In my years of TV watching, there have been tons of well-regarded shows that have eluded my gaze. Thanks to the magic of Netflix and other online streaming sites, I now have an opportunity to watch these shows and share my thoughts on them. It may be a classic to you, but It’s New To Me!
Right from its debut season, Buffy The Vampire Slayer has effectively balanced its supernatural plots with accurate portrayals of real-life teen issues, and Season Three has done a fine job carrying on that tradition during the Scooby Gang’s final year of high school. Most young people experience a great deal of anxiety regarding where they should go and what they should do once their public school education is over and they are finally considered “adults,” and for one Buffy Summers, this dilemma is made even more difficult by the fact that she is duty-bound to protect her adopted town from the forces of darkness. This issue is an important factor of the two penultimate episodes of Season Three and make for some of the most bittersweet moments of the entire series so far.
The first of these episodes, entitled “Choices,” centers around Buffy’s continuing dilemma regarding whether she is going to go off to college and which school she will choose to attend. Upon receiving an acceptance letter from Northwestern University, she starts to relish the idea of leaving town and starting over in an entirely new state. When she tells Giles and Wesley that she wants to go away to college, Giles is happy for her but Wesley puts his foot down, stating that Sunnydale needs a Slayer. Buffy then makes a deal with Wesley that if she can prevent the Ascension before Graduation Day, then he will think twice about allowing her to leave.
During a stakeout at the airport, Buffy spots Faith and one of the Mayor’s vampire lackeys as they receive a mysterious package. She follows them to City Hall and then ambushes the vampire and gets him to reveal what the package is and why it is important to Mayor Wilkins before offing him. She then returns to the library with information about the package, an ancient artifact known as the Box of Gavrok. The Scoobies make plans to infiltrate City Hall in order to steal the Box. After getting their plan straight, Giles and Wesley drive Buffy, Angel, and Willow to City Hall, while Xander and Oz stay behind in order to prepare the ritual that will destroy the Box. Upon casting a counter to the protection spell cast on the Box, Willow retreats to the van while Angel and Buffy prepare to enter the building through the skylight, Mission: Impossible style. After Buffy grabs the Box while hanging from a rope lowered by Angel, the alarm is tripped and some of the Mayor’s vampire guards enter the room where the Box is held, resulting in a battle with Buffy and Angel, who manage to escape with the Box. All is not right for the Scoobies when it is revealed that Faith has taken Willow prisoner, and when they find out, Buffy decides to offer the Box in exchange for her friend, despite Wesley’s protests.
While held captive, Willow manages to sneak into the Mayor’s office and catch a glimpse of one of the Books of Ascension before being caught by Faith, whom she calls selfish and worthless for turning on her friends. The attempted trade-off occurs in the school cafeteria, and when the Mayor arrives, he makes a crack about how Buffy and Angel have no future as a couple that visibly affects Buffy. Once the trade is made and Willow is returned to the group, Principal Snyder barges in with two security officers hoping to catch the Scoobies in a drug bust but is taken aback when he finds the Mayor with them. One of the officers opens the Box of Gavrok to reveal a large beetle that attacks and kills the officer. A few more beetles escape the Box and the two warring factions briefly join forces in order to kill them. Once the immediate danger has passed, Mayor Wilkins and Faith exit with the Box, which he states contains billions of those fierce little creatures. While Giles frets over having lost the edge in their war against the Mayor, he is quickly cheered up when he discovers that Willow has torn a handful of pages from the Book of Ascension in hopes that they can learn more of what’s in store for them. Buffy, upset by the realization that she cannot realistically leave town, is also cheered up when Willow tells her that she has decided to enroll in UC Sunnydale with her. The episode ends with Buffy and Angel telling each other that what the Mayor said about their relationship isn’t true, though both of their faces betray a great deal of doubt.
Like most of the more successful episodes of Buffy that I’ve seen so far, “Choices” offers a nice balance of spooky stuff and character development. The episode not only shows Buffy’s uncertainty of her personal and professional future but it also hints at a rather unlikely choice that Cordelia has made that will be further explored in the following episode. I am continuing to enjoy the ongoing chess game between the Mayor and the Scoobies, which will no doubt erupt into all out war at season’s end, and Willow’s face-to-face showdown with Faith was a satisfying moment in which she is allowed to vent all the resentment and frustration she has felt towards the traitorous Slayer. “Choices” perfectly accomplishes all it sets out to do as a setup to the finale and earns 5 out of 5 Deadly Presents.
The final showdown with Mayor Wilkins is briefly put on the backburner in the following episode, “The Prom,” a relatively self-contained episode that still contains a number of important developments for the season, and the show, as a whole. Of course, the biggest plot development in this episode is the breakup between Buffy and Angel, which Angel instigates upon telling Buffy that she has a bright future ahead of her and should not waste her youth on a relationship that they cannot risk getting physical. This news of course devastates Buffy, who had originally planned to take her undead beau to the Prom, and she runs to Willow’s house to have a good cry over it.
The other members of the Scooby Gang are relatively more successful in procuring dates for the Prom. Willow and Oz are of course planning to go, and Xander reluctantly accepts Anya’s invitation to go with her. While out tux shopping, Xander discovers that his vindictive ex Cordelia has taken a job at a local dress shop in order to pay for her prom dress. The embarrassed Cordy admits to Xander that her family is broke due to her father’s shady tax dealings and that now she cannot afford to go away to college after graduation. Their conversation is interrupted by the appearance of a large dog-like creature who attacks one of the young men in the store trying on formal wear. Xander and Cordy bring the store’s security video footage of the attack back to the library, where Giles and Wesley identify the beast as a Hellhound and the gang surmises that someone plans to use it to attack the Prom. Some research reveals that their prime suspect is a disgruntled student named Tucker Wells. When Buffy investigates a meat packing plant where Tucker recently purchased cow brains, she runs into Angel and they share a post-breakup argument. Meanwhile, Cordy discovers that the prom dress she’s been saving up for has been paid for by Xander as an apology for how badly their relationship ended.
As the date of the Prom approaches, Buffy takes on the case of stopping Tucker’s Hellhound attack on her own and practically orders the rest of the gang to go enjoy themselves. She finds Tucker’s hideout, where several Hellhounds have been caged up and shown footage of formal events in order to identify their targets, and easily subdues Tucker before discovering that three of the Hounds have already been released. She then runs to the school to intercept the Beasts and kills them all after a strenuous battle. Having stopped the immediate threat, she then changes into her dress and arrives at the dance, where the Class of 1999 presents her with a ceremonial award to commemorate their voting her “Class Protector.” After giving a touching speech recounting everything that Buffy has done in the past three years to keep the school safe from all manner of supernatural beings, Jonathan presents her with a parasol as a symbol of the entire class’ gratitude. Buffy happily accepts the award, happy to finally have a normal high school moment, if only for a brief time. As the party commences, Angel shows up and apologizes for having broken up with her right before the Prom. Buffy tells him that she understands why they can’t be together and why he has to leave town, and the two share a final dance together.
“The Prom” is not a perfect episode by any means, but it earns a spot on the list of Buffy‘s best episodes from the first three seasons solely for its emotional impact. After three seasons of fighting in what she thought was the shadows, she finally gets some recognition from her peers in the most public forum imaginable. The settling of Xander and Cordelia’s feud was also handled in a very sweet way without hinting of any possible chance of them getting back together, which suits me fine, since I’ve always preferred them as frenemies than as a couple. Willow and Oz continue to be adorable, though my Whedon radar still senses some tough times headed their way in the future. The final scene in which Buffy and Angel dance together is the perfect note to end this episode on. As stated by both Angel and Joyce in this episode, their relationship has truly run its course, and all that’s left is for them to stop the Mayor from turning into a demon and destroying the town. Even though there was a supernatural threat in “The Prom,” it took a back seat to these nice character moments that provided a much-needed lull in the action as well as a primer to what will surely be an action-packed and emotional two-part finale. I award “The Prom” 5 out of 5 Wedding Nightmares.