Welcome to Monday! Before I get to Giles, I have a little announcement. You’ll be seeing a lot of me this week — even a bit more than usual. Waiting in the wings is a short story due out at the stroke of midnight tonight based on a prompt thought up in a rather silly conversation, and after that is something that has been in the works for a couple weeks now in order to raise awareness for a cause very close to my heart. It’s going to get personal, it might get a little deep, but there’s going to be hope and inspiration and a lot of love in there too. Do stay tuned!
When you first meet Giles, he’s all over tweed and big heavy books with VAMPYR emblazoned on the front of them.
I always liked that early introduction to Giles. He’s stodgy and a bit fluttery, and his contrast with bubbly and sassy Buffy makes it all the more fun to watch. Giles is a Watcher, which is more or less synonymous with stodgy and fluttery — as we see later on when other Watchers come onto the scene. As Buffy’s mentor, he tries to teach her, but Buffy needs show, not tell. It’s clear at first that Giles’s frustration mounts as he attempts to convince her to do her duty — and it’s not until she sees a darker side of him, a human side of him, that she begins to take heed.
Giles’s character is fascinating on many levels. Though he is significantly older than the rest of the characters in the core Scooby group, he doesn’t always have a fatherly dynamic with them. With Xander in particular, Giles acts like an annoyed older brother. It’s revealed in the early seasons that he never wanted to be a Watcher growing up — he wanted to be a “fighter pilot, or possibly a grocer.” Though the kids tease him about his tweed and disposition, they don’t know until later that Giles dropped out of Oxford and fell in with a dark magic crowd in his teens and twenties, going by the name Ripper.
This part of Giles’s history surfaces throughout the series. When he and his friends as young practitioners of magic raised a demon named Eyghon to have trip-like experiences, they got shocked out of their dabbling when Eyghon killed their friend Randall. This is shown to have had a massive psychological effect on Giles. He is someone who believes strongly in cleaning up his own mess, even when the conviction endangers others. When Eyghon shows up in Sunnydale a solid twenty years after Randall’s death, Giles fails to explain to the Scoobies what is happening, which leads to his love interest (Jenny Calendar) getting injured and Buffy getting tattooed with Eyghon’s mark by Giles’s old frenemy Ethan Rayne.
There are several instances of this behavior in Giles in the show. In season four, Giles meets up with Ethan to have a drink, and Ethan turns him into a Fyarl demon. Again, he chooses to ask Spike for help instead of talking to Buffy and the Scoobies, and as a result, Buffy nearly kills him because she thinks the demon murdered Giles.
In spite of that personality quirk, Giles has a strong sense of honor — that sense of honor is evident even within his desire to resolve things himself — and he struggles with choices he sees as immoral. When the Watcher’s Council has him inject Buffy with a serum to weaken her for a coming-of-age rite of passage, he rebels against the Council. He goes after Buffy when she is forced to fight an insane, misogynistic vampire while in her weakened state, trying to help her. This results in his being fired from the Council.
Giles needs purpose. Once he’s fired from the Council, he continues to work with Buffy even when they send Wesley Wyndham-Pryce to act as her new Watcher. When Buffy goes to college in season four, Giles feels even more useless until Buffy asks him to serve as her Watcher again. It’s clear throughout the seasons that he needs to feel useful. After he no longer has a job as a librarian or as a Watcher, Giles retreats into himself and ultimately fails at having a life outside the Scoobies — even his venture as the Magic Box owner is inextricably linked to the Scoobies — until he forcibly removes himself two years later.
One of the best and most complex aspects of Giles’s character is his relationship with Buffy. From early on, she redefines his ideas of what the Slayer should be, and as the Head of the Watcher Council Quentin Travers tells him (as he sacks him), he has a father’s love for Buffy. He maintains this role throughout most of the show, reacting as a father would in many instances. When she lies to him or disappoints him, he responds by scolding her — and in one instance, shutting a door in her face and telling her that she has no respect for him or the job he performs.
This is also evident in how he tries to perform tasks that he believes necessary when he doesn’t want Buffy to have to do it. Giles has killed humans for the greater good when he didn’t want Buffy to have to cross that line. He takes on enormous weight at times throughout her development, but ultimately decides that she has to stand on her own when he leaves Sunnydale in season six.
Giles’s pragmatism eventually becomes a breaking point in his relationship with Buffy when he conspires with Robin Wood to murder Spike. He believes Spike poses a threat, but Buffy is confident in both her need of Spike as an ally (and on a personal level) and in Spike’s redemption. When Buffy discovers that Giles lied to her and was stalling her in order to give Wood time to kill Spike, she mirrors that earlier scene of Giles’s disappointment and shuts the door in his face, telling him that he’s taught her all she needs to know.
From the early picture of Giles as a tweed-covered librarian to the image of him holding his hand over Ben’s face to kill him and destroy Glory, Giles runs the gamut of a complex character. Father figure and occasional killer, he is one of the grittier people on the show, housed in a stodgy shell. For his tough decisions and heart, Rupert Giles is today’s Monday Man.
What do you think about Giles? Do you think his actions are justified? Are they pragmatism or folly? What motivates him in his relationship with Buffy?
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