Moral ambiguity in BtVS/AtS


| Joyce | Jenny | Oz | Anya | Riley | Tara | Dawn |

Warning: this page contains info about episodes up through season season 7 BtVS/season 1 AtS. If you're in danger of being spoiled, proceed with caution.

The well-meaning, repressive Joyce
Joyce loves her daughter, but she doesn't always know what's best for her. Before Joyce knew that Buffy was the slayer, she was very adept at ignoring the level of trouble her daughter seemed into. After she found out the truth, she often pretended the dangerous aspects of Buffy's life didn't exist.

"...she's repressing. She's getting pretty good at that. I should start worrying." -- Buffy, BBB

In WttH, we meet a woman who reads parenting manuals and is uncertain about herself as a mother, but who is also often distracted by her own activities. Highlights of the inconsistent Joyce:

Jenny Calendar

Computer science teacher, Technopagan,


The morally ambiguous Oz: Daniel Osborne has a little condition that turns him from a laconic musician with cool hair into an unthinking predatory creature (let's call this creature "Oz-wolf"). Unless he is locked up, Oz-wolf could kill.

Other than worrying about killing Theresa, Oz seemed to take finding out about his wolf status pretty well. And while he feared he might have killed Jeff Orkin in B&tB, he was all too happy to use his transformation to fight off Pete. Oz-wolf's only confirmed human kills are ambiguous at best (Jack in The Zeppo, who was already dead, and Veruca-wolf, while wolfed herself), but this is the result of dumb luck and being locked up by his friends. The "wild dog" attacks on people in Phases indicate that Oz-wolf would kill a human being if given the opportunity.

Oz hides his feelings so well one wonders sometimes whether he has any at all. Willow scolded Oz for being unemotional even in the face of the Ascension. But don't let that taciturn exterior fool you. Being a werewolf troubles Oz deeply. Sure, Oz didn't react when Cordelia said (of Angel), "Oh, you mean 'cause of how the only guy that ever liked [Buffy] turned into a vicious killer and had to be put down like a dog?" He tries to hide his fear of his wolf-side from his friends. But this fear is evident in Fear, Itself.

Oz thought everything was fine as long as Oz-wolf only came out three predictable nights a month. Veruca helped him realize that the wolf is always there in some form, all the time. So Oz left to figure out just how much of him is wolf, and what to do about it. He returned to town after learning how to control his transformation. He could be what Willow needed him to be now--a full-time human with all his Oz-ness intact. When he found out Willow had moved on, though, it brings out the wolf that is still inside him.

Is Oz a legally responsible for the actions of Oz-wolf?

How would the law look at Oz and Oz-wolf's deeds?

Alternative theory: there is no moral ambiguity in Oz. sweik's Oz == EVIL!!! and Oz == EVIL!!! Part Deux (--these links don't work. I keep them up for sentimentality's sake. *sigh*)

I've never understood Oz = evil, Oz is cool and a good man, if slightly wolfy (joss, Aug 23 12:34 1998).

Should Oz be killed?

Oz's finest moments

Anya She's sort of a bizarre cross between Cordelia and My Favourite Martian (Llewellyn, Oct 19 19:26 1999).

"Oh, yes... Make fun of the ex-demon. I can just hear you in private: 'I dislike that Anya. She is newly-human and strangely literal.'"

Anya is an ex-demon struggling to live in a human body. Though she was originally human, she is more than a bit confused about that humanity thing now, since she spent a millennium being callous and unforgiving for a living. Her redeeming feature--she seems to genuinely care about Xander.

She's not like a child discovering a whole new world... because she's got a basis for understanding things and 1000s of years of knowledge. She is more like someone who is seeing for the first time -- all the emotions and the feelings of experiencing all the things she's only observed for centuries is ... overwhelming... and... she is fumbling her way through it all (MeeB, Oct 28 07:22 1999).

The metaphysics of Anya

The morally ambiguous Anya

Anya vs. Cordelia: They both lack inner voices distinct from their outer voices. But they are very different girls. Cordy would never talk about sex like Anya does. I also think Anya thinks about others more... observing them and this strange new life she's living, while Cordy was more self-focused in this way (Jane Espenson, ATS/BTVS writer, Jan 30 21:16 2000).

The return of Anyanka... sort of

"You wish it, I dish it."

Anya's finest moments

Riley [i]s the AntiAngel... corn fed & earnest and...well...bland (newfan, Jan 19 21:02 2000). Riley Finn

Riley Finn. The guy just didn't seem to have many flaws. All-American Iowa boy goes to church, grades his papers, fights evil, and wants to "court" Buffy, rather than do a drive-by.

Riley was clearly built on the Captain American model of comic archetypes (soldier, drug-enhanced strength, model of moral rectitude) - almost certainly as contrast with the Batman subtext in Angel (David S.. May 11, 2000 11:16 am).

Chinks in his armor

Riley's story is a little tragic, when you think about it. He's a good guy with a job he loved, and then he met a girl who shared his enthusiasm for it. Shit happened, as it does sometimes, and he lost just about everything--his career, his enhanced abilities, and slowly but surely, the girl as well. And Iowa, born and raised, found himself teetering on the edge of Crazed.

Goodbye, Iowa. For now.

Riley's return: Riley and his new wife Sam come to the Hellmouth to track down Suvolte demons and "The Doctor", who plans to sell their eggs on the black market. Riley barely blinks an eye when he finds out Buffy is sleeping with Spike. And when Riley finds out Spike is the Doctor, he and Buffy foil Spike's plans and he lets Buffy decide Spike's fate.

Riley's finest moments


This shy witch has been practicing the craft all her life, like her powerful mother before her. Up until Goodbye Iowa, though, Tara just seemed sweet, if a little bland for a witch.

But when she sabotages Willow's demon-finding spell, we started to wonder--does she want anything more than to love Willow and help Willow's friends?

Tara may be human, but she is also a powerful witch. And as her back-firing spell showed in Family, that's a big responsibility to have in the Buffyverse. Should Tara show more concern over Willow's irresponsibility with magic?

Tara's finest moments


Dawn's self-image and self-esteem have always been precarious. First, when she thought she was the overlooked younger sister of a vampire slayer; later, when she found out she was an ancient energy transformed into a 14-year old girl and not "really" a member of the Summers family at all. Joyce, Buffy, and Buffy's friends all genuinely care for and love Dawn as family, but Dawn must learn that for herself. It's not easy for her to believe that she is anything more than another mission for the Scooby Gang--the Key to an apocolyptic fate it is their duty to prevent.

Deeds of the Littlest Summers:

  • Dawn the klepto: In Intervention, Dawn steals Anya's earrings from Xander's table.

...the two other times we've seen her steal/break in somewhere (In Blood ties she wants to break into the magic shop, and sees Spike stealing a couple of little items- even luring him there with the comment "wanna steal some stuff?" In Forever she steals the books and potions from the magic shop, not to mention the egg from the Gohra demon.) Maybe she's gotten a bit addicted to the rush? Plus, she saw Spike knicking stuff and we know she thinks he's pretty cool (Wiccagrrl, 23:28 4/24/01).

Dawn's finest moments

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This page last modified 2/29/04

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