Oof. Monday. Regardless, welcome back to the Hellmouth, gentle viewers! It’s time to look into the Big Daddy Figure of Buffy: Rupert Giles. He’s got books. He’s got a haunted past. He’s got a great singing voice. Get ready. Here we go.
And oh, as usual…
We first meet Giles in the Sunnydale High School library, where he works as a librarian to keep his secret employment well, secret. Just like Buffy, the members of the Watchers’ Council don’t exactly wear buttons on their lapels that read, “I’m a Watcher! Ask me how!”
Buffy at first is having none of this new Watcher crap. She doesn’t want to be the Slayer, she thinks he’s stodgy, but as the series goes on, they develop a relationship that’s often familial. He grows to trust her judgment; she listens to and trusts him. They also betray one another’s trust on several occasions.
The relationship that develops between Giles and Buffy takes its first major step forward when Buffy is put through the Slayer crucible, a barbaric practice that strips her of her powers and then forces her to take on a crazed, sadistic vampire alone as an eighteen-year-old girl instead of a Slayer with super strength. Giles feels tremendous guilt about lying to her and injecting her with the serum that stole her strength away, and he comes clean about the test, much to her horror. But at the end of the episode, once Buffy has rescued her mother and passed the test, the betrayal is turned to the revelation that Giles has “a father’s love” for Buffy and made even more poignant by the knowledge that her actual father has essentially taken off for good.
I love the dynamic between Giles and Buffy. They have a close, complex relationship that matures throughout the seasons. He becomes her confidant, occasionally her crutch. And one of the biggest marks of Buffy’s ascendance to adulthood is when she realizes that he can be very wrong, specifically when he hatches a plot with Robin Wood to murder the newly-reensouled Spike.
That’s one moment that exemplifies one of the more interesting and perennially frustrating themes of the show: people distrusting Buffy’s judgment. She’s saved everyone’s lives hundreds of times. She’s continually made the hard choices, sacrificed her chances of a life, sacrificed herself to save the world. And yet over and over again, the other characters of the show show distrust for her. Xander will date a thousand-year-old ex-demon whose personal death toll is probably in the tens of thousands, but when Buffy dates Angel or Spike, she’s got poor judgment. Willow joins in with Dawn and the Potentials to boot Buffy from her house after Buffy took her in and helped her stop using the magics. Buffy put a sword through her lover’s heart because it was the right thing to do, and she admits in the later seasons that if she had to go back to the showdown with Glory, she would have let Dawn die to save the world instead of jumping herself — even though it would have destroyed her. And Giles, who Buffy always trusted with the most sensitive information, tries to have Spike killed.
Was Spike a danger? Absolutely. But Buffy could handle him. Buffy could always handle him. She’d proven that, time after time. And again, people went behind her back and undermined her decision while still telling her that she was a leader, was a general in the war against the First to her face.
That, for me, is the moment when Giles is almost more a Watcher than ever before. In season seven, it’s revealed how the first Slayer was created — essentially raped by having demonic energy forced into her body while she was chained to the earth. It’s a disturbing scene with the Shadow Men, using a young woman to do their fighting for them. And again and again for generation upon generation, always sitting in their Council with the “We Know Best” mantra tattooed on their foreheads.
We see it in season five when Quentin Travers comes to Sunnydale intent on putting Buffy through ridiculous tests to prove her worthiness and receive the information about Glory. And though Giles has been fired by the Council and eventually reinstated, he maintains the pride in his calling. At that moment in season seven where he conspires with Robin to have Spike killed, he’s telling Buffy that He Knows Best. She’s rightfully furious — she’s the general. She’s the Slayer. And that moment shows the very interesting reminder that in spite of that, the Watchers still think they have the right to undermine the decisions of the Slayers. That they get to be the final word on what goes or not.
The Watcher relationship is one of the things on the show that’s gotten some flack from feminist publications, and I believe rightly so. In addition to his capacity as a Watcher, his relationship with Buffy develops at the expense of her relationship with her mother in many cases. And when looked at with the Council taken into account, it has some issues as well. Buffy and Faith are really the first Slayers to buck the authority of the Council, and the whole idea that the Slayer has power because men gave it to her by violating her — well. Ick. That says some rather unsavory things.
That moment with Spike is the first major chink in the Buffy-Giles relationship. After seven years together, he doesn’t trust her to make huge decisions. Buffy saves Spike, slams a door in Giles’ face, and then goes on to win an impossible fight. She comes through. Again. And Spike, the one they wanted to kill, is the reason they live through it.
One of the best things about the show is the complex characters and their relationships. And Buffy’s relationship with Giles is no exception. It’s very much like a familial bond, complete with the rough bits to balance out the warm fuzzies. In spite of the rough edges, though, it’s a relationship Buffy needed.
What do you think of Giles? The Watcher-Slayer relationship? The Council?
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