Prom is nigh, and Buffy is snoozing. Angel is watching her, proving that his creepy soulless stalker behaviors aren’t entirely divorced from his adorable smiley hemavore-in-love behaviors. Sorry, am I being cynical? It’s all terribly romantic, honest.
When she awakes, though, Buffy’s all about their future. Prom, photos, graduation, let’s get me a drawer in this here mansion and hey, did I mention the prom? Being dead, Angel’s a little distant about the whole thing.
Buffy’s not alone in her prom-centric view of the universe. After the BtVS credits have rolled, Anya of all (sorta) people asks Xander to go with her to the dance. It is not so much that she is taken with him, she claims, as that she feels driven, somehow, by her new existence as a mortal teenager to care intensely about going to the event. With a boy. Xander, being as he’s dateless for the shindig, says yes. And when he tells the Scoobies, they all indulge in a bit of pre-dance wittering instead of teasing the living heck out of him.
Next, Joyce turns up at the mansion to read Angel a kinder, gentler version of the romantic Riot Act the Mayor handed him a few weeks ago. You remember, the one about Buffy being a shiny, new blossom and him being ancient, immortal, and having significant life-partner deficits? Shortly thereafter, Angel has an anxiety dream about Buffy burning to a crisp in her wedding dress. I bet everyone has that one before they marry their high school girlfriend.
But when your future mom-in-law, your latest mortal enemy, and the sequel of your gypsy curse are all on the same page, it’s hard to resist their logic. Angel decides they’re all right. He takes Buffy out on a slay date to the sewers and dumps her.
It’s at this point, quite late in “The Prom” as far as such things go, that the monster of the week comes out to play. It’s a Hellhound, and it turns up at Cordy’s part-time workplace just as Xander’s figuring out that she’s every bit as broke as he is. The monster jumps through the window of the fancy dress store and Xander manfully pushes her out of danger before jumping the monster. Fortunately for them both, what it really wants to do is shred a student in a tuxedo.
It doesn’t take more than a minute with the video footage—which Cordy presumably stole for them?—for the Scoobies to work out that some guy named Tucker has adopted a bunch of Hellhounds and trained them to attack the prom. Buffy is in a bit of a post-dumped-coma through all of this, but when she processes the fact that her friends, like her, are about to say byebyes to their big romantic evening, she takes it into her head to overcompensate. “Leave it to me,” she declares. “Everything will be perfect or else!”
This will happen again, as you know, when Thanksgiving rolls around.
And before we go any further: Xander! After multiple incidences of slagging from Cordy, specifically about being poor and having an embarrassing working-trash family, what does he do? He covers for her. He buys her bleeping prom dress. Okay, yes, the boy still had some adultery points to earn back. But still. Yay Xander Harris! (This endorsement funded by the Committee to Elect Xander Harris to any damn position he wants ever.)
Buffy tracks down Tucker’s lair, catches him, finds one Hellhound still sitting in the basement and three more on their way to the dance. By then, the gang has taken the Slayer at her word and are in full party mode. Anya is regaling Xander with rollicking tales of past vengeances. Cordy gets to thank Xander before dancing with Wes. WillOz are adorable, and Kodak moments abound. And Buffy is not left out. Once the Hellhounds are killed, she changes into her pink boogie shoes and is only fashionably tardy.
So why are the Hellhounds such afterthoughts in this one? Is it just because the “combine your worst high school experience with a monster movie” formula of early BtVS doesn’t work as well when the gang’s all but out the door? Is it because the episodes before the season finale tend to be, by and large, “Go Fish?”
Well, maybe. But the crucial moment of “The Prom,” despite its shoehorning in of the official Buffy/Angel break and a bit more about Cordy’s fate, is that the high school senior class gives Buffy her Class Protector umbrella. This is a key moment of acceptance of the warrior/avenger character by a group that has largely failed to appreciate them.
This scene is one I’ve seen in at least one other high school show where the main character is, against all odds, an unpopular outsider. It’s the moment in Veronica Mars when Veronica gets her diploma and her entire graduating class bursts into insane applause. (This sort of happens in the most recent year of Glee, too, but many of you might not have seen that yet, so I won’t get into it here.)
The point, for Buffy and for Veronica, is the recognition from the group that the heroine is, in fact, a hero! In BtVS it’s made explicit: you saved our lives, we appreciate it, here’s an umbrella. Danny Strong does a fantastic job with Jonathan’s speech; it’s a lovely scene and even on this go-round, which must be my fourth or fifth viewing, I felt a little choked up. It’s even more meaningful, somehow, after what happened between the two of them in “Earshot.”
Acceptance is appealing, what can I say?
While it’s an important emotional beat, this bit is also played out in such lovely extended detail because the acknowledgment of what’s going on in Sunnydale, this “thank you for saving us from all the monsters” from their classmates, is part of what allows Team Buffy to move up from single-squad tactics to full-on large scale Mayor-battling next week.
But before the whole senior class goes to war, Angel shows up for one last dance. Awwww.
Next: Pomp, Circumstance, Big Explosions
A.M. Dellamonica has two novelettes up here on Tor.com. First up: an urban fantasy about a baby werewolf, “The Cage” which made the Locus Recommended Reading List for 2010. There’s also “Among the Silvering Herd.” In October, watch for a novelette, “Wild Things,” that ties into the world of her award winning novel Indigo Springs and its sequel, Blue Magic.