"That way lies spooky carnival death" : Xander's redemptive journey through Season 6.

Xander Harris is Buffy: the Vampire Slayer's Everyman. He is the character that viewers can easily relate to; the one "normal" individual in the Scooby Gang. He lacks super strength, magical powers or mystical energy, instead being lumbered with below-average intelligence, bickering alcoholic abusive parents and a blue-collar job. Buffy creator Joss Whedon has stated that he identifies with Xander; yet in this current season, we see a Xander who has clearly lost his way.

From being the Animus, or "heart" of the group in Season 4's Primeval, the character of Xander Harris has been deconstructed into a man with some serious behavioural problems. The unconscious abuser is no less abusive; and the episodes of season six show us a Xander who is clearly the abuser in his relationship with Anya. Hells Bells highlights the similarities between Xander and his father, and shows us the future that Xander will face with Anya if he is unable to overcome his prejudices against difference - in this case, against her demon nature.

Xander's tendency to blindly trust those he considers to be his friends (a tendency mirrored by Buffy herself) may be his downfall. Certainly, it led him into the morally dubious territory of Bargaining, where he joins with Willow and their respective partners to resurrect Buffy.

While Xander does show some reservations, these are clearly shown to be prompted less by serious moral reservations about the sanctity of life and death and more by Captain Fear poking his nose into the resurrection issue. He bears the responsibility for leading Anya, who would happily follow her Sweet Cookie Face to the ends of the earth, into the danger. It may be significant that it is Xander who, in Afterlife, tells the Demon Ghost that the key to remaining in their dimension is to kill Buffy, and that he receives a Limited Edition Backstreet Boys lunchbox from his partner.

In Once More, With Feeling, it is Xander who casts the spell to summon the demon Sweet and nearly kills his friends. Several denizens of Sunnydale are killed by the spell, and Xander has yet to face up to his responsibility in this. Unless he can be redeemed, it seems that his role may be less the Heart and more the Betrayer.

But the early episodes also show us Xander's path to redemption. While he mocks Anya for her capitalist ideals, consistently fails to even summon the courage to announce his engagement to his friends, and later despises Anya for her interest in wedding preparations, there is a sign of hope.

In his relationship with Spike, particularly as highlighted in Afterlife, we see the possibility that Xander may one day learn to cast aside his prejudices. Even as he disregards Anya's informed opinion about recovery from a hell dimension, he is able to recognise Spike's pain, and maybe even empathise with it. In Once More, With Feeling, he mocks Spike's singing, but we see that Spike is in the Bronze, ready to prevent Sweet from taking Xander back to his hell dimension. Later, in Older and Far Away, Spike's metaphorical saving of Xander becomes physical reality when he saves him from the marauding Sword Demon.

In Gone, Xander is able to recommend - sincerely and "all kidding aside" - that Spike get himself a girlfriend. His progress is rewarded in Hells Bells when Spike agrees to attend his wedding. Even in Normal Again, after indulging his prejudices and throwing a punch at Spike, he is able to patrol with him and fight beside him, just as he did during the 147 days of Buffy's death.

Xander has a number of personal issues to overcome before he can be redeemed. These include moral cowardice and shortsightedness, but chief among them is his disdain for demonkind. In building his relationship with Spike, he may yet be able to heal his rift with Anya, and redeem himself as the heart of the group; secure in himself and without the unreasonable prejudice that is consuming him. If he is to avoid the Spooky Carnival Death foreshadowed in Bargaining, he must learn to accept help when it is offered, and respect all creatures, not just those whose parentage or heritage matches his own.

- 01-Apr-2002

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