And so the inevitable happens: Buffy and Angel’s relationship ends. We first get an illustration of how awkward their version of domestic bliss has become, with Buffy talking about having a drawer for her clothes, but she’s trying to create a veil of domesticity, while Angel doesn’t have any mirrors around and nearly catches fire when Buffy looks out of the window. Joyce’s intervention gives Angel the final push to end the relationship, but we were really always heading to this point. It needed to happen in dramatic terms, not just because Angel is heading off to star in his own show, but also because he has been hanging around fairly aimlessly for a whole season, on the fringes of the action, separated from the rest of the group. He’s out of place now.
That said, breaking up with Buffy just before the prom is clumsy and accidentally cruel. Buffy understandably takes it badly, but also makes a very important point:
“Who are you to tell me what’s right for me?”
This is one of those moments where this series goes beyond the obvious ways in which it’s feminist (i.e. subverting contemporary expectations about, say, a blonde female lead with a silly name), and takes a deeper look at entrenched male dominance, because two people decide what’s right for Buffy’s future, and neither of those are Buffy. Joyce and Angel might be right, but this is a prime example of other people deciding what a young woman’s future should hold and taking the decision entirely out of her hands. Angel even talks about how Buffy can’t have children with him, which is an absurd thing to say for a man who is in a relationship with an 18 year old who has already defied the odds of her life expectancy.
Considering his horrendous betrayal of Buffy earlier in the season, it’s a relief to see how quickly Giles has returned to the paternal role in her life. She needs him. He pitches his response to her breakup perfectly, all understated, quiet consolation, with some gentle humour as well. That’s how you help somebody through a rough patch.
“I understand that this kind of thing requires ice cream of some kind.”
Speaking of humour, Anya is back for her third appearance, and is already showing her potential as a comedy character. Paired off with Xander, they immediately make for a hugely entertaining double act. Everybody gets a happy-ish ending for the Prom, with Cordelia getting the dress she wants and can no longer afford, thanks to Xander, who goes at least a little way towards making amends for breaking her heart, and she seems to be happy to move on and be romanced by the endearingly awkward Wesley. The minor threat of the caged beasts being released to cause havoc at the Prom is dealt with easily, and all sorted out by the 35 minute mark, allowing for a lovely little bit of introspection before we reach the big finale. This is a moment to pause, reflect and celebrate, and Jonathan’s speech beautifully acknowledges that the kids in Sunnydale High are not stupid and have obviously noticed all the weird stuff going on. Buffy has been an unsung hero, and is finally accepted by her peers. Once again, this series hits the big, important themes incredibly well, with the lovely notion of an outsider being celebrated at the end of her school life, and just look who gets to present the award to her: another outsider, but for very different reasons. In the end, we have seen all forms of difference accepted: the gay guy has long ago come out and it was never a big deal, the nerdiest outsider is chosen for the most important speech, Xander goes to the Prom with a demon, a witch goes with a werewolf, and Cordelia’s fling with an older man is brushed aside as of no significance. Most importantly, Buffy Summers, the girl who had to lurk in the shadows to fight the demons, is brought into the spotlight and the warm embrace of her peers, celebrated and respected. It’s her “one night of glory”, but now everything has to change. RP
The view from the Sunnydale Press…
I was surprised by The Prom because, as the penultimate episode of the season and after the fairly lightweight episode last week, I was expecting something … bigger. Contrary to the way that might sound, this works very well to actually increase the tension for next week because there’s a sense of triumph to the story which bodes ill for what’s to come.
When I’d started Buffy, I’d seen all these glitches and blunders throughout the series. I thought the writers were not paying attention. Now, the show has reached a point where I want to just binge it all because I love the cast and the stories and see that the writers just needed time to put the pieces on the board. I am finally understanding why people rave about this series. That said, I do still think they get some things wrong. I was originally inclined to bash the sexualizing comment Xander makes to Anya about looking at her breasts. “When a guy does that, it just means his eyes are open.” The thing to remember here is that Joss Whedon and his crew of writers are writing about teenage boys and girls; they say and do stupid things from the moment they wake up! From Xander’s point of view, he’s speaking the truth because, as we learned when Buffy was able to read his mind in Earshot, it’s basically his single thought all day, every day. And that’s probably true of most teenage boys! However, I think what did bother me was the reason Tucker raised hellhounds. Let me be honest here: I wasn’t the guy who got the girl in high school. It had nothing to do with going to an all guys high school either, because I had friends! But if rejection leads us to raising hellhounds, there’d be a lot more problems in the world. It felt very much to me like the story was saying the nerds are very offbeat to the point of harming other people when things don’t work out. “Every malajdust has his reasons!” I don’t think that’s fair of the writers, especially considering those “maladjusts” were probably the biggest supporters of the series! I admit, I might have been reading too much into this since I felt like Tucker many times in my youth but I never raised hellhounds. (And was he doing this over a single rejection? I mean, how bad would it have been if he’d been rejected by many women?) And most of all, what I want to know more than anything else is: how does one go about procuring hellhounds? I’ve checked Craig’s list and Ebay but no one is selling… (use the comments section to tell me where you obtain them!)
On the other hand, I’m delighted that one-time baddie Anya is still around, now trying to fit in. Plot devices that are not forgotten… that’s my bread and butter right there. And there are subtle touches that I am consistently impressed by, like when Angel picks up Buffy’s notebook and sees the doodles which so clearly remind us of her age. She’s the hero but she’s still a very young girl! I was also delighted by the idea that Joyce had come to see Angel but was mortified that she asked him to “do the right thing” and leave Buffy. As a parent, I fully understand the motivation, but I think Joyce forgets that Buffy, by the nature of her calling, has had to grow up faster than other kids and is not going to have a life like most other children. The role of Slayer means she’s never going to have a normal life. What does Joyce expect: her daughter gets married one day and has to tell her (normal) husband that she’s going out to work every night and he’s going to accept that without thinking she’s a prostitute? Joyce needs to come to terms with the fact that her daughter is fated for a different lifestyle and someone like Angel may be her only real path for lasting happiness, even if it means in the end, Angel will be heartbroken. The fact that Angel goes along with it is what’s more amazing to me since he’s a part of the world Buffy lives in, unlike Joyce. He’s not a young man who needs a life lesson from his girlfriend’s mom. He knows more about this life than she does. And while I was happy Angel came to the Prom so Buffy would have a memorable night, I do wonder how fair that was to her; it’s a very mixed message indeed.
While I was devastated for Buffy, I was delighted by Xander’s act of kindness to Cordelia and the way she acknowledges it. Maybe next week they’ll get back together… one can hope! And I am once again impressed by the continuity that this show has built. When Jonathan, now clearly doing better from the events of Earshot, presents a first-ever award to Buffy, he mentions all the strange things that have gone on. Kids yell out, “Zombies”, “Hyena People”, “Principal Snyder”. This establishes two things: continuity with the previous episodes, and perhaps more importantly, that things are not going unnoticed by the rest of the kids in the school. They get on with their lives, but unlike, say, Doctor Who, it’s not like people are not aware of the events that are happening around them. (I always wondered how in Doctor Who spaceships would crash to earth and a week later, no one knew about them. Russell T. Davies tried to address that, but his attempt only covers at best 10% of the shows long history! I digress…) This episode acknowledges that shared history with the rest of the class as they present Buffy with a class protector award. It’s a wonderfully triumphant moment and exactly what makes me fear watching the two-part finale because there’s always a calm before the storm. The mayors coming ascension has now become that much more dreadful to me and I wonder who will die on Graduation Day… ML
Read next in the Junkyard… Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Graduation Day
The breakup of Buffy and Angel, not unlike the Doctor’s own potential romances with some female companions, is a classic example of how the male lover who presumes from his greater experience to do what’s right for the female lover can ultimately end in heartbreak. This chapter for Buffy is a most significant one in relation to how so many girls and women might have gone through that. In a male-dominated world, the charismatic females are consequently all the more appealing for how they learn from such heartbreaks to discern what’s right for themselves. As for continuity issues, I often wonder how certain awareness for a given world in shows like Buffy or Dr. Who might seem unrealistic in regards to extraordinary events. Perhaps in some cases it may indicate some greater force at work influencing the world. But it’s the least fantastical SF shows nowadays that may earn better treatment in those areas. Thank you both for your reviews.
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