Tuesday, July 27, 2010

#4: Willow

The 'best friend'. You know how some people just naturally become other people's best friends? That's Willow. While by most standards over seven seasons on Buffy Willow evolved almost beyond recognition, one thing that remains constant about her is her loyalty as a friend. It's what made her and Xander such a tight unit, it's what kept her from destroying the world in season six, it's what made them (and, increasingly from season to season, her more than him) inseperable to Buffy. Something absolutely central to the story of Buffy the Vampire Slayer is the importance of friends: how friends are the family we choose to have, the love we choose to give. It's made explicit on the show that what distinguishes Buffy from other slayers (the First Slayer, Kendra and Faith in particular) is the fact that she has friends, that she's a member of a team. It's a message that got lost in the shuffle of Season Seven, but still a powerful message, and Willow – science-nerd Willow and powerful-witch Willow in equal parts – was a powerful part of that message.

In the beginning, when we first meet her in Joss Whedon's “Welcome to the Hellmouth” and throughout the first season, she's shy and inarticulate. This is why Willow, second-overall character on Buffy and the only character to have a speaking role in all 144 episodes (in that Buffy, as opposed to the Buffybot, doesn't say a word in “Bargaining, Part One”), starts off with a rather dismal fourth-place and 4494 words. She never ranks above number four in a single episode, not even the 'Willow episode' “I, Robot... You, Jane”, where she somehow manages a mere number five and 453 words. Her highest word-count is in Xander's “The Pack”. Even at that it's a fairly unimpressive 562 words.

Willow slowly comes out of her shell in season two, though not enough to raise her above number four. 9238 words is a decent improvement, and she gets her first number one, though in a sense it's a technicality. In the possession-episode “I Only Have Eyes for You”, I give words spoken while under possession to the possessor, not the possessed – so James speaking through Buffy counts as words for James. Willow sneaks past Buffy with 687 words, but she would fall back to number two if I calculated differently. Her vital roles in “Halloween” (625 words) and “Phases” (841 words, her highest that season) still come in at number two.

In Season Three, Willow is a senior at high school. Her evolution as a character is in full effect, having performed her first spell at the end of season two. And while 9820 words does not represent a huge leap above last season's totals, it's enough to leapfrog Willow past Giles and Xander into the number-two position. And even more exciting, she finally, almost at the end of the third season, gets her first fully-deserved number one with “Doppelgängland”, with 1394 words in total, and 34.9% of the dialogue – a bravura performance in which she plays two characters: herself (1055 words) and the vampire version of herself from a dimension created a few episodes previously by Anya (339 words, good enough for a fourth-place finish if they were different characters). A highly significant episode that foreshadows many of Willow's future developments, it's her highest-ever word-count, but her only number-one this season.

So if you're wondering how, being three seasons in and still with only two number-ones, Willow amasses a total of 11 number-ones, well they start to come fast and furious from now on. Season Four is the first University Year, and it's Willow's pivotal year. Not only does she lose one love of her life and find a second, but she settles into her post-geek self and begins to devote herself more seriously to the magic. With Xander and Giles off campus, her role as Buffy's best friend becomes all the more crucial, and 12,176 words is not only an easy number-two but is by a large distance her highest word count, beating even 'her' Season Six. She gets a total of three number-ones this time out, to say nothing of six number-twos and seven number-threes. She gets only a single minor the whole season, and is a long way from her humble Season One beginnings. Those three number-ones include the largely symbolic “Hush”, which after all has to be somebody's number one. As most of the episode is wordless, she wins it with a paltry 246 words. And while the other two are 'Willow episodes', they are more accurately 'Oz episodes': their breakup episode “Wild at Heart” with 834 words, and the thwarted reunion “New Moon Rising”, with 771 words. Oddly enough, “Pangs” with 1046 words has a much higher word-count but a number-two finish.

Season Five is a bit topsy-turvy, and not just with Spike's unexpected predominance. Willow's 7923 words is just a few below Xander, but she still drops a massive amount compared to Season Four, and drops all the way to fourth. She gets no number-ones, and gets ten minors, including an all-time low of 26 words on “Fool for Love”, appropriately a Spike episode. She plays a significant role in each of her four number twos, peaking at 1009 words in the Anya/Willow episode “Triangle”.

Season Six definitely restores the balance, though, with Willow being absolutely central to the season, reviving Buffy, dealing with magic addiction, her break-up and reconciliation with Tara, Tara's death and Willow's subsequent descent into evil as 'dark Willow', the season's true 'big bad'. Back to number two with 10,575 words and a jaw-dropping five number-ones, unsurprisingly the largest number of number-ones in a season on Buffy the Vampire Slayer for a character whose name isn't in the show's title. What are they? Well, in order, “Bargaining, Part One”, where she leads the team in their efforts to revive Buffy, with 1020 words (her season high); “Afterlife” soon after, where Buffy's dazed readaptation to being alive keeps her lower on the list, with 851 words; “Wrecked”, where her magic addiction spirals completely out of control, with 821 words, and the final two episodes of the season, “Two to Go” with 681 words, and “Grave” with 695 words. If we were to treat 'dark Willlow' as her own character, she'd be good for 1817 words, which would put her just outside the top ten.

Season Six was a tough act for the character to follow, and Season Seven featured a drop-off for most of the principal non-blonde characters. Willow stays, somehow, as high as number three for the season, but at 7174 words puts in her lowest word-count for a 22-episode season. She gets ten minors, including, sadly, each of the final seven episodes. The extent of Willow's marginalisation (despite the crucial role she plays in “Chosen”) can be seen in “Empty Places”, where she's eleventh on the list. The writers gave her one last hurrah, “The Killer in Me”, where she gets 1065 words inhabiting both her own body and that of Warren. This confusing episode features 680 words spoken by Alyson Hannigan and 385 spoken by Adam Busch. Were I to treat them as different characters, this would be a number-one for Kennedy, of all people. Even “Same Time, Same Place”, a Willow episode, is a number-two, though at 785 words it's a decent total. Her highest in Season Seven after that is a paltry 422 words.

So while she survives “Chosen”, you can't help wondering if it was worth it, or if the true story of Buffy the Vampire Slayer is that the reward for unwavering friendship and loyalty (barring a brief dalliance with evil) is increased irrelevance and marginalisation.

I have failed to mention Willow's three cameos in Angel. I needn't mention “There's No Place Like Plrtz Glrb”, where her cameo is completely silent, but I should mention “Disharmony” a few episodes before it, where she speaks 55 words over the telephone. And I should definitely mention the Season Four epic “Orpheus”, where 74.4% of the dialogue is spoken by characters who originated on Buffy and Willow comes in at number two with 566 words.
  • Overall ranking: #4
  • Ranking on Buffy: #2
  • Ranking on Angel: #52
  • Total words spoken on Buffy: 61,400
    • Season 1: 4494
    • Season 2: 9238
    • Season 3: 9820
    • Season 4: 12,176
    • Season 5: 7923
    • Season 6: 10,575
    • Season 7: 7174
  • Total words spoken on Angel: 621
    • Season 2: 55
    • Season 4: 566
  • Total words spoken in the Buffyverse: 62,012
  • Total speaking appearances on Buffy: 144
    • Ranking #1: 11
    • Ranking #2: 18
    • Ranking #3: 20
    • Ranking #4: 23
    • Ranking #5: 31
    • Minor: 41
  • Total speaking appearances on Angel: 2
    • Ranking #2: 1
    • Minor: 1
  • Total speaking appearances in the Buffyverse: 146
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Monday, July 26, 2010

#5: Xander

Xander himself says it best in “Potential” - watching his friends become more and more powerful, while he's the guy who fixes the windows. The progress we see in Xander across the seven series is not really one of him ivercoming his faults so much as learning to accept who he is despite – and to a certain extent – because of his limitations. In a series filled with superheroes, Xander's the 'everyman', and to keep on the good fight despite having nothing in the way of 'abilities' requites a certain heroism that, as he's come to understand by Season Seven, the others will never comprehend.

Mind you, that doesn't excuse how the writers treated Xander as the series was coming to a close. Xander's tale was a good one, one of a person taking halting steps toward maturity in an adult world, but once he left Anya at the altar (a missed opportunity, perhaps, to underscore Xander's development into responsible adulthood), the writers appear to have decided thay had nothing more to say about Xander, and though he's still all over Season Seven, he's not really doing much of anything.

Which is something you can't say about Xander early on. Oddly, while Nicholas Brendon was the inexperienced one next to child stars Sarah Michelle Gellar and Alyson Hannigan and experienced thespian Anthony Stewart Head, in those initial episodes he seems to carry a lot of the action. It might be that paling Xander was not much of a stretch for him, character-wise, but Nicholas Brendon fit into Xander's shoes way more quickly than the rest of the cast did in to their respective characters, and the difference is plain to see. Xander comes in third in the short first season, with 6392 words, and remarkably turns in only one minor performance. Revealing that Xander gets only a single number one in this season would leave the curious fan to wonder whether it was “Teacher's Pet”, in which Xander falls for a substitute teacher-cum-praying mantis, or “The Pack”, in which he becomes possessed by a hyena (it's a peculiar season, this one). In fact, it's neither: Xander comes in number two in each behind Buffy, with 774 words (his season high) and 651 words, respectively. Xander's number-one, surprisingly, is in “Prophecy Girl”, where he gets 758 words in around the season-concluding events of the episode.

Xander comes in #2 for Season Two (whatever its red-toned DVD box cover might otherwise imply), with a remarkable 12,265 words by far his largest single-season word-count. It's hard to believe, really, that Xander would ever come in at number two – but he really is all over this season, not only with three number-ones, but with 18 top-five apprearances: Xander is just always around, earning that title of the 'heart' of the Scoobies that we'll see at the end of Season Four. Anyway, Xander's three number-ones include the surprising “Innocence”, the episode where we first meet Angelus and where he shatters the fragile Buffy with his cruelty, but where these two still lag behind Xander's 614 words. The other two are less surprising, being very clear 'Xander episodes': “Inca Mummy Girl” at 1034 words a great leap forward for Xander the character, and “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered” at 1314 words (his peak this season) a hilarious episode with Xander having messed up a spell and causing the women of Sunnydale to fall in love with him, from a time when Buffy wasn't afraid to be laugh-out-loud silly from time to time.

Things change a lot for Xander in Season Three, and the reason is, frankly, Willow. As the series progresses, the character of Willow evolves greatly and becomes more and more important. Though it would seem that Season Four is where we see this come to fruition, it's happened by Season Three, really, as Xander drops down bwhind Willow to third place for the season, with 8451 words a big step down from the previous season. Seven minors this season and, excluding his one-and-only centric episode, no more than 572 words in an episode. He might be the 'key' for the fight at the end of the season, but he's not very important to the season as a whole, something his sole number-one, the excellent “The Zeppo” plays on. A great episode that reveals a lot about what being Xander means in the evolving Buffyverse, “The Zeppo” barely ever takes the camera off of him, and gives him 1441 words of dialogue, an impressive 35.2%. But it's very much a one-time thing; without this episode, he'd have only 7010 words this season, barely higher than his worst-ever full season.

This, while the decline continues in Season Four, with 8059 words though still number three, Xander appears to appear more often: more to the point, with Xander not living on campus and attending university with Buffy and Willow, the writers need to consciously find ways to include Xander. Thus three number-ones, though none are in any way 'Xander episodes'. “Fear, Itself”, a Halowe'en episode, has Xander feeling like a 'townie' outsider, in 849 words and 21.3%. The next episode, the much-reviled “Beer Bad” defaults to Xander as the bartender at number one, since Buffy spends much of the episode grunting. 664 words but exactly 21.3% again. With 803 words and an almost-identical 21.5%, Xander's third and final number one of the season is “Where the Wild Things Are”, like “Beer Bad” also written by Tracey Forbes but in my personal opinion even worse. At the risk of being rude, I could recycle the previous sentence about the number one defaulting to Xander 'since Buffy spends much of the episode grunting'.

In any case, though, by now Xander's descent as a major character is inexorable. Season Five features even less of him. He still finishes at number three (detecting a pattern here?), but with 7986 words this time. And as with Season Three, without his single standout episode of the season, Xander would finish at 6206 words, which would drop him down to fifth. That standout is “The Replacement”, a great episode featuring two Xanders, 'ScruffyXander' who speaks 853 words, 'SuaveXander' with 486 words, and normal Xander at the beginning and end of the episode with 441 words. In total, this is 1780 words: Xander's highest word-count ever by 300 words, Season Five's highest by 400 words, and the second-highest in 144 episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (losing out only to Andrew). Apart from that, though, it's mostly bad news for Xander.

Xander's sole number-one in Season Six is in the atypical episode “Bargaining, Part Two”, which is more of an ensemble episode. That he gets no other times in the sin this season might lead one to see it as a further step in Xander's downward trajectory, but it is in fact a respite: with a thwarted wedding and with his role as the best friend to the season's 'big bad', Xander has more to do, and say, this season: 9077 words being his second-best season. He may have had only one number one, but he had an impressive six number-twos, including unsurprisingly “Hell's Bells” and more surprisingly “Once More, With Feeling”, where he sings his way to his season best of 768 words.

Yet Season Seven reverses the trend again, his worst-ever season with a number-four finish, an all-time low of 6980 words (more than Season One, yes, but with ten more episodes), the sole Buffy episode in which he doesn't appear (“Conversations With Dead People”), the almost-as-bad 23-word episode “Lies My Parents Told Me”, no number-ones at all, no Xander-centric episodes, and no character development across 22 episodes. His highest word-count this season, surprisingly, is “Him” at 658 words (and still only #3). One of the 'core four' and at one time the most important character on the show after the titular character, Xander was reduced to a mere 199 words in “Chosen”, a minor role for what had at one time been a major character. He survived, of course, one-eyed and about to take a far greater role in Season Eight. I should mention, in passing, that Xander is, like everyone else in the top six, introduced in Joss Whedon's “Welcome to the Hellmouth”, and that he's the highest-ranking character never to have appeared on Angel.
  • Overall ranking: #5
  • Ranking on Buffy: #3
  • Total words spoken on Buffy: 59,210
    • Season 1: 6392
    • Season 2: 12,265
    • Season 3: 8451
    • Season 4: 8059
    • Season 5: 7986
    • Season 6: 9077
    • Season 7: 6980
  • Total speaking appearances on Buffy: 121
    • Ranking #1: 10
    • Ranking #2: 18
    • Ranking #3: 18
    • Ranking #4: 29
    • Ranking #5: 20
    • Minor: 48
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Friday, July 23, 2010

#6: Giles

'For real this time?', a frustrated Anya cries out in “Tabula Rasa”, right before the spell that gives everyone amnesia, 'a young shopkeeper's heart can only take so much.' Giles has announced his intention to leave, once again. It's not tough to understand Anya's frustration: for all of his talk about 'standing in the way', for all of his departures, Giles never goes away very far. His decreased involvement in the final seasons of Buffy give the impression that he's less central a character to the show than perhaps other characters. But in fact, Giles appears in 121 of 144 Buffy episodes: however you look at it, he has a well-earned place in the so-called 'core four'.

The fact is that Giles was absolutely essential to the show in the early episodes. To rewatch season one and season two is to see just how great a watcher's role in an immature slayer's life can be. To the extent that Buffy is also a show about growing up, leaving childhood things behind, accepting responsibility and getting by as an independant adult in an adult's world, it makes sense that gather-figure Giles would drop down the list of important characters as the show progressed. But the extent to which that's true is quite amazing. Looking at the total words spoken per character per season, Giles in season one is the second most verbose character. As the seasons progress, though, he falls steadily: from #2 to #3, then to #4 and #4 again, then #5 and then, as a special guest, #8 and #10.

But Giles in the beginning – stuttering, stuffy, over-dramatic Giles – is truly a force of nature. Introduced, like every single remaining character in our top 50, in Joss Whedon's series opener “Welcome to the Hellmouth”, Giles finishes every episode of Season One in either second or third place. His lowest word count that season is still 541 words (his highest being 1007 in “Never Kill a Boy on the First Date”). As the cast was gelling and settling in, Anthony Stewart Head, the most seasoned actor, was so significant to the season that his word-count of 8372 words is his second highest ever – even though Season One was barely half the length of the other seasons.

In the full 22-episode season two, Giles still gets only two minor counts. Otherwise it's six number-fives, five number-fours, five number-threes and four number twos. This is his highest overall word-count – 10,410 words – but already there is a much more rounded cast this season, and more of an contribution from other characters. And perhaps there's a trend we can notice here concerning Giles: a very strong supporting role, but very few lead roles. His highest word count this season, 916 words, is in “The Dark Age”, very clearly a 'Giles episode' yet still with a higher word count from Buffy than from Giles. The fact is that on Buffy, despite the importance of the character, 'Giles episodes' are rare and Giles number-ones are rarer still, with only three across seven seasons.

Thus it is in season three, where Giles's word count drops to 8183 words and still no number-ones. As a consolation, there are four number twos, including “Helpless” at 580 words (his season highest) and “Band Candy”, perhaps the most enjoyable performance we see in the series from Anthony Stewart Head returned to his thuggish adolescence across 542 words. Yet as much as this episode and “The Dark Age” called out for an exploration of Giles's 'Ripper' teenage years, we never got one.

Season three ended with the destruction of Sunnydale High School and the graduation of it most important students. Without a job and with Buffy on the other side of town, Giles spent much of this season in search of purpose. And while the numbers do in a sense bear that out, with a further drop to 7948 words, the fact remains that this is the season where Giles gets two in three of his number-one finishes. With 1231 words, his highest ever word count by far, and 25.9% of the dialogue, “A New Man” is a classic example of an episode centred around a single character. With Ethan Rayne turning Giles into a demon, it's a pretty run-of-the-mill slapstick episode, but it gives Giles a chance to hog the limelight, and to shine doing it, buried under all that make-up. It's also, oddly, the only of the three Giles number-ones that can in any way be construed as a 'Giles episode'. The other episode this season where Giles comes in number one, for example, would be rather hard to guess: it is in fact season finale “Restless”, the surrealistic 'dream episode', where Giles squeezes in a mere seven words more than Buffy (sung, no less).

Season Five starts with Buffy begging Giles to take a more active role in her life, and while it would appear that the Dawn/Glory plotline features him in a more central role than, say, the Riley/Adam plotline, Season Five shows another significant drop-off in Giles's word count – almost 1300 words, to 6665 words. Fully 14 of the season's 22 appearances are minor. He never gets higher than number two and never gets more than 696 words in the Watchers' Council episode “Checkpoint” (a number three finish). The season finale, “The Gift”, is a number-two finish and could concievably have been Giles's final episode. It was, in fact, his last episode as a series regular.

Giles appears in eight episodes in Season Six: the first episode, a stretch of five from episodes number four to eight, and the final two. This includes “Two to Go”, at six words ('I'd like to test that theory') his smallest-ever word-count. Giles's final number-one occurs in this season, again at 582 (a small amount for a number one) only a few words more than Buffy, and again in an episode few could have predicted: the abovementioned amnesia-episode “Tabula Rasa”, which ends with him leaving on an airplane. At a total of 3637 words, Season Six represents Giles's smallest overall word count.

Season Seven features a slight increase, at 3778 words, but over 13 episodes (well over half the season). In this overcrowded season, Giles only makes it onto the top five on five occasions, with two number twos in “Bring on the Night”, where he brings the first group of Potentials to Buffy's house, and “Lies My Parents Told Me”, which is by no means a 'Giles episode' yet still features Giles in a significant role as one of the three 'parents' who have been telling lies. Joss Whedon said he knew he couldn't kill off any of the 'core four' in season finale “Chosen”, so on that bus is Giles, ending the series by leaving Sunnydale. As he had already done so many times.
  • Overall ranking: #6
  • Ranking on Buffy: #4
  • Total words spoken on Buffy: 48,993
    • Season 1: 8372
    • Season 2: 10,410
    • Season 3: 8183
    • Season 4: 7948
    • Season 5: 6665
    • Season 6: 3637
    • Season 7: 3778
  • Total speaking appearances on Buffy: 121
    • Ranking #1: 3
    • Ranking #2: 23
    • Ranking #3: 23
    • Ranking #4: 15
    • Ranking #5: 15
    • Minor: 42
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Thursday, July 22, 2010

#7: Spike

The sensitive poet William was hardly the obvious candidate for vampirehood that the lusty Irish ne'er-do-well Liam had been some 130 years previously. Though the extent to which the personality of a human affect the personality of the vampire he or she becomes is debated within the Buffyverse, it seems clear that differences that exist between Angel and Spike, the two principal vampires of the Buffyverse, have some connections to the differences that existed between their human predecessors.

A hundred years and change later, when Spike strutted into Sunnydale with his love and his sire Drusilla (who was sired in turn by Angelus), in David Greenwalt and Joss Whedon's “School Hard”, with 749 words and the first of 23 top-two appearances (number two), he was an arrogant, self-assured 'punk' bearing little relation to the man he used to be. It was this character that became Buffy the Vampire Slayer's 'breakout' character, progressing from a one-note villian designed in early Season Two to replace the rapidly-aging 'anointed one' through to comic relief as a desperate vampire neutered by a chip in his head to a more noble ally of Buffy's and protector of Dawn to a lover of Buffy's (her second and final 'big love', excluding Riley) to an ensouled teammate and, finally, after the termination of Buffy, as again a comic foil on Angel. That simplifies Spike's role on the shows, but does give an indication of the ways he's progressed from minor recurring bad guy to central figure in the Buffyverse.

Season Two seems to feature Spike and Drusilla as the 'big bad' until Angel loses his soul and turns Spike into a kind of ally for Buffy. His 3117 words that season are surprisingly few, but across twelve episodes he's mostly minor, excepting his first appearance and his final one that season, “Becoming, Part Two”, where he's again #2 with 454 words. He finishes number seven for that season.

In Season Three, Spike appears in only one episode, the great “Lovers Walk”, where he returns to Sunnydale a mess, having broken up with Drusilla but manages to break up two of the Scoobies' main couples. It's just one episode, but at 1098 words and a number one, Spike's left his fingerprints on this season too.

Season Four starts to feature Spike more regularly, in 18 of 22 b, and with a number six finish. The Initiative have implanted a chip in his head that makes him 'harmless', and he spends much of this season as a comic element – intended, apparently, to replace Cordelia, who had departed for Angel. “The Yoko Factor” is his sole number-one this season, where he uses his 'Yoko' status to break the Scoobies' friendships apart. He spends 1014 words doing so.

I should have said his sole number one that season on Buffy, as he also comes in at number one with 979 words during a one-off appearance on the début season of Angel, in “In the Dark”, where he has come to L.A. to torture the Gem of Amarra out of Angel.

No one would doubt that Spike has a significant role in Season Five, the season of Glory and Dawn. I'm not sure, though, how many people would correctly guess just how important. Somehow, this season, Spike manages to eke out an incredible number two finish: ahead of Willow, ahead of Xander. He does it by saying 8144 words in 21 of the season's 22 episodes (he's absent from the stark “The Body”), finishing number two twice: in “Out of My Head” with 678 words attempting to get a doctor to remove the chip from his head, and in “Intervention” with 546 words hilariously together with the Buffybot and less comically braving torture to protect Dawn. However, these pale next to his amazing contributions to two 'Spike episodes' revolving around his history and his love life. In “Crush”, he says an amazing 1322 words confronting a shocked Buffy with the fact of his love while Drusilla laughs in the background. Tough to see why Buffy's shocked, though, as it's obvious from seven episodes hence, “Fool for Love”, an amazing episode where we learn a lot about the character of Spike. He bests “Crush” by one word, with 1323 words being his highest word count on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and with 40.6% of the dialogue – not far off half of the whole script – being the highest percentage of dialogue in the entire 254-episode Buffyverse.

Progressing quickly from Buffy's confidante to her lover, Spike would appear to be just as crucial to Season Six as he was to Season Five, but in fact his significance drops off greatly, with 7238 words and a number five finish. There are no real 'Spike episodes' this season, and as such no number-one finishes, though he scores number two in “Smashed”, where he and Buffy violently consummate their relationship (645 words) and “Dead Things”, where he tries to prevent Buffy from turning herself into the police. He finishes number four in “Seeing Red”, the episode where Tara's death overshadows the other ugly event: his attempted rape of Buffy. This leads him to see the season out in Africa, attempting to regain his soul.

The final season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer once again features 'soulful Spike' in a greatly expanded role: though 7279 words is barely any more than the previous season, it's enough to pole-vault him back to a number two finish. He has an impressive three number-one finishes: “Beneath You”, with 1143 words his peak that season, revealing to Buffy the fact of his newly-returned soul; “Sleeper”, with 746 words, killing humans again under the influence of the First; and “Lies My Parents Told Me”, a resolution to Spike's mother-fixated weakness which the First had been abusing, a resolution to Robin's mother-fixated vendetta on Spike, and incidentally a resolution to Buffy and Giles's father-daughter relationship. With 301 words, Spike finishes fourth in series finale “Chosen”, where an amulet given to Angel by Wolfram & Hart allows Spike to save the day but at the cost of his life. “Spike...” is the last word Buffy says, and he appears to join Anya as a sacrifice to the final battle with the First.

But... something so simple as burning up in the sunlight while destroying the whole town you're presently underneath isn't enough to get rid of Spike... not when his fans were so vocal. As Angel carried on for one final season after the termination of Buffy, Spike was sent to Wolfram & Hart as a non-corporeal ensouled vampire to play Angel's 'frenemy', engaging in constant bickering spats and for a second time 'replacing Cordelia' as Angel's funny man. In so doing, Spike had by a considerable distance his most talkative season, with 12,740 words, three number twos and five number ones (and a very obvious number two for the season).

Spike's number twos include “Underneath” and “Power Play”, but the most impressive one is “The Girl in Question”, a buddy comedy sending Spike and Angel to Rome in search of Buffy. Spike's 1155 words are less than Angel's 1444, but between them, the pair speak 51.8% of the episode. Spike's five number ones are all tucked into the first half of the season, starting with episode number two, “Just Rewards”, in which he comes to terms with the fact of his ghost-like existence within Wolfram & Hart over an amazing 1606 words, his highest ever. Two episodes later, Spike's back at number one with 1180 words in “Hellbound”, a bit of a continuation, in which he comes to believe that he is drifting permanently toward eternal damnation. Four episodes after that, Spike becomes corporeal, and we have “Destiny”, another buddy-movie episode where Spike finds out that his and Angel's destinies are intertwined in several ways. His 1175 words are only 15 more than Angel's 1160, and between them they get 52.8% of the whole episode. Two episodes after that, we get the impressive “Soul Purpose”, where Angel dreams about Spike stealing his destiny. Spike's 878 words give him a number one finish, while Angel ekes in at a mere number five – perhaps due to the fact that David Boreanaz was busier behind the camera than in front. Spike's final number one is the very next episode, “Damage”, a great follow-up to the legacy of “Chosen”, where Buffy's plan to activate all potential slayers has created in L.A. a psychotic slayer who blames Spike for the trauma she suffered as a child.

A character as important as Spike doesn't really die... well, not permanently, anyway. He is shoulder-to-shoulder with Angel in “Not Fade Away”, about to go into battle, and his character is all over the comic book series that have followed the Buffyverse's televisual demise. James Marsters might even appear in a made-for-TV movie in the role. There's just no killing Spike.
  • Overall ranking: #7
  • Ranking on Buffy: #5
  • Ranking on Angel: #7
  • Total words spoken on Buffy: 32,573
    • Season 2: 3117
    • Season 3: 1098
    • Season 4: 5697
    • Season 5: 8144
    • Season 6: 7238
    • Season 7: 7279
  • Total words spoken on Angel: 13,780
    • Season 1: 979
    • Season 2: 61
    • Season 5: 12,740
  • Total words spoken in the Buffyverse: 46,353
  • Total speaking appearances on Buffy: 95
    • Ranking #1: 7
    • Ranking #2: 7
    • Ranking #3: 6
    • Ranking #4: 10
    • Ranking #5: 12
    • Minor: 53
  • Total speaking appearances on Angel: 24
    • Ranking #1: 6
    • Ranking #2: 3
    • Ranking #3: 1
    • Ranking #4: 1
    • Ranking #5: 7
    • Minor: 6
  • Total speaking appearances in the Buffyverse: 119
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Wednesday, July 21, 2010

#8: Wesley

In Season Three of Buffy, in the wonderful Douglas Petrie-penned episode “Bad Girls”, Faith's slide into evil picks up pace as she accidentally kills the Mayor's deputy, after giving Buffy a taste of the excitement of living above the law. A great episode, it also happens to introduce a new character: Wesley Wyndham-Price, a new watcher, whose pompous demeanour immediately rubs everyone the wrong way. Described by Xander as 'Pierce Brosnan-y', Wesley is mostly a one-dimensional caricature, an arrogant but clueless authority figure, devoid of courage or grit, a butt of jokes, destined surely for the trashheap of annoying characters who get theirs by the end of the season.

Who would equate that character with the one who dies in Illyria's arms in the last episode of Angel, “Not Fade Away”, having been killed by Cyvus Vail? That world-weary character has lived a lot in his years on earth, a lot of difficult decisions, a lot of pain, a lot of down-and-dirty battles... those two characters would barely recognise each other.

Yet so masterful are the writers of these two series (well, Angel primarily) that at no step does the evolution seem forced or unrealistic. Wesley's role on Buffy is limited to that single season, Season Three, where he manages to come in tenth for the season. He appears in nine episodes, though he has a significant role only in one: that début “Bad Girls”, where he's good for 699 words and a number-two finish. His comic relief and embarrassing lusting after Cordelia carry him through to the end of the season, where he's never after seen on Buffy and, I can only presume, Alexis Denisof started looking for new work.

Wesley appears on Angel in the first episode after Doyle's death, and while the writers went to pains to underline the idea that Wesley was not Doyle's replacement, it's really tough to see it otherwise. Almost immediately, he's accepted as a member of the team, and he becomes a central character on Angel, remaining so until that final episode. He speaks in 98 of the show's 110 episodes (appearing in 100), a number second only to Angel himself. Additionally, only 28 of those 98 appearances are minor, with 70 peaturing Wesley in the top five. For all that, though, he ranks number one only four times, outlining his 'supporting' role.

Of his thirteen Season One appearances, only one, “War Zone” with 326 words, is minor. This impressive record gives him a number four finish for the season, with 7360 words just behind Doyle himself. Three number twos include the season finale “To Shanshu in L.A.”, but Wesley's sole number one this season is in “Expecting”, which is actually a Cordelia episode, though Wesley's babbling demeanour gives him 1002 words to Cordelia's 980. While still clearly the same blowhard he was in Buffy, Wesley has progressed to a character with a greater morality, a sense of duty and loyalty, and a valuable team member.

In Season Two, Wesley makes only four minor appearances among 22 episodes, bottoming out in “The Trial” with a mere 110 words. 10,411 words is his highest seasonal word-count, and number three is his highest seasonal ranking (he'll tie it once more). Yet while he gets four number-twos, including “The Shroud of Rahmon” where he serves as a kind of narrator and says 790 words, he gets only one number one. Yet “Guise Will be Guise”, a fabulous episode where he impersonates Angel, is most definitely a 'Wesley episode', and he says 1037 words throughout. This season, Wesley graduates to de facto 'leader' of Angel Investigations during Angel's estrangement, picking up traits of leadership and responsibility. Right from the first episode of this season, the 'new Wesley' is in evidence.

Season Three is a major turning-point for Wesley. Rejected by Fred in favour of Gunn, we start to see darkness in him for the first time, and his sense of responsibility (not to mention unwavering belief in prophecy) leads him to kidnap Angel's son and turn him over to Holtz, a shocking decision that puts his life in peril twice, first as his throat is slit and he is left for dead, and again as Angel tries to kill him. This rift between Wesley and the rest of the group lasts for quite some time and helps to explain why Wesley's role this season, with 7893 words and a number four finish, is somewhat diminished. In fact, though he appears in all 22 episodes, he speaks in only 20, having been left temorarily mute by the throat-slitting. Thus, while his two number-twos, “Loyalty” and “Sleep Tight”, feature the peak of his Connor-Angel-prophecy arc, it might be a surprise that his sole number-one, with 974 words, is in “Billy”, a monster-of-the-week episode featuring a man who can turn other men into misanthropic animals with a single touch. This episode, though, is our first real taste of the 'darkness' within Wesley, and his behaviour, under Billy's influence, is quite frightening.

Season four features Wesley's gradual reintroduction to the team. Yet it's an overcrowded season, one that gives Wesley very little to do except participate as a team member: he's of primary importance again when he takes the lead as Angel disappears into the Angelus character. Ultimately, then, his number five season ranking is his lowest ever on Angel, and his 7396 words almost the lowest. He has two number twos, 723 words questioning Angelus in “Soulless” and 917 words in “Spin the Bottle”, a delightful episode that gives us a sudden flashback to Buffy-era Wesley, a nice reminder by comparison of how far the character had come.

Once the team moves to Wolfram & Hart, Wesley would appear to be in a familiar role, heading up research into ancient prophecies in a central, yet still supportive capacity. Yet when his finally-blossoming romance with Fred is cut short by her untimely death, Wesley enters a downward spiral into nihilism and alcoholism, entering into a complex relationship with the 'old one' who killed her, Illyria. Ultimately a tragic figure by the time of his death, Wesley is much more central to Season Five than it might appear, coming in third overall after Angel and Spike with 9631 words. Two consecutive number-two finishes in “A Hole in the World” and “Shells” reveal his centrality to the Fred-Illyria storyline, and his only number-one of the season, at 1266 his highest-ever word-count, is in “Lineage”, where a cyborg in the form of Wesley's father comes to Wolfram & Hart intent on harming Angel. Wesley shoots this cyborg, believing that he is in fact shooting his father. His absence from the next episode is attributed to time off to recuperate from the trauma, while the real-world reality is that his actor, Alexis Denisof, needed time off to marry Alyson Hannigan, who played Willow.
  • Overall ranking: #8
  • Ranking on Buffy: #26
  • Ranking on Angel: #3
  • Total words spoken on Buffy: 2390
    • Season 3: 2390
  • Total words spoken on Angel: 42,691
    • Season 1: 7360
    • Season 2: 10,411
    • Season 3: 7893
    • Season 4: 7396
    • Season 5: 9631
  • Total words spoken in the Buffyverse: 45,081
  • Total speaking appearances on Buffy: 9
    • Ranking #2: 1
    • Ranking #5: 2
    • Minor: 6
  • Total speaking appearances on Angel: 98
    • Ranking #1: 4
    • Ranking #2: 13
    • Ranking #3: 20
    • Ranking #4: 21
    • Ranking #5: 12
    • Minor: 28
  • Total speaking appearances in the Buffyverse: 107

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Tuesday, July 20, 2010

#9: Gunn

It's probably Gunn's curse to be a bit overlooked. In Angel, he's often downplayed as merely 'the muscle', despite having an impressive background and a commitment to 'the good fight' that arguably dwarfs everyone else's on the show, including the 'champion' Angel. In addition, in looking at the series at a whole, his contribution, and that of his actor J. August Richards, feel often inadequately recognised. Who, if asked which four characters on Angel had spoken the most dialogue on the show, would correctly label Gunn for number four?

Even Gunn's entry to the show, late in season one, feels understated - oddly, since it occurs in an episode primarily devoted to him. While Gary Campbell's "War Zone" makes a rather heavy-handed contrast between the poor street-dwelling vampire fighter Gunn, engaged in the netherworld because he needs to be to protect those close to him, and the Bill Gates-modelled David Nabbit, a billionaire dabbling in the netherworld out of boredom, Gunn is clearly the more interesting character, and his #3 finish here with 460 words falls behind her sister Alonna and Angel himself, with whom Gunn has a complex relationship throughout the series. Gunn appears in every episode from then on, though with only two episodes left, he's hardly a major contributor to the season.

Gunn takes a much more significant role in Season Two, coming fifth for the season with 6417 words, becoming a regular member of Angel Investigations and a central part of it during Angel's estrangement. Still, he gets few opportunities this season to truly shine, topping 400 words only twice: once with 1035 words (his highest word-count ever) but only a #2 finish in "First Impressions", the episode where Gunn really becomes a permanent team member, with Cordy tailing him out of fear for his life (the two contribute 56.6% of the entire script). The other time is a #1 finish in the estrangement-era episode "The Thin Dead Line", a confused episode about zombie cops set in Gunn's former neighbourhood.

Season Three features more of Gunn than Season Two, though he still feels largely like a minor character for a good deal of it. He finishes fifth again, with 7501 words. His romantic involvement with Fred brings a much-needed non-work aspect to Gunn's character, and as he played a particular role in keeping the gang together during Angel's estrangement, so he does again during Wesley's. "That Old Gang of Mine", the third episode of the season is a much-needed 'Gunn episode', resolving certain aspects of the duality of his life, confronting his former 'gang' as a full member of his new 'gang' (Angel Investigations). His 948 words give him a number one finish. After that, we go all the way to the final stretch of the season for two consecutive number-two finishes, one, "Double or Nothing" is most definitely his episode, in which the bargain he'd made seven years previously exchanging his soul for a truck comes back to haunt him, but he finished number two behind Fred, with 754 words. The next episode, "The Price", in which the Hyperion is infested by slug-like creatures and we finally meet teenage Connor, has Gunn at 667 words, partly through his concern as Fred becomes infected by one of the creatures.

While Season Four is so thoroughly caught up in its main plot that it might appear characters would be pushed to the wayside, it is very much 'Gunn's season'. He and Fred break up and he finds himself constrained by his role in Angel Investigations, but he's given such a chance to shine that he actually winds up at #3 for the season, behind only those two people who appear on the DVD box cover - and even at that, he's little more than a sentence away from #2, with 9103 words to Cordelia's 9111 (and by 'Cordelia', I mean all aspects of the 'Cordelia/Jasmine' character not played by Gina Torres). This expanded role becomes immediately apparent, as he gets a #1 ranking with 744 words in the season opener, "Deep Down", playing the 'alpha male' at Angel Investigations in Angel's absence. In the third episode, "The House Always Wins", he speaks 692 words for a #2 finish behind main character Lorne, and in the fifth, "Supersymmetry", he speaks 686 words for a #2 behind main character Fred and ultimately joins the rather large club of Buffyverse characters who have killed humans. By far, Charles's biggest chance to shine in the season comes in "Players", where he teams up with Gwen, who finished ahead of his 1006-word number-two finish. The two are good for 54.4% of the dialogue in what is otherwise a crucial episode of the evil-Cordelia plotline.

Season Five sees all of the characters changing their roles, but perhaps none so much as Gunn, who is transformed into a cunning attorney with much more moral ambiguity that we have seen in him to date. 7841 words represents a drop in a character-filled season, but he still finishes a respectable fourth. Despite this, there are no real 'Gunn episodes' this season, as he in many ways returns to being a dependable but apparently inessential team member. The legal knowledge implanted into Gunn's head becomes the main aspect of his storyline, and when it starts to fade, his attempts to get it back lead indirectly to Fred's death. Much of the remainder of Gunn's season is spent atoning for that action. He gets no #1 finishes, finishing #2 only in season opener "Conviction" with 681 words and again, surprisingly, in "The Cautionary Tale of Numero Cinco" with 764 words, ahead of Numero Cinco himself.

His role in "Not Fade Away", the series finale, is understated: 285 words and number four. In the very final scene, Gunn is alive and kicking, about to go into the battle that Angel's team's actions have unleashed, but he has wounds that Illyria describes as mortal. More than any other character in the Buffyverse, his status as the series ends is unclear. It's resolved in the comic book series, where, unexpectedly, he dies and is turned into a vampire, but when Angel says "Let's go to work" and the credits role, Gunn is still alive, valiantly supporting Angel and selflessly fighting the good fight with no consideration for whether he lives or dies. Just as he always did.
  • Overall ranking: #9
  • Ranking on Angel: #4
  • Total words spoken on Angel:31,598
    • Season 1: 736
    • Season 2: 6417
    • Season 3: 7501
    • Season 4: 9103
    • Season 5: 7841
  • Total speaking appearances on Angel: 91
    • Ranking #1: 3
    • Ranking #2: 8
    • Ranking #3: 10
    • Ranking #4: 12
    • Ranking #5: 14
    • Minor: 44
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Monday, July 19, 2010

#10: Fred

Anybody looking for proof that Angel was not just your average run-of-the-mill hour-long drama need look no further than the character of Fred. I can't imagine which other TV show would create such a unique character. Or alternately which actor, other than Amy Acker, could inhabit the character so completely and bring her to life so endearingly. Technically, her first appearance is in Shawn Ryan's “Belonging”, the last epsisode of Season Two to be set entirely in LA, though it's only in photos and flashbacks: she never says a word. It's easier, then, to see her début as occurring in Mere Smith's “Over the Rainbow”, where she says 176 words. From those early appearances as a half-insane vagabond on the run from the authorities in the hell dimension of Pylea, through her amazing evolution into the self-confident scientific mastermind of Wolfram & Hart in the first half of Season Five, the character inspires nothing so much as a kind of unconditional love. It's impossible not to love Fred, as becomes apparent in the Season Five episode “A Hole in the World”, where the essence of the 'Old One' Illyria, brought to Wolfram & Hart by Knox and through Gunn's accidental agency, enters her body and kills her. That episode and the ones that follow show a mourning for her loss unequalled in five death-filled seasons of Angel. Fred occupies a unique spot on the show as the single character whose loss affected the team greatest.

Fred says only 920 words in Season Two, since, as with Gunn a season before, she's introduced only at the tail-end of the season. She's in only three episodes, in Pylea, reaching the top five only with season finale “There's No Place Like Plrtz Glrb”, where her 495 words get her a number three finish.

She comes back to LA with the team, taking residence in the Hyperion Hotel while slowly readjusting to life in the human world. It's touch-and-go whether she'll become a regular member of the team, but by the end of the season, she's well entrenched in her new role, central to the team and dating Gunn as well. Rather shockingly, she jumps all the way up to number three for this season, meaning she speaks more words than everyone else on the show that season save two characters. The 8984 word-count is also as high as she ever got. Though that run contains 10 minors, three number-fives and six number-fours, it does also contain fully three number-one finishes, 1343 words (her largest count ever) in the eponymous “Fredless”, where we meet her family and she becomes a permanent member of the team, and two back-to-back number-ones, 754 words in “Forgiving” and 1022 words in “Double or Nothing”, a Gunn episode, where he still speaks almost three hundred words fewer than his girlfriend.

Season four features Fred and Gunn's breakup, but otherwise there's not that much for Fred to do until the Jasmine mini-arc at the end of the season. As with the Pylea mini-arc, Fred's character shines in the multi-episode format. She starts off well, with two number twos at the beginning of the season, 730 words in “Deep Down” as effectively half of the understaffed Angel Investigations and a surprising 669 words in 'Gwen episode' “Ground State”. Episode number five of the season is a 'Fred episode', “Supersymmetry”, where the story of her expulsion to Pylea is tied up and Fred and Gunn's revenge on the professor who sent her there puts a permanent wedge in their relationship. At 30.5% of the whole script, her 1138 words are well-earned.

Its mostly the shadows from then on until Jasmine. In “Shiny Happy People” she's second only to Jasmine herself (the two characters combine for 59% of the episode's dialogue) and in “The Magic Bullet”, she's second to none, albeit with a surprisingly low 557 words (the third-lowest number-one-ranking word count in the series). All in all, if the Jasmine 'epic' is considered as a single episode, Fred ranks #2, behind Jasmine herself but ahead of Angel himself. All in all, in Season Four, Fred finishes fourth with 8801 words.

Numerologists might be intrigued that Fred finished third in Season Three, fourth in Season Four and, you guessed it, fifth in Season Five. 6857 words is a drop, but one must remember that her character dies in this season. For the remainder of the series, Illyria walks around in Fred's 'shell', played of course also by Amy Acker. If we considered Fred and Illyria to be the same person, and we shouldn't, a total of 9453 words would only raise her to number four. “A Hole in the World” is the episode of her death; 33 words spoken in a dream of Wesley's are credited post-mortem to her, but none of Illyria's experiments with the body (colour) or voice of Fred count. “A Hole in the World” is a comfortable number-one finish, at 826 words, but her other number-one and number-two finishes this season are all in support of other people: “Unleashed”, at 907 words and number one, is a Nina episode. “Hellbound”, at 909 words and number two, is a Spike episode. And “Harm's Way”, at 700 words and number two, is Harmony's episode. Her willingness to play sidekick might explain that crowd around her deathbed, and might explain why not loving Fred is about as perverse a response to the TV show Angel as one could imagine.
  • Overall ranking: #10
  • Ranking on Angel: #5
  • Total words spoken on Angel: 25,562
    • Season 2: 920
    • Season 3: 8984
    • Season 4: 8801
    • Season 5: 6857
  • Total speaking appearances on Angel: 63
    • Ranking #1: 7
    • Ranking #2: 5
    • Ranking #3: 4
    • Ranking #4: 11
    • Ranking #5: 6
    • Minor: 30
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