School is wrapping up and the Scoobies are saying goodbye. They are getting their graduation gowns and signing each other’s yearbooks, and Willow in particular is full of nostalgia. It’s almost warm and fuzzy, at least until Xander drops the news that the Mayor is giving their commencement speech.
Faith, of course, isn’t in school. Without that all-important diploma, all she can do with her day is kill a random volcanologist. The Mayor is proud and grateful, and pays her with a pink girly dress to wear to his big speech.
Having his number one delinquent vivisect an hombre of science is, however, a tactical error on the Mayor’s part. The homicide puts poor Dead Lester on Buffy’s radar, and she starts investigating why anyone would bother killing an apparently harmless researcher.
At around the same time, the otherwise stalled investigation gets a second break in the form of Anya asking Xander out. She enjoyed the prom enough to want another date, and in the process of not so enthusiastically saying yes, Xander tells her there’s an Ascension on.
To which Anya is all “Been there, done that, fleeing the time zone now.”
This leads to her giving the gang the scoop about how vampires and other demons—the ones Buffy has been slaying all this time—are tainted with humanity. Ascensions, on the other hand, are all about purity. Wilkins is going to be, among other things, big. Big enough to need a volcano-sized weapon to take him down. Enter—or rather exit—Lester.
This little detail about demons makes explicit a thing that has been seeping into the Buffyverse ever since Whistler turned up. In general, the demons of those early episodes were all bad, all the time. Buffy could kill them without remorse or even a twinge of angst because they weren’t people: they were orcs, hell-creatures, incapable of good or redemption. Her adversaries poofed away, bloodless kills, guilt-free. But over the past twenty or so episodes, someone’s broken out the shades of gray paint pot, and we’ve started seeing goodish representatives of demonkind. (And on Angel the Series, as you know, we’re going to see more. Like Doyle. Like Lorne.)
There’s a sense in which this is annoyingly messy worldbuilding. The Buffyverse does retain its all soulless vampires are bad rule—so poof away, Buffy—but I think more morality and judgment should come into what she does to demonkind. If some of them can be good, or goodish, they shouldn’t necessarily be subject to summary execution the second they attack the Slayer. Oh, sure, that’s indicative of evil intent. But they might just be trying to save themselves, right?
So that’s a bit of a rant, I know.
A more sensible evolution from the end of last year is the scene where Buffy asks Joyce to leave town. In S2, mother and daughter are at loggerheads—the world needs saving, Joyce is reeling from having learned Buffy’s secret identity, and by the end of the shouting, she’s given her kid the heave ho and don’t come back speech. Now a year has passed and Joyce trusts Buffy to get the job done.
The bulk of the “Graduation Day, Part 1” story, though, comes together when Buffy goes off to Dead Lester’s apartment and ends up arguing with Angel. Faith shoots Angel up with poison. Perhaps unwisely, she chooses a toxin to which her own blood is the cure.
Once Buffy knows that drinking a Slayer will prevent Angel’s death, she goes streaking across town for much-anticipated (by me, at least) one on one fisticuffs with Faith.
I love all the Buffy/Faith fights—I think they’re among the best-choreographed battles in the series, and this one is no exception. It’s exciting, destructive, the patter is snappy and the ending, where Buffy stabs Faith but loses her in the cliffhanger (balconyhanger?), is brilliant.
As yet another bon mot packed Joss Whedon script, “Graduation Day” is full of incredible bits worth mentioning. There’s Xander to Anya — “I’m sorry I give you barfy feelings.” There’s Faith and the Mayor’s last scene together, just hanging out, in which they talk about spider-eating and Faith’s inability to sit still. There’s “We don’t knock during dark rituals?” There’s Oz, panicking, and Buffy outgrowing the Council as personified by Wes.
And that’s just the first half and the stuff I remember offhand!!
A week later, the Mayor is consumed by worry about Faith. It’s touching—in case anyone doubted, he’s not just faking his affection for her. Xander and Giles are researching Ascension tactics and Cordelia wants to know why Wesley was fired.
Buffy, meanwhile, goes to the mansion. She doesn’t have a live Faith or a dead Faith on hand to feed her honey. Willow and Oz are mushily, sweetly in lust and don’t really think through possible reasons to not leave the two of them alone.
It was always going to come to this, wasn’t it? Buffy getting consumed by Angel. She gets the demon within Angel to come out and drink her. Angelus wants to live, even if his own personal Bruce Banner has nobler ideas.
What happens doesn’t look fun for anyone involved. But once he’s restored, Angel rushes Buffy to the hospital. They put her in the monster attack ward, right beside Faith. This is handy, because we get to see how Faith is doing, and to absorb the all-important news that Buffy did not succeed in her first foray into premeditated murder.
And, for the prize, we also see the Mayor freaking out. There’s a nice clash between him and Angel. Then Angel has to go tell the Scoobies why he’s all better. Xander and Giles hit him hard with the guilt-stick and send him away. It was probably time for him to have one last good mope at the mansion anyway.
What’s next? It’s the lovely Buffy and Faith goodbye scene, which happens in one of their dreams. Or perhaps both of their dreams. Faith gives Buffy (yet another) key to defeating the Mayor. Is it really Faith who does this? Is she, in the end, a little more loyal to Buffy than to the forces of evil? I’m not sure. Buffy’s prophecy abilities are more than up to the challenge of coming up with this insight herself. What do you think?
Anyway, Buffy gets up and she’s good to go. And by go I mean recruit the entire student body to fight off the Mayor and blow up the school. She makes the plan in which Xander is key guy. Xander is happy to be key and we are happy to see him there. The rest of the senior class is, I have no doubt, happy to be exploding their alma mater.
But first, the library needs packing and the foot soldiers on both sides must be armed and warned not to snack. We get some pre-combat preparation on both sides. Wesley and Cordelia kiss, which turns out to be a big mistake for all involved. So it goes. Bye for now, Wes.
Finally, the ceremony itself begins. The Mayor’s speech isn’t bad, really. It’s like it was composed by a professional writer who knows what’s been up at Sunnydale High—very appropriate to the end of the high school cycle for Buffy, entirely right for the end of season. It gets cut off by the transformation, and there’s a fantastic shot of all the students, staring up at SnakeWilkins without actually running away.
Then they rip off their gowns and show their weapons and you just have to bust out cheering.
Xander gets everyone in-line and directs the battle. Jonathan lives, Larry dies, Harmony apparently has time to suck a little blood off the vamp who killed her. Snyder gets eaten and nobody is sorry. Well, I’m a little sorry, but it was going to be hard working Armin Shimerman into college stories.
Buffy’s big Faith-inspired strategy turns out to be taunting the Mayor with Faith’s knife, sprinting to the library, and hopping out the window so she and Giles can blow up the school. Gosh! And hurrah!
Then it’s all goodbye, as every graduation should be. We get the final Buffy Angel angsty eye action, and then the gang looking at high school.
And yes, I know the exploding of a school isn’t cheerworthy in the real world, but it’s a great extension of that high school plus horror movies combination that was S1-3 BtVS, and so entirely fitting.
“Graduation Day,” like “Earshot,” did fall into a rescheduling tangle because of its content and the overlap with the Columbine massacre. In Canada, both parts aired once before the networks pulled the episodes until fall. I’d taped it, so one of the things I remember about the summer that followed was hearing from the various people who got to watch it as the video made its way back and forth to friends across the U.S.
And what did we all love about the season wrap-up, whenever we happened to see it? The Mayor is an awesome villain, but it’s Faith’s defection that really puts the fire in this story. The core of this finale is the Buffy/Faith battle in the first half, and then the way that the entire graduating class, Scoobies included, pulls together to fight off danger in the second.
The gang’s graduation from high school is a transition by fire to adulthood, in other words. Buffy throws off her nominal authority figures, steps away from her high school boyfriend, and begins charting a course not only for herself, but for the whole team. The senior class, meanwhile, takes responsibility for its collective survival.
Next: Any of you following us off to college?
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.