Jesse McNally was a student at Sunnydale High when Buffy started there in 1997. He was a friend of Xander and Willow, and had a crush on Cordelia, the most popular girl in the school.
Jesse only appeared in the first two episodes of the entire show, but his brief presence was integral to setting up the premise and showing the extent of the vampire threat in Sunnydale. He was portrayed by the actor Eric Balfour.
Jesse ended up as a vampire after being sired by Darla, much to the disgust of his friends. However, it did seem to give him a new-found confidence that he had been lacking in life.
The later parts of his screen time were spent with the other vampires in the Order of Aurelius and being used as bait for the Slayer, until he was killed for good by a stake wielded by Xander. Although his storyline was shocking, he was never mentioned again on-screen once it was resolved.
Jesse attended Sunnydale High School and was in the same year as Xander, Willow, and Cordelia (among others).
We never found out much about his life prior to that point, but his vampire manifestation mentioned that he was a loser who’d always had issues socially. He was around 16 years old at the time of his death.
In preparation for a big ritual called the Harvest, in which a vampire could gain power from the feeding of another vampire (known as a vessel), Darla lured Jesse to the cemetery. They arrived at an unlocked tomb, where Willow had also been taken by the vampire Thomas.
Darla had bitten Jesse at some point on the way, although this was never shown on screen (he didn’t realize what had happened and thought the bite was just a ‘hickey’).
He was intended to be offered to the Master, who would also drink from him. However, Buffy showed up with Xander and interrupted them, allowing Jesse, Willow and Xander to escape.
As the three ran away and tried to get help, they encountered more vampires in the graveyard and quickly became surrounded. Buffy managed to get away from Luke, who had tried to keep her captive in the mausoleum, and fought off the vamps that were terrorizing Willow and Xander.
Unfortunately, they were able to recapture Jesse in the struggle; he was taken underground to be offered to the Master. Instead of drinking him, the Master learned that the Slayer was in town and formulated a new plan to use him as bait. For it to work, Jesse would have to be a vampire too.
As A Vampire
Buffy and the team figured out a way to track down the vampires to where they’d taken Jesse, but what they didn’t know was that it was too late and he’d already been made into the newest vampire.
They caught up with Jesse in some tunnels leading to the vampire nest, where he was pretending to still be human. It proved to be an effective trap, and Jesse revealed his new form.
Xander tried to appeal to Jesse’s old humanity, citing their long-standing friendship, but it didn’t and they ended up face to face with a whole horde of vamps. However, they managed to fight them off and get away from Jesse at the same time.
While all the vampires were preparing to storm the Bronze, Jesse approached Cordelia for a dance. At first, she brushed him off as usual, but he told her to shut up and took her firmly by the hand.
She preferred this different attitude to the way he’d been before, and agreed to dance with him. As they danced, Darla led the other vampires into the club. Luke, the Master’s chosen vessel, addressed the crowd, and Jesse revealed his vampire face to Cordelia.
Meanwhile, Buffy, Xander, Willow and Giles turned up to stop them. Giles had to remind Xander that Jesse was dead and wasn’t the same person as he used to know, even though he still looked like him.
Darla took Cordelia from Jesse and gave her to Luke to feed off, but Buffy appeared and interrupted Luke’s speech and Cordelia was able to get free from his grasp.
Unfortunately, Jesse then caught her again as the vampires caused carnage, wrestling her to the floor and jumping on top of her. He was about to kill her when Xander stepped in and threatened him with a stake.
Although Xander wasn’t actually ready to kill Jesse at that point, someone bumped into Jesse as they fled the club, knocking him into the outstretched stake and reducing him to dust.
Jesse longed to be cool, but he just couldn’t work out how to escape his unfortunate image and ‘puppy attitude’. He didn’t fit in with the social groups he aimed for, which he saw as being the main obstacle to his love life.
When he got turned into a vampire, he was finally able to feel the way he’d always wanted: strong and respected. Unfortunately for vampire Jesse, this was short-lived, since he was reduced to dust shortly afterwards.
Jesse was tall and gangly, towering above most of his peers in an ungainly fashion. He had a long face and neck, with fairly long hair that came down to his shoulders.
This would be slicked back with a significant amount of hair gel, making it look almost wet at all times. His smile could be described as goofy, because it was often lop-sided and caused him to seem vacant.
Jesse’s body type was slim and he didn’t have much muscle to speak of – although he had ample height, he didn’t weigh much at all and was mostly skin and bone. He wore bright t-shirts that hung loosely on his frame, although his outfits became noticeably darker during his time as a vampire.
Prior to becoming a vampire, Jesse didn’t have any powers or abilities, except perhaps the remarkable ability not to take a hint. He was shown to lack academic smarts in a similar way to Xander, and he was physically quite weak as well.
Despite his short-lived tenure on the show, we got to know quite a lot about Jesse’s relationships to other people – mainly his classmates, both friendly and antagonistic. In his later scenes, he develops connections of sorts with certain undead characters, which are also explored here.
Xander and Jesse were kindred spirits – two unpopular teenage boys who weren’t very successful with women. This is presumably what bonded them in the first place, as they found it easy to relate to one another.
They would often discuss girls and lament their social hardships; they both caught sight of Buffy on her first day and agreed that they found her cute.
Little did Jesse know, Xander would later become romantically involved with Cordelia, despite the two initially finding each other annoying. Jesse had always wanted a chance with Cordelia, so perhaps this may have caused some friction between the two of them if Jesse had lived long enough to witness it.
When Jesse ended up in mortal danger after being captured by vampires, Xander followed Buffy to try and help rescue him. While he probably had other motives as well (spending more time with Buffy), his main concern was for his friend’s safety.
He put himself at risk for the chance to get Jesse out alive. Xander was visibly upset when he realized that Jesse had been turned into a vampire.
Jesse, Xander and Willow were in a friendship group, and they hung around together in and out of school. Unlike with Xander and Willow, there was no suggestion of any romantic undertones between Jesse and Willow, and the two were simply good friends.
It is likely that Willow helped Jesse with his homework, as she did for Xander; she was known for being the person to ask if you needed academic assistance.
Willow expressed distress when Jesse was brought into the same mausoleum she was lured to. Although she was scared herself, she still tried to comfort Jesse and check his wounds.
Darla’s bite left him feeling weak and faint, so Willow and Xander helped him to escape by holding him up while they ran. Willow demonstrated a maternal affection for Jesse, and always tried to support him however she could.
Cordelia was the subject of Jesse’s affection, and he attempted to talk to her whenever she was around. However, she would always dismiss him with a cutting remark, letting him know that she was way out of his league.
She saw Jesse as a lost puppy following her around, which she found to be an off-putting quality. Despite being knocked back on every occasion, Jesse didn’t seem to get the message and carried on trying regardless.
Cordelia mocked him to her friends, telling them that she was after an older guy who had mystery and a car.
Once Jesse became a vampire, Cordelia began to see him differently, being impressed with the new air of confidence he displayed. He took her hand at the Bronze and they danced together, briefly allowing him an experience he had never had as a human.
When the other vampires stormed in, vampire Jesse wanted to kill Cordelia himself and pounced on her, but was dragged off by Xander. This shows that the monster he had become no longer felt any kind of affection for her, and merely wanted to overpower her.
Buffy met Jesse on her first day at Sunnydale High, when he and Xander came to sit with her and Willow. He initially found her attractive, as did Xander, but he didn’t try and make any moves on her in the same way.
Since Buffy was new to the school, she was grateful to have found some friends and quickly accepted Jesse’s acquaintance. Although she would have done the same for anyone in imminent danger from vampires, their potential friendship gave Buffy a personal drive to rescue him.
This was further reinforced by the distress of her other new friends on learning about his predicament.
Jesse was sired by Darla, which means that she was the one who turned him into a vampire. Vampires share a special bond with their sire, who is supposed to introduce them to the vampire world and everything that entails.
Darla began by seducing Jesse to get him to follow her, and he was taken in by her charms, finding the attention flattering. It was clear that he found her attractive, making her job easier – he still followed her even after she bit his neck.
Prior to Jesse, Darla had also sired Angel, although their relationship was much more involved.
A sire bond doesn’t necessarily have to be strong, and the sired vampire may even be resentful of their sire, there have been multiple instances of the two being romantically involved in some way.
These include Spike and Drusilla, as well as Darla and Angel. However, there was no such dynamic between Darla and Jesse once she had him where she wanted him.
In fact, she never intended to sire him at all – just feed on him – but the Master’s plan changed, which made that step necessary for her to take.
Jesse was initially intended as food for the Master, who was disgusted that Darla had already fed on him. He felt that Jesse offered little nutritional value for him, since there was only one of him and his blood had already been drunk.
The Master decided to ‘upgrade’ him from food to bait, acknowledging that he could use him effectively as a tool against the Slayer. Along with the rest of the Order of Aurelius, Jesse was the Master’s minion, working for him and obeying his every instruction.
Through his brief time, Jesse had some memorable quotes that really summed up his experiences and social situation. Here are our picks:
- “We wanted to welcome you, make you feel at home… unless you have a scary home…” (To Buffy in Welcome to the Hellmouth)
- “Listen, uh… you know – you wanna dance? You know?” (To Cordelia in Welcome to the Hellmouth)
- “Fine! Plenty of other fish in the sea. Oh yeah, I’m… on the prowl. Witness me prowling!” (When she rejects him again, Welcome to the Hellmouth)
- “You know, you gave me a hickey” (To Darla after she bites him, Welcome to the Hellmouth)
- “I am not okay on an epic scale!” (To Buffy and Xander in The Harvest)
- “I got an idea: you can die!” (As he reveals his vampire face in The Harvest)
- “I feel good, Xander, I feel strong! I’m connected, man – to everything!” (When he tells Xander how he feels being a vampire, The Harvest)
- “Jesse was an excruciating loser who couldn’t get a date with anyone in the sighted community! Look at me: I’m a new man!” (To Xander, just before dying for good in The Harvest)
- Although Jesse was never supposed to last longer than the second episode, the production team wanted to include him in the opening credits of the premiere, to trick people into thinking that he was a main character. This would make it more shocking when they killed him off so soon; however, the budget couldn’t stretch to make that happen. Instead, they did it with the character Tara in season 6, putting her in the opening sequence for the episode in which she is murdered.
- When the First Evil was the main adversary in season 7, it would often appear to the characters in the form of deceased people who were significant to them in some way, so it could hold influence over them. Originally, one of these forms was meant to be Jesse, who would have taunted Xander. This would have worked well because Xander was shown to feel at least some responsibility for Jesse and his eventual fate. In the end, the First didn’t show itself specifically to Xander in any form, choosing to focus on the other characters instead.
Jesse’s overall appearances in the show were limited to the very first episodes only. Despite this, it is likely that he made a big impact on the universe, since he was the first human we witnessed becoming a vampire.
It can be said that he was an influence in Xander and Willow’s willingness to work with Buffy and form the Scooby Gang. His appearances are in order as follows:
- Season 1, Episode 1: Welcome to the Hellmouth
- Season 1, Episode 2: The Harvest
If you want to learn more about Jesse, the only time he is mentioned in canon works after these episodes is in the official Season 9 comics (the issue titled Apart (of Me), Part 2.
He does also appear in tie-in novels and Buffy the Vampire Slayer original comics. The most notable of the novels is also called The Harvest, as it is a novelization of the episode of the same name.