Posted by: thebuffyrewatch | January 29, 2012

Robin’s Review: S3, E19 – Choices

Synopsis: Buffy gets into North Western university but doesn’t see a way she could leave Sunnydale. In an effort to stop the Mayor before the Ascension she follows Faith and sees her bringing a box to the Mayor. The Scoobies steal the box from his office but Willow is captured in the process. Buffy insists that they trade the box for her and they set up a meeting. The Mayor lectures Buffy and Angel about why they shouldn’t be together before the exchange takes place.

The Good: This was a very solid episode built around character and not plot. When you think about it the Box of Gavrok and the capture of Willow were pretty manufactured incidents. At episodes end nothing has changed except that the Scoobies have more information on the Ascension and that was the real purpose of the story. In spite of that though the writing was strong and compensated well by giving us a bunch of important character moments.

The Scooby gangs attempt to steal the box was initiated by Buffy because of her fear of being trapped in Sunnydale. The thought of remaining in grave yards for the rest of her days combined with the North Western offer was enough to set her mind churning on a way to get out. After seeing the face-eating spiders though it becomes clear that a Slayer will always be needed to patrol the Hellmouth. The story dovetailed two bits of denial nicely. While she knows that she can’t leave she still clings to her relationship with Angel despite its obvious limitations.

It’s a sign of a good TV show when an issue is addressed that you have been pondering. The Buffy-Angel relationship has not been ideally dealt with this season but the Mayor almost made up for that here with a brutal analysis of reality. The age difference, the immortality, the vampireness! What drove it all home so beautifully was his description of his own wife. The image of an old lady cursing her immortal husband for his youth was disturbing enough to essentially confirm that Buffy and Angel will have to break up. The final shot of them leaning against a grave still saying the right things but clearly having other thoughts was well crafted.

Having been captured during the robbery Willow then got some great wonderful moments to shine. In a way her scenes here were much stronger than those in “Doppelgangland.” Her final speech about wanting to do good just underlined what an admirable character she is and why viewers love her so much. Her selfless decision to stay in Sunnydale and the joy Buffy responded with were very much needed too to justify why such a talented girl would limit herself in this way.

Before all that though she uses her levitation ability to dust a vamp and then realised a fantasy by standing up to Faith. Both acts built on the new bravery (or being suave as Buffy put it) we saw on show in “Doppelgangland.” She also used her considerable brains to steal some pages from the Ascension, recognising that that information was what they desperately needed.

The debate back at the library over Willow’s worth was another good scene. Wesley has his flaws but he made a compelling case about the many lives on the line verse Willow’s sole case. It was then left to the emotionless Oz to finally show some and end the argument. The Cordelia story was a much needed bit of direction for her character. There is real power in the way her relentless bitchiness (earlier hitting Buffy where it hurt with a comment about her lack of future) was suddenly turned to pathos when we see that her own future is far from certain.

Finally we got a couple of nice Faith moments. She continues to respond well to the Mayor’s authority, which fits what we know of her. Willow shakes her confidence in such a way that we can see how much she craves love and acceptance. The fact that she is willing to get that from the Mayor shows how messed up she is. The gift of the knife clearly meant a lot to her. How many gifts has she received in recent years?

The Bad: Willow killing a vampire with a pencil should have been built up more as a dramatic moment. It happened too swiftly for the full impact to be felt.

The Unknown: The Mayor remains slightly disconnected from the threat he presents. Although I loved the content of his speech it wasn’t clear to me if he was playing mind games or just shooting from the hip. I certainly have no fear that the Ascension will actually happen.

Best Moment: The Mayor pouring the cold water of reality over half a season’s worth of denial and silence from Sunnydale’s favourite couple. I don’t just say that as the TV Critic demanding logic. I think Joss Whedon built to that moment to help show the audience why Buffy and Angel must split up. On a weaker show this would never happen and the issue would be forgotten.

The Bottom Line: A clever episode that did a lot with little plot.

64/100

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