Graduation Day (Part 1) • S03E21 • TPN’s Buffy Guide

Graduation Day (Part 1) • S03E21 • TPN’s Buffy Guide

October 18, 2019 100 By Stanley Isaacs


For these two reviews, once again, I lean very heavily
on Mark Field’s wonderful book, ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Myth Metaphor and Morality’. If you haven’t yet, go and pick it up on Amazon. It’s a friggin’ dollar and the Kindle application is on everything. It has taken me nearly a year to get us here,
but this is it. Journey’s end. Everything we’ve been talking about for
an entire season coming to bear in a two-part
Whedon written and directed episode. Faith. Angel. Buffy and the assorted Scoobies. Graduation Day. Graduation Day (Part 1) It’s the end of high school and the student
body are following the traditional year end ceremonies of gown collecting and yearbook signing. Everyone seems to be suffering from
an end-of-the-year high that is smoothing over even the deepest hatreds. “Oh, I’m going to miss her.” “Don’t you hate her?” “Yes, with a fiery vengeance. She picked on me for 10 years. “The vacuous tramp.” Xander shares the news that the Mayor is set to be the commencement speaker at this year’s graduation and he is feeling especially fatalistic. Meanwhile, somewhere in town
Faith visits a prominent Vulcanologist
and murders him. In a class later on,
Anya makes another pass at Xander
and he pushes her back a little too severely, as is his won’t. “Hey,
I’m trying, okay.” “You don’t need to take my head off.” Xander explains he’s not thinking very far
beyond the Mayor’s Ascension and Anya gets a distant look in her eye. Buffy discovers Faith’s murder
and Anya and Xander stroll in. “You guys want to know about the Ascension.” “Well, meet the only living person
who has ever been to one.” Anya explains the nightmare that an Ascension creates —a pure demon. And makes an important distinction
in the Buffyverse lore. “You’ve never seen a demon…” “All the demons that walk the Earth are tainted. “Are human hybrids like vampires.” “The Ascension means
that a human becomes PURE demon.” “They’re different.” The Mayor wanders casually into the library as though he had done it a thousand times. There’s an interesting bit of general foreshadowing here that I like to think actually doesn’t refer to the Mayor. “The beast will walk upon the earth
and darkness will follow. The several–” “Do you really think she’s safe…with him?” Buffy scoffs at the Mayor and he threatens her. “I’m gonna eat her.” [Ripper fury] [Again] [One more time] [Well, I’m all right] SO AWESOME. I love every Ripper scene …except ‘The Dark Age’. Of course, the Mayor is presently invulnerable. He smiles, taunts again and wanders out. Anya decides to skip town and runs away. I have to admit that I’m especially happy
we’re now in a post-Prom world where Cordy and Xander abide each other again. Hellmouth veterans united. At home,
Oz and Willow are looking for a spell
to stop the Ascension. Will takes issue with Oz’s lighthearted
lack of panic over the Ascension and has a little ramble rumble,
begging Oz to panic with her. “What are you doing?” – “Panicking…” Buffy is investigating the death of the Vulcan
and Angel shows up to back her up. She is uncomfortable with the idea
and pushes away from him as much as she can. “Are you just making this harder to make
this easier on yourself?” I frickin LOVE that line. Human nature in a nutshell. Too much pain to know the house we both lived in
is out there someplace. Easier to burn it to the ground. As the Bangel speak kicks into full throttle
Angel takes an arrow to the… …back. And though it doesn’t pierce his heart,
something is wrong. At the Mayor’s office Faith and the Mayor
have a very touching talk “And there was this one rock, like FOURTY feet up.” “I was the only one that would jump off it” “All the older kids were too scared.” “Not YOU though.” One of the bizarre feats of this season
is that somehow, the relationship between these two Big Bads
can feel moving and meaningful to me. Bizarre that a murderer and an impenetrable
bad guy can inspire such warmth. But it isn’t unsolvable. That’s great writing,
and two wonderful performances. And while the Mayor’s character
may be hard to understand,
Faith has given us a empathetic anti-hero Faith leaves and the Mayor begins eating
from the box of infinite bug monsters
to bring about the Ascension. In the hallways that evening, Anya makes one
last ditch effort to make Xander come along with her. And as Angel falls into a deeper illness, Wesley explains that the Council
has refused to help cure a vampire, regardless of the circumstances. Here again, we get a vision of the intractable
nature of institutional ethics rather than personal ethics,
a conversation I brought up in ‘Helpless’. And Buffy decides that enough is enough. “I don’t think I’m going to be taking any more orders. Not from you, not from them.” “I’m not working for them anymore.” “This is mutiny.” “I’d like to think of it as graduation.” The gang has found what ails Angel,
a poison that agonizingly destroys the dead. Buffy decides that since Faith has set this table
then her blood can clear it and prepares for battle. Xander tries to point out she’s talking
about killing a souled, if slightly evil, individual. “I just don’t want to lose you.” “I won’t get hurt.” “That’s not what I mean.” Buffy shows up at Faith’s
and the Slayer vs Slayer battle ensues. “Give us a kiss.” [Lesbian Subtext Bell] The Slayer on Slayer action is fantastic though it kind of trades the
“Oh, look the stunt double” problem for “How does she fight with
her hair in her face all the time?” Hey, I can nitpick. It’s the finale. The fight moves outside
and Buffy wins the day. Or loses the day. Badly. Depending on your point of view. “You should have been there, B.” “Quite a ride.” I love this. Paired with Beck’s notes it’s possible
to interpret this in a host of ways. There’s the obvious bit with the truck coming
along and Faith’s ride on it to come. There’s her life since ‘Bad Girls’ that Faith
wanted to share with Buffy. And, as Twitter user @GodAllMighty12 pointed out, there’s Faith’s jump from the cliff, as a young girl,
she was sharing with the Mayor earlier. One of the nice things about this two-parter
is that unlike in previous two-parters, both parts represent distinct meaningful steps
in Buffy’s journey that build on each other. Part 1
(well and let’s say a couple minutes of Part 2) is Buffy integrating her shadow self. Once again, individuation. We’ve talked about this before with
Buffy and Cordelia in ‘Homecoming’
but Carl Jung described this as a lifelong process. And it’s a concept that’s been present
throughout the season. Buffy and Cordy. Oz and his Wolf. And now Buffy and Faith. Throughout the season,
Faith has been trying to find the button to push that will make Buffy more like her. She did. She pushed it with a poison arrow. And there is an insinuation that this battle
represents the end of that seduction. It’s a battle that Buffy can still lose, …even if she wins. “What are you gonna do, B.” “Kill me, you become me.” “I just don’t want to lose you.” “I won’t get hurt.” “That’s not what I mean.” “You told me I was just like you. “That I was holding it in.” “Ready to cut loose?” “Try me.” Brandishing Faith’s knife, dressed in similar dark apparel and on the verge of her first murder,
it would seem her transition to Faith is nearly complete. Does this scene call into question Buffy’s ethics? Her attempt to murder another souled being
and feed her to Angel. Well, the math is actually pretty fuzzy. To this point,
Buffy has been responsible for the deaths
of souled beings only indirectly and mostly through self defense. In all cases there were mystical forces at play. The Zookeeper in ‘The Pack’ was possessed by
the aggregate hyena spirit and was charging Buffy before
she tossed him over her head …into the hyena cage. And she removed Mrs. Post’s
Myhnegon gloved arm, apparently unaware that there would be a lightning consequence. Keep in mind that, soul or not,
the mystical IS Buffy’s purview. It’s not as though the police will have
any ability to keep Faith in check and so on that basis you could justify her actions
based on duty alone. However, duty doesn’t entail feeding your
souled adversary to your poisoned honey pot. Thing is, in the end, these are all questions that don’t
require an answer. Faith doesn’t die. In fact,
whether it was one last act of spite
or a first act of bravery since her turn, Faith’s dive from the building
onto the truck actually saves Buffy from turning into her. [Slayer and stunt double ballet]