Friday, October 31, 2014

Buffy The Vampire Slayer (Season Three)

Warning: This post contains spoilers from the third season of Buffy The Vampire Slayer. If you have not seen the third season of Buffy The Vampire Slayer in its entirety, then continue at your own peril. For a spoiler-free introduction to Buffy The Vampire Slayer, click here.

Season three is senior year of high school. The main plot thread hinges on a new character - Faith (Eliza Dushku) - who is the new Slayer chosen on a technicality due to Buffy's death at the end of the first season. We are also introduced to Wesley Wyndam-Pryce (Alexis Denisof), who is the Slayers' new Watcher on account of Giles losing his gig due to his personal attachment to Buffy (the Watchers' Council being a bit of a heartless bunch whose only concern is using the Slayer as a tool to combat evil).

Faith and Buffy get along at first, but soon it becomes clear that there is a darkness at the core of Faith's being, which comes out over her lack of remorse for the accidental murder of an innocent. Faith is a great character - not always likeable, but her ultimate betrayal and conflicted emotions (she's never purely good or evil, like Buffy and her main antagonists usually are) make for some great drama. Plus she acts as a great counterpoint to draw out some of Buffy's own issues about what it means to be the Slayer.

The Big Bad this season is none other than the Mayor of Sunnydale (portrayed by Harry Groener) on a quest to acquire immortality via demonic ritual. He's an interesting character, in that he comes off as a very lovable (if a bit dorky) family man, while being evil to his core. I would have liked lackey Mr. Trick (K. Todd Freeman) to have lasted longer, or had a more important role as a villain (and I could say the same about Doc in season five and Rack in season six), although I guess his ultimate replacement by Faith as the Mayor's number two suited the story.

Romance has always been an important part of the show, and there are a lot of pairings in this season. Angel returns from a hell dimension (with his soul intact) to continue his tumultuous relationship with Buffy (made even more so by his temporarily turning evil in the last season). Willow and Oz get hot and heavy, while Xander shacks up with Cordelia (in an "I hate you so much, let's make out" sort of way). At the same time, there are some illicit sparks shared between Willow and Xander.

Being Buffy's two sidekicks, you couldn't be faulted for thinking that Willow and Xander were destined for one another. An early episode (in season one, I think) actually plays with that expectation, when Willow makes a tongue-in-cheek comment while the two are pretending to be on a date (to do some undercover sleuthing). I thought that was clever and refreshing, but creating some serious romantic tension between the characters later kind of deflated that.

It's been made clear in season two that Willow has a crush on Xander, meanwhile, Xander will chase after any tail in Sunnydale (including Buffy, and even Cordelia whom he hates), except Willow. Only after the two of them are both in relationships with other people does he start reciprocating Willow's feelings, which I felt was pretty frustrating - although it makes for some good dramatic tension in the show. I thought Willow and Xander's brief moments together were very sweet, but clearly the show had no intentions of bringing them together, as will soon become even more clear.

Their stolen moments together put some stress on each one's relationship, which ultimately serves to demonstrate that Willow and Oz's affection for one another is much stronger than Xander and Cordelia's (and really, that makes sense). Meanwhile, newcomer Wesley harbors a taboo (and mutual) crush on Cordelia (she being just a student), which finally finds expression by the end of the season (although their lack of chemistry prevents anything serious from developing).

There are several memorable episodes this season. One fan favorite is Band Candy which is fun in that it features the adults (notably Giles, and Buffy's mom, Joyce, played by Kristine Sutherland) behaving like teenagers (indulging in drugs, rock n roll, and illicit sex). Another episode (The Wish) introduces the character Anya (in the form of vengeance demon Anyanka, played by Emma Caulfield) who will become pivotal in later seasons, and features an alternate reality where Buffy doesn't exist and vampires (including a really badass sadomasochistic Willow vamp, who returns again in the later episode Doppelgangland) has taken over Sunnydale.

One of my favorites is The Zeppo, which has been described by Joss Whedon as a "conscious deconstruction of a Buffy episode", reoriented to focus on Xander, who is usually only a side character. It sidesteps, instead, what Buffy and the rest of the gang are up to - which includes preventing yet another apocalypse, and fighting the Hellmouth (again). I would have liked to have seen more of what they were up to, although clearly their actions were hyperbolized for the sake of the episode's inversion. Nevertheless, it is a surprisingly compelling episode.

I mentioned before that Faith's betrayal made for good drama. The episode where Angel allegedly turns bad (again - the fear of which will continue to be a recurring theme wherever the character appears), but is really just acting, in order to entrap Faith, was a fantastic twist. At the end of the season, the Mayor turns into a giant snake and the students completely destroy the high school during graduation to defeat him. Talk about a bombastic send-off.

This is a turning point for Buffy (the series), and two important characters leave to populate the spin-off series, Angel. These are Angel (obviously), and Cordelia. The splitting of Angel and Buffy, who are clearly made for each other (as much as I do like Spike as a character, I think Buffy belongs with Angel and vice-versa), was pretty frustrating for me. There was a buildup to it at the end of this season, that I didn't feel was very satisfying.

There's no lack of love between them, but the argument (reinforced by Buffy's mom, Joyce, who can be an insufferable prick at times, like during the witch hunt episode, or in the way she deals with ultimately finding out that Buffy is a Vampire Slayer) hinges on the fact that, as a vampire, Angel is an immortal creature of the night, who will neither age with Buffy, nor be able to live with her in the daylight, and will therefore not be able to give Buffy a "normal" life. So it's irresponsible for him to go on loving her.

What, like they can't make some kind of exception to the rule of normal life and love? It's not like Buffy has any chance of living a normal life anyway, being the Slayer (she'll try in the next season, but watch how that ultimately turns out). Of course, there's also that thing about how Angel will turn evil if he has sex, but it seems to me that they're just assuming the curse is still in effect. My reading was that it was pretty much a one time thing, since I doubt the gypsys were counting on anyone returning Angel's soul again.

So I was pretty pissed that they split Angel and Buffy up just so they could siphon Angel off into his own television series. Although, it's ultimately a creative decision I can forgive, since Angel was a pretty good series (I'll say more about that in a separate review in the near future), and that rehashing the Buffy/Angel plot might have gotten boring after a while (although they kept Spike hanging on for rather a while later in this series without making it feel too repetitive), and his absence opens up room for Buffy to explore some other romantic pairings.

Continue to season four!

No comments:

Post a Comment