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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1 comment:

  1. The thought of Xander falling from Important Regular Character to a mere background character always manages to turn me into a bitter monster. I really hate how the writers lost interest in him.