Sunday, April 7, 2013

The Prom

 Season #3, Episode #20: The Prom
"I'm gonna give you all a nice, fun, normal evening if I have to kill every person on the face of the Earth to do it!"

Let me begin by saying this. The Prom is not a very good episode. Most of it is actually tedious. Not in the way that it's poorly written, but in the way that it's a necessary plot episode to drive the final nail in the coffin of the Buffy/Angel romance. 

It's been clear that Buffy and Angel won't stay together since season 2. Their relationship doesn't evolve in season 3. It stagnates. Like so many young romances, it overstays its welcome and then some, circling back to the beginning over and over despite Buffy's insistence that they're doing just fine.

Maybe it's because Angel is about 238042348 years old, but he never gave off the impression that he was confident in the longevity of their relationship. In fact, when Spike, the Mayor, Giles, Joyce, Xander, Cordelia, and the First aren't busy explaining to Buffy and Angel why their love is doomed, Angel is more than happy to take up the torch. Buffy doesn't listen, and they pretend it never happened. This was portrayed beautifully in Amends, aka the episode that makes me cry like a total sap. But episode after episode of this--true to life or not--doesn't make for good television.

With that said, The Prom is still one of my favorite Buffy episodes. It fills you with the sort of dopey goodwill that all the cynicism you've cultivated over the years just can't deny. It doesn't have anything new or deep to say, and it doesn't exhibit any of the--dare I say it--craft found in better Buffy episodes. But it has a lot of heart, and one very strategically placed Rolling Stones cover.

On with it, then!

If you need any indication that the Buffy/Angel romance has run its course, I accidentally wrote the following sentence in my notes to describe the opening scene: "Edward watches Buffy while she sleeps."

The two of them had retired to Angel's home, which I couldn't identify; is this the bedroom of his creepy graveyard lair? Or did he rent a nice studio and I just forgot about it? Buffy, tired from patrolling, passed out the night before and wakes up up with terrible bedhead. She wants to primp, but Angel reminds her that he doesn't have any mirrors. What's more, she suggests that they go to prom together, and it's like he doesn't even CARE about prom!

At Sunnydale High, Anya approaches Xander to ask him to the prom. Remember Anya? If you don't, she and Xander have an expository conversation to remind you that she was the vengeance demon from The Wish and Doppelgangland whose purpose was to wreak havoc on evil, terrible men. She lost her powers, and is now forever doomed to be a lowly mortal teenager with pesky hormones and an intense desire to go to the prom. She's noticed Xander ogling her and surmises that he might take her to the dance, asking him, "Men are evil. Will you go with me?"

Back at Angel's charming open concept apartment with hardwood floors, he discovers a notebook that Buffy left behind on which she drew "Buffy and Angel 4ever!"

Believe it or not, but I was in high school once too. And while I remember very little, I do remember writing song lyrics in the margins of my notes and practice tattoos on myself because I just had a lot of emotions. But it seems peculiar, though maybe not unheard of, for a high school senior to write "Buffy and Angel 4ever!!" on her notebook, let alone Buffy, who not one year ago stabbed Angel and pushed him through a hell vortex.

Joyce makes a surprise visit to tell Angel what so many have told him before--Buffy and Angel are not 4ever. Angel is not averse to this intervention--ever stalwart and true, he knows what's best for Buffy and doesn't want to stand in her way. Plus, as he says, "I'm old enough to be her ancestor."

Back at the library, much to Giles's dismay, all the Scoobies can talk about are their prom get-ups. Willow probably says something about wearing a knit sweater with pom poms and some nice OshKosh B'Gosh overalls; Buffy bought a pink dress that is going to make Angel "lose it." Not the best phrasing.

In stark contrast with Buffy's obliviousness, we cut to Angel having a Dream of Great Metaphoric Significance that Buffy/Angel shippers across the world have probably screencapped within an inch of its life and hung the prints all over their walls. He and Buffy are in a chapel having a very traditional wedding, although it appears nobody showed up, but hey, nobody's wedding is perfect.


At least Buffy is wearing an awesome wedding dress! Which, when they exit the chapel, bursts into flame, along with Buffy. Again I say that nobody's wedding is perfect!

That night, Buffy and Angel patrol in the sewers--the perfect setting for a serious relationship talk! You see, it isn't just that all of their romantic moments have to take place in the dead of night in a sewer. It's that they can never have children. Or do any of the things Buffy will want to do once she is not so obsessed with prom. Angel breaks it to Buffy once and for all that they can't be together, but as long as they're both still around, they can't stay apart. Once the Mayor's ascension is thwarted, Angel is going to leave town and pursue his lifelong dream of starring in a Buffy spin-off.

Buffy turns to Willow for post-breakup support. And I'll admit it. The scenes of Buffy grappling with the breakup get to me, the way Amends got to me. It's because Sarah Michelle Gellar is sooo good. She is so good at crying. Every time she cries, just forget it.


But more than that, there's something affecting about these tried and true romances when executed well. I wrote about this back in my recap of Angel; there's nothing groundbreaking about a stock romance, not even if it's complicated by demons and slayers. Angel is more or less a cardboard cutout before he gets his own show. Buffy has outgrown the kind of childish loyalty to their doomed romance by now. But somehow it just works. For better or worse, it speaks to the part of you that was socialized as a young child to believe in these kinds of stories.

Xander goes tuxedo shopping and spots Cordelia still pining over the same beautiful dress from Earshot. Only before he can get any quips in about her shopping addiction, he discovers that she's actually a shopgirl. Her dad got busted for tax evasion and her family lost everything--their house, their ability to send Cordelia to college, and money for a prom dress. Xander pauses to process this dramatic turn of events, and gets mauled by a hellhound. Wait, what? I think I looked away for a second and missed something.


With some help from Cordelia's knowledge of fashion and the security camera footage of the store, the Scoobies realize that the hellhound went after somebody in formal wear. The culprit, caught on film, is Tucker, a Sunnydale High student we have never heard of and of whom we will never hear again. They put two and two together and figure out that he is training these hellhounds to attack kids at the prom. While some less creative types may just choose to cancel the prom, Buffy rejects this failure of imagination. She's going to give Sunnydale High a prom--a really good one! Even if it means she has to kill everyone in the world!!

I'm no psychologist, but one MIGHT say that Buffy is deflecting. She wanted the prom to be her one perfect high school moment--all of her birthdays have sucked, Homecoming was a wash, and her graduation day will be spent fighting the Mayor during his ascension. But if she can't be with Angel at the prom, she'll focus her energies into making sure the rest of her class can enjoy the prom for her. Buffy expresses this to Giles, bravely making her way through dialogue such as: "Should I tell them they can't spend tonight with their honeys, of all nights?"


Giles and Wesley are chaperones, and Xander has agreed to take Anya. Buffy quite aggressively sends them all off to the prom with the promise that she's totally got this. She is on her own by design, if only to cover up the fact that so much of the reason she's alone is out of her hands.

She tracks down Tucker's hellhound warehouse where she discovers he locked them all in cages and forced them to watch high school movies about prom to train them to attack teenagers in formal wear. And why would a seemingly normal teenager resort to such drastic measures? When Buffy asks him, we get a hilarious (but dark) five-second flashback to Tucker asking a girl to the prom and getting rejected.

Buffy chases after the hellhounds, who have already been dispatched to the high school. She takes one for the team by getting the beasts to chase after her and away from the school, but the moment they hear "Celebrate" playing in the distance, they go crazy and run back.

Buffy dispenses of the hellhounds easily. The monster factor in The Prom is a bit of a red herring--in fact, the only part of the episode that anybody cares about or remembers doesn't begin until Buffy turns up at the prom in her pink dress that will make Angel lose it.

She asks Willow and Oz how the prom has been so far, to which Oz responds, "Strangely affecting. I got all teared up when they played We Are Family." "Strangely affecting" may be the perfect way to describe this episode.

Take the next scene, for example. After the prom committee presents all the class awards and ostensibly crowns the king and queen, Jonathan goes up to the mic, lowers it by about two feet, and announces that they have one more award to give out. It's a new category; there were a lot of write-in votes. He asks if Buffy Summers is in the audience, and gives the following speech, which I present to you in its full glory:

"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 like other high schools. A lot of weird stuff happens here. (Zombies! Hyena people! Snyder!) 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. We're proud to say that the class of '99 has the lowest mortality rate of any class in Sunnydale History! And we know at least part of that is because of you. So the senior class offers its thanks and gives you this...It's from all of us. And it has written here: 'Buffy Summers--Class Protector.'"

Jonathan then presents her with pink sparkly umbrella that will totes make Angel lose it.

It's such a high school movie moment--the kind that would make the hellhounds flip--but there's a reason why those moments are so strangely affecting. It's the same reason the Buffy/Angel romance is so strangely affecting. It's wish fulfillment. It's the idea of a transcendent moment in time, and a sense of closure. These moments rarely if ever occur in real life. Buffy certainly never thought she'd get her perfect high school moment. She's not voted the Prom Queen, and she doesn't get a makeover and win over the heart of the quarterback. For a Slayer, this is the perfect high school moment.

And if that wasn't enough, she gets that sense of closure, too. Angel turns up at the prom, tux and all, for one final slow dance. Part of me wishes this were his last scene on the show. They say enough to one another to show that they understand he has to leave, without belaboring the point. And then they dance in silence to The Sundays' cover of "Wild Horses." And then the credits roll. And I'm not crying, you're crying!!

Favorite moment: Not my favorite moment, but a bonus moment!

Cordelia leaves the shop for the night and finds out that her dress has been bought and paid for by Xander. This may be the first instance that I've ever felt compelled to write, "Awwww, nicely done Xander!"

She turns up at the prom in said dress looking so super hot. This does not go unnoticed by Wesley, who clumsily asks Giles if it would be wildly inappropriate if he asked Cordelia to dance. Giles responds in a way that only he could, "For God's sake man, she's 18. And you have the emotional maturity of a blueberry scone."


  1. I'm over here because your sister is in my LIS class, and we were talking about Buffy.

    1) I watched all of Buffy in one semester with my friends, and I feel like these are exactly the things that we talked about.

    2) I really did tear up with the Class Protector part, because not only did they actually acknowledge that crazy stuff goes down on a regular basis, but that she gets an honorable mention for being awesome.

    3) Your link is being shared on my FB to all of my Buffy people as we speak.

  2. I can't believe they did the breakup in the first third of the episode DDD: also wtf what am I going to root for now, I didn't really care about anyone else's relationships. WHO'S GOING TO BE MY OTP NOW
    Also who put that coconut with limbs in such a flimsy cage. You had one job. The following shop mauling was some amazingly terrible acting.
    Oh Giles and his ice cream line ;_; I can't believe Buffy dissed Kool and the Gang. Though maybe in the '90s it was cool to hate on the '80s. I love how Buffy's prom dress, that was pulled out of a bag, was the kind of nightmare fabric that would never not look wrinkled. Well played.
    The Tackiest Trophy in the World didn't actually have a plate with 'Buffy Summers: Class Protector', because the first line was a lot longer than the second.