Moral ambiguity in BtVS/AtS


| Principal Snyder | Spike | Jonathan | Willy | The Mayor | The Watcher's Council | Maggie Walsh/The Initiative | Ben | Principal Wood |

Warning: this page contains info about episodes up through season 7 BtVS/season 5 AtS. If you're in danger of being spoiled, proceed with caution.

Principal Snyder A lot of educators tell students, 'Think of your principal as your pal.' I say, 'Think of me as your judge, jury, and executioner.'

Principal Snyder is an insecure man who has been given the responsibility of running a school that sits on a hellmouth without all the information he needs to do it. He knows about the hellmouth to some extent (School Hard, IOHEFY, Band Candy), and probably does not feel totally up to the job, but he won't admit it.

Although Snyder isn't nice to any of his students (except jocks, it seems), he has a special interest in
harassing Buffy:

The corrupt Snyder: Snyder uses bravado as a shield. I'd feel sorry for him, if he didn't get off on throwing what little weight he has around so much.

The repressive Snyder: Principal Snyder is good at sticking his head in the sand.

"Why couldn't you be dealing drugs, like normal people?"
                                                -- to Buffy and the Gang in Choices

But was he evil? Joss on Principal Snyder

"Okay. You do remember that you're a vampire, right?"

I think that our interest in him based... on the very ambiguity of his character. We don't know what category to put him in. Yes, he's a killer. But is he completely evil? He's no Angelus. He's capable of love. He has a sense of honor (warped as it occasionally is). In other words, he's more "human" than most vamps (Mircalla, Mar 23 21:03 1999).

Spike is a bigger example of moral ambiguity than Angel because there's no human soul lurking in his vamp body; that's gone. He's all demon. Yet, his devotion to Drusilla is obvious, and he's not particularly interested in destroying the world. We feel for him, we cheer on one of Buffy's enemies! Spike makes us wonder if all demons are truly evil in and of themselves or only evil because they are anti-human. With Spike, we begin to see that at least some evil is in the eye of the beholder. Examples of Spike's ambiguity:

Spike's ability to love | Spike and the Slayer | Spike's finest moments | Other examples of Spike's ambiguity | SouledSpike

Spike's ability to love:

When William the Bloody was made into a vampire, he didn't lose his ability to love. He came to love his sire, Drusilla, and he continued to love his mortal mum. Highlights of the doting Spike:

Spike and the Slayer

In the beginning...

Kiss or kill? Spike's secret thing for the slayer:

"Wasn't lurking. I was standing about. It's a whole different vibe." --William the Bloody, 2001

...I enjoy the fact that my character [Spike] is in love again because when we met him he was in love. That was the primary interesting thing about Spike, for me, that he was a psychopathic killer but at the same time he was the most gentle lover and the most gentlemanly lover that you could get...and how the hell is that? ...And I think that it can motivate him towards acts of heroism or villainy. Love will do that to you (J. Marsters [Spike], July 20, 2001).

The morally ambiguous relationship of vampire and slayer

Unsouled Spike's good deeds

Spike always wanted to slip in and have himself a good day, he finally got what he said he wanted only to find it the worst day and loss of his unlife...his reaction was extreme...his facade of the big bad finally dissolved in grief (Rufus, 19:13 5/23/01).

Other examples of Spike's ambiguity

Lots of the vamps we've seen use humor to render their sadism more... sadistic. ...But Spike, while his humor is dark and ungentle, doesn't always have a utilitarian purpose when he says something sarcastic or ironic or smartass. He just seems to like being witty, and to like amusing himself... [e.g.,] his hilarious mockery of Angel from the building above... And then there's Spike's pop culture proclivities. Angel mopes around reading Proust and "Sonnets from the Portuguese." Spike likes the Sex Pistols, and... watching tv... he moves with the times. He's got energy and vitality that Angel doesn't (Diajanwal, Dec 08 1999 02:59)

Remember, it ain't over until the inebriated British cancer-stick-inhaling, scorned, bleach bottle blond undead guy sings.

What is the explanation for Spike's"humanity"?


After brutally attacking Buffy in a desperate attempt to get her to admit her love for him, Spike decides there is only one way to truly win her love. He heads to Africa, where he asks a demon to make him the kind of man Buffy "deserves". The demon puts him through several torturous trials. Spike endures the trials, and in the end, is rewarded with his soul.

Upon his return to Sunnydale, however, he captures the attention of the First Evil, who sees in Spike the same potential It once saw in Angel: the potential for malevolent vampiric evil. The presence of a soul should have empowered Spike, it should have given him the freedom to chose between good and evil, to become his own man, the "master of his fate." But due to the First's manipulations, Spike has become less his own man than ever.

Spike needs to move on. Stop holding on to the past. And in a way he compromises - he gets the same jacket, but newer, cleaner, and no longer associated with old crimes or accomplishments. Just as Spike keeps the name Spike, yet isn't still Spike - the jacket looks the same but isn't (shadowkat, 2004-05-05 23:28).

Souled Spike's finest moments

The evil of Spike


Jonathan Levinson cannot really be called evil in any way, but he sometimes does questionable things out of low self-esteem and a need for attention. Does he need redemption? Or just higher self-regard?

Jonathan the victim: When we first meet Jonathan, he's the kid who nobody notices, and yet he seems to show up everywhere--just in time to get munched.

In Earshot, we get inside Jonathan's head and discover a very lonely, isolated young man. He tries to commit suicide with a rifle in the school clock tower. Luckily, Buffy stops him in time. After this, things start to look better for Jonathan. But are they?

Jonathan, Superstar: After Earshot, Jonathan is still suffering from low self-esteem. He boosts himself up with a spell that makes him a super-talented celebrity--every person's ideal, noticed and adored. But magic comes with a price. The spell also creates a monster with an evil equal to super-Jonathan's good. It wreaks havoc in Sunnydale until Jonathan decides to stop ignoring it. He throws the monster down a chasm, ending the spell.

Jonathan, super geek villain: When we see Jonathan again, he has joined a trio of geeky guys whose "super-cool mission statement" is to become the crime lords of Sunnydale. While amoral Warren seems up to the task, Jonathan and Andrew struggle to determine what exactly that means to them, besides (an unlikely) access to "chicks, chicks, chicks." The Trio has decided that Slayer is their arch-nemesis. But Jonathan knows Buffy has saved his life "a bunch of times". Can he really be her enemy?

Jonathan's end: Jonathan dies in the act of trying to help the slayer save Sunnydale. So long, friend.

Willy the bartender

"So he's human. He just harbors demons. Which makes him a good guy...?" --Riley, Goodbye Iowa

Willy is a duplicitous "double-agent" snitch. He's a human being who owns a bar frequented by demons and vamps, and when he hears things, he passes them on for money. Or his own physical safety.

The Mayor is a unique villain. Sort of a Mr. Rogers crossed with Charles Manson (Llewellyn, Mar 17 22:23 1999).

Mayor Richard Wilkins III

It has long been implied that something was up with the political leader of Sunnydale, but the man we meet in Homecoming seems pretty normal. Well, human, at any rate. Highlights of the morally ambiguous Mayor:

He's as nutty as a fruitcake, but he does have some capacity for loyalty. ...I think he cares for Faith. That is a redeeming factor in my book. Not totally redeeming, mind you. ...But it shows that at least he as some trace of humanity (StGermain, May 18 18:52 1999).

The evil of the Mayor: corruption and deception

The Watchers Whatever one might think of their methods, the Watchers train slayers to fight on the side of good. They see themselves as a group engaged in a war against evil, with the slayer as a soldier in that war.

What are Watchers and the Watcher's Council?

Giles and the Watchers

Known activities of the Watcher Council:

Fan opinions on the value of Watcher Council:


Whatever their origins, their presence is vital. If every Slayer begins as a teenager, even if she's found as a child, how will she ever learn all that stuff about demons, prophecies, mystical charms, etc on her own. Having access to all that knowledge in a Watcher is most helpful. Plus, Slayers are kids even in centuries past and how are they supposed to always do the right thing or even know what that is with such limited life experience (Hostile-17, 19 Nov 1999 17:59).

While the Watchers' Council may be overrated, they have been around for centuries. I'd argue that the Slayers' Handbook more than likely holds lessons learned by Slayers past, lessons that could serve Buffy well if she were ever required to read it (Monique, Jun 20 18:13 1999).

Mudpuppy's defense of the Watcher Council

They are fighting not just for one person, but for the entire human population of the world. If you were a normal person, with no knowledge of vamps, it'd be your rump they're trying to protect. If you did know of vamps, but didn't know they Slayer personally, wouldn't you feel comfortable that there was someone out there looking out for you and your family? Wouldn't you want them as trained and as bad @ss as they could possibly be? (Doc, Jan 20 07:42 1999).


The Council, in their present form, are in my opinion useless. They haven't kept up with the changing times and are out of touch with how things are in the real world. They have spent too much time going over how it used to be that they have forgotten that there's a girl risking her life every night and that they (the Council) have to do whatever they can to support her in her fight (CharlieX, Mar 10 19:50 1999).

...Perhaps the Watchers Council was organized to gather information about demons and other evil things and to assist the Slayer in her fight against them. Gradually over the centuries, the Council became more bureaucratic and forgot who was the real power - the Slayer. It would be very easy for a group of grown men and women to usurp authority from a single teenage girl. A girl, who until she is called/chosen, is naive about the fight against evil. A girl who is not expected to live beyond her 25th birthday. Because the Council is ongoing, not forced to start from scratch every few years when a new Slayer is called, they began to see themselves as the real authority. Kind of like a big government machine - no matter how the players change, the basic operations don't change and the people who perform those jobs believe that everything would fall apart if their jobs ended (purplegrrl, 11-Dec-00 12:27).

The Initiative

Activities of The Initiative

The Initiative vs. the individual

The Initiative and civil rights

The Initiative and demon's rights

Is torturing, experimenting on, imprisoning, or implanting demons a proper moral action? Do demons have rights...[?] (Lady Wolfsbane, Feb 22 23:36 2000)

[Demons] are merely another form of life, and considered to be lower on the evolutionary scale than humans. ... What the Initiative is doing may not be that far from internment camps at best, and racial genocide at worst. Joss has broadened the types of demons - some just want to be left alone, and don't want to bother humans, period. Others will live amongst us but hide what they are. Is this an allegory on how accepting society is of differences in people today, be it their religion, sexual orientation, etc? (NuPhalanx, Jan 19 21:03 2000)


Hospital intern Ben is a human being whose body is the unwilling fleshly prison of an exiled demonic god. Although he was created by Glory's fellow hellgods for that purpose, he seems to have a human soul and has tried to live a normal life, going as far as graduating from medical school and finding a position as an intern. But Ben is an outsider among everyday humanity. Even his choice to become a doctor arose from his desire to observe the "lives and deaths" of normal humans. Glory has the ability to take over for periods of time like an evil alter-ego, and Ben has spent much of his life trying to minimize the damage she has done. He wants to have a life and make his own choices. But Glory will only die when he does, and if she escapes, he will be destroyed in the process.

The deeds of the sometimes gentle Ben:

It is tempting to think that Ben never was a good man, I don't believe that though. He did want to become a doctor to help people. His life has been destroyed by his "sister" Glory. ...Both Ben and Buffy have now had a similar moment where they gave in to wanting it over. Buffy in the magic shop, Ben in an alleyway. ...I don't think that Ben is a bad person as much as a person in a no win situation. ...Ben has tried everything he can to rid himself of the sister he hates. Now that he shares her mind he feels he can't win. Her offer of a separate life with no regrets was enough for him to say to Dawn it's either you or me. In that moment Ben chose himself (Rufus, 14:37 5/20/01).

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This page last modified 5/09/04

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