I think I watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer a bit too young to appreciate a lot of the subtleties in the story. Looking back, it was such a good series that I feel it deserves a rewatch through more mature eyes.
The show follows Buffy and the Scooby Gang, made up of her Watcher and a group of close friends, as they battle the forces of evil, which range from vampires and demons, to gods and trolls. There’s some very interesting mythology surrounding these monsters, but that’s not what I want to discuss today.
Today, I want to discuss Xander Harris.
Amidst Watchers, witches, and werewolves, Xander Harris is just an ordinary guy. In fact, he isn’t even an ordinary guy, he’s a loser. That helps his likeability for an audience because that’s where a lot of our comic relief comes from, but how does his character work in a gang of superfriends?
The show itself plays on this premise a few times throughout its course. After being released from possession as Dracula’s thrall, Xander proclaims that he’s sick of being the ‘butt-monkey’, having been seduced and possessed by mummies, hyenas, and other demons countless times before.
In the final season, we see a painfully self-aware Xander, telling Dawn he knows what it feels like when she realises she isn’t one of the Potentials:
Seven years, […] Working with the Slayer. Seeing my friends get more and more powerful. […] All of them. And I’m the guy who fixes the windows. They’ll never know how tough it is, Dawnie. To be the one who isn’t chosen. To live so near to the spotlight and never step in it. But I know. I see more than anybody realises because…nobody’s watching me. I saw you last night. I see you working here today. You’re not special. You’re extraordinary.
-Xander Harris, Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Xander is the guy who fixes the windows. He’s also the guy who stopped Willow destroying the world when she went power-crazy after Tara died, when Buffy and the rest of the powerful Scoobies failed. His completely mundane existence transcended Willow’s infinite supernatural power because he knew the friend inside. I thought this resolution to the Evil Willow story arc was a really nice nod to Xander’s status as the ordinary and underappreciated Scooby. It showed us the irreplaceable value of a good friend.
Supernatural stories often ask us the question of ‘what would happen if we were flung into a world where x is real?’ In these stories, we see relatable elements of ourselves in the heroes, transformed in some way by their surroundings, by the need to rise up and become more than what they were. Xander, I think, is what happens when the supernatural takes over and we fall behind the curve. In a classical literary framework, he becomes our Watson, the eyes through which we see. More than this though, he is what we can become in our ordinariness. Despite not having strength, spells, or even smarts, he has what Buffy and the Scoobies need the most: the ability and unwavering loyalty required to foster intimacy and friendship.
And to top it all off, Xander summoned the demon responsible for the musical episode, every fan’s little guilty pleasure.