Man is not truly one, but truly two: The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde in Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s Season 3

Carrying on our Buffy Blog series, which this week is exploring Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season Three, is Dana Alex exploring Gothic Doubles and The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde throughout the Season. And as always, if you want to share posts or your thoughts use the hashtag #BuffySlays20. 

To everyone who has seen an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer it is not surprising that the show is filled with a great number of Gothic tropes and intertextuality – blog posts within the past two weeks have demonstrated this already. Throughout the show, Gothic intertextuality is an essential feature that is not only a way of playing with clichés, such as the blonde, young girl that is walking through the dark alley and is here capable of fighting demons instead being killed by them, but also a way of depicting the development of the shows characters. In Season 3 of BTVS, the Gothic text that seems to be omnipresent is Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. The following post will discuss some (of way too many) examples that demonstrate in how far Stevenson’s novella is included in Season 3.

‘We found Pete’s lab diaries and stuff. Mr. Science was pulling a Jekyll/Hyde deal.’ – S03E04

(Pete in ‘Beauty and the Beasts’)

The most obvious way of including The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde in the series is certainly Season 3’s episode ‘Beauty and the Beasts.’ This episode tells the story of a young and seemingly friendly high school student Pete, who occasionally turns into a monster, which then causes him to be extremely violent, not only towards strangers but mainly his loving girlfriend. Just as in the original text by Stevenson, Pete (or ‘Whedon’s Jekyll’) first starts drinking a serum in order to transform into a Hyde-sque creature. One interpretation that has been brought into connection with this episode is that it can – quite rightly – be seen as a depiction of toxic relationships. Yet a reading that seems more important for the discussion of Stevenson’s text is a different one: the other self.

As the title suggests, the word beasts really has to be understood as a plural, which is why not only Pete’s alter-ego is subject of this episode but also those of Oz (and his werewolf self) and Angel (who is understandably still not himself after spending 200 years in a hell dimension). This episode depicts the duality of human nature – a theme that is typically associated with Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde and further remains an essential part of the entire narrative within season 3.

‘Every guy – from “Manimal” down to Mr. I-Loved-The-English-Patient has a beast in him. And I don’t care how sensitive they act.’ – S03E04

(Giles/Ripper in ‘Band Candy’)

The above quote from the episode ‘Beauty and the Beasts’ by Faith was originally intended to describe Buffy’s new boyfriend Scott Hope. Yet it also fits perfectly when thinking of one of the show’s main characters: Rupert Giles. In Season 2, the viewer was already introduced to Giles’ past and his other self, Ripper. 

After Buffy has been expelled from school in the wake of the events of Season 2, Giles speaks to (well… threatens) Principal Snyder in order to overturn Buffy’s suspension. In this moment, a bit of Ripper, who is still very much present within Giles, is showing himself again. Other than Pete, Angel or even Oz, Giles’ other self is not turning him into some monstrous creature, yet the audience can still clearly distinguish between Giles and Ripper by simply looking at him. It is a glance in his eyes and a smile on his face that makes it possible to differentiate between both personas.

(Giles and Principal Snyder in ‘Band Candy’)

In ‘Band Candy,’ an episode where magic chocolate bars turn all of Sunnydale’s adults into teenagers, Giles transforms to Ripper entirely. There are some aspects that are very curious when comparing Giles/Ripper to Jekyll/Hyde. First of all, when Jekyll’s friends, Utterson and Poole, speak about the changes that happened to Jekyll, they use the following description:‘He was wild when he was young; a long while ago to be sure; but in the law of God, there is no statute of limitations. Ay, it must be that; the ghost of some old sin’ (p. 17).

This description could easily be used to describe the state of Giles. Ripper is representing Giles’ dark side and the ghost of his old sins that he committed when he was young, wild and did whatever he desired, even if it was illegal. Considering the actions of Hyde within the story and their level of violence, Ripper’s actions are indeed very similar. For instance, in a scene with Joyce, he breaks into a shop and afterwards knocks out a policeman. Later in that episode, it is only Buffy, who can keep him from pointing a gun at Ethan Rayne, willing to shoot and kill him. 

Another aspect I find very interesting is Giles’ transformation to Ripper that resembles a particular scene within Stevenson’s story. At one point, Jekyll looks in the mirror to see his evil side breaking out of him and states that it still made him feel ‘younger and happier’ (p. 55).

(Jekyll’s tranformation to Hyde – Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931))

As mentioned above, Ripper is not bodily deformed, which is why Giles transforms to Ripper in a different way. Just like Jekyll, Giles is looking in the mirror to see the evil side of him, but instead of becoming an ape-like figure, he is simply taking off his tweed jacket, undoing his shirt buttons, putting a cigarette in his mouth and messing up his hair – and then, becomes Ripper. (He very clearly also feels much younger and happier in this episode.)

(Mirror, mirror on the wall…)

Even though this episode is usually only remembered as being a very funny one, I yet believe that it is important in regards of giving us an inside view of Giles’ character that he is usually not showing. Giles is very much like Jekyll – he is also repressing his urges (e.g. smoking) and his desires on a daily basis to fulfil the expectations that society, and especially the Scoobies and the Watcher’s Council, has of him. Still, may it be caused by situations that make it impossible for Giles to repress Ripper or through – in Giles’ case – magic chocolate bars, the occasional appearance of his inner Hyde is unavoidable.

A final example is the show’s protagonist herself: Buffy Summers. Buffy’s alter-ego in this season is, of course, fellow Slayer Faith. The prophecy suggests that there can only be one girl who is the Slayer. The fact that Faith is a Slayer is caused by Buffy’s short death in Season 1 and Kendra’s death in Season 2. 

Although both girls fight the same demons, Faith represents everything that Buffy is not. She is reckless, entirely self-dependent and completely giving into her desires (yes, also her sexual desires). She is the Hyde to Buffy’s Jekyll. She shows the powers of the Slayer in the most negative sense and it still seems that there is something about her behaviour that appeals to Buffy. 

(The two Slayers – left: Faith, right: Buffy)

Throughout the season, Faith is trying to make Buffy more like her – more reckless, more rebellious. In ‘Bad Girls,’ Buffy seems to have almost morphed into Faith. Ignoring the responsibilities of being the most powerful girl on the planet, she joins Faith and does everything she desires, which includes skipping class to kill a great number of vampires at once and afterwards dancing to 90s rock music in the Bronze. Other than in the examples above, Faith seems to be Buffy’s extrabodily other. Yet, I still believe that the connection to Jekyll and Hyde works well. The prophecy tells that The Slayer is one girl that is able to fight vampires, demons and save the world. It was never planned that two girls become Slayers. I therefore believe that both are so deeply connected that they represent each other’s other self. Focusing on Buffy, it can surely be stated that Faith very much is her shadow, her dark side, her Hyde.

After Faith kills an innocent man, Buffy realises that she cannot give into her desires to be more reckless and more adventurous but needs to fulfil her duties as a Slayer. Again, this is reminiscent of Stevenson’s story as Jekyll also realises that Hyde is dangerous and must therefore be eliminated. Unlike Jekyll, Buffy is strong enough to get rid of her Hyde.

The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde seems to be a rather important story for the course of season 3 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The duality of human nature, repressed desires and especially the violence of an alter-ego – all these themes that can be found in Stevenson’s novella are essential for Buffy’s Season 3, and most importantly, for the understanding of the complexity of  ‘our’ beloved characters.

As mentioned above, these are only a handful of examples. Season 3 is filled with many more (Angel/Angelus, Willow/Vampire Willow, and the Mayor etc.) and I am happy to discuss any ideas and suggestions you may have. #BuffySlays20 

[1] Stevenson, Robert Louis, The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde and Other Stories (Richmond: Alma Bookd Ltd, 2014)

Dana Alex is a first-year PhD student at Kingston University, London. She is interested madness and asylums – may it be in literature, film, television or video games. Other research interests include vampires, postmodern Gothic, and she is a bit too interest in critical and cultural theory (honestly, this cannot be healthy). Dana would like to emphasize that she was certainly not using this blog as an excuse to re-watch all of Buffy the Vampire Slayer again.