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Goddamn, Xander Harris Was the Absolute Worst

By Roxana Hadadi | TV | March 31, 2021 |

By Roxana Hadadi | TV | March 31, 2021 |


In stressful times, we turn to our beloved pop culture items, don’t we? And what the hell has this year been but a really goddamn stressful time?

So I rewatched Freaks and Geeks. I watched the Lord of the Rings extended-edition trilogy probably four or five times. I rewatched the first three seasons of Veronica Mars, and the awful fourth season. My partner and I started Bob’s Burgers and The X-Files from the beginning; we stopped BB six or so seasons in when it was originally airing on Fox because the air schedule was so inconsistent, and although I watched all of The X-Files when it ran, I don’t remember much of the later seasons. All things I liked years ago, and mostly still like!

But I have been wary of returning to Buffy the Vampire Slayer for a long time. I mostly loathed seasons six and seven when they aired. The Buffy/Spike relationship was exhausting (ANGEL FOREVER!). And Joss Whedon’s omnipresence in this industry, and the waves of reveals about his terrible behavior on both Buffy and Justice League, wore me out. (HBO cutting ties with him on The Nevers, after having hyped it up so much as a Whedon project? Interesting.) So what made me turn Buffy back on last week? I’m honestly not sure! Maybe I just saw David Boreanaz’s face and my body went weak? IT’S A VERY NATURAL REACTION TO THE ‘90S VERSION OF THIS FACE.


For whatever reason, I’ve dived back into BTVS, which I originally watched while it was airing (fourth grade!) and can now see through adult eyes. And I still love a lot of it! So much! I’m in the middle of season three now, and I still don’t understand how Sarah Michelle Gellar never got an Emmy nomination. Her acting on this series is top-notch! I cried so much at this!

She has excellent chemistry with Boreanaz, and their romance still remains so sensual and tragic and impactful. When he came back from that demon torture dimension? I cried so much then, too!

I forgot how funny Seth Green was as Oz, and all my “I wish he were my dad!” feelings about Anthony Stewart Head as Giles are flying back, and Eliza Dushku is so wonderfully tortured as Faith, and it’s been mostly great! It’s been mostly fun! Aside from Xander Harris (Nicholas Brendon), who might be the character I hate most in all of media. ALL OF MEDIA. ALL FILMS. ALL TELEVISION. ALL BOOKS. ALL COMICS. ALL ART. ALL CREATIVE FORMS.

“That seems like an exaggeration,” you might say. “Surely he can’t be that bad. Surely he has some redeeming qualities!”

… Uh, I don’t know. Does he? Because I’m at the end of the third season (season ranking, BTW: 2, 1, 3, 5, 4, 7, 6) and Xander is such a drag and, if I’m being very cynical, a Whedon stand-in. Because isn’t it interesting how Xander somehow manages to get romantic with three of the main cast’s female characters: Cordelia (Charisma Carpenter), Willow (Alyson Hannigan), and Faith? And isn’t it interesting how Xander, despite having no powers or abilities or, you know, personality traits outside of being a Nice Guy, maintains his status in the Scooby Gang? I think because his power is his humanity or whatever? But goddammit, Xander isn’t even a very nice human!

Hear me out: His entire season one arc is salivating over Buffy and disrespecting her boundaries or her romantic disinterest. Remember when Buffy tries to warn him about the giant praying mantis teacher? Ignored. Remember when he tries to rape Buffy after getting possessed by the hyena spirit, but she forgives him for WHATEVER REASON, and then he admits that he remembers what he did and like … it still doesn’t matter? Remember how he’s a jerk to both Buffy and Willow when the Inca mummy princess, inexplicably, falls for him? Remember that whole Angel turned into Angelus thing, and Xander not telling Buffy that Willow was working to restore his soul, so that Buffy was completely thrown when Angelus DID turn back into Angel, and she had to kill him to save the world? Remember when Buffy very understandably ran away from Sunnydale, and then came back, and her friends threw her that awfully tone-deaf party, and then Xander ripped into her for … daring to grieve for her dead boyfriend? I could keep going, but you get the idea.

Xander is every entitled male “friend” who thinks that if he sticks around just long enough, the woman he’s haranguing will finally “come around” and realize how perfect they are together. Xander’s “concern” for Buffy never seems to really transition into that “purely a friend” zone, and it’s a grueling dynamic to watch episode after season, season and season. Doesn’t it feel like Warren and the Trio were created to placate us, as in “See, Xander isn’t as bad as these guys?” And frustratingly, these early seasons of Buffy really seem like the show is leaving the door open for Buffy to eventually fall for Xander—when she rightfully calls him out for his jealousy over Angel, the show has Cordelia act all offended (Cordelia, who Xander already at this point is cheating on with Willow, who he finally notices after Willow gets a boyfriend, Oz, who Xander doesn’t inform when Willow is hospitalized because he “forgot”), and acts as if Buffy has no leg to stand on. How could Buffy get so mad when Xander is the one who saved her life at the end of season one? Or when he saved her from the rape-y pack of swim team members turned aquatic monsters? All of this, plus Xander turning into a soldier during that Halloween episode, is very incrementally laying the groundwork for who Xander becomes, which is a tactical leader in the Slayers’ eventual fight against The First in season seven and against Twilight/Angel in the canonical comic book series Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season Eight.

But here’s the thing: It’s also laying the groundwork for when Buffy eventually realizes in season eight that she has developed romantic feelings for Xander, and possibly loved him all along. [Xander at this point is dating Buffy’s younger sister Dawn (Michelle Trachtenberg), which feels, you know, like getting as close to Buffy without actually getting Buffy, no?] The moment feels like both a “Told you so!” for Xander and like a punishment for Buffy, like she waited too long and lost her chance. And jeez, I’m so tired even typing this out.

I’ve said this many times before, and I’ll say it again: Not every story needs a happy ending, and not every character needs to be a good person. Despite all my sarcasm, Xander does serve a purpose for this group: reminding them of the limits of their specialness and of the need to care about others. He saves Willow from being Dark Willow forever. He is Dawn’s closest friend in the group before the relationship turns romantic. But for the most part, he’s smarmy, and negging, and simp-y, and I hate the idea that this guy is the Scooby Gang’s reminder to do good in the world. Per usual, I side with Angel on this matter, and all others.