The Giles-Arc Part One: Hello, Ripper

Today in our Buffy Blog series we have the first part of Ash Darrow’s exploration of Giles and his character arc, with this post focusing on Giles in Season Three of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Look out for part two in the next few weeks, and don’t forget to catch up on our Season Three posts so far. Remember to get involved with the conversation, or share this (and other) posts using the hashtag #BuffySlays20.

This might sting a little. So, on the count of three, one, two: Giles is a villain. Or, at least, he starts off that way. A minor, unacknowledged early series baddy in the skin of a mentor. Giles functions as Buffy’s teacher, confidant, and friend, as well as the embodiment of systemic oppression. Our understanding of Giles is built upon this pretext that he is, like the Scooby Gang, a hero. I want to trouble that reading. I suggest Giles can be better understood like Angel and Spike: an anti-hero on a long redemption arch punctuated by moments of seriously creepy villainy. While the others were vampires struggling with their mortal souls, Giles is a wannabe patriarch struggling with this past.

(Not available for library loans!)

The antiheroes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer seem to be preoccupied with this sense of becoming whole and reintegrating these ‘evil sides’—aspects of themselves of which they are either afraid or ashamed. Angel is confronted with the guilt of his crimes and must reconcile being both the redemptive Angel and the cruel Angelus. Spike, on the other hand, is on a slow arc to earn his decency: he must manage ‘Spike’s’ love for violence and chaos with William the Bloody’s desire to be loved and respected. As Willow becomes an increasingly powerful and abusive witch, she drifts into ‘Dark Willow’—an alternate persona she must assimilate. Each of these “evil sides” represents more than a simplistic good/evil dichotomy. Dark Willow, for example, is Willow’s confidence and power poisoned by her unquenchable lust for revenge. Giles, and his antithetical shadow Ripper, fit this same formula as these other antiheroes.

Prior to the Season Three episode ‘Helpless,’ Giles functions as an authority figure filtered through several layers of tweed and timidity. His frequent stammer and comical aversion to modernity radiate this bookish harmlessness. This is the perfect setup for the ‘Giles’ we meet in Season Two, and this Season’s episode ‘Halloween’ is the first time the audience encounters Giles’ ‘evil side,’ Ripper. The end of ‘Halloween’ teases a younger Giles who was adept at combat and willing, perhaps eager, to torture someone for information. A few episodes later in ‘The Dark Age’ we learn that Ripper’s nihilism cost the life of a friend. However, the full nature of Ripper comes out later in Season Three episode, and fan favourite, ‘Band Candy.’ After some cursed candy causes the adults of Sunnydale to mentally revert back to their teenage years, the audience finally meets Ripper not just through stories and reminiscences, but in the flesh.

(Giles/Ripper and Buffy’s mother, Joyce – ‘Band Candy’)

Ripper is, as with our other anti-heroes, the missing part of Giles. Ripper is dangerously reckless. At one point in ‘Band Candy,’ he goads a police officer to shoot him and later pulls a gun on his former friend, Ethan Rayne. While most of ‘Band Candy’ is played for the laughs, Ripper gives pathos to Giles’ stammering restraint. What I find interesting is that we meet Ripper from Giles’ perspective and, therein, see why Ripper should be hidden and locked away. What is buried with Ripper is the subtext of Giles’ redemptive arc.

Season Three’s ‘Helpless’ is the beginning of Giles moving to assimilate Ripper. Just as Spike must reconcile William the Bloody, Angel must atone for Angelus, and Willow must conquer Dark Willow, Giles must embrace the strengths in Ripper. Giles ran so far from Ripper’s nihilistic rejection of authority, he became blind to his own complacency. ‘Helpless’ sees Giles drugging Buffy to remove her powers as part of an arbitrary test ran by the Watcher’s Council. There’s a lot of conversation around Spike’s attempted rape of Buffy, but less conversation around Giles drugging her. ‘Helpless’ makes clear allusion to Giles as a date rapist—Buffy is almost staked with her own stake; the very weapon Giles trains her to use. The distance between Giles and Spike is not as great as we’d like to believe. We’ve seen the dangers of Ripper in previous episodes, but ‘Helpless’ introduces us to the dangers of Giles. He wants so badly for the authority of the Watchers to be just, therein vindicating his full denial of Ripper, that he nearly gets Buffy killed.

(Giles and Buffy at the end of ‘Helpess’)

‘Helpless’ therefore marks the beginning of a change in Giles. Towards the end of the episode, Giles realizes the horrible mistake he’s made. He tells Buffy that he’s been drugging her, an act which damages their relationship for some time to come. However, I want to suggest that it isn’t Giles who confesses this to Buffy, but it is, instead, Ripper. David Fury, the writer of ‘Helpless,’ comments that Giles was just ‘following orders’ as he drugged Buffy. This is something Ripper could never do. The ‘better part’ of Giles that confronts the Watchers Council and confesses to Buffy is Ripper’s rejection of authority tempered through Giles’ maturity. Just like the show’s other villains-come-heroes, Giles has to embrace his darker half before truly beginning his redemptive arch.

In this way, ‘Helpless’ is a turning point for Giles, and for the series. David Fury comments on the episode saying that ‘Giles the father figure betraying Buffy; betraying his daughter’ was the hook that got the episode green-lit. Perhaps more than Fury intended, ‘Helpless’ pulls the curtain back on authority to reveal the complicated systems behind the overly simplistic ‘good vs bad’ narrative. Giles betrayed Buffy for the sake of preserving authority, but Ripper saved the day by rejecting it. We see in the series going forward a Giles increasingly willing to embrace Ripper and challenge the world around him.

In part two of my series on Giles, ‘The Giles-Arc Part Two: Ask Me About My Slayer Agenda,’ I’ll be discussing the changes Giles’ character goes through in the context of the series finale ‘Chosen.’

[1] Fury, David. “Helpless.” Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The Chosen Collection, written by David Fury, directed by James A. Conter. 20th Century Fox, 2005.

Ash Darrow is a recent graduate from National University where he received his Master’s in Gothic Studies. His current research explores Gothic and Games Studies, and he hopes to reverse Giles’ journey by travelling across the pond to the UK in order to continue his Gothic studies (a journey which is in no way related Ash’s own summoning of Eyghon, which definitely did not happen, and has nothing to do with the Mark of Eyghon either, which Ash definitely does not have a tattoo of).