Content warning: mentions of rape, violence and sexual assault
Buffy the Vampire Slayer was a revolutionary show in many ways; it featured one of the first serious lesbian relationships on television and it tackled a number of heavy social issues such as coming out to your parents, domestic abuse, and mental health. In the series’ sixth series, the tone of the show got noticeably darker and the villains of the season, despite often being used as comedic relief, grew darker too. The Trio (Warren, Andrew, and Jonathan) were three seemingly harmless nerds who decided to become supervillains. Their schemes began as wacky and fairly benign, using gadgets and magic to rob banks, turn themselves invisible, and mess with Buffy and her friends. As the season progressed, however, their harmless demeanour dropped and their crimes became more serious: involving assault, attempted rape, and murder.
It is very interesting looking at The Trio from a contemporary perspective because they fit most of the criteria of modern-day Incels despite having been created well over a decade before the word ‘Incel’ even existed.
For those of you not in the know, the term Incel is a portmanteau of the words involuntary and celibate. The core belief of Incels is that they are unable to form romantic or sexual relationships with women because of their looks. These forums are also full of violent hatred directed at women. When one spends enough time browsing Incel forums, they will notice that there are multiple different subsets of Incels. They all share the same deep bitterness and use similar misogynistic language but their reasons for it are different. Some of the most common types of Incels can be represented by The Trio.
Jonathan is, by far, the most sympathetic member of The Trio and likely represents the quiet majority of self-declared Incels. He is introduced in the second season of the show as a shy, meek, and bullied teenager struggling through high school with no friends or romantic connections. He attempts to kill himself in season three because he feels life has dealt him an unfair hand, viewing himself as worthless because of his social standing and his height. Sometime between seasons four and six, he becomes friends with Andrew and Warren and is soon caught up in Warren’s lust for power and dismissive attitudes about women. Jonathan is the perfect symbol for the disenfranchised young men who look to Incel forums for comfort but instead find only toxicity and misogyny.
Warren is the ringleader of The Trio and without a doubt the most dangerous and hateful. He represents the dark, violent and scary subset of the Incel community; the ones who make news headlines and get forums banned for their vitriol. He is, primarily, a deeply entitled misogynist who believes that by virtue his brains and gender, the world (and women in particular) owe him something. Warren routinely reaffirms that he believes himself smarter, stronger, and all around better than women; constantly throwing around casual sexism. Perhaps his most heinous act is when he uses a mind control device to attempt to turn his ex-girlfriend, Katrina, into a sex slave, dressing her up as a French maid and making her call him ‘master’, telling her that she ‘never should have left him’. When she ‘sobers up’ from the device’s control and confronts The Trio about their attempted rape, Andrew and Jonathan are clearly horrified but Warren prevents her from escaping, hits her with a champagne bottle, and instructs the others to ‘get her up’ and ‘give her another dose.’ This clearly shows that Warren was aware that what he was committing rape but simply didn’t care; he viewed it as his right to have sex with her. Similarly, when Andrew reveals that Warren’s attack killed her, his only concern is with disposing of the body so that he won’t have to face the repercussions.
Warren also exhibits common ‘pickup artist’ traits: using lines, tricks, and manipulations in an attempt to attract women, priding himself on his supposed desirability and constantly referring to women by condescending pet names. It is this warped pseudo-confidence that cements his position as the leader of The Trio.
Andrew is perhaps the most interesting and complex member of The Trio. Throughout season six, he is portrayed as a sort of midpoint between Warren and Jonathan. He is less openly violent and sexist than Warren but far more willing to go along with his plans and quicker to forget his guilt than Jonathan. His respect and devotion for Warren grow throughout the season to the point where he is clearly deeply infatuated with his friend but unable to express it because of his insecurity and confusion about his sexuality. He makes numerous comments throughout the season alluding to his sexuality such as when Warren abandons him and Jonathan and he sadly states: “He never really loved… hanging out with us” or when The Trio spies on Spike and Anya having sex through a secret camera and he comments (about Spike) “He is so cool. And, I mean, the girl’s hot too.” Despite not being an inherently misogynistic or violent person, his obsession with Warren leads to him parroting his beliefs in an attempt to impress him, going so far as to cheer Warren on and tell him to kill Buffy while the two are fighting. It is important to note that Andrew’s sexuality is not responsible for his sexism but it is the denial of his own sexuality combined with his manipulation by Warren that leads him down that path.
Once removed from Warren’s influence, he ends up with a far more positive and healthy view of women (respecting Buffy and Anya for their courage and strength). No longer does he make objectifying or sexist comments about women, and he also appears far more at ease with his own personality. Throughout season seven, the cast are plagued by a creature with the ability to take the form of any deceased person. It often appears to Andrew in the form of Warren in order to manipulate him. It is only once he finally stands up to the apparition of Warren, symbolically cutting ties with him and his beliefs, that his path towards redemption truly begins. At this point, he is surrounded by positive influences and his misogyny dissipates.
Andrew represents a very specific but sizeable group of Incels who routinely post about how disgusting they find women; from their bodies to their ‘promiscuity’ to their personalities. These same men will complain about how only the best looking men in society can attract women and will often focus on specific features these men supposedly have (jawlines, eye shapes, height, muscles, etc…) This fixation with men’s bodies combined with their disgust with women strongly suggests that these men may be using Incel forums as a way to repress and deny their own sexuality.
Ultimately, this all leads to an important point: Incels routinely defend their forums as merely ‘support groups’ for lonely men. This is not the case. If we can learn anything from The Trio, it is that isolation from society and constant exposure to toxicity actively inhibits personal growth and traps men in patterns of misogyny, bitterness, and hatred. Incels should be encouraged to seek therapy and make meaningful connections with people outside of these circles, not to trap themselves in the same cycles. People like Andrew and Jonathan are not inherently bad but they need to find healthier ways to seek solace rather than associating themselves with the Warrens of the world.
Image by Anna Thetical via Flickr.