Janes (a True Stan) and Nerdy Spice (a New Fan) are watching all of Buffy together and comparing notes.
Season 3, Episode 19 “Choices”
We’re getting closer to finding out what the Mayor’s endgame is. It involves a package shipped to him from Central America, which he informs us of while creepily feeding Faith homemade cookies. He also gives Faith a shiny new knife to play with. She promptly uses it to kill the courier who’s delivering the Mayor’s package.
All the other kids have the future on the brain, since graduation is fast approaching: Willow got into Oxford, Xander is planning a big Kerouac-style backpacking trip (insert massive eyroll here), and Buffy got into Northwestern but can’t go because Faith is no longer a very good backup Slayer. Oh, and Cordelia appears to spend the episode shopping for fancy prom dresses–but we find out at the end that she’s actually working at the fancy prom dress shop, throwing her college plans into question even though she got into good schools. Meanwhile, Buffy and Angel have gotten back together, and are patrolling for vampires every night together. But Buffy’s also a little worried about their future together if every date night is gonna just take place in the cemetery.
But she convinces herself that she can escape Sunnydale with a clear conscience if she stops the Mayor from doing whatever he plans to do at Ascension day. At Giles’ suggestion, her first step is to find out what the Mayor is up to, so she catches a vampire who’s in league with the Mayor and finds out that Faith’s delivery was called the Box of Gavlock. The Mayor needs whatever’s in it for Mayday, and it’s being kept in a conference room. Buffy, Angel, and Willow are in charge of retrieving the box (Willow is just there to break the magic spell guarding it), while Xander and Oz prepare a spell to destroy the box once they have it.
Unfortunately, while Buffy and Angel are getting the box (which involves Angel lowering Buffy on a harness through the skylight, Mission: Impossible-style, and an obligatory fight scene with a few vampire guards because Buffy’s harness gets stuck on her way up with the box), they leave Willow alone and the Mayor kidnaps her. Everyone but Wesley agrees that they will trade back the box in exchange for Willow’s life. Luckily, Oz smashes the pot they need for the box-destroying spell so that they have no choice but to disregard everything Wesley says.
Resourceful Willow actually almost manages to escape on her own, except that she passes the Mayor’s office and realizes it’s a prime opportunity to figure out what he’s doing with the box. Unfortunately, then Faith catches her. Luckily, Willow manages to confiscate a couple pages from the Mayor’s book, which she can later give to Giles so he learn what the Mayor’s plans are for Ascension Day.
Both teams meet up at the cafeteria to do the hostage exchange. Before they can make the exchange though, the Mayor–who’s immortal like Angel and apparently had a wife who’s already died of old age–takes the opportunity to gleefully inform Angel and Buffy that their relationship is going to get very awkward when Buffy is wrinkled and senile and Angel is still the same age he is now, and also they can’t even go out for a picnic together while Buffy’s still young and non-wrinkled, so they clearly have no future.
Unfortunately, Snyder has been on an anti-drug tear, and he shows up at the cafeteria to stop the hostage exchange, convinced it’s a drug deal. But when a security guard opens up the box, a giant spider jumps out and eats his face! Yuck!!! The Mayor reveals that there are 50 billion of those spiders in the box. Luckily, only a couple of them get out at this point. Faith throws her fancy knife to kill one of them, and the Mayor makes her leave without taking it back! Aw, that’s kind of sad. So the Scoobs have Willow back, and the Mayor still has his terrifying spider box.
As for everyone’s future anxiety? Willow decides to stay and go to Sunnydale Community College along with Buffy. And Buffy and Angel have a sad nighttime cemetery picnic, wherein Buffy valiantly pretends to Angel that what the Mayor said about their future is not worrying her at all, not one bit.
Notes from a New Fan:
- Did we know that the Mayor was over 100 years old? I guess I missed that, but it’s in the previouslies.
- Wait… Buffy is calling Angel “honey”? Did they just get back together and I missed it? What happened to being on a break?!
- Janes points out that he fed that demon’s heart to her. Sure. That’s one of the official ways of getting back together.
- In fact, they’re so together that Buffy is complaining they’re in a rut? YOU DIDN’T EVEN UN-BREAK UP YET! It’s been like four days! How could you possibly be in a rut?!
- Buffy mentions what happens when she’s fifty and Angel is… the same age he is now. So, what, 37?
- Willow got into Oxford. “That’s where they make Gileses,” Buffy says amusingly.
- I was looking away from my screen to take notes when Xander started quoting Kerouac and thought it was Oz talking, but it’s actually Xander, who is sitting at a nearby tree instead of with Buffy, Willow, and Oz (maybe they banished him for being annoying? One can only hope). Anyway, I was very alarmed and was about to write that Oz loses cool points for being so cliched as to quote Kerouac. It’s much less of a surprise when Xander does it. And Xander, lucky for him, has no cool points left to lose.
- Cordelia shows up to accuse Buffy of not having a future. She’s a little less funny than usual; it’s like they needed someone to make Buffy feel bad and Cordy fit the bill, but it actually seems kind of out of character for her to snipe at someone for that. Maybe due to what we learn later about her finances, we’re supposed to think she’s just taking out her stress on Buffy?
- “What are you, the narrator?” Faith says when the vampire says in surprise, “You killed him!” Hee. Good one.
- Is Cordelia wearing a large green skirt suit to school? If so… why?
- Xander and Oz are left alone in the library doing the spell to destroy the box, which seems weird, since neither of them are actual witches. Like, sometimes anyone can do a spell, I guess, and sometimes you have to be Willow?
- Xander can’t even tell the difference between essence of toad and sage. That’s concerning.
- I’m kind of… tired of Wesley. Is he gonna leave the show ever? I would like him to leave.
- I mean. By throwing the magic cauldron and shattering it, I feel like Oz sort of precluded them from coming up with one of those win-win-win TV solutions, where they get Willow back AND they get to destroy the box. Bad move, Oz.
- I’m impressed Willow can run so quietly in those clunky (but cute!) boots.
- Oh, man. The Mayor is going on and on about how Angel and Buffy don’t have a future… they’re going to fake break up again, aren’t they? I can’t keep track of all this!
- OK, these spiders are incredibly gross, but they don’t really seem like world-ending bad? Oh. Literally as I typed this the Mayor said there were 50 billion of them. OK, I guess that could end the world.
- Willow says it’s a good fight and she doesn’t think Buffy does it because she has to. But… I think she kind of does.
- Buffy says the Mayor doesn’t know what he’s talking about and that his only lasting relationship was probably with evil. I feel like… she maybe wasn’t listening to his speech about his wife and how he was with her till she died of old age?
Notes from True Stan:
- I’ve always been obsessed with Faith’s knife. Is that weird? I want that knife.
- Side note: my partner, who also loves Buffy, got me Faith’s leather jacket from Hot Topic for my birthday a few years ago, and it has a Faith’s-knife design sewn in. He’s the best.
- Now Buffy is calling Angel “honey”? That just sounds wrong. Also, are they in a relationship??
- The answer is: yes, they are in a relationship, because the writers have decided that it’s time for them to have one of those ominous talks about “the future,” as graduating high school seniors are wont to do. [This is almost my exact thought process. Wait, they’re in a relationship? Oh, I guess they are. —Nerdy Spice]
- Ugh okay, it’s not as bad as Rory Gilmore, but Buffy got into Northwestern?? With no extracurricular activities?? Did she break her cover to write an essay about killing her boyfriend to save the world, because that’s the only way this makes sense.
- Cue the abrupt introduction of “that amazing world-class college right around the corner where all the principal characters are accepted,” as Joey Potter eloquently put it. UC Sunnydale, here we come!
- But really, would it have killed them to mention that the fictional UC Sunnydale exists more than two episodes before the season finale?
- I mean, I like Buffy’s can-do energy, but isn’t there a reason they’re not “taking the fight to [the Mayor]”? Namely, that he’s invulnerable until the Ascension?
- I love how extra and un-stealthy Faith’s weapons-of-choice are. Also, her crazy Victorian corset, which is a lot, in a great way.
- Willow’s velvet maxi is, on the other hand, a lot in a bad way. [I kind of like it! I don’t know why she’s wearing it to school, but I still like it. –Nerdy Spice]
- As much as I love that pretty knife, is it really practical for slayage and bone-cutting and such? Isn’t it a little small?
- Aw, Buffy is still using Mr. Pointy!
- I love that Cordy got into lots of amazing colleges. We all know she’s brilliant, and unlike Buffy, she has extracurriculars! Non-super-secret ones!
- Ha, Willow has so little faith in Xander and Oz that she drew stick-figure diagrams of them dumping ingredients into a bowl.
- Although, to be fair, Xander literally says that if a task is so important, they shouldn’t have “left it in the hands of the laypeople,” so at least he’s realistic about his own capabilities.
- I love how silly and Mission Impossible Buffy’s plan is. Really, the box just happens to be kept directly under a skylight?
- OMG Angel, you have super strength, and Buffy weighs like two pounds. Just pull her up manually, you had one job! [Seriously, I deleted a sentence about Angel being incompetent from my episode summary because I thought my impatience with Angel’s SadFace was making me judge him unfairly. Thank you for validating me! –Nerdy Spice]
- Are the stunt doubles much more obvious now because we have higher-definition TVs? You can just straight-up see Buffy-double’s face in this fight scene.
- Uh, so I kind of agree with Wesley? I think they should try to save Willow some other way, but preventing the Ascension should be first priority. I understand the kids’ feelings, but I don’t think Giles, for example, would have gone along with this if they didn’t all despise Wesley so much.
- I’m sorry, they don’t even lock up the Books of Ascension?? What kind of supervillain operation is the Mayor running here?
- Aw, I like that Faith clearly wants Willow to beg her to come back. She just wants them to like her!
- I also love that the Mayor plants seeds of doubt in Buffy and Angel’s relationship because Faith got her feelings hurt. They’re such great, petty villains. Like Greek gods.
- Nerdy Spice is super afraid of spiders, so I knew exactly when she got to the scene where they open the box because I looked over and she was like this:
- Buffy fell on that one spider very lightly, and it was completely squashed. They don’t seem so tough. [Yeah, it’s like, all they have to do is stop drop and roll? Not exactly the Big Bad you expect in season 3 of a demon show. –Nerdy Spice]
- I also wish they’d introduced the knife earlier, so we would feel more when Faith loses it. Still pretty iconic, though.
Season 3, Episode 20 “The Prom”
Oh, I’m so glad and sad that I got this one. Years ago, back when I was wearing out my Buffy DVDs, Nerdy Spice was having a sleepover with a fellow Buffyhead and asked me, “Do you remember the episode where Buffy and Angel break up?” And I was like, “Season three, disc six, episode 20, The Prom” and she was like “Ooooookay.”
As you’ll recall, in the previous episode, Buffy and Angel not only forgot about their last seven breakups, they were so deep into coupledom that they were arguing about being in a “rut.” We continue with that retcon at the beginning of “The Prom,” where they’re waking up after spending the night together (sexlessly) and Buffy is cautiously asking Angel if they can outfit his place with some mirrors and “maybe a drawer.” Ooooh, this is getting serious!
But of course, this is Buffy and Angel we’re talking about, and they can’t let themselves be happy for more than five minutes. Angel starts to have a crisis about holding Buffy back from a normal life, which was first voiced by the Mayor in the previous episode, and this time comes from none other than Joyce, who tells him that he and Buffy are from “different worlds,” like a villain in a Nicholas Sparks novel. In all seriousness, she says she’s concerned about their relationship–which is fair! In fact, one could argue that she should have tried to stop this pedophilic relationship sooner! She says there are some “hard choices ahead,” and then lays on the mom guilt: “I know you care about her, I just hope you care enough.”
Meanwhile, the kids are getting excited for their senior prom. The Ascension is still coming, and they know from the book pages Willow stole that the Mayor will be transforming into one of the “Old Ones,” the demons that were on Earth before humans. But they still haven’t figured out how to stop it, so Wesley and Giles are a little Grinchy about the whole thing. But Buffy shuts them down, because she is determined to have “one night of glory” before they all possibly die on graduation day. Fair!
Unfortunately, Angel decides to ruin this perfectly reasonable dream. While they’re in the sewers, hunting a vampire, Buffy brings up prom and he goes completely cold. She can tell something is up, so he says “We need to talk–but not here, not now.” Oh, yeah, that’ll work. Nothing makes someone back off of an argument like heavily implying you’re about to dump them. When she presses him, he says he’s been thinking about the future, and he thinks they need to end things. “You deserve to be with someone who can bring you into the light,” he says, “someone who can make love to you.” Terrible timing and gross phrasing aside, he’s kind of right.
Buffy’s also right, though, that this whole conversation is sort of patronizing. “You think I haven’t thought about this?” she asks, offended. He responds, “Have you? Rationally?” UGH. Men should have to pay women money every time they use the word “rational.”
In the end, Buffy tells him that she’ll never have a normal life, and she has no choice but to love him. “I want my life to be with you,” she says, tearfully. “I don’t,” Angel says coldly. It’s obviously tough love, but Buffy believes it enough to accept that he’s firm in his decision. She asks how they’ll stay away from each other (acknowledging, perhaps, that none of their many breakups have ever stuck before), and he says he’s leaving town right after graduation. “Is this really happening?” she asks with tears in her eyes.
Buffy does what any teenage girl should do in this situation–talks to her best girlfriend. Willow tries to do the best friend thing and get all angry at Angel for dumping her, but Buffy just says sadly, “You don’t have to make him the bad guy,” and that she thinks he’s right. Willow hesitantly agrees, and says she must feel horrible. Buffy says it’s worse than that, and bursts into tears. “I can’t breathe, Wil,” she sobs with her head in Willow’s lap. “I feel like I can’t breathe.” Awwwww.
It’s amazing that they managed to make this breakup feel so final and heartbreaking, even though (as Nerdy Spice and I have noted), they’ve broken up approximately three gazillion times. It feels like they spent more time broken up than together this season! But I still think, in some ways, this breakup is even sadder than Buffy killing him in the second season finale, because it’s so real. It perfectly captures not just the pain, but the sheer indignity of your first heartbreak. Because who hasn’t been cruelly dumped by their first boyfriend inside of a smelly sewer a few days before prom, metaphorically speaking? [Uh, my first boyfriend dumped me out of the blue, but at least he waited till three days AFTER Valentine’s Day! –Nerdy Spice]
Buffy deals with her heartbreak in a very mature way: hunting the monsters-of-the-week, which is one of the campiest yet. It’s a hellhound that’s been trained to eat people in formalwear (although it also seems to be controlled with like, a drone remote control? Unclear). It’s so incredibly lame, but in a really endearing way. Like, we have so much pain and heartbreak this episode, it’s nice to have such a silly and easily dispatched villain.
The writers are totally in on the joke too: at one point, Willow gets nervous that they’ll all be eaten at the prom, and Oz says, “You think Buffy will let us down?” and she agrees, “Wanna enjoy some punch?” No one is even pretending this is a real threat. And then when Buffy finds the kid–Tucker, whom we’ve never met–he’s showing the hellhound teen prom movies for brainwashing purposes. Buffy asks him why he would try to ruin prom, and he says mysteriously, “I have my reasons”–cueing a dramatic cut-away flashback of Tucker asking a girl to the prom and her saying “No.” Hee!
Buffy easily overpowers the kid, but then sees that there are three other cages for hellhounds he’s already released. She runs back to school and kills one with her crossbow, and the others start to follow her away from the prom, but then are lured back by Kool and the Gang. (Heh.) Buffy follows and breaks their necks before they can even get into the gym.
If that seems like an anticlimax, it’s because Buffy’s right–these kids deserve one night of pure, corny fun. They all have a perfect prom night: Willow and Oz are cute together, the girls compliment each other’s dresses, and Xander–well, he gets the prom that he deserves. In a rare act of kindness, he buys Cordelia’s dream prom dress for her, because she recently discovered that her family is broke. Luckily, there’s no attempt at reconciliation, he just watches her wear it with Wesley (which, ew, but that’s a whole other issue). Xander takes Anya, randomly, as his date, and she bores him all night with stories about exploding men’s heads.
While they’re giving out awards, Jonathan takes the stage and asks, “Is Buffy Summers here?” When I first saw this, I thought she might randomly win prom queen or something, but it’s so much better than that. He reads a speech from the prom committee: “We’re not good friends. Most of us never found the time to get to know you, but that doesn’t mean we haven’t noticed you. We don’t talk about it much, but it’s no secret that Sunnydale High isn’t really like other high schools. A lot of weird stuff happens here… But, whenever there was a problem or something creepy happened, you seemed to show up and stop it. Most of the people here have been saved by you, or helped by you at one time or another.” OMG this is so cute. There’s no way high school kids would be this “gracious,” as Giles puts it, but I don’t even care. He finishes off with a gleeful, “We’re proud to say that the Class of ’99 has the lowest mortality rate of any graduating class in Sunnydale history!” Ha!! (Also–really??)
He presents her with a gold umbrella that says “Buffy Summers: Class Protector” (aww) while Giles looks on proudly (aww!!). Why a gold umbrella? Unclear. But it’s all so beautiful and corny and pure, I love it.
During a slow dance, Buffy is alone with her umbrella. Giles talks to her about the award, all proud and fatherly, and I honestly would have been happy if this ended with them doing a father-daughter dance. But instead, Angel walks in, wearing a tux, and guys–ten-year-old me was so happy when this happened. I didn’t even think they were getting back together, I just wanted Buffy to have her one perfect romantic moment, even if it was a sad one. “I didn’t think you’d come,” she says. “It’s a big night,” he says. “I didn’t want to miss it.” They share a sad slow dance to a very pretty cover of “White Horses,” all gazy and wistful. It’s pretty perfect.
Notes from a New Fan:
- I laughed so hard when Buffy was like “Cool, I’m gonna open the curtains now without checking what time it is first” and almost KILLED her boyfriend. So funny! But also, like… poor Angel. But ALSO, maybe don’t date a teenager when you’re 400 and can be killed by daylight, because teenagers are kinda irresponsible.
- Hey Anya, maybe you don’t have a date for the prom because you look like you’re 35 and the boys are generally looking for fellow teens?
- I confess… I laughed at Xander’s sock puppet. But I think it’s OK because he’s making fun of his own loneliness, so really, it’s like I’m laughing at him, not with him.
- I love how nervous Mrs. Buffy gets when she sees the handcuffs on the wall. Do you think it would make her feel better if Angel was like, “No, that’s just for when I feel like I need to kidnap a Slayer and convince her not to be evil anymore.”
- Wesley emerges very suspiciously from the stacks with Cordelia. Gross.
- I’m still confused about the rules of this perfect happiness thing! Almost anyone who’s ever been in love will testify that there are moments of perfect happiness all the time. Waking up together for the first time is DEFINITELY ONE OF THEM. How come that didn’t turn Angel evil? Is “perfect happiness” just, like, network TV-euphemism-speak for orgasm? [I was always so confused about that, too! They sort of clarify on Angel that orgasm isn’t sufficient, but still, it never really makes sense. –Janes]
- So… they really are breaking up now, right? Oh, who am I kidding. They’ll have forgotten all about it by next episode.
- I love how Xander pushes Cordy heroically out of the way, only to be knocked immediately on his ass by the weird demon. Great running joke.
- Sarah Michelle Gellar really gives it her all during this scene at the butcher where she runs into Angel. It is a special gift to play such an emotional scene so well against someone who’s just… staring blankly back at you.
- The hellhounds are trained by a kid who’s mad that a girl rejected him as a prom date. This show was so ahead of its time in understanding how dangerous men could be when they got turned down for a date.
- Eww! Wesley coughing when Cordelia walks in in her sexy dress! And saying his food is “very hot”! That pun is gross and Wesley is gross and he should feel bad.
- Willow looks amazing at prom! And so does Willow’s cleavage, TBH.
- Awww, Xander bought the dress for Cordelia and didn’t brag about it to anyone! I love them. I wish they stayed together forever. And not just because then we would have been spared this whole Wesley-being-a-creeper situation.
- Wait, Buffy took out the first hellhound with a crossbow… wouldn’t it have been easier for her to just take them all out with the same weapon? Confused.
- Does Xander think he’s funny? Like enough to think he’d be voted class clown? That’s so sad!
- Wait, so everyone DOES know that they live on a hellmouth? This award they give to Buffy totally makes me confused about this show’s epistemology!
- When Giles tells Wesley, “For God’s sake, she’s eighteen,” I did not expect that sentence to end with “Have at it.” But I mean, I guess it’s technically OK to date an eighteen-year-old if you don’t teach at the school?
- Angel totally ruins his big romantic gesture by unnecessarily informing Buffy that it’s “just tonight.” Smooth move.
- Oh, I like that Buffy has a matching leaf pin in her hair to go with the somewhat odd one at her bodice.
Notes from a True Stan:
- Wait, Buffy and Angel have never cuddled all night before? What else is there to do when you’re not having sex?
- It takes Buffy so long to shut the curtains when she sees it’s light out. Does she want to kill Angel? (Again?)
- I love that the writers know that bringing back Anya to be Xander’s prom date is super random, so they conveniently have Xander awkwardly exposit exactly who she is and why we should care about her.
- Anya says she wants to go to prom with Xander because he’s not “quite as obnoxious as the other Alpha males around here.” Uh, what? Has she met Xander? Then she says, “Plus I know you don’t have a date” and that makes much, much more sense.
- Anya says that she knows Xander finds her attractive because she’s seen him looking at her breasts, and he says, “Nothing personal, but when a guy does that, it just means he’s awake.” UGH. Really? This is the guy that Anya thinks is less obnoxious than the other high schoolers?
- Just in case you’d forgotten that Buffy is, at the end of the day, a high school girl, Angel finds her notebook with “Buffy & Angel 4Eva” written on it. Oh, Buffy, no.
- Buffy’s face when Angel calls their relationship a “freak show” is so heartbreaking. FU Angel.
- I think it’s admirable that Buffy doesn’t want to be angry about the breakup, but like–couldn’t he have waited until after the prom? Or better yet, until after graduation, so she wouldn’t be distracted when there’s a freaking apocalypse coming? Jerk.
- I love that Cordelia asks to zoom into the surveillance video and Xander’s like, “This is a VCR.” That joke is so ahead of its time!
- I also love that Willow’s reaction to the whole hellhound situation is, “I wonder if we can get a refund for our tickets.” Like, is that really the solution here? Just return your tickets and accept that the kids who do attend will be eaten?
- Buffy tries to be mature and cordial when she sees Angel at the butcher shop, and then stupid Angel is all googly-eyed and says, “If it means anything, I miss you.” Ugh, what a goober! You dumped her, now leave it alone!
- “I understand that this sort of thing requires… ice cream of some kind?” Giles is the best dad ever.
- Xander doesn’t deserve to be with Cordelia, but their little exchange over the dress is really cute. I’ll say it one more time: they were such an underrated couple!
- This speech brings up so many questions if you think too hard about it–why do parents keep sending their kids to this school if it has such high mortality rates? Who do they think Buffy is, and why do they all just accept that she has superpowers? It works better as a meta-wink to these plot holes, and an acknowledgment that, as we’ve said many times in these recaps, Buffy sux at keeping her identity a secret.
- We’ve been tough on Buffy’s hair this season, but the days of awkwardly bleached bangs are finally over. She looks beautiful!