True story—I’m writing this column the week of April 24th, and I spent the past weekend at FanExpo Vancouver, which was the first attempt in my home city to have a big-scale ComicCon sort of event. Authors like me, DD Barant and Spider Robinson got to sign books and meet fans, but we were by no means the big draw: Kevin Sorbo and Adam West and Marina Sirtis and John de Lancie and all sorts of SF media stars were there, and in excess of 80,000 fans turned out to hear them talk and get pictures of them.
So why am I telling you this?
I’m telling you because from my personal fannish perspective, the most exciting actor guest on the roster was Nicholas Brendan, and I got to meet him. (And shake his hand! And give him a copy of my latest novel!) I told him about all of you folks who read this BtVS rewatch every week, and how passionately Xander is loved, and how often our conversations circle ’round to the awesomeness of his character. He seemed pleased to hear it. So from him, via me, to all of you: Thanks.
Speaking of meaningful experiences, Buffy’s looking to have one. She’s feeling invisible—the more so because she’s trying to fly Angel’s return under the Scooby radar—and she takes three hits in rapid succession. First her favorite teacher doesn’t remember her, then Scott dumps her, and then she’s left out of the yearbook photo shoot.
The yearbook thing is (barely) Cordy’s fault, because she’s obsessing about winning the Homecoming crown. It’s also something of a last straw. The two of them get into it, and Buffy decides why should Cordy have all the attention-seeking fun? Maybe I should be Homecoming Queen, she reasons, and with that the race is on.
Mister Trick, meanwhile, has gotten bored and figured out that Sunnydale would be more habitable if it had less undead pest control and more reality-TV style competition to the death, and so he has arranged a Slayerhunt.
Assassins assemble and commence booby-trapping and surveillance-wiring the woods outside of town. At least, I think it’s the woods outside of town, as opposed to the disappearing-reappearing forest near the school, because it takes awhile to get there by car. When they jump out, Cordy’s all: “Finally!” But later both the Gorches and Buffdelia get back to the school pretty briskly, on foot, so maybe not.
Anyway, while I’m wondering about the dimensions and location of the great Sunnydale forest—theories, anyone?—Willow and Xander are trying on their duds for the dance. They both look eminently dateable, and suddenly they can’t keep their hands off each other. Or their lips. They feel guilty, as they should, and this leads them to pile in on Cordy’s side of the great Homecoming showdown.
Things between Buffy and Cordelia escalate. An entertaining competition montage ensues, with the two would-be Queens trying to outdo each other in the bribery and seduction of the student body. We get to see Buffy smile a lot, which is a nice break from her usual expression of combat-hardened tragedy and woe. (She just gets sadder and sadder as the story goes on, doesn’t she?) Jonathan makes an appearance, revealing that Cordy offered him cold hard cash for his crucial homecoming vote. Next thing you know, the two of them are at each other’s throats.
The Scoobies decide the answer to their problems is to send Cordy and Buffy to the dance together, in the limo. This is handy for the bad guys, who intercept the car, load it with GPS-enabled corsages and, as previously mentioned, drive it out to a woodland killing zone.
Among its other virtues, “Homecoming” highlights a key reason why Cordelia is in the Scooby mix. In a sense, she is the girl that Buffy was—popularity-driven, smart, and socially active. In this episode we see how much a part of Buffy longs to turn back the clock. It’s only natural, of course. Everyone wants their past back now and then, after all, and Buffy’s day-to-day existence has long been filled with horrors.
But all Cordy sees is that Buffy’s a superhero and now she’s stealing her normal-girl thunder too. The conversation between them, in the Sunnydale Serial Killer Warming Shack, is a great exchange. It illuminates the gulf between the two girls, between Buffy’s past and present, and between Slayerdom and normal life. It’s one of those casually brilliant scenes that occured so often we took them for granted, and that made this series great.
This may go double for Cordy’s moment of glory, when she faces Lyle Gorch, unarmed, and convinces him that she’s Faith and he’s toast. It’s a good monologue and Charisma Carpenter gives it her all (as she always does!) Her characterization over the course of these three seasons is a bit uneven, as we’ve all discussed, but here she really shines.
Once the girls make it onto the same page and back to school, the episode winds down nicely. Buffy kills the last of the assassins—and they’re human, I’ll note, since we’ve discussed her being okay with killing humans when it’s in self-defense. She keeps the blood off her hands, too, by tricking them into shooting each other. Then the girls cement their truce by hauling their bedraggled asses to the dance, just in time to be declared co-losers of the coveted crown.
The other exciting thing about “Homecoming,” of course, is that it is Mayor Richard Wilkins III’s first appearance onscreen. I’ll be writing lots about Harry Groener, I’m sure, about his upbeat scenery-chewing and the way he charms our collective pants off, but for the moment let’s go with, “Hey, Mayor, so good to seeya!”
The Mayor’s co-opting of Mister Trick as a minion firmly establishes the vamp as a second banana and, by extension, makes vampires irrelevant as big bad candidates within the show forevermore. By now it’s just clear that a mere vampire can’t beat the rising might of the Scooby team. Wilkins III/Trick does seem like a match made in heaven, though: a modern politician and a monster who likes his gadgetry. Where’s the downside?
But the development wasn’t even a surprise. Mr. Trick was never a true contender for the role of Decoy Big Bad. This year, on the face of it, we’ve already been told who Buffy’s up against
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.”