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The Big Damn Buffy Rewatch S03E19, “Choices”

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In every generation, there is a chosen one. She alone slammed her head in a truck door this morning. She will also recap every episode of Buffy The Vampire Slayer with an eye to the following themes:

  1. Sex is the real villain of the Buffy The Vampire Slayer universe.
  2. Giles is totally in love with Buffy.
  3. Joyce is a fucking terrible parent.
  4. Willow’s magic is utterly useless (this one won’t be an issue until season 2, when she gets a chance to become a witch)
  5. Xander is a textbook Nice Guy.
  6. The show isn’t as feminist as people claim.
  7. All the monsters look like wieners.
  8. If ambivalence to possible danger were an Olympic sport, Team Sunnydale would take the gold.
  9. Angel is a dick.
  10. Harmony is the strongest female character on the show.
  11. Team sports are portrayed in an extremely negative light.
  12. Some of this shit is racist as fuck.
  13. Science and technology are not to be trusted.
  14. Mental illness is stigmatized.
  15. Only Willow can use a computer.
  16. Buffy’s strength is flexible at the plot’s convenience.
  17. Cheap laughs and desperate grabs at plot plausibility are made through Xenophobia.
  18. Oz is the Anti-Xander
  19. Spike is capable of love despite his lack of soul
  20. Don’t freaking tell me the vampires don’t need to breathe because they’re constantly out of frickin’ breath.
  21. The foreshadowing on this show is freaking amazing.
  22. Smoking is evil.
  23. Despite praise for its positive portrayal of non-straight sexualities, some of this shit is homophobic as fuck.
  24. How do these kids know all these outdated references, anyway?
  25. Technology is used inconsistently as per its convenience in the script.
  26. Sunnydale residents are no longer shocked by supernatural attacks.
  27. Casual rape dismissal/victim blaming a-go-go
  28. Snyder believes Buffy is a demon or other evil entity.
  29. The Scoobies kind of help turn Jonathan into a bad guy.
  30. This show caters to the straight/bi female gaze like whoa.
  31. Sunnydale General is the worst hospital in the world.
  32. Faith is hyper-sexualized needlessly.
  33. Slut shame!
  34. The Watchers have no fucking clue what they’re doing.
  35. Vampire bites, even very brief ones, are 99.8% fatal.
  36. Economic inequality is humorized and oversimplified.

Have I missed any that were added in past recaps? Let me know in the comments.  Even though I might forget that you mentioned it.

WARNING: Some people have mentioned they’re watching along with me, and that’s awesome, but I’ve seen the entire series already and I’ll probably mention things that happen in later seasons. So… you know, take that under consideration, if you’re a person who can’t enjoy something if you know future details about it.

I really like this episode, so I’m going to roar on in.

At City Hall, The Mayor gives Faith a big, scary, dangerous knife, with strings attached. He’s sending her to the airport to pick up a package that’s vital to his Ascension. We cut to Buffy and Angel fighting vampires together in a cemetery. They dust the vamps and talk about their relationship:

Buffy: “Do you get the feeling that we’re…kind of a in a rut?”

Angel: “Rut?”

Buffy: “You never take me anyplace new.”

Angel: “What about that fire demon nest in the cave by the beach? I thought that was a nice change of pace.”

Buffy is freaked that this is what their life together will be like forever. This is honestly the first scene in the series so far where Buffy and Angel felt like a real couple to me. Their relationship trouble here isn’t the product of some outside paranormal force or internal resistance to communication. It’s a mundane problem that’s going to happen between apocalypses, and seeing them go through it makes them more real as a couple.

But they still run off and fight more vampires, much the way Mr. Jen and I talk about how we don’t know what to do, but we definitely don’t want to go upstairs and watch TV in bed, but then we end up going upstairs and watching TV in bed anyway.

After the credits, Joyce confronts Buffy about something Buffy hasn’t told her. Sheepishly, Buffy begins to remove the earrings she pilfered from her mom, but that’s not what Joyce was talking about. Buffy was accepted to Northwestern University, and Joyce is really excited. But Buffy isn’t. She starts to point out to her mom that she obviously can’t go to college because Slayer, but stops and lets Joyce have her proud parent moment. That Joyce hasn’t even considered the fact that Buffy might not be able to leave the Hell Mouth is just another sign of #3, in my opinion. “What’s her future going to be like?” is a question that Joyce should have immediately started asking herself when she found out Buffy was a Slayer, and she should have stayed grounded in reality when considering the answers. Instead, she congratulates Buffy for all the choices she has laid out before her, not picking up at all on Buffy’s lack of enthusiasm.

At school, Snyder tries to bust a drug deal but comes up with sandwiches. Thanks, show, for reminding us that he exists so that when he becomes pertinent to the plot later we’re all on the same page. Because I feel like he’s been absent for a while.

Buffy is talking to Willow and Oz about the college thing, and Willow decides to jump on the Joyce train and pretend that Buffy is going to be going anywhere in the near future. Then she admits that, yeah, she’s in denial. As it stands, Buffy’s more likely to go to UC Sunnydale than any of her first picks. Things were different when it was assumed that Faith would take over the Sunnydale post, allowing Buffy to have a life.

Meanwhile, Willow has gotten into Oxford.

Buffy: “That’s where they make Gileses!”

And that line is why I forever refer to Oxford as the Giles Factory.

Meanwhile, Xander is reading On The Road in preparation for a post-high school life of adventure.

Xander: “Kerouac. He’s my teacher. The open road? My school.”

Buffy: “Making the open dumpster your cafeteria?”

Xander: “Go ahead, mock me.”

Oz: “I think she just did.”

Xander: “We bohemian anti-establishment types have always been persecuted.”

Oz: “Well, sure, you’re all so weird.”

Willow defends Xander’s plan to “find himself” after college, probably because Willow remembers better than anyone what Xander’s home life is like, and that because of it, he has even fewer choices than Buffy.

Cordelia wanders by with an insult, and, having no boasts to make of himself, Xander uses Willow’s success as a tool to humiliate Cordelia. He tells her that Willow has been accepted to basically every major college, listing off MIT, Yale, and Oxford in his lateral brag:

Cordelia: “Oxford. Whoopee. Four years in tea bag central. Sounds thrilling. And MIT? Is a Clearsil add with housing. And Yale is a dumping ground for those who didn’t get into Harvard.”

Willow: “I got into Harvard.”

When Xander asks Cordelia where she’s going to college, she only says that it’s not near them.

Buffy: “You guys, don’t forget to breathe between insults.”

Cordelia: “I’m sorry, Buffy, this conversation is reserved for those who actually have a future.”

Oh damn. Even the Scoobies think that’s harsher than usual for Cordelia.

Willow: “Maybe if you didn’t goad her so much.”

Xander: “I can’t help it. It’s my nature.”

Willow: “Maybe you need a better nature.”

Good point, Willow. Cordelia might have started this by insulting Xander, but it was Xander who dragged Willow into the line of fire. And it’s extra gross considering their history. “I cheated on you with this girl. Look how much better she is than you!” Okay, but she’s still not with you, so… Xander’s assumption that the triumphs of his female friends reflect on his own glory is a major case of #5.

In the library, Wesley doesn’t understand why Buffy would want to go to college when she’s already the Slayer.

Wesley: “You cannot leave Sunnydale. With the power invested in me by the council, I forbid it.”

Giles: “Oh yes, that should settle it.”

Buffy tells both Watchers that she knows there’s a big, world-ending event coming up, but as long as she prevents it (and deals with the Faith problem), she should be able to go to college in Illinois with no problem and fly back to fight monsters on the Hellmouth on school breaks. In order to speed up the whole “avoid the apocalypse” plan, Buffy wants to quit waiting and go after The Mayor:

Giles: “She’s right. Time’s running out. We need to take the offensive. What’s your plan?”

Buffy: “I gotta have a plan? Really? I can’t just be proactive with pep?”

Giles: “You want to take the fight to them? I suggest the first step would be to find out exactly what they’re up to.”

Buffy: “Oh. I actually knew that. I thought you meant a more specific plan, you know, like with maps and stuff.”

So, Buffy is going to find out what the bad guys are doing. It involves light aircraft landing sneakily in the nighttime. A guy has arrived with a big, scary box. He’s expecting to find The Mayor, but all that’s waiting is a car and a vampire with a dumb limo. Box dude is pissed because he thought he was going to collect his money and go, so he tells the vampire he’s raising the price. Which is like, the last thing you want to say if you’re an unnamed villain in a Buffy episode. Faith shoots the guy through the back with an arrow.

Vampire: “You killed him.”

Faith: “What are you, the narrator?”

This is one of Faith’s most underappreciated lines.

The guy had the box handcuffed to himself, but they can’t find the keys, so Faith is like, yeah, let’s cut the dude’s hand off with my sweet new knife. She takes the box to City Hall, which Buffy is staking out. The Mayor is delighted that Faith saved him money. And he tells her exactly the type of thing Faith loves hearing:

The Mayor: “If Buffy Summers walked in here and said she wanted to switch to our side, I’d say ‘no thanks, sister. I got all the Slayer one man could ever need.'”

But it doesn’t cheer Faith up at all. She’s sullen at the mention of Buffy’s name. While The Mayor reassures her that she’s too good for Angel and yadda yadda, she tries to open the box. The Mayor slams it closed and warns her not to do open it.

Tragic fashion vampire guy is driving around, minding his business, obeying traffic laws by stopping at an intersection, when Buffy smashes in the window and hauls him out. She asks him what’s in the box, and we cut to the library, where she tells Wesley and Xander that it’s The Box of Gavrok, which holds a demonic energy The Mayor has to consume so he can ascend. Giles and Willow arrive with blueprints of City Hall, and the Scoobies set about making a rapid fire plan: Buffy will get into City Hall via skylight, grab the box, and then they’ll destroy it with magic. Wesley tries to get in on the plan making, but everyone manages to shut him out and shut him down; everything is settled without the tiniest bit of input from him. He puts on the brakes by demanding that everyone stop, and when Buffy tells him it’s their way or the highway, he reminds them that they’re forgetting what should be a crucial part of the plan: the magic The Mayor is probably using to protect the box.

Look, I get it. Wesley is pompous and controlling. He’s always going way too far in trying to excerise control and prove that he’s the boss. But he is a Watcher, and while he doesn’t have the field experience Giles does, he has stuff to contribute. It’s getting to the point in the season where strenuously not listening to Wesley, especially in super dangerous situations like this, isn’t as funny as it is a stupid choice. When you’re up against something like The Mayor and the world becoming a hell dimension, that’s the time that you need to utilize every available resource. Not just the ones you like.

While he’s on his spell supplies finding mission, Xander passes a boutique and sees Cordelia inside, admiring a dress. He obviously can’t carry on with his day and let Cordelia exist without being awful to her, so he goes inside to insult her.

Xander: “I have a theory. Your snide remarks earlier? I’m guessing grapes a little on the sour side. Didn’t get into any schools, did ya? The grades were there, but ooh, if it weren’t for that pesky interview. Ten minutes with you and the admissions department decided that they’d already reached their mean-spirited, superficial princess quotas.”

Cordelia: “And once again, the gold medal in the being wrong event goes to Xander ‘I’m as stupid as I look’ Harris.”

She hands over a stack of letters that she conveniently has with her. He accuses her of using her father’s wealth and influence to get into the prestigious schools that have accepted her, then takes off to resume his errand.

It’s nice that he could take time off from literally saving the world to needle his ex-girlfriend, who wasn’t doing anything that even remotely involved him at the time.

Buffy, Angel, Wesley, Willow, and Giles drive up to City Hall in a not-at-all conspicuous black van that none of the characters have ever been depicted owning before. Did they rent it for the occasion? Buffy, Willow, and Angel will break into the building while Giles and Wesley wait outside to create a diversion in case of emergency. Back at the library, Oz and Xander are following Willow’s instructions and stick-figure diagrams to get the box destroying spell ready.

Willow sprinkles stuff on the box, which is conveniently located directly under the skylight in The Mayor’s office. She says some spooky words and the jello-y magic dome over the box melts away. Angel helps Buffy descend through the skylight via some Mission Impossible rigging, which of course jams the moment she triggers an alarm.

Why the need for the wire stunt? Because it’s so far down? Let’s do the math.

A construction contractor source I asked said that most commercial buildings have ceilings between 8′ and 12′ (sorry, metric people, but this is how we measure things in the U.S. of A). A quick measure of the desks and tables in my house found an average of 2.5′ from tabletop to floor. Assuming the desk is 2′ and the ceiling is 12′, that means Buffy would only be dropping from a height of 10′ to land on the table top. We’ve seen her fall or intentionally drop similar distances, so why didn’t she just do that?

Then, there’s the pulley issue. Angel is a vampire, so he’s strong, right? Yet he’s grunting and out of breath (#20) while trying to lower Buffy, a very small human woman, with the use of a mechanism meant to make movie much heavier objects easier. So, that part doesn’t make sense, but whatever. I contend that a normal human man who is in decent shape could lift a Buffy-sized woman clinging to a plain old rope. And if a normal human man could do it, then a vampire certainly could, right? And even if he couldn’t, there’s a second human there to help out.

“But what about the box? How would they get the box back up?” you might be asking. Throw it. Buffy is the Slayer. Angel could just lean down, catch the box she tosses up to him, and bam, we’re done.

I get that the Cirque du Soleil double cable harness trick was supposed to make the scene more unique and exciting, but this isn’t a Sarah Brightman concert, guys. And the fight scene doesn’t involve the wires or anything, it’s not like she’s flipping and kicking and using it to her advantage. A plain old rope and some Slayer/Vampire teamwork could have made this a lot easier and less contrived.

Anyway, there is a huge fight. Like, huge. And the whole while, the box gets tossed back and forth between the vampires trying to protect it and Buffy and Angel trying to keep it away from them. Imagine a combination mixed martial arts competition and basketball game. The stunt people and fight coordinators on this show are really the unsung heroes; this stuff wouldn’t be half so exciting without their hard work. So, much love to them.

Buffy and Angel get away with the box, which obviously pisses The Mayor off, though his first concern is that they wrecked up the office he just redecorated, and now taxpayer money has been wasted. All is not lost for The Mayor, though, because Faith has his back:

Faith holds Willow captive with a knife at her throat.

Sorry about the quality of the screencaps, guys. Netflix had much better resolution than Hulu does.

In the library, Buffy is furious at Giles and Wesley for letting Willow get captured, but she ultimately realizes it isn’t their fault. They need to focus on saving Willow, and to Buffy, it looks like trading the box for a hostage is the only way. But Wesley argues that the box has to be destroyed, even if that means putting Willow at risk.

Wesley: “Damnit, you listen to me! This box is the key to The Mayor’s Ascension. Thousands of lives depend upon our getting rid of it. Now, I want to help Willow as much as the rest of you, but we will find another way.”

Buffy: “There is no other way.”

Wesley: “You’re the one who said take the fight to the Mayor. You were right. This is the town’s best hope of survival. It’s your chance to get out.”

I was more or less with Wesley up until the “It’s your chance to get out” part. Because he’s telling Buffy to trade her best friend’s life to secure her own future. But the rest of it is absolutely right. Willow is one person, but if The Mayor ascends, he’s going to kill everyone. There’s a similar argument about Dawn in season five, and I could see the point of it then, too. Which probably means there’s something wrong with me; every time I write one of these recaps and they’re about to do the right thing and I disagree, I start to wonder if there’s not some kind of clinical diagnosis that my therapist didn’t catch.

Anyway, Giles says they have to be rational, so Buffy starts yelling at him about picking sides, then everyone starts yelling. It’s a full blown shouting match, and nobody notices Oz calmly standing up and smashing the urn that holds all the spell ingredients. Then he just stands there like this:

Oz has his characteristic calm expression, but is somehow conveying the fact that he's 100% done just by slightly, very slightly, raising an eyebrow.

And Buffy is like, get The Mayor on the phone and let’s do this.

Wilow is locked in some kind of storage room at City Hall. When she makes too much racket, a vampire comes in to check on her. Remember how all those episodes ago, I was like, “How come witches on TV shows only ever float pencils?” Well, turns out that was actually a good skill to have. Willow floats a pencil to stake a vamp and makes a run for it. She hides as Faith and The Mayor walk down the hallway. The Mayor describes Buffy as being like a dog because she’s loyal beyond self-preservation, which is pretty astute. The Mayor is evil, yeah, but he’s also good a deep metaphor.

Now, Willow could just make a run out a door. Instead, she goes straight into The Mayor’s office. She finds his creepy cabinet full of gross stuff, which just happens to be where he keeps the Books of Ascension. She sits her ass right down and looks through every page, and that’s how Faith catches her. She says that Willow knows too much and has to die, but Willow says she just wants to talk to her:

Faith: “Oh yeah. Give me the speech again, please. ‘Faith, we’re still your friends. We can help you. It’s not too late.'”

Willow: “It’s way too late. You know, it didn’t have to be this way. But you made your choice. I know you had a tough life. I know some people think you had a lot of bad breaks. Well, boo-hoo. Poor you. You know, you had a lot more in your life than, than some people. I mean, you had friends like Buffy. Now you have no one. You were a Slayer and now you’re nothing. You’re just a big selfish, worthless waste.”

Ouuuuuch. When Willow is fed up, Willow is Fed. Up. 

Her words really strike a nerve with Faith, especially the “It’s way too late,” part. It’s great acting by Eliza Dushku there. Her face totally falls. I tried to get a screencap of it, but you really have to see it in motion. It really gets across that Faith never truly ruled out the idea of being good again. She punches Willow in the face and threatens her with that brand new knife, but The Mayor interrupts them to say that he’s gotten an interesting phone call.

At the school, Buffy, Oz, Xander, Angel, Giles, and Wesley have locked up the school tight. They’re waiting in the cafeteria for The Mayor to arrive when the lights go completely out. Because The Mayor is a drama queen. He and Faith march in with Willow and their vampire guards. Buffy tries to act tough and set the terms of engagement, but The Mayor shoots her right down.

The Mayor: “So, you’re the little girl that’s been causing me all this trouble. She’s pretty, Angel. A little skinny. Still don’t understand why it couldn’t work out with you and my Faith. Guess you kinda just have strange taste in women.”

Angel: “Yeah, well, what can I say? I like ’em sane.”

I’m so glad that I don’t live on this show, because I would be the worst, most pedantic edition to this group. Angel would say that and I would be like, “Ahem, what about Drusilla, whom you tortured into insanity and made your vampire plaything?” And everyone would look at me like, not helping, Jenny.

Also, being named Jenny has a 100% fatality rate in the Buffyverse so far, so that’s another reason.

The Mayor launches into a speech about how Buffy and Angel won’t last as a couple. He reminisces about his wife, whom he outlived and talks about how Angel can’t give Buffy the life she deserves.

Now, wait a second. If Buffy is too good for Angel, if she deserves more…what does that say about how The Mayor views Faith as a person? He thought she and Angelus would be great partners. So, he’s basically standing there, saying Buffy deserves more than Faith does, right in front of Faith, who’s been battling against that idea since the moment she got to Sunnydale. This is fucking brutal.

But I still don’t get why The Mayor is playing relationship counselor in the first place since he’s there for a hostage trade. But I guess they had to really telegraph the end of Buffy and Angel somehow.

They’re handing off the box for Willow when Snyder arrives like the hero of a story that he’s not in, with cops in tow. He accuses everyone of being involved in a drug deal until he sees The Mayor there. We already know that Snyder is a major ass kisser when it comes to The Mayor, so he’s falling all over himself to look good and accept excuses while one of the officers he brought along stupidly, stupidly opens the box.

Dude. You live in Sunnydale and someone just handed you this ancient, arcane-looking box and you open it#8, man. Come on.

Obviously, a giant black bug thing jumps out and eats the guy’s face off until he dies, which for some reason shocks everyone. Well, everyone except The Mayor, because he knew what was in there. The bug thing runs off and they lose track of it. Giles says not to open the doors because they don’t want it to get out, which means they’re all trapped in the cafeteria with a face-eating demon bug they can’t find. They have to hold very still and listen for the tappy-tapping of its evil little feets. It drops onto The Mayor’s face and claws him up good, but the marks heal before Snyder’s horrified eyes. The Mayor points out that the box is still open; more of the bugs have gotten out. Buffy squishes one devil bug by falling on it.

And now it’s time for a continuity error!

The bug has fallen on Buffy’s back, so she throws herself down, squishing it. Angel helps her up. Look at the floor:

Angel is behind Buffy, lifting her off the floor with his hands under her armpits. There is a clear view of the floor with no evidence of a demon bug being there.

No bug. But less than a second later (in a shot so quick I haven’t been able to get a good screencap of it at all), we see Angel kick aside a smashed bug from the white tile directly beneath Buffy. They probably thought we wouldn’t notice.

But I did.

I noticed.

One of the bugs crawls up the wall behind Wesley, so Faith takes aim with her dagger. Wesley shrieks like Goofy on a ski-jump, and the bug gets impaled by Faith’s sick new blade.

Oz: “Is that all of them?”

The Mayor: “Eh…not really. You see, there’s about fifty…billion of these happy little critters in here. Would you like to see? Raise your hand if you’re invulnerable.”

I don’t know if I believe him, to be honest. He sounds like he’s making shit up to get out of a sticky situation. “Yeah, I’ve got like…fifty…m–no! Fifty-billion bugs in here. Yeah. That’s how many. You better hope I don’t open this and let them out. All fiv–fifty billion of them that are definitely in here.” But the threat works and sends the cops running. The Mayor tells Faith it’s time to go, and she looks longingly at the knife stuck in the wall, but ultimately has to leave it. And there’s some symbolism there with the fact that all the Scoobies are assembled sort of around the knife and is it them she really wants to go to, or the trinket, etc. that will come up pretty soon here.

Buffy notices Snyder, who’s completely traumatized.

Snyder: “Why couldn’t you be dealing drugs like normal people?”

I’m clinging to my headcanon that Snyder thinks Buffy is a demon or something because now Snyder has witnessed The Mayor heroically taking a box full of murder bugs from her and saving the day. He leaves, Buffy takes Faith’s knife, and we cut to the library.

I hope someone cleaned up those devil spiders and they didn’t just leave them for the lunch ladies to find in the morning.

Willow recounts her fight with Faith for Buffy, but Giles is going full fanboy over the fact that Willow saw The Books of Ascension:

Giles: “Yes, this is fascinating, but just to get back to the point… you actually had your hands on The Books of Ascension?”

Willow: “Volumes one through five.”

Giles: “Is there anything that you can remember about them that could be of use to us? Anything at all?”

Willow: “Well…I was in a hurry. And what I did read was kinda involved. If you ask me, way overwritten.”

Giles: “Oh.”

Willow: “Actually, there were a few pages that were kind of interesting, but I didn’t have a chance to read them fully.”

Then she produces the pages, which she ripped out and secreted away on her person. Giles lights up like the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree and scurries off to play nerd detective all by himself. As Willow and Buffy go back to how bad ass Willow was during her captivity, Wesley grimly reminds them that now The Mayor has the box and is fully on-track for Ascension, they’ve made absolutely no forward progress, and it’s all Buffy’s fault.

The next day, Buffy mopes by a tree. She tells Willow:

Buffy: “As in I’m never getting out of here. I kept thinking if I stopped the Mayor or…but I was kidding myself. And there’s always gonna be something. I’m Sunnydale girl. No other choice.”

Willow: “Must be tough. I mean, here I am and I can do anything I want. I can go to any college in the country. Four or five in Europe, if I want.”

Buffy: “Please tell me you’re going somewhere with this.”

Willow: “No. I’m not going anywhere.”

Willow hands Buffy a letter. She’s decided to go to UC Sunnydale to stay with Buffy. If I were Willow’s parents I would be torn between despair my daughter’s choice and relief that I don’t have to figure out how the fuck to pay for Oxford. Ha ha, just kidding. If were Willow’s parents, I wouldn’t even remember that I have a daughter.

Buffy tells Willow that she can’t give up all these amazing possibilities to hang out in Sunnydale and also possibly get murdered. But Willow has realized that she’s invested in the fight against evil. She doesn’t care about going to Harvard and getting some fancy degree, because she knows what she wants to do with her life:

Willow: “The other night, you know, being captured and all, facing off with Faith…things just kinda got clear. I mean, you’ve been fighting evil here for three years, and I’ve helped some. And now we’re supposed to decide what we want to do with our lives. And I just realized that’s what I want to do. Fight evil. Help people. I mean, I think it’s worth doing. And I don’t think you do it because you have to. It’s a good fight, Buffy, and I want in.”

Buffy: “I kinda love you.”

Whoa there, Buffy. Your delivery of that line stokes the femslash.

Buffy: “It’s weird. You look at something and you think you know exactly what you’re seeing. And then you find out it’s something else entirely.”

Like how you feel about your best friend, and that way is super, super gay.

Lest you think that line is some Grade A queerbaiting, it’s kind of the theme of the whole episode being restated before we cut back to Cordelia in the dress shop. She’s holding up the sparkly dress from before as though trying it on, but she looks wistful. A woman comes in and we realize she’s in the back room. The woman is the manager, and she tells Cordelia her break is up, it’s time to get back to thankless retail tasks. Cordelia, rich, designer Cordelia with amazing college prospects is working at a shop and longing for a dress we assume she should be able to just ask her parents for.

Buffy and Angel sit on a blanket in a cemetery. Buffy tells Angel about her college plans and how it will all work out because she’ll live closer to him. Then they talk unconvincingly about how stupid The Mayor is and how he has no idea if Buffy and Angel will work out and he’s just a big stupid head.

This is a great episode. Just a really, really great episode, because it takes all the characters out of their comfort zones. Willow isn’t used to being a badass. Oz is never confrontational. Wesley is surprisingly right about something. And even Faith gets a moment to soften her up and give her some dimension that the show stripped her of as she slid into evil. The only thing that’s frustrating about it is the heavy-handed foreshadowing of the breakup to come.we’ve known all season that Buffy and Angel can’t be a thing. It’s been brought up in almost every episode.

We’ve known all season that Buffy and Angel can’t be a thing. It’s been brought up in almost every episode. So was it necessary to have the Big Bad monologue about it? How realistic is it for The Mayor, an invulnerable immortal trying to run a city and become the demonic ruler of the entire world, to keep tabs on a high schooler’s love life? Yes, the stuff he was saying hurt Buffy on an emotional level, but that’s the kind of stuff I would reserve for more petty villains. Spike, for example. Caleb. Glory. Not a guy who’s working on wrapping up a plan that’s been centuries in the making.

I suppose I should criticize the episode for being a part of the arc and not moving it forward (aside from the pages from the Book of Ascension), but I really can’t. This was character driven, and while we haven’t moved forward in our fight against The Mayor, we’ve definitely seen how this situation has changed our friends. The writing is great, the performances are more nuanced than usual. If someone asked me to make a list of Buffy episodes to show a friend who would only watch ten (as someone recently did with Doctor Who), this is one I would put on that list.

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  1. Vivacia K. Ahwen
    Vivacia K. Ahwen

    Also “kinda loved” this episode, which –IMHO– had some of the best dialogue in the entire series. (Never got behind Buffy’s “I’m chocolate chip cookie dough” thing.) My favorite is in the library, when the mayor says:

    “Well, isn’t this exiting? Clandestine meetings in the dead of night, exchange of prisoners… ha ha ha! I feel we should all be wearing trench coats.”


    Also, upon my many re-watches, I was always fascinated with how underplayed Faith’s literal “killing the messenger” at the docks was. As far as we knew, this was her first actual murder, as the staking incident with Buffy was a genuine accident. The fact that she shot him in the back; no honor. Her cavalier attitude about the entire scene: “But it can cut through bone.” As I viewer, I felt that this was her Point Of No Return which Willow referred to, and not only a reflection of Faith’s fall, but foreshadows Willow’s psychic intuition and connection with darkness…which becomes stronger as the plotline progresses. But that’s another story.

    Buffy’s lack of interference with the murder also indicated a certain lack of compassion in the slayer…which we hadn’t seen, before. And that –as Faith pointed out– Buffy IS a killer, who enjoys what she does.

    I’ll stop writing now. SO wish Netflix hadn’t dropped Whedon, I’m craving this episode, now….

    June 16, 2017
  2. Laina

    I once walked into the rear view mirror of a truck and had a goose egg for daaaaays.

    I like this episode. Not one of my absolute favs, but a good solid episode nonetheless.

    June 16, 2017
  3. omg I LOVE Oz in this episode, like, everyone’s fighting about whether or not Willow’s life is an acceptable sacrifice and he’s just in the background, not even on screen, like “NOPE” and fucks up the pot like “This conversation will not continue, we are saving Willow” like… yes, that is how you treat people’s lives as valuable, you don’t even entertain the question at all.

    As always thanks for the recap, I enjoy them /so much/.

    June 16, 2017
  4. CleverSobriquet

    I don’t think that your sense that sacrificing one friend to save the world indicates anything wrong with you. It’s logical. If the entire world gets destroyed, your friend dies too. I’ve never really understood people who can’t see that. Perhaps I’m evil, but I don’t think so. It just makes sense, from any rational point of view. Obviously, it would be heartbreaking, but it’s the only realistic thing to do.

    June 16, 2017
    • Laina

      Meanwhile (uh, Life is Strange spoilers) when give the choice between my best friend/possible future girlfriend and literally everyone else, I will level the freaking town every time.

      Something’s probably wrong with me 😛

      June 16, 2017
      • the-great-dragon

        Lol, me too.

        June 20, 2017
    • CleverSobriquet

      I mean, yeah, in that situation, I’d probably go try and save Willow–but making the logical choice in the heat of the moment can be difficult. Doesn’t mean it’s not the right thing to do.

      June 16, 2017
  5. H2

    I worked in a knife store, so the one thing that bugs the life out of me about this episode is Faith’s knife. It’s designed by a guy named Gil Hibben – he designs fantasy knives along with a bunch of other stuff. This one looks super scary (it’s actually a knife used in Star Trek), but they’re not particularly practical. And no chance in hell is Faith’s knife cutting through bone, even with her slayer strength. Sure, it’s sharp and knife-y, but the blade isn’t all that strong. Impractical knives are one of my petty nitpicks.

    June 17, 2017
    • Courtney

      Ha! Thanks for posting this. It’s very cool to learn more about this knife!

      June 19, 2017
  6. Sarah

    It’s a while since I watched the episode but I remember thinking that the mayor’s advice to buffy and angel was pretty genuine rather than an attempt to be hurtful. It’s like him fretting about taxpayer’s money, he’s evil, want to be a giant snake man, but he’s also the conscientious, slightly avuncular public servant.

    June 18, 2017
  7. Nicki

    I have not seen this episode in a long time, so I am not sure if it is the same van, but doesn’t Oz own a black van? I thought it was Oz’s van they used in the earlier episode where they were stealing the rocket launcher to kill The Judge?

    June 19, 2017
    • Lainey

      I was gonna comment the same thing. The Dingoes need a van to transport the drums to their gigs, at the very least.

      June 20, 2017
    • CrazyOne

      I was coming down to the comments to say the same thing. Oz’s van is pretty established, and I know we see it in the Halloween episode with Ethan, but I cannot remember what color it was, but it was definitely dark (With the Judge episode, we only really see the inside, except maybe a flash of it when Cordelia and Xander are getting out).

      I need to fish out my Buffy DVDs. I haven’t unpacked them yet (moved a few years ago, stuff still in boxes). Never needed them until Netflix took away my Whedon fixes.

      June 30, 2017
  8. Agent_Z

    “But I still don’t get why The Mayor is playing relationship counselor in the first place since he’s there for a hostage trade. But I guess they had to really telegraph the end of Buffy and Angel somehow.”

    He’s also trying to demoralize them by attacking something they hold dear. Basically, what Angelus did.

    September 11, 2017
  9. Bex

    “But less than a second later (in a shot so quick I haven’t been able to get a good screencap of it at all), we see Angel kick aside a smashed bug from the white tile directly beneath Buffy. They probably thought we wouldn’t notice.

    But I did.

    I noticed.”

    I did too!! And I’ve only ever seen the episode once, so I wasn’t rewatching it or scouring for details. But when Angel kicked away the squashed bug I was like “Wait, where did that come from? Was it on the floor before?” It looked like it just appeared there.

    Good to know it’s not just me.

    June 9, 2018

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