Who doesn’t enjoy a good love story? You can try to deny it, but romance is often the crux (or at least an element) of any good story. And since August is National Romance Awareness month, we’re spreading the love and looking at one of our favorite stories, one that pairs the eclectic nature of romance with a variety pack of horror and sci-fi elements. We’re talking Buffy the Vampire Slayer, of course!
Joss Whedon‘s opus magna acts as a ongoing capsule for the spectrum of romance humans (and those chosen few vamps and demons) can expect in a lifetime. And why wouldn’t the grandmaster of characters include romantic relationships of all kinds, since love is a gold mine for developing characters and plots. Scientifically speaking, there’s a plethora of studies that suggest romance is universal and complex. Even the very definition of love eludes us–but that won’t stop us from enjoying timeless creative representations of romantic relationships. Join us as we explore the main romances from our favorite Scooby gang–Buffy, Xander, and Willow. Giles isn’t included this time, but we do acknowledge his greatest loves, Jenny Calendar and Olivia Williams. (Minor Spoilers ahead for Buffy season ten)
Buffy’s major romantic relationships have always featured the internal conflicts of the series’ protagonist and antagonists. From the moment he tossed her that silver cross necklace to the many times he brooded over her in Los Angelos, Angel proved to be a vital companion to her life. He was her first love, pure and innocent… until they consummated their love, turning Angel into Angelus and sparking a sea of sexual analysis. In the comics, they continue to loyally fight alongside one another to help rid the world of evil. And they’ve had their share of fights, more recently during Season Eight’s “Twilight” arc. Is it true romantic love or another type of romantic relationship though? Only time can tell.
Moving on we enter the “bad boy” enigma that is Spike. The yin to Angel’s yang (or vice versa?). If there’s one type of relationship that has put Buffy fans on the edge, it’s the eternally “It’s Complicated” status of Buffy and Spike’s relationship. Though their relationship was one of hostility in earlier seasons, infatuation and loneliness played a heavy role throughout much of seasons five and six, while guilt and trauma followed then into season seven and beyond. One almost-wedding and dozens of punches later, their latest attempt at a romantic relationship continues in season ten’s final arc. But is it enough to keep them together? Even Angel has mentioned that Spike is always looking for someone to save him from himself.
But both Angel and Spike have that whole Byronic hero-brooding-woe-is-me attitude, so who’s given Buffy a normal shot at romance (aside from Riley Finn a.k.a. Captain Cardboard)? Recently it’s been her relationship with fellow slayer, Satsu, at the start of season eight. Brief though it was, their romance was a whirlwind of normal highs and lows; genuine emotion tacked onto mutual slayer attraction. As a leader without a home, Buffy needed a sensible push in the right direction, which Satsu definitely gave her–and I doubt we’ve seen the last of Satsu. So which of Buffy’s major relationships will be the one to triumph–her roaring romance with Angel, her bitterly consuming love with Spike, or her committed attraction to Satsu? Or has it always been about the transformative powers of each romance? My bet’s on the latter.
We move on to the “black sheep” of romance, Mr. Alexander Harris. The lovable demon-magnet sidekick has progressed beyond all expectations since his high school dealings with a mantis woman and a mummy girl. Over the arc of the series, Xander has had three distinct romantic relationships. First, Buffy the Vampire Slayer‘s deconstruction of the “rich bitch” trope, Cordelia Chase, dealt him his first slap of reality when they dated in high school. Their romance was fraught with intimacy issues but high on the passion. Left unresolved, Xander’s feelings for Willow also caused their romantic relationship to disintegrate even though they made up before the fateful Graduation Day. As the only non-magical human he’s had a longterm romance with, Xander’s future relationships have Cordelia to thank.
Anya was undoubtedly Xander’s greatest love. Theirs was a tale of friendship and comedic humor. They formed a close companionship that defined their basic differences–Anya was over a thousand years old and a Vengeance demon; Xander was a glorified bricklayer. One major issue they faced throughout the series was faulty communication. They even sang about not talking about their relationships struggles in “Once More With Feeling.” And Ghost Anya–or what appeared to be the apparition of Anya–was a central figure in Xander’s life during season Tten, which leads us to Xander’s latest girlfriend, Buffy’s own kid sister, the Dawnster!
What started as a childhood crush created by the Monks as memories for their newly formed Key evolved into a full-blown romance after Dawn’s shape-shifting mishaps in season eight. It’s a blossoming romance, filled with “little” fights that led to huge personal realizations–after all, they once felt like they where metamorphic brother and sister. Xander’s devotion to Dawn did take him to a new desperate low of betrayal, though. So like his relationships with Cordelia and Anya, their current romance isn’t entirely pure–but what respectable Whedonverse character has time for a boring pure romance?
Willow’s is perhaps the most representative of Joss Whedon’s powerful character creation. He’s given her a spectrum of consuming romances to compliment her journey as a powerful magical woman. Willow’s first boyfriend is my personal favorite heterosexual fandom. Love at first sight doesn’t even begin to describe Willow and Oz’s relationship; it was fate followed by many adorable hugs. And their personal struggles–magical and human–always informed their romance. Ultimately, lack of control was an issue which werewolf Oz had to address in order to offer his full romantic commitment as a boyfriend. Ironically, lack of control became Willow’s issue later on in season six, and again when they met years later in Tibet during season eight. Tragically for Willow and Oz, life doesn’t have a pause button.
Fans of romantic tragedy also fell for Willow’s next relationship. Tara was the beacon of trust and commitment that Willow desperately desired during Oz’s absence in season four, and her relationship with Tara was notably one of the first lesbian relationships for a major character in a primetime series. Tara’s blast of warm guiding love is regarded as a high point for the Whedonverse–which made her death in season six all the more tragic. The trauma of losing her girlfriend to a non-magical force still haunts Willow in season ten. But Tara’s magical memories will always remain one of the main driving forces behind Willow’s redemption and fight against evil.
A controversial character rounds out Willow’s major romantic relationships; Kennedy wasn’t exactly warmly welcomed on screen or with audiences. Kennedy was the key to forgiveness for Willow though, as their relationship occurred after Tara’s traumatic death and during Willow’s magical rehabilitation. Figuratively, Kennedy was Willow’s anchor–even literally as they performed magic together to help power-up the Slayer scythe. Significantly, their break up in season Eight gave way to Willow’s unusual relationship with the demon sorceress, Aluwyn. So at least Kennedy, as a character, wasn’t all in vain.
Of course, there are more romances for the Scoobies in between all of the ones mentioned here. Let us know which Buffy pairing you’ve enjoyed falling in love with over the years in the comments below!
Images: 20th Century Fox Television and Dark Horse