When you get down to it, for the show that coined the term “Big Bad”, Buffy the Vampire Slayer actually had a shortage of truly brilliant villains. There were certainly some respectable attempts, but for the most part the squelchy horrors that bedevilled the Sunnydale night tended to play second fiddle to the group dynamics of the heroic Scoobies. Buffy antagonists were mostly crude personifications of adolescent issues, rather than compelling characters, and were sometimes even more generic than that. Certainly they had a tendency to be neatly and perfunctorily killed off in the episodes they appeared in. Major threats often took a while to get going, or were all-purpose figures of doom lacking in truly shocking or fascinating character traits. Characters like the Master, Adam and Caleb weren’t exactly bad, they just failed leave a truly indelible stamp on the series.
Of course, there were exceptions, and the Mayor was gloriously one of them. He was initially a vaguely-referenced background threat, only to become the main antagonist of Season Three and end up running away with the entire season. After watching Buffy scythe through scores of snarling thugs in heavy monster make-up, it was refreshing to see a cheerful, avuncular public servant become the chirpy, Reagan-like face of impending doom. He added a much-needed playfulness to Sunnydale’s largely po-faced and over-dramatic villain-sphere, as if he realised a long time how ludicrously immoral his very existence was and just started laughing at his outrageous chutzpah. A skilled sorcerer who founded Sunnydale generations ago, the Mayor’s mortal lifespan was unnaturally extended by diabolical pacts, as he performed various unspeakable deeds to placate his infernal allies (including attempted casual baby sacrifice in an early Season Three episode). His ultimate goal was to switch species and become a reptilian Uber-Demon; but that didn’t mean he had to shirk the responsibilities of office along the way, taking a genuine interest in the smooth administration of the quirky, creepy town of Sunnydale.
The Mayor was always an enigma, because it was never clear where the friendly and seemingly unfeigned demeanour slipped and the ruthless power-hungry despot began, or whether there was ever a distinction between the attractive and sinister facets of his personality in the first place. The Mayor seemed to be psychologically well-rounded, with little in the way of doubts or regrets, and his relationship with the renegade Slayer Faith proved that he wasn’t a psychopath. He was just a talented politician with buckets of life experience, who apparently decided a long time ago that his existence would be dedicated to becoming a giant flesh-eating snake. Maybe, rather than some sort of megalomaniacal craving or inadequacy, he settled on this terrible task with single-minded focus because it was the hardest thing any sorcerer could set out to do, like people who want to climb Everest “because it’s there”?
Whatever the answer, in a show full of mindless monsters and raving murderers, the Mayor stands out for his unassuming competence and brisk, no-nonsense approach to evil with a capital E, in a town where evil just made sense. And of course, he was the perfect smugly superior authority figure for Buffy’s graduating class to rebel against, liberating themselves from their home-town’s twisted, deadly system. He wasn’t the Mayor the tragedy-stricken youth of Sunnydale deserved, but perhaps he was the Mayor they needed.