Moral ambiguity in BtVS/AtS
"Nothing's ever simple anymore. I'm constantly trying to work it out. Who to love or hate. Who to trust. It's just, like, the more I know, the more confused I get."     --Buffy, Lie to Me
Moral issues are rarely depicted as black and white on BtVS. Joss is King of moral ambiguity, and it comes out in the personality traits of his characters. Good characters are not entirely good; bad characters have their charms and emotional weaknesses. Here are some of the baddies we love to love, the goodies we sometimes wonder about, and issues that are sometimes depicted as good and sometimes as evil.

| Buffy | Giles | Willow | Xander | Angel | Cordelia | Doyle | Wesley | Gunn | Fred | Connor | Joyce | Jenny | Oz | Anya | Riley | Tara | Dawn | Principal Snyder | Spike | Jonathan | Willy | The Gypsies | Faith | The Mayor | The Watcher's Council | VampHarmony | Forrest | Maggie Walsh/The Initiative | Ben | Principal Wood | Darla | Lindsey | Kate | Lilah | Lorne | Holtz | Jasmine | Eve | Knox | Ampata | Ford | Whistler | Parker | Jhiera | Magic | What does Joss have against |

Warning: this page contains info about episodes up through season 7 BtVS/season 1 AtS. If you're in danger of being spoiled, proceed with caution.

Is passion the source of Buffy's finest moments? Some consider it a vice, others consider it a virtue. However you look at it, Buffy often leads with her heart.

Buffy's tragic flaw, in the tradition of Sophocles, et al, would be her feelings, her emotions. As Kendra said to Buffy, they're a weakness, and as Buffy said to Kendra, they're her assets. They function both as her downfall and her strength (Closet Buffyholic, Nov 6 08:02 1998).

| Saving friends | Buffy's slaying style | Anger girl | Buffy's human body count | Fan views on Buffy vs. human villains | Moments of moral weakness | Buffy's finest moments |

Saving friends: Buffy's normal impulse is to save her friends and the innocent at all costs. And she owes her life to her friends for bailing her out of the subsequent jams.

"A slayer with family and friends. That sure as hell wasn't in the brochure." --Spike

"No weapons... No friends... No hope," Angelus taunted her in B2, "take all that away... and what's left?"

"Me," she replied. Out of all the things she has done, sending Angel to hell was the most significant because she condemned her lover to save the world, and she did it alone.

I suspect that the PTB realize that [the first slayer's methods are] not the most effective way for the Slayer to operate at this point. When they called Buffy as Slayer, I think they knew what they were doing. They knew she would rebel against the WC, and perhaps against FS as well. I think that Buffy needs her friends ...and even though everything that's known about Slayers says she is wrong, she is changing all that. The FS doesn't like that. ...her friends will be the strength that saves her, and not her fatal weakness (Sapphire, May 24 15:37 2000).

"The only reason you've lasted as long as you have is you've got ties to the world... your mum, your brat kid sister, the Scoobies."

Buffy's slaying style:

Anger girl: Buffy is capable of violent anger, and this side of her personality is usually reserved for human beings.

This season, Buffy has been resorting to violence more and more frequently as a means of dealing with her personal problems ...A few examples: slaughtering the vamp-pimp and his feeble minions, beating the snake construct repeatedly ...and taking her frustration with her History teacher out on a vamp (25-Feb-01 22:54).

  • The dead people that have beng hanging out in Buffy's life lately have been almost uniformly incoporeal. But when Buffy sees Warren Mears, she decides to take a swing at him anyway. And ends up knocking her best friend on her ass.
  • Moment of moral weakness:

    To paraphrase Douglas Adams, It's one thing to think that you're the center of the universe (as she did before becoming the slayer) -- it's another thing entirely to have this confirmed by an ancient prophecy (anonymous, 04-Nov-00 19:17).

    Buffy vs. the First Evil

    Buffy's finest moments


    At first, Buffy's watcher Rupert Giles seemed like a learned but rather stodgy British librarian. The running joke (e.g., Inca Mummy Girl) was that this apparent wimp was charged with training the slayer in the methods of combat, and he usually ended up on the floor for his trouble. But all is not what it seems with Mr. Giles.

    | The Ripper | Moments of moral weakness | Giles and The Watchers | Mid-life crisis | Giles' finest moments |

    Joyce: So how come they, uh, call you Ripper?
    Giles: Wouldn't you like to know. -- Band Candy

    Highlights of the Ripper:

    (AKA   Mr. "I spent the [early 70's] in an electric Koolaid funky Satan groove")

    Moments of moral weakness:

    Although Giles works well with Buffy and Willow, he has always had trouble tolerating Xander and Cordelia:

    I think Giles is tough on Xander because he thinks that's what he needs; he knows Xander isn't an idiot, and it pisses him off that Xander's always making excuses (I'm dumb, I'm a loser) rather than not acting like a dumb loser. Remember in [Beer Bad] - Giles has a go, Xander whines about how Giles was demon worshipper, Giles snaps "you know better". I think he feels Xander needs to grow up, and coddling him won't help. Standard Brit parenting (J. Eaton, 1:39 am Oct 25, 2000).

  • neither Giles nor Buffy are keen on helping Angel or letting him help them after he takes over Wolfram and Hart. They assume he is, or will become, corrupted.
  • Other moments:

    Giles and the Watchers:

    Giles' mid-life crisis

    "I'm an unemployed librarian with a tendency to get knocked on the head."

    Giles was out of sorts after the gang's graduation. Although his apartment became Scooby central when it was time for bad-guy research, he was unemployed (by choice, it seems) and had no formalized role in the rogue slayer's life. He had to decide when it was appropriate to perform the tasks he's done for Buffy in the past--research, fighting, or giving fatherly advice. It was hard for Giles to define who he was relative to a group of young people he's known for years:

    Giles' struggle has made him painfully aware that he's not 19 years old anymore, but that doesn't mean he has to act like he's 80, either. Becoming guitar-guy in Oz's absence is cool, but other stuff isn't.

    Giles has been drinking a lot this season. From "Something Blue"'s "It's all right, I have more scotch." to getting pissed with Ethan in "A New Man" and now drinking at home (M. Costello, May 10, 2000 4:19 pm)

    After Buffy asks Giles to stay on as her watcher, Giles finds a new venue for himself: he's become the proprietor of Sunnydale's magic shop. If he can keep

    he might have a great place for the Scoobies to hang out.

    Giles' finest moments

    | The not-so hesitant hacker | Willow-whackage | Moments of moral weakness | Willow and the consequences of magic | Black Willow | Willow's recovery |

    Moments of moral weakness:

    Willow and the consequences of magic
    ...Willow has been shown plenty of times that her magics often have unexpected results. I think Willow likes the *power* of doing magic ...But she has been shielded from the consequences - someone (usually Buffy) shows up to rescue Willow from the affects of her magic. Willow has not had to grow up. She has been protected by the rest of the gang. They have allowed her to play at being a witch without suffering any real consequences. Perhaps Willow needs to be "burned" her magic - be put in a position by her free experimentation with magic that she must use her wits and her strength, not her spells, to escape (purplegrrl, 10-Jan-01 13:51).

    Black Willow

    "Let me tell you something about Willow: she's a loser. And she always has been. Everyone picked on Willow in junior high, high school, up until college with her stupid mousy ways and now--Willow's a junkie. The only thing going for me were those moments--just moments--when Tara would look at me and I was wonderful. And that will never happen again." --Willow, Two to Go

    The Willow who never delved into the reasons behind her magic addiction--her desire to control the world around her--goes into a tail-spin when she is unable to reverse Tara's death.

    Willow's recovery

    Willow's successful witchcraft

    Willow's finest moments

    | Attitude boy |
    Lost boy |
    Bad-luck lust list |
    Other moments of moral weakness |
    Finest moments |

    Xander represents the childlike (not childish -- important distinction, childlike=good) member of the gang, the one who points out that the Emperor has no clothes, the one who wears his passionate heart on his sleeve, the one who sees things in black and white (both his strength & weakness), the one who is playful & funny, the one who is not afraid to make a fool of himself for love, for his convictions. I feel he adds an interesting dynamic to the gang. Also I think in a lot of respects he is similar to Buffy (the stubbornness, the heedlessness, wanting to just jump in -- rashly at times -- & just chop chop). Most importantly, he cracks me up! But I guess others may find the Xander things I laugh at obnoxious (DeadStillPretty, Jan 4 22:33 1999).

    Attitude boy

    Xander the lost boy

    Xander's first year of post-high school life may have seemed puzzling, but it's not uncommon. Some graduates who decide not to go to college find their future in the military, job training, or family life. For others, high school graduation comes as something of a shock--no matter how much they looked forward to it, they never thought beyond it. They never gave a lot of thought to who they would be in the adult world.

    Xander needed time to figure himself out. Recall Oz's assessment in the Zeppo as Xander searched for "his thing": "You've got some identity issues." Xander defined himself in opposition to his friends "I'm non-college guy"--but saying what you're not is not the same as saying what you are. So for almost a year, Xander was pretty aimless. His wake-up call came when Spike claimed to overhear Buffy and Willow making fun of him. They hadn't, of course, but Spike's words still got under Xander's skin.

    Being so easily used by Dracula didn't help, either. Gradually, Xander is facing up to himself--both literally and in a more figurative, but direct, adult way. And becoming a grown-up. Scary.

     Moments of moral weakness:

    Xander's bad-luck lust list:

    "...but then, he's always been attracted to monsters." --Cordelia

    "You're a demon magnet!" --Willow

    Xander's finest moments

    The I In Team
    "Kids go off to college, they grow apart. Way of the world." --Spike, The Yoko Factor

    Who was the villain of season 4?

    [Is] the lack of cohesion in the Scooby Gang ...the Big Bad this season? Would their being more team-y have helped them get Adam before now? (Melissa W May 10, 2000, 7:58 am)

    Welcome to Joss Whedon's world, where nothing is as it seems. One thing that has defined Buffy as a slayer is that she fights to protect her friends, and they, in turn, have pulled her out of many jams. Then slowly, insidiously, things began to change. Each member of the gang became absorbed in their own interests and concerns.

    The whole Scooby gang situation an allegory for what happens when you grow up and go to college. You get involved in new relationships and neglect or outgrow old ones, you start discarding old character traits and picking up new ones as you try to find out what makes you happy, and as with any introspective journey, you get so self-involved that sometimes you wouldn't see problems cropping up in interpersonal relationships unless a brick fell on your head, and maybe not even then. ...Buffy is wrapped up in Riley, Willow with Tara, Xander with Anya, Giles in trying to find out what he wants to be when he grows up... And let's not forget to add a healthy dose of self-doubt, which is ever present when you're introspective, and young (Closet Buffyholic May 10 22:19 2000).

    Defeating the evil adulthood monster

    ...this year has been about getting scattered and getting distracted, changing and wondering if the old gang still exists, plus the freedom that college causes. ...Yes, you get freedoms when you first go to college, but life doesn't stop happening. We want to ground them again (joss, Fandom, 5/22/00).

    | Angel | Cordelia | Doyle | Wesley | Gunn | Fred | Connor | Joyce | Jenny | Oz | Anya | Riley | Tara | Principal Snyder | Spike | Jonathan | Willy | Principal Wood | The Gypsies | Faith | The Mayor | The Watcher's Council | Maggie Walsh/The Initiative | Ben | Lindsey | Kate | Lilah | Lorne | Holtz | Jasmine | Eve | Knox | Magic | What does Joss have against |

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    This page last modified 3/07/05

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