1st Anniversary Character Posting Board Party - Xander
Lurker Becoming Restless - August 31, 2001

First Anniversary Character Posting Party: **Aspects of Xander**

He is bright, funny, and will one day be suave and handsome. Til that day arrives, he'll do the best he can with bright and funny.

Well, so much for the detailed character analysis. This quote from the shooting script of 'Welcome to the Hellmouth' is Joss Whedon's first description of Alexander Lavelle Harris and it pretty much says it all. Witty and resourceful, Xander is able to make the most of any situation by drawing on his vast reservoir of self-knowledge. By the end of season five he is finally becoming the suave, handsome guy we all know he can be and he seems to be happier than any of the other Scoobies. Joss has given us the essence of Xander in two short sentences.

But, as always, it's not quite that simple.

**'It's all about the Journey, isn't it?'**

I've found a definition of Xander, but I'm not done with the book-learnin'. Not yet. There are one hundred scripts between this early description and a full understanding of the character.

When he skates onto the screen in the first season premier, Xander is 'not certain how to stop'. In light of later events, it seems appropriate that Xander is on the move when we first meet him and interesting that it is Buffy who causes him to...well, stop. This happens again the next time he sees her: Xander is moving through a crowded hall but he stops when Buffy drops her bag. Then, later on, Xander overhears Buffy talking to Giles about being the Slayer in the library. He was going about his daily life (however much of a departure from that a visit to the library may have been) and suddenly Buffy came along and pulled him away from it.

If, as Xander tells himself through the eidolon of Giles in his dream in Restless, 'it's all about the journey', then maybe for Xander it's all about other people. In 'Welcome to the Hellmouth' he is drawn towards Buffy and wherever he was (or wasn't) heading changes because of her. At the end of this first episode he goes off with Buffy to save Willow - he was on his way to the Bronze but she takes him to a cemetery instead.

In 'The Harvest', Xander follows Buffy again (or perhaps here it is Jesse he is following). He doesn't have to - in fact he has been warned against doing it - but he is determined to help wherever he can. Of course, it is here that he discovers that Jesse has been turned into a vampire. Now, surely this is a vital part of Xander's life: one of his best friends has just died!

Or have they? I don't want to get bogged down in discussions about the nature of vampires here, but I think that in this case it can't really represent a real death - there just isn't enough of a reaction from Xander. As demon-human hybrids, vampires on Buffy often represent people who have simply fallen prey to vices. When Jesse dies, it is really used to show how immediate the threat of vampirism is to the people around the Scoobies, although Nick Brendon takes Joss' lines and creates a superb, desperately humorous reaction ('I don't like vampires. I'm gonna take a stand and say they're not good').

However, one aspect of Xander's character that may (in part) be a result of Jesse's demise is his inability to treat Angel as anything other than a demon. Even in 'Prophecy Girl', when Angel had done nothing to hurt him or any of his friends, Xander treated him very harshly ('I don't like you. At the end of the day, I pretty much think you're a vampire'). Giles gave him a justification for staking Jesse by giving him a clear rule: vampires are demons, not people. If Xander admits that vampires have some humanity, he is also admitting that he could have done something else to help Jesse.

Now, you're probably beginning to wonder where I'm going with this - I certainly am. It is clear that Xander is often worried about where his life is going in season four, but it is easy to forget that this was not a random idea that was thrown in at the last minute, but something that has developed since the start of the show. Xander immediately latched on to Buffy as someone with direction and purpose who needed his help. In 'The Body' he makes the important comment, 'we help Buffy, it's what we do'. His journey has developed a symbiotic relationship to hers and those of the other Scoobies.

In 'Restless', one purpose of the statement, 'it's all about the journey', was Xander telling himself that the journey was more important than the destination, but why did he do this? Was it reassurance? Xander's greatest fears seemed to be that his journey was over, that the line would end with his family and that he was being left behind by his friends (Giles: 'the others have gone on ahead'). What he didn't realise was that it didn't matter whether he ended up in the basement or not. The clues to solving the problem of the first slayer were scattered about in the landscapes he ran through, but he forgot them completely as soon as he got into the basement and simply panicked, looking for somewhere else to move on to. Finally, because he could only worry about ending up in the basement, about failing, he let his guard down. It was only as he became more self-confident in season five that he was able to move on.

The Campbellians amongst you may well have something to say about Xander being on his own 'hero's journey' here but I'm not gonna go there. Instead, I'll move on to what the Xander of the first two or three seasons would have regarded as the most important section.

**'I laugh in the face of danger, then I hide till it goes away': Xander and Women?**

The women in Xander's life have caused him more trouble than the demons he has faced (in fact, they have often been those demons). When we first meet him he is (literally) falling for Buffy without her knowing about it.

Having crashed into a rail, Xander picks himself up to find Willow in front of him and seems to forget the new face. He fails to notice her 'wily Willow charms', though, unable to see her as anything but a friend. Early on in season one he finds out that Buffy has the same indifference to him - he is 'one of the girls'. This leaves him in a slightly awkward situation with his two best friends, although he seems to be even more efficient at repressing Willow's interest in him than Buffy is at repressing his interest in her.

The first major mistake in Xander's love life came in 'Teacher's Pet'. All the guys in his biology class fell for the She-Mantis and there were pheromones involved, but Xander was the one who ended up in Natalie French's basement and this episode did not bode well for any prospective relationship with Buffy. Whilst Angel was fighting demons and giving Buffy his coat Xander was running around after a six foot praying mantis and nearly getting himself killed. More than anything else, though, his falling prey to the She-Mantis was a symbol of his inexperience - she only went for virgins.

Given this and everything else we know about Xander's past, we have probably seen every major romantic relationship he has ever had (the same goes for Willow too). At the beginning of 'Teacher's Pet', he has a really cheesy fantasy about Buffy (Xander: 'Are you all right?' Buffy: 'Thanks to you' etc). In the shooting script he is described as being 'calm, confident and cool' in this fantasy - three things he is not when he talks to Buffy. His priceless first conversation with Buffy goes something like this:

XANDER: Can I have you? Dyeh - - can I help you?

BUFFY: Oh, thanks...

He starts picking things up, handing them to her.

XANDER: I don't know you, do I?

BUFFY: I'm new. I'm Buffy.

XANDER: Xander. Is me. Hi.

BUFFY: Thanks.

XANDER: Maybe I'll see you around. Maybe at school since we both...go there...

Xander is annoyed with himself afterwards. Unfortunately, just as he can't see how special Willow is, Buffy can't see past the awkward schoolboy to the suave lady-killer hiding inside. In 'Prophecy Girl', when Xander finally finds the courage to ask her out she rejects him pretty decisively. Xander says, 'I don't handle rejection well. Funny, considering all the practice I've had'. He may not be referring to romantic rejections, but he didn't handle it all that badly anyway. When Buffy looks less than enthusiastic at his first mention of a date and responds with, 'I don't know what to say', Xander says, 'well you're not laughing, so that's a start'. He also manages to put his hurt feelings aside later on when he saves Buffy's life.

He does this again when Buffy's bad mood has put Willow in danger in 'When She was Bad', bravely telling Buffy, 'If they hurt Willow, I'll kill you'. Xander sometimes makes this kind of exaggerated comment to make a point and in this case Buffy needed to hear something extreme to get her to snap out of it. This quote also reveals just how important Willow is for Xander.

Xander's next romance was with Ampata, the 'Inca mummy girl' who literally sucked the life out of people. It is interesting that she was a character who Buffy vaguely identified with because she was chosen by her people to do something she did not want to do. This may have certain implications for Buffy's character, but I don't think that this had anything to do with Xander's interest.

It was some time after this that Xander got involved with Cordelia in Buffy's basement (perhaps the place is symbolic - this is also where he ends up in 'Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered'). Later on, Cordelia said something about being with him in loads of dangerous situations, which is always 'all sexy and stuff' being the main reason for their little fling, but she was playing down her feelings for Xander. As her reaction after 'Lover's Walk' showed, she cared more about him than he did about her.

Early on in their relationship, Xander had to deal with Willow's reaction. Just why was the former treasurer of the 'We Hate Cordelia Club' becoming romantically involved with his nemesis? Willow took it all very personally, but the question is still interesting and Xander and Cordy constantly seemed to be searching for the answer themselves. In 'Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered', Xander says that it might all be down to hormones, but that he thinks there is probably more to it and offers Cordelia a Valentine's Day gift before getting some more practice at being rejected. This time he does take it badly and the spell he casts on Cordelia - or rather the motive behind it (basically so he can get his own back) is evidence of what is probably his worst quality: his tendency towards expecting too much from other people.

Particularly with women (and even more particularly with Buffy), he often puts other people on a pedestal. This leads to his being very judgmental and occasionally unforgiving (eg with Buffy in 'Dead Man's Party'). With Cordelia it leads to his thinking he deserves payback, although he realises that he was wrong before the end of the episode.

It is in 'Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered' that Xander casts the infamous love spell with Amy. It doesn't take long for him to realise that the spell failed to work on Cordelia and it doesn't take much longer for Xander to get his comeuppance - the undivided attention of every woman in Sunnydale. Amy warns him early on that 'intent has to be pure' with love spells and later on Giles says that love spells do not make people love at all, but simply create cold, boring obsessions (like those of April and the Buffybot in season five).

Xander does come out of the episode quite well in the end, though, having spurned the advances of all the women he could have taken advantage of and proven to Cordelia that he cared about her enough to resort to magic (I'm not quite sure why this impressed her, I must admit). If nothing else, this episode teaches Xander that love is complicated - Cordelia wants to break up with him, but that doesn't necessarily mean that she doesn't care about him or, worse, that she is trying to embarrass him by breaking up with him on Valentine's Day.

Xander gets through several episodes without too many romantic problems after this, although trouble is on the horizon and is foreshadowed by his monologue to an unconscious Willow in Becoming Part II. They begin to get involved in early season three and it is difficult to get away from the idea that Willow is simply more attractive to Xander when she is unattainable. When Cordelia and Oz discover them kissing in 'Lover's Walk', Cordelia is wounded physically as well as emotionally (it is no great leap to see that the former represents the latter in this case).

I think we begin to see here that Xander's relationship with Cordelia was somewhat uneven. He liked her, but he never really loved her in the way she loved him and he would always be closer to Willow and Buffy. When he goes to see her he is sorry, but he makes no real attempt to get back together - he knows that it is probably for the best. Cordelia, on the other hand, attracts the attention of a certain vengeance demon.

In 'The Wish', we get a glimpse of vampXander, who seems to be with vampWillow. Their relationship here suggests to me that one of the barriers between Xander and Willow was Willow's timidity. Not only was she too shy to tell Xander how she felt about him, but she was also so uncertain about herself (think acting metaphors in 'Restless') that he could never really tell who she was. Willow often seems to be deeply embarrassed about some of the things she thinks about and would like to do and Xander, as someone who is also quite insecure, reacts against this.

It was shortly after 'The Wish' that Xander ended up losing his virginity in a brief encounter with Faith. This event, which deeply upset Willow, is another of Xander's weakest moments. He wasn't particularly interested in Faith. He didn't even talk to her very much. He was simply offered casual sex and he quickly accepted without thinking about how he might hurt other people's feelings (there is a contrast here with Oz, who wouldn't sleep with Willow until she was ready, even though they

By late season three, Xander's prurient nature was a regular subject for humour. In 'Earshot' his unhidden thoughts made it clear that looking at linoleum probably did make him want to have sex. All of the women around him seemed to have given up on him until something strange happened: Anya asked Xander to Prom because he was 'less obnoxious than most of the alpha males', he liked 'looking at her breasts' and he didn't have a date. Xander had met his match.

I won't go through their entire relationship since I don't have enough time, you're probably bored already and Wisewoman covered it so well in her post about Anya. However, I will say that I think their relationship has developed into one of the most solid and inspiring ones that has ever been on the show.

I think Xander loves Anya's honesty, however much he jokes about it. He also likes the fact that she will tell him if he starts acting like a loser. When Buffy lost Riley, it made Xander realise just how special his relationship with Anya was, prompting his declaration of love at the end of 'Into the Woods'. In 'The Gift' they are totally in love and very comfortable around each other. 'Pervert' / 'Other pervert', goes a quick exchange in the basement (what is it with Xander and basements?) of the Magic Box and then a couple of minutes later, there is a proposal of marriage - juxtaposition much?

Of course, we are talking about Xander, so Anya's response is a slap in the face. She genuinely wants to marry him, though, and comes up with one of the most beautiful (and beautifully delivered) lines in Buffy history (which I will now proceed to alter so it makes sense out of context): '[Marry] me when the world doesn't end'.

After this brief foray into Xander's love life, I for one am beginning to wonder why Xander has fallen for these people in particular. A cynic would say that there are very few people who Xander hasn't been interested in at one time or another, but I think that he has only had a genuine, lasting romantic interest in two people: Buffy and Anya.

Admittedly, it is impossible to say whether Xander's crush on Buffy would have turned into a lasting, romantic love had she given him a chance, but I think we have plenty of evidence of just how much he respects her (eg 'The Freshmen'). He didn't simply get over her, but slowly came to accept that she would never be able to think of him 'like that'.

Finally, with Anya, he may have finally found somebody to spend the rest of his 'long and silly life' with. He has found someone with her own great personality who is completely in love with him and who is totally comfortable with herself. Most importantly, she accepts Xander for who he is. I shall go on to discuss Xander's need for acceptance in the next section.

**Family; Acceptance; Belonging**

In season five, Xander, more than anyone else, is at the centre of the Scooby Gang. Part of the reason he was afraid that he was a 'lost, directionless loser' in 'Primeval' came from the fact that he was so happy with the people he already knew. From what we know, Buffy, Willow and Giles were much more of a family to him than the people who made him pay rent to live in their basement and Xander has always been afraid of losing them. As far back as 'Witch', it is Xander who insists that he, Buffy and Willow are 'a team'. He has found meaning in helping the slayer: 'we help Buffy. It's what we do'.

Many of Xander's problems come from his suspicion that he is not a valuable member of this 'team'. It is certainly true that his contributions tend to be less predictable than anybody else's - often they are decidedly abstract - but they are always important. Personally, I think that the demolition job he did on Glory in 'The Gift' was symbolic of the blow she received from the Xander-based emotional unity of the Scoobies. It was not a lame effort to get Xander to help in some random way because he was so useless, but an attempt to indicate that he was far from useless and that without his help Buffy and the others would not have been able to fight Glory at all.

Hmm. Where did that come from? Anyway, I have already said that Xander uses other people to define his journey. In fact he needs other people. He lives from them: even when he gets wisecracking, he always waits for someone else to do something, for something to happen and then reacts to it. This is not parasitic, but symbiotic. By reacting to something he brings the Scoobies to a greater understanding of it.

It is for this reason that he gets on better with people who accept him and involve him in what they are doing. With Angel he always felt distant, even when they were working together to help Buffy in 'Prophecy Girl'. Perhaps this is why he could never really love Willow as he loves Anya. She was always holding back with him just a little. When Anya speaks bluntly in 'The Body', Willow can't handle it because she is ashamed that she is wondering about exactly the same things. Xander prefers to be with plain, honest people (like Riley). Of course, this is a wild generalisation - Willow is Xander's best friend! - but if I start to specify I'll be typing for another week and a half so it's probably a bad idea!

So Xander needs to be accepted by other people, but he also accepts them and in doing so brings them together. In the enjoining spell in 'Primeval', Xander is 'animus'. In the episode they refer to this as the heart, although my dictionary has it down as the Latin for spirit or mind. Importantly, though, one of the definitions is 'a motivating spirit or feeling' and this is what is closest to the part Xander plays in the Scooby Gang.

The word 'animus' can also be used in the Jungian sense. In this case it would suggest that Xander was the masculine aspect of Buffy's character. I'm sure it would be possible to run with this but I'll avoid doing that here - it could go on forever.

The issue of family is one that is clearly important to Joss, who chose to write the episode that featured his own slightly unorthodox views on the subject. Xander's family has been almost unbelievably distant throughout Buffy. We got a glimpse of somebody in 'Restless' but the only thing we could really tell was that Xander was afraid of them and afraid of being like them. He seems to want to have nothing to do with his family and as a result acceptance as part of the Scooby Gang is tremendously important to him: he has to belong to something.

In 'Fear, Itself' he is afraid that his friends can't see him; that he is nothing to them. Similarly, in 'The Zeppo', he worries that he is not good enough for his friends and that he needs to have some sort of concrete role in the group to be worthy of them. It is in this episode that his insecurities are most thoroughly explored.

**The Zeppo: Self-Knowledge without Self-Belief**

I indicated earlier on that Xander knows himself very well. I admit that there are some areas where this might not be true, but I think that overall, Xander is all too aware of his abilities and limitations and this is one of the things that makes him such a vital member of the Scooby Gang.

Sometimes, though, he begins to doubt himself. When Cordelia taunts him at the beginning of 'The Zeppo', he wonders what it is to be 'cool'. He wants to become 'cool', but none of the people who are seem to know how or why they got to be that way. Getting desperate, he goes out and gets himself a car and the story begins.

Within the epic rite of passage that is 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer', Xander takes a little detour to become more comfortable about himself. He needs to go on an adventure of his own to make sure that he isn't as...expendable as Cordelia suggested. This is something that everyone goes through - a crisis of self-belief is perhaps the best way to describe it.

But this somehow jars with Xander's character. If he knows himself as well as I have said, how can he think that he is not a valuable part of the Scooby Gang? I think that the one thing Xander doesn't know about his own abilities is how they compare with those of the people around him. If he's stuck in a tight situation, he knows exactly what he can do to get out of it, but he never thinks that he is capable of doing it better than anybody else. Buffy, Giles or Willow would always have done it better, wouldn't they?

It is only by going it alone and looking at things from the outside that he realises how necessary he is: without him, the others would have been destroyed by something they hadn't even considered. This is true in many episodes, of course, but it is only in 'The Zeppo' that Xander realises it. By the end of the episode he has stopped his nervous blabbering and his bitching with Cordelia because he is less desperate to prove anything. After this episode, he has a very happy period followed by the fears about where he is going that I have already discussed.

Here I should say that I am aware that many of the issues raised in 'The Zeppo' are also discussed in 'The Replacement'. Personally, I think 'The Zeppo' is far more effective but I am aware that Xander's self-confidence didn't simply appear after this earlier episode and that in many ways it was 'The Replacement' which left him in the position he is in by late season five. Obviously he still has his insecurities even now but I'm sure you have heard enough about them by now.

Actually, d'Herblay posted something recently saying that one of the causes of Xander's self-confidence in season five was Dawn and her crush on him. I think that this together with a stronger relationship with Anya and the events of 'The Replacement' have been the principle causes of the changes that have allowed him to give the sort of inspiring advice we saw at the end of 'Into the Woods'.

When he isn't worrying about how he compares with other people, Xander becomes invaluable to them and this leads to another aspect of his character that I haven't yet considered.

**Empathy Guy - Xander as the Writer / the Viewer**

This seems like a really strange topic to include in any discussion of a character, but I think that it is very important to Xander. Buffy is an extremely self-referential and occasionally solipsistic show (by this I mean that it is very much the world as Buffy's representation with other characters often acting as aspects of her). All the characters seem to talk for the writers or the viewers at some stage but Xander is used more than any other. Why is this?

Xander is always the one asking questions about things that need to be clarified. He hasn't got the specialised knowledge of Willow and Giles or the experience of Spike and Anya but is still relatively new to the world of demons (even more so than Buffy). The viewer identifies with Xander because he always seems to have the same amount of knowledge as him/her. But it is not just this 'everyman' quality that helps him to become a representative of the viewer.

In 'The Zeppo', Xander looks in on the action - the passionate embrace between Buffy and Angel, the frantic research in the library, the apocalyptic battle with the Hellmouth - but he is not a part of it, just as we, the viewers, can watch Buffy and discuss it and organise it into patterns but can never really become involved in it. This idea of Xander as 'our marginalized stand-in' is thoroughly developed in an excellent essay on 'Slayage', 'Kiss the Librarian, but Close the Hellmouth: It's like a Whole Big Sucking Thing', which I recommend to everyone. I will refrain from further discussion of the idea here, though, since it is complicated and would come to dominate the whole post.

Instead, I'll move on to the use of Xander to directly deliver the ideas of the writer. In the very first episode, Xander seemed to be the character who was like what I would expect Joss to be like. On his commentary for 'Welcome to the Hellmouth', Joss admits that he does identify a lot with Xander, but not much more than he identifies with any of the other characters. Could it be that I am over-emphasising Xander's role as the representative of the writer? Am I looking for a connection that isn't there?

I don't think so. A strong example of Xander representing the writer can be found in 'Into the Woods' and his much-lauded defence of Riley. Here it feels as though Marti Noxon is almost chastising the average Buffy-viewer's response to Riley (ie 'captain cardboard') through Xander. He says that she 'shut down after Angel', as many fans did - how could Buffy ever be with anyone else? Most tellingly, when Buffy says, 'I know the story' Xander tells her that she 'missed the point'. The large contingent of Riley-haters (including me!) had been unfair to him from the very start. He wasn't a tortured romantic superhero, so he wasn't good enough for Buffy. Just like Buffy, we missed the point: in many ways, Riley was perfect for Buffy. He was certainly someone she wanted around. Of course, Xander had known this all along and just as Buffy realises what she is about to lose, so do we.

But I still haven't answered my question. Why is Xander so suitable for this? He is certainly easy to empathise with. He can also be thought of as the male side of Buffy, another character who has been used to represent the writer. However, Buffy often represents the show as a whole, something that Xander could never do. As somebody who admires Buffy and has always wanted to be closer to her than he really can be, Xander is a good character to represent the viewer.

He is also a good character to represent the writer, since he so often works by refining ideas and statements. He says something, he describes what he said, looking at it from a different perspective and then does it again, each time subtilizing the idea. His clarity, his ability to ask 'stupid' questions and his refusal to only half-understand things that are really important to him make him the ideal conduit for the writer's opinions on the show in general and specific characters and events within it.


I'll come clean here: I didn't get to spend as much time on this as I had hoped and it is very much a personal response to the character rather than a comprehensive evaluation as a result. This means that there is a lot of weird, opinionated stuff in there which I do not expect many people to agree with. Still, I hope it provides you all with a new perspective on at least some stuff.

It's certainly made me think about Xander a bit more than usual - I know I've hardly scraped the surface of the character here. He was my least favourite quarter of the original Scooby Gang throughout season one because I thought he was little more than a tool for the writer to make funny comments on the situation or give the viewer someone to empathise with. Obviously, I was wrong.

It is all too easy to stick to looking at things in one way and to miss obvious flaws in yourself that prevent you from making the most of whatever is in front of you. It's so simple to know the story but miss the point; to forget that you might be taking yourself too seriously (ha, ha, ha); to ignore the value of what you have and just worry about what you want to get...

I'm going to shut up now, but I think I still have a lot to learn from Alexander Harris...

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