[Review by Mike Marinaro]
The high school years are over! This season is quite popular among many fans and it’s obvious why. This is great material which manages to even top S2 in many (but not all) ways. The areas where it really succeeds are the surprisingly high consistency between episodes and its reliance on character interaction to propel the plot. Faith as a character is an embodiment of this and is ultimately the reason why this season resoundingly works. I do, however, have some noteworthy problems with the season which I’m going to discuss first. None of these complaints largely affect my enjoyment of the season, but they are worth noting.
The more I think about it the more this entire season is about identity. This theme is given to us in a big way during “Anne” [3×01] . During that episode Buffy is struggling to find her identity, thinking that she can separate the Slayer from the person. It turns out this theme didn’t stop there. In “Faith, Hope, and Trick” [3×03] Faith comes into town with all kinds of identity issues. It’s obvious she’s had a rough life and hasn’t found herself yet. The entire point of “Homecoming” [3×05] was Buffy’s attempt at being known for something other than slaying. I think while she’s come to terms with the fact she can’t rid herself of being the Slayer, she still wants acceptance in the normal world every now and then — to be noticed.
Identity comes back in a big way during “Helpless” [3×12] when Buffy temporarily loses her powers. She tells Angel, “Before I was the Slayer, I was… Well, I, I don’t wanna say shallow, but… Let’s say a certain person, who will remain nameless, we’ll just call her Spordelia, looked like a classical philosopher next to me. Angel, if I’m not the Slayer, what do I do? What do I have to offer? Why would you like me?”
Buffy isn’t the only person dealing with identity issues either. “The Zeppo” [3×13] is entirely about Xander’s identity issues, “Doppelgangland” [3×16] and “Choices” [3×19] tackle Willow’s issues, and “Consequences” [3×15] explores Faith’s problems. Even Cordelia has to redefine herself after her family lost everything. We see this new Cordelia, which will be fully explored on AtS, in “The Prom” [3×20] . I will elaborate on all of these characters in their individual segments below. I’d also like to mention that this is the season where the Scoobies begin to lose their closeness.
Buffy’s summer adventure has permanently hurt the cohesiveness between her, Willow, and Xander. Anyone remember the end of “Killed by Death” [2×18] when the three of them are snuggled up together on Buffy’s bed watching TV and eating snacks? Did anything remotely like this happen during this entire season? Buffy’s not the only one who’s begun to separate from the others. Xander not telling Willow about his sexual encounter with Faith in “The Zeppo” [3×13] really hurt her and their friendship. They are never fully honest with each other after this. One of the main themes of S4 is the separation of the Scoobies, and it’s not a surprise that it happens due in part because of the seeds planted this season.
Here’s the way I view the season overall: It begins with Buffy returning home after her summer of trying to be Slayer-free. The group, rather unfortunately, works out their issues with her in a matter of one episode and a zombie attack. Then, however, the season gets interesting with the arrival of Kendra’s replacement, Faith. Right off the bat we see that Faith makes an excellent counterpoint to Kendra. After “Faith, Hope, and Trick” [3×03] , though, we don’t see much of Faith until “Revelations” [3×07] and are instead given some acceptable but cheesy episodes like “Beauty and the Beasts” [3×04] and “Homecoming” [3×05] . While we are treated to some fantastic episodes along the way, the story arc really takes a while to get going and meanders along until “Consequences” [3×15] , where Faith hooks up with the Mayor. As can be seen by the nearly nonstop stream of episodes scored 90+ from that point on, the season gets in high-gear and sprints to the finale, much like S2 did after “Innocence” [2×14] . This is a fantastic season.
- The quick return of Buffy after the events of “Becoming Pt. 2” [2×22] .
- Angel’s return from hell and reconnection with Buffy.
- Willow and Xander’s illicit relationship.
- The reduction of emotion, danger, and pain from S2.
Lets begin with the first problem on the list: Buffy’s return from her self-inflicted exile. While “Anne” [3×01] does a decent job at tackling the issues really facing Buffy, it doesn’t go into it in the depth that I was wanting. There’s a scene very early in that episode where Buffy is sitting on her bed holding a can of something, completely frozen in silence. That moment tells me more about what Buffy’s feeling than anything in the rest of the episode. I strongly believe a dark two or three parter focused heavily on Buffy would have been a far more powerful way to begin the new season. On top of that, the lightweight scenes back at Sunnydale High with the Scoobies ended up restraining the tone that I wanted even further. I feel they really missed an opportunity here. Then in “Dead Man’s Party” [3×02] the issues of her return are glossed over and not resolved just because some cheesy zombies crash in. The writers just missed the boat on these two episodes. Instead of geniune emotion and a powerful return we get zombies. I say big missed opportunity, and there aren’t many of those in this series.
Next on the list is Angel and his unfortunate return. I’ve got two major complaints with this development, the first of which is that it reduces the lasting power of “Becoming Pt. 2” [2×22] . That is a beautiful episode which ends in tragedy. To have Angel back at all, let alone so soon, really spoils some of the S3 atmosphere along with the importance of the S2 finale. It’s fortunate “Faith, Hope, and Trick” [3×03] is such a good episode to help make up for it.
My other problem with Angel’s return is its affect on Buffy. At the end of “Faith, Hope, and Trick” [3×03] we see Buffy at the mansion laying down the ring Angel gave to her back in “Surprise” [2×13] . She puts it on the ground and says, “goodbye.” She stands up, breathes in, and then walks away. That is a beautiful moment and while I was sad for Buffy I was also very pleased that she was ready to move on. But instead of moving on Angel immediately returns.
Now that Angel’s back, what the writers did with him must also be evaluated. I’ll focus on his specific development later, but my main issue is with his reconstituted relationship with Buffy throughout the season. It starts off well enough with Buffy secretly paying visits to help him regain his strength, starting in “Beauty and the Beasts” [3×04] . Then in “Lover’s Walk” [3×08] Spike crashes into town and basically forces Buffy to see that she and Angel can never be “just friends” and that they can’t be together. Buffy wisely breaks it off here. I would have been fine with this, but in “Amends” [3×10] the two of them share a special moment where Buffy admits she can’t bare staying away from him anymore.
So now they’re back together again. This is of course until “Enemies” [3×17] where Buffy tells Angel she needs a break. After a little one-on-one in the next episode they’re back together yet again. Finally in “The Prom” [3×20] Angel finally takes the initiative and, based on mountains of evidence that their relationship can’t work, breaks it off for good. This on and off routine just didn’t do it for me. I couldn’t help but be slightly annoyed by how the two of them acted. Angel was letting Buffy play him like a yo-yo and never spoke up until “The Prom” [3×20] .
The next issue I have is probably my biggest: an out-of-character relationship that lasts for several episodes. You know what I’m talking about; the Xander/Willow ‘thing.’ I made it clear in my reviews that I hated this development and didn’t buy it at all. This came out of nowhere. Xander has never been interested in Willow romantically. While it’s true that she once was interested in Xander, that’s long passed. Willow and Oz are great together and I just can’t see her doing this to him, so I view this whole affair as poor writing. It appears the writers broke Cordelia and Xander up primarily because they knew Cordelia was going to leave the show after this season. So yeah, they needed to break up, but they could have found a better way than to force Willow and Xander to have “illicit smoochies.”
When I saw this season for the first time I was eagerly awaiting an episode to come along that took the characters’ emotions and threw them out in the open for all to see. I was waiting to see material of the likes of “Innocence” [2×14] , “Passion” [2×17] , or “Becoming Pt. 2” [2×22] . That episode never arrived though. “Graduation Day Pt. 2” [3×22] went by and I wasn’t left sitting there emotionally drained and thoroughly shocked. Instead I was let down by the reduction of emotional intensity and danger which the final group of episodes in S2 had. This problem could be attributed to not taking full advantage of Faith’s aggressive tendencies or it could possibly even have to do with the Mayor himself. While the Mayor’s a wonderful character, he’s simply just not scary. After “Passion” [2×17] I was worried for all the Scoobies, but I can’t say the same here. This season may have more consistent episodes than S2, but the emotional level never reaches what was accomplished in S2. This doesn’t bother me a ton, but it is something that I think detracts from the lasting impact of the season.
- Faith’s arc.
- The Mayor and the countdown to his ascension.
- Episode consistency.
- The balance between ‘fun’ and ‘arc’ struck in the second half of the season.
- Character development.
The way I see it, Faith is really the cornerstone of the season; it’s why it works so well. She comes to town a little wonky, tries to bond with Buffy a bit, gets betrayed, still shows some vulnerability, and then gives in fully to temptation. Her character is so adeptly written and developed that it amazes me. When she walked into the Mayor’s office in “Consequences” [3×15] it wasn’t an out-of-character move, and that’s very impressive. The Mayor is also a lot of fun, but with fun often comes a lack of danger. I was never scared of the Mayor, but he was so uniquely entertaining that the countdown to his ascension was fun to watch anyway. When both Faith and the Mayor started working together the season took off and found incredible focus. The father/daughter relationship that developed between the two, which in many ways parallels the Giles/Buffy relationship, was wildly fun to watch. These two characters are what really make this season as good as it is.
Setting up awesome circumstances is one thing, but actually writing quality episodes is an entirely separate game. This season sported a really impressive “solid episode” count. As can be seen in the season breakdown, 13 episodes were scored an A-range or a P. That’s over half of the season! This is the kind of quality viewers dream of and here it is, already present in S3 of BtVS. I’m not sure I can say at this point that any other season can top S3 in this area. Kudos to the writers for taking full advantage of the smart situations they set up.
As I’ve already mentioned, the second half of the season was especially stellar. Aside from simply putting out strong episodes, the writers struck an awesome balance of ‘fun’ and ‘arc’ episodes. Once “Consequences” [3×15] came around the season alternated between a fun episode like “Doppelgangland” [3×16] to a arc episode like “Choices” [3×19] . When combined with the high quality of the episodes (with the exception of “Enemies” [3×17] [3×17]) the phrase “perfect entertainment” springs to mind. The character development that was seen this season was also very well done. Buffy got a little bit less attention than in S2 which gave more time for the supporting characters like Willow, Oz, Giles, and Faith to shine. Most of the time these characters were handled with great care. Now lets take a closer look at every important character this season beginning with, of course, our beloved Buffy.
I mentioned earlier that Buffy wasn’t the focus of the season like she was in S2. That’s not to say she didn’t get loads of development though. I’d like to begin by going back to the theme of the season: identity. This theme resonates with Buffy most obviously in “Anne” [3×01] but doesn’t stop there. When she says to one of the slave guards “I’m Buffy. The Vampire Slayer. And you are…?” we see her finally accept who she is: an even blend of both Buffy and the Slayer. This is important because she was frequently frowning upon her slayerness in S2, and after “Becoming Pt. 2” [2×22] even tries to completely separate herself from it. My only complaint with this great realization is that it only took one episode.
Nevertheless, Buffy isn’t trying to fight herself anymore — she’s accepted that she’s the Slayer and is somewhat at peace with it. We see this fully represented in “Helpless” [3×12] when Buffy loses her powers for a while. There is a key moment when Willow’s telling her about how nice it’ll be to be that normal person she wanted to be in S2, but as soon as Giles walks in the room she runs over to him and immediately wants to know if he can cure her problem.
All of this doesn’t mean that Buffy’s lost interest in being recognized as a person though. In “Homecoming” [3×05] she explains to Cordelia that she wants to be known for something outside of just slaying, which is a fair request to be sure. Interestingly enough in another dance-titled episode, “The Prom” [3×20] , she actually gets to see the entire senior class giving her that recognition she so badly been wanted in “Homecoming” [3×05] . This is a truly sublime moment for the character and a perfect farewall to her high school years. In the first three seasons she has gone from care-free hero to more serious hero who wants a normal life to accepting hero who just wants to be recognized as a person. With that recognition finally given, Buffy’s first-act (S1-S3) journey is complete. While all of this has been happening she’s grown up too. Her experience in “Becoming Pt. 2” [2×22] definitely hardened her a bit.
Another interesting area explored, using Faith as the catalyst, is the darkness that lies within Buffy. With Kendra we saw the cardboard Slayer in action. She was trained and quite restrained with her emotions. She made Buffy look a bit flippant and wild. Her replacement, Faith, charges into town and gives us the complete opposite. Faith is the embodiment of flippant and wild. She makes Buffy look a lot more like Kendra! There’s something fascinating that all three of these girls have in common: the dark roots of the Slayer’s power.
We learn in “Get it Done” [7×15] that the First Slayer was chained to the ground and infused with the essence of a demon. So all these girls have that darkness within them. Faith frequently lets is rise to the surface while Buffy is aware of it inside her but is constantly pushing it away. In “Bad Girls” [3×14] Buffy lets herself give into Faith’s philosophy of “want, take, have” for a while. The end result had Buffy feeling terrible about what she was apart of and realising that completely giving into the darkness within her would ruin her. That’s why in “Consequences” [3×15] she is so eager to help Faith. Buffy knows Faith is sliding out of control and getting out of her reach to help. Buffy did her best to help her but, alas, she was too far gone already.
The most interesting piece of dialog between these two comes when Faith gives it to Buffy verbally on the docks in “Consequences” [3×15] . She says, “You know exactly what I’m about ’cause you have it in you, too … I’ve seen it, B. You’ve got the lust. And I’m not just talking about screwing vampires … It was good, wasn’t it? The sex? The danger? Bet a part of you even dug him when he went psycho … See, you need me to toe the line because you’re afraid you’ll go over it, aren’t you, B? You can’t handle watching me living my own way, having a blast, because it tempts you! You know it could be you!” Buffy doesn’t shoot her down very convincingly, basically admitting what Faith is saying about her is true at least on some level. Buffy does have all of that in her, but she tries very hard to never let that control her. This is why Buffy succeeds at being a Slayer and Faith miserably fails.
A big part of the season involved Buffy’s conflicted relationship with Angel. I’ve already throroughly discussed what I didn’t like about their relationship this season so here I’ll discuss some of the things I did like. One of the positives is definitely the sexual tension that is pretty much held onto all season long and is finally released in the powerful, and strangely erotic, biting scene in “Graduation Day Pt. 2” [3×22] . There are several episodes which really do a solid job at playing around with this tension.
The ‘training’ scene at the mansion with Angel early in “Helpless” [3×12] and the erotic foreign film they saw together in “Enemies” [3×17] both come to mind. Overall I really like the Buffy/Angel relationship but, as I expressed before, the on/off nature of it this season didn’t sit too well with me because of how many times it was, well, on/off. I was greatly sympathetic with Buffy, though, when Angel broke up with her in “The Prom” [3×20] and left town in “Graduation Day Pt. 2” [3×22] .
By the end of the season Buffy is confident in herself and her abilities. It seems to me that “Graduation Day Pt. 1” [3×21] and “Graduation Day Pt. 2” [3×22] are about change and the future. We observe Buffy sarcrificing of herself when she encourages Angel to drink her so he can be cured. This is the latest example of her nature of sacrificing herself for others and is another step on the way to her death in “The Gift” [5×22] . But as Faith says in Buffy’s prophetic dream, “miles to go.” In S4 and the beginning of S5, Buffy gets to further explore her relationship skills and sexuality before really having to face adult responsibilities head on. So it’s time to enjoy the remnants of childhood with Buffy before she is forced to completely grow up.
This is a good season for Willow! I think she got just as much development as last season — possibly even a bit more. My only problem with the development that did happen, which I’ve already discussed in detail above, is her “illicit smoochies” with Xander. I think I’ve harped on that topic enough though so I’ll move on. The theme of identity that this season has adopted hasn’t left Willow by the wayside. As she continues to increase her abilities with black magic we’ve seen her become tougher and actually useful in helping Buffy and the group fight. These skills really started being discussed in “Gingerbread” [3×11] when the town gets put under a spell to burn witches. We see her making a protection spell for Buffy as well as standing up to her mom about her use of magic. If nothing else, this episode shows us just how entrenched Willow’s become in it.
The S2 episode “Halloween” [2×06] was an important step in the growth of Willow’s self confidence. In my review I mentioned how she became assertive in a time of crisis and did it naturally, without any magical assistance. This season’s big “Willow development episode” was “Doppelgangland” [3×16] . Here we see that magic has clouded her natural development and is now the primary factor driving it. The episode establishes early on the theme that Willow is “old reliable.” She takes a bit of offense to this term and seeks to change her behavior.
That’s when Anya comes along and asks Willow to assist her in a dark spell. Willow is all too eager to agree because all season she’s wanted to further develop her magical abilities. When the spell fails Willow, very ironically, says “Look, m-magic is dangerous, Anya, i-it’s, it’s not to be toyed with.” I say this is ironic because Willow doesn’t actually, deep down, believe what she’s saying. She’s fooled herself into believing that she uses it to fight evil and that it’s not turning her dark. The truth is that the magic is slowly turning her dark and she’s not even aware of it. The first sign we see of her black magic obsession begins right here in this episode!
At the end of “Doppelgangland” [3×16] she says to Buffy, “I see now where the path of vice leads. I mean, she [Vampire Willow] messed up everything she touched. I don’t ever want to be like that.” It appears that Willow has learned an important lesson, but then Percy cuts in to show her that being a badass has its positives. Vampire Willow beat the crap out of Percy in the Bronze earlier on so he now thinks Willow is a badass. This is, in effect, telling Willow that being a badass will give her power and respect which are both things she ultimately wants. Looking at Willow’s development after this episode I can’t help but feel she took this experience heavily. In “Choices” [3×19] we see her willing to put herself in a dangerous situation to help the gang. Not only that, but when she gets captured she is able to use magic to escape and stands up to Faith while being threatened. This new, if I may, ‘persona’ of Willow has now fully taken over.
All throughout S4 the cute little inncocent Willow is gone even though she tries to hide this change. “Restless” [4×22] directly addresses this when Tara, in Willow’s dream, tells her “Everyone’s starting to wonder about you. The real you. If they find out, they’ll punish you, I … I can’t help you with that.” While all of this is gradually happening Giles continues to make comments about how dangerous and dark it is to be using this kind of magic. This is all fantastic setup for what’s to come.
Hand in hand with Willow’s growing magical abilities comes the separation from her friends. I’ll begin with her relationship with Buffy. In “Dead Man’s Party” [3×02] we see her avoiding Buffy because she’s kind of angry at her for taking off and not telling anyone. By the end of the episode it appears they’re back to normal, but in “Faith, Hope, and Trick” [3×03] she tries to get Buffy dating again thinking it’s the right thing for her. Willow obviously has no clue what Buffy is going through and completely ignores the obvious fact that Buffy hasn’t fully gotten over the loss of Angel yet. For a while Buffy and Willow don’t share any personal thoughts with each other — not until “Consequences” [3×15] . In “Bad Girls” [3×14] we see Willow trying to offer help to Buffy who’s caught up bonding with Faith a bit. Everyone’s taking a whole lot longer to communicate honestly with each other this season, though, and Willow waits until Buffy comes to her before opening up and letting her feelings loose. She probably thought Buffy came to her to talk about the same subject. The two of them are still good friends but they aren’t as close as they were before.
Next is Willow’s distance from Xander. I’m not sure what the direct result of this is, but I’m fairly certain it has something to do with their kissing affair earlier in the season. After that I’m having a really hard time recalling the two of them communicating with each other, in a personal one-on-one conversation, for the rest of the season. When Xander’s secret about him and Faith comes out Willow ends up crying (“Consequences” [3×15] [3×15]). These two use to be best friends and could tell each other anything, which definitely isn’t the case anymore. This moment puts the final nail in the coffin because they’re never extremely open with each other again. We see all this separation explode out into the open next season, especially in “The Yoko Factor” [4×20] . It’s amusing how in “Primeval” [4×21] , the next episode, they appear to fully reconnect and grow close again but in actuality they haven’t.
The final thing I want to talk about is Willow’s relationship with Oz, because it’s really evolved in the background of the season’s bigger issues. There’s three key episodes that best showcase their progress as a couple. The first is “Lover’s Walk” [3×08] , which is when Willow and Xander are finally caught kissing each other. Oz immediately breaks it off with Willow for a while to think things over. In “The Wish” [3×09] he tells Willow, “Look… I’m sorry this is hard for you. But I told you what I need. So I can’t help feeling like the reason you want to talk is so you can feel better about yourself. That’s not my problem.”
The result of their away time comes in “Amends” [3×10] when Oz decides to give their relationship another shot. Willow is not going to screw it up this time though. In the same episode she offers to have sex with Oz and he turns it down. He tells Willow that she doesn’t need to prove anything to him and is exactly the moment they become a solid couple again. So when Oz ‘panics’ in “Graduation Day Pt. 1” [3×21] and finally decides to make love to Willow, it feels right. I really loved Willow with Oz so it’s a real shame Seth Green decided to persue movies.
This season also has Xander attempting to find his identity. The entirety of “The Zeppo” [3×13] deals with this. But first I’m going to talk about what happens to him before his “identity episode.” Aside from being very vocal in “Dead Man’s Party” [3×02] about Buffy’s absence, he was very outspoken about finding out Angel’s back in town and kissing Buffy again (“Revelations” [3×07]). Buffy counters his verbal assault by saying, “Right. This is all nobility. This has nothing to do with jealousy.” Buffy just nailed Xander’s problem: jealously (and possibly a smidgen of hatred) towards Angel. Xander’s concerns are valid in this scene, but his motives are not. Later on in the same episode Faith jumps to stupid conclusions and goes off to kill Angel. All Xander says in response is “can I come?” This problem has been a consistent trait of his for the first three seasons and it creates very interesting situations.
Another important early Xander thread to address is his relationship with Cordelia. We knew from the start that this probably wasn’t going to work in the long run, but to everyone’s surprise it is Xander who is the cause of the split — he kept kissing Willow. I applaud the writers for breaking this couple up so that Cordelia can prepare to join AtS and Xander can be free to explore himself a bit. But, as I’ve mentioned several times before, they should have found an in-character way to accomplish this.
With things more or less calmed down and his relationship with Cordelia completely finished, “The Zeppo” [3×13] gets to happen. In this clever episode we see Xander get to be the hero without anyone even knowing what he did. Oh yeah, he also spontaneously loses his virginity to Faith in her apartment. Aside from the fact that Xander gets some action, this episode really highlights Xander’s character throughout a big portion of the series. He appears to realise something about himself, like how in “The Zeppo” [3×13] he seems to learn to not have so much doubt in himself, but he barely retains any of that development. Xander isn’t one to change easily. With Willow in “Doppelgangland” [3×16] we not only see a change of attitude in that episode, but also the subsequent ones. It’s gradual but it’s definitely there. We don’t see this with Xander as much.
As the years go by, though, these experiences begin to slowly register in his conciousness. His experience in “The Replacement” [5×03] and then what he did in “Hell’s Bells” [6×16] appear to definitely stay with him. So eventually he does grow, but it just takes him a whole lot longer than the other Scoobies. This doesn’t bother me because some people really just don’t learn from their mistakes very well and change is really difficult for them.
Even though it appears that Xander didn’t take anything away from his experience in “The Zeppo” [3×13] , it turns out he actually did. The dress he helped Cordelia buy in “The Prom” [3×20] is an unsung moment that really shows what he’s made of. This displays how amazingly kind and giving Xander can be and is a moment which is just as unsung as when he didn’t feel the need to tell anyone about his experience of stopping a bomb from detonating in the school boiler room.
Another important aspect of “The Prom” [3×20] to take notice of is Anya’s odd attraction to Xander. He doesn’t have anyone else to go with so he decides to take the unusual former demon to the prom with him. It seems like it should be the end of it, but she asks him to drive away with him and flee from the ascencion in “Graduation Day Pt. 1” [3×21] . Xander points out to her that he’s got friends on the line and is going to help in the fight however he can. This is something Anya doesn’t comprehend right now but will by the end of the series. It’s made very clear that college isn’t in Xander’s future. He’s going on a road trip and then will struggle to find work all throughout S4.
Giles is the one character this season who isn’t in search of his identity — that’s on tap for next season. For now Giles is entirely focused on taking care of and assisting Buffy in her slayer responsibilities. His Watcher duties are mostly taken away so all that he’s left with is his fatherly love of Buffy and his job as school librarian. Very early on it is evident just how much he cares for her. A really special moment that I need to mention comes in “Dead Man’s Party” [3×02] when the Scooby Gang is gathered in Giles’ house and he heads into his kitchen to make some tea. As soon as he gets away from the group he takes his glasses off and with a nod of his head and an expression on his face, we know he is unbelievably relieved and happy Buffy is back. This is one of those small moments that really touches me. In “Faith, Hope, and Trick” [3×03] Giles does something that continues to show his devotion to Buffy’s well being. He makes up the necessity of a binding spell in order to find out what’s still bothering her.
Once Giles gets fired as Buffy’s Watcher in “Helpless” [3×12] we are, once again, shown that he will be forever commited to her as her friend and father figure. He tenderly heals her wounds after the Council’s ‘test’ and stays right by her side as the new Watcher, Wesley, arrives. Although he betrayed Buffy’s trust in “Helpless” [3×12] , it seems as though she can see he was simply following orders, hated doing it, still helped her and her mother afterwards, and completely regrets the decision to go along with it. That’s why she allows him to wipe the blood off her face at the end. It also seems like none of the Scoobies even knew what Giles did to her. Nobody else was around when she found out. Yeah, Cordelia walked in at the end, but it doesn’t appear as though Buffy told her anything. Anyway, I think deep down Buffy never trusts Giles completely again after this, but she does obviously forgive him.
As I already mentioned, most of Giles’ development is in his relationship with Buffy. Not all of it is though. We see Giles put into two separate yet equally entertaining scenarios — one with Joyce and another with Wesley. In “Band Candy” [3×06] him and Joyce have sex on the hood of a police car while under the influence of cursed band candy. After the effects wear off both of them still remember what happened.
This connection that the two of them have throughout the season is very funny to watch. Every time I see them together I can’t help but feel the light sexual tension and embarassment between them. A much different ‘mate’ for Giles is Wesley, the new Watcher, who charges in and makes himself known as young and inexperienced. The scene in “Bad Girls” [3×14] where Giles and Wesley are both wiping their glasses and Giles seems embarassed is one example of the new dynamic that is brought to him. Throughout the rest of the season Giles seems way cooler and gets the opportunity to show everyone that he isn’t just “research man” — he can help with the fighting too.
It’s interesting to think about where Giles is heading at season’s end. He’s lost his job as Watcher, he’s lost his job as school librarian (and he’s the one who blew up the school), and he still has bills to pay and the Slayer to help. His initial thoughts seem to be that he wants to have a life of his own again. This is the situation in which his S4 arc begins.
Like Giles, Angel’s entire arc through the season is defined by his relationship with Buffy. That’s aside from the fantastic insight into his character in “Amends” [3×10] of course. When Angel initially returns from hell, him and Buffy are trying the “lets just be friends” method. Spike rolls into town again and completely blows that attempt away. He very observantly says, “You’re not friends. You’ll never be friends. You’ll be in love till it kills you both. You’ll fight, and you’ll shag, and you’ll hate each other till it makes you quiver, but you’ll never be friends. (points at his temple) Love isn’t brains, children, it’s blood… (clasps his chest) blood screaming inside you to work its will. I may be love’s bitch, but at least I’m man enough to admit it.” Even though Buffy is the one to separate them now, I can’t help but think that Angel remembered this little speech from Spike when deciding to end their relationship for good in “The Prom” [3×20] . Not just this, of course, but also the Mayor’s speech, Joyce’s warnings, and Buffy’s blind love for him.
Angel’s big moment of development this entire season comes in “Amends” [3×10] . This episode introduces the First Evil and beautifully sets up Angel’s journey ahead in AtS. He’s haunted by Angelus’ evil deeds and is ready to kill himself when Buffy shows up to talk him out of it. He tells her “It’s not the demon in me that needs killing, Buffy. It’s the man.” Her response is basically the mission statement of AtS. Here it is: “Angel, you have the power to do real good, to make amends. But if you die now, then all that you ever were was a monster … ‘Strong’ is fighting! It’s hard, and it’s painful, and it’s every day.” This event gives Angel the motivation and determination to exist on his own while still being able to be strong and fight the good fight. The miraculous snow at the end signifies that the “Powers That Be” (or possibly God) want(s) him alive because he’s destined to do great things for humanity.
Up until she beaks up with Xander for cheating on her, Cordelia is nothing more than comic relief. Afterwards, though, we get to see a bit more from her. By far the most interesting developments with Cordelia this season come in “The Prom” [3×20] when we discover that her dad made a mistake on his taxes for twelve years and she’s broke. I’ll touch on that last though. First I want to talk about her revelations about herself after she becomes single again. In “The Wish” [3×09] we see her immediately trying to distance herself from Xander and attempt to rejoin her old group like nothing happened. But things did happen and her old group knows it.
Harmony and group ridicule her and a guy she used to know won’t have anything to do with her aside from a sexual encounter. She’s naturally disgusted and begins to realise just how shallow and demeaning she herself used to be. Slowly over the course of the rest of the season she begins to help out the Scoobies again, especially when her attraction to Wesley gives her a good excuse to show up. This attraction is used pretty much purely for laughs and is proved so during “Graduation Day Pt. 2” [3×22] when they finally kiss. I find it incredibly funny to have all that build-up only to get that.
It’s really during “The Prom” [3×20] when we begin to see what Cordelia’s really made of. She’s lost all her money and her home. Xander shows some kindness by paying for the rest of her prom dress and she returns his kindness with a genuinely heartfelt “thank you.” She has a job at a clothes store and is supporting herself the best she can. All of the sudden the Cordelia character has become a lot more interesting again and I kind of feel a bit sad she leaves this show. At least we get to see her help Angel, persue acting, and develop further as an individual in L.A. on AtS.
Oz is a really interesting character. He doesn’t say much and he really keeps to the background. He’ll add in a suggestion or two but generally lets the experts take care of situations that arise. One thing to note is that his werewolf aspect is pretty much ignored this season. They locked him up and such during the right times, but how the wolf affects him is barely discussed yet it becomes a big part in why he leaves in S4’s “Wild at Heart” [4×06] . It’s a shame they couldn’t find a way to further develop that this season. The rest of his development is also completely based around his relationship with Willow. There are a few moments that really define Oz for me. One is how Oz handles seeing Willow and Xander kissing in “Lover’s Walk” [3×08] .
At first he tells Willow to stay away from him. Then in “Amends” [3×10] we find out two very important things about him, one being how reasonable he is and the other being how respectable he is. He gives Willow another shot at making their relationship work and then turns down her offer of sex as an “I’m sorry.” That refusal really shows what kind of guy Oz is. We also get to see just how passionately he cares for Willow in “Choices” [3×19] when he, in an uncharacteristic bout of violence, destroys the container that was needed to destroy the box of Gavrock. Then in “Graduation Day Pt. 1” [3×21] we see Oz take their relationship to the next level, which is where they begin in S4.
When Faith arrives in Sunnydale during “Faith, Hope, and Trick” [3×03] we see all the pieces to her future laid out on the table. She’s an entertaining, conflicted, and charismatic character who really breathed fresh new life into the series. We find out early that her Watcher was killed by a vampire she couldn’t protect her against. We see her and Buffy dispose of this vampire in the same episode Faith is introduced in though. This frees Faith from past events and allows her to try to do right while in Sunnydale. That’s when Gwen Post shows up, supposedly to be Faith’s new Watcher (“Revelations” [3×07] [3×07]). Gwen manipulates Faith into trusting her and then thoroughly betrays that trust. The episode ends in an ominous tone when Faith pushes away Buffy’s offer of possible friendship and trust. The writers knew where they were taking us and the music at the end is the first hint of the darkness to come out of Faith.
The story behind Faith’s path isn’t one painted completely in dark hues. The writers wisely gave Faith a lot of vulnerability and longing. Her desparate need of family becomes wildly apparent in “Amends” [3×10] when she shows up at Buffy’s house to accept the invitation Buffy and Joyce gave her to share Christmas with them. It’s obvious that she’s very lonely and really does want a warm home to go to. Faith eventually does find a family and a home. After she joins the Mayor she got more than she ever imagined from him. He provides her with a new home where she feels both needed and appreciated for who she is. This is why she so rapidly begins to fall into darkness — she’s become blind to what she’s doing because she is so excited that she is wanted. All of this is certainly no excuse to be doing the evil things she is responsible for, but it helps to know what her motivations are. The fact she has understandable motivations makes it riveting to watch.
Before diving into Faith’s switch to the Mayor I’d like to briefly discuss her attitude towards sex, men, and slaying. At first it appears as though Faith just really likes casual sex, what with her philosophy of “get some, get gone” and all. But Buffy gives little hints that slaying gets her worked up sexually too — that she gets off on the violence. This is proved true in future seasons through Buffy. Faith is still sexually wild in addition to the natural drive of a Slayer. The best example of this is when Faith, fighting but not getting the kill, decides to take a ride on top of Xander. The fact that she kicks him out nearly immediately afterwards is just a built-in part of her personality that likely stems from bad experiences with men. In “Revelations” [3×07] she says “Ronnie, deadbeat. Steve, klepto. Kenny… drummer … You can’t trust guys.” This is why her night spent with Principal Wood in “Touched” [7×20] and the subsequent conversations are so fun to hear. He tries to set her straight in “Chosen” [7×22] : “Faith, there’s a whole world out there that you don’t even know about and a lot of the men in it are pretty decent guys. They’d surprise you.”
Anyway, now it’s time to get to the heart of the matter. Faith’s inadvertant slaying of the Deputy Mayor is the event which started to break down her moral barriers. Before the killing, Faith establishes that she believes she is above human laws. While Buffy is stunned by her involvement in a crime spree and is in shock over being involved with a murder, Faith is more or less indifferent to both. At the end of “Bad Girls” [3×14] Buffy’s tells her “Faith, you don’t get it. You killed a man” and Faith quickly replies, with a creepy grin on her face, “No, you don’t get it. I don’t care!” I don’t believe that’s completely true, but she is burying her feelings extremely deep. This issue is addressed immediately in “Consequences” [3×15] when Buffy wants to tell Giles what happened and Faith won’t hear of it. After a potent scene involving Faith trying to kill Xander in her apartment, Angel gets a few words in and makes a bit of progress until Wesley and the Council charge in and snatch her.
Faith escapes their clutches and is dumped back out into the streets again. With all this insanity around her she opts for fleeing to the docks and leaving town. Buffy catches up with her and they have it out. Faith throws everything back at Buffy’s face to avoid facing responsibility for her actions. In the middle of the debate Faith comes across an opporunity to replace the Mayor’s right-hand man Mr. Trick and kills him. It just so happens killing him meant saving Buffy, so now Faith’s not only joined the Mayor but the Scoobies don’t know it yet.
For a little while Faith is able to, quite effectively, play both sides before Buffy and Angel catch on. With Faith’s new alliance revealed all she has left is her new relationship with Mayor who ends up treating her like his own daughter. This is the kind of love and respect she’s wanted for quite some time now. Eventually the time for the Mayor’s ascension arrives and Buffy stops by Faith’s new apartment to kill her. They duke it out and Faith is left in a coma, which is incredibly smart of the writers. This way they can bring her back whenever is convenient and will instantly have an awesome character to work with. This character is the reason why S3 ultimately succeeds. She is wonderfully complicated and when she wakes up from her coma in “This Year’s Girl” [4×15] she continues to entertain, wreck havok, and evolve.
The Mayor is a very fun character to watch. He’s really not all that complicated and he doesn’t show much variation in his character throughout the season, but his personality is so odd that I can’t help but love the guy. He also has a love of snakes for whatever reason and even pays tribute to one in “Band Candy” [3×06] . It’s his personality that wins me over though. He’s still a politician even though he wants ascend into a demon and he actually enjoys doing both. He’s also extremely loyal to his colleagues and even becomes quite fond of them. That’s why when Faith joins him he takes her under his wing and treats her like a daughter.
The only time we see any severe variation or development in the Mayor is when Buffy puts Faith in a coma in “Graduation Day Pt. 1” [3×21] . In part two he is shown to be outraged and genuinely affected by her absence. All in all, the Mayor makes such a great villain because he’s very human and jolly while managing to be completely evil at the same time. He’s certainly not very scary or threatening, which could be considered a weakness of a good villain, but he more than makes up for it in personality.
So that’s it folks. Looking back at the season and the scores I handed out, I’ve got to say this was one hell of a great season. It’s not flawless by any stretch and I found myself really missing the emotional outpours of S2, but there’s still a lot of powerful episodes. The final run of “Consequences” [3×15] to “Graduation Day Pt. 2” [3×22] is really impressive with only one episode, “Enemies” [3×17] , missing the 90+ mark. The characters were further developed and the high school years were satisfyingly concluded. As much as I love the first few seasons I’m honestly really glad the writers decided to move on to a new setting for S4 — it keeps the series fresh and innovative.
S3 was about the characters finding their identities which will help them in life after high school. The characters, once again, aren’t the same people they were when the season began. I also feel the need to say goodbye to Angel, Cordelia, and Wesley — three great characters that will be continue their development on AtS. It may be a while, but I look forward to hopefully reviewing their adventures as well. I think that pretty much wraps this review up. Feel free to agree/disagree and post your thoughts on the forum. It’s time to move on to S4 and the next chapter in the Scoobies’ lives. I hope to see you all there!