Buffy 3×20: The Prom

[Review by Mike Marinaro]

[Writer: Marti Noxon | Director: David Solomon | Aired: 05/11/1999]

Very late in the episode Buffy asks Oz how the prom is. His reply, “strangely affecting,” is exactly the way I feel about it as well. There are two very distinct ways this could have gone wrong: make it too corny or make it too soapy. Marti Noxon and the writing staff successfully avoided both traps and found the perfect balance, and of course threw in their trademark humor and wit. Things that needed to happen for a while now, like Angel and Buffy breaking it off for good, finally happened. And Buffy got her one perfect high school moment!

Most of the really big stuff that happens involves Buffy and Angel, but there’s also a handful of really appreciated scenes with some of the other characters. First up is the fact that Anya’s still stuck as a human and needs a date for the prom. I love the fact that she’s starting to become a recurring character because she’s so entertaining. I’ve really got to wonder, though, why she’s so willing to even begin a relationship with Xander after he cheated on Cordelia. Doesn’t seem like a very smart idea, especially from a former vengeance demon. I guess she’s just desparate and no one else can tolerate her highly amusing and strange sales pitch of “men are evil. Will you go with me?”

Another smaller thing I liked was Xander’s kindness and assistence to Cordelia. The fact that he covers for her in the library and then pays off the rest of her dress shows just how much he’s matured. He’s not the same guy who wanted to cast a spell on her just so he could break up with her back in “Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered” [2×16] . With the loss of her money, Cordelia has suddenly become a whole lot more interesting again as well. I’m actually kind of sad that she’s heading off to AtS after the season ends.

Right at the beginning of the episode we know Angel has a problem with his relationship with Buffy. At the end of “Choices” [3×19] we see Buffy and Angel pushing aside the Mayor’s comments. Here it seems that Buffy has bought into her words while Angel really hasn’t. The moment Buffy mentions ‘prom’ he gets squirmish and pretty much suggests it’s time for her to leave. Also of note is that they slept together the previous night, in the literal sense of course. Still, the way Buffy was touching Angel in the morning was a little worrying. These two are getting a little too close for comfort again and I think Angel realizes it.

There are a handful of things which lead to Angel finally really breaking up with Buffy. These include the Mayor’s words in the previous episode, the fact that Buffy isn’t leaving town anymore, their increased physical closeness, the Buffy and Angel Forever notebook cover, and Joyce’s words of wisdom. When absorbing all of this he has an interesting dream about marrying Buffy (great for fan videos, by the way) and when they walk outside she is the one disintegrating. I take this as meaning exactly what the Mayor said, that he’s keeping her from the light. He’s the one who will ruin her life. So with all this in his mind he makes his decision and breaks it off with Buffy in the nicest way possible, and you can easily see that it tears him up as much as it tears her up.

I’d like to dwell on the sewer break-up scene a bit more, because I thought it was really well acted by both of them. It’s pretty tough to hear Buffy, very tenderly, say to Angel “I’m never gonna change. I can’t change. I want my life to be with you” and then Angel, knowing now more than ever that he has to do what’s right for her, replies with “I don’t.” Seriously, ouch. Buffy comes back with “You don’t want to be with me? I can’t believe you’re breaking up with me.” Normally I’d cringe at a line like this, but after all these two have been through together, I can really feel her pain. This is also why using genre to tell stories about real life works even better than showing real life itself sometimes. Through the fantasy context I’ve let my “real life” guard down so when something like this happens, I’m actually affected by it. Through metaphor I can actually understand what it’s like to go through a relationship without actually having experienced this myself. This series is the only one that has ever made me understand and care. That requires amazing writing and it’s pretty obvious now that this series has it in spades.

As is typical of Buffy herself, she doesn’t break down and lose it right away. She’s insanely tough physcially, but throughout high school she’s become a lot tougher emotionally as well. I was happy to see her call Willow pretty quickly and share what happened. It’s when talking about it to someone else when she finally breaks down and lets it all out. When Sarah Michelle Gellar gives it all emotionally, she really gives it all! I felt her pain in “Innocence” [2×14] , “Becoming Pt. 2” [2×22] , and here due to fantastic (which means realistic) acting. Her pain feels extremely genuine to me. She sobs “I can’t breathe, Will. I feel like I can’t breathe.” I’m so happy Willow was there this time to comfort her.

Another “scene to remember” is, of course, the awards ceremony where Buffy gets the Class Protector award. Like many reviewers I also feel that Jonathan’s speech sums up the first three seasons of BtVS perfectly. Here it is: “We’re not good friends. Most of us never found the time to get to know you, but that doesn’t mean we haven’t noticed you. We don’t talk about it much, but it’s no secret that Sunnydale High isn’t really like other high schools. A lot of weird stuff happens here. But, whenever there was a problem or something creepy happened, you seemed to show up and stop it. Most of the people here have been saved by you, or helped by you at one time or another. We’re proud to say that the Class of ’99 has the lowest mortality rate of any graduating class in Sunnydale history. (applause from the crowd) And we know at least part of that is because of you. So the senior class, offers its thanks, and gives you, uh, this. It’s from all of us, and it has written here, ‘Buffy Summers, Class Protector.'” Buffy and the writers earned this moment. I’ll say more about “earning happy moments” in my review of the season.

The only problem I have with the episode on a whole is the hell hound plot. I guess I am so wrapped up in the emotion of what’s happening I didn’t want to spend any time with some kid training hell hounds. Buffy needed something relatively minor to kill for this episode to have the resonance it needed, though, so this isn’t really a big complaint. I really did love this episode and I really didn’t expect to this much. Bring on graduation day!


Minor Pros/Cons (+/-)

+ Buffy telling Angel his place isn’t very girl-friendly.
+ Buffy pointing out that some of them are going to the prom with demons, and that it’s a valid lifestyle choice.
+ Giles being able to tell that Angel’s not taking Buffy to the prom based off her actions. Then he offers her ice cream! How sweet is that.
+ Wesley choking on some food when Cordelia walks in the room with her shiny dress.
+ Oz’s utter confidence in Buffy.
+ Tucker’s reason for raising the hell hounds.
+ Angel showing up at the prom to give Buffy her perfect high school moment.




60 thoughts on “Buffy 3×20: The Prom”

  1. [Note: kirsty posted this comment on February 6, 2007.]

    someone please tell me why buffy and angel broke up??????? ive not seen this one yet…and do they still love each other??..i really didint want them to split up someone help please thanks x x


  2. [Note: Tranquillity posted this comment on March 27, 2007.]

    they split up because their relationship was pointless. they could never progress past the point of holding hands, she was fairly obsessed with him in a girly high school way (writing ‘buffy and Angel forever’ on her books and thinking about forever at the tender age of 18)and that was beginning to cloud her judgement. the mayors words from (i think) the previous episode were proving very difficult to ignore, Angel realised he couldn’t offer her marriage, children or a normal life and that she was putting all thoughts of him before anything else and he wanted more for her than life in the darkness with a vampire. Joyce also challenged Angel about the suitability of the relationship which also made Angel really think. Then of course there is the fact that Angel needed to go and find his own purpose in life, that he was capable of being and doing more than just being Buffy’s boyfriend. it was very mean of him to breakup with her and then turn up at the prom – what a tease!


  3. [Note: Melanie posted this comment on June 26, 2007.]

    On a side note:

    The song playing when Angel walks into the gym and they dance is Wild Horses by The Sundays. This is the same song that plays in S1 “Angel” in the Bronze when Buffy anf Angel kiss and she burns his chest with her cross. A bit of nostalgia to their last dance, per se. šŸ™‚


  4. [Note: buffyholic posted this comment on July 29, 2007.]

    Another awesome episode. I cry everytime when Angels breaks up with Buffy and then Buffy cries uncontrollably next to Willow. I think it`s awesome that I feel the same ways as the characters while on the prom. It feels like I`ve been with them in the same school and that is my prom too and of course, when Buffy receives the award, it`s just beautiful. It`s everything she wanted. Everyone was great here and that makes up for an unforgettable episode.


  5. [Note: robgnow posted this comment on August 7, 2007.]

    In the Pros/Cons I’d definitely add a + for Xander being grown up re: Cordelia. I think if was easily one of his finest moments and Cordy and him just nodding to each other was perfect. Again, Xan does something really great (like saving the school from the bomb) and chooses NOT to make it a public thing.

    About Wes’ quote, though? Are you sure he doesn’t say “MODEL bad behavior…” instead of muddle… because I think that makes more sense.



  6. [Note: MikeJer posted this comment on August 7, 2007.]

    robgnow, the Pros/Cons sections is for little things that I don’t want to go into during the core review. I discuss Xander’s kindness to Cordy in the 3rd paragraph.

    As for the quote: it’s entirely possible you’re right. I get my quotes from the Buffyverse Dialogue DB (link is located in the links section). If they’re wrong, I’m wrong. šŸ™‚


  7. [Note: Austin posted this comment on August 24, 2007.]

    A couple of interesting notes, I think we see a little of Spike death wish coming out in buffy when she won’t let anyone help her fight the hell-hounds. Why not? She just got dummed in a terrible way and she is going to the prom by herself. I think this accentuates how much Buffy really yearns for and needs a stabalizing force in her life beyond Giles’ stoic self. Speaking of, I think it speaks volumes about how far G & B’s relationship has come and strenghthened, that he can see through her words and actions exactly what’s wrong with her and he knows how to comfort her. mikejer, you said in helpless that their level of trust is never the same again and while I agree that after someone has broken your trust once, the thought that they might do it again is always lurking in the back of your head, I think that this scene in the library proves that their relationship is incredibly strong and intimate.

    Lastly I think that the award speech is the best happy/cry moment in the entire series, because although she can’t reveal her secret identity, she is recognized by the people she has helped most, and she gets to enjoy a (if not the only) perfect moment.


  8. [Note: ThisYearsGirl posted this comment on February 29, 2008.]

    -Austin, I definitely agree with what you said about G & B’s relationship becoming more and more strengthened. I don’t think Buffy was displaying a death wish by fighting the hellhounds by herself. After all, she’s faced monsters and demons for years and (mostly) has come out on top. I think she was really trying to give her friends that “high school experience” of prom. She was expecting to go all along – she brings her dress and shoes to change into after getting rid of the threat.

    I think it’s one of those nice Buffy moments that shows her at the top of her game: juggling Slaying, life (prom) and her personal issues with Angel – yeah, she’s broken-hearted but she still kicks ass šŸ™‚


  9. [Note: Tony posted this comment on June 21, 2008.]

    This is also one of my favourite episodes too. The award she gets makes me extrememly happy every time I watch.


  10. [Note: HarFang posted this comment on October 1, 2008.]

    I wouldn’t say that I love the whole episode because the hellhound plot really bores me, and I wish the breakup scene had been set up a bit more gradually: before this, the only hint we had was the Mayor’s speech, which is a bit weak when you’re talking about the Ultimate Lovers.
    But I love that scene. At the beginning, Buffy is so confident, so peppy… and then you can almost literally see her heart break. The way her voice quavers and breaks in this scene, and when she talks to Willow, tears me up more than a flood of tears would.

    And the Prom speech: that’s closure. I understand that it could not have been inserted in Graduation Day, but I definitely consider it as a part of the finale, because it probably is Buffy’s greatest victory ever, and the scene is shot in a fantastic way, with just a brief close-up of Giles’ wonderful smile: clearly he’s even happier than she is, because while she’s almost in shock, he feels that she is finally getting the recognition he couldn’t give her himself.
    It’s a nice choice to have Jonathan be the one to deliver the speech, because for all that he is a recurring character, he embodies “the average student at Sunnydale High”; on the other hand, having HIM tell Buffy “you know, we did notice you”, when nobody ever notices HIM, seems horribly ironic.
    And has anyone ever tried to keep count of the casualty rate of the Class of ’99? Because I’d hate to think what Sunnydale High must have been for the other classes!


  11. [Note: bigmoneygrip posted this comment on October 26, 2008.]

    Things I found amusing/interesting:

    Buffy and Willow talking about prom dresses. Giles hears the last part and says “Demons?” Buffy: “Prom dress. Get your mind out of the hellmouth.”

    Giles “I shall be wearing pink taffeta as chaneel will not go with my complexion”

    LOVE Xander doing the right thing (twice).

    LOVE the Buffy and perfect H.S. moment.

    Buffy: Have . . . a . . .nice . . . time.

    Anya is now officially cuter than Willow.


  12. [Note: Rekidk posted this comment on November 30, 2008.]

    Re: HarFang.

    I agree with you regarding Jonathan giving the speech; however, I think the impact is made even greater when you consider the events of Earshot. The speech has a more personal context when taken in that light.


  13. [Note: Sanjuro posted this comment on December 1, 2008.]

    I really should hate this episode (well, except the Class Protector Award, which only Satan wouldn’t love): all that “I can’t believe you’re breaking up with me!”stuff should have pushed it into cheesy territory, but it just works. The ONLY thing I don’t like is when Buffy asks the kid with the hellhounds “Why do you want to ruin the happiest moment of a senior’s life?” I’m just gonna chalk that up to her simply not knowing how fucking inane, boring, and vapid prom really is.


  14. [Note: Sam posted this comment on March 7, 2009.]

    This one’s a tearjerker. A little more manipulative than usual, but it still works. You go, Class Protector ’99!!!


  15. [Note: Nix posted this comment on June 14, 2009.]

    I might be missing something, but Xander greets Anya with ‘Well hey, its Demon Anya, punisher of evil males!’

    Thing is… how does he know? Anya certainly didn’t tell Willow in _Doppelgangland_, and while Cordelia knew, the Cordelia that knew died at the end of _The Wish_, and the surviving Cordelia has no idea.

    So, how does anyone know what Anya is? It’s not as if she’d tell them, offscreen…
    … hm, actually, perhaps it is. Hell, she tells random bartenders.


  16. [Note: Selene posted this comment on July 8, 2009.]

    Am I the only one who HATED Buffy’s prom dress? It looked like a bedsheet had been wrapped and pinned around her!

    Loved Giles telling Wesley off! You just know he’s been dying to do that for some time.

    Funny aside:(and telling my age at the same time) Celebration, the song that sends the hellhounds away from Buffy and back towards the prom was my graduating class’ theme song.


  17. [Note: Lucy posted this comment on August 12, 2009.]

    I hated Buffy’s dress, too! With that fishtail at the back-ewww! And all dusty pink. They should have given her a pretty dress.

    Should the fact that Tucker is Andrew’s brother be mentioned in the foreshadowing section? God, I love Andrew!


  18. [Note: Sunburn posted this comment on October 10, 2009.]

    Selene and Lucy: I’ve always thought that Buffy saves her vilest dresses for her best occasions! That mid-calf number she wore when the Master killed her did *not* deserve all the oohing and aahing it got.

    Just reading the transcript of the Class Protector speech gave me goosebumps all up my arms. Such a lovely moment.


  19. [Note: Sunburn posted this comment on October 10, 2009.]

    BTW, Mike, I wish you’d use a less confusing font in the security thing, pretty as it is. I just got one with both a P(D) and a 5(S) in it, and went through all four permutations before I got it right! šŸ™‚


  20. [Note: MikeJer posted this comment on October 10, 2009.]

    @Sunburn: May I suggest copying your comment and refreshing the page for a new security code in the situation where you get a confusing letter? The font works really well at keeping automated spam bots from ruining the comment system.


  21. [Note: Victoria posted this comment on November 9, 2009.]

    I think someone should mention, alongside the Buffy Class Protector Award, the resolve and maturity that she showed when she decided to screw her own love-life issues and give her best friends the best night of their life. Prom is vapid and lame, but it’s also fun, and it’s also one of the few nights that most people will ever have like that. Of course Buffy would hold Prom as such a high-point. She went from being “Fiesta Queen” and things like that to being a non-person. And not only that, she’s right, they have no idea at that point that they are going to live through graduation and and have four more season of high highs and low lows. Buffy could easily have put them all on hell hound duty, but instead she went double-time to take them down, and give her friends a perfect night, despite thinking at the time that she wouldn’t get her own perfect night. I think it’s this “heart” that Buffy loses somewhere around the 5th/6th season. It was so sad to see her become so detached. But that’s another story.

    Also, her prom dress? Uh, that was pretty high fashion for 1999. Formal wear for women was so awful… šŸ˜› It was either slinky and clingy like Cordelias with sparkly bits, or it was oddly structured and kind of stiff satin/silk like Buffy’s. Oh… and the chunky heels. I mean, I loved my prom dress at the time, but man… looking back? yeeeuch.

    Oh, and the only vom-worthy emotional moment between Buffy and Angel that I thought pulled them towards cheesy was the meeting in the butcher’s place. The whole “I still miss you” thrown out by Angel and the “Don’t even go there” attitude from Buffy just… ehh. I dunno. I mean I understand that Angel needed to know that she was still going to prom without him, but could they have done it without the cheesy dialog? I think awkward silences between those two sometimes speaks way louder than words.


  22. [Note: Christian posted this comment on January 10, 2010.]

    This is one of my favorite BTVS episodes. I love the emotion thrown into it and the way everything just falls into place. It’s great closure for Cordelia an Xander and a perfect semi ending for Buffy and Angel.

    I can’t keep my eyes dry during the Class Protector award… it’s just beautifully done. I agree with Mike in stating that Sarah really can act out emotional reality. I felt my jeart break right there with Buffy as she was telling Wilow. I also loved Willow admitting that she had serious doubts about Bufy and Angel, but that she tried to be hopeful.


  23. [Note: Shannon posted this comment on February 8, 2010.]

    @the ladies – as Victoria pointed out, Buffy’s dress was pretty standard formal wear for 1999. It actually looks a lot like my prom dress from that year, which in retrospect is probably one of the least flattering dresses I’ve ever worn, although like Victoria, I loved it at the time. I even got in a fight with my best friend about which of us should get to wear it, since she had seen the same dress at the mall. Ha!


  24. [Note: SL posted this comment on March 16, 2010.]

    Just an interesting sidenote, Sarah actually cried during the sewer scene for hours and it had to be closed off so she could pull herself together again. She’s definitely given her 200% (emotionally) in this episode.


  25. [Note: G1000 posted this comment on May 19, 2010.]

    Just watched it for the first time. How does this not get a P? Okay, the hellhounds were stupid. But they took up so little time. This was miles better than “The Wish”.


  26. [Note: fray-adjacent posted this comment on May 27, 2010.]

    “The Prom” ranks with “Becoming Pt. 2” and “The Gift” as one the tear-jerkingest episodes of the series, and I didn’t even go to my prom! The class protector moment is so beautiful, and I think, as much as the dance with Angel, is Buffy’s “perfect high school moment.” What makes this moment, as opposed to Buffy’s fantasy moments such as being crowned homecoming queen, so great is that it’s one in which both of her selves — the slayer and the high school girl — are one. She’s being recognized and appreciated for who she truly is, and like you said, she sure has earned it.

    I love Buffy’s dress. Yeah, it doesn’t push out her boobs or suck in her waist or display cleavage all over, but the fabric and folds are beautiful, and I love the back of it. I’m with y’all on the chunky heels though. (Being Buffy’s age, I remember them well.)


  27. [Note: nathan.taurus posted this comment on August 26, 2010.]

    Melanie #3. ‘Wild Horses’ wasn’t the song played in ‘Angel’.

    The Good:

    Joyce telling Angel how she feels about his relationship with Buffy.

    Angel’s dream of his wedding to Buffy and her on fire.

    Cordelia being told that someone had paid the remainder on her dress.

    Wesley’s story of his strange schooling days.

    The nice moment between Xander and Cordelia when she thanks him.

    The entire ending with Buffy being given the ‘Class Protector’ award to her and Giles to ‘Wild Horses’ playing while Buffy and Angel dance. Fantastic ending.

    The Bad:

    The sewer break-up talk. Too overly dramatic.

    “Right now I’m just trying to keep from dying.” I really hope someone was fired for that line.

    The butcher giving out private customer information.

    The hellhounds ruin what could have been a great episode.

    Trivia: The song ‘Praise Me’ that was played at the prom was also played in SMG’s movie “Cruel Intentions”.


  28. [Note: John Roberts posted this comment on October 9, 2010.]

    I turned to mush, and I don’t mush easily. This episode was so wonderful … all the angst and growth and development came together. Only temporarily sure. Perfection is not achieved in this life. But Angel making the right call, Buffy coming to terms, Xander and Cordy reaching their understanding, and OMG even Joyce (!) acting in a mature fashion (Joyce?), oh so lovely. A payoff for the pain that has occurred, and which will occur.

    Yeah OK I guessed Angel coming to the dance but the Class Protector Award fooled me. Mush. Fab outfit for Buffy, too.

    The hellhound B plot was nicely handled. We’ve had and will have plenty of scary almost Apocalypses. This was something that Buffy can handle with ease. The light touch was the right note to strike.

    Just as it’s easier to play bad than good (look how much more effective Boreanaz is as Angelus than as Angel), it’s easier to have a top-notch episode that features shatteringly bad news and deaths than it is to have one about happiness. The Prom mastered the more difficult of the two tasks.



  29. [Note: Jason posted this comment on October 9, 2010.]

    Great comments, John.

    The Class Protector Award presentation is one of my two very favorite Buffy moments of them all.


  30. [Note: SasukeMan posted this comment on October 9, 2010.]

    I completely agree with John. This is actually the only episode in the series that really causes me to break down and cry. Other episodes make me sad or hit me to varying degrees, but, as John says, it takes a really special touch to make such a touchingly hopeful episode. This is an ultimate top off and I honestly think that it is the presence of this episode that makes season 3 as beloved at it is. The later seasons simply never showed the ability to present so much hope and satisfaction – even though it comes together with the Buffy/Angel breakup.

    This is a beautiful piece.


  31. [Note: Andreas posted this comment on November 7, 2010.]

    My wife saw this for the first time yesterday. She cried during the Buffy talks about it with Willow scene AND during the class protector scene. Well done writers!

    While I didn’t like the dress much either, I’ll chime in with Victoria and say that it is in line with fashion at the time.

    The hair, though, that was really nice. My wife, who has taste in such things, says Buffy’s hair is almost always very nice. I couldn’t agree more. She has such lovely styles especially during seasons 1-3. They are typically quite practical, too, though I doubt they would really hold up to the martial arts as well as they do. šŸ˜‰

    Nitpick on bigmoneygrip’s comment: “Giles “I shall be wearing pink taffeta as chaneel will not go with my complexion””. It’s actually “chenille”, which is a type of fabric.


  32. [Note: Antoinette posted this comment on March 26, 2012.]

    so I understand why buffy and angel broke up, but what the hell was the point of angel and cordelia. I mean its the same thing as him and buffy, nothing has changed. he still cant go into the day, he’ll be young forever, and he cant make love to her. why would they develop a relationship with cordelia???


  33. [Note: Gemma posted this comment on March 27, 2012.]

    he did have sex with Cordelia, i think that was deemed possible because is one true love is Buffy. My question would be more directed to Cordelia; why sleep with Angel when he will always desire Buffy…always go to her aid whenever and however she needs him…look at Season 7.


  34. [Note: Alex posted this comment on March 27, 2012.]

    Angel didn’t sleep with Cordelia, unless you’re talking about the ‘perfect day’ vision that took away his soul… but that didn’t really happen. They didn’t even properly kiss until ‘You’re Welcome’. Well, I guess you could speculate that they were having sex while under the magical influence in ‘Waiting in the Wings’, but I think they were interrupted before they got that far.


  35. [Note: Just an observation posted this comment on June 7, 2012.]

    Something interesting I noticed the other day about this episode – when Joyce goes to talk with Angel, there is a shot when she first enters the mansion where she lightly touches a statue Angel has on display. This statue looks a WHOLE LOT like (and probably is) the one Dawn was sketching when Buffy arrived at her school in “The Body” to tell her about Joyce’s death. Maybe it’s not strong enough to count as foreshadowing, but creepy in context šŸ™‚


  36. [Note: Gemma posted this comment on June 7, 2012.]

    Well Just an observation, it is written or noted somewhere that Joss told Kristine Sutherland that her character would die in season 5 at the end of season 3.

    Has anyone considered that Dawn’s presence may have been a cause of Joyce’s death? Joss stressed the naturalness of it, it just being cancer but i have often pondered the fact because it was brain cancer and Dawn’s presence meant the group received man made memories and feelings…what do you guys think?

    Could it have been a possible avenue that the writers may have considered contemplating?


  37. [Note: Alex posted this comment on June 7, 2012.]

    Hello Gemma, haven’t seen you around for a while.

    It’s interesting that you say that. I watched Buffy, off and on, as a teenager when it was first shown on the BBC. I came back to it three or four years ago and although I had a rough memory of everything that happened, some of the details were a bit fuzzy. So when I was watching ‘No Place Like Home’ for the first time in many years, I obviously already knew about Dawn, and I was convinced that Joyce’s illness was a result of that. That was how I (wrongly) remembered it happening; I was sure that the monks had somehow damaged her brain with the spell.

    Obviously that’s not how it’s actually explained, but I too can’t help wondering if the writers had been flirting with that idea, or had at least wanted us to wonder about that. I sort of think not, because what’s so important about Joyce’s death is that it’s not magical or demonic, and isn’t something that the Scoobies can fight. But it’s definitely something that’s occurred to me in the past.


  38. [Note: Just an observation posted this comment on June 7, 2012.]

    Hey Gemma,

    Yeah, it’s entirely possible it was intentional foreshadowing, and it’s also possible it was just creative re-use of a prop. With this show, who the heck knows lol?


  39. [Note: George posted this comment on July 6, 2012.]

    Just perfect. I forgot how amazing this episode was. Even the silly hellhound plot couldn’t detract from how good it was.

    The ‘class protector’ scene was executed really, really well. Good to know that not every student has selective memory when it comes to supernatural events.


  40. [Note: Daniel posted this comment on August 1, 2012.]

    Excellent review my feelings on the episode were very similar , I aslo thought it was very fitting that Jonathan gave the speech considoring what Buffy did for him in Earshot. Also the part where in the speech talks about wierd happenings and the kid says zombies, heyna people and Snyder was pretty chuckle worthy.


  41. [Note: Less newt posted this comment on August 3, 2012.]

    Mike, thanks for these fantastic reviews. I love this site.

    I’ve almost commented on each of the last ten episodes or so, but got pushed over the edge here by the comments about Buffy’s dress. While I agree that often she may as well be wearing cats strapped to her feet–and I’ll even agree that this dress is pretty kooky–I think the color and cut flatter the stunningly beautiful SMG in a way the show rarely allows for the “big” dresses. I think she looks amazing.

    More importantly, I think this episode is brilliant, and exceptionally near perfect. Mike, and all of the fine persons commenting over the last five years, have detailed the emotional resonance, the humor, the strength of character interactions, and the realization of character development.

    I want to add to that a beginning of the defense of season three that Mike has been asking for. This is my fourth time through the season, and this is what I see: In addition to the very important theme of identity, this season is fundamentally about how and why we fail each other. Almost every character or plot arc resonates around this theme, and most of the emotional impact of the show centers on it, or its contrast–how and why we don’t fail each other.

    As the most striking example, I want to suggest that much of the season is about how and why Buffy (and Giles) fails Faith. Buffy shuts her out from minute one, initially through her reluctance to share either her slayer-ness or her friends, especially when she’s just barely gotten them back (note how her friends help her fail Faith by just about abandoning her for the new girl while Buffy’s still quite vulnerable after the zombie party). As the season progresses, and Buffy tries to warm to Faith, she shuts Faith out of the most important parts of her life (Angel, her pain). Most of it happens for the same reasons everyone ignores Jonathan at school: Buffy is too busy with her own deafening pain to see Faith’s. To contrast with this, the Mayor takes care of Faith from minute one. He accepts her as his new chief of security, and, seemingly the next morning, rents her a lovely apartment and says this line, which tears at my heart every time for its contrast with the Scooby response to Faith: “No slayer of mine is going to live in a fleabag hotel!” Why didn’t Giles ever say that?

    The Buffy-fails-Faith arc culminates in perhaps the worst thing Buffy ever does, stabbing Faith. I struggled during my second and third viewings of the season to understand this (I just thought it was awesome the first time), especially in light of Buffy’s strict no-killing-humans rule. Buffy’s justification that Faith “made her choices” is obvious bunk. My wife finally explained it after my third viewing: We should not side with Buffy in this, or in her decision to feed herself to Angel even if it means he’ll probably kill her. Buffy fails everyone else in the world through her all-consuming love for Angel. It’s really, truly time for him to move out of town, because she’s going to get everyone killed (and might do it herself) if he stays.

    Many other arcs (and arguably many of the episodes that seem to be stand-alone) are similarly tied to this theme of failing those around us, especially but not necessarily those we love: the tryst of Willow and Xander; Buffy’s father and Giles in Helpless; Joyce and Willow’s mother in Gingerbread; everyone in the school with Jonathan; Cordelia’s exacerbated bitchiness at the end of the season; and interestingly, every interaction the Council has with the Scoobies. The season starts in failure-because-of-pain with the trauma Buffy has caused her friends and family by running away over Angel dying, and ends in failure with the (more ambiguous) trauma of Buffy knifing Faith over Angel dying.

    Contrasting arcs and moments mark the highlights of the season. Xander’s best moment of the season might be buying Cordelia’s dress, a stunning act on his part. Angel’s best moments are when he mans up and leaves. Giles steps up big several times, including with the “spell” in Faith, Hope, and Trick, at the end of Helpless (after having himself been failed by the Council), and in The Prom ice cream scene. I’ve already mentioned that the Mayor’s relationship with Faith fills this role. Spike’s brief arc is telling here: he comes into Sunnydale wondering why Drusilla has failed him, and leaves recognizing that it’s largely because of how he failed her first.

    The Prom is the ultimate episode showing the contrasting theme of compassionate action, and a good portion of its immense power derives from this. Despite her deafening pain, Buffy comes through for her friends and classmates, saving prom. Despite their apparent oblivion, the students of the school graciously acknowledge Buffy’s place, giving her at last the affirmation she has been needing for so long. Despite their fighting, Xander comes through for Cordelia. Willow is emotionally present for Buffy when she needs her, as is Giles. Joyce speaks up for her daughter to Angel. After watching characters fail each other so many times, to have them all see and speak to the needs of others at once is cathartic and uplifting. Mike, you are so right when you say that they earned every bit of the emotion of this episode: they’ve been building the tension relieved here all season long.

    This comment has gotten ridiculously long–apologies! But I think that in this light, by finding the reasons which compel the characters to fail each other,* the season has even more emotional depth, and is a subtle, glorious tragedy.

    *: e.g., in the Xander/Willow debacle, which I think was entirely in-character for each of them. But that’s another comment for a different night.


  42. [Note: MikeJer posted this comment on August 5, 2012.]

    Thanks for the comment, Less newt! You make quite a few interesting observations and some excellent points.

    One thing I want to be clear on, though, is that while I find Season 3 to be the most overrated season of the show, that doesn’t mean I think it’s poor — some people (not necessarily you) have gotten a little confused about my stance here. It’s a great season of television with plenty of great stuff in it. There are just several things that don’t work for me still: the big ones being the mediocre follow-through from Season 2 and the lack of those super special episodes (like “Passion” or “Hush” or “The Body”), which together create an environment that, while nicely consistent, also feels too safe and a little lackluster considering what this show is capable of. Those flaws (and other smaller ones) create a rough edge around the season, which is why I still consider it an A- season. But… A- is still pretty great! šŸ™‚

    When I get to touching up my Season 3 reviews, I think you will notice an even more refined analysis of the pros and cons of the season. I’ll definitely be keeping your comment in mind when I begin that process though. I imagine Season 2 and Season 3 will receive the largest improvements in review quality (as I tended to get better at reviewing as I progressed through the series).


  43. [Note: Less newt posted this comment on August 8, 2012.]

    Thanks for the reply, Mike. I am looking forward to your updated S3 reviews!

    I appreciate you explaining again (it seems like most of what you’ve had to do in the S3 comments) that you really do like Season 3. Several times, people have claimed that S3 is the best season, and you’ve asked for some evidence of that.

    I don’t know if it’s the best, but for at least my second and third times through the show, S3 was definitely my favorite season. Having enjoyed your reviews a great deal (I started reading last time through S6 and S7, and I found your insights especially helpful in dealing with S7, which I did not love the first time around), I felt compelled to return the favor.

    To your expressed concerns: 1) I totally agree with your complaint about Anne that Buffy came back to Sunnydale too quickly. I think a consequence of this is that Angel also came back too soon. However, when I interpret charitably and pretend Angel didn’t come back just to have his own show, I think that Season 3 is about how and why the characters fail in their relationships, and so Angel must return. He is the only thing powerful enough to pull Buffy away from her friends. I agree with you that his return cheapens the Becoming arc somewhat, but I am willing to allow that because on my reading, the entirety of Season 3 is about Buffy dealing (often badly) with her attachment to Angel. (This actually feels more authentic to me than her just getting to put it all to rest and move on with normal, happy dating.) It is this attachment that leads to stresses in her friendships in Revelations, all of which recover fine except for her nascent friendship with Faith, which only gets worse from here (except for the brief spike in Bad Girls when Buffy snaps into the kill zone after a non-Master tries to drown her). Likewise, it’s this attachment that tips her over the edge into crazy Slayer killer in the Graduation Day arc. So, I feel like the writers have traded the pain of killing her lover for some very real and very subtle consequences throughout the entirety of Season 3 (although this explanation leaves me wishing that we got some screen time of anyone condemning Buffy’s assault of Faith–i.e., leaves me ragging on S4 for poor follow-through from S3!), and am content. Buffy also goes through a really interesting change in Becoming: she becomes unwilling to let Angel die in Graduation Day, or to let Dawn die in The Gift. By S7, she’s reverted back to being willing to do whatever is necessary for the world. But (nearly) killing Faith is a direct response to and result of sending Angel to Hell in Becoming, one which I do not endorse even though I understand it, and one which has been built up to all season long, and so I don’t quite see how S3 fails to follow through on S2.

    2) For me, Helpless is one of the most powerful episodes of the entire series. It doesn’t seem to resonate with everyone the way it has for me, but I have often felt the way Buffy feels, particularly about graduate school: Was my calling a wrong number? Who am I if not this? I can’t go back to the way I was–I know what goes bump in the night. You often give the P to episodes that make me cry, even after several viewings (Passion, Becoming Pt. 2, Who Are You?, The Body, The Gift); one of the missing few is Helpless.

    In general, I feel like nothing is safe in S3: any relationship could fail or end, and most of them do at some point. Often the arcs involving these breaks are short, sometimes contained within a single episode (as in Helpless), but the dangers feel real to me. Most of the “stand-alone” episodes in S3 are notable for how thematically unified they are with the season (if you interpret the season theme as I do), and it’s a scary theme.


  44. [Note: MikeJer posted this comment on August 9, 2012.]

    I’ll be brief with my response here, mostly because I’ll go into it more when I get back to these episodes again.

    1. “Anne” returns Buffy home far too quickly. I needed more emotional follow-through from the game-changing events of Season 2, and Season 3 failed to deliver that to me in a monumental fashion. And Angel’s return, while necessary (one way or another), happened too fast. Those two issues are somewhat linked, but they’re also individually problematic for me, and it really hurts the opening of Season 3. We’ll see how I feel next time around.

    You make some nice points about how they maybe salvaged this slip-up and turned it into something positive but I think that doesn’t change that it was a slip-up to begin with.

    2. “Helpless” is fabulous. I think I gave it an A. I actually agree with you that if there’s one Season 3 episode that deserves a P, it’s probably that one. We’ll see when I get back there. šŸ˜‰

    While I get where you’re going with the whole “nothing is safe in S3” thought, based on your interpretation, it still feels like a relatively safe season to me. But I’ll definitely be rethinking everything.


  45. [Note: Less newt posted this comment on August 9, 2012.]

    Mike, I appreciate your responses. Short notes:

    1. Fair enough. I think the effects of S2 reach far into S3, but you are right that the majority of the immediate fallout is wrapped up in the first two episodes, and that is not as interesting a handling as the show is capable of giving (and was a mistake). Angel coming back is a second mistake, although as I argued it seems thematically necessary, and I wonder if it would be the same mistake if they had given us the right emotional follow-through from S2 before he returned.

    2. You did give it an A, and I have no complaints about that. I was trying to articulate that for me, Helpless is one of the super-special episodes of the show, and so I can’t agree with your assertion that there aren’t any of those in S3.

    Can’t argue with you feeling safe during S3, though!

    Sometime soon I’m going to go back to the disk two episodes and try to give a compelling explanation for why Xander and Willow would ever do what the writers say they did. I don’t expect to convince you, but I’ll try anyway. šŸ™‚


  46. [Note: Ryan ONeil posted this comment on August 27, 2012.]

    Because Willow had had a crush on Xander her whole life, Xander probably realized that he loved her more than he thought he did when she was in a coma, he spent the summer fighting alongside her and realizing that he didn’t love Cordelia as much as he thought he did (“I can’t believe I can’t wait to see Cordelia”), even though when they finally did get together they both realized it wasn’t as much as they thought it would be (remember Corley at the end of the season?) and that they were risking hurting the other people they cared about?

    Or were you going somewhere completely different?


  47. [Note: Summer posted this comment on December 23, 2012.]

    Watching this again made me realize how awesome this episode is. Buffy is heartbreaking in the scene where she breaks down with Willow. I don’t think Willow has ever seen her friend so hurt and vulnerable. Finally, Xander and Cordelia act like humans towards each other once again. It’s touching that Xander paid off her dress especially since he doesn’t have any money and he probably had to borrow another tux from Uncle Rory or whatever. And he required no fanfare. Plus, Cordy did look smoking in that outfit and I liked how she still exuded that easy confidence she’s had most of her life, especially in that hot dress. I don’t know how Anya knew Xander knew exactly but she knew that she could be honest with him, at least.But my favorite part will always be the Class Protector award. It’s just so perfect. I thought the examples they threw out were a little random that those stuck out in their minds out of everything but it’s so incredibly sweet that I just cheese my way through it. Definitely one of my top fave Buffy moments ever. Johnathan! He’s so short.Great comments Newt and Mike.


  48. [Note: tangobob posted this comment on March 21, 2013.]

    very sweet version by the Sundays of Rolling stones’ ‘wild horses’…the song is about troubled relationships (keith richards and anita pallenberg, I believe)…perhpas the Stones song recorded the most by others….fits beautifully in the prom dancing scene…


  49. [Note: WCRobinson posted this comment on April 11, 2013.]

    I remember really loving this episode – the “Class Protector” award was one of my favourite moments in the whole series. For Xander it was a big moment too, as he was mature enough to help Cordelia out instead of mocking her for her situation.

    Of course, in retrospect, introducing Andrew in a way has to be a plus.


  50. [Note: DragonBeer posted this comment on January 9, 2014.]

    Geez, going back through the series for my 2nd time I was really excited for this episode. I remember being extremely affected by the Class Protector speech, and I managed to break down all over again. The one time Buffy feels like she got recognized for all the pain/self-sacrifice she had to deal with, and how perfect that Jonathan is the one who delivers it. It seemingly comes out of nowhere, in which the viewers did not believe the students noticed either. It was speech not only to Buffy, but to us too. Getting your eyes wet from just pure happiness rarely happens with TV, but this nails it.

    Excellent review by the way. I completely agree with the Cordy/Xander thing, and it not being able to go beyond this season because of Angel. How I would have loved to see some more interaction between them, especially since they finally made up since their break up. Even if it was just Cordy guest appearances in Buffy, or some Xander appearances in Angel. Which I would love just because of the Xander/Angel hatred.


  51. [Note: Spuffy4eva posted this comment on January 13, 2014.]

    I’m glad Angel broke up with Buffy-he bores me a little and broods too much, at least on BtVS. Hey, with this ep we have Andrew’s big brother so I think that’s the only plus to the hell hounds!


  52. [Note: FaithFanatic posted this comment on January 13, 2014.]

    With all due respect, aren’t you somewhat predisposed to dislike Angel given that your name proudly totes your love for Spike as a romantic partner for Buffy?

    I’ve never quite understood why people with differing opinions on characters fail to get along – your wording there was quite mild, but I’ve seen many so-called Spuffy fans blast Angel for being dull, stupid, badly-acted, boring, repetitive, predictable, insert negative adjective here. Personally, I’m inclined to prefer Spike simply because I think he’s by far the better character, at least on BtVS. Still, I can totally understand why people like Angel.


  53. [Note: T.G. posted this comment on March 13, 2014.]

    I love this episode. The hell hound plot was stupid, yes, but this episode makes me feel all warm, sort of like im home. I love how Giles offers buffy Ice-cream. I love that xander paid for Cordelia’s dress. I love the ending with buffy winning the award. I love it all. Especially sense all of these moments feel very earned instead of contrived.

    The Break-up scene didn’t feel overly melodramatic at all. In fact I think they really should have broken it off earlier. I love the buffy and Angel relationship, but season 3, at least in my opinion, didn’t handle the Buffy and Angel thing well at all. I just wish that Buffy and Angel had been “friends”, instead of being in a romantic relationship. I would have found it fascinating to see these too try to atleast be friends that year, which I admit is what they did try to do. I just wish that they would of been “just friends” the whole season. Its not like they still couldn’t make sexuel tension between the two, or write angel off to be on his own show if they didn’t take that route. That’s just a matter of opinion though. The break up scene is one of the few times were I think they got the whole ordeal right in season 3.

    I know its going to take some time, but I just can’t wait to see your opinion on this episode. I just rewatched it, and I didn’t realize how good it really was.


  54. [Note: Lydia posted this comment on June 7, 2014.]

    I love this episode so so much. Its on my top 50 episodes for sure! See, if this was any other TV show, a hokey prom plot would be extremely corny. ‘Last dance’ with your High School love would have been corny and a yawn, but as you said in your review MikeJr, on BtVS, especially after everything Buffy has been through in the last 3 seasons, it just feels very earned. I’m not afraid to admit I was bawling (Happy!Tears) by the time Jonathon began his speech all the way to the scene where Buffy and Angel are having their High School dance to the credits.

    Angel and Buffy finally realized that things weren’t going to work, breaking up was the only logical thing to do and they both know it. Yet the tender way that they both deal with this just shows how much they both have to lose (and gain) in the long run by giving up on this relationship. You know, Bangel’s relationship bored me my first time around, but I’ve come to appreciate it much more on my rewatch, although I still think that the S7 Spuffy alliance was much more beautiful and mature, I’ve got to give Bangel the credit it deserves.
    Like the prom scene, the break-up scene would have been contrived and lame on any other show, but through strong performances from both DB and SMG, we’re reduced to sad quivering tears.

    Love how everyone has grown! Willow, Buffy and Cordy all look soo gorgeous! I love Giles in this episode, too. Xander buying the dress for Cordy and she actually appreciating it, shows us that they make a final truce. And its beautiful. I always thought for some reason that the two of them could have worked things out under different circumstances. Oh well, at least we’ve got Anya now! And Cordy will have her own set of romantic ordeals in aTs.

    The plot was silly but it didn’t bother me much. Hellhounds are actually fantastic mythic creatures. I think Supernatural made better use of them, since they’re invisible on that show, the effect’s more dire and its scarier.

    Anyway. You can truly see just how selfless Buffy actually is in this episode and it just feels right when she earns that award. Its all so sweet and well deserved. In little subtle moments throughout these past few seasons, we get to see how Buffy helps everyone around her school in sometimes small and other times big ways. Its glad to see that the people of Sunnydale ARE aware about the Supernatural occurrences in the town and aren’t completely oblivious to everything. I love it when in middle of Johnathon’s speech, they all scream, “Zombies!” “Hyena people!” “Synder!” Its hilarious and heart wrenching at the same time somehow. This prom scene before it all goes to hell and a giant snake ruins everything and the school’s reduced to ashes, well, ‘satisfying’ is an understatement. We never get to see the gang so content and normal ever again. And you can tell by the way that Angel and Buffy dance that they know they’re on the brink of life where everything is going to change. They have no clue where either of them is going to go from here, but for now, they just want to freeze the happy moment forever and hold each other. Oh, god. My inner fangirl’s reading this and weeping already…


  55. [Note: MichaelW posted this comment on June 24, 2014.]

    While I agree with just about everything in the review and in many of the comments. For me personally, the god-I-can’t-believe-I-cry(Real Tears)-every-time-I-watch-it scenes in this episode were (like just about everyone) the Buffy telling willow “she can’t breathe” scene and from where Giles agrees with Buffy that sometimes people can surprise you. The look on her face when she sees Angel at the end (and the perfect pairing of the “Wild Horses” cover playing over) are pitch-perfect. I can only hope that one day I love someone as much as Buffy did Angel.


  56. [Note: Sunny posted this comment on July 9, 2014.]

    I completely agree. I always see a lot of Angel and bangel bashing for being too ‘immature’ and ‘melodramatic’, but I think the show always made it clear that Buffy would never love anyone else like Angel. He was never a merely a ‘teenage love’, as demonstrated by Buffy mentioning how much she loves him in later seasons. Buffy and Angel’s relationship was truly the most substantial and tragic of all Buffy relationships, and their love was the most inspiring and incomparable.


  57. [Note: YEup posted this comment on February 17, 2015.]

    Ya the whole “more mature” argument, which is mainly made in comparing Angel/Buffy with Spike/Buffy seemed kind of silly to me. Yes Buffy is younger when she is with Angel and hasn’t had to grow up so fast with her mother dying and having to take care of her sister and then lead an army, but I think the Angel/Buffy relationship is based on the same things Spike seems to emphasize in that speech during season 7. I think Buffy’s reactions to things are more teenagerish/melodramatic because she is younger when with Angel, but I think the basis of both relationships is pretty much the same.


  58. [Note: linds posted this comment on March 26, 2015.]

    Hey I love this episode!! sad I remember watching it in 99 šŸ˜¦ and yet so sweet. I just had a question. I was re-watching this and realized when Buffy was leaving the butchers after talking to Angel. What did Angel mumble to himself when she was gone?

    I understand that this sort of episode requires ice cream of some kind…


  59. [Note: DoctorWhoGirl posted this comment on July 24, 2015.]

    “For God’s sake, man, she’s eighteen. And you have the emotional maturity of a blueberry scone. Just have at it, would you, and stop fluttering about.”

    Still one of my favorite lines in any TV show ever. At least partially because I got the impression that the entire Scooby Gang had at some point considered pointing out to Weasley that Cordelia was 18, only to decide not to just to watch the man suffer.


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