Yes, I dislike Xander tremendously, and that feeling has only increased as I’ve gotten older. I can remember feeling for him back in middle and high school, but once I realized he had all the hallmarks of a Nice Guy, I reevaluated all of my sympathy, which I later discovered was due to a whole lot of manipulation on Joss Whedon’s part. Like, “Feel bad for this guy! His masculinity is challenged by a strong woman!” or, “But he’s in love with Buffy! Of course he’d be jealous and act accordingly, if she picked another guy!”
That being said, he does start to redeem himself as the series progresses. He gets a job as a construction worker, eventually becoming reliable and successful, two words I never thought I’d associate with the character. He’s still a giant, insecure dick, eventually jilting Anya and still trying to make Buffy feel bad about being stronger than him, but at least he’s not as overt about it as he was earlier in the series.
And honestly, that segues nicely into the best Xander-centric episode in the series: “The Replacement.” The last time I did this challenge, I selected “The Zeppo” as the best Xander episode, and while it’s definitely a close second, it doesn’t necessarily focus as much on the character as it does his status within the Scooby Gang. I mean, that’s not necessarily a bad thing – and “The Zeppo” is actually still a really good episode – but I like that the writers chose to look at his personal weaknesses in a more direct light. Xander has all the potential to be this great, confident guy who goes after what he wants without feeling entitled to it; it’s his weaker, whinier self that allows toxic masculinity destroy what positive traits he has, turning him into a cautionary tale of the patriarchy.
(Also, I can totally tell which one is Nicholas Brendon and which one is Kelly Donovan (Nicholas’ twin). Give me a cookie, please.)
I think I’ve already said something along these lines somewhere in the previous challenge days, but as I’ve gotten older, I’ve really started to enjoy the more character-focused episodes that, while they may not narratively have that much impact, the viewer is able to appreciate a character’s choices or struggles. And “The Replacement” fits into that perfectly. It’s not that it excuses his behaviors because it does not in any way, but I can at least somewhat feel sympathy for a guy who perpetually lives in fear, even if it is mostly internal.
Art Credit: Buffy Wiki, Headhunter’s Horror House