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Residing in a shared creative landscape referred to by fans as the Buffyverse,
Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel spawned dozens of richly drawn, deeply moving, totally hilarious characters from the 1997 Buffy premiere to the 2004 Angel finale. To celebrate these characters — even the ones I’d just as soon never see again — I’ve ranked them from worst to best.
Criteria: To be included on this list, a character has to have a name, appear on Buffy and/or Angel for at least three episodes, and meaningfully participate either in the episodes’ plot or in a larger, season-long storyline. (Sorry random teacher or Wolfram & Hart flunky!) When it made sense, I grouped some characters, and there are also a handful of special exceptions for standout characters in just one or two episodes who have significant arcs of their own. Also, for the persnickety, since an actor’s performance plays a definite role in the success or failure of a character in these rankings, I did not factor in the post-finale comic books.
A bias: I’m more of a Buffy person than an Angel person, but my editor in this endeavor is die-hard Angel fan Shani Hilton, and she successfully argued the case for several Angel characters. (Also: I really do like Angel very much!)
Last episode: “Chosen,” Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 7
This potential slayer is a self-admitted “brat,” but that doesn’t even come close to describing her profoundly obnoxious presence in Buffy’s final season. Her aggressive pursuit of Willow makes me question Willow’s fundamental romantic taste — Oz and Tara make total sense for Willow, but this self-important rich girl feels all wrong for her (and not in a deliberate, Whedon-y way). She also comes off like such a clear ploy to keep Willow’s lesbianism alive — and outraged fans happy — after Tara’s death, that the character is that much more infuriating for being so unmistakably unlikable. And not to put too fine a point on it, but the acting here does not help the character’s case at all. Put it this way: Season 7 of Buffy is arguably the worst season in the Buffyverse, and Kennedy is a major reason why.
First episode: “Never Kill a Boy on the First Date,”
Last episode: “School Hard,” Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 2
The worst “villain” in the Buffyverse is barely a villain at all. He’s just a not-even-that-creepy kid whose lines are pretty much all overdubbed, until he and the rest of us are put out of our misery with the arrival of Spike and Drusilla.
Last episode: “The Gift,” Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 5
Glory’s human alter ego is a huge wasted opportunity. He’s sort of a romantic interest for Buffy, until he isn’t, and he’s sort of around for Joyce’s medical care, but not really. He’s also hugely selfish, summoning a demon to kill mental patients rather than deal with them himself, and ultimately colluding with Glory to kill Dawn. Frankly, other than to provide Giles with a simple way of killing Glory, it’s not all that clear why he exists in the first place.
Last episode: “Into the Woods,” Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 5
Riley’s second sidekick managed to make it through 13 episodes without any actual human traits other than “hot soldier.”
Last episode: “Blind Date,” Angel Season 1
This Wolfram & Hart flunky is knocked by his semi-foil Lilah for having no “people skills.” Truer words.
After her burn-y, stab-y encounter with Caleb, this potential slayer fades into the background completely. And yet, she’s still better than the previous five characters!
Last episode: “The Pack,” Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 1
He is eaten by a pack of hyena-possessed teenagers, and that’s about all you can say about poor Principal Flutie. Hope he tasted good.
Last episode: “Normal Again,” Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 6
Buffy’s dad is a decent-if-distant presence in the early seasons of Buffy, when he isn’t a total monster in the episode where everyone’s nightmares come true — er, the first episode where everyone’s nightmares come true. So it is just bizarre that he’s completely MIA after Joyce dies. Wait, maybe that episode where he’s a nightmarish monster is real? So confusing! Moving on!
Last episode: “Restless,” Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 4
The worst Buffyverse Big Bad is a decent enough notion on paper — a modern-day Frankenstein’s monster crafted from demon bodies and…robot…parts. Well, OK, he isn’t all that good of an idea on paper, but in practice he really doesn’t work as a villain: On top of being a total bore, he looks way too silly to be menacing in any way. Plus, I’m personally offended by the name.
Stupid, malevolent Sparrow and his stupid deal with Gunn to make his mental upgrades permanent in exchange for that stupid sarcophagus that led to Fred’s death. Booooooo.
Stupid, flirtatious Knox and his stupid plan to use the stupid sarcophagus to release Illyria into Fred’s body and consume her soul. BOOOOOOOOOO.
Another example of a decent idea that really went nowhere, Kate is supposed to be our human companion into Angel’s phantasmagoric world, but it turns out we don’t need one. (Who cares what the LAPD thinks or doesn’t think about vampires and zombies?) Röhm left Angel to be on Law & Order, and all I can say about that is that she’s a consistent performer.
Last episode: “Doomed,” Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 4
Willow’s tutoring student demands she do his work for him, until Vamp Willow attacks him, and then he’s a perfect student. But later in college, he calls Willow “captain of the nerd squad.” Not cool, Percy.
Last episode: “End of Days,” Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 7
Another inoffensive but totally forgettable potential slayer! This one’s only notable feature is that she played a role in a Xander sex dream, which is kind of funny but mostly sad.
Last episode: “Dirty Girls,” Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 7
Yup, another potential slayer. This one’s British!
Last episode: “Deep Down,” Angel Season 4
The best thing I can say about the self-serving director of Wolfram & Hart’s Special Projects Division is that Lilah sure did devise a clever way to remove his head.
A bias: I hated the Los-Angeles-goes-to-hell storyline on Angel. But even if I didn’t, The Beast is a total nonstarter, an over-the-top, personality-free behemoth whose appearance is a craggy rip-off of Tim Curry’s Darkness from the movie Legend. The fact that Angelus kills this seemingly un-killable dude almost by accident tells you everything you need to know about how effective a villain he ultimately was on the show.
OK, one more thing: Buffy and Angel were on different networks by this season, granted, but I always thought it was telling that not once did anyone in Sunnydale even mention the fact that L.A. was trapped in an eternal night of fire and brimstone.
Played by: Wade Andrew Williams, Justin Gorence, Karim Prince
Last episode: “Spiral,” Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 5
Seriously? Knights?! Who ultimately served no purpose other than to fill up time before Glory’s inevitable capture of Dawn? OK, there was that kinda exciting RV-vs.-knights-on-horseback action sequence, but still. COME ON.
Last episode: “The Initiative,” Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 4
He’s just your average hit-‘em-and-quit-‘em college d-bag, but he hits and quits our Buffy, AND WE DO NOT ABIDE THAT.
She’s the first potential on this list since Kennedy to have a distinct personality. It’s just that that personality is of a perpetually sullen grump who celebrates Buffy’s expulsion from the Scoobies by proclaiming “ding, dong, the witch is dead.” So why is the only black potential also the only angry potential, again?
Last episode: “Not Fade Away,” Angel Season 5
It seemed like, as a part of Joss Whedon’s Firefly cast member relocation program, Baldwin was just beginning to get warmed up in the part of Eve’s replacement liaison to the Senior Partners when Angel kills him in the series finale. And also: “Not Fade Away” is an excellent series finale, but the fact that this guy is Angel’s last fight on the entire show is the episode’s weakest element. (The guy can really wear a suit, at least.)
First episode: “Faith, Hope & Trick,”
Last episode: “Homecoming,” Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 3
The only truly normal guy who ever showed an interest in dating Buffy went away just as fast as he showed up once he realized dating Buffy is, let’s face it, kind of a nightmare. And then we learn in Season 6 that he tried to spread a rumor Buffy was gay because it turns out he himself is gay, which, come to think of it, makes a lot of sense.
Last episode: “Two to Go,” Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 6
Willow’s magic “dealer” is kind of creepy in that magic-dealer-warlock way, but he is mostly kind of stupid.
Played by: Kevin Weisman, Troy Blendell, Todd Duffey, Alan Heitz, Lily Knight, Matthew Lang
Glory’s oily-haired, demon-y worshippers are essentially parodies of sniveling, supplicatory flunkies, and that’s all they’re ever allowed to be. They don’t even get an Oompa Loompa-style origin story musical number. Poor minions.
First, she’s the mysterious liaison to Angel for the Senior Partners, then she’s suddenly boinking Angel, then she’s just as suddenly boinking Lindsey while acting uncomfortably like a widdle baby, then she’s no longer a liaison but still somehow hanging around Wolfram & Hart, then she’s begging for Angel’s protection after Lindsey bounces on her. Make up your damn mind, Eve!
Last episode: “Peace Out,” Angel Season 4
Another bias: I also strongly dislike the Jasmine storyline, primarily because it takes forever to gestate — quite literally, vis-à-vis Charisma Carpenter’s real-life pregnancy — and then spends just four episodes racing through the rest of the story. Carpenter seems utterly lost trying to figure out how to play the role, and in the process, it almost (almost) ruins Cordelia as a character. When Gina Torres finally shows up, things get a bit more interesting largely because Gina Torres is a goddess walking among us, so casting her as such makes all of the sense. But the whole world-peace-through-world-domination plot is over before it even really gets started — again, Torres appears in only four full episodes. Carpenter plays the role for three times as long. It should have been the reverse of that!
Last episode: “Habeas Corpses,” Angel Season 4
Another Lilah rival, Gavin at least proved to be a moderately effective Wolfram & Hart flunky, bugging Angel Investigations. But the fact that his most memorable exploit is savagely beating Lilah after getting infected by misogyny monster Billy Blim is not in any way a mark in his favor.
Last episode: “As You Were,” Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 6
The teddy bear version of Angel, Riley is forever tainted by his connection to the Initiative — both textually, as a man whose sense of purpose was defined by a catastrophically ill-defined military endeavor, and extra-textually, as a character connected to the lamest Big Bad arc on Buffy. And then he started letting vamps drink from him because Buffy…had a lot going on at the time? And then he bolted. Whatever.
Last episode: “There’s No Place Like Plrtz Glrb,” Angel Season 2
The Pylean priest has a cartoonish low voice, flat affect, and Cardinal Richelieu power complex laced with genocidal xenophobia. He’s the embodiment of Angel’s mid-series crisis/vacation to Pylea, in the worst way.
Last episode: “That Old Gang of Mine,” Angel Season 3
He’s not much more than an expository punching bag, but his death just before Angel attempted to make amends via doughnuts still packs more of a punch than I’d expected!
Last episode: “Wild at Heart,” Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 4
She’s just your average hit-‘em-and-bite-‘em-and-wolf-out-with-‘em local band frontwoman-cum-werewolf-cum-homewrecker, but she hits and bites and wolfs out with Oz, breaking Willow’s heart in the process. AND WE DO NOT ABIDE THAT.
This potential slayer has the good sense to provide some necessary comic relief through her inability to speak English, which is a cheap, kind of fucked-up laugh, but still a laugh!
Last episode: “Primeval,” Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 4
I’m probably reading way too much into it, but Forrest’s powerful dislike of Buffy feels like it has to do with much more than an unyielding devotion to the Initiative. Oh, let’s not be coy, Forrest clearly has a crush on Riley and has chosen to channel his unrequited sexual frustration into his work as a top-secret super soldier. At least, that would be a much more compelling character arc than just a generic bros-before-hoes sidekick who is around only to maintain dramatic pressure on Riley to choose between Buffy and the Initiative, hmmm?
“The Timeshifter” brings Angelus’ mortal enemy Daniel Holtz from the 18th century to keep Angel’s son Connor from fulfilling a prophecy that Connor would kill him, but then Connor eventually kills him anyway. And apparently that sentence is supposed to make sense.
The First’s corporeal henchman starts incredibly strong, stabbing and burning a potential slayer and — my stomach still drops even thinking about it — gouging out Xander’s eye. Eeeeevillllll. But then he just hangs out in a wine cellar, bloviating pseudo-biblical misogynistic nonsense and making moony-eyes at the Buffy version of the First. Booorrrrriiiiiiing.
First episode: “What’s My Line, Part One,”
Last episode: “Goodbye Iowa,” Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 4
He may be a lousy snitch content to serve libations to the demon underworld, but you can’t help but feel a little bit for the guy given how often he gets the stuffing beaten out of him. (He ranks higher than Merl because he never tried to trick Angel into letting a pregnant woman’s child die.)
Last episode: “First Impressions,” Angel Season 2
This millionaire software engineer could have been Angel’s adult version of Buffy’s über-geeky Trio (just not evil), but after showing up for a couple adventures and helping Angel figure out how to buy the Hyperion Hotel, he disappeared. Oh well!
Angel Season 3 (as an infant); “The Price,” Angel Season 3 (as an adult)
I’m counting Connor’s time as an infant because until Season 5, it’s the only time the character is sympathetic, especially after his wrenching kidnapping. But when he reappears as a feral adult twisted into killing his father, Connor becomes just a mind-numbingly one-note annoyance who is frustratingly naive (a kind way of saying “dim”). His reluctant acceptance of his father also feels halfhearted and dramatically limp — which makes his post-amnesia renaissance as a well-adjusted kid such a welcome, if way-too-late, development. To recap: an overly sour character sandwiched by two pieces of thin-but-tasty bread. Sandwich metaphors!
Super cute — especially after Cordelia cut his hair — “Groo” is the embodiment of Angel’s mid-series crisis/vacation to Pylea, in a good way! But the half-demon himbo was never a convincing romantic rival for Angel for Cordelia’s hand; he was just a really, really pretty delay tactic.
I could look at Robin Wood for all the days, and his deep, resonant voice isn’t too shabby either. But unlike a lot of strong starts that fizzled out so far on this list, the last principal of Sunnydale High School starts as an obvious and dull Big Bad red herring, only to grow into a surprisingly compelling expansion of the Slayer mythology as the adult child of a previous Slayer. But after his confrontation with Spike over the death of his mother, Wood basically twiddles his thumbs (and hops into bed with Faith because why not?) until the finale. To recap: a tasty character sandwiched by two lame, limp pieces of bread. More sandwich metaphors!
Last episode: “Power Play,” Angel Season 5
Angel’s werewolf girlfriend sticks around just long enough for them to boink without any apparent soul-draining consequences — and to rip puppet Angel to bits. But then Angel sends her away when the world’s about to end (again), and she’s basically like, “OK!” Sort of pointless, but sort of fun too.
It’s an elegant Buffy-esque metaphor for a specific social affliction: A girl ignored so completely that one day, she literally becomes invisible. But Marcie’s reaction to her newfound status — kidnapping the most popular girl in school, Cordelia, and threatening to mutilate her — feels kinda petty and small-fry considering how grand a canvass Buffy was capable of utilizing. We are privy to a bold possible future for Marcie, ending with her in a secret government class of invisible kids learning infiltration and assassinations skills — but that unresolved tease also presaged the Initiative, so two strikes for Marcie!
Buffy’s psychology professor turned morally suspect paranormal military commander fares better on this list than Riley, Forrest, or Adam for two reasons: One, even though she doesn’t quite jibe with the Whedon-y tone of the show, Lindsay Crouse gives a weirdly chilly performance that demonstrates a genuine point of view. And two, she does not overstay her welcome.
Last episode: “Get It Done,” Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 7
The notion that the Slayers date back to the prehistoric era is a powerful one, and the character is visually stunning. While it is certainly anthropologically correct, however, making the First Slayer such a pointedly tribal, African figure is discomfiting given the Buffyverse’s dearth of compelling characters of color.
[Ed.: “Conflicted — the further I get away from from Buffy’s on-air period the more I wonder why it was so weak on race.”]
Wesley’s girlfriend isn’t the most sensible person in the world. She first sleeps with him when she thinks he’s Angel, which is a pretty significant mistake, but then she sticks around anyway and moves in with him — at least, until Wesley’s life gets too intense for her. But at least she leaves of her own accord, instead of going because Wesley told her to (lookingatyouNina).
Last episode: “Consequences,” Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 3
The Mayor’s skittish assistant is accidentally murdered by Faith while attempting to warn Buffy about his boss, and his death drives home just how far gone Faith had become. But what sticks in my mind is the death itself, and how well Plotnick manages to make me feel deeply for a man I barely knew at all.
Sired by Angelus, Penn was also a student of his particular brand of sadism — and became a rather irritating reminder of it when he returns to L.A. to taunt and haunt Angel. It’s a little odd that we’d never heard about Penn before this episode, but Renner (a future Oscar nominee!) brings a pathos to the role that it may not have otherwise had.
Last episode: “Never Leave Me,” Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 7
With only three episodes, Quentin Travers managed to embody the musty, fusty Watchers Council perfectly. Which made the character rather musty and fusty himself, alas, but you definitely got the sense that had Giles stayed in England, this is what he could have become.
Thanks pretty much entirely to Felicia Day going above and beyond to give even the most generic snippets of dialogue some punch, Vi rises above almost all of her fellow potentials.
First episode: “The Thin Dead Line,”
The co-founder of Gunn’s vampire-hunting crew was an affable, decent guy at first, but once Gunn left to work with Angel, he let the mission drift into indiscriminate demon killing. Poor Merl!
Last episode: “Living Conditions,” Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 4
OK, yes, Buffy’s jeans-ironing, Cher-obsessed college roommate is super annoying, but she’s hilariously super annoying, especially once we learn that her super annoying behavior is because she’s a 3,000-year-old soul-sucking demon.
I’m rather ambivalent about Holtz. I admire how he’s slavishly devoted to his quest for vengeance against Angel without coming off like a monotonous, two-dimensional bore, but there is precious little fun tucked within his villainy. The best Buffyverse villains are enormously entertaining even when they’re partaking in acts of true darkness; Holtz does go super dark, but it’s a bit of a chore to watch him go there.
There was just enough menace in Buffy’s version of the world’s most famous vampire to keep Dracula’s visit to Sunnydale from becoming straight-up camp. Barely, but enough.
First episode: “I Was Made to Love You,”
Last episode: “Villains,” Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 6
Do not date Warren Meers, ladies. You’ll be attacked by his lifelike robot ex-girlfriend, zapped of your free will, forced into sex slavery, and then killed when you get your senses back and point out that what he and his friends are doing to you is rape. Katrina, a seemingly intelligent and forthright woman from the little we knew of her, deserved so much better.
Played by: David DenmanNumber of episodes: 4First episode: “That Vision Thing,”
Angel Season 3Last episode: “Inside Out,” Angel Season 4His elaborately ornate armor makes Skip’s affable everyman demeanor (at least, at first) that much more disarming, and delightful. But his revelation that practically everything we’ve seen on Angel up to the fourth season had been manipulated by Jasmine is a cheap deus ex machina that makes me want to throw my TV out the window.
The First Evil is a quintessentially Whedon-esque notion, a manifestation of all wickedness everywhere that is so primordial that it predates time itself. Brilliant. Love it. Soooooo why can something so ancient only take the non-corporeal form of the dead? Doesn’t it seem like something that powerful would be, you know, more powerful, instead of needing Bringers, Turok-Hans, and a woman-hating priest to do its bidding?
He may only be half demon, but Billy is all monster, with the power to infect men around him with violent misogyny, or, as Lilah puts it, “primordial misogyny.” That is a deeply disturbing and problematic concept — that buried somewhere in their DNA, all men hold an innate, primal hatred of women — but the show simply accepts it. Indeed, Billy’s very presence on Angel is so unsettling — even his blood causes Gunn and Wesley to attack Fred! — that it’s a profound relief when Lilah finally guns him down.
The best of the potentials is an actual person who is actually compelling and actually fun to watch. Wonders! So of course she dies in the Battle of the Hellmouth. DAMN YOU, WHEDON!
The techno-savvy vampire made a fabulous entrance — drive-thru in a limo! — and his enterprising idea for SlayerFest ‘98 caught the Mayor’s attention. Trick had style, panache, and a wicked sense of humor. But in order for Faith to take the Mayor’s side, he also had to die — too soon.
Last episode: “Selfless,” Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 7
The master of the Vengeance demons is appropriately ruthless, with a killer dry wit. But he kills Halfrek. That I can’t really forgive.
Buffy has always needed some serious therapy, and thanks to this former classmate and college psychology major turned vampire, she got some! Woodward made such a strong impression in this episode that Whedon cast him on Angel…as Knox. Wah wah.
Played by: Brody Hutzler (Landok), Tom McCleister (Mother of the Vile Excrement), Brian Tahash (Narwek), Joss Whedon (Numfar)
Lorne’s Pylean kin are the embodiment of Angel’s mid-series crisis/vacation to Pylea, in the best way — a loving-if-incredibly-silly satire of medieval-loving Renaissance Faire folk and a reminder of just how different Lorne really was from the rest of his kind.
[Ed.: “It really annoys me that Landok is not at all perturbed by the number of free humans wandering around Los Angeles in ‘Belonging,’ and yet, he comes from a society in which every single human is enslaved.”]
Last episode: “Becoming, Part One,” Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 2
I was shocked when I realized Kendra has only been in three episodes of Buffy. The first Slayer to be called after Buffy died (the first time), Kendra is one of the only persons of color to play any significant role among the Scoobies, and the apparently ageless Lawson has a strong presence in the role (although her Jamaican accent…needs some work). But ultimately her by-the-book style proved to be the wrong foil for Buffy, and her throat’s slit by Drusilla.
Dana’s backstory is so harrowing that it is almost over the top, but in a way, there is no better delineation of the difference between Buffy and Angel than this potential slayer. On Buffy, imbuing all the potentials with the full power of the Slayer is seen as an act of sweeping empowerment. But through Dana, Angel can explore that act’s darker, more difficult implications: What happens if one of those girls’ psyches is so damaged beyond all repair that she isn’t a Slayer, she’s just a killer?
Last episode: “Becoming, Part Two,” Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 2
This benevolent demon saves Angel from a life of rats and sewers, introduces him to Buffy (from afar), later prepares Buffy to kill Angel in order to save the world, and then disappears (on television, anyway). His dour, noir-ish persona predicted the general tone of Angel, so it’s a little strange he never reappeared on that show.
OK, to be fair, the likely reason Whistler never showed up on Angel is because Doyle pretty well filled the same role — a demon (or half-demon, in Doyle’s case) who helps keep Angel on the right path. Glenn Quinn brought a liveliness laced with melancholy to Doyle that made the character’s sacrificial death just eight episodes into the first season sting all the more. (Quinn’s subsequent death three years later from an apparent drug overdose sadly clouded Doyle with even more heartache.)
An ex-Watcher bent on possessing the powerful Glove of Myhnegon, she manipulates Faith into attacking Angel and Buffy, before dropping the truth bomb we’d all been thinking about Faith: “Faith, word of advice: You’re an idiot.” Brava!
Oh, Dawn. Listen, it’s an uphill climb to be a character literally retconned into the fabric of a beloved show five seasons in. Michelle Trachtenberg bravely allows Dawn to be exactly as self-involved and bratty as a young teenage girl with a big-deal older sister would be — and like Xander, she was a normal, mortal way station on an increasingly fantastical show. Alas, she also becomes increasingly superfluous once her position as the Key is no more.
Played by: Alexa Davalos (and Megan Corletto as a child)
She’s the most overtly comic book-y character in the Buffyverse — a human woman whose very touch is charged with powerful electricity because… well, that’s never quite clear, another unusual change of pace for a fictional universe so keen on juicy backstories. Still, Gwen made up for it with style, and was one of the very few genuine romantic interests for Gunn. If her character wasn’t so X-Men-y, in fact, it would’ve been great for her to stick around for more than three episodes.
Played by: Leland Crooke (Archduke Sebassis), Dennis Christopher (Cyvus Vail), Mark Colson (Izzerial), Stacey Travis (Sen. Helen Brucker), Jeff Yagher (Ed), Nick Jaine (head of the Sahrvin Clan)
Number of episodes: 7, between all the different characters within the Circle; 2 for the Circle itself
Angel Season 5 (for Archduke Sebassis); “Power Play,” Angel Season 5 (for the Circle)
It’s a grand, mythology-expanding notion, a secret society of influential demons who are the Senior Partners’ most powerful instruments on earth. Each member is well differentiated from the other — and well matched against the corresponding members of Angel’s crew who takes them out in “Not Fade Away.” But even though a couple members are sprinkled through Angel’s fifth season, shockingly, the Circle as a concept onto itself is only introduced in the penultimate episode of the entire series. You get the feeling that had Angel not been canceled, the Circle would have lived for far longer to antagonize Angel and Co. As it stands, they make for a perfectly formidable Big Bad with which to end the show.
This is probably the most tenuous one-off character I’m including on this list — he is quite memorable, sure, but he has no real arc to speak of. But, c’mon, he’s the dancing demon who makes “Once More, with Feeling” possible, and he’s played by Tony Award-winning actor Hinton Battle with a gleeful malevolence.
Buffy’s old friend (and crush) from L.A., Ford is willing to turn her over to Spike so he can become a vampire — along with a club of wannabe vamp teenagers. Ford’s misguided adolescent desire to “die young and stay pretty” (h/t Blondie) would be enough to rate him for this list. But what makes Ford a truly tragic figure is that his desire is fueled by the terror of the brain cancer eating away at his body.
Last episode: “Graduation Day, Part Two,” Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 3
This Sunnydale High bully’s confession to Xander that he’s gay — and his subsequent softening as a genuinely nice guy — is at once sly (and, for the late ’90s, rather pioneering) commentary on the phenomenon of self-hating closeted gay bullies, and just generally hilarious. Joss Whedon has said that, for a time, there was a chance that Xander was going to turn out gay instead of Willow; I like to think that in some alternative creative universe, Xander and Larry end up picking out matching tuxes for their wedding — only to have it ruined by, oh, some time-traveling revenge demon or something.
There is something instantly creepy about Sam Anderson’s performance as one of Wolfram & Hart’s top lawyers, but what makes the guy one of Angel’s very best villains is the ice-cold notion that he’s still serving out his contract with the firm well past his death.
Number of episodes: 8 (although corporeal in just one)
Last episode: “Ground State,” Angel Season 4
We only saw Dennis once, in flashback as his mother sealed him up behind a brick wall, but Cordelia’s ghostly roommate was always a welcome presence on the show, a frequent caretaker of Cordy — even if she didn’t quite always appreciate him.
So snarky, so fun, it’s just a shame Sunday doesn’t stick around long enough to torment Buffy for longer than merely one episode. Just writing about her here has me imagining yet another fanfic version of Buffy in which Sunday becomes involved in a cabal of evil, demon-worshiping sororities called The Sisters, which turns out to be Season 4’s Big Bad instead of The Initiative. Sigh.
A hollowed-out vampire hunter who falls in with Holtz (and, later, with Connor), Justine always struck me as the most compelling figure in that particularly depressing triumvirate. (She sat for hours with an ice pick in her hand!) This is another example of how Angel differed from Buffy: The latter show would have looked upon Justine’s tragic backstory and arranged for her to achieve some sort of redemption, but on Angel, Justine is held hostage by an equally hollowed-out Wesley, and is left handcuffed to a dock, screaming about betrayal.
Last episode: “Bargaining, Part Two,” Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 6
She’s created by Warren Mears (ew) as a sex toy for Spike (double ew), but the Buffybot’s chipper, can-do attitude about everything she does makes her so oddly endearing that when her limbs are ripped from her by a gang of vampire bikers, it is genuinely upsetting.
Last episode: “Empty Places,” Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 7
Clem! He’s always good for a game of kitten poker, or for a bout of Dawn babysitting, or for a joke about excess skin. He’s Clem!
Last episode: “A New Man,” Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 4
The puckish imp keen only on chaos not only helps expand our understanding of Giles’ backstory, he’s also the catalyst for some of the most entertaining early Buffy episodes.
The Buffyverse’s most prominent person of color is also one of its most frustrating — in that it is frustrating how frequently Angel doesn’t quite know what to do with him. His introduction as the leader of an inner-city gang of vampire hunters was clumsily written, and while he may have won the battle in the love triangle between him, Fred, and Wesley, he lost the war. More often than not, he serves simply as additional muscle for whatever task is at hand, and his sudden “upgrade” into a super-smart lawyer with better diction (thanks to Gilbert and Sullivan) feels like an admission on the show’s part that Gunn had reached a storytelling dead end. And yet, thanks to J. August Richards’ unfussy performance, Gunn always remains a vital presence in the show’s ensemble — like Xander on Buffy, he’s the normal one amid the fantastical chaos. For all of the shaky handling of non-white characters in the Buffyverse, the fact that a black man is the “normal” one on Angel is a subtle victory that shouldn’t be overlooked.
Last episode: “The Girl in Question,” Angel Season 5
I’m sorry. I would like to write about Fred’s sweet, devoted, loving parents, but there’s all this moisture in my eyes, and I’m having a hard time seeing the screen.
On a show like Angel, Lorne — a stridently peaceful demon with his own karaoke bar — really shouldn’t work. Initally, Lorne’s value seems to be in his empathic abilities, but his senses are thwarted more often than not (ugh, Knox), and his warmth and willingness to support the team at the expense of his own physical and mental health truly becomes his signature. Indeed, it’s Lorne’s oddball qualities that make him work so well on Angel, as both consistent comic relief and a constant reminder of how frequently Angel relies on violence to achieve his goals.
The perfect Buffy sub-antagonist, Principal Snyder is a man who thinks he reigns supreme in his little fiefdom but is ultimately incapable of preventing a pure demon from attacking his school and making him one of its first meals.
This is all about Azura Skye’s disarmingly poignant performance as a girl who can see into the future — including her own death. Skye proves such a rich presence in such a short time that she returns just a few episodes later to torment Willow as The First disguised as Cassie in “Conversations with Dead People.”
First episode: “No Place Like Home,”
A god from a hell dimension determined to get home at any cost, Glory returns Buffy back to its fantasy roots in a big, satisfying way. The decision to make her a completely batshit fashion plate — like the id of early season Cordelia, but psychotic — pays off enormously thanks to Clare Kramer’s unhinged performance. Oh, and she also causes Buffy’s death. So.
I’m ranking this eldritch and eerie demon who secretly worships Glory above Glory because, for one, he actually causes Buffy’s death more directly by causing Dawn to bleed and activating the Key — when he murmurs “shallow cuts…shallow cuts…” while running a knife across Dawn’s stomach, it is one of the most chilling moments in the entire series. And, for another, HE’S PLAYED BY OSCAR-WINNING ACTOR JOEL GREY. That is all.
Like all younger siblings, it is Angel’s fate to be perpetually compared to Buffy, as I’ve done myself more than a few times here. But in Lilah’s case, thankfully, that isn’t possible. She’s not a fighter — at least, physically — and even when she becomes a woman tragically trapped within her own villainy, she never really strives for her redemption. Like so much of Angel, Lilah prefers to live within the murk of the amoral. It is only in her brief dalliance with Wesley that she ever allows her mask to fall, and when it does, good grief, is the sight a sad one.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 5 (as Cecily, her only episode); “Doublemeat Palace,” Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 6 (as Halfrek)
Last episode: “Selfless,” Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 7 (as Halfrek)
It is apparently Buffyverse canon that Cecily — the 19th-century woman who spurns the affections of William “The Bloody” Pratt (aka pre-vamp Spike) — and Halfrek — Anya’s vengeance demon BFF — are the same person. I’m dubious whether this was part of the master plan, or a happy casting accident that was retconned once enough fans began asking about it. No matter. It’s wonderful, thanks largely to Kali Rocha’s cheerfully blithe performance as both women, or the same woman, or something.
There at the beginning, there at the end, Lindsey keeps trying to get the best of Angel and keeps failing, losing a hand in the process (for a while, anyway) — and gaining layers of complexity and sexiness too. Unlike Lilah, we learn where Lindsey comes from, what drove him to join Wolfram & Hart — and to leave it.
27. Anne Steele (aka Lily Houston, aka Chantarelle)
A confession: Until I embarked on this project, I had totally forgotten that Anne Steele from Angel (pictured, at right) is the same character as “Chantarelle” from the Billy Fordham Buffy episode “Lie To Me” (pictured, at left) — and the teenage runaway Lily in the Buffy Season 3 premiere “Anne.” To be able to track this one, normal girl, and see how Buffy and Angel make a tangible difference in her life over the course of seven years, is one of the very best small triumphs for these two shows.
This is a case of hindsight vastly improving one’s perspective. When first watching the original Buffyverse Big Bad stalk in his cave awaiting the moment he can kill the Slayer, the Master feels too on the nose: So vampire! Much gloomy! But Mark Metcalf figured out early that to be a successful Buffyverse villain, you had to lace your gloominess with glee — compared with all the villains who came after him, the dude really stands up to scrutiny.
Whether she’s a high school Plastic, a wannabe Big Bad vampire, or a kind of undermind-y Wolfram & Hart assistant, Harmony is never less than a delight. She’s like Cordelia’s arrested, demon twin — and McNab’s ace comic timing proves vital once Cordy is gone.
Last episode: “Bring on the Night,” Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 7
In the hands of another actress, Joyce could have been a scolding hysteric, but Kristine Sutherland always keeps Buffy’s mother grounded and real, becoming as much of a comforting presence for the audience as for Buffy and Dawn. Which makes her brain tumor and death that much more of a devastating gut punch.
Last episode: “Storyteller,” Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 7
You don’t need to be a demon to be an evil person, and that is no better illuminated than with Warren, whose moral compass points only at his own selfish, needy ego. He is deeply unlikable — he shot Buffy and killed Tara, for goodness sake! — but thanks to Busch’s tense performance, he’s also never uninteresting. Because these shows were largely written by bona fide geeks and nerds, I think, Warren feels like a knowing and pointed critique of a kind of young, straight male geek whose technological brilliance blinds him to his own neanderthal attitudes about what the world — and especially women — owe him.
Last episode: “The Killer in Me,” Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 7
Amy is at the center of some of Buffy’s best early one-off episodes. Then she’s the show’s best running gag — the moment in Season 4 when Willow unknowingly de-rats and then re-rats Amy is one of the biggest belly laughs ever on the show. And then she’s Willow’s magical enabler-tormentor, a turn to the dark side foreshadowed way back in Season 1.
Joss Whedon hates it when people say he’s The Guy Who Likes To Kill Off Beloved Characters, but, I’m sorry to say, Joss, that hard-to-shake honorific started when you decided to have Angelus snap Jenny Calendar’s neck. Because Jenny Calendar — the techno-pagan who won Giles’ heart — is beloved, y’all.
[Ed.: “My problem with killing off Jenny is less because of Jenny and more because of the devastation Giles went through when he found her broken body in his bed, up a flight of stairs filled with candles and rose petals. That was just fucking cruel.”]
The vampire who sired Angelus is also Angel’s anti-Buffy, giving him a perfect moment of despair, and also a child. As a vampire, there is a simplicity to Darla’s evil that made her a bit less fun than Drusilla or Spike. As a human, there is a poignancy to Darla grappling with guilt so deep it is killing her (well, along with the 400-year-old syphilis). And as a vampire sharing a soul with her unborn human child, there is a devastating tragedy to Darla’s admission that their son is the only good thing she and Angel did in the world.
Let me be clear: Angel is a complex figure with smoldering charm who is never less than a swoon-worthy doomed boyfriend on Buffy and an absorbing central figure on his namesake TV show. But, for me, he is also vexingly inconsistent, perpetually seesawing between “I’m Angel!” selfless heroism and “I’m Angel!” solipsistic despair. He’s a PI with a staff that’s his family; he’s a lone wolf PI who’s fired his staff; he’s a doting father; he’s an angry father; he’s corrupted by Wolfram & Hart; he’s fighting Wolfram & Hart’s corruption; and so on. Individually, these events can be all kinds of compelling — I’m not one of those Buffyverse fans who thinks Angel is boring. But I also don’t think Angel ever really progresses or experiences anything approaching a consistent arc. The fact that he signs away the Shanshu Prophecy after spending so many years hoping to fulfill it is the perfect encapsulation of the best and worst about the character, at once stirringly selfless and a forehead-slapping letdown.
Here’s the thing: I remain gutted about Fred’s death, and yet Amy Acker is such transformative actress that she makes the ancient demon who invades Fred’s body a gripping figure pretty much immediately. Illyria may have worn out her welcome had Angel been granted a sixth season on TV — or she may have gone on exploits far greater than puzzling out the oddities of life on Earth. In any event, for these eight episodes, she always commands my attention.
For all intents and purposes a wholly different person than Angel, Angelus ironically benefits from the clarity of purpose he gets from being evil. And, hoo boy, is he ever. He’s one of the most effectively disturbing villains on Buffy, vivisecting the emotions and bodies of those closest to Angel with sadistic conviction, all because he wants to hurt the person closest to himself: Angel. I just wish Angelus’ appearance on Angel didn’t have to be tied to the Beast’s storyline, a total waste of a missing soul.
[Ed.: “I’m still not over him killing Willow’s fish.”]
I just re-watched Jonathan’s Class Protector scene from “The Prom” to get the image above, and it’s reducing me to a puddle. It’s in part because of what the scene itself means — how Buffy saved Jonathan’s own life just a few episodes prior in “Earshot,” and how Jonathan represents all of the lives Buffy has saved in that school. But I think in a sappy way, I’m also mourning how Jonathan’s good soul becomes tainted by myopic selfishness (in “Superstar!”) and a woefully misguided affection for being the bad guy (by joining the Trio).
Full disclosure: Tom Lenk is a friend of mine. But we met well after Buffy was off the air, and my affection for Andrew had been well established. Because Andrew is hilarious, first of all, and he has one of the strongest arcs of Buffy’s “secondary” characters, from yet another selfish white male geek done in by bad deeds to a genuinely regretful man trying his best to make good. Not a fan of that “Andrew is straight?!” twist ending to Angel’s “The Girl in Question,” though.
I know some are going to conclude that by ranking Tara slightly above Oz, I’m taking sides in the never-ending Buffyverse debate over which one is better. If I’m taking sides in anything, it’s for the idea that Tara’s mature, complicated relationship with Willow is ultimately more dramatically rewarding than Willow’s young high school romance with Oz. Also, the final shot of “Family” — Tara and Willow floating together in the Bronze — just slays me every time.
Glory is a raving loon in a fun way, but the insanity within Drusilla is terrifying, like a broken down jack-in-the-box where the head has been replaced with exploding shrapnel. The reveal on Angel that Wolfram & Hart had tracked down Dru to re-sire Darla still gives me chills. Juliet Landau’s eyes could cut you, and the sick part is, you want them to.
Early season Xander is perfection, full of witty wise cracks, romantic bluster, sexy speedos, and the occasional heroic standoff over a ticking time bomb. Anya begins to slowly steal his comedic thunder ‘round Season 4, however, and by the time Xander leaves her at the altar in Season 6, he’s lost much of the wily mojo that made him so great. Even so, he remains the beating heart of Buffy; the first time I saw Caleb gouge out his eye, I felt sick to my stomach for a week.
She may be Cordelia’s replacement as the woman at Xander’s side (or throat, depending), but Anya is her own person. Her caustic, literal-minded quips are the best, and her slow appreciation for the trappings of humanity — especially after returning to her vengeance demon ways — could be heartbreaking. Her “it’s not fair” speech in “The Body”…I’m sorry…I just can’t…
Last episode: “This Year’s Girl,” Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 4
There is no better Buffyverse villain. Like Ned Flanders’ evil twin, the man is just so gosh darn giddy about doing bad things. But my favorite part about the Mayor is that he is unafraid to drop truth bombs all over Sunnydale, especially when he dismantles Buffy and Angel’s pipe dream that they could ever build a lasting happiness with each other. He effectively broke up Buffy and Angel, and convinced everyone that was a good idea. Now that’s some diabolical evil right there.
Wesley arrives in Sunnydale as a naive and spineless Watcher who fails his charge miserably, and dies in Los Angeles a heartbroken, cynical warrior ready to give his life for a higher cause. His journey from one extreme to the other occasionally tips into a wearying despondency — having your throat slit and your friends abandon you can do that to a guy, I guess. But Denisof threads each step without ever losing sight of the man at his core. It’s an astonishing transformation.
Last episode: “You’re Welcome,” Angel Season 5
Like Wesley, Cordy undergoes a dramatic evolution thanks to her move to Angel: The queen bee of Sunnydale High School; Angel Investigations’ Girl Friday; benevolent ruler of medieval hell dimension; half-demon conduit for the visions from The Powers That Be; and finally — and controversially! — the perfect woman for Angel. Unlike Wesley, Cordy is totally lovable every step of the way, even if her late-stage episodes — with all that hullabaloo about ascending to a higher plane, only to have her body hijacked by Jasmine — come dangerously close to muddying up Cordy’s journey. But how could they? The only mud Cordelia Chase gets on her is a moisturizing mud mask from a high-end salon.
Fred’s earnest, open-hearted attitude about everyone and everything could have easily curdled into an intolerable sickly sweetness. Instead, Amy Acker always keeps us firmly on Fred’s side, whether she’s researching an arcane scientific theory, escaping Jasmine’s followers on her own, or plotting to kill the man who banished her to Pylea. The woman is just so damn winning, it’s no wonder that her sudden infection with the essence of Illyria caused just about every man she knew to race to her bedside and then scramble for a cure that could never come.
Played by: Sarah Michelle Gellar (and Eliza Dushku in one episode)
Like so many heroes before her, sometimes Buffy can slip into a self-righteous rut while everyone else gets to have much more fun — and her Season 6 dark period, while psychologically valid, was a slog. That’s the territory when your name is in the title. But none of it diminishes Buffy’s place as a pop culture touchstone, a woman in all her complexity who is also our hero, racing into danger and kicking evil’s ass as best she can.
Played by: Eliza Dushku (and Sarah Michelle Gellar in one episode)
At the very end of “Chosen,” when the final tableau of Scoobies is looking down into the gaping crater that used to be Sunnydale, Faith is standing right alongside characters who have logged multitudes more hours within the Buffyverse than she has. And yet she does not look out of place at all. Faith has made that big of an impact, brimming with life, anger, sensuality, self-loathing, and danger from the start. It’s no wonder that Sarah Michelle Gellar appears to have so much fun playing Faith in the body-switching Buffy episode “Who Are You.” And it’s no surprise that it took her sojourn onto more morally complicated Angel for her to finally find her redemption.
I can’t say Giles changes a great deal over his time on Buffy, but I don’t think the British, bookish, badass benevolent authority figure puts a foot wrong on the show, either. (The “He’s the First!” fakeout in Season 7 may seem kind of lame in hindsight, but I vividly recall spending a good deal of the end of 2002 and beginning of 2003 debating whether he was, in fact, the First.) Giles leaves the show in Season 6 — a development driven by Anthony Stewart Head’s desire to not spend as much time away from his family in London — and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Buffy, Willow, and Xander subsequently suffer some rather unfortunate stumbles into adulthood. Giles is the show’s anchor, and without him, Buffy becomes more than a little unmoored.
When he’s a straight-up villain, he’s fabulous. When he’s a technologically neutered pest, he’s fabulous. When he’s a lovesick sex toy for Buffy, he’s fabulous (and scorchingly hot). Puppet of the First driven mad by his new soul? Fabulous. Centered champion who gives up his life to seal the Hellmouth? Fabulous, even if the WB spoiled the weight of Spike’s sacrifice by announcing he was joining Angel full time for its fifth season — before “Chosen” aired on UPN. But Spike’s time on Angel — first as a ghost, then as a seeming rival for Angel’s place as the Shanshu champion, and finally, as Angel’s happy partner in bringing down Wolfram & Hart — is, you guessed it, utterly fabulous. In fact, there is only one person in the Buffyverse who is more fabulous than Spike…
It is just no contest. No other character goes on as wide-ranging a transformation, from nerdy bookworm to avenging witch, from pining after her best friend Xander to making love to her beloved girlfriend Tara, from struggling to levitate a pencil to bestowing the power of the Slayer into every single potential in the world. She can be as funny and heartbreaking in practically the same breath, and, crucially, she is allowed to fuck up HUGE while still remaining innately herself. (Her Season 6 descent into darkness is the only one that feels organic to the character rather than the Thing That Needs To Happen This Season.) Even when she’s Dark Willow, she is still Willow; it’s not a demon possessing her, but her own rage and grief.
Put it this way: The seed for this insane project began when my colleague Louis Peitzman was finishing up his insane project of ranking every episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. (A similar post for Angel is in the works, by the way.) The topic of the best Buffyverse characters came up, and without hesitation, I said, “Willow.” As far as I’m concerned, it’s the only possible answer.
So that’s my list of the best and worst Buffyverse characters. What’s yours?
People feel wonderfully possessive of their favorite characters, so this list was always bound to insult just about everyone’s favorite at some point. Instead of a provocation, perhaps think of this as a celebration of all the characters who make the Buffyverse such a wonderful place to visit, and visit often. And then yell at me in the comments.
Forrest and Maggie Walsh, of course, were on Buffy, not Angel — which had five seasons, not seven. “Once More, with Feeling” was on Season 6 of Buffy, “Amends” was on Season 3, and “Into the Woods” was on Season 5. And Xander was on 143 episodes of Buffy. Thanks to readers DenaVen, vickid9, VAd, sjdawson, cortneys7, btvsfan, and @ianfarrington for catching that!
buffy the vampire slayer, angel, anya, buffy summers, buffyverse, cordelia, gi, giles, joss whedon, mayor richard w, mayor richard wilkins, spike, wesley wyndam-pryce, willow rosenb, willow rosenberg, winifred burkle, xander, win
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