Controversial Characters: Buffy’s Dawn vs. Angel’s Connor

SPOILERS AHEAD

Whenever a show has a devoted fandom there’s always going to be something that, right or wrong, the fans aren’t happy about. The big controversies on Buffy and Angel were the late additions of two new characters, namely Dawn and Connor. Now that I’m re-watching both shows, I’m looking at both characters with fresh eyes, wondering whether they deserved the hate.

Dawn

Dawn was introduced at the end of the first episode of Season 5. “Buffy vs. Dracula” (a great episode, by the way). Her introduction was really well done, first with hints and foreshadowing going back as far as Season 3, then with her unexpected appearance in the episode. After years of being an only child, Buffy suddenly has a sister, and everyone acts as though she’s always been there.

Controversial Characters: Buffy's Dawn vs. Angel's Connor, blog post by Aspasia S. Bissas, aspasiasbissas.com. Vampire, Vampires, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, BtVS, Angel, Angel the Series, Buffy gif huh

After some perfunctory hinting that Dawn is this season’s Big Bad, it comes out that she’s actually a mystical, dimension-unlocking Key, put into human form by some monks with too much time on their hands, and given to the Slayer as a sister for protection from the Hell God (Glorificus/Glory), who needs the Key to get back to her hell dimension before her window of opportunity closes. Got all that?

Yeah, it’s a lot.

I really believe all the planning around Dawn went into the character’s concept, and very little into the execution. Dawn is supposed to be fourteen when she shows up, but she’s written like she’s eight. It’s both painful and annoying to watch this teenager smiling with her mouth plastered in ice cream. Or interrupting Buffy’s training sessions because she’s “bored.” Or threatening to tell their mom that Buffy slayed in front of her. At fifteen, Buffy, Willow, and Xander were fighting monsters, trading quips, and hanging out at the Bronze. Their characters were funny and interesting. But somehow at fourteen Dawn is too young to be left alone without a babysitter.

And yet by season six Dawn manages to get worse, alternating between whining that no one spends time with her, and screeching for everyone to get out of her room. Maybe this is a realistic portrayal of teenagers (I have my doubts), but nobody watches TV for realism. If we’re supposed to sympathize with Dawn, the writers made it really difficult, especially when she shows no empathy for what anyone else is going through.

(I want to add that none of this is the fault of Michelle Trachtenberg, the actress who played Dawn. She did a decent job, but just didn’t have much to work with.)

By the seventh and final season, Dawn’s over her annoying phase, and even proves herself useful and capable– but she also fades into the background. Season five was supposed to be the show’s last season, but since it ended up extended for another two years, I don’t think they really knew what to do with her once she was no longer The Key. Overall, I think the Dawn character had a lot of room for improvement, and the writers/producers repeatedly dropped the ball. The show could have been just as good, or better, without Dawn.

Also, she killed Miss Kitty Fantastico.

Controversial Characters: Buffy's Dawn vs. Angel's Connor, blog post by Aspasia S. Bissas, aspasiasbissas.com. Vampire, Vampires, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, BtVS, Angel, Angel the Series, Angel and Darla

Connor

Connor’s origin story begins in season 3, and is almost as convoluted as Dawn’s. When two vampires hate each other very much (after spending centuries together as a couple), and unknown forces conspire to get them back together for a night, sometimes the mommy vampire finds herself nine months later going into labour in a back alley, where she finally just stakes herself to get the whole thing over with.

Connor is the human-ish son of Angel and Darla, both vampires, one with a soul. His existence is cause for much excitement, mostly by nefarious cabals who generally want to kill the kid. Despite Angel and co.’s best efforts to protect baby Connor, he ends up in the hands of Angel’s longtime enemy, a vampire hunter named Holtz. Stuck between letting Holtz take the baby or watching Connor fall into the hands of those who will definitely kill him, Angel chooses the lesser of two evils. Holtz escapes with the baby by jumping through a portal to the darkest hell dimension: Quor’toth. The portal is then sealed behind them with no way to open it.

Angel tries to get Connor back, but realizes it’s impossible. Once Angel accepts that he’ll never see his son again (it takes only a few days, apparently), another portal opens and out comes an armed teenager wearing a skin suit and trophies made of body parts. I’m not gonna lie– it’s pretty epic.

Controversial Characters: Buffy's Dawn vs. Angel's Connor, blog post by Aspasia S. Bissas, aspasiasbissas.com. Vampire, Vampires, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, BtVS, Angel, Angel the Series, Connor hi dad

We soon find out that not only did Connor survive Quor’toth, but he can kick some serious ass. Besides impressive fighting skills, he has super speed and strength. He can easily jump on a moving bus and he’s got a vampire’s sensitive hearing (but none of the drawbacks, like a need to consume blood or intolerance to sunlight).

I thought he was an excellent addition to the show, but a lot of people disagreed. Connor was so hated by some fans that when rumours started about bringing Spike to Angel, people started urging (there may have been a petition– I can’t remember) the producers to kill off Connor and bring on Spike. Note: none of the characters actually had to die to add Spike to the cast. It should also be noted that the dislike of Connor spilled over into people specifically targetting Vincent Kartheiser, who played Connor. The actor did an awesome job and deserved none of what was directed at him. This is why fandoms have a bad reputation.

I never understood why people found Connor annoying. Yes, the character did a lot of questionable– and some downright wrong– things (same as pretty much all the other characters, I might add). What haters didn’t seem to get (or care about) is that Connor is a deeply traumatized kid. He was raised in a hell dimension, by a man who (rightfully) hated his father and manipulated him into wanting to kill Angel. And that’s only the start of what Connor went through. He’s a tragic character who manages to never be boring. He also undergoes a fair bit of character development, and a redemption that continues in the comic books (meanwhile Dawn in the comic books goes back to being annoying, but with added recklessness). Watching these episodes again, I’m finding I like and sympathize with Connor even more now. It’s too bad he was hated– he could have pulled off his own show.

In the end, my opinion on these characters hasn’t really changed. Dawn didn’t improve Buffy, even though her initial season included one of the best villains ever. Meanwhile, Connor, despite having one of the cringiest storylines (him + Cordy = ew), was a great character and a solid addition to Angel. But what did you think of Dawn and Connor? Share in the comments…

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4 Replies to “Controversial Characters: Buffy’s Dawn vs. Angel’s Connor”

  1. When I was watching Buffy during its original run in the UK, I hated the introduction of Dawn because it felt like a backwards step: we had this teenage (ahem!) cast who were growing up at the same time as we were and we connected to them because they were young adults, the same as us at 16/17. Then Dawn arrived at 14 and my gods, the annoying teenager was inflicted upon us all! I had no time for it and it wasn’t until watching the series again quite a few years later I began to appreciate Dawn as “The Kid Sister” who represented the youth the other characters were leaving behind in their own lives. That being said, you’re bang on when by Season 7 she was written as though she just had to be there, it’s a shame she was never written to be more like the Scooby Gang at the ages we met them instead of the petulant tantrum thrower she was written at despite being older. Full marks to Trachtenberg for her acting though and am in no way criticising her at all.

    Connor, I only watched the full series of Angel once and I remember him being quite moody and yes THAT Cordy plot was the worst. Saying that, the scene with Connor and Angel singing to Jasmine on Karaoke will always stay with me. And I think by Angel’s last season, he was a lot more well rounded.

    It is indeed unfair the actor who played him got the blame for Connor’s story. This was clearly a case of “let’s introduce these new characters, then not know what to do with them after their introductory season” which the fault here lies with Whedon and the writing team.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. If the stuff that’s come out recently about Whedon is true (and I don’t see why it wouldn’t be) he was apparently quite angry at Charisma Carpenter for getting pregnant and ruining his vision. So the whole Connor/Cordy thing was probably as much punishment for her as it was a poor choice overall. You’re right– Connor was pretty moody lol, but I never found him annoying (except when he was being mean to Lorne and putting down magic).

      Dawn– I just could never get into her youthful perspective. I’m not one of those adults who thinks all teens are awful and hormonal, but I think she was written by someone who did think that. If we could see Dawn in the context of her own life (like the Halloween episode where she had her first kiss), I think that would have been so much better. But mostly it was just Dawn as a plot device, or Dawn as a side note in Buffy’s life.

      Retrospect makes it easy to see where things could or should have been improved, so I try not to fault the writers/producers too much. Both Dawn and Connor had some great moments, and the karaoke version of Mandy (“Oh, Jasmine…”) with Angel was one of my favourite things ever 🙂

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I hated Dawn at first but eventually grew to tolerate her. It just seemed at the time like they thought the main characters were getting too old and they needed a teenager for teen viewers to identify with, and I wasn’t a teenager, so I just felt like they shoehorned one in and did it in a way that was frankly a bit offputting to us fans at the time. On the other hand, I never understood why Connor was hated. It was obvious he was inspired by the legend of the dhampir, like Blade, which was a cool idea. The only thing that would’ve made it cooler was if his mother was Buffy.

    Liked by 1 person

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