Sunday, September 17, 2006

In defense of Xander

Of all my choices on yesterday's post, I suspected that Xander would be the most likely to be questioned. And in many ways, Willow would be the easier and more logical choice. As I said, I started watching Buffy because of the Willow and Tara storyline. When I went back to watch the series from the beginning, I most identified with Willow, the shy and brainy one. I liked watching her transformation into a more confident woman as she came into her power and found Tara. I also have a thing for redheads.

But still, I have to say Xander is the character I'd pick out. The short version of my reason: Xander is the regular guy who sticks around to the end.

Now the long, drawn out version. But I swear, I have a point.

I have always read stories that involve quests and dangerous missions. Inevitably, the characters must face many perils and often willingly put their lives on the lines. And as I read these stories, "I could never do that, I am not that brave" runs on a continuous loop in my head.

Let me give you an example. In the Lord of the Rings, everytime Tolkien switches to Frodo and Samwise making their way through Mordor to destroy the ring, stress overwhelms me. I couldn't do it. I couldn't keep going. It would take much more than lembas to keep me going. Forget Mordor even. When Frodo is just setting out, I'm already wanting out. I'm pretty sure that if someone handed me the One Ring and I couldn't pawn it off on someone else, I would simply curl up and wait for the ring-wraiths to sniff me out. Yes, I'd like to think I'd rise to the occasion, but I'm not too optimistic.

So back to Buffy. Nearly all of the central characters have some special power.

Buffy is the Slayer. 'nuff said.

Willow. Even before Willow realizes that she has magical ability, she is the brainy one. She does the research and makes the connections that allows Buffy to do the slaying. Once she begins to develop as a witch and her relationship with Tara helps her channel her magic, she turns out to be more powerful than anyone expected-- destroy-the-world powerful after Tara's death!

Giles has his training as a Watcher and, for most of the time, the support of the Council. He has a large store of knowledge and much experience to call on.

Angel and Spike are vampires and have all of the attendant powers. They also have the creature-of-the-night thing going for them.

Oz covers all the bases: brooding, sensitive, musician. And he's a werewolf.

Anya is a demon. Quite a nasty demon too, when spurned.

Dawn is the human incarnation of The Key.

Faith. Also a slayer, but with serious attitude.

Tara--see Willow.

Cordelia. While Cordelia does not have supernatural powers, she has super powers in the high-school sense--she is popular and controls matters of life or death on the social scene.

And then there's Xander. He's not the smartest, he's not popular, he doesn't bring any unusual power to the fight. But he's a solid friend and is always there. He may not like what he's being asked to do, he may complain bitterly, but he's there. He doesn't curl up, he doesn't turn tail and run, he stands by his friends and does what he knows must be done.

Another, less emotionally charged, reason for my choice comes from an appreciation of what I think Joss was doing with the character. I'm sure countless academic papers have been written on this, but here's my abbreviated take. Xander, in some respects, is the Everyperson. He ends up in the middle of this supernatural mess mostly by accident--it could happen to anyone. Since he is not a brain, he asks the questions that allow an explanation of plot points. On top of all that, he often serves as comic relief. I am always amused by his misadventures in love; they take bad patterns in dating to a whole new level. His love problems also set up a reverse damsel-in-distress situation, where the poor guy helplessly waits to be rescued.

All of that is why I love Xander so much and why he stands out for me among the rest of the characters. I admire him because, even after enduring the near destruction of the earth (several times), he's still there.


metro mama said...

I love this! I was sceptical of your choice of Xander yesterday, and didn't think you'd convince me. Yet, you did!

God, I miss this show. I'm due to watch the whole thing over again.

bubandpie said...

I will concede that "Zeppo" was a great episode, and one that captured a lot of the elements you're addressing here.

I think I would like Xander more if Buffy had been just a wee bit less forgiving of all his nasty, uncalled-for remarks about her relationship with Angel.

bubandpie said...

Oh, and by the way - it's posts like this one that explain exactly why I love you so much!

Mouse said...

Yay, a concession! I'll take it every victory, not matter how small.

And I really think now, Bub and Pie, that you would like McKinley's "Sunshine." The main character spends some time trying to reconcile her old vampire=bad attitude with the circumstances that befall her.

(Thank you also for the love!)

Lisa b said...

this totally cracks me up
someone once told me that the traits that you most admire in others are those you actually hold so I am going to suggest that you might not just curl up with the ring and wait to be sniffed out.

Her Bad Mother said...

Oh, I've been away too long! Just when the Buffy fans start coming out of the closet (I knew about Bub, but that was it.)

I totally get the Xander choice; you explain it perfectly. Everyman.

That said, my favourite characters were Spike and Faith. Both were, to my mind, the best representation of what was so great, narratively and philosophically, with that show: the struggle between light and dark within one soul (or lack thereof), the complexity of beings, the fluid boundaries between good and evil, love and hate. Sure, Buffy and Angel were the headliners with that shit, but they were a touch on the obvious side: OBVIOUSLY good would win out for each of them, no matter how they struggled. With Spike and Faith, one was never sure. Would love save Spike? Would caring save Faith? We never knew, in part because those characters were just so solidly ambiguous.

Love it.