As the mother of much of the genre television audiences enjoy today, Buffy the Vampire Slayer effectively set many precedents during its seven-year run. In that regard, the show’s storytelling comes to mind, as does the contentious villain-of-the-week trope, season-long big bads, and the musical episode. There is one triumphant aspect of the series that arguably does not get enough credit, however: the development of relationships.
In addition to modifying Bram Stoker’s vampire for modern audiences, Buffy also took to the task of readapting the Byronic hero with Angel. A fascinating coupling blossomed from such an endeavor, but there exists a myriad of other well-written unions on the show as well. Interestingly, there are almost just as many bad pairings, couples still capable of garnering the ire of fans nearly 15 years removed from the airing of Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s final episode. Couplings considered unfavorable are those that are either feature poorly paired characters or are insufficient in development. Meanwhile, couples that tend to attract the most veneration from fans are the exact opposite, fleeting though a few may be. This list highlights eight ships on the Hellmouth that continue to melt our hearts and seven we wish we could unsee.
15 LOVED: DRUSILLA AND SPIKE
Drusilla and Spike are admittedly not the easiest couple to fall for; they are hateful demons, after all. However, something about them is appealing, made evident by their numerous interactions throughout their time as season two’s baddies. Together, they speak their own unique language as he understands her child-like nature, and she harbors great appreciation for his twisted ambitions. The duo has a weirdly admirable bond.
At his core, Spike is a hopeless romantic. No, he’s not ideally chivalric, and, yes, he’s at times written as a pervert. But with Dru, Spike is little more than a love-sick puppy, always vying for her attention and approval. They complete each other in a way that few couples in the Buffyverse do. Simply put, this duo makes sense, right up until she leaves his arms for those of another demon.
14 WANT TO UNSEE: CORDELIA AND WESLEY
Wesley Wyndam-Pryce debuts in Buffy’s third season, acting as stand-in Watcher in place of Rupert Giles. His British accent and relative charm appeases none other than Cordelia Chase, who immediately develops a crush on the older man. It’s not the age-gap that veers this fleeting union in the wrong direction; their chemistry, or lack thereof, is what makes them a substandard pairing.
In hindsight, there is difficulty in determining why either is attracted to the other. Superficial reasons aside, nothing about them screams that a match of any nature should form. But, alas, it happens. A few brief connections and an exceedingly awkward kiss puts any interest the two have in one another to rest. Essentially, the Cordy and Wesley coupling is played for little more than cute and innocent fun. Thankfully, there’s no attempt to sell it as anything else.
13 LOVED: JOYCE AND GILES
On paper, this should work no problem. During season three’s “Band Candy” episode, Joyce and Giles are given an opportunity to explore their wild sides together. The icing on the cake is that they do so as a couple of sorts, much to Buffy’s dismay. They have fun together, which explains their being a good pairing. Could the Joyce and Giles matching be as well depicted under normal circumstances? The answer is certainly debatable; however, what is on display during one of Buffy’s stranger episodes is a treat to watch.
The oddness of it all is sold in subsequent episodes, where the two behave awkwardly or attempt to avoid each other altogether. This basically cements their inability to ever explore anything serious, an aspect of the show that still puzzles some. A genuine Joyce and Giles relationship could have been special.
12 WANT TO UNSEE: BUFFY AND RILEY
Buffy and Riley are arguably better suited for one another in the field… and in the bedroom, and less so as boyfriend and girlfriend. In addition to his seeming like a rebound after her split with Angel, he’s also not the best significant other. Distrust on Riley’s part weighs heavily on their relationship, as jealousy and the blame game is present all too often.
Over the years, some fans have become critical of his behavior, noting instances of emotional and physical abuse, as well as the show’s attempts to romanticize it. This culminates in his also not having much respect for Buffy, both as the Slayer and as an individual. Without question, their union is a far cry from her relationship with Angel during seasons one, two, and beyond.
11 LOVED: WILLOW AND OZ
Barring Willow and Tara, Willow and Oz have the honor of being the Buffyverse’s most adorable couple. For quite a while, the two play an inadvertent game of cat and mouse, since neither realizes they’re both interested in each other. Willow is a devoted girlfriend and Oz generally behaves as a doting, albeit sometimes absentminded, boyfriend. Communication issues are known to stifle their progress, and are typically glossed over. However, watching them interact amidst such issues rarely fails to garner the audience’s intrigue.
Even their final break-up, though sad, is endearing and sweet. The affection shared between Willow and Oz is unlike almost any other on Buffy. It’s genuine, heartfelt, allowing them to split amicably and eventually reunite as friends. Their union sets a standard in genre television that’s matched by few.
10 WANT TO UNSEE: FAITH AND ANGEL
As friends, especially when Angel tries reforming her, they're an unstoppable duo. As a couple, though, they couldn’t be more perfectly imperfect. Their romantic involvement surfaces as Angel’s soulless counterpart, Angelus, takes control. Whether or not Faith and Angelus work as a pairing can be contentious, particularly due to her only wanting to anger Buffy. Interestingly, Angel as he prefers to carry himself never harbors any genuine interest for the more ruthless Slayer.
In the Buffy spinoff, Angel, it seems for a brief time that a union between the two may be explored in earnest. Again, friendship and Angel’s desire to help Faith regain her humanity wins out. Thus, the question remains if Angel and a redemption-seeking Faith would be a good couple. From what’s been shown, it is doubtful; they’re better off as platonic allies.
9 LOVED: CORDELIA AND XANDER
The shocking coupling of Cordy and Xander fundamentally should not be anywhere near endearing. Somehow, it works and reasonably well. The two spend Buffy’s first season, and half of the second, despising one another. Both have great disdain for the personality traits, behavior, and attitude of the other, and Cordelia never shies from telling Xander that he’s beneath her. And, yet, they blossom into something fairly special.
Cordelia and Xander’s differences and myriad issues eventually develop into mild appreciation, affection taking precedent of their mutual contempt. While together, they still playfully despise one another, as harmless arguments over frivolous things grow into flirtatious banter. Are they a model couple? Absolutely not. However, no one can say they didn’t at least give it a try; the two certainly deserve commendation for that.
8 WANT TO UNSEE: SPIKE AND HARMONY
After Drusilla, and in need of a distraction from his budding Buffy affections, Spike turns to mean girl turned demon, Harmony Kendall. Harmony’s overly sweet and probably a little too clingy, even for Spike’s tastes, but she seems sincerely invested in their relationship. Suffice it to say, her love for him goes unrequited; honestly, Spike hardly attempts to otherwise.
During their short time together, the duo rarely seem compatible. When managing hardships, barring his crush on Buffy, Spike typically turns to the Slayer. Meanwhile, what little time he does spend at Harmony’s side is fueled by physical attraction and his fear of being alone. In short, Harmony and Spike as a couple are a mess. It’s a wonder they managed to stay together for as long as they did.
7 LOVED: GILES AND JENNY CALENDAR
Jenny Calendar is Giles’ only love interest, apart from his fling with Joyce Summers during the episode “Band Candy.” Their union is just as fun to watch as those of their students. The love between the librarian and the teacher develops organically, as subdued flirting and subtle teases eventually turn into a passionate relationship. It also helps that Ms. Calendar is remarkably likable; even the Scooby Gang takes her in without pause.
The ease with which she fits in with the rest of the team, and her unmistakable adoration for Giles, makes her death at the hands of Angelus tough to take in. Giles’ utter devastation is heart-wrenching, further testament to the beauty of their relationship. The sole disappointing aspect of this coupling is that there wasn’t enough of it on-screen.
6 WANT TO UNSEE: WILLOW AND KENNEDY
Kennedy herself is a divisive topic amongst fans. The character isn’t well-liked, but there are some willing to come to her defense. Generally, the dislike stems from Kennedy’s attitude -- a pushy youth who knows little, but behaves as though she’s already the Slayer. Other criticisms of the character are leveled at her relationship with Willow.
For better or for worse, their union seems rushed. Kennedy’s pushiness easily, and unfavorably, translates to her love life. Additionally, there’s contention concerning Willow not being awarded the proper amount of time to grieve the death of her first girlfriend, Tara Maclay. But the problem with Willow and Kennedy rests solely on Willow and Kennedy. Their chemistry is surface-level, and often feels forced. If the idea was to ensure Willow has someone to romantically lean on as the gang fights to save the world, surely a fitter character could have answered the call.
5 LOVED: XANDER AND ANYA
Xander doesn’t have a good track record with women, but Anya is undeniably his better half. An ex-vengeance demon who spent a millennia helping scorned women get revenge, Anya’s own path to love is inspiring. Her and Xander’s relationship evolves at a reasonably natural pace, allowing her to evolve as well. A demon gets a compelling redemption arc and the Scooby Gang’s average joe finally finds true love. They couldn’t be more perfectly matched.
Interestingly, their personalities are in-sync. Xander’s anxious demeanor and nerdy interests mesh well with Anya’s lacking social skills and need to speak her mind. Most notable is their inseparability; the two are basically attached at the hip and rarely appear annoyed by the presence of the other. Odd though they may be, they’re definitely a couple others in the Buffyverse should aspire to emulate.
4 WANT TO UNSEE: BUFFY AND SPIKE
As one of the most fascinating characters on Buffy, Spike’s ascent from evil incarnate to fairly decent is endlessly compelling. His arc of decency crescendoes once he and Buffy begin formally seeing one another. However, there are numerous ways to view this as more of a negative as opposed to a positive. Barring his spending a bulk of the series attempting to kill her, to add to his I-killed-the-Slayer collection, Spike has deviant tendencies that don’t inspire confidence in his deserving Buffy’s love.
The most egregious of examples manifests in his using the Buffy Bot to assuage carnal fantasies. Interestingly, her desires of a similar kind are what turns them from frenemies to lovers. It’s also a sad union… Spike learns to love her, yet his feelings go unrequited. Their story eerily resembles his first love, prior to Dru siring him. It would never have worked.
3 LOVED: WILLOW AND TARA
Willow and Tara’s love arguably develops more organically than any other relationship in Buffy. Fellow Wicca group members first and magic partners second, Willow chooses to take things slow when their friendship initially takes form. Time is taken that allows them to grow accustomed to one another and it's paced well.
Even prior to their officially becoming an item, the mutual benefits of their connection is apparent. Willow’s confidence soars with regards to her spell use; meanwhile, Tara begins stepping out of her comfort zone. They’re a couple who are actually better as individuals for simply having been together. Not many fictional couplings are so fortunate, never mind the rarity of such a union in the Buffyverse. Storytelling in genre television still has plenty to learn from this duo.
2 WANT TO UNSEE: FAITH AND XANDER
Season three’s “The Zeppo” depicts an unlikely pairing between Faith and Xander. Seducing him, she takes his innocence and kicks him out when the deed is done. The situation’s poor taste isn’t fully revealed until episodes later in “Consequences” when Xander attempts to comfort Faith, after her and Buffy fall out due to Faith’s needlessly killing a man. This particular interaction culminates in her telling him that their one-night-stand was meaningless. What’s more devastating is her forcing herself on Xander, and seemingly trying to kill him.
Xander’s disappointment at hearing she used him as a “boy toy” is also worth noting. To him, an authentic connection could’ve blossomed. Contrarily, Faith merely wanted a night of fun. This isn’t by any means a case of unrequited love, but it doesn’t make their union any less unpleasant.
1 LOVED: BUFFY AND ANGEL
In celebrating 20 years of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Joss Whedon uttered words that sent many Buffy and Angel shippers in a frenzy: “[their relationship] is the grandest love story I’ll ever tell.” Time will tell whether this proves true; for now, though, his bold statement appears to have merit. At the core of their union is a beauty and the beast tale, a story of two individuals who shouldn’t fall in love, but, despite their best efforts, do so anyway.
Angel himself, in Angel’s “The Girl in Question,” deems their connection a “forever love.” No, they aren’t perfect. She’s killed him and he’s broken her heart a handful of times, but something between them just works. Buffy eases Angel into a path of redemption as he discovers his calling after fighting alongside her, and she matures while learning to love for the first time. It’s a “forever love” indeed.