Seasons 2, 3, 4, and 6 of Buffy follow a fairly consistent formula:

  1. The first half of the season introduces a character who we're meant to think will be the season's "Big Bad". (Spike/Drusilla, Mr Trick, Walsh, the nemesis...ses...ses).
  2. Around the middle of the season (except in Season 6 where it's episode 20), the gang is betrayed (by Angel/Angelus, Faith, Walsh, Willow), the "Big Bad" candidate is no longer an issue, and the real "Big Bad" is revealed (Angelus, Mayor, Adam, Willow).

The first season seems to be following this pattern as well. There's a candidate for a replacement "Big Bad": The Anointed One. He survives The Master, and it seems like he was being built up for bigger things, but then gets easily removed in the next season (S2E03, "School Hard"). The Scoobies get betrayed in a way by Buffy herself, through her abandonment of them and the rest of Sunnydale in the period between seasons one and two.

Buffy was a mid-season replacement, so I presume the plan was always to have only twelve episodes in the first season. Has anyone official (e.g. Joss or other writers in an interview, DVD commentary, etc) commented about whether this was also the original plan for the first season - perhaps stretching the formula into a season and a half? Or was this a formula that only developed from the start of the second season?

  • 1
    Wasn't Buffy's abandonment of Sunnydale between seasons two and three, not one and two? Mar 2, 2012 at 9:44
  • 2
    @DanielRoseman she did it twice. Season 2 opens with Xander & Willow wondering when (or if) they'll see Buffy again, because she has been away all summer. Season 3 opens with Buffy as "Anne".
    – Tony Meyer
    Mar 2, 2012 at 9:50
  • 4
    I think it's a bit rough to say Buffy "abandoned" the scoobies. She spent the summer with her father in LA, a planned and expected holiday. Certainly a far cry from the season 2/3 break, where Buffy leaves without telling anyone and doesn't really plan on coming back.
    – Harley
    Aug 21, 2012 at 21:25
  • @Harley if you watch S2E01, it's clear that she was completely out of touch with them, and that they didn't really know what she would be doing. Even back in the 90s they had phones.
    – Tony Meyer
    Aug 23, 2012 at 9:29
  • At the end of Season 7 Episode one, the First, appearing before Spike in the new High School basement, takes the forms of all the previous seasons Big Bads in reverse chronological order. Warren Glory Adam Mayor Drusilla The Master Oct 9, 2012 at 23:08

2 Answers 2


The Master appears in the opening episode of Season 1 ('Welcome to the Hellmouth') and remains quite clearly the Big Bad for the whole season, until Buffy kills him in the final episode of that season ('Prophecy Girl').

The Anointed One was merely someone to help the Master consolidate his power, and was never intended to be the Big Bad of Season 1, nor to even appear to be the Big Bad. Season 1 was quite straightforward in that respect - the bad guy you see is the bad guy you get.

At the beginning of Season 2, we're left with a dead Master and a living Anointed One. Supposedly, Joss Whedon had intentions of using the Anointed One as the Big Bad for Season 2, but:

Joss Whedon said that early on that the plan was to use the Anointed One as the principal "Big Bad" for Season Two. However, these plans were changed because Ferchland was still growing and would not be believable as a perpetual child for very long.

But, that's not misdirection, that's adapting to the realities of using a child actor.

We then get Spike & Drusilla. O frabjous day! And Angelus, as you point out.

I would also point out that your consistent pattern didn't hold true as much as you think:

  • I never believed that Mr Trick was destined to be a Big Bad in Season 3; he was clearly more of a sidekick type.

  • Adam seemed almost as much a victim of Walsh and The Initiative as everyone else. I think of The Initiative as the Big Bad for Season 4, not Adam.

  • We may not know who the Big Bad is in Season 5 while we're trying to solve the puzzle of Dawn, but there's no "fake" Big Bad.

  • To be clear, it's not my pattern, I simply asked about the application to S1. Others have noted this pattern, which does hold up well, except for S5 (a potential last season) and S7 (the last season on TV). I noted in the question that S5 doesn't follow this; Adam is widely accepted as the "Big Bad" for S4 (other than Walsh/Adam, the Initiative ends up being not so bad), and many would disagree with your interpretation of Mr Trick.
    – Tony Meyer
    Aug 23, 2012 at 9:32
  • Even if Adam is the Big Bad for S4, that doesn't mean Walsh was a misdirection: Walsh made Adam. He's the Big Bad because she made him to be the Big Bad. As for the rest, that just shows that patterns and misdirections are subjective. Anyway, regardless of whether the pattern exists in other seasons or not, it doesn't exist in Season 1. Aug 23, 2012 at 20:59

The pattern does not seem to fit.

List of Big Bads

  • Season 1 is all about the master. The Annointed One is a tool he uses.
  • Season 2 is the exception - it fits clearly
  • Season 3 is the Mayor
  • Season 4 is the Initiative
  • Season 5 is dual - Glory and the Season Close Sacrifice
  • Season 6 lacks a singular big bad.
  • Season 7 is The First

Season 1

Season one, the Master is clearly present from the beginning. The Annointed One is not convincingly threatening, but is shown to have some role later. The Annointed One is a tool, not a big-bad. He is, however, a good hook for something to kick off season two if they got it.

Season 2

Season 2, with the Annointed One, really seems to have been the change of direction. But once the direction changes, it's clear that the Drusilla, Spike and Angel show is the real meat. Whedon has noted that it was a change of plan due to use of a child actor.

There is also some minor misdirection with the Judge. Had the issue been handled differently, the Judge could have been a decent big-bad for the season.

Season 3

Season 3, the Mayor was previously foreshadowed as a future big bad (in season 2), and his sponsoring of Faith really shows him, not Trick, to be the big bad early on. There are a number of off-season-plotline threats.

Mr. Trick is a clear evil, and may be seen as a mild misdirection for an episode, but when one looks at season 2 in retrospect, it's clear something is up with Snyder being worried about a big bad in his chain of command. That turns out to be the mayor.

If there is a misdirection, it is in Faith not being the big-bad, after the epsiodes 3.1-3.4 mini-arc.

Season 4

Season 4 foreshadows the Intiative itself as the bigbad, and while Buffy essentially infiltrates the Initiative, the misdirection isn't that the real bigbad is Adam, but that the initiative isn't bad. The whole season leads up to Adam from very early on, mostly with foreshadowing about the room in which Adam is, as Adam shows the real purpose of the Initiative's leadership, and He is the culmination of that. Really, Doctor Walsh and her monster are jointly the big bad, in the same way that Frankenstein and his Adam were in Mary Shelly's novel.

Season 5

Season 5's big close is forshadowed from the previous season. (What Were the Clues Foreshadowing Dawn Summers Appearing?) The whole mystery of the Key runs throughout. Glory is the means of setting up the real big-bad - the need for a "human" sacrifice, and the resulting self-sacrifice by Buffy. Not so much a diversion, as a cause & effect, much like the link between the Initiative and Adam. We'll see this pattern again in Season 7.

Season 6

Season 6 lacks a singular big-bad. The Nerd Herd, namely Warren, Andrew, and Jonathon, fill that role, but really, they are second fiddle to the real big-bad of season 6 - Adulthood. This is not just my idea - it's shared by the writers of the RPG, as well.

Life in all its glory and tragedy, the choices it presents us, and the consequences of bad decisions are the major themes running through the sixth season. Both heroes and villains find themselves dealing with life as adults, and making a hash of it. For some, just living is challenge enough; for others, tragedies are sought out and embraced like old friends.
    — Carella, et al, BTVS RPG Revised Corebook, p. 25

We also get the whole issue of Moral/Ethical codes cropping up. This is really a Theme season, not a "Big Bad" season.

Still, the season itself ends with the culmination of the effects of the Nerd Herd - as dubbed in the RPG, "Darth Rosenberg" - Dark Willow. She's the effect of the Nerd Herd - well, of Warren going on a rampage when thwarted one too many times, and shooting Tara.

Season 7

Season 7 really is all about bringing things to a head. The First and the Hellmouth itself are cast as a dual-facet of a singular big-bad: the status quo. It's not a case of misdirection - the First has to be dealt with, and then on to the Hellmouth, but the First charging up the hellmouth is the real threat, and the final episode really isn't the story climax - it's the story denouement, the natural arc fall down result from the First and his actions.

In General

The Season Big Bad isn't obvious from Episode 1 in any season. It always is a slow reveal.

And the season closers aren't always the Big Bad themselves, but in seasons 5, 6, and 7, the results of the actions of the big-bad.

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