Joss Whedon has 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 on TV, 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 rest of the gang were taken (sometimes literally) to hell and back by the cruel, capricious gods of the Whedonverse. It wasn’t always easy, nor was it pretty, but one thing always got them through: the bottomless, untrammeled lusts of a million teen fangirls. That and the power of friendship.
Indeed. The individual friendships comprising this ensemble cast are what lend the story its (surprisingly lasting) power, and it is with that in mind that we count down the:
The Six Best Buffy BFFs
6) Dawn and Spike
This unlikely pairing of later-season principals strike up a friendship after Spike develops feelings for Buffy and begins his transition from infrequently-appearing outsider to, well, frequently-appearing outsider. As Buffy grapples with the demands of the grown-up world alongside her already lofty responsibilities as Slayer, Dawn often finds the attention she so irritatingly seeks 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 cigarette-obliterating, self-defeating, self-titled “Big Bad”) Buffy’s little sister stops being so mercilessly grating, sometimes for entire episodes at a time. Saint’s be praised!
5) Buffy and Xander
This classic friendship begins the show with Xander’s adolescent, somewhat one-dimensional crush on the cute new blonde at Sunnydale High. Yet as the show progresses, romance blossoms elsewhere for Xander (first with Cordelia, and later with Anya, as well as an unexpected hookup or two along the way) and he assumes the role of overprotective brother to the show’s title character— complete with a requisite distrust of her various undead boyfriends. In fact, Xander’s average Joe protectiveness of his superhuman demon-fighter pal typifies the courageous, against-the-odds pluck that makes the Zeppo such a valuable asset to the Scooby Gang. For Buffy’s part, it is Xander who is really the vulnerable sibling— a beloved kid brother to be watched out for and not infrequently rescued… along with the rest of humankind.
4) Giles and Willow
Early in the show’s run Giles and Willow are, as characters, arguably a bit redundant. On the one hand you have Giles, a tweed-suited English scholar who is a fish-out-of-water among these young American whipper snappers, with their make-outs and MTVs; and on the other hand you have Willow, a sweater-clad honor roll scholar who is a fish-out-of-water among her fellow whipper snappers, with their make-outs and MTVs. And while this similarity (and a shared mission of “Research Crap for Buffy”) provides the two nerds plenty of grist for the friendship mill, it isn’t until Willow begins to shake off her timid past, through a confidence borne of her growing talents as a witch, that her story arc comes to truly require The Watcher, with his intelligence and hard-won wisdom. It is there, in a spiraling crisis of Willow’s own making, that the two characters most useful to Buffy in her duties as Slayer prove vital to each other too.
3) Buffy and Willow
When Buffy first meets her future best gal pal, the two are opposites in every way (besides more or less indistinguishable late-90s tastes in fashion): Buffy is confident, Willow is shy; Buffy is strong, Willow is not; Buffy slacks off, Willow enjoys math. But fate (and some not-very-believable peer rejection 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 the relationship wavers during certain of Buffy’s dating relationships— the uber-doofy Riley comes to mind— and as Willow discovers a different genre of female companionship in Tara, the two are always there with a consoling Girl Hug at the invariably tragic conclusion of such romantic subplots. For in the world of Buffy the Vampire Slayer it is your friends, not lovers, who are destined to stick around.
2) Buffy and Giles
Buffy, we know, never really knew her father. With her parents divorced, Hank Summers (I had to Google his name) only really appears as a phantom whose disconnection is a tormenting tool utilized by Buffy’s enemies against her. And even if she did have a relationship with him, it’s hard to say how much meaningful guidance Hank could provide his ghoul-battling daughter.
In every way that matters, Giles is Buffy’s father figure. He is her mentor, her trainer, and the mature voice of reason. Beyond that, Giles clearly loves Buffy like a daughter— even when such affection comes into conflict with the strict emotional detachment his order is supposed to maintain (The Watchers being a true product of Merry Old England if ever there was one…) His struggle to both protect and empower Buffy as a Slayer mirrors the more quotidian emotions any parent might feel as their sire nears adult independence. Buffy, meanwhile, comes to rely on Giles as a guardian— even as in later seasons she is forced to become one herself.
However, the Buffy/Giles relationship is not all Full House-esque seriousness and heart-to-heart chats. Giles remains, for the rest of the gang as well as Buffy, the ultimate straight man— always a step behind the jokes, and the lingo, and hangouts at The Bronze. Often it is in this detachment— welcomed by Giles and regularly played for laughs throughout the series— that we can appreciate what makes Buffy and Giles’ relationship so unlikely, and special.
1) Willow and Xander
Willow and Xander have a relationship that predates the events of the first episode, having grown up together before Buffy ever set foot in the school above the Hellmouth, and thus as the show begins we are introduced an already established adolescent crush—Willow on Xander— that will form one length of the show’s early love triangle between Buffy and her new classmates. This nascent dynamic will eventually fade, though, as Cordelia and Xander take to hate-dating and Willow discovers a kindred spirit in Oz.
And that’s good, because it is in the pure, platonic friendship between Willow and Xander that the show finds perhaps its best and most interesting relationship of all.
The lion’s share of credit for that belongs with Willow, and her character’s gargantuan and surprising transformation from the early to the later seasons. Obviously there are numerous moments— from the legendarily good episode “The Zeppo,” to Xander’s tumultuous engagement to Anya— that demonstrate the complexity and depth of the show’s comedic everyman. But it is Willow’s gradual journey from sheepish, nerdy sidekick, to off-the-leash, world-rattling diva, in which Xander finds both his funniest riffs— “…which is ridiculous because witches they were persecuted, wicked good, they love the earth, women power, and I’ll be over here!” being one of the funniest lines in the show’s best episode— and his most poignant soliloquy, delivered to Willow atop a windy hill during season’s six’s dramatic finale, “Grave.” And Willow, for her part, comes to rely on Xander’s humor and relative steadiness amidst that personal transformation… and all the losses that come with it.