Xander Harris - Tears of a Clown.
A tacky title, yet one that sums up this particular Scooby too well to be resisted. What do we `know' about Xander? If we were to write his history not including anything of the demon-infested world he inhabited, what would it say?
Alexander Lavelle Harris. Born a Sunnydale native to Tony and Jessica Harris (1980/81). A lover of Chocolate Hurricanes and country music, he attended kindergarten and then school with Willow and probably Jesse, his best friends through High School. Unlike many of his classmates, he survived graduation (1999) and, in a pattern familiar to many young people, worked in several minimum wage jobs before finding his true calling in construction and carpentry. His home life was difficult due in no small part to his parents problems with alcohol, something which prompted him to move out into his own apartment at the earliest opportunity (2000). He was engaged to be married to Anya Christina Emanuella Jenkins, joint owner of The Magic Box, but stood her up at the altar (2001). He also survived the tragedy that struck Sunnydale in Spring 2003, though not unscathed having lost an eye during a fracas. Current whereabouts - unknown.
Interesting facts but they do little to tell us about the man we have come to know as Xander, the heart of the Scoobies, over the past seven years. So let's layer up and take another look, this time including his brushes with demons, because for Xander - demon magnet - Harris they are a vital part of his life.
Possessions - Hyena (The Pack), Soldier (Halloween), The First Slayer (Primeval).
Dates - Natalie French a preying mantis demon (Teacher's Pet), Ampata (Inca Mummy Girl), Faith (The Zeppo), Anya, Lissa (First Date).
Quite an exciting life not helped by those occasions when Xander brought potential disaster down on his own head. For example blackmailing Amy into performing a love Spell (Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered) and summoning Sweet (Once More with Feeling).
Then there were those episodes when he nearly came to a sticky end due to someone else's stupidity…
But even this really gives us no more insight into his character, as many of the same things could be said for the rest of the gang. (Giles - The Dark Age, A New Man; Anya - Triangle, Selfless; Buffy - Beer Bad, her disastrous attempts to have relationships; Tara - Family; Willow- Something Blue, Triangle, Tabula Rasa, etc.) In retrospect it's a wonder Joss didn't just give up and kill them all years ago.
So, if we accept that the facts are interesting but not insightful, what more can we say or do? Anything more becomes mere speculation and thus a personal interpretation of events the viewer has witnessed play out on the screen. In other words you may not agree with everything you read from here on in. It is my opinion and open to argument (not that I want one).
Unlike the other Scoobies, Xander had no `super powers', was not academically bright or learned in arcane knowledge, was not a fighter or on the road to redemption. In other words he was `normal' or what passed for it in this close knit group of people.
Perhaps due to this `normality' his skills lay in being able to cut through the crap and see to the heart of the issue. Where others turned to magic or lore to solve a problem Xander tended to rely on instinct and it served him and the Scoobies well over the years. It was Xander who resuscitated Buffy and allowed her to best the Master (Prophecy Girl). He who worked out how to kill the Judge (Innocence), led the troops against the mayor (Graduation Day), had the idea about defeating Adam (Primeval) and struck a blow, literally, for the good guys against Glory (The Gift).
But not everything is perfect in Xanderland. As any well-drawn character must, Xander has flaws. He is insecure, something he hides well in the early years behind a façade of jokes and goofiness. As the character matures this is occasionally translated into resentment or violence, against himself or others. For many years he refuses to openly accept responsibility for his actions, preferring to lay the blame at another's door, though the suspicion is always there that he takes his failures and stupidities into his heart and uses them to reinforce his belief in his own inadequacy.
We can chart this path through the seasons as Xander progresses from the damsel in distress (season one) through the useless sidekick (seasons three and four) to a passing impression of the responsible family man (season five). To all intents and purposes by The Gift we are lead to believe that Xander has finally grown up. However as the wedding approaches the hints abound that, far from true character development, what we are seeing is Xander playing a part, fulfilling our culture's expectations of the male as responsible breadwinner. When he is finally forced to face his internal demons in Hell's Bells and, through Anya's words, in Entropy, that façade crumbles taking with it every pretence Xander has used over the years to allow him to look himself in the eye. Not an easy position to return from.
Exactly why he was like this is never fully explained on screen, though his family probably carries a large part of the responsibility. They seem to show him little respect and have few expectations that he will succeed in life. As a reaction against that Xander distances himself from his natural family and invests in his surrogate one - the Scoobies - and it is here we see evidence of the next flaw.
Like many men, Xander places the women in his life on a pedestal, expecting standards of them he never does of himself and reacts badly when they inevitably fall. Wanting them to exhibit the `goodness' he perhaps believes is missing from himself, Xander blames everyone but them for their lapses in acceptable behaviour. This was manifest as resentment over Buffy's relationship with Angel, insightful over-enthusiasm about Riley and overwhelming disgust regarding Spike. He forgave Willow unconditionally for her magical excesses and worried only that she would do damage to herself, unable to believe that she would allow her magic to get out of control.
It is interesting that the one thing he never tries to do for either of those women is understand why they do what they do. Clues to this can perhaps be found in his relationship with Anya. There is no pedestal for the ex-vengeance demon. Rather Xander seems to spend an inordinate amount of time correcting and belittling her in much the same way as we see his father belittle his mother. I would suggest that Xander doesn't regard Willow and Buffy as `real women' at all but as examples of what womanliness should be. Thus when his friends break the rules (season six) he has to do much soul searching to accept them back into his heart as actual people (early season seven).
One of the greatest influences on Xander's life and character is the murder, and subsequent staking, of Jesse (The Harvest). It sets the tone for his attitude towards demons for the entire series - unreserved hatred. Although completely understandable it leads to what I would consider Xander's greatest character flaw; narrow-mindedness. For me Xander's persistence in seeing the world in black and white affects his relationships with everyone around him and creates a blind spot in his otherwise perceptive personality. It is not until he realises he still loves Anya despite her being a vengeance demon that the blinkers begin to fall away (Selfless) and he starts to realise that it is what people do, not what they are, that counts in the long term.
In conclusion, during the seven years of BtVS we watched as Xander slowly came to terms with his role as the intuitive male surrounded by powerful and practical females. In many ways the character was a cipher for the gender reversals Joss was exploring in his work. If Buffy was a study in the empowering of women, then Xander was her equal as the perceptive man and what that means in the modern world. In many ways the character's arc ended in his acknowledgement of who he was and what he could do in that wonderful speech to Dawn at the end of Potential.
"Seven years, Dawn. Working with the Slayer. Seeing my friends get more and more powerful. A witch, a demon. Hell, I could fit Oz in my shaving kit but come a full moon he had a wolfy mojo not to be messed with. Powerful, all of them. (beat) And I'm the guy who fixes the windows. (…)They'll never know how tough it is, Dawnie. To be the one who isn't chosen, to live so near to the spotlight and never step in it. But I know. I see more than anybody realizes because nobody's watching me. I saw you last night. I see you working here today. You're not special. You're extraordinary."
To see this progression from resentment to acceptance had been a privilege and one rarely seen on television. And to my mind sums up the struggling complexity that is Xander Harris - Zeppo, clown, white knight, loyal friend and the heart of the Scoobies.