Sunday, April 28, 2013

Graduation Day Pt. 2

Season #3, Episode #22: Graduation Day Pt. 2
 
"My God. He's going to do the entire speech."

Another year, another season finale. I'll take some time to reflect on the season at the end of the recap, but I can't help but get all sappy right up front.

The first time I watched Buffy, I was sitting on my best friend's couch delighting in this newfangled thing called "Netflix streaming." I was immediately hooked and watched the rest of the series on Youtube in 10 minute installments. To evade Youtube's copyright policy, the uploader flipped each video, so I watched the mirror image of Buffy. Certainly not the ideal way to watch...anything at all, but it did the trick.

Youtube-watching Rose hated Faith but found Season 3 enthralling. DVD-watching Rose is bored by Faith and found the last third of Season 3 boring. After Bad Girls, the show forgets its ensemble cast, its setting, and its humor. Once you already know what's going to happen with the Ascension, there's little else to keep you around.

With that said, Graduation Pt. 2 thrilled me just like the first time, and actually improved on my recollection. We pick up right where we left off with Buffy and her bloody knife on the roof. The Mayor turns up just as she climbs down a fire escape and tells his lackeys to stop preparing for the Ascension and find Faith. It's the first time we see a break in his facade as he repeats to himself over and over, "She'll be all right." This scene takes place in one long tracking shot--the first of several in the episode. This finale is more cinematic than most episodes, right down to the music, which has shed all vestiges of Season 1 cheesiness. It is downright scary.


Willow tends to sweaty Angel and his wound, only something about her gentle touch makes Angel think she's Buffy. He kisses her hand and goes on about how he was wrong and he can never leave her, which is much funnier than it's meant to be.


When actual Buffy turns up at his bedside--Angel asks, just to be sure--things are far less humorous. She takes off her leather jacket, looks him in the eye, and says, "DRINK ME." When he refuses, she naturally punches him in the face over and over until he becomes his vampirey self and goes for the jugular.

I always remembered this plot invention that Buffy would have to offer up her own blood to save Angel as being really Twilight-esque and silly. But the scene plays much creepier than I remembered, what with the punching and jarring visual of her struggling underneath Angel, kicking a table into the fire, and then passing out, all while he continues feeding. Buffy may love its teen romances, but it never shies away from portraying how abusive and unhealthy they can be.


Of course, when Angel comes to his senses, he rushes Buffy to the hospital. In one long tracking shot, we follow Angel as he entreaties the doctor to save Buffy and runs to the phone, and then into Faith's hospital room, where the Mayor is watching over her. The doctor tells him that it's unlikely she will ever regain consciousness. When he overhears the nurse talking about another young girl with massive blood loss, he puts two and two together and goes over to Buffy's room to try to suffocate her. All in one tracking shot! It's striking.



Luckily, Angel turns up in the nick of time to pull the Mayor away. But the trouble doesn't end there. He's come undone at the seams and is more excited than ever about eating Buffy at graduation. What's more, when the Scoobies turn up, they're none too pleased with Angel that he drank Buffy's blood. If we didn't already have thousands of other reasons why Angel can't stay in Sunnydale, here's one more.

Buffy has a feverish hospital dream that takes place in Faith's apartment. First of all, a precious, adorable kitten jumps on the bed and is soooo cute!
 

Faith speaks in riddles about Little Miss Muffet and 7-3-0. They have a dream dialogue that makes hazy sense--things about scars fading, and a guiding higher power. Faith tells Buffy that even "he" has human weakness, referring to the Mayor. The many boxes in the apartment belong to Buffy, according to Faith. And if she can't take all of it, she should just take what she needs. This dream brings Buffy back to consciousness, but not Faith.


Buffy includes many dream sequences, and there are no hard-and-fast rules about what they mean. Sometimes, a character can actually appear in another's dream, a la Buffy and Angel in Amends. Sometimes, dreams are premonitions; sometimes they're just dreams. There's no indication one way or another whether or not Buffy and Faith are truly meeting in the subconscious, but considering that Buffy just put Faith in a coma, it seems strange that she would be so helpful.

Without engaging in a full-on dream analysis, I will speculate. One MIGHT say that this dream isn't just giving Buffy space to figure out how to defeat the Mayor and also dropping hints about stuff from Season 5. One MIGHT look at all of the boxes of belongings in Faith home, and Faith's gesture that Buffy can take what she needs and leave the rest behind, as an invitation for Buffy to absorb the parts of the shadow slayer that will help and leave the baggage. Buffy tried to kill a human, but she doesn't have to end up like Faith. She's not going to be the same, but she's going to wake up.

But anyway! Buffy finds the rest of the Scoobies and tells them she is ready for war. The gang heads back to the library to discuss Buffy's plan to thwart the Ascension. Cleverly, the scene begins in the middle of the conversation, so the details of Buffy's plan are a mystery to the audience. All we can tell is that the Scoobies find it totally crazy (though not as crazy as Oz's plan to attack the Mayor with hummus), and that it hinges on Xander, which seems...impractical.


Next we get a plan execution montage! Not only do we watch the Scoobies fretting and bustling about, but we also see the Mayor giving his vampire army their marching orders. Giles discovers some loophole in the Ascension that will allow for Angel to fight outside during the daytime. The Mayor directs the vampires not to swear. Xander and Willow go to talk with Harmony and Percy in private. But what about???


[God bless America?]

We pause the war games for a personal moment between Wesley and Cordelia. Touchingly, Wesley came back to Sunnydale despite Buffy quitting the Council because he just wants to help. He tells Cordelia that he's heading back to England unless there's something back in Sunnydale worth staying for. The music swells, they kiss, and...it's terrible. They try again--still terrible. "Good luck in England!" Cordelia tells him.


Theirs is not the only romance ending in this episode. Angel tells Buffy that if they beat the Ascension, he's just going to leave without saying goodbye. It'll just be too hard once he sees those baby blues to commit to leaving. He couldn't even stand the thought of leaving when he mistook Willow for Buffy, after all.

Finally, it's graduation! The moment we've all dreaded. The Mayor goes up to the podium to give the speech he's spent 100 years writing and which he plans to read in its entirety. At the conclusion, the moon eclipses the sun, the Mayor writhes in pain, and a giant snake-like dinosaur emerges from his body. Not too dissimilar from some graduations I've attended btw.


The students of Sunnydale High stand up in terror, but then, in what is certainly the coolest moment of the episode, and possibly the season, they all rip off their graduation robes to reveal an assortment of weapons. Xander acts as their army commander using residual knowledge from Halloween. Reinforcements in the form of Angel, Wesley, and some assorted randos turn up to fend off the vampire army.


And touching though it is to see the seniors of Sunnydale High finally stand with Buffy--a continuation of their thanks to her in The Prom--there's still a body count. Larry the jock gets his neck snapped, and Harmony falls prey to a vampire. Worst/best of all, the Mayor eats Principal Snyder, who just found all of this Ascension business out of order.

But the grand finale of Buffy's plan necessitates that she be alone with the Mayor. In her dream, Faith told her to go after his human weakness--his fatherly love. She shows him the knife that he gave Faith, which Buffy used to stab her. When he chases her into the library, he meets a mountain of dynamite. "Well gosh," he says, before being blown up by Giles.



 The library :(


The Ascension is over and Sunnydale is safe, but the library is gone. The library! The inner sanctum! They blew it into pieces. It's a bold way to signal the end of an era, but definitely too bold considering the drastic decrease in quality once we get to Season 4. Might've wanted to keep that library around, that's all I'm saying.

Buffy wanders around in the wreckage, her diploma in hand. And despite the fact that Angel said he wasn't going to say goodbye, he appears in the distance, gives her a meaningful look, and then walks away through the fog.


Back to my babbling about the overall series. If the back half of Season 3 didn't hold up, the Buffy/Angel arc hit me much harder than I ever would have thought the second time around. Is it because I've now watched Angel and come to love the brooding, shirtless yoga loving Liam almost as much as I love Buffy? Partly. But his characterization on Buffy--sketchy though it may be--stands on its own. I still believe the Angelus arc in Season 2 is the best thing on the show, period.

Back in Season 2, Angelus was an omnipresent threat, even when he didn't appear in an episode. The writers were able to create a sense of menace while still focusing their energies on the core of the show: the Scoobies. Season 3 devotes too much of its energy trying with all this Faith/Mayor stuff at the exclusion of pretty much everything else. (There are 5 Angelus-centric episodes, and 8 Faith-centric episodes.) The only thing that happens with any of the other characters is that Oz and Willow finally get it on, and Buffy and Angel have the same fight over and over. After this season, Buffy is fairly separate from the rest of the group, and the characters only grow more isolated from one another.

But Graduation Day Pt. 2 ends with one final scene of togetherness, made all the more bittersweet by the fact that it is Cordelia's last episode. Buffy, Xander, Cordelia, Willow, and Oz stand in the shadow of the newly blown-up Sunnydale High. Oz asks them to take a moment to reflect on the fact that they survived. Not the battle with the Mayor--they survived high school. Not an easy feat at any school, let alone one located on the Hellmouth. They pause, and then walk away, exhausted and unimpressed. An irreverent end of an era.


In lieu of a favorite moment, I'll take this space to put in another plug for Angel. If you haven't given it a shot, reconsider! It's where Buffy characters go to get real character arcs!

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