After a run of four high quality episodes to start the season, Homecoming feels like a throwback to Season One. Cordelia is social networking, literally buying votes in an attempt to become Homecoming Queen, Buffy is getting upset about not having a normal life, and a bunch of easily defeated villains have arrived in town with grand plans.
It’s all a bit silly and same-old-same-old, so let’s ignore all that and instead focus on three bits of big news this episode: the debut of the character of the Mayor, Buffy’s breakup with Scott, and that kiss.
We have been waiting to see the Mayor and his first appearance doesn’t disappoint. The air of menace he has is communicated well by the reactions of his deputy, who is clearly terrified of angering him accidentally. The Mayor is eccentric in a dangerous way, stopping to focus on the condition of his employee’s hands as if that’s every bit as important as recruiting Mr Trick to his cause and might similarly become a life or death issue. In this season of unoriginal villains (as we discussed before, Trick is a watered down version of Spike), it looks like we’ve just been introduced to a very original Big Bad worth watching.
Buffy’s breakup with Scott comes as a relief, although the slight humiliation of a boring boyfriend like him being the one to walk away from the strong and beautiful Buffy is unpleasant to watch. It’s ironic that an actor named Fab managed to portray Buffy’s love interest with the least personality. But it brings to an end a story that never quite worked and was increasingly hard to believe. With the love of Buffy’s life now returned (bearing in mind that Angel is not Angelus), the idea of her still continuing her half-hearted relationship with a “nice, sold guy” (yawn) was starting to strain credulity to breaking point.
Finally we have the really big news, a prime example of being careful what you wish for, both for the characters and the viewers: the kiss between Willow and Xander. We have been waiting for this for two seasons, and when we finally get what we wanted it feels all wrong. It’s all about the timing. If that’s not right, then the moment of triumph is tainted, and this is most definitely bad timing. Oz is an all-round nice guy and Cordelia is certainly not somebody we want to see getting emotionally broken. She confides in Buffy about falling in love with Xander, and she has good qualities we can admire now. The episode is structured to remind us of that, with Cordelia mustering up all her good qualities to step into Faith’s shoes and be the equal of Buffy against the forces of evil, even if those forces of evil are on the tamer end of the scale.
People are going to get hurt, and we can see how things are shaping up here. Buffy keeping Angel a secret is going to hurt people. Xander and Willow cheating on their respective partners is going to hurt people even more. It’s a lesson in how people with the best intentions can end up doing emotional damage to the people they love, and there’s not always anyone to blame for messy situations like this. How could Xander and Willow not have kissed in that heightened moment? They were slaves to pent up emotions going back years. How could Buffy not keep Angel’s return a secret, knowing what he did to Giles in particular, and the likelihood of at least one of her friends picking up the nearest piece of sharp wood and heading off to send him back to where he came from? It didn’t take too many episodes this season for the gang to all achieve a comfortable level of stability, a picture of a group of strong, resourceful people, largely content in their relationships. Now, that contentment is heading for a meltdown. If there’s one thing Buffy always shows us about life, it’s this: things get messy. RP
The view from the Sunnydale Press…
So, about what I initially said about Buffy, I’ve realized I was wrong. Buffy The Vampire Slayer might be a series with some fun but occasionally goofy characters, but it’s not a silly series overall. In fact, it’s proven to frequently be very serious, tackling adult subjects bravely while dressing it up in the robes of fiction. I realize in just three seasons, I’ve come to accept the series. And that’s important to acknowledge now, because this episode deals with acceptance. It also deals with the fact that Buffy and her friends are seniors, on the cusp of a major life change. There’s uncertainty, anxiety, and a very real insecurity about the future; will the friends stay together? The end of High School is a time where people go off on new adventures, not always with the same people they had been with before. Buffy recently lost her boyfriend only to find him returned but the hurt of what happened between them lingers. She also loses her current boyfriend, Scott, who feels she’s no longer fun to be with. She’s looking around the school for positive reinforcement from teachers and finds that even her favorite teacher doesn’t remember who she is. She turns to her classmates to vote for her as Prom Queen but finds not only a poor reception there, but rivalry with one of her closest friends. The rivalry brings the entire gang into the drama as well as their loyalties called into question. Beyond Buffy, Cordelia is also looking for acceptance, afraid that her friendship with Buffy and friends has weakened her relationship with the “cool kids” and she wants one more chance to be at the top of her game. Xander and Willow finally connect but both still love their significant others, Cordelia and Oz, respectively. Amazingly, all of this makes up the bulk of the episode and frankly it was the more interesting part. Slayerfest ’98, while enjoyable, was almost a distraction. And that’s saying something!
I did say “almost”, didn’t I? While I want to focus on the emotions of the characters, I can’t ignore that the battle royale is both silly and loads of fun. It’s evident that the comedy will come from this part of the episode when Mr. Trick is giving his warm up speech to the Texan, the Germans, the technician and the “spiny headed looking creature”. I instantly remember the Texan, Lyle Gorch, from Bad Eggs and chuckled because I loved the way he escaped the last time. To have them perfectly recapture that with Cordelia was fantastic. “Later!” But what may have been one of the most marvelous moments in the entire run so far is when that spiney headed looking creature is trying to escape a building right after a grenade lands inside. He leaps through a door (or was it a window? I was laughing too hard to really notice or care) only to find it barricaded. He falls back on top of the grenade and has just enough time to look at it before it detonates. Tears of laughter were streaming down my face. The plan to get Buffy and Faith together fails and even with only one Slayer and a ditz, the bad guys lose! Surely together Buffy and Cordelia are a force to be reckoned with. Except when they go back to school and find a tie has been called for the Prom Queen, neither of them win. It’s a moment that defies expectation and it works brilliantly. Shows like this prime us to expect the win to go to the two heroes, but that’s not the way it works. They are heroes in the dark, not to be put on parade. As Buffy says “this is all my life is”, which neatly brings us back to the theme of finding oneself. But what the character doesn’t know is what the viewer sees: our prom queens are the heroes of the show. There’s nothing to be upset about: Buffy and Cordelia are our heroes. But sadly, the characters don’t get to enjoy that and so they continue to search for meaning.
The episode also marks the first time we meet the Mayor. And talk about subverting expectations there too! I expected something inhuman. Nope! Regular guy; he even has a name: Richard Wilkins. I expected him to stab his aide in the hand, since there’s a sharp letter opener on the desk. Nope. Just recommends cleaning them better! Kudos for doing the unexpected, I say. The writers are impressing me week after week now! As mentioned before, we finally see Willow and Xander get together but at this point, it hurts because we’ve grown to like their other halves. Oz is a really good guy. The writers have built him up that way. He’s a werewolf and has stayed back a year in school and is part of Willow’s world; he belongs with her. I didn’t want her cheating on Oz, no matter how much the show pushed us that way before. Xander is cheating on Cordelia! I find this hard to believe; I mean if nothing more, she proved to know the Vulcan Death Grip…. Well, perhaps know “of” the Vulcan Death Grip, since she performed it a bit inaccurately. “We’ve got to get out of these clothes!” Yeah, the show still can make us laugh even during trying times, and I don’t know how I want this storyline to play out. Can it remain a fluke, never mentioned to the others? I can’t see it. The series does too good a job building plots. (Didn’t see me being the one to say that just a season ago, eh?)
That’s not to say I’m not still bothered by things in the show. After the school is shot up, people are back the next day. The only thing I can assume is that with the Mayor and Principal Snyder, being aware of the strange occurrences, take care of collateral damage before it’s noticed. But it’s still a tough ask! But it does make me wonder what is planned for the future. The Mayor made a deal with Mr. Trick! That can’t be good. And what happened to the tech-guy? Is he going to be back? Will Buffy tell the others about Angel? Will Xander and Willow confess what they did? Why am I more concerned about that than the monsters? When did I trade in mind candy for heart candy anyway? If they do tell, there may not be enough heart candy to keep the band together. That would be monstrous!! ML
Read next in the Junkyard… Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Band Candy