Mon
Feb 6 2012 1:00pm

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Love is a Path Marked With Bloody Footprints

It’s almost impossible to look at Angel in the first year of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and not think of everything that awaits him in the second, and beyond. There’s the big, obvious, unforgettable stuff, of course, the events of “Surprise,” “Innocence,” and of course “Becoming.” But it’s little things too: in “Never Kill a Boy on the First Date,” Cordelia gets her first sighting of the Broodiest Vamp Ever. For seasoned fans, this whisper of an encounter brings up so many memories, calling up the whole story of Angel and Cordelia and their peculiar evil-fighting partnership.

Big things happen to Angel in his opening year in Sunnydale—that much is indisputable. He meet the Slayer, falls for her, and comes out to her as a vampire. He sacrifices Darla, gains Buffy’s acceptance and... well, other than that, he spends a lot of time avoiding her, actually.

It’s too painful, he says, by way of an excuse, to be around Buffy.

Love, pain and the death of innocent bystanders are inextricably wound together in BtVS, but in S1 we only see the first cruel glimmerings of this particular law of the Buffyverse. This season sketches in a mere outline of Buffy and Angel’s romance (and a second doomed love story, too!) without ever coloring in much detail. We see the duo fall for each other, see them struggle a bit with commonsense, the notion that really, they just plain shouldn’t. A Slayer and a vampire... bad idea, right?

But as the curtain falls on S1, we have no idea how bad. Sure, there’s a whiff of Capulet and Montague in the air, not to mention the age difference: Angel is so much older than Buffy. He’s got that terrible past as Angelus to live down. Perhaps most significantly, both parties can clearly see there’s no real prospect of them offering each other anything resembling a normal life.

So they fight the attraction and stay out of each others’ way... but they can’t choose not to fall.

There’s so much going on in the first season of BtVS, so much groundwork being laid that a mostly-implied romance is plenty, in a lot of ways. This is even truer because the on-screen chemistry doesn’t really start crackling between Sarah Michelle Gellar and David Boreanaz until further into the story. Boreanaz’s initial appearances as Angel are stiff and more than a little smarmy. He got to be quite a good actor, in my opinion, but that came with time and practice. The Angel of Los Angeles—Cordelia’s work-hubby, if you will—has so much more depth than these initial appearances in BtVS suggest: in the very beginning, he mostly alternates between being a wise-ass and wobbling on the verge of tears.

(Nathan Fillion auditioned for this part, did you know? Imagine the alternate universe where that came together. Seriously—dig your favorite Angel scenes out of mental storage and make the substitution. Even if it’s just a second to revisualize “Smile Time,” I guarantee fun.

Oh dear, and now my fanbrain is running off on a tangent whereby I’m imagining Nathan Fillion as Captain Jack Harkness—another great coat role!—and maybe one of the male leads in Heroes.... and sorry. Where was I?)

Boreanaz. That’s right—he got better. His character was scripted with increasing finesse over time, which didn’t hurt. It’s one of those self-evident things: when Angel stopped being a brash, off-putting stranger who lurked into the Bronze with warnings about Impending Evil, he got more compelling.

By contrast, Sarah Michelle Gellar, who was a much stronger performer from the start, doesn’t seem to have grown that much. I’m watching Ringer now, and enjoying it, but as I simultaneously rewatch BtVS, I have to say what I’m seeing is essentially the same bag of actor tricks. The primary difference is that Ringer is much less funny, which is a shame—Gellar did some terrific comedy in BtVS, and it’s too bad she’s in a series that takes itself far too seriously to cut up.

But maybe that’ll change. For the moment (it’s December as I write this) she and Ioan Gruffudd are also trapped in the Hell of No Chemistry.

(And now I’m thinking about Ioan Gruffudd as Angel, and Captain Jack Harkness... oops!)

The other budding romance in S1 is of the blink-and-you-miss-it variety... it’s the very beginning of Rupert Giles and Jenny Calendar... and I’m betting that if you’re reading this, you already know how that turned out. It’s tempting to dismiss their early flirtation as minor Scooby action, because in S1 that’s about all it comes to. It’s only in hindsight that we realized that even as the Master made his play to escape and open the Hellmouth, these two couples were on a collision course with a huge tragedy... one that seemed unthinkable as S1 ended, but inevitable as it played out, week after heart-stopping week, half a season later.

If all this sounds like I’m saying that S1 is mostly build-up... where romance is concerned, there is an element of truth to that. But I’m going to talk about “Prophecy Girl” and the Master and how it all wrapped up, next week, and there’s genuinely good storytelling there. It’s not uncommon to hear even devoted fans dismiss the BtVS freshman year, but it’s important to remember: it was good enough to hook us, to bring us back in September ready and eager for more. It was the gateway, the opening act that earned our affection and loyalty before things in Sunnydale started to get really messy.


A.M. Dellamonica has a short story up here on Tor.com — an urban fantasy about a baby werewolf, “The Cage” which made the Locus Recommended Reading List for 2010.

32 comments
Gardner Dozois
1. Gardner Dozois
I believe that Angel was Borenaz's very first professional acting job, so we shouldn't be surprised that he was stiff at first. He got much more accomplished later on in BUFFY, and more so in ANGEL. He's pretty good still in BONES, although the role doesn't call for him to do much more than the kind of stuff he already did in ANGEL.

I always found him more entertaining playing Angelius than Angel, where he could let the brooding go and chew the scenery in a flamboyent way. Angelius was much funnier in a cruel, mocking way than Angel was, and, oddly, also much smarter. Angelius was obviously way ahead of Angel in the IQ department. Nothing on BONES has called anything out of Boreanaz similar to what he delivered as Angelius, which is too bad. He made a great villain, one of their best Big Bads, throughout BUFFY and ANGEL too.
Gardner Dozois
2. blog.worm
I wouldn't dismiss SMG's performance on Ringer right away. As with season 1 of BtVS, it may be pretty rough around the edges, but it still holds promise. I think she has yet to fully grasp the characters she plays, and the show itself still needs to find its footing. Not to mention, this is the first series role she's had to fully delve into after Buffy, and after an acting hiatus. I do agree, though, that they need to loosen up a bit.

Re: Nathan Fillion as Angel- Oh, man.. First time I read it somewhere, my mind spun into a million directions. Reimagining the whole series with him as Angel had me mildly dizzy with the possibilities. I like him the most in his current role as CASTLE, though. Fits him like Captain Hammer's gloves/muscle tee and Malcolm Reynold's tightpants. (This is also me unabashedly promoting the show and to please check out the noir-themed episode "The Blue Butterfly" airing tonight @ 10p on ABC ;D) Seriously, Fillion in '40s wardrobe and fedora? How can anyone resist?

Boreanaz, however, I can't stand to watch anymore. I liked him as Angel. He was fantastic as Angelus. Somehow, he just comes across as a little too smarmy as Booth on BONES.

As for romance in Sunnydale, I really liked how you described it- as a "path marked with bloody footprints." So tragic, yet so true.

Another great post. I'm looking forward to the rest of your Buffy Re-Watch. Thanks for sharing! :)
john mullen
3. johntheirishmongol
David B has grown a lot as an actor, from being the pretty face he was in S1. He really started growing when he got to play Angelus. I frankly think he is a better actor now, in Bones, than he was in Angel.

The Jenny Calendar romance and death was great storytelling, but
I thought she also added something to the group that never returned.
David Thomson
4. ZetaStriker
I still can't believe no one's mentioned the most startling thing about Boreanaz in Buffy Season 1; he's so skinny! I remember the Angel of the eponymous series when I think of his look in Buffy, but he started out as such a stick! He looks like a skeleton in a leather jacket for most of the first season, although if I remember correctly he filled out for the second.
Gardner Dozois
5. Dr. Thanatos
I loved the character Angel grew into on this show, and to a certain extent on his own show. As may be commented on later, the Angelus who appears in Season 2 of Buffy is not the same person who appeared on Angel in terms of his...creative...approach to evildoing. More on that later.

I also had a sense that Jenny Calendar S1 was not the same person as S2; all of a sudden the technopagan business disappeared and she was a Gypsy operative. I can rationalize it but it takes some work...
Gardner Dozois
6. Gardner Dozois
Yes, he was really skinny in the first few BUFFY episodes, not the hulking and looming figure they played him as later, particularly on ANGEL. Of course, a lot of that is carefully chosen camera angles; Boreanaz himself is not terribly tall, although fairly well-built.

Toward the end of ANGEL he started to look a bit fat, actually, enough so that my wife and I noticed and commented on it. And on current episodes of BONES, he's looking, if not fat, then chunkier, or perhaps puffier. Of course, he's also a lot older than he was on the first season of BUFFY.
Ilan Lerman
7. Ilan
Re: David B and his changing physical appearance - is something I've often thought about in terms of portraying a character whose appearance is supposed to be physically frozen in time on a series that lasts several years. e.g. Data on ST:TNG.
I actually quite like Angel in S1, his appearances do tend towards the repetitive, but the episode 'Angel' is my favourite from the first season as it immediately depeens both his and Buffy's characters, and is fascinating to watch knowing what comes down the line. Even more fascinating when you think that Angel is surely the longest running character in the whole Buffyverse, lasting 3 seasons of Buffy and 5 of his own show.
Gardner Dozois
8. Gardner Dozois
Cordelia must run him a close second, running on BUFFY until ANGEL started, and then running through four seasons of ANGEL. She mostly disappeared during the fifth season, although she did make one late guest appearance, which means that I suppose you could technically claim the same record for her as for Angel--three seasons of BUFFY, five seasons of ANGEL. Did Angel appear as a character in the first couple of episodes of BUFFY, or did he come in later? If so, Cordelia might be able to claim the same record as Angel.

It's an interesting question as to whom on BUFFY/ANGEL has had the most successful career post-BUFFY/ANGEL. David Borenaz has a starring role on a hit TV series. Alyson Hannigan has a starring role on a hit TV series, although her character isn't as central to that show as Borenaz's is to his. Sarah Michelle Gellar was in several big theatrical movies, although nothing for several years--but now she's back on TV in a series, although the jury's still out as to whether it's a hit or not. Anthony Steward Head has done mostly British TV. James Marsters pops up as villains in stuff like SMALLVILLE and HAWAII 5-O. Nicholas Brendon had a small supporting role in CRIMINAL MINDS for awhile. Seth Green has been in several slob comedies, and in Austin Powers. Michelle Trachtenberg has had a few theatrical movies. Haven't seen Emma Caufield in much, and, as far as I can tell, Chrisma Carpenter (Cordelia) has disappeared altogether, although she did have a guest-shot on CHARMED post-BUFFY and a (very) short-lived sitcom.
Alyx Dellamonica
9. AMDellamonica
Blogworm: Yes, I do watch Castle. Happily, with joy at Fillion's every move, twitch, and utterance. And I am still watching Ringer, and enjoying it. And you're right--better things could come from SMG as the show relaxes into being whatever it's going to be.

In the meantime, there's Ioan.

Gardner: Angelus gets better too with practice, in my opinion. But yes--he's immediately more fun than Angel. One is almost like, "Hey, Buffy, of course he is a psychotic killer now, but he'll make you laugh if you give him a chance!"
Gardner Dozois
10. Gardner Dozois
He's probably better in bed than Angel too, if he doesn't kill you after/during/beforehand.
Gardner Dozois
11. faiz Imam
Re: David B and his changing physical appearance: By Season 5 of Angel he looked perceptibaly older, and Spike actually calls him out on it while they are at W&H.

I forget the qwip,something about stress? but it was hillarious.
Gardner Dozois
12. AO
Charisma Carpenter did several TV movies and then had a recurring role on VERONICA MARS. I didn't see her in much after that, but she's recently had a resurgence, with guest spots in shows like BURN NOTICE & SUPERNATURAL (with James Marsters), and she's appeared in half the Episodes of the new series THE LYING GAME.

Emma Caulfield was on a few series at the same time, such as LIFE UNEXPECTED, GIGANTIC, and BANDWAGON. This year she's had guest spots on shows such as LEVERAGE, PRIME SUSPECT and ONCE UPON A TIME.
Gardner Dozois
13. Gardner Dozois
I recall that crack of Spike's--it was hilarious. Boreanaz was looking distinctly saggy by the end of ANGEL. He seemed to be in better shape again by the time he started BONES, although now he's looking puffy once more.

Easier to explain Data aging than Angel. Data could always say that he'd tinkered with himself somehow or adjusted his programming to make himself look older for some reason, or even that his materials were beginning to physically wear out; after all, he's not magic, he's made of physical materials, and all physical materials break down/wear out eventually. Harder to explain with Angel, although I suppose you could always make up some kind of curse or spell that was making him age.
Gardner Dozois
14. Shellywb
And I'll add in that James Marsters has been incredibly popular as the reader of the first 12 Dresden Files audio books. He *is* Harry Dresden, not to mention all the other characters, and I'm sorely disappointed that he wasn't able to read Ghost Story
john mullen
15. johntheirishmongol
Gardner, we all get a bit puffy looking when we get older.

I don't think Ringer's issues are with SMG or Ioun. There is no one else in the cast who is particularly appealing. And the story line keeps getting more convoluted.

Speaking of Ioun, if anyone hasn't watched the Horatio Hornblower movies, they are excellent.

I must watch way too much tv, since I watch Castle too. However, I don't really picture Nathan as Angel. I saw him first in Two Guys, a Girl, and a Pizza Place, which also had a young cast that has gone on to be pretty successful. ...David Boreanz does a much better brood.
Anthony Pero
16. anthonypero
Boreanaz was so bad the first season I couldn't get into the show. I was amazed six years later when I saw an episode of Angel, and he was fantastic... so I went back and rewatched the show. God, he was fresh off the boat from Jersey those first 12 episodes. It really wasn't til he started playing off Spike that he got better.

I was watching Bones last week... his growth as an actor is just astounding. I have no idea how he got the role on Buffy, but I'm glad he did.
Gardner Dozois
17. Dr. Thanatos
Let's not forget Coredelia's recurrent appearance as a martial-arts-nun-skank-warrior on Legend of the Seeker.

I was not, btw, referring to physical appearance with the different Angeluses ---the appearange of Angelus on Angel was not near as fun/creative as his gig in Buffy S2...
Anthony Pero
18. anthonypero
@Dr. Thanatos:

I read somewhere that all the "Vampire" faces were scaled down after Season two for budgetary reasons.
Ilan Lerman
19. Ilan
@Gardner Perhaps even vampires suffer from middle age spread. It must have been all that pig's blood he guzzled on Angel...
Gardner Dozois
20. Dr. Thanatos
I noticed that, as well as the scaled down "dusting" effects.

I was referring to the return of Angelus as not as much as a wise guy who really loved his work; it was more of a walk-through, not the total bad-arse that we met in Buffy S2
Gardner Dozois
21. Gardner Dozois
John, don't I know it! I'm puffy enough myself to serve as an inflatible life-raft at this point!

Oddly, the last time I saw Marsters, he didn't appear to have aged as much as Boreanaz. For that matter, Marsters was older than Boreanaz (by a fairly large margin, I think) when Spike made that crack to Angel. Maybe he really is a vampire!

It'll be interesting to see what kind of roles Boreanaz gets once he's too far into middle-age to be convincing in action roles anymore. The gruff head cop/administrator, perhaps?
Gardner Dozois
22. wingracer
He got the job for his looks, not his acting. Fortunately the acting got much better. Interestingly, Buffy was not quite his first gig. From his wiki:

David Boreanaz's first paid acting appearance was a 1993 guest spot on the American sitcom, Married... with Children, as Kelly's two-timing biker boyfriend, who gets pummeled by her father, Al. He was cast in the series Buffy the Vampire Slayer, after being suggested for the role to Marti Noxon by one of Boreanaz's neighbors, after walking his dog past their house.
Gardner Dozois
23. Gardner Dozois
Yes, they lucked out with Boreanaz. He became a much better actor later on, and can do comedy as well as grim drama. There were many pretty boys they could have gotten who wouldn't have worked out as well.

This is not to say he's a great actor by any means; I doubt that he'll ever have a major film career. But he's effective in the right kind of role, and I suspect he'll get work on TV for the rest of his life. As I said, when he gets older, I can see him being cast as the gruff/brooding police Captain or commisioner, or as a politician or corporate head. Look at what's happened with Tom Seleck, if you want a foretaste of his future career.
Noneo Yourbusiness
24. Longtimefan
The cast of the first season of Buffy had charm. even if someo of them had more acting experience and some had less each of the actors really did have a charm that just drew me back to the show. (as well as the writing)

There is something true about the term "the camera loves that face" and while it is not something one can aquire it is amazing to see the ones who have it when they have honed their acting and the roles they play are written to charm and delight the audience.

Buffy as a show was very good at finding those faces and giving them excellent stories in which to shine.
Alyx Dellamonica
25. AMDellamonica
Random answers: Charisma Carpenter and Alyson Hannigan were both on Veronica Mars, which most of you probably have figured out is dear to my heart. (Oh, and AO mentions that. Ah well.)

I think one key element of the genius of Joss Whedon is that he casts well. He sees potential in people who aren't necessarily all that promising. The only Buffy/Angel/Firefly regular I couldn't quite buy into, at all, has been Amy Acker.

In his first appearances Boreanaz isn't great, and I'd never have guessed he had comedy chops. That's true of a lot of the Scoobies.

I am also very sad that Tony Head is no longer on Merlin.
Gardner Dozois
26. Alfvaen
I kept making up my dream Wheel of Time cast from Buffy--David Boreanaz could be the stoic blacksmith Perrin, Nicholas Brendon could be Mat, and I guess Marc Blucas could be Rand. I kept changing my mind on the female characters, though. Maybe Anthony Stewart Head could be Thom Merrilin...
Gardner Dozois
27. Dr. Thanatos
@alfvaen,

No question about it: Alyson as Min, SMG as Nyn, Julie Benz as all the disposable blonde female badguys, Charisma as Lanfear, and Spoyk as any and all of the male Forsaken...
Gardner Dozois
28. Gerd D.
I wouldn't call S1 dismissible, but we encounter there much of what plaques most ongoing shows: the characters we meet in S1 are much different from the ones we part from at the end of S7, which makes sense for some, and not so much for others. Angel, in hindsight, becomes a more contradicting character the more background he gets - the same goes for Giles, btw. - so that I feel it fair to say that, in hindsight, it becomes obvious how few everybody involved at that stage knew in which direction the show would eventually be headed.

In that light I think we can cut David Boreanaz/Angel some slack, besides he really didn’t have much to do as a character in that first couple episodes, he’s just serving as the archetypical mystery lover. Which worked fine for me. I always preferred the Giles & Jenny Calender pairing anyways, and their tragedy did left a lasting impression on me, they have become to me TV entertainment’s pendant to Peter Parker/Gwen Stacy (and just the same I hope for them that in some alternate universe they could make it).

With Buffy & Angel on the other hand it’s always fun to watch them never quite making it, but in the mean time living out every “first love” cliché there is (the awareness and playful acknowledgement of which has been a major strength of the show). Those episodes where all elegantly written, especially when compared to today’s TV writing.
Alyx Dellamonica
29. AMDellamonica
That's a lot of work for Julie Benz, Thanatos! But pretty good casting nonetheless.
Gardner Dozois
30. Dr. Thanatos
@AMD,

She's up to it; I've followed her work. And if she can do it so can Marsters...
Alyx Dellamonica
31. AMDellamonica
I agree, Thanatos--I was blown away by her performance on Dexter!
Randall Lilly
33. ^o^CORVUS^o^
Once again, late to the party. Its gonna happen for a while, so get used to it :)

There have been a few comments about how David Boreanaz was starting to get a bit pudgy in Angel season 5, and that's true. He was trim and in-shape for the first episode of that season, "Conviction", but as the season wore on, an old injury started to plague him. David had hurt his ACL in his left knee back in school and it had never been fully corrected, and by the time of "Destiny", his mobility was becoming impaired. So, he had corrective knee-surgery done right before "Soul Purpose" was filmed, and it took a while for him to fully recover.

More on-topic, I really love Buffy's first season and agree with a lot of the observations that have been made here. It is indeed a little sad to see these characters in their early days before the heartbreaks and disasters start to set in.

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