Like Season Two, we begin the third season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer with the world turned upside down for Buffy’s friends, with Willow, Xander and Oz trying to cope with life without her. They are a haphazard substitute for a slayer, but they are doing their best. Hope keeps them going, with Willow’s “past tense rule” showing her refusal to accept that Buffy is gone. Meanwhile, hope springs eternal at the start of the new school year, with Xander and Cordelia expecting fireworks when they reunite, and a great little cameo appearance from Larry:
“If we can focus, keep disciplined, and not have quite so many mysterious deaths, Sunnydale is gonna rule!”
This has never been a show that has shied away from acknowledging the inevitable silliness that comes with the central concept, and celebrating it with humour. Also clinging on to hope is Giles, who has made many failed trips to try to find Buffy, and has to report his latest failure to Joyce, who is still a monster of a mother, deflecting her own failings onto Giles:
“Joyce, you mustn’t blame yourself for her leaving.”
“I don’t. I blame you.”
While all this is going on, Buffy is trying to lose herself in a big city, becoming a nobody, or at least a somebody else, and there she meets a familiar face from the past, an expert of sorts in becoming somebody else herself: Chanterelle from Lie to Me, now going under the name of Lily.
This episode feels a bit off. It’s not what we are used to, but that’s kind of the point. Joss Whedon is great at taking a metaphor and translating it to the literal, using that to explore emotions. So here we have the idea of young people “getting old fast” when they have to grow up quickly, and trying to become a nobody in a big city, and that becomes literal rapid ageing, with cruel brainwashing so people go around saying “I’m no-one”. We see what those ideas really mean, when taken to their logical extremes.
Buffy’s predicament is also explored by comparison with Lily, a mirror character. Again, we see what it really means to be in the kind of situation Buffy thinks she is in. Lily genuinely doesn’t have a family to go back to. We don’t get the details, but her refusal even to say her own name indicates that there is a traumatic past that has to remain locked away in order for her to survive mentally. She truly is helpless in a big city, and not good at looking after herself, making her vulnerable to a predatory man. Buffy thinks she has to live the same kind of life as Lily, changing her name and becoming a nobody in a big city, but the comparison shows that she is actually nothing like her at all. She is not helpless, but is more than capable of looking after herself. Most importantly, her past doesn’t need to stay locked away in order for her to survive. She does have somewhere to go.
This is where the episode ending really messes up, because that somewhere should absolutely not be Joyce’s door. It’s so much more than that abject failure of a mother deserves, and a teenage girl would take her mother’s parting words so literally that I don’t buy her return one bit. Maybe if there were no alternative, but there is. Buffy has a wonderful support network she can turn to, and the episode could have ended much more credibly with Buffy turning up at the door of Giles or Willow. Either could have provided her with a roof over her head, and a fresh start among friends. Instead, she goes back to the woman who not so long ago rejected her daughter when she confided in her that she was in physical danger from the man whom Joyce had invited into their home; she goes back to the woman who couldn’t deal with not being the protector of her daughter, and couldn’t deal with the truth of her daughter’s real life, having turned a blind eye to the blood on her clothes because she didn’t want to acknowledge what was happening; she goes back to the woman who told her never to return. They hug, and a problem is resolved without the solution being earned in any way. The terrible mother gets a free pass. In the fallout from this relationship breakdown and reconciliation, the key challenge for Joss Whedon will be as follows: how can Joyce be redeemed as a mother? RP
The view from the Sunnydale Press…
Season two ended with a strong finale and really showcased the writing of the show. It had already proven to be daring by expelling Buffy from school and having her kicked out of her home, hospitalizing Willow and Xander and ultimately killing Angel; all surprising moves that really amazed me. This show had evolved greatly in just two seasons. Anne comes along and offers us a chance to see Buffy out of her element while her friends miss her. The show does pull the same stunt as last season; the big finale conveniently comes at the end of a school year so Buffy’s absence is no different for her friends barring that no one knows where she is. For the rest of the school, it’s business as usual with all the kids returning from summer break. But that’s little more than a plot contrivance to make the audience feel more connected with the material and I can actually get behind that.
To open up the story, Xander, Willow and Oz are out hunting vampires and before I have a chance to make fun of the idiocy of acrobatic vampires, Xander comments that their latest vampire was on the gymnastics team. As if that didn’t make me laugh enough, Oz preps a serious bad-ass stake-throw only for it to fail to hit its target so epically that the noise of it hitting the gravestone nearly put me down for 10 whole minutes. So while we’re back with a serious episode, Whedon takes a few minutes to remind me that we are here to have fun. Then he kicks us in the gut with his focus on homelessness. Whedon is a master when it comes to demonizing social plights and I mean that literally. Homelessness in this part of LA is the result of demons who clearly have a thing for communism, if the hammer and sickle is anything to go by. (I’m certain there was a symbolic message but I didn’t spend enough time trying to think it through.) And in fairness, it’s a clever idea because we get to look at real life social issues under the safety blanket of a fantasy, but it’s no less depressing even with the fantasy. We are seeing so many people who are genuinely lost that has to strike a chord with the viewer. For Buffy (going by Anne while living away from home) to actually be among them just brings the reality that much closer to home. And it won’t be until Buffy can save others that she in turn saves herself and allows herself to go home.
That’s not to say there aren’t silly moments that still make my head hurt. The cold relationship between Xander and Cordelia finally goes away when Xander is fighting a vampire. The vampire has Xander pinned but Xander has a stake against the creature’s chest. Cordelia falls into them forcing the stake through the vampire who promptly explodes into dust leaving Cordelia on top of Xander. So sweet… but where’s the stake? Isn’t that now in danger of killing Cordelia? Sorry, but I do think about these things. Even if you establish that the vampire conveniently bursts into dust, that doesn’t mean the stake goes with him. (Or Kendra wouldn’t have had a lucky stake to name!) And why do people in California all drive with their heads down? When Buffy is hit by a car, the driver says “I didn’t even see you”, but there was a man standing stock still before Buffy saves him, so my only guess is the man was reading a book while driving. But the biggest offense for me was the demon saying that every day in the real world means 100 years goes by in his. I had to take this as an attempt by the demon to upset Buffy, otherwise the demon leaves his world and wouldn’t come back to see anyone he knows. (Not to mention the other way round. I didn’t do the math but Buffy was in the world for at least a few hours, I’d say, so how much time goes by on Earth?) No, you can’t drop an idea like that without thinking it through so I say that it meant nothing and he was just trying to get under Buffy’s skin. Unfortunately then that means that Ricky might still be alive and just forgotten. Probably not worth thinking about… Just enjoy the story for what it is.
Julia Lee returns after last season’s Lie To Me as the same character. She is a sad girl, though, who floats sadly through life, always looking for someone to take care of her. (She looked lovely in both episodes, but far more so in this one and I was sort of hoping to see her become a regular!) This just further impresses me because the show really did need time to establish its own history before it could start using it and nothing seems to be forgotten. I absolutely love this sort of world building. There’s evidence of it throughout this episode too. Cordelia says Xander “probably met up with some hot little Inca Mummy Girl” once again establishing that everything counts.
“It’s probably faster if we split up.”
“Ok. Can I come with you?”
The dialogue is still marvelous and even without the group being together, I can’t help but love the cast. I’m glad Buffy comes home at the end of the episode so things can return to normal but I also can’t help but wonder what Joyce’s words might do to Giles, when she tells him she blames him for Buffy’s absence. If we know Giles, he will take her words to heart. Will Giles let it go as the anger of a grieving mother or will he take action? And if he does, the next episode might kill the party. ML
Read next in the Junkyard… Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Dead Man’s Party
Things returning to normal for Buffy as the cast and the show grow older can be a most relevant issue. I know that Whedon had some frustrating issues with the network, as most producers can inevitably have with networks. The drama with Joyce, as a mother who must come to terms with her child’s specialness and behaves quite badly, just like how Bobby’s family badly behaved in X2: X-Men United, has become a most hardcore sci-fi drama that can make us all seriously reevaluate our truest family values. So I’m glad that Whedon’s best intentions for Buffy, whether it was how the supernatural elements would be metaphorical messages for the adolescent dramas or for the serious realism in good vs evil, had shone the brightest for the series’ prime. Thank you both for your reviews.
LikeLiked by 3 people