through Sunnydale, killing whoever got in there way, including Giles' lover, Jenny Calendar.
When Angelus discovers a tomb containing the remains of an ancient demon, he uses an old ritual that threatens to 'literally' suck the entire world into hell. However, Buffy discovers his plans through an unusual source, Spike, who has become jealous of the relationship between Angelus and Drusilla. During this period, Willow discovers a spell which would restore Angel's soul. However, time is running out and Buffy must stop Angelus before he can complete the ritual. They fight, but it's to late and just as Buffy is about to kill Angelus, therefore stopping the ritual, Willow casts her spell restoring Angel's soul, but Buffy knows that she must still kill him to save the world, sending Angel to hell.
- Mayor Richard Wilkins III (Played by Harry Groener)
- Faith (Played by Eliza Dushku)
When Faith first arrives in Sunnydale she is generally accepted into the fold. It is clear from her first appearance that Faith enjoys being the Slayer and enjoys the violence. However, feeling that she is always playing second fiddle to Buffy and after feeling no remorse for the accidental death of a human, Faith is eventually drawn to the side of evil, working hand in hand with 'The Mayor'.
Mayor Richard Wilkins III, is over 100 years old, thought to be the person behind the building of Sunnydale itself. His intentions are to go through the Ascension, a ritual that will revert him from human form to 'pure' demon, basically giving him the power to rain destruction upon Sunnydale
Buffy faces off with both these foes, leaving Faith in a coma and the Mayor in little bits, after she blows up the school with the now-demonic Mayor inside.
- Adam (Played by George Hertzberg)
Adam was created in a secret section of the Initiative. A Frankenstein style creation, he was put together using a mixture of demon parts. He understands why he is alive, but not how and thirsts for further knowledge, seeking the answer to Life, The Universe and Everything.
Adam's objective was to benefit mankind, or so he thought, he wanted to eradicate doubt, pain and suffering and create a better world. Although his plan did mean that millions of people would die, he planned to bring them back as demon/human hybrids like himself. Despite his plans, Adam seemed to be almost gentle and childlike. However, as his plans did include the complete annihilation of mankind, he found himself on the wrong side of Buffy and was killed in a final fight that required a spell to combine the powers of all four Scoobies.
- Glory (Played by Clare Kramer)
Glory is a God, who loses a war to take control of her hell dimension, she is banished and made to live out her life in a human body. That human body takes on the guise of Ben and for many years they coexist. As time passes Glory seems to be able to take temporary control of Ben's body and as she becomes stronger, these temporary moments of possession are extended. This gives Glory time to hunt for the one thing that can get her back to her own dimension, 'The Key' (See Dawn Summers).
'The Key' is pure energy, able to break down the barriers between all dimensions. In a desperate attempt to hide the Key from Glory, the Monks that are protecting it transform it into human form and send it to Buffy, in the guise of her sister. After much hunting, Glory finally discovers who the Key is and kidnaps Dawn.
The ritual begins and Glory believes that no-one can stand in her way, but Buffy has other ideas and Glory is finally stopped before the ritual can take place. However, someone else takes Glory's place and begins the ritual and Buffy has to pay the ultimate sacrifice to save the world once more.
- Life & the Human Race
- Evil Willow (Played by Alyson Hannigan)
Yes, this seasons 'Big Bad' was life itself. The meaner and darker side of life was the true test for our heroes. Buffy's destructive relationship with Spike and coping with bringing up her sister. Willow's addiction to magic and turmoil of her relationship with Tara, eventually leading to Tara's death, and Xander's struggle with his pending marriage with Anya and leaving her at the alter. It was a truly dark season.
After the death of Tara, Willow transforms into her evil persona, seeking vengeance on those responsible for Tara's death and when she does finally catch up to the man who killed her beloved, she skins him alive. But, that's not enough, she's tasted blood and goes on a rampage through Sunnydale and after a fight against Buffy, that doesn't go Buffy's way, she decides to end the world. It is only her oldest friend Xander who eventually stops her, reverting Willow to her normal self.
Season 6 - Little bads, The Trio
- Jonathan (Played by Danny Strong)
- Warren (Played by Adam Busch)
- Andrew (Played by Tom Lenk)
The three little geeky boys playing at being criminal masterminds, their mission statement 'to take over Sunnydale' and 'girls, girls, girls'. They were thorns in Buffy's side, irritating and annoying at best, it wasn't until Warren decided to step up the game that they really started to become a threat to Buffy, and after she thwarts another of their hair-brained schemes, Warren decides to take out his frustration on Buffy by trying to kill her and it is his stray bullet that kills Tara sending Willow into a fiery rage, eventually ending in Warren's death, while Jonathan and Andrew12 narrowly escape Willow's wrath.
- The First Evil
The reason that there is evil, the reason that evil exists, is because of The First. As the name suggests, this evil power is the original evil, it would not be a stretch to say that it is the devil itself. Unable to take on physical form, it uses the guises of dead people and their personalities to taunt its victims, its power is to put so much fear into a person, leaving that person believing that their only way out is to kill themselves.
The appearance of the First is caused when the balances between good and evil are disturbed, caused by Buffy's return from the dead, the First uses this disturbance to build itself an army of uber-vamps13, using them to take over the world. It also sends out its minions to kill off all the potential slayers and there watchers. It can however imbue its powers into a human, this human takes on the guise of Caleb14.
For several months it taunts Buffy and the Scoobies, resulting in the deaths of many Potentials. The First is seemingly unstoppable, every attempt to take him on, ends in disaster, but after Buffy manages to get her hands on a mystical weapon called 'The Scythe' and is visited by the First, she comes up with a plan which will result in all the potential Slayers, becoming actual Slayers. With the plan set, she takes the fight to the First. Willow casts her spell with success and it's not long before the uber-vamps are dust and the First's plans are sent into the Hellmouth, along with the rest of Sunnydale.
In the end
... Or is it? Buffy the Vampire Slayer may be gone, but she lives on in the hearts of fans. The ending of Buffy led to numerous websites springing up across the web, like a phoenix from the ashes, Buffy fans across the world were determined to keep Joss' vision alive, through fan fiction, chat sites and a multitude of online tributes. Not since the likes of Star Trek or The X-Files has an American TV show founded such a huge cult following.
The characters also live on in comic book form: in June, 2006, Dark Horse Comics launched a reboot of their Buffy the Vampire Slayer comic book, written by the show's creator, Joss Whedon. Season 8 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer is now out in comic book form, written by Joss Whedon and illustrated by Georges Jeanty. The first instalment, entitled 'The Long Way Home', picks up the story of Buffy from the end of Season 7 of the TV series.
Across the world, fans continue to meet up at conventions, social events or just each others' houses, forming their own 'Scooby gangs' and reliving the adventures Buffy and her friends. As the voice of the collective Scoobies say while fighting Adam:
We can. We are forever.