Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Graduation Day

Well, I guess they didn’t need the school set any more, or the principal for that matter. Snyder gets eaten, still thinking he can deal with evil by telling it off. He is devoured by a fairly disappointing bit of CGI by today’s standards, but I can promise you that in 1999 that seemed like an exciting and convincing effect. As always, though, this is a show that is about the metaphorical monsters much more than the literal ones, and how we deal with them.              

A big threat requires a big response, and Buffy’s acknowledgement and acceptance by her entire school year in The Prom paved the way perfectly for their involvement in the big fight that finishes their school careers and finishes the school with it. Xander hasn’t had a huge amount to do this year, and his one focal episode asks the question of what his place is in Buffy’s world, with everyone else having special powers or skills. That question is answered here, with Xander’s military knowledge being utilised. He’s the key to Buffy’s plan working, so this is a great moment for Xander fans. It also looks like he has an interesting future ahead of him, with Anya smitten, and joining the gang for their planning stages. She’s still prioritising saving her own skin, but she is clearly going to become a part of Buffy’s useful group of friends and will have her own journey to follow, and her future relationship with Xander makes for an interesting prospect, full of potential humour and character development. And speaking of relationships, Cordelia and Wesley share an incredibly awkward kiss and then immediately realise there is no real chemistry between them. It’s hilarious, but I think there’s also a lot of truth in that moment, because sometimes desire isn’t necessarily what it seems to be. For Wesley it was probably the danger and excitement of a younger woman, whereas for Cordelia it was most likely a rebound thing, but the minute their attraction becomes physical rather than flirtation it all falls apart because they are a mismatch.

Angel is also mismatched, but not with Buffy. He’s mismatched with the whole show now, and it might be an unpopular view but I’m glad he’s gone. It’s fitting that he doesn’t say goodbye, because it felt like he left a year ago, and has been hanging around mainly on the fringes of things since his return, never able to be a fully integrated member of the group. The awkwardness of his status within Buffy’s circle of friends is reinstated by their reaction to his feeding off Buffy. Even thought it’s not his fault, he is always a danger. He unintentionally imperils her life again, this time rendering her unconscious through blood loss.

While she’s unconscious, Buffy shares a dream with Faith, and there’s a hint about Buffy’s future: “Little Miss Muffet, counting down from 730.” Obviously I’m not going to spill the beans, but think about how many days there are in the year and you’ll at least understand what kind of a long game Joss Whedon was playing here. With Buffy and Faith in adjoining rooms in the hospital, for the first time we see the Mayor lose control of his emotions, which is a useful revelation for Buffy and her friends. It’s a clear indication that the paternal relationship between Faith and the Mayor was not just about manipulation. It might have started like that, but in the end he really did care about her like a father cares about a daughter, in his own twisted way.

Ultimately, though, this isn’t really about the Mayor, despite being the big finale. As is so often the case for Buffy, the big battles are a backdrop to the emotional and relationship issues. For example, Willow and Oz sleeping together for the first time might seem like an odd thing for a writer to include in a big finale, but it’s an opportunity for Whedon to explore another aspect of the human condition, when Willow worries that “things are coming apart and in some ways this is the best night of my life.” When everything’s going horribly wrong in the world and you’re happy, that contentment does come parcelled with guilt. A lot of people experienced that during the pandemic, which had some silver linings like most bad things, so we can relate even more with this than we could in 1999. Buffy is a show that ages well.

It’s great writing, one of many examples of Whedon’s finely-crafted scripts. I’m going to end by picking one final example of his genius, and it happens during the first part of the finale. While Buffy and her friends are in the library, making plans, the Mayor just marches in and starts chatting to them. It breaks all the rules of how a drama like this normally works. This show never stops surprising us.

The first stage of Buffy’s story ends here. This is no longer a show about school kids fighting monsters. This is no longer a show about a slayer in love with a vampire. This is no longer even a show about a young slayer under the guidance of her watcher. Giles remains a friend and mentor, but Buffy has graduated from childhood and only has to answer to herself now. It’s not quite a blank canvas, but the next time we see Buffy we are going to be building up to a very different picture. Becoming a grown-up might just be the greatest horror of them all…   RP

The view from the Sunnydale Press…

When the last episode ended with Buffy being acknowledged as Class Protector, it was a delightful moment.  Had that been a finale, it would have been a nice sendoff with the class thanking her for all she’s done and off she’d go into the wild blue yonder.  But that was not a finale; it was the penultimate episode before the season’s big bad, the Mayor, rises in power.  This has been a season-long arc and it’s a two part episode.  With the previous week ending on a positive note, I went into this story with a sense of dread… and found myself somewhat disappointed!

I have to start by saying I am, to my surprise, loving this series.  What I thought was missing has been proven to have been there all along: continuity.  Amy is still a rat, for instance, and Anya is still around from The Wish, trying to fit in. And Xander is called on to recall his military experience from the Season Two episode Halloween.  Blunders that I’d seen get cleverly addressed, like when Willow pressed root beer on the soda machine and gets a coke.  (She acknowledges that this soda machine is unreliable, and that was a delightful moment for me!)  There’s humor, like when Angel trips into a room, “Not my best entrance” (only slightly funnier was last week’s near sunburn when Buffy opens the window and sears him!)   And there are even hints of my favorite British institutions: Doctor Who when Oz tells the group that their lives are different to other people’s (see Tomb of the Cybermen) and Sherlock Holmes, with another Moriarty meeting.  And yet, this episode was a real letdown for me.  I think part of that is the very world building the writers have been working on.  The Prom let us know that we are, in fact, in a cohesive universe; everyone is aware of things that go bump in the night.  That’s a very good thing and works well here when the whole school teams up with Buffy to beat the demon, but how can they get past these events?

The problem is that the series was established based on a girl who transfers to this school having burned down her previous school.  There have been other events that have lead the police to Buffy’s door too.  Now, we have a missing principal who was eaten by a snake, and a school that lies in ruins.  Where were all the parents for their kids graduation that they could say “hey, there was a giant anaconda that got loose”?  This felt more to me like a way of closing the doors on the school set so the production company could build a new set for the next season.  First, we have Buffy say she’s leaving the Watchers, then the destruction of the school, the demise of the Principal… it all feels like a means of closing a chapter in a way that says “we won’t be going back”.  Yes, that’s ultimately what does happen during graduation: it’s a closing of one door and the opening of another, and yes, that definitely makes me want to dive into Season Four now, but with an established universe, how can we expect Buffy not to get picked up by the police?  And even if all the kids admit to what happened, it just feels like they went big strictly to go big and throwing caution to the wind for how that impacts the overall continuity of a series that they’ve been doing a great job clicking together.

Speaking of big, the mayor comes in for another “Sherlock/Moriarty” moment and Giles plunges a sword into his heart.  Great moment even if they know it’s an act of little merit.  Frankly, I preferred the idea of attacking the mayor with hummus!  But the reality is, why didn’t they just jump him and, I don’t know, tie him up maybe?  In a way, I realize this was a fault of Sherlock’s too; he could have taken out an “intruder in his rooms” and saved the world from crime, but he likes the game too much.  That, however, is not Buffy’s motive.  She and her friends know the mayor plans something on Graduation Day but they don’t know what that entails short of eating spiders.  Surely, they could bind and gag him, take him out to the middle of the ocean and dump the body, a la Dexter?  Then he couldn’t turn into a giant snake and if he could, would he be able to swim to the surface and cause mayhem?   (And what was the point really?  I was expecting Cthulhu who at least has hands.  I can’t imagine immortality as a snake!).  I’m even thinking they should learn from the people of the 9th Century when they found a Dalek (see Resolution of the Daleks): draw and quarter the mayor and then put his parts into each ocean!  He may be alive, but he can’t reform if his parts are at the bottom of different oceans!

As if that was not enough, the mayor does a very stupid thing by having Faith kill the volcanologist because it draws attention to the fact that he knew something.  What was the point?  The mayor was no Moriarty after all, it seems!  Leave him alone and no one would be any the wiser.  Unless some small part of the mayor was willing to be defeated; I did wonder that since he did seem to love Faith (as a father).  And on the subject of bad plans, Wesley is actually right when he tells the group that by hurting Angel, it was the mayor’s way of drawing Buffy’s focus away from the graduation day events.  So all in all, this episode was a real letdown.  Not enough to be upset with the overall series but I was bummed by it; I’d expected better.

Of course, there’s always something bittersweet about endings and this episode was a reminder of the sad side of leaving a place, even a high school.  I still enjoy a bit of the bittersweet!  The kiss between Cordelia and the ultra-awkward Wesley was funny too especially after the second kiss that had Cordelia say “good luck in England”.  Mostly, some big things happen here, including Angel feeding on Buffy before he still walks out of her life (again, more endings crammed into a season finale) and Faith being stabbed and dropped into a coma.  I actually hope she comes back!  The dream sequence was interesting and I am sure long time fans know what she meant with her countdown comment, but I’ll have to experience that on my own.  I can’t wait.

Oz points out that the gang survived high school which somehow seems more impressive than surviving the battle.  Maybe he’s right.  As the camera pans down, we see the poster that says “the future is ours”.  What does the future hold for our favorite Scooby gang?  College, mainly and it’ll be interesting to see how Buffy handles a new school as a freshman.   ML

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

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.

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