Joss Whedon once said, “You go to the movies to see people you love suffer.” But long before Joss was making Thor and Iron Man bleed, Whedon was bringing the pain to TV heroes, with the greatest supernatural soap opera of all time: Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
For seven seasons of maudlin romance and monster-slaying adventure, Buffy, Xander, Willow and the gang were taken (often literally) to hell and back by the cruel, capricious gods of the Whedonverse. It wasn’t always pretty, but one thing never failed to get them through the hard times: the bottomless, untrammeled lusts of several million teenaged fangirls.
….well, that and the power of friendship.
Indeed, the friendships connecting Buffy’s sprawling ensemble cast are a major source of the saga’s lasting power. Those friendships are why we’re stilling reading Buffy the Vampire Slayer comic books 15 years later. They’re why, in 2018, you’re likely to spot a spike-wielding Slayer or two in the crowds of the local convention. In the Buffyverse, as in life, we get by with a little help from our friends.
For that reason, it’s high time to count down the:
The Six Best Buffy BFFs
6) Dawn and Spike
This pairing of later-season principals strike up a friendship after Spike develops feelings for Buffy and transitions from random-cameo outsider to one of the show’s principals. As Buffy grapples with the demands of the grown-up world alongside her responsibilities as Slayer, Dawn forges an unlikely friendship within the stone walls of Spike’s mausoleum. In the process, perhaps through some powerful underworld spell (or via osmosis from James Marsters’ inspired portrayal of the self-titled “Big Bad”) Buffy’s little sister stops being a mercilessly irritating character— sometimes for entire episodes at a time, saints be praised! For Spike’s part, his friendship with the smaller, less-super-powered Summers reveals a glimmer of human goodness under all the cigarette smoke and ego.
5) Buffy and Xander
This classic friendship begins when Xander forms a crush on the cute new blonde girl at Sunnydale High. As the show progresses, romance blossoms elsewhere for Xander (with Cordelia, Anya and an unexpected hookup or two) along the way, and The Zeppo assumes the role of overprotective brother to the show’s title character— complete with a requisite distrust of her various undead and ill-advised boyfriends. In fact, Xander’s average Joe protectiveness of his superhuman demon-fighter pal typifies the brave, against-the-odds pluck that makes him a valuable asset to the Scooby Gang. For Buffy’s part, Xander is really the vulnerable younger sibling whose personal protection gives her purpose. He’s a beloved kid brother to be watched out for and not infrequently rescued… along with the rest of Sunnydale.
4) Giles and Willow
As the show begins, Giles and Willow are, in terms of their character sketches, pretty darn redundant. On the one hand, there’s Giles: a tweed-suited English scholar who acts like a fish-out-of-water among these young whipper snappers, with their sarcasm and MTV. On the other hand, you have Willow: a sweater-clad honor roll student who acts like a fish-out-of-water among these young whipper snappers, with their sarcasm and MTV. This nerd-alert similarity (along with a shared mission of “Read Old Books for Buffy”) provides Giles and Willow plenty of grist for the friendship mill in Buffy’s early seasons.
But the friendship doesn’t become really interesting until later, after Willow has shaken off her timidity and transitioned completely from bookworm to Glinda the Good Witch of the South. As Willow experiences a newfound confidence borne of her growing supernatural talents, her story arc comes to require The Watcher and his shrewd, hard-won wisdom. In the end, it’s in a spiraling crisis of Willow’s own making that the two characters most valuable to Buffy become important to one another, too.
3) Buffy and Willow
When Buffy first meets her future best gal pal, the two are opposites in every way (not including their more or less indistinguishable late-90s taste in fashion): Buffy is confident, Willow is shy; Buffy is strong, Willow is not; Buffy slacks off, Willow likes math class. But fate (and some not-very-believable peer rejections of a girl who looks like Sarah Michelle Gellar just because she’s “new”) brings the young women together— and through highs and lows, adventure and calamity, breakups and breakdowns, the two forge a lasting bond that steadily improves them both. Though their friendship wavers during certain of Buffy’s dating relationships— the uber-doof Riley comes to mind— and Willow discovers a different genre of female companionship in Tara, the pair is always ready to console one another at the invariably tragic conclusion of such romantic subplots. Because in the world of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, it’s your friends, not your lovers, who are destined to stick around.
2) Buffy and Giles
Buffy never knew her father. After his divorce from Joyce, Hank Summers (I had to Google his name) mostly disappears from Buffy’s life— a paternal phantom whose disconnection becomes a tool used by Buffy’s enemies to torment her.
Of course, even if they’d had a relationship, how much meaningful guidance could Hank provide a ghoul-battling daughter?
In every way that matters, Giles is Buffy’s father. He’s a mentor, trainer and stable support. Giles loves Buffy like a daughter, even though such affection conflicts with the strict emotional detachment he’s sworn to maintain as a Watcher. His struggle to simultaneously empower and protect Buffy in her role as Slayer mirrors the conflicted emotions a parent feels when a child reaches adult independence. Buffy, meanwhile, comes to rely on Giles as a guardian, even as she’s forced to become one herself in later seasons.
However, the Buffy/Giles relationship is not all coming of age schmaltz and Full House heart-to-hearts. Giles serves as the ultimate comedic straight man for Buffy and the gang— always one step behind the jokes, lingo and social goings-on. But it’s thanks to his old fogy detachment— plainly preferred by Giles and played for laughs throughout the series— that we come to appreciate what makes his time in Buffy’s life so invaluable.
1) Willow and Xander
When we meet them, Willow and Xander have an established friendship, having grown up together before Buffy came to the school above the Hellmouth. We learn, too, of the adolescent crush—Willow likes Xander— that will form one length of the show’s early-season love triangle between Buffy and her two best friends. This dynamic fades, of course, as Cordelia and Xander take to hate-dating and Willow meets Oz.
This is a good thing, for in the purely platonic relationship between Willow and Xander, Buffy the Vampire Slayer finds its best and most interesting friendship.
There’s no better example of that friendship than the events surrounding the season six finale, “Grave,” when Willow’s epic transformation from the early to the later seasons comes to a dramatic head. Many moments— from the legendarily good episode “The Zeppo” to Xander’s tumultuous engagement to Anya— demonstrate the surprising complexity and depth of the show’s comedic everyman. Yet it’s during Willow’s stormy crisis on a hillside that Xander, with a poignant soliloquy, is at his best. In that moment, Willow’s years of faithful friendship to Xander pay off, as she leans on his steadiness and humor amidst the turmoil, loss and carnage wreaked by her unchecked ego.