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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1 comment:

  1. Hey, I'm just wondering why its taken so long to get to the Top 3. I hope you haven't given up on this blog, it's excellent!