Ms. Peggy Davis
Miami of Ohio
356 Bachelor Hall
Oxford, OH 45056
“I’m a Rogue Demon-Hunter”: Wesley’s Transformation from Fop to Hero on Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel
[Click on the link above to see this paper's placement in the SCBtVS Program.]
In her essay “Staking Her Claim: Buffy the Vampire Slayer as Transgressive Woman Warrior,” Frances Early states that Buffy represents a “subversive open image of a just warrior,” though she goes on to acknowledge that, “At the same time, Buffy and her friends sometimes heap scorn upon behavior deemed weak or vacillating by labeling it feminine” (5). While I agree with Early’s assessment of Buffy as a “transgressive woman warrior,” I intend to focus on the latter statement in this presentation in order to interrogate how the character of Wesley Wyndham-Price progresses from a cowardly, shrieking Watcher who fails at his job on BtVS, to a brooding hero in his own right and second-in-command on the spin-off show Angel. BtVS mocks Wesley’s feminine characteristics by positioning him as a caricature of the British fop. His prissy attitude and cowardly responses to danger are consistent with the effeminate fop and thus target him for ridicule and his eventual dismissal from both the Scooby gang (not that he was ever a member) and the show itself. Things do not begin much better for him on Angel. He first appears as a sorry—albeit comical—excuse for a “rogue demon-hunter” again displaying feminized characteristics, though, significantly, he does evince a sincere desire to fight against evil. By the third and fourth seasons, with Angel’s obvious belief in his abilities, and his own growing self-confidence, he proves himself to be a formidable member of Angel’s familial gang in both his exhaustive mystical/magical/demonic intelligence and his physical strength in battles. During season three, for example, Wesley knowingly betrays Angel by kidnapping his child (though he is convinced his actions are warranted) accepting that it will mean his isolation and possible death; it is also Wesley who in season four decisively takes charge of the group when Angel reverts back to the evil Angelus. Wesley Wyndham-Price, clueless coward on BtVS, could never have pulled these feats off if he did not undergo considerable transformations in both character and appearance.
My presentation will use Early’s observation in order to analyze how gender roles function on Angel. By studying Wesley’s continuing transformation, we can see how Angel, unlike BtVS, relies on overtly stereotypical masculine codes for its heroes—first Angel and then Wesley. Moreover, Wesley cannot be viewed as believable or acceptable hero material until he sheds the feminine characteristics often used to denigrate him on both shows. By seasons three and four of the series, however, we see a physically and intellectually imposing presence in Wesley, one that marks him as confident in his masculine, heroic role, even though it is Angel who claims that role most explicitly. By season four, one could easily imagine Wesley as the brooding hero of is own show: surrounded by friends, perhaps, but remaining closed-off and mysterious—an unknowable protagonist that seems to be the main requirement for many male hero/warrior narratives.
This analysis will thus lead into key questions regarding how both shows (with more emphasis on Angel) deal with masculine and feminine stereotypes. What does Wesley’s transformation say about how they utilize, and perhaps reinscribe, traditional gender positionings? How does Wesley’s current construction compare to other supporting characters in the show, especially Angel? Because little critical attention has been devoted to Wesley, and because he has, arguably, changed the most throughout his tenure on both shows, his character can provide a fresh perspective on how gender functions in the Buffy/Angel universe. I will argue that Wesley’s transformation illustrates that more transgressive gender play occurs on BtVS than on Angel. This is not to say that there is nothing transgressive about Angel at all, but instead to examine how the show’s conception of the male hero often forecloses many opportunities for gender play or resistance to traditional structures of power. To be a hero on Angel one must follow strict, often regressive, guidelines that maintain the gender status quo instead of breaking new ground and offering new possibilities for characters of both sexes.
My critical framework will center mainly on the feminine and masculine characteristics Early outlines in her article. However, I will also use “She Saved the World. A Lot,” Roz Kaveney’s introduction to “the themes and structures of Buffy and Angel” for her critical Anthology Reading the Vampire Slayer as well as Patricia Pender’s essay on “The Postmodern Politics of Buffy” in Fighting the Forces. Pender focuses on the feminist possibilities of BtVS, but many of her assertions are useful for analyzing Wesley’s character as well. I will also use clips from specific episodes of both shows to illustrate the process and eventual necessity of Wesley’s transformation from fop to hero. In particular, his first appearance on Angel (“Parting Gifts” 1.10) will serve as a useful contrast to his current characterization (now in Season Five).
I believe that tracing Wesley’s development can provide useful insights for future analyses of gender roles and stereotypes in both BtVS and Angel and feel that it is important to begin studying such supporting characters in order to add new facets to our theories on the shows as a whole.
Works Cited and Consulted
Early, Frances. “Staking Her Claim: Buff the Vampire Slayer as Transgressive Woman Warrior.” Slayage Sept. 2002. 17 Dec. 2002. http://www.slayage.tv/essays/slayage6/Early.htm.
Kaveney, Roz, ed. Reading the Vampire Slayer: An Unofficial Critical Companion to Buffy and Angel. London: Tauris Parke, 2001.
Pender, Patricia. “‘I’m Buffy, and You’re. . .History’: The Postmodern Politics of Buffy.” Fighting the Forces: What’s at Stake in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Eds. Rhonda V. Wilcox and David Lavery. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2002.