*Warning: This post contains spoilers about the characters from the television series Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel. Read at your own risk if you have not watched one or both television series. In this series of character reviews, I will strictly be writing about the characters from the television series, not the 1992 film.
There is something to be said about a well written, human character. They leap off the page and speak to us as if they were right in front us, as flesh and blood human beings, instead of fictional creations.
In this series of weekly blog posts, I will examine character using the characters from Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel to explore how writers can create fully dimensional, human characters that audiences and readers can relate to.
According to the lore of the high school social hierarchy, the popular cheerleader is the girl that we should all aspire to be. On the top of the pyramid that the social aspect of high school, the girls want to be her and the boys want to date her. She is also often cast as the mean girl who takes pleasure in putting down her classmates.
In Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the character trope of the popular cheerleader/mean girl was filled by Cordelia Chase (Charisma Carpenter). When Cordelia meets Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar), she genuinely likes her. That is, until Buffy becomes friends with Willow (Alyson Hannigan) and becomes a target for Cordelia’s cruel taunts. She is also unaware of the darker elements that are engulfing the school and the community.
At the end of the first season, Cordelia’s eyes are opened about the nature of the world that she lives in. Not only does she become friends with the Scooby gang, but she starts an on/off relationship with Xander (Nicholas Brendon). Towards the end of season three, as the prom nears, Cordelia reveals that her family is having major financial issues and she must now fend for herself.
After surviving graduation and the destruction of Sunnydale High School by the mayor, Cordelia moves to Los Angeles in hopes of becoming an actress. Instead, she works with Angel (David Boreanaz) to solve supernatural cases. She is no longer the popular cheerleader/mean girl that she was in high school, she is working for a greater cause. After gaining the power to know when someone is in trouble from Doyle (the late Glenn Quinn), the person that she was back in Sunnydale disappeared. Instead, she has become an adult who understands what it means to sacrifice yourself for something greater.
To sum it up: the essence of any character arc is to watch a character develop over the course of the time that they are on our screens. Between BVTS and Angel, Cordelia morphed from the standard teenage trope of the popular cheerleader/mean girl to a woman who put others needs before hers. It is a remarkable journey for a character that could have easily remained two-dimensional and predictable.
Instead, the writers of BVTS and Angel created a character who grew from a young girl to a woman. The one thing I remember about Cordelia is that her arc felt very real. The growing process from our teenage years to adulthood is full of emotional potholes and barriers. By the time Angel ended in 2004, Cordelia was a woman who looked like the young girl that she was, but was a very different person from the audience’s initial introduction.
That, if nothing else, is the mark of a good writer.