[Review by Mike Marinaro]
[Writer: Joss Whedon | Director: Joss Whedon | Aired: 05/18/1999]
Here lies part one of a rousing conclusion to a great season. It doesn’t come off perfectly but there’s still a whole lot to like. My biggest problem is the fact that it feels like Whedon is holding back all the goods until part two. The only noticeable things that happen in this entire episode are Buffy quitting the council and her big fight with Faith at the end. That means there’s a whole lot of setup which rarely entertains as much as a conclusion. On the flip side, though, there were a lot of nice character moments to mostly make up for the lack of plot progress.
The episode begins with Buffy protesting her attendence at the graduation ceremony. She says “I guess I’ll miss stuff, but I just don’t get the whole graduation thing. I mean you get a piece of paper and nothing changes. I don’t even think I’m gonna go.” When I was going through grade school I couldn’t help but feel exactly like Buffy. My version of Buffy’s statement is “Congratulations, here’s another 4+ years of even harder work!” What Buffy said really relates to a lot of outsiders–people who just aren’t a part of the school environment. My friends and I were in our own world, a lot like the Scoobies, so I can really appreciate this scene.
As I mentioned above, aside from the big fight at the end, this is a character episode. We get a lot of development in all areas but primarily Faith, the Mayor, and Buffy. Lets begin by looking closer at Faith. Early on we see her show up at a Geology professor’s door (O.T. I’m currently taking a volcanology class!), walk in, and stab him without flinching at all. Sure she shot a guy through the heart with an arrow in “Choices” [3×19] , but there’s something different about the tactile experience of doing it up close. Faith’s completely immersed in her fantasy world where she’s powerful and can do whatever she wants. You could even make the argument that she feels like a god, as Angel said she would back in “Enemies” [3×17] . Buffy ends up incapacitating her in the end, but when she arises it’s obvious that she’s still out for blood. It’s not until literally being inside Buffy’s body that she begins to realize how screwed up she is inside (“Who Are You?” [4×16] ).
Before her demise, though, she gets some quality time with her surrogate dad, the Mayor. This weird relationship, which has been slowly evolving from the moment Faith walked in his office (“Consequences” [3×15] ), is often quite endearing. It also makes for an interesting parallel to the relationship between Buffy and Giles. It’s interesting to note that both of these fathers love and want the best for their ‘daughters.’ There is genuine caring on both sides of the table as we see when the Mayor enjoys seeing Faith in that pink dress. The only difference I can see between the two pairs is that the Mayor is fundamentally evil and is helping to fuel Faith’s growth as an evil being while Giles is fundamentally good and is helping to fuel Buffy’s growth as not only a Slayer, but also as a good human being.
This observation makes the scene where the Mayor walks right into the library even more fascinating. He speaks directly to Giles, father-to-father, “That’s one spunky little girl you’ve raised. I’m gonna eat her … Violent outbursts like that, in front of the children? You know, Mr. Giles, they look to you to see how to behave.” I love the way everyone gets incredibly scared and starts backing off the moment he appears. I also love the fact that Giles takes his sword and runs it through the Mayor in an outburst of anger. Great stuff.
Buffy makes a really touching speech to her mom when telling her she needs to leave town. She says, “I wish I could be a lot of things for you. A great student, a star athlete, remotely normal. I’m not. But there is something I do that I can do better than anybody else in the world. I’m gonna fight this thing, but I can’t do it and worry about you.” This really sums up the relationship between these two. I actually kind of wish we’d have gotten to see more time spent between Buffy and her mom, but her speech is a really fitting way to essentially say wrap up their relationship. We see them together a few times in S4 and then quite a bit in S5, but most of the S5 interaction revolves around Joyce’s illness.
A big portion of this episode is devoted to Angel’s injury and the ensuing illness. Faith’s intention is wonderfully smart: poison Angel so that Buffy and all the Scoobies are distracted by that instead of trying to stop the Mayor. The plan works perfectly until Buffy discovers that Faith’s blood will cure Angel, which as Buffy points out is quite fitting. The biggest problem I have with this development is how it is executed when Angel’s illness begins to worsen. These scenes drag on and far too much screen time is given to Angel suffering and people feeling sorry for Buffy. Unfortunately this really does bog down the episode a bit.
The big ‘event’ of the proceedings is the Watcher’s Council refusing to offer assistance to Angel. This is what pushes Buffy permanently away from Wesley and the Council. The Council’s decision is hardly surprising based on what we learned of them in “Helpless” [3×12] . This institution is seriously old school and tradition-based. Giles naturally backs Buffy up as she tells off Wesley. He calls it mutiny while she, more appropiately, says “I like to think of it as graduation.” This is a smart move on Buffy’s part and not based purely on emotion, even though it appears that way. The Council does have a great deal of knowledge and information, but because of their insane customs and methods it’s difficult for them to actually be useful in the fight against evil. All of these issues will be brought back to the surface in “Checkpoint” [5×12] and all throughout S7, especially after the Caleb destroys the Council with a bomb. It’s also interesting to note that even though Giles looks down on the Council now, he still is bred on their philosophies and pushes that traditional agenda. We see it many times from him in episodes including “The Gift” [5×22] and “Lies My Parents Told Me” [7×17] .
A smaller moment I really appreciated was Xander’s comment to Buffy when she announces that she’s going to kill Faith. He says, “I just don’t want to lose you.” Buffy replies, “I won’t get hurt.” Xander then says, “That’s not what I mean.” Xander is concerned that Buffy killing Faith will spark her like it did Faith and end up turning Buffy into Faith. While I believe Xander’s concern is valid, Buffy is hardly as confused as Faith was leading up to the moment where she killed the Deputy Mayor in “Bad Girls” [3×14] . It would, however, definitely affect her and quite possibly make her darker and quieter. Since this ends up happening anyway in later seasons, it seems to me just stabbing Faith had nearly the same effect.
All of this setup then finally pays off. The big Buffy and Faith fight scene launches us firmly into the second half of the story and makes for one of the most thrilling girl/girl fights I’ve ever seen on film. The only competition is Buffy and Faith’s other fights in “Revelations” [3×07] and “This Year’s Girl” [4×15] . The fight is well staged and contains very satisfying jabs at each other in between the action. These jabs actually have great meaning because of the wonderfully careful construction of Faith’s character and Buffy’s development over the course of the season. My only complaint with the fight lies at the very end, after Buffy stabs Faith. Buffy just lies on the ground listening to Faith go off about stuff when she should have been immediately jumping up, shock and all, and grabbing Faith. Instead she lets her fall backwards off the rooftop down onto a truck. I just don’t buy that Buffy would be so shocked that she wouldn’t be able to react for Angel’s sake.
I’ve introduced a lot of people to this series now, and nearly all of them have commented on why Buffy doesn’t climb down the ladder super quick and chase after the truck. This seems like a silly complaint to me because as strong as Buffy is she’s only slightly faster than most people while running. There’s no way she would have caught up with that truck. So this is not a complaint of mine.
To sum this up I’d have to say that part one gets the job done. It’s not perfect, but there’s a lot of really great character moments and development. On top of that, the Buffy and Faith fight scene is so satisfying it’s worth waiting for alone. My complaints pretty much revolve around the often slow pace and the lingering of Angel’s illness. Overall, though, it’s a success. Bring on part two!
Minor Pros/Cons (+/-)
+ Willow wanting Harmony to sign her yearbook. This phenomenon is weird but factual. When leaving something behind you even begin to miss the things you hated.
+ Willow seeing Percy again. I’m really pleased they kept bringing him back.
+ Giles sword fighting with Wesley while hardly paying attention.
+ Anya’s knowledge as an ex-demon being tremendously useful.
+ Oz ‘panicking’ and his relationship with Willow overall. These two are wonderful together.
+ Angel’s less-than-stealthy entrance to the apartment Buffy’s investigating.
+ The book with the ascended demon in it having two additional fold out pages.