The two-part conclusion of Buffy the Vampire Slayer's third season begins with an episode of piece-moving; some of which felt like it should have been dealt with many episodes ago. I'm a little alarmed that after almost a whole season, Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar) and the gang are still mostly clueless about the Mayor's (Harry Groener) planned "Ascension"—other than it will coincide with their Graduation Day, appropriately. I still don't like how this season's on-going concerns were handled, so I'm torn with this season overall. The show definitely has more confidence and ambitiousness, together with characters that are being written better, but the long-term planning feels quite haphazard by modern standards.
The important events of "GRADUATION DAY: PART 1" mostly happen in the last 10 minutes, although it was fun to see the potential romance between Xander (Nicholas Brendon) and former-demon Anya (Emma Caulfield) make a stronger return with their conversation in class, and for Willow (Alyson Hannigan) to lose her virginity to laid-back Oz (Seth Green). Other than that, there was a fair amount of cluelessness from Giles (Anthony Head) and Wesley (Alexis Denisof) about the Mayor's intentions, before the episode started to get busy actually doing something: with Angel (David Boreanaz) struck by a poisoned arrow, and Buffy realising she can only reverse its effects with the blood of a Slayer. Cue prolonged catfight with her boyfriend's would-be murderer, Faith (Eliza Dushku), which was surprisingly fast-paced and cool to watch—despite the fact 90% of the action was clearly being performed by considerably more athletic stunt-doubles.
"Graduation: Part 1" wasn't the best of episodes, but then again most BtVS two-parters have started tentatively before the concluding half brings everything together very well. So now the Mayor must eat various nasty critters as preparation for his Ascension (which will result in him becoming a giant pureblood demon called Olvikan) and lay waste to the world, Faith's escaped with a Chekov's knife wound (to perhaps return one day soon), and the perennially useless Watcher Council has decided not to intervene with dying Angel's predicament. Love those guys.
Oz: We attack the Mayor with humus.
The last episode of season 3, "GRADUATION DAY: PART 2", felt like a damp squib to me—despite some ambitious special-effects for when the Mayor finally "ascended" into a gigantic snake creature. What is it with this show and serpentine monsters? I'm not sure how it played back in 1999, but the CGI was pretty horrendous to my eyes and played a role in making the epic conclusion feel slightly embarrassing after such a long build-up. Still, the sequence with Buffy running through school being chased by bad-CGI had some kick to its direction, and I did enjoy the moment when the graduating class of Sunnydale High threw off their red gowns to reveal various demon-slaying weapons. I guess the show will have to roll with the idea the townsfolk (or just the teenagers?) all know Sunnydale's a hotbed of strangeness and Buffy's their very own Supergirl? This season kind of planted the seeds of that being so, but maybe it'll undermine the format of the show too much. I'll have to wait and see.
So yeah, the finale just kind of fell into place without too many surprises. I expected a more from Joss Whedon, but even reversing Buffy's dilemma from last season (having to save her vampire boyfriend's life, rather than kill him) didn't really add anything that felt hugely compelling. And the least said about the weirdness of Buffy and Faith being able to communicate via dream, where they came to an understanding, the better. The story just sort of went about its business, even throwing in a random solar eclipse that hadn't been mentioned before, and ended with few changes beyond the gang all leaving high school. Considering this was Angel and Cordelia's valediction as well as a graduation, it didn't bring those characters to a place that felt like you were saying goodbye—especially in the latter's case.
I've heard it said "Graduation Day" marks the end of the BtVS two-season zenith, as the remaining four seasons get progressively worse. That's disappointing to hear, but I'm glad the show captured some quality and consistency across season 2 and 3. It's just a shame this season's Big Bad just wasn't close to being as entertaining and unpredictable as vampire lovers Spike and Drusilla were the year before—feeling more like a villainous uncle worthy of a fun two-parter than a year-long arc.
written by Joss Whedon / directed by Joss Whedon / 18 May & 13 July 1999 / The WB
This marks the end of my Buffy the Vampire Slayer catch-ups, covering season 1-3 over the past six months. I will definitely be picking up BtVS in the near-future, but a well-deserved break is now long overdue. I would like to start reviewing Angel (perhaps alongside BtVS because the shows ran simultaneously on their first run, resulting in some crossover episodes), but that's still to be decided. It doesn't help that the box-set has risen in price since I last mentioned this plan, either.