1st Anniversary Character Posting Board Party - The Mayor
d'Herblay - September 28, 2001

66 days dwindled to one before I knew it, and what had seemed an pleasant exercise became a dreaded responsibility. But the other day I was reading the New York Times article on Angel from this past Sunday. Joyce Millman is my favorite professional Buffy-crit writer, but when I got to her sentence "Angel morphs fangs, a prehensile forehead and glowing eyes when he's in a fighting mood" I found I could not exorcise from my mind the image of Angel carrying his car keys between his eyebrows. The moral of this story is that even very smart people can look like idiots sometimes. Let what follows serve as further evidence.

Sunnydale, California, as Mr. Trick puts it, has "quaint." Good schools, good weather. While the manufacturing industry seems to have abandoned the town, leaving a plethora of abandoned factories and warehouses, the citizens seem prosperous, polite and quiet. It's "two hours on the freeway from Neiman Marcus." It has twelve cemeteries and one nightclub. It's either Santa Barbara nearer the desert or San Bernardino after a very expensive canal project.

Every healthy community needs healthy governance, and Sunnydale would be no exception, were it healthy. But Sunnydale has a sickness. Joyce, in "Gingerbread," provides the diagnosis: "silence is this town's disease. For too long we--we've been plagued by unnatural evils. This isn't our town anymore. It belongs to the monsters and, and the witches and the Slayers." But mostly it belongs to its mayor, Richard Wilkins III.

Thomas Hobbes suggested that any government, no matter how authoritarian, is preferable to the state of continual warfare that would exist without it, and the citizens of Sunnydale seem to have agreed. It is a secret of American democracy that the smaller the electorate, and the more say the average voter has in how he is governed, the more likely it is for the social and political mores to take on an authoritarian cast. Indeed, in some of our small cities, hundred-year periods in office are not out of their mayors' reaches. The conspiracy of silence in Sunnydale takes in not only the highest levels (the police chief and Snyder in "School Hard" and "I Only Have Eyes For You") but every citizen. Snyder says in "I Only Have Eyes For You," "We're on a Hellmouth. Sooner or later, people are going to figure that out." By "Gingerbread" they have, but Joyce's direct democracy turns into mob rule as the active citizenry is suborned by demonic influence into fomenting Hobbes's war of all against all. Afterwards, the city returns to the state of tacit compliance which it prefers.

The civic values of Sunnydale include a tacit agreement that good citizenship involves ignoring the evil all around, much as the civic values of 1950s sitcom America included the tacit agreement that its citizens would ignore racism and put their energies into constructive matters such as lawn care. And just as Spike, who has 150 or so years of life and un-life to choose from, seems to prefer to live in 1977, the Mayor seems to prefer the caricatured virtues of the 1950s--cleanliness, milk, "Family Circus," golf, Boy Scouting, pretty girls in pretty dresses rather than evil leather pants, and watching one's language. I'm not sure how much of the portrayal of traditional American values as being a mask over an evil face (Willow, in "The Initiative": "I've seen honest faces before. They usually come attached to liars") is intended as a statement on Joss's part, but his skepticism of government--not just the Mayor, but the FBI's school for invisible assassins, and the Initiative, doomed by its own corruptibility--is clearly stated. Not for nothing does he show an unchecked governor becoming a giant snake which devours everything in its path.

Of course, the social contract with the citizenry of Sunnydale is not the only contract the Mayor has entered into. He governs not only with the consent of the governed but with demonic assistance. As Faith says, "Mayor's got it wired, B. He built this town for demons to feed on and come graduation day, he's getting paid." Evidence in "Lovers Walk" suggests that he has sold his soul, and he refers to the tribute to Lurconis in "Band Candy" as one of his "campaign promises." It's fair to say that he enjoys his position only with the understanding that he will tolerate Sunnydale's less savory side. But the Mayor has been protective of his turf, driving out El Eliminati and crippling Balthazar. Would his tolerance extend to letting the world end before he has achieved his Ascension?

There are some people who are willing to suspend their disbelief in vampires and witches and troll gods, but who are unwilling to extend that suspension to accept coincidence. Those people might find it hard to accept that Buffy's presence in Sunnydale is the result of some sort of mystical convergence drawing her to the Hellmouth in time for the Harvest. I think it is entirely plausible that if Joyce had to move two hours away from LA to find a school that would take Buffy, then that school may have accepted Buffy only at the behest of the Mayor. And she was accepted just in time; the counter-factual world of "The Wish" has no place in it for the Mayor. It is interesting that between the events of "The Harvest," when Buffy is essential to preventing the Master's release, and those of "Prophecy Girl," when she is necessary to that release, the Sunnydale government replaces the touchy-feely-but-sensitive-to-wrong-touching Principal Flutie with the draconian Snyder. And it is when the Mayor's "big year" is about to begin that Snyder expels Buffy.

(Before someone starts waving "Becoming" in the face of this theory, let me point out that less than forty-eight hours transpire between Angelus's taking possession of Acathla and his attempt to end the world. Compared to the events of "The Harvest," awaited for sixty years, and those of "Prophecy Girl," foreordained in the unimpeachable Codex, "Becoming" is apocalypse as impulse. Whistler saw it coming, but Giles didn't, and there is little reason to believe that the Mayor would have either. There is also little reason to believe that he would have suspected Angelus, who had shown no inclination to end the world in "Surprise," of such ambitions. In "Lovers Walk," the Mayor says of Spike, "We had a world of fun trying to guess what he'd do next"; I am willing to chalk up "Becoming" to a failure of intelligence rather than to any tolerance of apocalyptic activities in his town.)

Machiavelli writes, "The first thing one does to evaluate the wisdom of a ruler is to examine the men that he has around him." Such an evaluation reveals firstly the separation between the two contracts into which the Mayor has entered. Those who abet him in maintaining Sunnydale's conspiracy of silence form a much larger group than those assisting him in the Ascension. The first group includes Snyder, the police chief and, apparently, the city council, and takes advantage of the ingrained desire for peace and quiet of the people of Sunnydale. The second is limited to Deputy Mayor Allan Finch, Mr. Trick and then Faith, and various vampire lackeys. Had the Mayor been able to utilize his police force in his attempts to bring about the Ascension, there might now be a "Richard Wilkins Museum." Based on the events of "Bad Girls," Buffy should have been in jail even unto her graduation ceremony. Police have been known to ignore the crimes of the young, white and pretty; generally, however, assaulting police officers is not a crime they ignore.

The tension between the two agendas of the Mayor is illustrated by his changing relationship with Principal Snyder. When we first hear that the government of Sunnydale is aware of its peculiar situation, we see Snyder as an active participant in the cover-up. He is essential to the harassment of Buffy in the second season, calling the Mayor with the "good news" after expelling her in "Becoming, Part 2," and remains a thorn in her side through the third season. But as the Mayor's priorities shift from keeping Sunnydale's secret evils secret to becoming a decidedly more overt evil himself, Snyder's position changes. The key episode illustrating this shift is "Band Candy." Before this episode, he has seemed to have direct knowledge of the Mayor's plans for the city. In the episode, he distributes the tainted candy himself. But while Mr. Trick assists with the preparation of Lurconis's sacrifice, Snyder has sampled the candy. Although he, in his regressed state, boasts of having received a commendation from the Mayor, Snyder reveals himself as a tool to be manipulated, rather than a manipulator.

As Snyder's desire for normalcy and order becomes further divergent from the Mayor's plans, he struggles to regain his bearings. In "Choices," the sight of the Mayor indulged in skullduggerous dealings with the incorrigible Scoobies, as well as of one of the inhabitants of the Box of Gavrox, brings Snyder to a state of shock. His orderly world has been upset. Still, he acquiesces to the Mayor in the preparations for graduation. But when the Mayor reveals himself for what he is, and the desire for order is revealed for what that desire can become, Snyder remains, fearlessly calling for discipline and calm. He is eaten.

Of those who form the inner conspiracy, that of the Ascension, Deputy Mayor Allan Finch is the most problematic. By no means evil, and a bit out of his depth, Finch still makes a capable assistant. It is left unclear in "Bad Girls" and "Consequences" if he truly intended to betray the Mayor, but we get the impression that he would have done the right thing had Faith not impaled him. Mr. Trick's complicity is less surprising. He is, by his vampiric nature, evil, as well as a close reader of bottom lines. If he cannot be the big bad, he will attach himself to one who can.

But it is through his relationship with Faith that the Mayor is best revealed. It is emblematic of Joss's perversity that some of the most touching scenes of fatherly affection on Buffy come when the Mayor is encouraging Faith into murderous ways or basically pimping her out in an attempt to turn Angel to the dark side. But even as he corrupts Faith, the Mayor builds her self-esteem. It is at first a strange match between the Reader's Digest-reading family-values glad-hander and the rebelliously anti-conventional riot grrl, but the Mayor's enthusiastic embrace both of evil and of Faith win her over. We can see the process in "Enemies." At the beginning, Faith treats the Mayor's suggestion that she wear her hair back with disdain and rejects the milk he offers her. By the end, after failing to turn Angel and finding herself at an irreconcilable impasse with Buffy, but finding that the Mayor still accepts her for who she has become, she breaks into a huge grin at his suggestion of miniature golf.

Faith's own mother mostly enjoyed "the drinking and passing out parts of life," we are told, and Faith never really found a parental figure in the Watchers' Council who could match Giles's paternal relationship with Buffy. It is no surprise that she would gravitate towards the Ozzie Nelson-like Mayor. When Willow accuses Faith of throwing away friends like Buffy and having no one, Faith responds, "I got someone. I got him." But whereas the Mayor seems to really respond to Faith's firecracker attitude, Faith's love for the Mayor seems predicated on what he can give her--fancy apartments, fancy knives, fancy murders--until we see her in "This Year's Girl." In Faith's dream, she and the Mayor have a picnic--and it is safe to assume that no one ever took Faith on a picnic before. What Faith remembers is the Mayor's tenderness. He shows his concern over her worrying and shows kindness to a garter snake. Then Buffy takes him away from her, devastating Faith.

"This Year's Girl" also reveals how much Faith's coma affected the Mayor. Of all the Big Bads, he is the only one to leave a Last Will and Testament, the only one to acknowledge that he might face Buffy and lose. Going into the Ascension without Faith by his side is not a prospect he relishes, not only because he needs her skills in the fight, but because he has convinced himself that the Ascension is when Faith will finally be able to come into her own. "It's your big day," he says to her in the hospital. He seems to believe it.

Angel deduces that Faith is the Mayor's "human weakness." Of the five Big Bads, the Mayor seems to be the only one to have had a human weakness; of the five Big Bads, the Mayor seems the most human. He may be invulnerable, unaging and soulless, but he seems to have truly loved both his wife Edna May and Faith, and he achieved those states through acting on his originally human desires. He is a man who values order and normalcy. It is unclear to me how becoming a giant snake promotes those virtues, but from "This Year's Girl," we can surmise that the post-Ascension world he envisions contains museums and schoolchildren. He seems to have really believed that such a world would have been better for Faith, and perhaps he believed that such a world would have been better for all of us.

His affection for Faith is the human weakness that Buffy acts on to defeat him, but the weakness that makes the Mayor most human to us is this desire for calm and control. It is a desire present in most of us, and it is a desire that must be limited, for it is easily perverted. For, just as the Mayor came to believe that preserving control required demonic Ascension, the desire for order can overtake what makes us most human and, if left unchecked, can devour everything in its path.

Archived discussion of this post