Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s first Watcher Merrick plays a huge part in the 1992 film. However, he undergoes a major transformation in the TV series.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s first mentor Merrick underwent a drastic transformation from the movie to the TV show. Buffy the Vampire Slayer, created by Joss Whedon and starring Sarah Michelle Gellar in the titular role, ran for seven seasons and became a cult classic. The character was conceived by Whedon five years earlier for a feature film of the same name starring Kristy Swanson, Donald Sutherland, Paul Reubens, Luke Perry, and Rutger Hauer. The finished product was such a departure from what Whedon envisioned that he doesn’t consider it part of the Buffy canon even though Buffy’s backstory on the show borrows heavily from the film.
The dark comedy falls short on all fronts, failing to be scary or particularly funny. In an interview with The A.V. Club, Whedon said that his onset experience was frustrating, particularly in his dealings with Sutherland, who took liberties with his character, including rewriting his dialogue. Although Joss Whedon‘s biggest issues with Sutherland appear to stem more from a personal dislike of the legendary actor who Whedon called a “prick.” The problems with the movie are more far-reaching, something Whedon also acknowledged stating, “It didn’t turn out to be the movie that I had written. Not that the movie is without merit, but I just watched a lot of stupid wannabe-star behavior and a director with a different vision than mine.” However, Whedon got a do-over, and the character of Merrick, played by Richard Riehle, appears on only one episode, season 2, episode 21, “Becoming, Part 1.”
Sutherland’s Merrick, always clad in a trenchcoat, fedora, and gloves is described in the film as “creepy” and “weird,” supported by his demeanor, appearance, and one scene where the Watcher confronts Buffy in the girls’ locker room. Sutherland brings gravitas to the role, playing a semi-immortal who dies only to be reborn again so he can keep training Slayers. Although Buffy exasperates Merrick, he also develops an affection for the girl, aspects of the character carried over to his predecessor Rupert Giles. Riehle’s Merrick, who looks like a middle-aged accountant, appears in a flashback that takes an abridged approach to his dealings with Buffy. Their interactions are limited to Merrick delivering the cryptic message that Buffy’s destiny is to kill vampires and a brief scene in a graveyard where he stands by as she makes her first kill. He isn’t referred to by the name Merrick onscreen, and the credits identify him only as “LA Watcher.”
Fans of the show questioned what happened to Buffy’s first Watcher. They can find the answer in The Origin comic book, a three-part miniseries written by Dan Brereton and Christopher Golden, adapted from Whedon’s original script. Merrick appears in The Origin, Part 1, and The Origin, Part 2. In the series, Merrick is human and a member of the Watchers Council. He trained five Slayers before Buffy, who were all killed. Like Merrick in the film, despite Buffy’s lack of discipline, he sees something special in her that was lacking in the previous Slayers. While Sutherland’s Merrick was stabbed in the heart by Lothos, The Origin’s version committed suicide so Lothos couldn’t turn him and use him against Buffy.
In 2018 Whedon announced plans for a Buffy the Vampire Slayer reboot featuring a Slayer of color, but plans have stalled. Allegations of professional misconduct and abusive behavior against Whedon by actors who worked with the writer-producer-director have led critics and viewers alike to reevaluate his work, and the misogynistic undertones have tarnished his legacy as a champion of feminism. If the Buffyverse expands to include another series, Whedon is unlikely to be part of the project.
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