Thursday, 14 February 2013

BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, 3.19 & 3.20 - 'Choices' & 'The Prom'

Thursday, 14 February 2013
Willow: Actually this isn't about you--although I'm fond, don't get me wrong, of you. The other night, you know being captured and all, facing off with Faith, things just kind of got clear. I mean you've been fighting evil here for three.. years, and I've helped some, and now we're supposed to decide what we want to do with our lives and I just realized that's what I wanna do, fight evil, help people. I think it's worth doing and I don't think you do it 'cause you have to. It's a good fight, Buffy, and I want in!

While I don't really believe in Faith's (Eliza Dushku) decision to ally herself with the villainous Mayor (Harry Groener), I do like their dynamic together. Mayor Wilkins is the father figure Faith never had, so even when he infantilises her (like offering her cookies) she's charmed by his supportive and affable nature. He even buys her cool presents like a particularly baroque knife. Their relationship also works as the flipside of Buffy's (Sarah Michelle Gellar) close bond with her kind-hearted mother, which befits the character of Faith as the anti-Buffy in many ways.

The episode titles on Buffy the Vampire Slayer often get to the root of the hour's concern, so it wasn't a surprise to see that "CHOICES" gave many characters tough decisions to make: from the ordinary issue of choosing a college to enrol in next year, to the extraordinary issue of choosing between saving a kidnapped Willow (Alyson Hannigan) and worldwide annihilation. It was also a relief to see the seasonal plot with the Mayor take some steps forward; with Faith more proactive in helping her "boss" achieve his Ascension (by obtaining the essential Box of Gavrok on his behalf), and Buffy resolving to take the fight to the Mayor's doorstep instead of sitting back and waiting for him to show his hand.

As I've said many times, I still don't really care about the Mayor (too goofy to feel threatening) or his big plan (too vague), but there was enough garnish on this episode to keep me happy. I especially liked Buffy and Angel's (David Boreanaz) infiltration of the Mayor's office, Mission: Impossible-style through a skylight, Willow using telekinesis to "stake" a vampire with a pencil, the unflappable Oz (Seth Green) losing his cool when his girlfriend was captured, Wesley's (Alexis Denisoff) hard-headed suggestion to destroy the Box and risk Willow's life, the Mayor noting Angel's selfishness in dating a girl who will age and die before his very eyes, and a final moment with it was revealed Cordelia (Charisma Carpenter) is working in a clothes shop to make some extra cash on the side. The scene where the mysterious Box was opened and revealed to contain facehugger-like beetles was also good fun—partly because Principal Snyder (Armin Shimmerman) was present, as it feels like only a matter of time before BtVS is forced to include him in Buffy's extracurricular activities to some extent.

Anya: You know, you can laugh, but I have witnessed a millennium of treachery and oppression from the males of the species. And I have nothing but contempt for the whole libidinous lot of them.
Xander: Then why are you talking to me?
Anya: I don't have a date for the prom.

Next up before the two-part finale was "THE PROM", which turned out to be further evidence that BtVS is often as its best when it pushes the mumbo-jumbo to the background and just lets the characters and their interactions speak for themselves.

It's Sunnydale High's Prom Night (that most iconic of US school traditions that's taken grip of UK teen culture in recent years), and someone's plotting to unleash a pack of Hellhounds on the unwitting attendees. More importantly, Buffy's heartbroken when Angel realises their romance is doomed and breaks up with her on the eve of the Prom (great timing); and Xander discovers Cordelia's lost her family riches and is working part-time in a clothes shop to afford a simple dress for the dance. There actually wasn't much going on in this episode beyond those two storylines, but the episode was nevertheless one of the better ones in quite some time. I like it when things feel more down-to-earth on the show, even if the breakup of Angel/Buffy isn't something that causes me great concern—despite Boreanaz doing his best with the sub-textual "I'm getting my own spin-off show next season" speech in a dingy sewer.

There was just something very pleasant and engaging about how "The Prom" was written, perhaps because it showed the characters at their best. Angel's timing was horrible, but his reasoning for ending the relationship with Buffy was sound and rather noble, and I loved the moment when Xander secretly bought Cordelia's stunning dress so she could go to the Prom. Even the slushiness of dateless Buffy being given Class Protector Award (for saving various people over the past few years, lowering the school's mortality rate to record levels) worked surprisingly well—as it was an achievement she dreamed of in "Homecoming".

It was also amusing to feel that everyone accepts Sunnydale's a dangerous place to live, with voices in the crowd referencing zombies and hyena people. I even like the beginnings of what appears to be a new romance for Xander with erstwhile demon Anya (Emma Caulfield), which also made it a little clearer what that character's all about. Maybe it's just me, but it also felt revelatory to me when Angel mentioned he can't have sex with Buffy—is that what triggers the immediate loss of his soul?

Hardly an earth shattering episode, but one crammed full of strong character moments and lovely touches—like Wesley plucking up the courage to ask Cordelia to dance, after asking for permission from Giles (which made me notice Giles is something of a father figure for that character, too.)

written by David Fury (3.19) & Marti Noxon (3.20) / directed by James A. Contner (3.19) & David Solomon (3.20) / 4 & 11 May 1999 / The WB