Posted by: thebuffyrewatch | February 13, 2012

Cordia’s Review: S3, E21 – Graduation Day (1)

Graduation Day – Part 1
Season 3, Episode 21
Original airing: 5/18/1999

My Rating: 73

The Good: I really enjoyed this episode. It prepared us for the finale while also managing to provide some closure, which is a very difficult thing for the first half of a two-part episode to do. Not only did we finally learn more about Ascension Day, we also got to go along for the ride as the end of high school loomed nearer for Oz, Willow, and Xander. Even Buffy got to graduate a bit early when she quit the Watcher’s Council.

I loved the use of Anya in this episode to provide some much needed detail about Ascension Day. Who else might have the inside scoop on a demonic ritual than a 1,000-year old demon? It also allowed for some more interaction between Anya and Xander, which I always enjoy. I love how they play off each other with her extreme lack of guile. Very amusing.

It also led to a nice short character arc for Xander. At the beginning of the episode, he’s basically freaking out about surviving the last few days of high school. But when he’s offered a chance to run away before the big fight, he refuses to take it. As he tells Anya, he’s got friends on the line and that’s more important than saving his own skin. It’s a very nice moment of maturity for him and an excellent reflection of the growth he went through during The Zeppo (S3E13).

Oz and Willow got a nice bit of wrap up to their relationship as well. Willow offered sex to Oz back in Amends (S3E10), which he rightly turned down. But now the time has come. The end of school is nicely mirrored with the loss of Willow’s virginity and the mild anxiety she has afterwards as she tries to ascertain how Oz really feels about her. I like that the show got across the depth of their relationship so well when they haven’t even said “I love you” yet.

The preparation for Ascension Day was well done, too. The idea that the Mayor would want Buffy distracted makes a lot of sense, and poisoning Angel to do it is very clever. One has to wonder if Richard knew the only cure was the blood of a Slayer (trying to kill two birds with one stone?) or if he just knew the poison would be effective on a vampire. Either way, it was a great way to bring several things to a head. Buffy is forced into a direct confrontation with Faith (something the show has been headed toward for a while now) and it also directly led to Buffy quitting the Watcher’s Council.

The fight between Buffy and Faith was particularly brutal and well done. Buffy goes to Faith’s apartment with the intent to do whatever she must to save Angel, but the shock on her face when she actually stabs Faith is very well done. A big part of season three has been the exploration of why Faith’s style of Slaying is not Buffy’s style. In this episode alone we see Faith murder an innocent man and beg for an additional similar assignment later because she’s bored. But Buffy can’t believe she’s even come to the point of killing someone who needs to be stopped and for a pretty decent reason – saving Angel and, to an extent, helping to put a crimp in the Mayor’s plans to slaughter the whole town. It’s what the show needs to do to keep us from viewing Buffy as the same as Faith. She can’t kill a human being lightly or her character changes too much. Of course, we don’t actually see Faith die since she managed to land on that conveniently passing truck, but the impact is still there for Buffy.

Finally, Buffy’s decision to quit the Watcher’s Council may have been the most impactful of the episode. She’s been essentially running her own show for a while now with her own crew, but she steps forward at this point and makes it official. It also adds to the sense of closure to this High School portion of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The show is obviously preparing to move into a new phase at this point and getting rid of the Watcher’s Council so Buffy can really grow into her own is a great way to do it.

The Bad: I really don’t have much to complain about here. Buffy’s awkward line to Wesley right after she quits the Council is unfortunate. Telling him to “get a job” as she’s leaving actually ruined the scene for me a bit. Otherwise, it would have been my Favorite Moment. But, even I can admit that’s quite the nitpick.

Favorite Moment: As I mentioned, I love the interactions between Xander and Anya. And their scene at the end of the episode where she begs him to run away with her is particularly good. The kicker is when Xander is tempted for a second, then steps back from Anya and says no. As I mentioned, it’s a great moment for Xander’s maturity. And Anya’s question, “Aren’t we going to kiss?” as he walks away is just pure gold.

The Bottom Line: This was a very well-structured penultimate episode. It can be very difficult for a show to keep the first half of a two-parter interesting, but I think this is a prime example. As always, the best part of the show is the bits where we get to ride along with the Scoobies. The little wrap ups to everyone’s high school experiences really puts this episode over the top for me.

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