Mon
May 7 2012 2:00pm

Buffy the Vampire Slayer Rewatch: When, IMO, She Wasn’t All That Bad

You all know we’re into some of the best of the Buffy the Vampire Slayer material now with this rewatch. We’re gasping for air after “Becoming,” and Faith, the Mayor, and all the goodies that make up the Season Three story arc are ahead. It’s fun ahoy, and I hope you’re all enjoying the ride.

“Anne” and “Dead Man’s Party” are the intertwined and bloody thread that tie these two phases of the Slayer’s journey together.

The former is essentially a quick snapshot of Buffy’s senior year “What I Did on My Summer Slaycation” essay. Which was, in no particular order: wait tables, mourn Angel, and rigorously avoid monster-hunting.

As the episode opens, the hiding out is working out for her, if in an short-term, barely sustainable, poverty-stricken kind of way. She’s got a steady gig, access to pie, and most importantly an apartment, a quiet hidey-hole in which to feel really bad about slaughtering the love of her life for the best of reasons.

It can’t last, naturally, what with L.A. being just as demon-infested as Sunnydale.

“Anne” brings us our second sighting of Lily, nee Chantarelle, formerly a vampire-worshipping Goth girl who Buffy saved back in Sunnydale in “Lie to Me.” She’s living rough with her one true love, or maybe her latest true love. When Ricky goes missing, she turns to the Slayer for help.

Reluctantly, Buffy noses into the disappearance. Soon she’s found a burned out, super-aged, mega-dead Ricky in one of the local kids’ squats. From there she bread-crumbs her way through the clues until she finds that the neighborhood blood donor operation is telling the youth outreach guy which of the homeless kids are healthiest.

Lily doesn’t do well with the news of Ricky’s demise, which makes her great bait for the demon Ken. He’s recruiting healthy kids nobody will miss for a life of labour and torment, and he flings both girls into the pit. This turns out to be a terrible shame for Ken, because the consequence of that little choice is first, Buffy liberates those slaves who still have enough ego to fight back, and then, she seriously kills him.

(“Hey Ken. Wanna see my impression of Gandhi?” Eee!!)

At first glance, the message of “Anne” might seem like “youth homelessness is a terrible social problem and we should deal with it!” or “Kids, don’t run away from home,” or even “Seriously, stay far away from your community health care provider and/or youth outreach human.” Well, it is actually the middle one, more or less: the upshot of this uncharacteristically preachy story is that you can’t run away from, deny, or otherwise vanish your problems. Wherever you go, you’re the same person, with the same great power and the same responsibilities.

So, after Buffy’s beaten the pulp out of Ken and freed a handful of teens to resume their lives of miserable eking, she gives away her job and apartment and her nametag and makes her way back to Sunnydale. It’s autumn, after all, and the annual vampire migration is already underway. Plus it’s senior year!

While all that’s going on, the Scoobies are doing their best to kill as many vamps as they can (which is not very many) and wondering where she is. Giles is searching hard, doggedly, loyally. Joyce is sniping from the sidelines.

In “Dead Man’s Party,” Buffy comes back, and the gang doesn’t know what to do with her.

Okay, that’s not entirely true. Giles knows. He welcomes her home, gives her space, and overflows with joy on his own time, in one of his best Brit quiet moments. All this despite Jenny’s death and the tortured-by-Angelus thing, which combined make him the guy most entitled to an emo meltdown. But no—in “Dead Man’s Party,” Giles is a rock. A funny, Yankee-mocking, zombie-fighting, put my Slayer first rock.

With the others, it’s awkward from the beginning and goes downhill. Joyce doesn’t want to cop to being tense about Buffy’s ever leaving her sight again, and then the friends are caught, mid-combat, and do their best to enthuse at the sight of her. Principal Snyder’s happy, but only because he thinks he can keep her out of school through gloating and intimidation.

Willow, Xander and Joyce all avoid the issue, and claim everything’s okay. It’s sad, isn’t it, when Principal Snyder is more open about his feelings than the gang?

Part of the awkwardness, of course, is that the Scoobies have filled up the places in their lives that Buffy used to occupy. Both Willow and Xander are very engaged in dating, and Joyce turns out to have caught a lingering case of Awful Friend.

All of this would be unbearably dramatic but thankfully, because this is all taking place on a Hellmouth, there’s also a dead cat in the Summers basement. Even better, it soon becomes undead. Whew! Joyce has picked up a Nigerian zombie mask which is animating the deceased. It’s drawing them to Chez Slayer, just in time for a dinner party which has been transformed, through the awesome power of passive-aggressive avoidance, into a full-on hootenanny.

Buffy tries. She gives communicating with Willow a shot, doesn’t buy into the ’I can’t hear you thing,’ tries again, and gets thoroughly, quietly, sweetly blown off. From there she bounces into Joyce being honest with her icky new BFF about the difficulties of her life.

Concluding that she’s neither wanted nor needed, Buffy commences packing. Fortunately for everyone who might otherwise have gotten eaten in the finale, the walking dead are by now strolling toward the party.

I give credit to Willow for opening up when she sees Buffy is leaving. There’s a second where it looks like honesty might happen and things could all come out okay. But then Joyce shows and the throwdown begins.

For me, this may be the most painful and unfair-seeming of the pile-on-Buffy fights. The gang appears to have learned very little from last year’s Apocalypse, and they’re mighty ungrateful, if you want my opinion, about having their shiny white butts saved along with the rest of the world. Hey gang: losing your fellow slayer, being accused of murder, getting kicked out of school and your damned house and having to kill your boyfriend? That just seems like a whole lot to deal with. Can they really not cut Buffy a break? Seriously? Did they have to just keep laying into her until she’s crying and begging them to stop?

And I know, I’ve already complained a fair deal about Joyce through this particular series of emotional changes and thinly veiled coming-out storyline. The good news is this is pretty much where she bottoms out for me. It’s the pit—it’s the point where I almost can’t forgive her. But from here on in, I do slowly make my way back onto the Team Joyce Float in the Sunnydale Civic Parade.

But come on. You give your kid the boot, and she goes. This is her fault because... wait, I’m unclear. Oh, and in “Anne” it was Giles’s fault!

I’m just saying. Take a little responsibility, please. “I’m not perfect, nyah nyah,” doesn’t really cut it when you’re the one who’s supposed to be the grownup.

That said and to be fair to all these lovely imaginary friends of ours, I’m not sure the actual Scooby fight in “Dead Man’s Party” is the best-written argument in the history of the Buffyverse. Xander’s position is especially tenuous, what with his having succeeded in remote-murdering Angel. Buffy could have used one line more than “You don’t know what I’ve been through.”

(Jonathan’s contribution to the whole thing shines. If I was scoring this episode, it would be Gold for Giles, Silver for Willow, Bronze for Jonathan. Maybe Miss Congeniality for Oz.)

Fortunately, zombie violence works its usual healing magic, making everything better, except possibly Joyce’s insurance premiums. There’s undead wrestling, and the Awful Friend goes up in a poof, without even leaving a lingering slime trail.

And the episode ends with Buffy-Willow (Buffillow?) Rebonding and Cuteness, which I do like, very much indeed.

Next time, we get us some Faith!


A.M. Dellamonica has a short story up here on Tor.com — an urban fantasy about a baby werewolf, “The Cage” which made the Locus Recommended Reading List for 2010. She also has a second story up here called “Among the Silvering Herd.”

17 comments
Alyx Dellamonica
1. AMDellamonica
Hi, everyone--Alyx here. I hope you enjoy this week's rewatch.

I am on the road right now, and will be travelling a fair amount these next few weeks. I may not be able to participate in these threads as I usually do, as and I'd like to do. I'll keep up as best I can, and when I'm back at my desk later in May I'll be full-bore, regular posting Alyx again.

I just wanted you to know, so you wouldn't think I was vanishing on you.

Now: have fun! Play nice!
Dr. Thanatos
2. Dr. Thanatos
First of all, have a good safe trip Alyx!

I like this season. Aside from giving us Anya (Lapinophobes Unite! You have nothing to lose but your lucky feet!) the Mayor is one of my favorite villains. Who else could have a to do list including "PTA speech; open grocery; achieve invunerability; pick up laundry!" He joins the list of Best Villains by virtue of being fun. The season has to start off slow because it's resolving last season's issues; I think that's why these opening episodes are stylistically a little different from what follows. But I'm looking forward to meeting Anya, Bad Willow, Amy the Mouse, and all our other S3 friends...
Anthony Pero
3. anthonypero
The Mayor is my favorite TV villain of all time. Except maybe Sloan from Alias, but he was more of a Frenemy by the end.
Dr. Thanatos
4. wiredog
Yes. The Mayor. He enjoyed being a villain. Adam and Professor whatshername? Eh. Glory? Powerful, but no fun. Who was season 7's Big Bad?

I think it speaks to just how good BtVS was that this was the best season, and was still followed by 4 more. And all but the last of those 4 were good, with some awesome TV (Hush, Once More With Feeling).
Dr. Thanatos
5. Lsana
Ah, 3rd season, my absolute favorite. There's an argument for 2nd season being the best because of Angelus and how much damage he was able to do to Buffy, but that's precisely why I prefer this one: I want my show about a cheerleader saving the world from vampires to be FUN. Angelus was a good villain, but he sucked all the fun out of the room. The Mayor (and early in the season, Mr. Trick; later Faith) were having a blast and made sure the rest of us did too.

I will say one thing I didn't like about "Anne": I didn't like the idea that Lily became Anne at the end. I would have prefered (and thought it was more consistant with the message of the episode), if she had decided to hang on to Lily. As it was, it felt like this girl who had changed identities umpteen times to avoid her problems was just doing it again, and why was it going to be any different this time? (Yes, I know we saw Anne again in Angel, and it seems like she really did get it turned around, but I think my point still holds).
Constance Sublette
6. Zorra
@ 4. wiredog -- season 7's Big Bad, beyond the entire Hellmouth opening, was Caleb the Preacher, a/k/ Nathan Fillion. Who I see in Mal everytime he's onscreen in Firefly.

The only thing I liked about the first ep of Buffy season 3 was that depsite all the grief, suffering, loneliness and without a h.s. diploma even, Buffy was capable of taking care of herself. That she had a job and an apartment were very big deals, something you would hope a Slayer would be able to manage, even at age 16 - 17, even if many another girl her age and condition wouldn't have. Which meant to me that Buffy would be able to forge a life for herself that would incorporate slaying but not be limited to it, after high school.

As for the homecoming, I agree that one was't very well written. I did expect a whole lot more from Willow at least. But perhaps I'm unfair to her? Yet, the scoobies seemed to believe slayage was important enough to attempt some of their own even without a Slayer to protect them, so why were they so ho hum about her return?

Love, C.
Dr. Thanatos
7. Gardner Dozois
I never liked either of these episodes, for many of the reasons mentioned (particularly them all piling on Buffy after all she'd been through; the zombie attack was also stupid, and how do you explain what happened to the parents of all the kids who were killed, or the police? or the neighbors?), and thought that it was a very disappointing start to the season after a great end to the previous season.

Fortunately, the rest of the season may be the best season ever of BUFFY, and certainly is one of the two best. I agree that the Mayor may be the best TV villain ever, rivaled only by Russell Edgerton from TRUE BLOOD.
Dr. Thanatos
8. Lynnet1
Does anyone else find themselves unreasonably pre-occupied with how Buffy was able to get a job and an apartment in LA without a SSN or any other form of identification? I mean, I know people do it all the time, but they generally know people who make it easier. Buffy either doesn't have or can't use any of those connections

This is one of the great mysteries of Buffy for me.
Mari Ness
9. MariCats
Ah, Season 3.

Intellectually, I think this is the best of the Buffy seasons.

Emotionally, I find that this is the one season I find the most difficult to rewatch, just because it seems like an endless season of blow after blow after blow. When I did last try to watch it more or less straight through, a couple episodes at a time, I found I couldn't -- I needed the break. Multiple breaks.
Dr. Thanatos
10. JohnnyMac
Thank you for reminding me of the "Gandhi" scene. Classic Whedon dialog: short, sharp and funny as hell.

By the way, sorry I only learned of your appearing at Powell's tonight this afternoon; too late for me to attend. Enjoy your visit to the Portland area and have a good trip.
Alyx Dellamonica
11. AMDellamonica
You get the job by agreeing to live on tips and the apartment by paying cash weekly. Sad to say I know at least one person who lives this way.

I am a few weeks ahead of you all on these, and just watched "The Wish" and I agree; it's so good to see the S3 characters filing in.

I am with you all on loving the Mayor best, villainwise.
john mullen
12. johntheirishmongol
I agree season 3 was the best overall season. I actually liked the first episode of this season, thought the message was good and that it was a great way to fill in the summer hole of what she had been doing. It was also where the pretty little ax showed up in her hand and was used in the opening credits.

As for the return home, it was one of the weaker episodes, where everyone seemed a bit out of character except for Buffy. That is why it seemed off to everyone.
Alyx Dellamonica
13. AMDellamonica
@johntheirishmongol Yes, the homecoming is definitely one of the weaker episodes. This happens a lot with TV shows in the early phases of seasons that are picking up the pieces of big finales the summer before, I think. They've wrought so much devastation that putting things back together is a bit unconvincing.
Dr. Thanatos
14. DougL
This is when I gave up on Buffy's "friends". It was a patter of behaviour started with the intro of S2 that show a tremendous lack of empathy. I don't have sympathy for those who have no sympathy.

They pile right on Buffy, never taking stock of the fact that at the end of S2 Buffy was:

1) Finally coming to terms with the Angel/Angelus storyline, and the feeling of guilt that had she killed him in the mall with the Judge, Jenny and so many others would have been saved.

2) Wanted for murder

3) Expelled from school

4) Kicked out of her house

I mean, come on. Giles was fine here, I think he had empathy, but then he goes and poisons her later this season. Ugggh, I loved Buffy and hated her friends. I don't have any friends like these idiots.
Alyx Dellamonica
15. AMDellamonica
None of us would poison you for your own good if we had a chance? Don't sell yourself short, Doug...
Randall Lilly
16. ^o^CORVUS^o^
@ 8,

That mystery for me doesn't even rate when compared to "Why isn't Giles in a permanent vegetative state from all those concussions?" or "How in the hell is Xander still alive after taking several shots from the hammer of a Troll-God?", and so on.

At times, you just have to recite the MST3K mantra, and keep on a watchin' :)
Alyx Dellamonica
17. AMDellamonica
The Scoobies, like most action-series heroes, survive far more blows than any of us could take.

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