Aug 20 2012 2:00pm

Buffy the Vampire Slayer Rewatch: One Last Date with an Angel

Buffy the Vampire Slayer Rewatch on The Prom

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 the Vampire Slayer, The Prom

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.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The Prom

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.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The Prom

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 the Vampire Slayer, The Prom

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?”

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The Prom

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.)

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The Prom

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.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The Prom

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 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.

1. Kapnobat
This is also the part in the series where David Boreanaz really starts to look as old as he is, showing that it's not just the child actors who have to worry about looking immortal as a vampire. Can you imagine Angel as he looked by Season 5 of his own show trying to flirt with 16 year old Buffy? Or '97 Angel showing up in a suit to run a law firm, for that matter.
Jack Flynn
2. JackofMidworld
I remember getting choked up during the umbrella scene, too. You're right, about the acceptance. Especially in high school, since acceptance is pretty much EVERYTHING to a teenager, no matter how much we all used to "not want to be like everybody else" and stuff.

And two quick questions - where do we send donations to support the "Committee to Elect Xander Harris to any damn position he wants ever" and do you need volunteers?
Alyx Dellamonica
3. AMDellamonica
Yes, the immortal roles will always have that inevitable downside. He's so smooth and somehow unformed in '97.
Alyx Dellamonica
4. AMDellamonica
Is this an election year, Jack? Could you write him in on some kind of ballot?
Emma Rosloff
5. emmarosloff
Xander buying Cordelia's prom dress was a classy, classy move. I also like to think that part of his penance is going to the prom with Anya, an ex-demon who badgered him into going with her only because it was obvious that nobody had claimed him. Of course, little does he know how their relationship will progress, moving into the future. I love Joss for this... how he came make such unconventional relationships work (even if they don't work out, heh... which is usually the case, and on that front I don't always love him).

I also think this is one of Joyce's better moments. I know that she's been a little too dense or cliche in the past for the sake of the plot, but I love that she can do what's best for Buffy here, and all in context. She can approach Buffy's 200 year old undead boyfriend in private and calmly point out why they just won't work, as much as they might love each other. She manages to be both gentle and firm when she makes it clear that if Angel really does care for Buffy as much as he claims, the only thing he can really do is leave her. I love that the two manage to have a mature, adult-to-adult discussion about Buffy, whose still a teenager when all is said and done, without it being super weird.

What I love about the umbrella scene is the self-awareness there -- I like that Joss manages to make the supernatural elements of the show more and more commonplace as time wears on, to the point where basically everyone at Sunnydale High can appreciate why they have such a high mortality rate, and equally that someone's been keeping much more terrible things at bay. They may not know that Buffy's a Slayer, but they know that she always seems to be around when something goes down, defending the weak and innocent from god knows what. So why not give her an award, in the vein of 'Best dressed', 'Cutest couple' etc.

Also, it's very classy of Angel to show up, so Buffy isn't alone at her own prom. While it may have been bad timing for him to break up with her just beforehand, I can't blame him for not stringing her along any longer, once he's certain about what he needs to do.

Really, this episode is just full of classy people.
6. Gardner Dozois
Keen of you to spot the similarities with the Thanksgiving episode; I was going to mention that myself. Buffy has this rather sad need to get reality to allign with her fantasies about Happy Families Being Together and Leading a Normal Life, none of which efforts have the remotest chance of working out, of course. Her deciding that she's going to win Homecoming Queen or whateve it was she was battling with Cordelia for and prove that she's still a Popular Normal Girl is along the same lines. Buffy never really recovers from her father leaving, and, although she does her duty and knows that it's vitally important, she never really stops longing to be a normal Valley Girl who's on the cheerleading squad and hangs out a lot at the mall either.

In terms of the overarcing plot, it's mostly a wheel-spinner--although it does nicely set up that Angel and Cordelia will soon be leaving Sunnydale.

The Hellhounds are, of course, perfunctory, and really there only to remind Buffy that A Normal Life is the one thing she can never have, and that she has to sacrifice her happiness if other people are going to be alive to enjoy theirs. All in all, it's a sweet episode, with only just enough supernatural stuff and fighting to justify it as a Buffy episode, from Joyce's poignant conversation with Angel to Xander buying a prom dress for his old girl friend who's suddenly down on her luck to Angel dancing with Buffy to Buffy being given the Class Protector Award by her classmates--one of the sweetest moments in the entire series, and a rare moment of vindication for Buffy, who for the most part labors unrewarded and unrecognized, unappreciated by the community she serves.
Alyx Dellamonica
7. AMDellamonica
Nicely put, Gardner, and I think we don't disagree about anything this week!

Emma, yes. Everyone behaves as their best self, for the most part.
Constance Sublette
8. Zorra
I love this episode. It's pitch perfect on all planes, with the final one of Angel being classy enough not to deny Buffy her prom.

The Thanksgiving episode of season 4 is one of my top favorites too. It's so notable who is sitting around that table -- and who is not. Spike is at the table, but not Riley, for instance.

Love, C.
john mullen
9. johntheirishmongol
This may be my fave episode of all. The hellhound plot was rather silly, but it gave time for each of the characters to breathe and get a piece of this episode. The Xander/Cordy thing was wonderful. I thought it was a great lesson about how guys should be...The Prom speech was great, and it shows why Jonathan should have stayed on the show and been the one for season 7. And Angel showing up was a perfect romantic moment, even if it was only a moment. I am still way more of a Buffy/Angel fan than Buffy/Spike or Buffy/anyone fan (although Marc Blucas has aged nicely in Necessary Roughness). The hellhound costumes were simply awful, which is really the only annoying thing about the episode.

Other than that, classy with little jolts of pleasure all the way throughout. (James Mason used that line on Judy Garland in A Star is Born righ after she sings The Man that Got of the most spectacular individual song performances of all time.)
Alyx Dellamonica
11. AMDellamonica
Spike but not Riley, Zorra! I'm looking forward to rewatching that.

Your fave episode of all, John? High praise!

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