Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Choices

There are lots of choices we have to face in life, some of which are potentially life-changing, and possibly the most important of all is what we do when we finish school. Whatever we choose to do, we will probably end up looking back and wondering what other path our life might have taken. That’s inevitable, whether we made the right decision on not. Even if we ended up happy, there’s always that nagging thought that things could have been even better if we had taken that alternative fork in the road. If things didn’t work out so well, then the regrets can be overwhelming.

I had a job ready and waiting for me, but could also have gone to university instead. In the end, I think I made the right choice, but nobody can ever know for sure. Buffy faces a similar situation, although the job she is thinking about leaving behind is a bit more important than mine was, because she saves people’s lives. Luckily there is a compromise available to her, because Sunnydale does have its own university, and it takes Willow to put things in perspective for Buffy. She has even greater opportunities, because she can get into just about any university in the world, but she comes to an important understanding:

“I just realised that’s what I want to do: fight evil, help people.”

Willow’s character development throughout this whole show is probably the most dramatic, when you take into account her starting point as a nervous, bookish, nerdy girl. Remarkably, it’s also entirely realistic as a reflection of how external influences can affect somebody. So many shows are run by writers who decide the personalities of their main characters at the start, and then they are set in stone. Even the best of television series do this. Let’s take another of my favourites, Friends. Joey starts the show as a womanising, struggling actor who is a bit stupid. That’s how he ends the show, ten years later. I could provide similar summaries for the others: Phoebe remains ditzy for a decade, Ross is always neurotic and nerdy, Chandler is always the joker, Monica is a control freak, Rachel is… well, Rachel. There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s the way things are normally done in television shows. But it puts in perspective how amazing Willow’s journey is. Look at where she started, and without spoiling where she ends up we can already see how her personality has changed almost entirely, and that’s normal for all of us as we grow older, not just somebody living in such extreme circumstances as Willow. If you wrote a summary of Willow’s character traits in this episode and compared it to one at the start of the first season, you would struggle to find any words that apply to both.

So when Willow is captured by Faith and the Mayor, everyone else thinks they have to choose between risking the lives of thousands by trading a box full of spider monsters for their friend, or letting her die. They are wrong, of course. Willow nearly escapes before they do the trade, and would probably have escaped again, despite her recapture. She’s so capable now that she can stake an attacking vampire with a floating pencil. Only her curiosity gets the better of her, and at first I thought that was a bit contrived, but Alyson Hannigan sells it well because Willow is like a kid in a candy shop with the Books of Ascension, she probably realises she could save the world by risking her life, and is now confident enough to take risks like that. She is no longer the quiet girl who whimpered when Spike was threatening her as his captive. Now she can face off against Faith and actually baits her.

This is an alarming moment, because we now know that Faith is a murderer, and when she’s holding a knife to Willow’s throat it’s a very real threat. Her first victim was accidental. Her second was a demon, albeit an apparently harmless one. But in this episode she casually murders the courier who is delivering the box of creepy crawlies. She also doesn’t seem in the least bit bothered about it, which is perhaps a step too far and too fast in terms of character development, as she was clearly troubled by the demon killing a couple of weeks ago. At least she does look doubtful when she realises what’s inside the box, and it makes sense in terms of a young lady who is desperate to impress her surrogate father, the only comfort she has in her life.

Nearly everyone gets a significant moment in this episode. We learn that Cordelia is no longer the rich girl, and is now looking longingly at the dresses she has to sell in her job as a shop assistant, which is a reminder that not everyone has choices to make when they leave school. Some teenagers have to follow the only course that’s available to them in order to survive. Similarly, Xander really doesn’t have much of a choice. He can’t get into university, so his plans to travel around a bit are probably little more than delaying a decision he doesn’t want to face. Ironically, he’s the only one planning to leave, despite being the one with the least opportunities, both academically and financially. Meanwhile, the inhumanly calm Oz shows that he’s human after all, smashing a cauldron across the library to stop everyone arguing and make them focus on the job of saving his girlfriend. He doesn’t even need to say anything.

We are left with the hint of one more important choice to come, because the Mayor’s comments about Angel and Buffy’s relationship struck a chord. They end the episode by saying they’ll be OK, but the look on their faces says otherwise. Sometimes the most difficult choice of all is one that nobody wants to make, although everyone knows it’s the right thing to do. There can be no domestic bliss for the Slayer and her ageless boyfriend.  RP

The view from the Sunnydale Press…

We’re getting closer to the season finale of Buffy The Vampire Slayer so we know things have to ramp up and what better way to do that than by having the grand meeting between this season’s villain and Buffy.  I have to admit, there was an epic quality to this meeting and I was reminded of Sherlock and Moriarty.  It’s not that Buffy has the intellect of Sherlock or the Mayor has the cunning of Moriarty, but the meeting of two powers had that classic quality to it.  The two parties are both very strong but I think for me it was that polite dialogue that really nailed it… like The Final Problem, this felt epic.  Unfortunately, when you really look at what happens here, it’s not that epic at all.  It’s a simple story of good vs. evil.  But that’s not a complaint; it just lacks the deeper meaning that we’ve come to expect.  The thing is, not all stories need that and sometimes, especially before a big climax, it’s nice to have a simple story to think about.

One of the big successes of this series is that the episodes have more going on than meets the eye; at least in most cases.  Whether we’re exploring the relationship between friends, the heartbreak of being used, the confusion of being a teenager or the uncertainty of ones future, most episodes have delved into real issues and you always have to lift up the covers to see what the real message is.  Choices seems to be about… choices.  It’s a bit anticlimactic when you put it that way.  The bad guys get a weapon, the good guys get to steal it, the bad guys capture an ally, and the Scooby Gang have to make a choice to save the world or save a friend.  I’ve been a fan of Star Trek since I was three years old (before I even knew what being a fan meant); I knew there was no choice at all.  No self-respecting hero is going to really buy into that motto about the “needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one!”  So while the debate goes on, existentialist Oz destroys the only means they have of actually destroying the evil weapon.  Sherlock might have said it was “simplicity itself” and the case was closed.  The good guys had to return the evil box to get Willow back.  And you know what?   I was proud of Oz.  (Until I saw that the crate contained billions of spiders.  Sorry to all my friends… we’re destroying that box at all costs!)

This is an appreciated break from the heavier episodes though and it’s well timed, putting the gang on the offensive for a change.  Things go wrong, as one might expect.  Mom always says to do what you’re good at and good guys going on the offensive is never going to be smooth sailing.  It’s just not in their wheelhouse!  So the team gets Willow back and the Mayor gets his box of spiders.  We have one more episode before the two part season finale and I have to credit the writers yet again for giving us a straight story while still managing to take inventory of the cast.  At the start of the episode, Joyce tells Buffy how proud she is of her; she even calls family to brag.  This is a radical change from the mom we saw over the first two seasons who actively expressed disappointment in her daughter.  She’s come a long way.  Cordelia, our “angry young woman” has made it into a number of schools, proving to be more than the shallow airhead she pretends to be yet she seems to pine sadly in front of a mirror at the end of the episode.  Xander is realizing he’s missing Cordelia more than he expected.  The two of them seem to fall into the same pattern over and over, jibes flying both ways, but both missing something that they can’t figure out.  Willow’s power is on the rise, using her abilities to kill a vampire with a pencil.  She realizes she wants to stay and help Buffy fight evil.  Buffy and Angel ponder what the future holds.  And Principal “Quark” Snyder has a glimpse of what’s going on first hand.  “Why couldn’t you be dealing drugs like normal people?”

I am dying to see where things lead next.  This story was good, if simple, but I want to know if Snyder is still so fond of the Mayor now.  I want to know if Willow’s power will continue to grow.  I wonder if the meeting of our vampire hunting Holmes will fall with our Mayor Moriarty at the end of this season.  And I wonder if Xander and Cordelia will realize they actually miss each other.  It’s a silly thing, really: with all these big bad things happening as we wait for demons to feast on Sunnydale and the Mayor to have his ascension, I find myself most curious about who Xander will take to the Prom!  ML

Read next in the Junkyard… Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The Prom

About Roger Pocock

Co-writer on junkyard.blog. Author of windowsintohistory.wordpress.com. Editor of frontiersmenhistorian.info
This entry was posted in Entertainment, Reviews, Television and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s