Joss is tricky.
We really thought he had given us something completely fresh and new, and in many ways he had. He was used to that. He had written for Roseanne, which was ahead of its time, and in many ways, Buffy was also ahead of its time.
Buffy seemed to flip the narrative. Superhero girl takes on Big Bads. Two girls and a dude, which is a complete flip. If you don’t believe me, think of all the entertainment media geared at teens and young adults, and how the main cast of principal players is usually two guys and a girl. Off the top of my head I come up with Harry Potter (Harry, Ron, Hermione), Percy Jackson (Percy, Grover, Annabeth), Star Wars (Luke, Han, Leia), Scrubs (John, Turk, Elliott), Avatar – The Last Airbender (Aang, Sokka, Katara) all with this construction. There are more, but I don’t want to get monotonous. Buffy gave us the opposite construction, the first show of its kind and of its time. Buffy’s best friend, Xander Harris is even the guy who needs to be rescued from time to time. That is definitely against the narrative.
Except, Xander isn’t really comfy in that role, and he lashes out and pushes back against that frequently in what is affectionately know around The Sphere as Nice Guy™ behavior. He often gets it Buffy’s face about it, even when it was to his own benefit. When Buffy saves him from a bully, knocking the bully against the soda machine (“Ooh! Diet!), Xander flounces off angry because of his male pride (don’t take it out on me, this is his wording). Angry and raging, he prefers to be punched by other dudes than saved by the tiny girl.
When Buffy first moves to Sunnydale, Xander is quick to try to stake his claim by searching her our. Hot new girl is instantly something that Xander wants to know all about, and he even follows her around and is the first to uncover her secret. He opines about how much he wants to be with her to his friend, Willow, often complaining to about how “girls never want to be with” guys like him, all the time oblivious to the fact that Willow herself has feelings for Xander himself.
Xander often times acts as though being such a decent person entitles him to the type of attention from women that he desires, certainly from someone, if not from Buffy herself. It certainly should entitle him to dictate who is and isn’t good enough for Buffy to devote her attention to since it isn’t going to Xander. After all, who is this Angel guy? It isn’t Xander! How can he possibly be good enough for her? He couldn’t even save Buffy when she died! He does this repeatedly with both Buffy and Willow, criticizing both Angel and Oz, and often trying to go tete a tete with Angel over Buffy’s maidenhood… or something.
Xander continues to display his staggering Nice Guy™ personae even after he enters into his (at first secret kissy-face) relationship with Cordelia. When he isn’t attached to Cordy at the lips, he is talking incessantly about Buffy to her, or later, Willow, ignorant of the perfectly wonderful (admittedly flawed) person in front of him. Xander’s treatment of Cordelia is heartbreakingly cruel (and probably indicative of what is to come, because Joss, I have a major beef with you and your treatment of Cordy). After Cordelia stands up to her friends in order to keep her relationship with Xander, he repays her in kind by betraying her with a person he didn’t really want to be with until he couldn’t have her.
Xander later has a relationship with the ex-demon, Anya. While I haven’t really gotten to those seasons in our Summer viewing yet, the episode “Hells Bells” stands starkly in my mind. Xander and Anya have a curious relationship that has a lot to be examined, but the way that Xander leaves Anya, even if when confronted with what he fears he might turn into one day, is inexcusable. Xander makes this choice based on his own fears and desires, and uses that moment to walk away to absolve himself of any responsibility. He leaves Anya, alone and embarrassed in front of both of their families (with his family loudly abusing and blaming her for ruining everything), and without the chance to discuss the issues at a less emotional time for both of them. Though the future vision of himself turns out to be a falsehood, presented by a demon bent on vengeance, Xander is unable to set his feelings aside in order to consider what his actions are going to do to Anya. This has huge repercussions…
Xander Harris, while having many incredible qualities that shine through in the course of the series and being many things that make him valuable to Buffy and the rest of the “Scooby Gang”, has a lot of problematic issues written into him as an overarching character, including the way he views and treats women. He, in many ways epitomizes the definition of Nice Guy™. I wonder if Joss created Xander to be this intentional stereotype, as a foil for the That Girl that is so oft written into other shows and movies. That stereotypical young woman who has to be rescued and who nags on the guys with her and who embraces everything that everyone says is wrong with women today.
Yes, Joss may be tricky indeed.