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You need to learn: Giles in BTVS Season Seven

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When we first see Giles in Season Seven he is cast in what for the viewer is a very traditional role – as advisor and tutor to Willow, teaching her to control and use her power, indeed she even describes him as ‘Dumbledore’ (Lessons). However, from Giles point of view, is this simply a natural continuation of his traditional role as Buffy’s watcher, and is it at all what he wants to be doing? Giles story throughout the season will be one of exploring and testing both his identity as a watcher, and as a man who has ceased to be a watcher.

In Season Six, Giles made the decision to leave Sunnydale and stop being Buffy’s watcher. He gave as his reasons that he felt he was holding Buffy back, preventing her from growing up by always being on hand to guide her and do the ‘adult’ jobs that she didn’t wish to do (Once More With Feeling). This is his stated reason for leaving, however we know that having left he had also begun to make something of a new life for himself.

Giles
There’s nothing really to report. I keep a flat in Bath. I met with a few old friends. Almost made a new one, which I think is statistically impossible for a man of my age.

Flooded

By Season Seven, he appears to be living in a house in Westbury. There are several Westburys in England but the most likely is the one on the Wiltshire/Somerset border, some thirty minutes from Bath. Another possibility is Westbury in Dorset, which would be closer to the coven in Devon. This is a large house and he seems comfortably set up, including having a horse to ride. This repeats the impression received in Season Four (when he spent over a year unemployed and then bought himself a fancy car at the end of it) that Giles is not short of money. And it is here that he has brought Willow to help her recover from the dark magic. He is possibly even willing to put up some or all the members of the Devon coven since they are clearly close enough to give Willow her lessons regularly.

Willow has not finished her course, but when she has a vision of the dark forces rising in Sunnydale, Giles persuades her to return early (Beneath You). All this time with Willow he appears very patient, very understanding. There is no hint of the Giles who was so angry with her arrogance back in Sunnydale.

Giles
If I had been [here], I’d have bloody well stopped you. The magics you channelled are more ferocious and primal than anything you can hope to understand, even more angry and you are lucky to be alive, you rank, arrogant amateur!

Flooded

If Willow has learnt to control and hone her power over the summer, then Giles has re-found his love for her in the process. Indeed we are never again to see any sign of Giles losing patience with or distrusting Willow’s judgment. That is worth bearing in mind given how he will later behave towards Buffy and Spike. But overall Giles seems content with his life in Westbury, and content with his role supervising Willow’s tuition by the coven. He has a patient answer for every issue that Willow raises. He seems happy.

But Willow has a vision, intruding on both her own planned recovery and Giles’ own life plans. Giles responds immediately, persuading Willow of her duty to leave even though she is reluctant, and then himself visiting the Watchers’ Council. We know that Giles accompanied Willow to London where she caught the plane for Sunnydale (Same Time, Same Place). And we know that the day afterwards he was sequestered in a Council meeting all day (Same Time, Same Place).

Now, it is important to consider just what Giles’ relationship with the Council was at this point. It is reasonable to suppose that this day-long meeting was for Giles to report Willow’s vision and for them to discuss the implications. But we also know that Giles is later described by Quentin Travers as a lapsed employee and that they have not made it our business to follow his every move (Never Leave Me). There is no particular reason for Quentin to have lied about this, and there is certainly no evidence that Giles had maintained a close relationship with the Council since his return to England. For example, it was the coven in Bath that he went to for help to stop Willow, not the Council (Grave). And neither a flat in Bath nor a house in either Westbury would be conducive to working too regularly with a London based organization, implying that he never intended to do so. But then Giles never had an untroubled relationship with the Council. He has been excluded from their social events (Faith, Hope and Trick), denied important information (Revelations) and first fired over procedural disagreements (Helpless) and then only taken back grudgingly after they tried to use vital information as a bargaining tool (Checkpoint). It is therefore probable that the visit to the council was an unusual event. And we can deduce something of its outcome.

Giles
The knowledge contained in these files had to be protected, and there wasn’t time for bureaucracy or debate. The Council knows no other way.

Bring On The Night

Indeed the Council does seem to be extraordinarily inefficient. Even given Willow’s warning, girls are being killed for not weeks but several months before the Council finally seem to wake up to the danger. Even if the earliest girls killed were potentials without watchers, that still shows great incompetence given the warning Giles must have given them – the Council is, after all, not lacking in resources to find out what was going on. It is hardly surprising that Giles despaired of them.

Giles is next seen visiting Robson, a watcher who has been attacked by bringers after they killed his potential. Since Robson was able to move across the room from the place where he was originally stabbed it is not unreasonable to assume he has crawled to the phone and phoned Giles for help. It would be an unlikely coincidence that Giles just happened to turn up there and then.

Flat in England – Day. Giles enters the flat, agitated, looking around. He sees the young woman lying dead on the floor.
Giles
Oh, dear God! Robson, are you here? Robson!
Giles gets up and starts looking for Robson, who’s found near a chair in the next room. Giles goes to his side.
Giles
You too? takes off his glasses and starts to cry Dear God, I thought you—
Robson
eyes flash open Gather them. It’s started.
Giles
It’s all right. I understand. I’ll take care of it—

Sleeper

Robson, with a potential in his charge, was presumably a paid Council employee and it seems strange that when attacked he contacted Giles, not the Council. Giles clearly has a strong relationship with Robson – for Giles to use what is either his Christian name or his surname without the title is a sign of friendship, and Giles sheds tears for him when he thinks Robson is dead. This shows that, despite his argument with the Council as a whole, Giles still had working watchers who are good friends, and that at least one of them considered Giles’s position as regards the First to be as valid or more valid than the Council’s own.

Robson later wakes up in hospital (The Killer In Me), so presumably Giles phoned for help before leaving, but after first Robson’s warning that the thing they have feared has indeed started, and then having to fight for his own life with a bringer, Giles must have taken the decision then to go underground. This might have just been to hide from the bringers, but in fact his plan is more far reaching than that, because he has clearly decided to circumvent the Council and act by himself. The next we hear of Giles is that he is missing. He is not answering any of his phone numbers (Never Leave Me ) and the Council do not know where he is, although they do consider it a matter of urgency to find him (Never Leave Me).

What Giles has done is burgled the Council and stolen the files on the First (Bring On The Night) and presumably he has begun to make arrangements with the coven to locate potentials since he found the first three before going to Sunnydale and the coven’s rate of discovery later appeared to be fairly slow. This shows just how far he is willing to take independent action. Indeed it is just possible it was he and not Caleb who wiped some of the Council’s records (Never Leave Me), however there seems no logical reason to do this and it would presumably require some technical computer knowledge which is hardly Giles forte ( e.g. Buffy vs. Dracula). So we can assume that Giles’ burglary session was just ahead of Caleb’s raid when the records were wiped and the bomb planted. The interesting question arises as to how Caleb and his agents got into the Council. It may just have been lax security since there were two incursions within a short period, but Giles did have the advantage of knowing the building and procedures. Did the First perhaps have an inside man? Was the suspicion of this one of the reasons that Giles evaded the Council, and indeed why Robson contacted him and not the Council when attacked?

Finally, with the Council all dead, and the coven searching for potentials, Giles comes to Sunnydale. What is his state of mind at this point? He is still being cautious so he hasn’t phoned ahead, and almost his first words to Buffy are a joke that there is a slight apocalypse (Bring On The Night). He seems calm but concerned, but beneath that calm there is a lot going on.

It has been suggested that he is in shock and grieving for the Council. This would be natural enough. Giles was born into a family of watchers and has worked for the Council for a long time (Never Kill A Boy On The First Date). He must presumably have had many friends and colleagues, possibly even family members, killed in the explosion. However, if it is present, he hides his grief.

Giles
Annabelle. Annabelle unzips her book bag, takes two books and a stack of files from it and lays them on the coffee table in front of Willow That’s what’s left. The mystic secrets of the Watchers.

Bring On The Night

That bitter comment is as close as Giles seems to come to mourning them, and it is noticeable it is the secrets and the books that he mentions, not the people. What he does display instead is anger with the Council, for having let the threat from the First happen – he tried to warn them and they responded with bureaucracy.

But what Giles principally talks about, and what he seems focused on, is the threat of the First, and this seems to frighten him a great deal.

Giles
The First is unlike anything we’ve faced before. I mean, there’s evil and then there’s the thing that created evil, the source.
Buffy
And that’s what this thing claims to be?
Giles
That’s what it is. It has eternities to act, endless resources. How to defeat it… I-I— sighs honestly I don’t know. But we have to find a way. If the Slayer line is eliminated, then the Hellmouth has no guardian. The balance is destroyed. I’m afraid it falls to you, Buffy. Sorry. I mean, we’ll do what we can, but you’re the only one who has the strength to protect these girls – and the world –against what’s coming.

Bring On The Night

This is a significant moment. Giles, the former mentor and teacher, is admitting hopelessness and is close to despair in the face of the First, and it is his former pupil who he expects to take all the responsibility for protecting the world – and for protecting him.

The First works by fear and psychological manipulation, but it does not seem to be all seeing and knowing – for example it had to disguise itself as Eve to spy on the Potentials (Show Time). Therefore, if we assume that his efforts to hide after discovering Robson were successful, the First probably did not have any opportunity to work on Giles before he arrived in Sunnydale. So this fear is entirely coming from himself – dread of the power of the First, not the terror that the First itself can inspire by its presence. This level of fear, almost panic, seems at odds with the Giles of earlier seasons.

The last time we saw Giles under this much stress was when Angelus killed Jenny (Passion). That time he cut himself off from Buffy, choosing independent action, but his emotional reaction is very similar – hiding his anger and fear behind apparent calm before exploding. Yet that was a direct loss of the woman he loved, it is remarkable that the First as a threat can inspire such a strong reaction in Giles, who is not normally very flappable, and certainly not to this extent. The last time Buffy fought the First, Giles himself did not have any contact with it (Amends), and indeed Buffy seems not to have told him much about it afterwards since he did not know where she found the bringers (Bring On The Night) so it can hardly be memories of this occasion that have so alarmed him. Nor was he particularly disturbed during Willow’s vision (Lessons) so I think we can reject the notion that life away from the Hellmouth has softened him up.

Part of his dread may arise from how long this scenario has been feared (and rather inadequately prepared for) by the Council.

Quentin Travers
Ladies and gentlemen, our fears have been confirmed. The First Evil has declared all-out war on this institution. Their first volleys proved most effective. I, for one, think it’s time we struck back. Give me confirmations on all remaining operatives. Visuals and tacticals. Highest alert. Get them here as soon as possible. Begin preparations for mobilization. Once we’re accounted for, I want to be ready to move.
Quentin Travers
We’ll be paying a visit to the hell mouth. My friends, these are the times that define us. Proverbs 24:6. For by wise council, you shall make your war. 1

Never Leave Me

For the Council, this is their equivalent of nuclear war, and doubtless seems all the worse to any watcher precisely because it has been so long dreaded. It has started.

Giles’ arrival in Sunnydale brings a note of desperation, an escalation of the tension that will build up for the rest of the season. He himself seems emotionally stable at this point, but then he is no Anya or Andrew to vocalise his distress, indeed we only learn of the real evidence of his stress later. Because Giles is in fact very withdrawn – he does not hug or even touch anyone, he does not eat in their presence, he is very much not joining in the group dynamic whilst he leaves everything to Buffy (The Killer In Me).

Because he does leave things to Buffy. He seems to be genuinely trying at this period to stand back and let her be the leader. For example when the important question arises of whether or not to arm the potentials he offers no opinion, leaving the decision entirely up to Buffy (Bring On The Night). The most he allows himself is a little moral boosting at times. And sadly he misses the encouraging outcome of Show Time that might have served to reassure him as well as the girls.

Instead he is performing the traditional task of the watcher – persuading young girls to leave their homes and families and cross the world to fight a battle for him. Some of these girls are deeply traumatised having seen their watchers killed and barely escaped themselves (Bring On The Night et seq.). It is reasonable to assume that some of them he finds already dead. Giles is a compassionate man. He may not care much for the Council but, as his whole history in Sunnydale has shown, he cares for young people. So he would care for the danger to and deaths of the numerous young girls he is coming into contact with, and I think it is this that is making him so vulnerable to fear of the First. Time after time his is travelling out to persuade a scared teenager that she is in danger and must come and risk her life in a fight against an evil she may not even have heard of before. He is having to deal with angry and doubting parents, probably negotiating in foreign languages, some of which he barely speaks, and the simple effect of having to make repeated flights across the globe should not be ignored. The wonder is not that he occasionally has a snap of temper or makes mistakes such as he did with Chao-Ahn, but that he doesn’t do it more often. And when something finally happens to tip him off his precarious balance, he makes a serious failure of judgement.

When Giles learns that Buffy has had Spike’s chip removed (First Date), his response is two-fold. First, a genuine fear that Spike may kill the potentials, and second a fear that Buffy is once again forming a relationship with Spike. The first part is understandable, given the manipulative way in which the First has been using Spike. In the second part of his response, Giles is clearly developing his father’s love for the child (Helpless). He is performing the father’s task of vetting Buffy’s boyfriends and trying to eliminate one that he considers unsuitable.

Giles
Buffy, I want more for you. Your feelings for him are colouring your judgement. I can hear it in your voice. And that way lies a future filled with pain. I don’t want that for you.
Buffy
We haven’t— looks uncomfortable Things have been different since he came back.
Giles
It doesn’t matter if you’re not physical with each other anymore. There’s a connection. You rely on him, he relies on you. That’s what’s affecting your judgment.

First Date

Neither response is that unexpected, but Giles then takes matters a step further by combining with Robin Wood in an attempt to eliminate Spike (Lies My Parents Told Me). Now it is interesting how he goes about this. At no point does he attempt to approach Spike directly. When Joyce disapproved of Angel she spoke to him and helped persuade him to leave Sunnydale, Giles does not seem to even consider this approach with Spike. It is important to remember that Giles does not like Spike as he has shown time and time again (e.g. Tabula Rasa). There are numerous reasons for this, ranging from the fact that all the men who have actually had to live with him dislike Spike 2, right up to the fact that Spike was present and from Giles’ point of view was apparently encouraging matters when Angelus tortured Giles, including providing the eventual idea that broke Giles’ silence (Becoming, Part 2). But simple dislike is not enough to explain why Giles would decide he must be killed. There is of course a precedent for Giles making ‘hard’ decisions, when he first tried to persuade Buffy to kill Dawn, and then again when he killed Ben himself (The Gift). That was a very analogous situation, a difficult, very tense time, when Giles wanted Buffy to make the decision, and when she refused he acted independently. But why does Giles consider it so necessary to kill Spike?

Spike is a powerful fighter and as such a very important ally who has proved himself again and again. His presence may disrupt Buffy’s judgement as regards Spike personally, but there is no evidence Giles believes it causes harm in any wider sense. So does his reasoning entirely rest on his fear that Spike will kill all the potentials? Or is he also worried that the First had other plans for Spike? We never learn entirely what the First’s plan was. There are tantalising hints, dropped throughout the season, from which a few theories can be formed, but in many ways it does not matter what the plan actually was – the fact was known to Giles that the First had put a lot of resources into corrupting Spike, and whatever he was being prepared for he was not simply for killing potentials, since Andrew or any passing Turok Han could do the job just as well.

Spike
Why did it appear to this one, then? gestures to Andrew I thought it was supposed to be pulling my strings.
Andrew
It said it wasn’t time for you yet.

First Date

Whatever Spike was for, it was clearly crucial to the plan and it possibly involved something to kill Buffy herself. Such a threat really did have to be eliminated. Giles is willing to put considerable time and effort into this, making a specific trip back to England to first try to de-trigger Spike, and when that apparently fails he is very willing to accept Robin’s proposal.

However Giles does not join in the actual attempt to kill Spike, he leaves this dangerous task to Robin, a normal human man with fighting skills that are almost bound to be inferior to Spike’s. This is a serious lapse of judgement. Instead, the only active role Giles plays in the proceedings is to distract Buffy. But as part of that distraction he is not willing to lie to her. If he had avoided the subject entirely, Buffy would have suspected nothing – instead Giles deliberately brings the subject round to responsibility and difficult decisions, he even goes so far as to bring up Spike by name. Now I am not suggesting that Giles wished the attempt to fail, but I think it is clear that he was far more concerned with the importance of persuading Buffy of the correctness of their chosen course of action than the actual success or failure of the action itself. He is here acting as the watcher – trying to lead his Slayer’s thinking down what he perceives to be the correct channel. After all, it should be the Slayer herself who eliminates a potentially dangerous vampire, and it is clear that Giles wishes Buffy would make that decision. It is his second failure that he is unable to persuade her.

The attempt fails and we witness one of the most serious breaches between Giles and Buffy. From Buffy’s point of view, she will never entirely trust Giles as regards Spike, as witness frequent snide remarks (Dirty Girls et seq.). But in many ways this does not matter to Buffy. Buffy has by this point long outgrown Giles, she will use him as a valuable resource and still loves him as a friend and former mentor, but, if necessary, she could manage without him as she has on numerous occasions since he first left.

This must come as a salutary lesson to Giles. His methods have worked and his pupil has grown up indeed. But from his own point of view, there is the potential for a more serious loss. Giles has been relying on Buffy’s judgement, he has been passive, taking a back seat, relying on her to do the heavy lifting, until suddenly his faith in that judgement was lost when he discovered what was going on with Spike. This must have come as a considerable shock to his mode of thinking. Suddenly he was pitched into a situation where he was going to have to resume his role as watcher and teach Buffy again, to try to correct her erroneous thinking as regards Spike. And that is precisely what he tries to do, not proceeding by direct action but returning to the basics with Buffy in a graveyard. Indeed his very last words to her are ‘you need to learn…’ She doesn’t listen.

If Buffy doesn’t need to recover from this blow, Giles does. His class and nature preclude a direct apology since he does not consider he was wrong, so how can he both repair his relations with Buffy and endure the continued evidence of her mistaken judgement in the form of Spike?

His response to Spike is rather petty. He sends him off to the monastery and very deliberately sends Andrew to annoy him (Empty Places). Incidentally, it is worth noting Giles’ reaction to Andrew at this time. Andrew is trying to appeal to him as an authority figure, trying to get him to arbitrate in the matter of the stolen food, and Giles rejects the role entirely, ignoring Andrew. Instead, he is throwing himself into research with Dawn and Willow, and whilst he is willing to make decisions as regards Spike, he is not willing to do the same as regards the potentials. It as if he is very clearly demarcating boundaries of responsibility for himself. The potentials are Buffy’s responsibility and he will not interfere with that. He at no time accepts the role she throws at him of being their watcher, we never see him attempting to lead or teach any potential after Lies My Parents Told Me. There are no more trips to the desert or taking one out shopping. Indeed so disinterested in them is he that he does not demure in the least when Faith takes them out dancing – a thing that he frequently used to try to forbid Buffy to do when she was that age (Empty Places).

With Buffy herself, Giles is trying to behave in a normal fashion, perhaps a little more conciliatory. Yet fundamentally, he no longer seems to trust her judgement entirely. He questions he first attempt on the vineyard (Dirty Girls), which then builds up into his joining with the entire group questioning her desire for a second raid (Empty Places).

Season Seven is about power – who has it, who wants it and how they might get it. Giles story is that of a man who has given up his power over Buffy the previous year, and how he must struggle with the outcome of that decision both when he acts as an independent agent and when he tries to abide by her decisions. Is he entirely reconciled by the end? Is he happy to leave the decisions to Buffy, or does he simply see it as expedient in a ‘war’ situation. It is impossible to say. Certainly for the moment of crisis he puts all personal interest aside and acts as a soldier in Buffy's ‘army’ and yet his last moments before the fight seem to be the epitome of powerlessness.

Giles
Well, now aren’t we going to discuss this? Save the world to go to the mall?
Buffy
I’m having a wicked shoe craving.
Xander
Aren’t you on the patch?
Willow
Those never work.
Giles
Here I am, invisible to the eye...

Chosen

But he is joking about his very powerlessness, he is reconciled with Buffy and in many ways he seems truly happy for the first time all season. As they stand on the brink of the collapsed Hellmouth, he teases them all about their being another one in Cleveland and then he tosses a stone down the chasm. It is not one of the youngsters who are making such a show about how tired they are, or who are talking grand talk of having saved the world, who can make that simple gesture of defiance – it is Giles, who has seen the watchers’ equivalent of nuclear war, and lived to tell the tale. He has struggled with being an independent agent and struggled with leaving it all up to Buffy, but he has survived and both because of him and despite of him the world has survived too. The youngsters may not appreciate his humour, but surely the important thing for Giles himself is that he is capable of cracking the jokes.


1 The King James version of the Bible, thus proving Quentin is an old fogey, in case anyone was in any doubt. There is a great irony to the second half of the verse, which Quentin does not quote: For by wise counsel thou shalt make thy war: and in multitude of counselors there is safety.

2 In canon, Spike has lived with Angel, Xander and Giles, all of whom seem to find him intensely irritating and unlikeable. There is presumably more to this than dropping wet towels.