Posted by: thebuffyrewatch | February 21, 2012

Cordia’s Review: S3, E22 – Graduation Day (2)

Cordia’s Second Look
Graduation Day – Part 2
Season 3, Episode 22
Original airing: 7/13/1999

My Rating: 77

The Good: There was an awful lot to enjoy in this season finale. Not only do we get a complete wrap up on the high school experience, but the Scoobies bring down the Mayor with the help of the entire senior class. Meanwhile, Buffy and Angel finally end their relationship in a suitably vampiric manner, while Cordelia and Wesley realize they’re not meant to be together either. Even Oz and Willow got a very nice moment together.

Beginning with the plot, this episode wrapped up the Mayor as the Big Bad of Season Three by blowing him sky high, along with the high school. This is such a great concept. Buffy the Vampire Slayer as a show has always been about taking teenage experiences and anxieties and framing them in a supernatural manner. What better way to celebrate the transition of childhood to young adult than an epic life or death battle which allows the students to stand shoulder to shoulder against demons while all the parents flee in a panic. Blowing up the school was really just icing on the cake. Although it was disappointing we didn’t get to see the aftermath.

But before the massive explosion, we finally got some cracks in the Mayor’s armor. Faith isn’t dead, but she is in a coma. This drove the normally extremely composed Mayor into a literal killing rage when he tried to smother Buffy in the hospital. This outburst of emotion on the behalf of Faith really gave a weight to their relationship. As is mentioned on the show, he’s grieving. This very human emotion leads to his downfall when he allows himself to be taunted into a trap. This, of course, is a little frustrating when we’ve been told he’ll no longer have human emotion after his ascension, but more on that later (See The Bad).

Emotions were running high throughout the episode, as they should be. Aside from the Mayor, we got some excellent Scooby stuff. On the lighter side were Cordelia and Wesley. They finally allowed their lust to run away with itself and it was very much not good. The awkward little make out session was fabulously acted as both decided to try again and again, before silently agreeing to just let it go. I thought this was a great way to wrap up their story arc which has been in process since Wesley’s introduction to the show.

I also enjoyed Oz and Willow’s moment in the mansion and later in Oz’s van. Despite everything going on around them and the relatively immediate threat of death, they are discovering a new level of their love. As Willow says, she feels awful and deliriously happy at the same time. This is such a human situation and really illustrates the concept of “Love conquers all”. It’s especially poignant portrayed against the sacrifice Buffy makes in the name of love. Immediately after this scene, Buffy asks Willow and Oz to leave so she can feed herself to Angel.

It’s difficult to know if Buffy thought she would survive or not. She says she might to Angel, but one could argue she just did that to try and get him to drink. When a loved one is in trouble, they are more important to Buffy than her own life. The entire scene was excellent. I loved that Buffy had to force the vampire out of Angel with violence. The drinking was also wonderfully sexual. For a couple that can’t keep their hands off each other, but also can’t consummate their relationship, this was an excellent way to encapsulate their relationship.

The other relationship moments in the episode were almost as strong. In the library, Angel tells Buffy he won’t be saying goodbye after the battle. When he tries to explain himself, she stops him with a raised hand and averted eyes. The painful vulnerability she expresses her is a strong part of Sarah Michelle Gellar’s acting. Part of the reason Buffy as a character is so emotive and easy to connect to is her humanity. I just want to hug her and tell her everything will be ok.

This continues at the end of the episode. The meaningful eye contact Buffy and Angel make before he turns and walks away into the mist is the closest either of them can get to saying goodbye.

The Bad: As I mentioned before, it was frustrating how the show chose to handle the Mayor at the very end. After all the buildup last week thanks to Anya, I always expected him to be completely inhuman. But Buffy gets him to follow her to the explosives by enraging him over Faith. It seems like as a pure demon, he shouldn’t have cared about Faith any more. The show went back on itself here and that is disappointing. His final words were bad too and further showcased that a lot of his personality apparently survived the transition.

I was also annoyed story-wise by the handy eclipse which had never been mentioned before. Sure, it allowed the vampire battle and Angel to participate, but it was just so darn convenient. If it had been mentioned even once before, it wouldn’t have bothered me at all.

But possibly the worst part of this episode was Wesley during the final battle. In the culminating scene of three seasons, the show failed in its attempt at humor. Characters we’ve come to know for years are dying fighting vampires and Wesley trips and apparently can’t get up without a helping hand. Even Cordelia stakes someone while little Jonathon dives in head first. Come on, Wesley.

The Unknown: Faith and Buffy’s coma/dream is nothing but a big mystery. I love the idea that the show is so committed to continuous story lines that they are laying the ground work now. The intentionally confusing nature of this scene is only handled in part during this episode. Being a rewatch, I won’t touch on this much now. But I look forward to discussing it in the future.

Favorite Moment: Two moments make me tear up every time I watch this episode. The moment when all the students pull off their robes and turn to fight the Mayor is just so powerful. Buffy doesn’t just have her core loyal group helping her, the entire student body is helping her. People she’s been protecting without their knowledge and sometimes against their will for three years are finally paying her back.

Then, they all charge down the stairs Braveheart-style to engage in hand-to-hand combat. Both moments are overwhelming in their emotional depth. I just love it.

The Bottom Line: This episode is a fabulous end to the high school portion of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I love that the show will be moving on to college and I think this was just an excellent way to really transition everyone from teenager to young adult.


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