Illustration by Jake Winkle
Illustration by Jake Winkle

25 Years Later, “Buffy” still slays

By Leah Olds

Clutch your crucifixes and wriggle into those leather pants, Scoobies! This month marks the 25th Anniversary of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,”, a series which bears no shortage of groundbreaking drama, tantalizing romances and epic battles to preserve the future of humanity. The show debuted on March 10, 1997 and ran until May 20, 2003, for seven complete seasons.

Note: Gasp-worthy BtVS spoilers will be avoided in this article.

Synopsis: What happens in Sunnydale stays in Sunnydale

Expelled from her former school, teenager Buffy Summers moves from Los Angeles to the fictional town of Sunnydale. There, she meets Sunnydale High School’s pragmatic librarian Rupert Giles, played by Anthony S. Head, who is revealed to be her “Watcher,” and serves as her mentor and trainer. With the help of her two best friends Willow Rosenberg, portrayed by Alyson Hannigan, and Xander Harris, played by Nicholas Brendon, she protects the evil-infested town from “vampires, demons, and the forces of darkness,” as recited in the inaugural season’s opening prologue.

Throughout the series, Buffy and friends, also known as the “Scooby Gang,” came of age and found themselves confronted by unlikely friends, hellraising foes, and one of the most polarizing love triangles to ever be televised.

The show’s story structure was hybridized, being partly episodic and partly serial in nature. Viewers could bounce from a multi-episode arc beckoning apocalypse to a one-off installment whose big baddy is just… a horny haunted house? Oh yes, such an episode exists.

But when it comes to delivering an enticing narrative, “Buffy” satiated. Danger was always imminent, but survivability was not always guaranteed. Compelling storylines showcased talent behind the camera, where top-notch screenwriting reflected the show’s evolving stakes and emotional resonance.

A new age of representation: Characters who changed the game

Buffy Summers

There are many attributes that elevated Buffy to iconography, including her fierce physicality, quick wit, and chic fashion sense. But even though such traits are inseparable from the character, they do not make the character.

Rather, it was Sarah Michelle Gellar’s adaptive performance style, where she fulfilled the precise and shifting tonal demands of each and every episode, that made Buffy a truly dynamic heroine. The character embraced traditional femininity but remained empathetic, strong-willed, and vulnerable; a complete subversion of a typical horror trope of the era, whereby the blonde, female character was fated to be murdered with ease. Buffy Summers is certifiably badass – “one girl in all the world,” as the Slayer is described in the prologue – and is a lead character whose fan adoration is totally earned.

Willow Rosenberg and Tara Maclay

The friendship of Willow and Buffy was one of the most endearing of the franchise. Where most superpowered heroes have a best friend that is relegated to a sidekick role, Willow came into her own as a formidable heroine who wielded powers of witchcraft and intellectual brilliance against the powers of darkness.

She also brought cultural representation to the forefront, as both a Jewish woman and an openly bisexual character; her long-term relationship with fellow Wiccan classmate, Tara Maclay, portrayed by Amber Benson, was historic and beautifully written. A deep sense of trust and understanding sanctified their romance, making the characters’ partnership “a gift” for their actresses to deliver to fans, as remarked by Hannigan in a cast reunion special for Entertainment Weekly.

Willow and Tara’s relationship was one of the first televised same-sex romances to feature two main characters. Their relationship was sincere, intimate, and it lasted until the series finale, which was a breath of fresh air for queer fans who endured a slew of performative and forgettable ‘lesbian kisses’ featured in programming throughout the late 1990s.

Faith Lehane

Love her or hate her, Faith Lehane is undeniably complicated. One of the three main Slayers in the series, Faith arrived after the unfortunately trope-ish departure of Kendra Young, the show’s first Black recurring character. She is known for her blatant sexuality and brutish violence, which makes her such an exciting foil to the more calculated Buffy Summers.

Indeed, she makes a number of questionable choices that compromise her relationship with Buffy and even lead her to battle depression and crippling guilt. Faith eventually undergoes a redemptive arc that restores her alliance with the Scooby Gang and adds more dimension to the character, who is perhaps the darkest in the show.

Lasting legacy

As a cult hit, “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” had a humble following during its run, but has amassed a reverent, multi-generational fan community after wrapping in 2003. Merchandising, syndication on streaming services, and the annual “Hellmouth Convention” make its brand appeal evident in pop culture today.

Its remarkable contributions to the silver screen, namely the depth of storytelling and memorable characters, are what established the series as prestige entertainment for the past 25 years.

Here’s to another five by five!