[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.