Watching Buffy: s03e22 “Graduation Day, part two”


Angel drinks from Buffy.

The decision is hers. She offers herself to him, and when he protests, she forces herself inside his defences to where he can no longer resist. She surrenders to him, and trusts that he will be able to stop before he kills her. She makes the choice, she spills the blood, she carries it. It’s her name in the title. Her show.

The bite is sex. Graphic. Intense. We see him penetrate her. She gasps. It’s been inevitable that this moment would come, since Angel came into frame in the very first episode. Her show opposite the vampire. The only question is how they managed to put it off so long. The blood sacrifice mirrors the end of season two, but the surrender mirrors the mid-point, when Buffy and Angel had sex. A direct line from there, the show’s definitive moment, to here. The culmination of their relationship. Buffy has given Angel everything, and trusted him with everything. There is nowhere else they can go. At the end of it all they will stand in the rain, and we will see on Buffy’s face every moment of her internal journey as she comes to understand that they are done. This is the end of Buffy and Angel, which is to say, the end of the show as it was.

It’s also the end of high school, of course. At the end of The Prom essay I suggested the show had been deceiving us. High school wasn’t hell, it had been heaven all along. I wasn’t just trolling there (though, yes, I was definitely trolling). I was also hinting at how, for most of us, high school gets reconfigured in our memories into a lovely glowing place of nostalgia, with all the crappy bits ironed out. And I was genuinely saying that “high school is hell” doesn’t really describe what happened in the show we’ve been watching for three seasons, where yes bad things happened, and the scale of that badness was enhanced with fangs and mantis women and evil zookeepers, but ultimately everything at the school seemed pretty… normal. In fact, most of the weirdness and badness happened outside of school. School was almost like a refuge from the badness. In this episode, it goes further – the Mayor transforms into a demon, and the young men and women of Sunnydale High transform into warriors. Their parents flee, leaving them to stand on their own two feet against the horrific face of the adult world. They go into battle – into war – and they go united. Some of them don’t make it through, some faces we have known fall to darkness, but they do not hesitate and together they are victorious. The class of ’99, triumphant.

The show was never about high school being hell because it was never about high school at all. It happened in hallways and lunchrooms and, very occasionally, in classrooms, but the show wasn’t interested in what being in high school meant. It only ever cared about how it felt to be young, staring out at the world and discovering it was unkind, and then having to figure out how to survive. High school was just another challenge, a set of indignities to be confronted, a structure that colluded against you. High school was a monster. And in this show, monsters are metaphors. High school wasn’t hell, life was hell, and the show was about how to survive: with love for our friends, and with an understanding that we will suffer.

Across these first three seasons I remember saying to people, “the world would be a better place if everyone watched Buffy.” I remember they would raise an eyebrow at me, or both eyebrows sometimes. It was just a provocative way of saying what I really meant: this weird little show seems to be about vampires, but really it’s about how you get hurt, but love gets you through. That seemed a good thing for people to hear.

There were some rough years in the 90s for my friends. Not so much for me, I made most every dodge roll along the way, but close friends were having horrible times, life-changing times, dealing with trauma and abuse and loss or forced into no-win choices or dead end paths and having to live with it, live through it. No mystery to this pattern, we were in our late teens, then our early twenties, when stuff gets real no matter who you are, same as it ever was. But I remember those times, picking our way through the cultural forest, and while there was plenty of music that seemed to get it, there was precious little else that seemed to know what it was like.

And then along came this show that made a promise and kept it: real threats; real emotions; real laughter. Buffy and Willow and Xander finding their own path through life, bonding over deeply nerdy jokes, and facing the hardest of hard times. Getting deeply hurt, over and over again. Each time, getting better. Reaching out to each other and getting better. None of our troubles could be stopped by putting on a cute outfit and shoving a stake through its heart, but the rest? Nerdy jokes, and love – those we could do. That was us at our best.

This show understood. It was listening too, and there we were, on the screen. At our best. Getting through.

Other notes:
* Oddly, right at the start Buffy leaves Faith’s knife on the rooftop, but later on she has it back and it becomes crucial in the endgame. It isn’t exactly a continuity error, but it’s a clumsy and unnecessary storytelling gap.
* Seth Green’s deadpan delivery almost swallows this gag completely: Willow: “He’s delirious. He thought I was Buffy.” Oz: “You too, huh?” I also liked his whip-quick timing when he suggested attacking the mayor with hummus.
* The Faith we have seen so far has been, by any reasonable standard, unforgiveable. The first thing Buffy does is forgive her.
* The Mayor continues to be much more an abstract representation of the adult world than any realistic part of it – hospital staff don’t recognize him and let him walk away after he attempts to kill Buffy, and his motivations seem to end at “turn into a big snake”. It doesn’t matter. His plan to do his whole speech before turning into a snake is another stupendously good joke in a series that has been full of them.
* Buffy calls the Mayor “Dick”. They worked very hard to get that word in there.
* Cordy is back in her strongest role, truthtelling, and it’s like she was never treated crappily by Xander. Also the resolution of the simmering tension between her and Wesley is hilarious and, to my knowledge, unique.
* Xander is also used effectively here as a strong supporter with some special military knowhow. He also recapitulates his strongest material from the last three seasons, being sceptical of Angel, and is given a moment at the end where he tells Buffy that Angel’s okay, and it feels like resolution there as well.
* Respect to Larry, from dumb jock bully to gay jock hero, who dies in action here – though we don’t see it, it was in the shooting script and is (eventually) confirmed onscreen. Harmony does get a moment where she is shown falling victim to a vampire; the show made sure not to miss that one out.
* That long hold where we see Buffy and Angel lock eyes for the last time… Sarah Michelle Gellar uses her uncanny ability to show us every note of Buffy’s thought process, telling us a whole story in her expression, while David Boreanaz… doesn’t do this. How is this guy going to carry a show by himself?


That’s it, for now. After three seasons of Watching Buffy, I’m tapped out. Will there be more? Maybe, one day, if I feel like I have more to say. For now, though – thanks to all my readers. I hope you’ve enjoyed the ride.

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